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  • The Wild East by Ian Hernon

    Gunfights, Massacres and Race Riots Far From America's Frontier

    I love America. I love the sweep of its history and the speed of change. But all great nations are built of myths. As a child of the 1950s, my early years were spent in front of a black and white TV watching Rawhide, The Rifleman, Wells Fargo, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Wagon Train and many, many more. Even at a tender age I knew that the reality wasn’t so black and white. The essential truth is that often terrible things were done for understandable reasons and good things emerged from evil acts. But expanding literacy, the movies and TV skewed the stories towards the Western frontier of romance, leaving behind the tales of the even more violent East during the same period.

    Or at least, that is what I argue in this book: that the scale of violence was far greater east of the Mississippi/Missouri during the period when the West was won, yet the opposite appears true in the popular, and populist, imagination and recollection.

    An 1890s poster advertising a circus bearing the Buffalo Bill name, evidence that by this time the myth-building of the West was in full swing. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    This book has never been intended in any way to denigrate the Western pioneer ethos, rather to help understand the contradictions inherent in attitudes which downplay the historic role of the East as a hotbed of violent struggle. Those contradictions played a part in the election of the ‘outsider’ Donald Trump, an Eastern billionaire who inherited huge wealth but who purported to be on the side of the working man. An outsider, in other words, who was part of the pampered and moneyed elite rather than the political and intellectual elite.

    In April 2016, while Trump was battling Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination and Hilary Clinton was slugging it out with Bernie Saunders on the Democrat side, I travelled through the cowboy states of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. I received nothing but hospitality and easy friendship in poor towns where the pioneer spirit remains the culture of ongoing choice. A 30-year-old bartender in a Billings, Montana, micro-brewery summed up the Wild West appeal of both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat/socialist Bernie Sanders: “They’re outsiders. They have a populist message which goes down well in rural areas where folk feel their voice goes unheard amongst the political elite.” That was a view repeated constantly. Such states in the heart of the “real” America provide answers to those in Britain puzzled by the appeal of the clownish Trump.  America’s “rim” is the Washington-central east coast, the west coast and the southern Bible belt, but the vast tract of the mid-west regards itself as the real soul of America and its people felt disenfranchised.

    There the stereotypes repeated in New York, Los Angeles and London are either simplistic or untrue. The three states I visited have a complicated social history which constantly confounds analysts of the Right. Take Wyoming, for example.  Steeped in conservative cowboy culture, with the Republicans dominating the state senate for 80 years, it is proud of being the first state to grant women the right to vote – suffrage for women aged 21 and over was agreed in 1869, 50 years before Britain, while Montana followed in 1916. The reason, according to a grizzled 71-year-old Vietnam vet, was “folk knew it was unfair, and they did something about it.” The veteran, who fitted the cinematic stereotype of a prospector or mountain man but had been fluent in seven languages as a military interpreter, pointed out that Democrat Nellie Taylor Ross was the country’s first state governor in 1924 and was the first female director of the US Mint, serving from 1933 to 1953. “Mind you,” the veteran added, “it wasn’t until 1952 that Native Americans got the vote.” The truck-stop town of Hardin, Montana, on the edge of the Crow reservation, demonstrated the poverty endemic across former native lands and beyond. Here, and in much of the three states, families have a hardscrabble life far distant from the salons of Washington and New York and the studios of Hollywood. Here poverty has given common cause to old enemies, uniting them in contempt for the Establishment. Respect for common traditions, a strong sense of local community, and a distaste for welfare are other unifying themes. “We believe in work, not welfare,” said a motor mechanic in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, “and if Hilary Clinton had her way we would all either get it or pay for it.” A gambler in Deadwood, South Dakota, said: “These are the last three states left where if you break down on the road, the next car will stop. We help each other out here.” Such self-reliance is a matter of pride – if you don’t believe in big government, you shouldn’t claim the benefits of big government. The same is true of attitudes to the environment – this is the territory of Yellowstone National Park, the Bighorns, the Black Hills – and people want to protect their natural heritage to a degree unheard of in most of the US, and in Britain. Although a cynic might say that they want to save animals so they can shoot them.

