British History

. It’s the summer of 1953, and, across East Germany, angry people take to the streets. This isn’t a polite protest. This is a furious, red flag ripping, police beating, office burning rampage. The crowds demand: better living conditions; the reunification of Germany; and free elections. Instead, they would get: Trabants; the Berlin Wall; and another 35 years of hardline Communist government. Could the 17 June […]

Opening the Iron Curtain – the East Germany’s day of dissent

According to Field Marshal Montgomery, rule number one on the first page of the book of war is ‘do not march on Moscow’. In April 1945, Winston Churchill ordered the British Chiefs of Staff to rip up the rule book and plan for an attack on their wartime ally, Russia. It was audacious, inconceivable and incredibly risky. So, fittingly, it was codenamed Operation Unthinkable. Just how […]

Operation Unthinkable – Churchill’s plan that would have started World War 3

. In August of 1216, the King of Scotland rode down the entire length of England to pay homage to a new English king at Dover. The Scottish monarch bent his knee to a warrior prince who was the pride and hope of his dynasty. His name was Louis and he was the eldest son of the King of France. Louis is overlooked in most lists […]

Louis of England – history’s forgotten King of England

In the summer of 1550, Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was packing her belongings and preparing to flee her home. Her Tudor brother was the figurehead for an increasingly Protestant regime. Mary clung to her mother’s Catholicism. She feared for her life and, as the pressure on her to conform grew, she turned to her powerful relatives abroad. She could be safe again, […]

Princess Mary Tudor’s flight to freedom

. In 1647, the new Puritan government tried to cancel Christmas. People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way, with a destructive game of football followed by a mass brawl. The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt throughout Kent and the second round of the Civil War. With Parliamentary armies fighting in Wales and Scotland, could this have marked a revival in fortunes […]

Canterbury’s cancelled Christmas and the Plum Pudding Riots

  In 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas.n 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas. People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way with a destructive game of football. The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt and the second round of the Civil War.   A second descent into hell On 21 May 1648, 10,000 royalists gathered […]

How an attempt to cancel Christmas and a game of football led ...

Scores of people died when the airship burst into flames. It crashed into the ground just over 50 miles away from one of the world’s most important cities. Its demise marked the end of a national programme of airship construction and the death of an imperial dream. But this is not about the Hindenburg disaster. Just under seven years earlier, the British faced a similar tragedy […]

A dream that burst into flames – the British Hindenburg disaster

Stirling Castle is a striking, man-made addition to an already formidable natural fortress. Sheer cliffs thrust up from the rolling Scottish Lowlands. The thick castle walls extend these solid quartz-dolerite foundations towards the sky. It is imposing and seems impregnable. It probably was, at least until Warwolf came to visit. . In 1304, Stirling Castle was the last Scottish holdout to the English invasion. Edward I […]

Warwolf – King Edward’s secret weapon to hammer the Scots

On 12 May 1937, Westminster Abbey rang with shouts acclaiming the new King-Emperor. In 1936, Britain had prepared for the coronation. Much of this effort was wasted when Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936. Everyone had been getting ready for the coronation that never was.  The Coronation of a new King-Emperor promised a bonanza for British manufacturers. Factories that had been quiet during the darkest days of […]

The coronation that never was

The Cenotaph on Whitehall in London is designated as the United Kingdom’s primary war memorial. It commemorates the end of World War One.
In 1919, London hosted a Victory Parade that marked a unique moment of national rejoicing, mourning and catharsis. The Parade, also known as the London Peace Parade, saw returning troops march through packed streets in the capital. The city’s iconic monuments were momentarily joined by a series of temporary structures erected to mark the march. One of these, a plain but elegant wood and plaster cenotaph […]

How shall we remember them?

Why is the word for a main railway station in Russian named after the unprepossessing London area of Vauxhall? . The Russian word for a main train station is Vokzal (воксал). Say it out loud – does it remind you of anything? Say it in a suitably English accent, and it sounds like Vauxhall. Is this a coincidence, or is there an etymological connection between this […]

Ticket to Vokzal

Quantitative easing is a new name for an old concept – governments taking a role in stimulating flagging or flat-lining economies.   Old fashioned economic stimulus has a new name for the twenty-first century. Concepts such as Keynesianism, state intervention and pump priming have been replaced by quantitative easing. According to Bob McTeer, quantitative easing is “different from traditional monetary policy only in its magnitude and pre-announcement of amount […]

A stimulating proposition

Where was the first capital city of England? London? Westminster? Winchester? All would be decent guesses but, according to a BBC 4 documentary, they would be wrong. Could the accolade go to the decidedly less well known Malmesbury? I was dozily watching the first programme in the BBC 4 documentary series ‘Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings’ late last night when the presenter, Dr Janina […]

Malmesbury – the first capital of England?

Did a British Army officer communicate a victory in a pivotal battle in India by transmitting a single Latin word? In the frontier thrusting early years of the nineteenth century, the British Army attracted some of the boldest, bravest, most eccentric and unorthodox officers ever to grace the field. Looming large over them all was General Sir Charles James Napier, Commander-in-Chief in India and Governor of Bombay […]

I have sinned

One of the most successful appeals for money to support the British war effort was inspired by the tank. Seen as a wonder weapon that could shorten the war, the cumbersome and ungainly vehicles became popular icons and were ultimately used not only to promote War Bonds, but as kiosks to sell them from. A watercolour by Sir William Orpen illustrates clearly why the tank initially […]

The Trafalgar Square Tank Bank

It is a scene from the darkest days of the Blitz. A squadron of German planes flies over the East End and the City releasing a deadly stream of bombs on the people below. A school in Poplar is blown up and more than 162 people in total are killed. But this is not a story from the Second World War; it is a chapter from […]

Death from the skies

At 9:33 a.m. on 14 September 1954, a Soviet Tu-4 bomber dropped a 40,000-ton atomic weapon from a height of 25,000 feet just north of Totskoye in the steppes of the southern Urals. In the early years of the Cold War, the testing of nuclear weapons was not unusual – there would be 8 others in that year and over 200 in the same decade. What […]

This is not a test

In 1914, German soldiers sacked the Belgian city of Louvain. Its population was expelled and some were carried off in freight trains to camps in Germany. Its library, together with its priceless collection of rare manuscripts and early printed books, was deliberately burnt. . A cowed and defeated civilian population watches helplessly as their conquered city is taken and burnt by German soldiers. Prominent citizens are […]

The sack of Louvain