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  • The Romans in 100 Facts by Jem Duducu

    In the classic comedy The Life of Brian in it the Monty Python team have the classic sketch ‘So what have the Romans ever done for us?’ In it innovations such as roads, aqueducts and schooling are raised (and then dismissed). It's the perfect summary of Rome's greatest achievement which is PR. I say this because in reality, the Romans did not invent anything on the list of ‘Roman’ achievements in the sketch.

    The single greatest thing the Romans ever did for us is make us believe they were a ‘civilising’ force for good. They had had an advantage in Western Europe as the Celtic civilisations had no real writing. The Romans then could preserve for history their side of the story, but the fact the Gauls, Picts etc couldn't write does not make them uncivilised barbarians who ‘needed’ Roman overlordship.

    The further east you go, the more obvious it is that the Romans were the young upstart civilisation. For example in terms of time we are all closer to Julius Caesar and Cleopatra then they are to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Romans could bring nothing to the table in terms of history or culture in Egypt. Similarly the Romans owed a huge debt to the Hellenic Greek culture, but that didn't stop them conquering that area either.

    The simple fact is that the arrival of the legions in a new area did not herald a peaceful takeover, but war and enslavement. Civilisations were crushed, ruling families killed; this was in no way a meeting of minds and a merging of two equal partners. Going back to The Life of Brian and indeed the real time of Jesus, the Romans had actually only recently arrived on the scene and we're still coming to grips with ruling such an ancient culture. That's one of the reasons the Romans were resented so much in Judea - and the rest as they say is history.

    With my new book "The Romans in 100 Facts" I do my best to summarise over a thousand years of Roman history in short stories about certain key people, places and battles to open up this complex and hugely important world for the casual reader. I point out their achievements but I also show the flaws and brutality of this civilisation. This is the civilisation after all that watched men fight to the death for fun and yet perfected stoic philosophy. They had a massive slave trade but also built public baths and toilets for its poor citizens. The Romans then are a fascinating series of contradictions.


    Jem Duducu's The Romans in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • Erotic Postcards of the Early Twentieth Century by Nigel Sadler

    Sometimes research takes you onto a peculiar and unexpected path. Back in 2013 I started to work on the book Ottery St Mary Through Time. During this research some of the postcards led me into looking more deeply into the First World War, resulting in the publication The First World War: The Postcard Collection. One of the postcards used in this book showed a woman dressed provocatively and had been sent to a woman from a soldier reporting he was being treated in hospital for shrapnel wounds. This seemed a rather odd image to have been sent so I looked more into it.

    Erotic Postcards - Mademosielle Magva Mademosielle Magva, c.1910 (Amberley Publishing)

    What I had found was the ‘French Postcard’ genre. This card was probably from a sequence of images in which the lady got undressed and ended with partial or full nudity. Reading several books on the First World War there was occasional, but limited reference to men collecting postcards showing naked women, and in the film ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ she claims she wanted to show soldiers real naked women during the performances at the Windmill Theatre rather than just on the postcards like she had found in her sons possessions after he had been killed in the First World War. I had of course seen some of these postcards throughout the years but didn’t really think about their context - my curiosity had been spiked.

    I must say at this stage what I was looking into was generally not what I would term pornography. These cards don’t show obscene scenes or acts of sexual intercourse. In many cases they were produced to titillate and to push the boundaries of decency, but in my opinion they were just an extension of the old art schools using female nudes in paintings, drawings, sculptures now using the new and developing medium of photography.

    Erotic Postcards - PC Studio Paris PC Studio Paris, Series 1706 (Amberley Publishing)

    The French studios dominated this genre of postcards from the late 1800s and early 19th century. Unfortunately, as the trade in these cards was illegal, or at best frowned upon, many of the studios, photographers and models remained anonymous, or have been forgotten. There has been little research carried out on the subject and the few publications that covered the subject were mostly just collections of the postcards with little more than a brief description of the scene depicted.

    The cards are also good indicators of changing social views and of influences in the wider artistic world. The New Sculpture Movement of the 1870s introduced more realistic and artful poses than classical sculptures and opened the way for the wider range of poses taken on by the photographers in their works in the early twentieth century. Also, by 1880 studio photography had also fallen into a routine and a new movement, ‘art photography’ developed. Photographers wanted their work to be accepted as an art form. They posed models following the same rules of painting, experimenting with light and shade both in settings with objects in and where the only thing in the image was the person. One of the later champions of this approach was Julien Mandel.

    Erotic Postcards - Lucien Walery Miss Lucienne d'Armoy photographed by Lucien Waléry (1863-1935) (Amberley Publishing)

    These types of postcards can be categorised into four types: glamour, risqué, pornographic and scientific study. Glamour showed women posing completely dressed in regular clothing or undergarments. Risqué ranged from where the model had some naked skin showing to full nudity and is also often referred to as erotic. Pornographic images showed the model engaging or pretending to engage in sexual congress or explicit nude shots. Scientific images tried to change the moral compass of the image by claiming it had some scientific purpose and included ethnographic studies, art and naturism.

    It was the scientific category that caused much confusion. Colonial expansion by European countries led to a developing interest in ethnography and the colonies soon supplied a ready stream of women, mostly unwittingly, whose naked poses started to adorn the postcards. Initially they tried to make some scientific claim but it wasn’t long before photographers were posing naked ‘studies’ in studio sets with the only hint to their culture being them adorned in local clothing or jewellery.