    New York's Bowery neighbourhood in Manhattan, a notorious den of gangsters at the turn of the twentieth century and proud home of the Bowery Boys. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    Myths and downright fantasies have deep roots across America. Following the Revolutionary War, the new nation had to create its own history. Hence, the adventurer and all-round dodgy character Christopher Columbus was first popularized by Washington Irving in his 1829 biography, a book constructed almost entirely out of romance rather than history. It spun a fable of an individual who challenged the unknown sea, as Americans confronted the promise of their own wilderness, creating a land free of kings and class prejudice. Captain John Smith’s 1624 account of the Jamestown colony was devoured not because of its description of hardship and colonial greed, but because of his fabled rescue by the Red Indian princess Pocahontas, a legend that has persisted ever since. There is no evidence that the Mayflower’s pilgrim father ever disembarked on any rock, never mind Plymouth Rock, and the first written reference was penned 121 years later. And before they arrived, the Thanksgiving holiday had been widely practiced in Protestant Netherlands.

    And there’s much more. The tale that the young George Washington admitted to his father that he had chopped down a prized cherry tree "I cannot tell a lie" was invented by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his 1806 book, The Life of George Washington: With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen, and further spread by Mark Twain, the novelist. The politician/planter Patrick Henry is best known for his 1775 speech kick starting the war for independence, saying: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Liberty, or give me Death!" That was written 42 years later by another “historian”, William Wirt. There is also no evidence that Betty Ross sewed the first American flag – which attribution was first made during the 1876 centennial celebrations.  Add into the mix apocryphal exploits of such invented or exaggerated characters as the New England lumberjack Jigger Johnson, the Massachusetts clipper skipper and giant Captain Stormalong, and the Jersey Devil, and we can see that Easterners have no reason to feel superior or to sneer too much at Western mythologies.

    Little Italy in Manhattan, circa 1900. Italian enclaves such as this popped up in numerous cities and saw the steady growth of organised crime centred on Sicilian families. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    At the opening of the 19th century, 94 per cent of Americans lived in rural settings – by 1900 almost half lived in towns or cities. The population had grown 14 times as large, and the economy 70 times. The concentration was still east of the Mississippi/Missouri, and it is no wonder that the real frontier was by then in the battles between burgeoning capitalism and organised labour, between white supremacists and growing racial minorities, between fathers, sons and brothers to a degree not seen since the wars between the states. These are inconvenient truths. Mass strikes and insurrections in the East have been too often ignored in favour of fantasies going back to the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers. Jeremy Brecher wrote: “It is at such times that the veil of stasis is rent and the opposing forces maintain and undermining the existing forms of society revealed.”

    The author Mike Duncan has drawn explicit parallels between ancient Rome before its fall and modern America: “Rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarisation, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct…” and “a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” Robert Harris, the author of a trilogy of novels about the Roman orator Cicero, saw much the same: “Unscrupulous millionaires whipping up the mob to attack the elite and the whole democratic structure crumbling under that pressure…”

    America claims to be a “classless” society, but the momentous upheavals of race, capital and organised labour have been airbrushed out of popular history by vested interests, resulting in a subsequent ignorance of the relatively recent past which leads in turn to aberrations such as misunderstood “populism” and a denigration of hard-won civil and social rights. Trumpism, some might say.

    The docks in New Orleans. A great deal of goods were trafficked through her, making it a key battleground for various organised crime groups. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    It was not always so. In 1900 The New York Post argued that the biggest threat to the American Dream was the upsurge in the number of millionaires which were seen as an affront to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Americans dreamt of social justice and looked to government to regulate and control rampant greed, while presidents such as Woodrow Wilson wanted America to be a beacon for democracy across the world. The various “America First” movements corrupted such visions into isolationism, a modern form of nativism and a narrow American identity in the most ethnically-divided nation on earth. Gerard DeGroot pointed to Warren Harding’s campaign to encourage only white immigration, writing: “His supporters complained about fake news and hyphenated Americans. The similarities are hard to ignore.”

