Early 1940: British police listening for radio transmissions from German spies within the UK pick up weird signals, and pass them to Bletchley Park, the United Kingdom's main decryption establishment in WWII. The source of these German messages is an unknown machine, which the Brits dub Tunny (10 minute video with Tony Sale describing the Tunny). August 30, 1941: German operators send two very similar messages with the same key, providing insight into the encryption scheme. By January 1942, British cryptographers deduced the workings of the German code machines, sight unseen. The British were able to create their own Tunny emulators to decrypt messages sent by German High Command. After the war, these and other British code-breaking and emulating machines were demolished and/or recycled for parts and their blueprints destroyed, leaving a hole in the history of the British WWII code breaking. Efforts to rebuild the British Tunny emulator started in the 1990s, and quite recently a Tunny emulator replica was completed. [more inside]
Dublin-raised photojournalist Seamus Murphy has received six World Press Photo awards and won widespread acclaim for his work in Afghanistan and the Middle East, including a World Understanding Award in 2005. Recently, he created short films for all twelve of the songs on PJ Harvey’s new album, Let England Shake, after a road trip across England during what he called “one of the worst winters in living memory.” The films have been released gradually since January (previously) and now you may watch all of them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
The Civil War Journal of Nehemiah Wallington, digitized by the John Rylands Library, is one of the surviving diaries kept by this seventeenth-century Puritan. Although Wallington recorded a number of key events, like the execution of Archbishop Laud, the diary has garnered most attention for its report of the Chelmsford witch trials, overseen by Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins (enter "witchcraft" into the search box to see Wallington's account). For more of the intellectual context for early modern witch-hunting in the British Isles, see the Witches in Early Modern England and Survey of Scottish Witchcraft databases, as well as the handy collection of primary texts in Cornell's Witchcraft Collection.
How Soul Music Became "Soul Music." A writer takes the occasion of the release of Adele's new album, 21, to explore the popularity and implications of the young British soul singers. "Because if we're truly living in an age that defies stereotypes and explodes clichés, where distances of all kinds have been virtually obliterated, then everything—timbre, blue notes, pronunciation, timing, diction—is available as stylistic options." [more inside]
UK respite and foster parents may no longer be homophobic, even when it is due to religious belief. An English Christian couple acting as foster parents have been banned from further placements due to their statement that they could not tell children that homosexual relationships were of equal value, with judges stating that their claims that adoption should still be allowed as a "a travesty of reality". Reaction from the UK religious right (such as it is) is venomous. [more inside]
British couple discover Medieval mural of King Henry VIII on their living room wall. (Includes video of the find.)
The Words That Maketh Murder/The Last Living Rose - Director Seamus Murphy introduces two of 12 short films he made for PJ Harvey's forthcoming LP, Let England Shake
We Are Those Lions. Sepia Mutiny discusses the death of Jayaben Desai, trade unionist.
Geoff Apps has been building and riding his own distinctive cross country cycles since the late 1960s. Unlike the members of the Rough Stuff Fellowship, who traditionally used touring or road bikes, Geoff's designs come from his background in motorbike trials (previously). After more than twenty years off the market, his latest design will soon go into production: the Cleland AventuraTT.
A new movie, The King’s Speech, (official site / trailer / clips) depicts King George VI of England's struggle to overcome his problem with stuttering and find his voice, in time to deliver the historic radio speech that prepared London for WWII. The film is being hailed as a potential Oscar-contender, for its unique, sensitive portrayal of stuttering -- a sharp contrast to the way movies traditionally present those who suffer from the disorder.. Slate offers a slideshow of ten video clips: A History of Stuttering in the Movies [more inside]
Here is an 80-gigapixel panoramic photo of London made from 7886 individual images. This panorama was shot from the top of the Centre Point building in central London, in the summer of 2010. [more inside]
History and mystery wonderfully blended. Although doubtless well-known to UK Mefites, I was only recently directed to this marvelous and engaging TV series featuring Michael Kitchen as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. It's a refreshing change from American fare, entirely adult, with crisp dialogue and meticulous attention to detail and historic accuracy. Speaking as a Yank weary of plasticity, it's also wonderful to see actors with real faces. The series can be seen on Youtube in pieces that can be viewed fairly seamlessly: Series One: The German Woman, The White Feather, Lesson in Murder, Eagle Day. Series Two: Fifty Ships, Among the Few, War Games, The Funk Hole. Series Three: The French Drop, Enemy Fire, They Fought in the Fields, War of Nerves. Series Four: Invasion, Bad Blood. Series Five: Bleak Midwinter, Casualties of War. Series Six: Plan of Attack, Broken Souls, All Clear. [more inside]
Journeyman Pictures has uploaded nearly 4000 videos to YouTube. Many of these are trailers for the documentaries they sell, but they have also posted hundreds of full-length videos. Most are for short documentarie, but there are a lot of features too. It's somewhat daunting to explore, but the playlists are a good place to start, and so are the shows: Features, Shorts, News and Savouring Europe, a European travelogue series. Here's a few interesting ones: Gastronauts, about French culinary students working to make astronaut food more palatable, Demon Drummers, about student Kodo drummers, India's Free Lunch, about the effects of free school lunches on Indian society, The Twitter Revolution, about YouTube and Twitter's role in the 2009 Iranian uprising, Europe's Black Hole, about Transnistria, the breakaway region of Moldova, Small Town Boy, about a gay male carnival queen in a small town in England, The Vertigo of Lists, Umberto Eco talks about the ubiquity of lists in modern culture and Monsters from the Id, about scientists in the science fiction films of the Fifties.