    Naturism as a popular medium started in the 1920s and grew in Germany. Postcards showed people enjoying the outdoors naked. Technological advances along with the naturism movement led many photographers to attempt taking photographs outdoors to benefit from natural light and shade, however, many images were not true naturism but naked people outdoors.

    This book does not claim to be a definitive guide on the subject but is hoped that it will inspire others to carry on the research on this often hidden postcard genre.


    Nigel Sadler's Erotic Postcards of the Early Twentieth Century is available for purchase now.

  • The history of the Sunderland Cottages by Michael Johnson

    Sunderland’s unique Victorian homes are examined in a new book. Architectural historian Michael Johnson has published a major study of the distinctive ‘Sunderland cottages’ that opened the door to homeownership for the town’s hardworking families. Britain’s towns and cities experienced a dramatic rise in population during the 19th century, as people came seeking work in emerging industries. In many parts of the country this created a demand for housing that exceeded the existing supply.

    Faced with the problem of housing its working people, Sunderland developed a unique form of single-storey terraced houses that came to be known as Sunderland cottages. Resembling a terraced bungalow, the Sunderland cottage became the town’s dominant housing type during the 19th century. Row upon row of distinctive single-storey dwellings were laid out in tight grid patterns to accommodate workers and their families.

    The form was favoured by the skilled workers of Sunderland's shipyards and represented an affordable housing type that provided a high degree of privacy and social status. Each had its own entrance and backyard, and many of the best examples had private gardens, enabling residents to emulate the living standards of the middle classes.

    The earliest cottages were built close to industrial sites such as Wearmouth Colliery, the shipyards, and James Hartley's glassworks in Millfield. Later examples can be found in the suburban areas of High Barnes, Seaburn, Roker and Fulwell, as transport improvements made it possible to live further from the workplace. The new housing proved extremely popular in Sunderland, providing many workers with an opportunity to escape from the slum conditions of their previous dwellings by renting or buying their home.

    Sunderland’s foremost architects were the brothers William and Thomas Ridley Milburn, who were responsible for the design of the Empire Theatre. The Milburns designed cottages in the ‘ABC streets’ in High Barnes, as well as Kitchener Street, Nora Street, Hawarden Crescent, Queen’s Crescent, Tanfield Street and Hampden Road. Joseph Potts and Son were also prolific cottage designers, providing plans for the ‘Scottish streets’ in Fulwell – Forfar, Inverness, Moray and Roxburgh Streets.

    The Sunderland cottage is now recognised as an important and distinctive approach to housing Britain's expanding urban population. Well loved by residents, the best of these houses exemplified the pride of Sunderland's elite workforce. They remain a popular housing type to this day and comprise a substantial portion of the city's housing stock.

    Michael’s book examines the development of the Sunderland cottage and its place within the town’s social and architectural history. The text is illustrated with photographs taken especially for the volume, along with building plans and archival images. The book also includes a detailed appendix that documents the building of individual streets. The Sunderland Cottage: A History of Wearside’s ‘Little Palaces’ will serve as a valuable guide for Sunderland residents eager to know more about their own homes, and anyone with an interest in Britain’s 19th and early 20th century housing.


    Michael Johnson's The Sunderland Cottage A History of Wearside's 'Little Palaces' is available for purchase now.

  • The secret history of Chislehurst by Joanna Friel

    Secret Chislehurst - 003 Perdicaris Grave of Ion Perdicaris (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    What has Chislehurst and the island of St Helena got in common? Not a question often posed but one curious fact that gave rise to my writing Secret Chislehurst. Both places have empty Napoleonic tombs! The body of Napoleon Bonaparte was exhumed and reinterred at Les Invalides in Paris in 1840, nearly 20 years after the former Emperors’ death. In 1889 the body of his nephew, the last Emperor of France, Louis Napoleon III, was removed from its resting place in St Mary’s Church, Chislehurst and taken to a mausoleum at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire where it lies to this day.

    It’s a bizarre thought that the last monarch of France, his wife and his son lie on English soil and their sojourn as exiles in England created a lasting legacy on our little Kent Village.   When Amberley approached me to write Secret Chislehurst I had already enjoyed the task of producing Chislehurst Through Time for them, a book of old and new pictures, but this new ‘Secret’ series required a greater search for stories and images which accounted for my photographer getting lost on more than one occasion!

    Secret Chislehurst - 049 Nap arch Napoleonic architectural features at St Mary's Church (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    I thought we were on safer ground when we set out to spend the morning with Father Charles at the little Catholic Church of St Mary’s where Louis Napoleon and the Prince Imperial had originally been laid to rest amidst great pomp and ceremony, attended by the Prince of Wales, deputising for Queen Victoria. We captured our images of the tiled floor and the eagle emblazoned eaves and prepared to depart when the softly spoken priest asked if I wanted to see his toilet in the presbytery! How could I refuse, he wasn’t enquiring if I needed to use the facilities, rather he wanted me to admire the pretty secret floor; there it was, in all its glory, adorned with the left over Napoleonic tiles, complete with Imperial eagles. A secret that had to be revealed in the book.