    And it is in the success of Donald Trump that we can see an illustration of self-delusion which again goes some way to explain the airbrushing out of popular consciousness of the Wild, Wild East. Many, including Trump’s own sister, have compared the President with the 19th Century huckster impresario P.T. Barnum who grew rich several times over with his freak shows, museums of curiosities, snake oil salesmanship and downright fraud. Both recognised that audiences are less interested in reality than spectacle. Historian David McCullough said that “Barnum was loud, brassy, full of bombast, vulgar, childish, surely just a little crooked – the ultimate, delightful phoney from a delightfully phoney era.” And Ben Macintyre wrote: “The similarities are striking. Both Trump and Barnum exhibit the skills of born salesmen, more concerned with profitable entertainment than strict truth. Barnum said he did not care what people thought of him so long as they talked about him, a principle Trump lives by. Both men became more famous and popular with every fresh gust of notoriety.” Audiences – and voters – can be “willingly deceived” and the taming of the West provides a better, clearer, more simplistic narrative than the long, messy, sordid and brutal industrial and racial warfare which created the world’s most successful capitalist economy.

    For the liberal Left, also, that story can make uncomfortable reading. Impoverished Irish immigrants lynched blacks from lamp-posts, trade unionists did their best to enforce colour bars, and socialist ‘heroes’ took back-handers. But overall, the history of the Eastern half of the nation is a story of heroism, fortitude and stamina which more than matches the pioneer spirit demonstrated on the frontier.

    Ian Hernon's new book The Wild East: Gunfights, Massacres and Race Riots Far From America's Frontier is available for purchase now.

  • The Baltic Story by Caroline Boggis-Rolfe

    A Thousand-Year History of Its Lands, Sea and Peoples

    The palace of Sans Souci, seen from below the vine-covered terraces. (The Baltic Story, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1969 I moved to Berlin with my husband, who was working in a liaison role with the Soviets. As a result, unlike most people from the West, we both went frequently into East Germany – in my case, a weekly shopping trip across the famous Glienicke Bridge to Potsdam being a regular event. While today the town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is visited by large numbers of tourists who queue up to see inside the magnificent and well-restored buildings, my experiences fifty years ago were very different. At that time, despite being run-down, the quiet empty palaces and peaceful grounds where I could wander on my own had their own special kind of magic.

    It was here at Frederick the Great’s much-loved Sans Souci that I first came to learn something about his guest, Voltaire. Being still young and very ignorant at the time, I knew little of the Frenchman other than his name, but this early introduction would be the spark that ignited my later interest in the history of the whole region. After choosing Voltaire as the subject of my doctoral thesis, I discovered his writings regarding several of the great individuals of the area – including Peter I and Catherine II of Russia, Charles XII of Sweden, and, of course, Frederick of Prussia. These rulers later became central subjects in my lectures on cruise ships, where I then found just how much the Cold War had affected the experience and knowledge of the majority of my generation, people who had grown up learning almost nothing about the countries lying at that time behind the Iron Curtain. But even today there is little written for the average reader who wants to understand more about the background of this important part of the world, a region that extends all the way from Denmark to Russia. Some academic works focus on certain topics or areas, and an abundance of excellent biographies concentrate on the great individuals, but it seems that little has been published in English for the general reader regarding the other players. I love historical biographies, but their authors like the rest of us have to make decisions about what to include and what to omit. When reading these works, which closely detail the lives of their central figures, I find myself often wanting to know more about the neighbouring people with whom they came in contact. This has been one of the objectives of my book, even though it has meant that I have had to sacrifice some lesser points in order to give space to the wider field.

    Peterhov's Great Cascade with the Samson Fountain that commemorated the victory at Poltava. (The Baltic Story, Amberley Publishing)

    With this broader search being my aim, I draw attention to the multiple connections that have historically linked the separate Baltic regions. From the days of the early traders, neighbours had begun to form alliances, often ratifying them by the exchange of a marriage contact. However, while these arrangements were intended to unite the different groups, all too often the reverse would be true as the dynastic arguments became bitter and gradually escalated into a full-blown conflict. But, despite their own repeated rivalries, throughout the centuries these regional lands would also be key players in the affairs of much of the rest of Europe. While Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Russia and Germany alternated as its leading players, the whole Baltic area would be a centre of east-west commercial activity, and a battleground during many of the continent’s most significant wars.