The Age of Uncertainty is my new favorite blog. It's by a gentleman bookseller who works in a warehouse in Sussex processing lorryfuls of used books. He shares the most interesting things he finds, commenting with wit and sensitivity. He also writes entertainingly about his everyday life. Let me point you towards his series of extracts from a diary that came to his warehouse, detailing the life of Derek, an employee of the government who converted to Mormonism. It was a fairly normal life, but the excerpts are fascinating. Here are the entries in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. He also posts beautiful images he finds, such as Victorian color plates: 1 and 2. Still, it is the remains of ordinary lives washing up on his shores that most enthralls me, such as this tear-inducing post about a family photo album which was sent to his used books warehouse.
A two-part panorama of London originally made in 1845 by the Illustrated London News, later updated with text descriptions. Other formats can be found on the blog post. [more inside]
Tempus I, an artistic look at the English countryside, and Tempus II, super slow motion video of stuff being destroyed. From up and coming video photographers James Adair and Philip Heron; with music from Moby's Play the B Sides. [more inside]
Yesterday was the birthday of Dr. John Dee (1527-1609) (wiki). This extraordinary and brilliant man was a mathematician, astrologer, astronomer, navigator, map maker, alchemist, hermetic philosopher, and adviser in matters practical and arcane to Queen Elizabeth 1st. History has sometimes been unkind to him because he embraced science and mysticism together (previously), believing both to be facets of the same universal thing. His unfortunate experiments in conjuring angels with the alchemist Edward Kelley are probably to blame. Kelley asserted that the angel Uriel had instructed him to swap or share wives with Dr. Dee. This, unsurprisingly, led to the end of their association. 16th century celestial wife-swapping was going too far. However, Dr. Dee was a true Renaissance man and a gifted scholar. You can visit his black obsidian magic Aztec mirror at the British Museum.
Nearly 122 years ago, The first field recording was made. In the Crystal Palace, London, 4000 voices were recorded singing Handel's Israel In Egypt. [more inside]
Sometimes called the "Miracle on Grass", the USA's 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup is arguably the biggest upset in the history of the cup; when a team of school teachers, dishwashers, and postmen beat the "Kings of Football". It was the Game of Their Lives. Today, they had the chance to do it again.
"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago."
One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand. Archaeologists discover the world's best-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery in York, England. [more inside]
A heartbreaking 10-minute documentary on Joe Gaetjens who scored the single goal in the USA's shocking victory over England at the 1950 World Cup. Gaetjens was a Haitian accounting student at Columbia University who went to Europe shortly after the 1950 World Cup and returned to Haiti a few years later. His story, and the story of the upset victory, was until recently largely unknown in the US.
UK adoption agencies are reporting "huge numbers of calls from 'deeply distressed' adoptive parents whose children have been contacted" through Facebook and other social networking sites, in violation of the traditional, confidential reunion process between birth parents and their offspring who have been placed with other families. Full report from Channel 4. [more inside]
Families, everyone's got to have one (or two, or three) Christopher and Peter Hitchens. Brothers.
Educational gamesmaker Preloaded has recently made two strategy games for English TV station Channel 4. 1066 is a mix of tactics, insult-typing, bowmanship, rhythm-game and narration by Ian Holm. Trafalgar Origins is all Napoleonic high seas derringdo all the time, as you sail your English ship in real time against the damnable French and Spanish. Whether you want to hoist the sails or call your opponent a stench weasel, they are fun little games which have the added bonus of teaching you about British history. Both games can be played solo or multiplayer. [via Rock Paper Shotgun, where they like those games quite a lot]
The remains of a man from Africa who lived and died in 13th-century England have been unearthed in Ipswich. Analysis of the skeleton shows that the individual originated in what is now Tunisia, but lived for at least a decade in England. This is not the only surprising recent information regarding African presence in pre-modern England. A paternally linked gene known from Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau has been present in the male lineage of a Yorkshire family for at least 250 years, and may reach back to the time of the Roman occupation. [more inside]
New Order's 1990 official World Cup song, World In Motion, promised a new, actually listenable era in football songs. So what has England seen since then? The endearing Three Lions for the hopes of Euro '96. Fat Les' Vindaloo celebrated the marriage of matches and curries. Meat Pie Sausage Roll celebrated the meal options of your average footie ground. On The Ball celebrated the meteoric rise of Ant and Dec. In 2006, we had a novelty cover of a novelty song, the unspeakable, the unelectable, and the so bad it loops round to genius. [more inside]
Lawrence of Arabia owned eight, and was killed riding one. George Bernard Shaw liked them. Approximately 3048 were built from 1919 to 1940; as of 2004, roughly 1000 are known to exist. Here are three sites about the "Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles": the Brough Superior.