    Secret Chislehurst - 050 Nap floor Napoleonic architectural features at St Mary's Church (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    The churchyard too holds secrets, the grave of the illegitimate daughter of Charles Stewart Parnell and Katherine ‘Kitty’ O’Shea, a baby that sparked a scandal and lead to the downfall of the Irish political leader. I’m often to be found in graveyards and grateful for the secrets they have revealed. I love telling the story of how President Theodore Roosevelt sent 7 warships to rescue a kidnapped Greek playboy thinking he was an American citizen. The headstone of Ion Perdicaris proudly reveals his former addresses; Trenton, New Jersey, Tangiers, Morocco and the Manor House, Chislehurst. Quite an adventure and a story worthy of the book.

    I was bemused by the fact that Amberley first listed the book as detailing the clandestine past of Chislehurst life, I changed that to covert for fear of confusing or even upsetting some of my local readers, we really don’t have spies amongst our midst, though that’s not exactly true, back in 1871 the Lord of the Manor had spies placed in a local windmill to spy on the exiled French Emperor, though they were apparently also being spied on by French courtiers placed there by the Emperor!

    All in all it’s been fascinating uncovering and telling the lesser known stories of Chislehurst’s past.


    Joanna Friel and Adam Swaine's Secret Chislehurst is available for purchase now.

  • Dining with the Victorians Daily Express feature by Emma Kay

    Making a meal of it: How the Victorians influenced your eating habits

    From a cooked breakfast to our love of curries, many of Britain's familiar culinary habits were invented by the Victorians as a new book reveals.

    1. Victorians-eating-617709 Dining With The Victorians explores the impact they had on our eating habits today


    Many Victorians had an inexplicable obsession with the occult. In relation to food and cooking their superstitions were plentiful. Butter was thought to have healing properties, particularly for scalds and burns.

    In some counties such as Lincolnshire they used to throw salt on the fire as a portent for producing a good batch prior to the churning. In Lancashire it was considered important to insert a hot iron into the cream as a means of expel ling the witch believed to reside within.

    They also avoided bringing eggs into or taking eggs out of the house after dark to prevent bad luck and were the first to throw spilled salt over their shoulder.


    During Georgian times 15 plus courses would be prepared. It was Queen Victoria who made famous the two or three course meal with courses served in sequence one at a time. This was in contrast to the old French style of eating made popular by the Georgians of bringing out all the food at once.


    The Victorian era was also when the Sunday lunch came into its own. For many of the labouring classes, Sunday was the one day they would eat meat, usually a small joint of beef, pork or mutton accompanied by two types of green vegetable and potatoes. Invariably this would be followed by some form of fruit pie or jam roly poly pudding. If they were lucky enough to afford meat on any other day the poorer classes would indulge in offal, anything from liver to heart. Only the very poor or destitute would choose to eat soup, broth or boiled meat with any regularity as the labouring classes felt it had too many associations with poverty, often labelling it "slops".


    The food in workhouses did vary but in Charles Shaw's well known diary of his early life in Victorian Staffordshire he sheds an unappetising light on the fare on offer. He describes the bread as made of sawdust "blotched with lumps of plaster of Paris" which was served with a substance he called "greasy water" and a couple of lumps of something that "would have made a tiger's teeth ache". The supper consisted of something known as "skilly", which he described as "culinary making nausea". In prisons too the conditions were tough. Edward Du Cane, the surveyor general of prisons, believed in "scientific starvation" early in an inmate's stay. He thought abstinence from food was healthy and worried that if they were too well fed it might encourage others to offend. Most of the time prisoners were given stale hard bread, inedible suet pudding and gruel. There was little meat and no vegetables.

    By 1842 the government had decided that slops and gruel were detrimental to the health of prisoners and that "diet ought not to be made an instrument of punishment".


    The Victorian times were when people started eating a breakfast that we would recognise today. In the 18th century it had been dominated by cold meats, cheese and beer. The Victorians started having porridge, fish, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade.

    They also changed the hour of dinner from 5pm to 7pm, which made the late meal of supper - taken around 9pm - less relevant.

    GOURMET CHEFSMany cooks of the Victorian era were women but the most fashion able families still employed highly skilled French male cooks at extortionate rates. The next best alternative was an English cook who had trained in France.

    While a top male cook could earn in excess of £80,000 a year in today's money, a good female cook would earn only half this.

    However, just because a family was wealthy does not mean they would have had a healthy diet. While they could afford more choice they were often ignorant in their food combinations, potentially leaving them as unhealthy as their poorer neighbours.


    One of the first kitchens to install a modern gas cooker was the elite Reform Club. So inspirational and innovative were the kitchens that they used to conduct tours around them and sectional views of the kitchen plans were mocked up, copied and sold to the public at a guinea for a coloured print and half a guinea for a black and white version. A total of 1,400 copies were sold. With the growth of the railways came the invention of food vending machines at stations. They quickly became regular features in railway stations and post offices, at first selling stationery and later food, particularly sweets.

    Nestle was one of the biggest manufacturers of these types of machine. Because they were so easy to scam - any old piece of metal would yield the machine's contents - it is surprising that it persevered with them.


    The Victorians were able to enjoy some foods that were imported from overseas. These included raisins from Malaga, grapes from France, dried tongues from Russia and Germany, and coconut oil from Manila and Ceylon. One of the big gest imports was sugar with more than 180,000 tons entering London in 1850. Not everything imported was exotic. Huge quantities of apples were brought in from the US, Belgium and France as well as a large amount of bacon and ham.