    Personally, I consider history is best served by looking at it from the angle of the people involved; this, I believe, gives the events a more human face. In the last century there was a turning away from histories of kings, queens, and emperors, all such studies being seen as politically incorrect because they did not prioritise the role played by the majority of people. While that is a valid point, yet I still believe that we cannot avoid focusing on those who were responsible for making the decisions. And, even while putting aside the fact that the vast numbers of poor and needy were in the main unable to influence affairs, for a historian there is an even bigger problem. For the most part, until relatively recently such people left little if anything behind to mark their daily struggle. Therefore, if we want to study history through the individual, we have to find our source material in the letters, documents, portraits and other possessions of the privileged few. Furthermore, even while accepting that it was the rich and powerful who were mainly responsible for the decisions that resulted in wars, massacres, taxation and even famine, we have to acknowledge that it was these same people who also gave us the magnificent art and architecture, scientific discoveries and inventions, transport and better communications, which we still enjoy today.

    Drottningholm Palace, which was rebuilt by Nicodemus Tessin 'the Elder' in the 1660s for the dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora. (The Baltic Story, Amberley Publishing)

    The Baltic Story is presented as a flowing narrative – in the manner of a French histoire, which is to say as both a story and a history. However, appreciating that not everyone has the same interests, I have constructed it in a way that allows each chapter to be read on its own. To avoid confusing the reader, I have tried to limit the number of individuals mentioned, and with all of them have attempted to give a rounded, honest picture that does not exaggerate their qualities or their failings.

    One thing that particularly struck me while I was writing the book, was the dread with which so many of the rulers faced the unenviable task that lay before them. Rather than being men and women with an unfair advantage in life, many would see themselves as the victims of circumstance – this being particularly true in the case of the later Romanovs. Even some of the ‘Greats’ would feel these pressures. Frederick and Catherine, those self-acclaimed ‘servants of the state’, who worked tirelessly to the end of their lives, would as they aged lose much of the confidence of youth and become steadily more disillusioned by the reality of the growing challenges that were facing them.

    While the book ends essentially with 1914, in a postscript I have set out briefly to summarise events in the twentieth century, when the countries towards the east of the region finally achieved the independence that they had so long sought. The successes of these nations therefore bring to a conclusion the Baltic’s important story that has for so long been largely overlooked by many English-speakers living in the West.

    Caroline Boggis-Rolfe's new book The Baltic Story: A Thousand-Year History of Its Lands, Sea and Peoples is available for purchase now.

  • Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

    Headlines like this one blared from every newspaper in the U.S. (Author's collection, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    My last two books—A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West, and The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation—were set in the American West of the 19th century.  But I didn’t want to be tagged as just a historian of the Old West, so I decided my next book would involve a 20th century subject. When an editor friend suggested Apollo 11, which of course was the first lunar landing, I didn’t embrace the idea. As a boy I had read a great deal of science fiction, and like many boys followed the U.S. manned space programme and the Space Race with the Soviets, but I wasn’t sure space was the right subject for me, since it involved a lot of science and that subject wasn’t one of my favorites in school. So I lodged the idea in the back of my head and continued to look for my next book subject. But the idea kept sneaking its way into the front of my mind, and at a certain point I realized it might work.

    So I took a look at what had already been published about Apollo 11. There were quite a few books on the entire space program, or parts of it, and several on the entire Apollo programme, but not many on just Apollo 11. Reading science fiction supplied a sense of wonder that I didn’t find in any other kind of reading, and I wanted a book that did that for the “real” SF of the space program. After all, it involved space, and spaceships, and voyaging to another world in our solar system, and it involved great danger—and of course it was tremendously exciting.

    Apollo 11 launches at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from pad A, launch complex 39. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    I didn’t find a book on Apollo 11 that gave me that sense of wonder. Most I read either weren’t well-written, or they didn’t cover the full story, or they let the science and technology—and there’s a LOT of that—overwhelm the story and make it hard to read if you don’t have a degree in astronautics. Many were written by science writers who were familiar with the science involved but didn’t seem to realize that most readers weren’t.