The Victorian Dictionary: A motley collection of primary source documents and reference materials about Victorian London by historical thriller author Lee Jackson. Read the 1841 Census, browse peroid advertisements, zoom in on the 1881 Pocket Guide to London or just learn some dirty words.
Ever since Pat and Diane Farla moved into the detached Victorian building three years ago, they'd wondered what lay behind the metre-long rectangle which lay alongside a wall.
After 200 years, The Annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake at Cooper's Hill, near Gloucester in England has been canceled due to health and safety fears. (Official site.) The BBC devotes a section of their site to the event, and both ESPN and The Big Picture covered it last year. Previously [more inside]
Beheaded Vikings found at Olympic site. Last year workmen for the 2012 Olympics sailing venue in southern England came upon a grisly discovery: fifty-one men had been severely injured, most of them beheaded, and tossed into a mass grave. [more inside]
Punch Cartoons has over 8000 cartoons from the pages of Punch, the long-running British satirical magazine. It cast its eye on everything from quintessentially British entertainment to children's books to computer games to optometrists. Punch ran from 1841 to 1992 and was relaunched in 1996 and finally closed shop in 2002. You can read up on the history of the magazine on their website and if you want to read some old issues to see what they were like, Project Gutenberg has quite a few. [Punch previously]
Due to the threat of legal action the British National Party has amended its membership policy to be open to all races. It's first non-white member, a Sikh, will soon be handed his membership card personally by BNP leader Nick Griffin. Explains Griffin:
Anyone can be a member of this party. We are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British
Greece in 1823 and 1824; being a series of letters and other documents on the Greek revolution — the life of Mustapha Ali: [more inside]
In the mood for a good epidemic? Try the English Sweating Sickness. To get a full picture of the horror and uproar a fast spreading disease with frighteningly sudden onset caused in Tudor England, here is an amazingly complete account by a contemporary physician. The exact etiology of the disease is still a mystery - perhaps a viral pulmonary disease (PDF in link).
Space: 1999 (1975-77) is a British sci-fi series, the last production of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson who were first recognized for their work in "Supermarionation." This series saw the end of the couple, with Sylvia Anderson leaving the show at the end of the first season. She was replaced by Fred Freiberger, who brought in some Star Trek sensibilities and attempted to cater the show more to the American action-adventure audience. A third season was planned but not produced, and left the series unfinished, ending on an episode that was "like bad Shakespeare, or worse, bad Star Trek." Fans still support the show in many forms, even creating a semi-official fan-produced mini-episode entitled Message from Moonbase Alpha to bring some completion to the series, which was shown on September 13, 1999 at the Breakaway: 1999 convention. Another group of fans has recently taken to updating the whole series, to bring Space:1999 into the future. [more inside]
He drinks a whisky drink, He drinks a vodka drink, He drinks a lager drink, He pays a fortune for the privilege...
The House of Commons Health Committee recommends (report) that England should introduce a minimum price for alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the British Medical Association agrees, saying that the country needs "minimum pricing, higher taxation, reduced availability, improved regulation and better treatment for patients who have alcohol addiction problems" while the alcohol industry does not." So, what is the worth of a pint? [more inside]
On January 11, 2010, Canon David Parrott blessed laptop computers and mobile phones during the Plow Monday service at St Lawrence Jewry Church in the City of London. Plough Monday is the traditional start of the English agricultural year, and the Church was involved with blessing of tools for the coming year. Before it was involved with church services, Plough Monday was a time for folk plays and dancing (associated with other Mummers plays), with regional variations. Some new Molly Dancers have revived the traditions, complete with plow. There were also races to see who would start their work the earliest, to show their readiness to commence the labors of the year. So sing out now and walk your plough (or play a ring tone on your mobile phone). [more inside]
(NSFW) So Much For the Stiff Upper Lip. Slate writer gets jiggy wit the history of Georgian Britain's aristocratic sex clubs.
The Soldier in later Medieval England is a historical research project that seeks to 'challenge assumptions about the emergence of professional soldiery between 1369 and 1453'. They've compiled impressive databases of tens of thousands of service records. These are perhaps of interest only to specialists; but the general reader may enjoy the profiles of individual military men: these run the gamut from regional non-entities like John Fort esquire of Llanstephan ("in many ways a humdrum figure" though once accused of harbouring a hostile Spaniard!) to more familiar figures such as rebel Welsh prince Owain Glyndŵr, who began his soldiering, as did many compatriots, in the service of the English king. Between such extremes of high and low we find, for example, Reginald Cobham, who made 6,500 florins ransoming a prisoner taken at Poitiers and rests eternal in a splendid tomb; and various men loyal and rebel who fought at the bloody Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty". Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year. [more inside]