    A FRUITFUL BUSINESSPineapples became synonymous with wealth during the 19th century. Favoured by the upper classes they were served and displayed at dinner to indicate prosperity. In order to cultivate this fruit in cold, northern European temperatures Victorian gardeners invented "pineapple pits" which were essentially three trenches covered in glass. The walls of the trenches were bolstered with horse manure to generate heat and which had to be regularly topped up.

    CURRYING ROYAL FAVOURQueen Victoria loved curry. Her taste was influenced by her relationship with Abdul Karim, her controversial young servant, that began in 1887. It was at Osborne House where he first cooked for her using a spice box he had carried with him from India. He made her a chicken curry with a fragrant pilau and from that meal onwards the Queen requested Karim's dishes with greater regularity. In fact during the last decade of her life curry was ordered to be cooked on a daily basis.She only ever had curry for lunch, as was also customary for the British living out in India.

    Daily Express feature by Emma Kay on 7th November 2015

    Emma Kay's Dining with the Victorians is available for purchase now.


  • The Georgian Kitchen by Emma Kay

    Microsoft Word - Document1I wrote the Georgian Kitchen to tell the story of my conviction in Britain’s cooking culture forming during this period. This was a time of extraordinary change in Britain, when the country became a vastly powerful world entity; a wealthy, extravagant and culinary rich nation. Conflict, poverty and sea power led many migrants to British shores. As well as importing from all over the world and exploiting other countries of their own resources, Britain’s migrant population was already influencing the way we still eat today. The population doubled during the Georgian period and in particular large numbers of French citizens began to quickly dominate Britain’s kitchens. It became imperative for every wealthy household to employ a high ranking French cook, while the middling and labouring classes dined in the abundant inns, taverns, cook shops and street markets. The workhouses and prisons were overflowing with the poor and destitute who might look forward to a dollop of ‘hasty pudding’, mouldy bread or a potato every day – if they were lucky. Most poorer families shared a single cooking pot which would have sat in the middle of their one room accommodation, to be used for cooking, washing and as a urinal. In addition to the workhouses early philanthropy included the understanding that owners of large estates and tenured country residences would provide the poor of their parishes with a basic meal, usually of soup and benevolent soup kitchens began to flourish in some of the bigger cities by the early nineteenth century.

    There was a stark contrast between poor rural and urban living, the former reliant on self-sufficiency and few luxuries such as tea, coffee and sugar that would often require a long trip to a local market. Even the middle classes, like Jane Austen herself kept livestock. All farmer’s wives were skilled in cheese-making, brewing, preserving and curing which was a necessary seasonal routine in order to survive all year round. The Georgian era was also the one that marks the beginning of the end of large rural communities, as new technology and innovation began to broaden the scope for work and travel, with aspiring people migrating to the large towns and cities to live. By the end of the 1700s the urban cook shops, coffee houses and club culture for those men of high rank and business were already beginning to morph into early forms of restaurants and hotels. As greater emphasis was attached to the importance of food and slow developing advancements in kitchen design and contents evolved, kitchen equipment became a valuable commodity and the records of the Old Bailey during this period are full of incidents of thefts of anything from tea caddies, to silver spoons and sugar nippers. These items could be sold on at the dodgy street markets or pawned for food and clothing. The media was also awash with specialist crafted items for the kitchen and new inventions. In 1800 the average kitchen may have contained one or two pans. By 1899 they would have housed a whole set.

    As previously mentioned French cuisine, in addition to Italian confection and iced deserts dominated British culture during the Georgian age. However it is also important to reiterate that British cooking and British recipes were always included on the menu - or as the eighteenth century termed it ‘A Bill of Fare’, interspersed with European dishes. Celebrity chefs such as the great Marie-Antoine Carême, Louis Eustache Ude, Charles Francatelli, Alexis Soyer and William Jarrin are just some of the names who lived and worked in London divulging their European culinary secrets and whipping up gastronomic delights that were worthy of any of the big name celebrity chefs of today. They also all wrote prolifically about it, contributing to the new mass eighteenth and nineteenth century consumerism for recipe writing, including Mrs. James Simpson’s first Vegetarian cookery book of 1812.

    Microsoft Word - Document1Diarists and housekeepers also left their legacy of recipe writing and accounts of domestic kitchen and dining routines that were so integral to the Georgian lifestyle. The journals of James Woodforde, a simple country parson provide us with an indication of how even the humblest of middle class Georgians ate. We learn how he attends regular country dances, often into the early hours of the morning, feasting on roasted shoulder of mutton and plum pudding, followed by veal cutlets, frill’d potatoes, cold tongue, ham, cold roast beef and eggs in their shells. This was all washed down with punch, wine, beer and cider. Food is a regular theme throughout Woodforde’s diary and is a stark reflection of the importance placed upon culinary satisfaction and excess at this time. His description of one dinner he hosts for three acquaintances is quite hard to swallow (literally). The first course alone consisted of a couple of boiled chickens, a tongue, a boiled leg of mutton with capers and a batter pudding. The second course provided roasted ducks, green peas, artichokes, tarts and blancmange. And it continues - with almonds and raisins, oranges and strawberries, naturally ending with port wine. Such extravagance on a regular basis makes it so understandable that we associate poor health and obesity significantly with this period. Interesting how our own society mirrors some of this today alongside the Georgian throw away, disposable culture.