    So I decided to take the subject on. But there were a few other reasons I wanted to write this book.

    Most people living today weren’t alive, or old enough to remember, the first moon landing in July 1969. And this is a thing: if one has lived through a significant historical event, when it permeates your experience through various media, you know it happened. You were there, so to speak. But if it happened before one could remember the event, you’re not absolutely sure it really happened—yes, it’s in history books, but so is medieval history, and who’s sure of what happened back then? Even worse, there are some people who steadfastly refuse to believe that it actually happened. Some of those people just prefer to believe in conspiracies, and are not open to evidence and facts. But for open-minded people, I thought a lively and accurate account of one of the most significant events of the 20th century was needed, and might counter that disturbing anti-science (and anti-fact) strain that is far too prevalent in today’s world.

     

     

    Armstrong during the lunar surface EVA, staning near the LM. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    As I began researching the book, a few more reasons emerged. A simple yet obvious reason is that this is just a great story, and one which works on several levels. It’s one of the great tales of adventure and exploration. It’s also a chronicle of the Space Race, which of course was just the most visible element of the Cold War—and most people today don’t realize how serious that was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the Free World was combatting the intended worldwide domination of totalitarian communism. It also involves some fascinating characters—not only the extraordinarily courageous astronauts and cosmonauts, but others behind the scenes: engineers, flight controllers, designers and planners, and yes, even some rocket scientists, who helped make it happen. Few people knew the stories of these “hidden figures.”

    There’s one more reason, and it’s personal, and it goes back to what I mentioned earlier: the love of a young person—me, specifically, but also, I think, millions of others—for that sense of wonder that we got, or get, from SF, or the “real” SF of manned spaceflight. I tried to transmit that feeling in Shoot for the Moon, especially in the first few paragraphs of Chapter One, which begins, “One Saturday morning in October 1957, a fourteen-year-old boy in the small farming town of Fremont, Iowa, woke up to find the world a different place. . . . .” If that sentence intrigues you, then you might be one of the people I wrote this book for. I hope so.

    James Donovan's new book Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Cambridge by Andrew Sargent

    It is difficult to write something fresh about a place which is as well known and loved as Cambridge. The run of colleges along The Backs are a vital part of our national heritage, and King’s College Chapel is familiar the world over from the televised Christmas Eve broadcast of Carols from King’s.

    Friends asked me to justify offering a new book. The answer is that, while a small slice of the town is a national treasure visited by millions every year, most of its long history passes them by. The focus on the colleges means that much else is hidden in plain sight; more is tucked away and forgotten. I studied and lived in Cambridge for fifteen years, and was aware that even in that time I barely scratched the surface.

    The Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College, originally designed by William Etheridge in 1749, has been rebuilt several times. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Cambridge is probably unique in its approach. It explores the whole town, not just the famous colleges, and it takes in the whole story of Cambridge from its Roman origins to the present day. But it is not just a history: it also looks for the places where events happened, and traces the surviving physical clues to the past – things you can see and touch. It will be as stimulating for Cambridge residents who want to know more about their town as for visitors.

    There was a town here, beside the Cam, a thousand years before the first scholars made it their home. That town continued alongside the growing university, the two becoming increasingly intertwined and their relationship becoming ever more complex. It is easy not to appreciate today, but for much of history Cambridge was a transport hub. It was an important river crossing and the last bridging point before the fens and the sea. It was also the highest navigable point for seagoing vessels, a place where cargoes could be transferred between road and water. The city arms still show three ships riding at anchor beneath a bridge.

    The Saxon tower of St Ben't's Church is the oldest structure in Cambridge. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The Roman conquerors were quick to recognize the strategic importance of this crossing point, and a bridge was soon built. A small settlement sprang up on the bluff overlooking the crossing to service passing travellers, while a suburb grew up on the opposite bank along what is today known as Bridge Street. This settlement – barely a town – appears in itineraries under the name Duroliponte. In the fourth century AD the hilltop town, though not its suburb, was surrounded by a wall; its course is preserved in the street plan.

    Despite this Roman history, the settlement disappeared in the succeeding ‘Dark Ages’ – this was true of most British towns. There was no Cambridge at this date, although archaeology has discovered a lot of rural activity within the area of the modern city boundary. The settlement by the river crossing reappears in the documents in 875 when the Viking army over-wintered there. Notably, this was the first use of the place name Granta Brycge. In other words, someone (perhaps King Offa of Mercia) had built a new (presumably timber) bridge at this important location, and it would be reasonable to imagine a small settlement of entrepreneurs had sprung up around it. From this point onward, the town grew. About 50 years later, Edward the Elder, King of Wessex and son of Alfred the Great, cemented its importance by creating a burh (a fortified place) which became the administrative centre for his new shire. The oldest building in Cambridge, the 11th-century tower of St Bene’t’s church, is a relic of the thriving late Saxon town.

    The earthen motte of the first Norman castle offers wide views over the town. Other castle buildings lay beneath the Shire Hill and car park. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The conquering Normans left their stamp in the form of the castle motte (or mound) which commands the view from the top of Castle Hill. Meanwhile, the Norman town prospered, in common with many market centres across the region. What marked Cambridge out was the annual Stourbridge Fair. Originally granted by King John as a fundraising venture for the leper hospital on Newmarket Road, it developed into the most important fair in England, attracting merchants from across Europe.

    The game-changing date was 1209. Oxford University temporarily suspended itself in protest at an unusually severe outbreak of violence by the townsfolk, and its scholars scattered. Most subsequently returned to Oxford, but a group decided to settle in their quiet fenland haven. At first they were probably unnoticed, but gradually the tensions between the civic and academic communities grew. As the conflict intensified, nobles, and even the King himself, were pressed into service in support of one side or the other. The university gained the upper hand, and it was only in the 19th century that relations began to be normalized.

    The great hall of 1290 and seventeenth-century chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge's first college. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Today the name Cambridge immediately brings to mind the many beautiful and venerable colleges. The early scholars, however, lived simply in rented lodgings. In the 13th century the friars and monks built their own monastic houses in the town where members of their orders could study. The foundation of the first college, Peterhouse, is reckoned from 1284 when Bishop Hugh de Balsham of Ely established a band of scholars in some buildings beside the church of St Peter without Trumpington Gate (now called Little St Mary’s). Even so, it was many years before the small community could afford to erect any new college buildings. Other wealthy and powerful donors followed the Bishop’s lead, resulting in the dramatic remodeling of the town centre which created the Cambridge we know today. A road named Milne Street which ran parallel to the High Street (now St John’s Street-Trinity Street-King’s Parade) was swept away; many houses were bought up and a church was demolished to make way. Unlike today, these first colleges were for graduates only; undergraduates were left to find accommodation around the town. The need to control their unruly behaviour formed part of the drive for students to live in colleges.

    One of the most striking features of Cambridge is the way the countryside seems to wind through the town. It is possible to follow the river from Grantchester to Fen Ditton walking only a couple of short sections on the pavement. This gives the town a unique atmosphere.  Inevitably, it is in part a legacy of the university and colleges’ stubbornness which forced most suburban development to the east of the historic core.

    Today both town and university are growing. The university must add new facilities if it is to maintain its remarkable position as a world leader. As the fields of West Cambridge succumb to these pressures, this flexible town looks towards a new phase in its colourful life.

    Andrew Sargent's new book Secret Cambridge is available for purchase now.

  • North Korea in 100 Facts by Ruth Ann Monti

    What’s next for Kim Jong-un?

    As I write this on New Year’s Night 2019, firecrackers are exploding uncomfortably close to my home near Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix isn’t all that far from Los Angeles, which I understand is now within reach of North Korea’s intercontinental missiles.

    It’s a little comforting that it’s less certain if such a missile weighed down by an actual warhead can actually reach LA, much less Phoenix.

    Earlier yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared in his New Year’s speech that international sanctions must be lifted before he gives up his arsenal. For now, North Korea can still scare the crap out of Angelinos by attaching a bunch of Roman candles to a missile.

    What happened to the Trump-Kim love fest?

     Last year, Kim and US President Donald Trump met in an historic, if vague, summit to pledge mutual cooperation in averting nuclear war. I say vague because while both sides stated what they want, neither indicated what he would actually do to achieve “denuclearization.”