    Celebrity chefs, endless recipe books promoting the latest fad or baking craze, elitist French cuisine, a new gadget for the kitchen marketed every month, Immigration, class divide and cheap imports. We are not so different after all.


    Emma Kay's The Georgian Kitchen is available for purchase now.

  • Dining with the Victorians by Emma Kay

    Microsoft Word - Document1Dining with the Victorians explores the narrative of the history of cooking, eating, wining and dining in this fact packed follow-up to Dining with the Georgians, my first book that defined Britain’s contemporary culinary history as being largely established in the eighteenth century. Whereas the Georgians gave us celebrity chef culture, a recipe writing mass media and a culinary consumerist society, the Victorians evolved the way Britain’s ate, largely as a consequence of increased leisure and holiday time, invention and experimentation.

    Alongside a confusing back-drop of austerity; aspiration, inherent belief in old superstitions, piety, morals, principles, social awareness, innovation and tradition, Victorian society is the closest to our own recognisable heritage, as well as representing one of the most visibly transcended periods in history. Despite philanthropy and great social change, the nineteenth century divide between rich and poor was hugely conspicuous. This is the era that saw the shift in the great French cooks of the century before moving from the estate kitchens of the wealthy, into the new Hotel and early public dining venues opening across cities and towns across the country. Tea rooms, lunching spots and dining halls catered to the rising and diligent middle classes who now often commuted long distances for work. The role for women in society was also shifting and for those middle class wives and daughters not engaged in the modern industrious workforce, they spent their new found freedom from the constraints of the home out shopping, visiting galleries and museums, parks and gardens stopping for tea and light refreshment in the abundance of new establishments catering for them. The labouring and poor capitalised on street and market trades or sought food from the sewers, mud flats and animal swill bins of the neighbouring prosperity.

    Microsoft Word - Document1 ©Museum of Kitchenalia

    Dining with the Victorians investigates the altruistic nature of nineteenth century culture, something that was evident in Georgian society, but became a burgeoning force by the late eighteen hundreds. A recognition of the cyclical nature of poverty and the need to implement real change in order to create stronger, more prosperous communities led to revolutionary widespread changes in the teaching and training of cooking and domestic health and hygiene for all. Newly established schools, colleges and centres of learning adopted the art of cookery as an essential tool for life which was rolled out for the benefit of all, particularly targeting the poor. Charitable pioneers like William Booth who invested in the soup kitchen philosophy of the century before, by providing farthing breakfasts for children on their way to school and Alexis Soyer; who spans both Georgian and Victorian eras researching and conversing with the poor, developing recipes and manufacturing affordable practical kitchen equipment, are just two names associated with this break from the past. This was also the age of advancements in science, germ theory and an awareness of wider health implications leading to new legislation concerning the adulteration of food. By the mid nineteenth century it was not uncommon to find alum in your bread, lead to colour cheese and arrowroot to thicken cream amongst many other deadly component ingredients to keep the cost of production down and the appearance of food attractive to the consumer.

    The one theme in the book that I was very keen to impart and have to a much larger extent done so when writing about the Georgians, is to emphasise Britain’s many different cultural culinary influences. As a nation with a legacy of exploration, migration, immigration, trade and Empire, this inevitably impacted on the type of food the British were eating during the Victorian age. The dominant French and Italian influences of the century before yielded German bakeries, Jewish fried fish sellers, Indian and Chinese food emporiums, American imports and a wealth of new cuisines available to a wide demographic by the late nineteenth century; not just to the wealthy classes, but for the aspiring middle and some sectors of working class society. Perhaps the greatest Victorian enthusiast of all for Indian cuisine was Queen Victoria herself, who towards the end of her life insisted on eating curry every day and had a controversial relationship with her personal Indian chef Abdul Karim, far less documented than that of the one she had with John Brown.

    Microsoft Word - Document1Given the fact that we live in a somewhat food obsessed culture where programmes like the Great British Bake Off and come Dine With Me dominate the television ratings while the likes of Mary Berry, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (to name a few) are often hotter news than the news itself - food and the British food cultural legacy, including the extraordinary story of the evolution of the British kitchen, is a somewhat neglected and unconventional category of academic historical research. It remains a vast area of largely unchartered discovery, with just a handful of writers dedicated to its research and interpretation. My first book Dining with the Georgians and the now paperback Georgian Kitchen, explores the even less chronicled area of kitchen utensils and the early revolution in kitchen technology, labour-saving devices and methods of food preparation and production. Dining with the Victorians takes this narrative forward by charting the correlation between a changing and modernising society, alongside the astounding growth in consumer demand for the accessibility of food in public. By the eighteen eighties Britain’s Aerated Bread Company (ABC’s) were mass producing baked products off site to sell in bakeries that had chain shop stores on most high streets, food could also be bought from vending machines at train stations and consumers could sample the tastes of various different cultures; not only on the streets of port cities but by travelling on package excursions courtesy of Thomas Cook tour operators, who made copious notes on all the early group package tours regarding the nature of food served from country to country.

    I hope my continued research in this area will go some way to contributing towards the largely untold history of what has shaped Britain’s rich culinary inheritance.


    Emma Kay's Dining with the Victorians is available for purchase now.

  • The Empress, the War and the Old Boy Network by Gareth Russell

    Empress Zita 'One of the three great royal women of the war': Karl's wife, the Empress Zita, was a devout Catholic who caused a crisis with her attempts to secretly end the war. (The Emperors Amberley Publishing)

    In political terms, the life of Zita of Bourbon-Parma was one of the great, if noble, failures in European history. To date the last Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, the young consort’s career did not begin until her husband’s succession to the throne in November 1916, but it continued as her son’s regent-in-exile in the inter-war years. Her influence could still be felt on Austrian monarchism and anti-Communism right the way down to her death in 1989. In almost everything she did, or tried to do, Zita failed. Her attempts to pull Austria-Hungary out of the war and break her alliance with Imperial Germany precipitated a constitutional crisis, which I discuss in chapter 10 of my book The Emperors. Her plans to save, and then restore, the Hapsburg monarchy did not succeed; her tenacious and determined opposition to Nazism, which she pursued at great personal risk both to herself and her family, did not halt either the Anschluss of 1938 or the Nazi regime’s grinding and bloody disapproval of Austrian monarchism. Only in her valiant decades-long quest to keep the flame of the dynasty alive did Zita achieve one of her goals. Although the pro-monarchy groups in the former Hapsburg Empire are small in 2015, particularly outside of Austria, the dynasty itself remains united within a clear command structure beneath the uncontested head of the clan, Zita’s grandson the Archduke Karl. When compared to the internecine, self-immolating mess of disagreements that have swamped, and probably capsized, the deposed ruling families of France and Russia, the Hapsburg achievement, which owes so much to Zita’s emphasis on self-sacrifice in the name of duty, remains commendable.

    Empress Elizabeth 'Almost inhumanly slender': Franz Josef's wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria. (The Emperors Amberley Publishing)

    When Zita died in 1989, she was a dowager queen-empress of six decades. To Austrian conservatives, she had acquired a role not too dissimilar to her near-contemporary Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who, as British Queen Mother from 1952 to 2002, had become both flesh and blood personality and totemic custodian of the legacy – a bridge to the certainties of the past. However, when she first married into the Hapsburg dynasty in October 1911, Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma had far more in common with Catherine Middleton when she joined the British royal house a century later. The previous Empress, Elisabeth of Bavaria, had been a beautiful and charismatic woman with a wide public following thanks to her star quality and charitable works. Her violent death on holiday in 1898, at the hands of an anti-monarchist assassin, had provoked scenes of widespread mourning, despite the fact that within ‘the establishment’ Elisabeth had been regarded as a loose cannon, determined to go it alone when it came to the public, rather than follow protocol. The old and conservative Emperor, whose longevity and conspicuous devotion to duty had already turned him into the focus of respectful affection, despaired when his heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, insisted on entering into a morganatic marriage with a non-royal, Countess Sophie Chotek.

    Compared to these recent upsets, Zita of Bourbon-Parma stepped as a vision of reassuring perfection. She was Catholic, she was conservative, she was charming without the flash of the emerging buzzword of celebrity and, even by Hapsburg standards, her background was impeccable. On her mother’s side, Zita was the granddaughter of King Miguel I of Portugal and on her father’s she was descended from the last Bourbon King of France, Charles X. In public, Zita moved with grace and elegance, but never outshone her husband or attempted to steal focus from the Emperor. She was effusively and unfailing polite to everyone she met, but capable of casting a regal air of chill if she felt she, or the Imperial Family, had been insulted. Her marriage to the Archduke Karl, who was second in line to the throne after his uncle Franz Ferdinand, produced a son, the future Crown Prince Otto in 1912, and then a small tribe of siblings after him.

    In The Emperors, I argued that Zita’s ancestry was of great importance in explaining both her political outlook and the actions she undertook between 1916 and 1989. She did not exactly spring from a pluralist pedigree. Charles X had lost the French throne in 1830 in the face of opposition to his attempts to increase the monarchy’s powers and her grandfather, Miguel of Portugal, was known by the telling posthumous sobriquet of King Miguel the Absolutist. For Zita, throne and altar were vitally important parts of her world view. Indeed, they were central. Everything beyond them, she regarded as irrelevant detritus.

    The other component in explaining her extraordinary political activities was her upbringing, which in many ways mirrored that of any Edwardian upper-class girl. Born into a wealthy family in northern Italy, with a tribe of servants, the years of her childhood were framed by the signposts of the social calendar. She and her siblings were moved about on their father’s private train from villa to schloss to château depending on what animal was in season to hunt, which ball would be held where and how the weather might change. She and her sisters were sent to an all-girls Catholic boarding school on the Isle of Wight. They learned to speak several languages, all with the drawl and rhythm of the upper-classes – Received Pronunciation for English, Schönbrunner Deutsch for German. Noblesse oblige was drilled into the Bourbon-Parma siblings, particularly the girls. Zita herself was named after the patron saint of servants and with her sisters she was regularly sent to help in soup kitchens or homeless charities.

    Combined, the links to the ancien régime, the narrow world of her upbringing and the intense Catholicism with its ideas of a royal vocation explain Zita’s near-total belief in the system she had grown up with. It always astonishes me that the Empress’s life has not received more academic or popular attention. Her career, particularly that crucial phase between 1916 and 1919, illuminated a plethora of important points about diplomacy and government at the end of the First World War. The fate of her husband’s empire of course shows that the ‘golden age of monarchies’ came crashing to an end, but the pervasive idea that the class system itself imploded because of the tribulations of the Great War is utterly incorrect. It was weakened, certainly, but neither it nor trust in it was destroyed entirely.

    The Sixtus Affair, Zita’s plot to free Austria-Hungary from the war, saw a level of intrigue in the drawing rooms, embassies and ballrooms of Europe that would not have been out of place in a Dumas novel. Her brothers, Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier, met privately with Pope Benedict XV at the Vatican and then with King George V at Buckingham Palace to discuss the feasibility of a separate peace for Austria-Hungary. Sixtus, who was fighting in the Belgian army, was reached in a Swiss safe house through incognito trips by the Empress’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Parma, and by the Emperor’s childhood friend, Count Erdödy. When the affair’s secrecy was rumbled, it was because its cover had been blown by a French socialist, Georges Clemenceau, who took great delight in publishing the entire correspondence, embarrassing his predecessor and dealing a death blow to the Hapsburg monarchy’s attempts to extricate itself from the war effort.

    The Emperor Karl The Emperor Karl, who acceded to the throne at the age of twenty-nine. (The Emperors Amberley Publishing)

    When the monarchy collapsed in November 1918 and the family were trapped in Austria, fears that they might meet the same fate as the Romanovs prompted Prince Sixtus to return to Buckingham Palace, where he used his audience with King George V and Queen Mary to beg for help for his sister, his brother-in-law and their children. Despite Karl’s role as the head of state for a recently-defeated power, King George was able to intervene to dispel any possible objections. As I detailed in The Emperors, George V’s role was crucial and a Catholic lieutenant from a gentry family who had once gone skiing with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was sent to persuade the Emperor and Empress that they must flee, something which Zita was emphatically opposed to. At the time of her husband’s deposition, she had impressed or frightened everyone around her with her announcement, made in a moment of sincere temper, that emperors and empresses may be killed, but they never abdicated.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt was able to persuade the Empress to take her family to Switzerland. It was not an easy task. Zita, who he described as ‘one of the three great royal women of the war’ (the others, in his opinion, were the queens consort of Belgium and Romania), was earnest in regarding death as preferable to humiliation. It took awhile to win her over. The butchering of the Tsar’s children may have shaken her resolve – after all, it is one thing to chose martyrdom for one’s self, but another thing entirely to thrust it on to the heads of infants. Strutt finally persuaded the Empress by evoking the ghosts of her French ancestors – ‘A dead Hapsburg is no good to anyone,’ he advised, ‘whereas a live one, with a family, may yet be’. Charles X had escaped the French Revolution in 1789 and lived to see his family restored in 1814. The family, evacuated in part in 1830 and in full in 1848, had come tantalisingly close to regaining their throne on several occasions since and it was by no means certain in 1918 that France would remain a republic forever. On 25 March 1919, the Austrian Imperial Family were evacuated with British, Swiss and Danish help into Switzerland. At that stage, it still seemed as if Strutt’s cryptic comment that their monarchy ‘may yet be’ was a prediction, not a forlorn hope, as Austria was described as ‘a republic without republicans’. The determination of the Allies to block a restoration of the old system and, above all, the rise of fascism in the next decade helped bury any possibility of a Hapsburg revival, but in 1919 all that lay in the unknown future.

    Zita of Bourbon-Parma’s political activities during her time as Empress consort were deftly executed by a consummate mistress in the art of decorous self-effacement. Tracing her role requires reading between the lines and relying on the accounts of those who met her and were, almost unfailingly, impressed by her ‘extraordinary strength of character, softened by her own remarkable charm.’ Her actions as empress are as important and compelling as the woman herself, whose story I found so rewarding to write about in The Emperors. They showcased continued trust in the royal system, even as it collapsed, the importance that was still placed on doing things ‘properly’, the enormous soft power retained by the British monarchy and the influence that individuals continued to influence at the heart of the world’s most important institutions.


    Gareth Russell's The Emperors is available for purchase now.

  • What the British Invented by Gilly Pickup

    My latest book, What the British Invented – From the Great to the Downright Bonkers, was a delight to research and write. Of course before I started out on the task, I knew that as Brits we are a remarkably creative bunch, but I didn’t quite realise the extent of our inventiveness until I actually started to write.

    What the British Invented - chocolate An 1851 chocolate bar (c. Frenchay Village Museum)

    These inventors have not only done so much to improve our daily lives, but in many cases have also changed the world around us. Marvellous British inventions have helped us win the Second World War courtesy of Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt’s radar; smoothed the path of travel by way of Edgar Hooley’s tarred road surfaces and literally lit up all our lives thanks to Joseph Swan who developed the modern incandescent lamp – did you know his house was the first in the world to be lit by electricity? Ah and what about chocolate, surely a world without the stuff would be unthinkable – at least it would be so if you’re a chocoholic like me. Bristol Company Fry and Son made the first bar of chocolate from a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar with a little melted cocoa butter that had been extracted from the beans. Coarse and bitter by today’s standards, but nevertheless still a revolution. Yes indeed, 18th century France produced tablets and bars, but Fry & Son made the first bar of chocolate as we know it today.

    In the field of medicine, Brits led the way again with everything from aspirin, ibuprofen and chloroform, to penicillin, hypnotism and the hypodermic syringe.

    Brainy Brits also came up with the idea of the jet engine, the glider, tin cans, the collapsible baby buggy, refrigeration and even Buick cars. David Dunbar Buick, born in Arbroath in Scotland, founded the company that became known as General Motors Corporation of America, a mighty car making empire. A clever chap, he also invented the enamel bathtub.

    What the British Invented - P & O Britannia (c. P&O Cruises)

    Most of us take a couple of holidays every year – and guess what? – Yes, Thomas Cook from Market Harborough, is credited with inventing the package holiday. Meanwhile in 1835 Shetland sailor Arthur Anderson, a man of remarkable negotiating skills, proposed the idea of sailing for pleasure as a passenger in an ocean going vessel. He co-founded the General Steam Navigation Company, later the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company and now known as P&O, a major operator of passenger liners.

    Quite possibly though, the one invention which has completely changed the world is the World Wide Web. London born Tim Berners-Lee, a physicist and computer scientist, was the brains behind this one. By late 1990 he had built all the elements necessary to deliver his new concept, including the first browser and the first website   While looking for a name for this new invention, he turned down ‘The Information Mine’ - TIM - his initials and modestly called it the World Wide Web.

    My book is an amalgam of facts to interest the trivia buff, the downright curious and those of us who know that Britain is of course ‘Great’ but occasionally need a prod to remind us why. Whether you want to learn something, to smile, be amazed or need an extra boost of patriotism, there is something here for you. You can read it from cover to cover or open it at random. I guarantee you will stumble upon something to interest you.


    Gilly Pickup's What the British Invented is available for purchase now.

  • Edward IV - Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James

    edward pic 1 Edward IV (Courtesy of Ripon Cathedral)

    Perhaps no English king fought harder for the throne than King Edward IV, personified by Shakespeare as ‘this Sun of York’; an allusion to the three suns which are said to have risen in splendour prior to the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, near Hereford, fought on 2 or 3 February 1461, a perceived supernatural display seen by Edward as a favourable omen, presaging victory. Courtier, Philippe de Commines, recalled Edward as ‘the handsomest prince my eyes ever beheld’. Tudor historian Sir Thomas More described him as ‘princely to behold, of body mighty’. In true Plantagenet mould, he stood six foot three inches tall. Naturally charismatic, with abundant charm and bonhomie, Edward approached every man (and woman) ‘of high and low degree’ with great familiarity. Down to earth, easy-going and with an eye for the ladies, his enjoyment of the trappings of luxury has sometimes been portrayed as a weakness, but might more generously be extolled as a virtue; a necessary display of status and achievement in an age which demanded it.

    Edward was a usurper, his kingship was won on the battlefield, the result of a conflict caused by upheavals at the end of the Hundred Years War. As such he could be seen as an opportunist. In my book, Edward IV, Glorious Son of York, I explore the background to this takeover and chart the difficulties Edward faced consolidating his rule. It was a bloody business. The period between June 1469 and May 1471 has been described as one of great instability ‘without parallel in English history since 1066’. Governance changed hands three times, the crown twice, and major battles for the throne were fought.

    edward pic 2 Elizabeth Woodville, whom Edward IV married in sercet, putting love above the interests of the state

    Edward was a fighter, but not just for the sake of it. He considered his greatest martial achievement to have been the bloodless campaign and settlement with the French King Louis XI during his second reign, rather than any of the epic battles for which he is better known. Even so, he had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles, but they came at great cost: his victory at Towton near York, fought in a snow blizzard, has been characterised as England’s most brutal battle, its outcome described as akin to a national disaster in terms of casualties inflicted; the Battle of Barnet, fought in dense fog ten years later on the outskirts of London, another of Edward’s victories, gained the dubious accolade of being the fiercest battle fought in Europe for a hundred years.

    Like the visibility at Towton and Barnet, much that occurred in Edward’s day remains opaque: marriage carried out in secret, remorseless propaganda, malicious slanders and proxy wars. These years have been described as among the darkest of our annals, and not just for lack of primary source material. Motivations and rivalries that existed within a closely inter-married nobility were of paramount importance in shaping what occurred. The main players included Edward’s father, Richard duke of York, described as England’s most illustrious failure of the Middle Ages; the period’s great facilitator of political change, Richard Neville earl of Warwick, known as the ‘kingmaker’; the ill-starred Henry VI who Edward deposed (twice); Henry VI’s steadfastly loyal Queen, Margaret of Anjou, a woman maligned as the ‘she-wolf’ of France, but who bravely defended her husband’s and her son’s rights with all the means she could muster; Edward’s seductive wife, Elizabeth Woodville, an upwardly-mobile commoner who Edward married in secret, putting love above the interests of the state. There were also Edward’s ambitious brothers, George duke of Clarence and Richard duke of Gloucester. Richard famously seized the throne once, yet Edward did it twice, becoming the only English king to both win and regain his crown through force of arms.


    Jeffrey James' new book Edward IV Glorious Son of York is available for purchase now.

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