    Kim flattered the old man with courtesies like being the first to arrive at the summit and stressing his love and concern for his countrymen—even as he imprisons about one percent of them, including descendants of political prisoners, as I discuss in Fact # 66 in my book North Korea in 100 Facts. Trump openly admired the adulation Kim enjoys from his people, failing to recognize—or simply ignoring—the consequences North Koreans face if they refuse to venerate the Supreme Leader.

    Kim did take encouraging steps after the summit. He returned the remains of several US soldiers killed in the Korean War. He dismantled at least part of the country’s nuclear testing facility, as I point out in Fact #100. But since I wrote that last fact, there have been reports that the decommissioned site was merely too old to be of much use to test newer warfare technologies.

    More concerning are satellite images that show an awful lot of construction in another remote region in North Korea that could well be a new testing site. We just don’t know, and the summit certainly did not list specific steps for North Korea to follow. But it has been well over a year since North Korea tested any nuclear device or delivery warhead.

    Kim’s 2019 New Years address left out the silly propaganda about hitting the US with a “nuclear sword of justice” or turning Seoul into “a sea of fire” as The New York Times reported on 1 January 2019. And since meeting Kim, Trump has ceased calling him names like “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to deliver “fire and fury” to North Korea.

    As I completed the book five months ago, I realized the reasonably short timeframe between submitting my manuscript and its publication would be eons in the world in which President Trump presides. The major foreign policy advisors at his side during the summit are gone, replaced by a former Fox news presenter and Iraq war hawks.

    Between his short attention span and the distracting investigations into his 2016 campaign, Trump simply stopped minding the situation. His new advisors have different ideas, and new points of view that he may or may not understand or follow, regardless of what he tweets out. Some things just can’t be broken down into a baseball cap slogan.

    In the meantime, he hasn’t noticed that Kim is showing signs that he wants to break up with him.

    Will Kim and Trump get back together?

    There’s no question that there will be another Trump-Kim summit in 2019. Trump needs another one to take public attention off of the myriad investigations, which I summarized during their relative infancy in my 2018 book Donald Trump in 100 Facts.

    What Trump will say/demand is difficult to predict. John Bolton, the current National Security Advisor and Iraq war draftsman has historically attacked Presidents, including those under whom he served, for compromising on demands for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear stockpile. Political negotiation and compromise aren’t in his vocabulary. If he has Trump’s ear the day of the next summit, the stalemate will simply continue.

    Bolton calls for the so-called “Libya model,” in which the leader turned over his nuclear arsenal. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world remembers of the US attack on Qaddafi’s residences and the dictator’s subsequent assassination by political enemies. No doubt Kim recalls this, too.

    Bolton claims Kim hasn’t lived up to the Singapore deal. But how does one live up to a deliberately opaque deal? Kim can, rightly, point to closing his existing test site and returning soldiers’ remains. In the meantime, sanctions remain on North Korea, which infuriates him. It doesn’t take much cleverness for Kim to position himself as the party that did something, anything, since the summit.

    When Kim and Trump do meet again, Kim will probably be better prepared. He doesn’t seem to have problems paying attention to details, he’s consistent, and he’s steadfastly kept the same four basic demands:

    1. End the US-South Korean military exercises (something Trump has said he wants to do anyway)
    2. Get the US dismantle its long-range missile capabilities
    3. End sanctions against North Korea
    4. Finalize the treaty to end the Korean War

    North Korea will not begin denuclearization until these demands are met.

    The US won’t agree to the third point until North Korea dismantles its entire nuclear stockpile.

    Kim says he’s ready to meet Trump anywhere, anytime. Trump tweeted out the same, adding he “looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!” He should be careful. Kim has the advantage of being backed by a subservient, near-powerless populace (many are starving as I discuss in Fact # 41), while Trump’s democracy is reasserting itself. Kim is determined; Trump is distracted. At this moment, it seems Kim has the upper hand.

    Ruth Ann Monti's new book North Korea in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Leith by Lisa Sibbald

    Places - People - History

    Citadel Caption - The remains of 17th century Leith Citadel. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite having visited Leith on many occasions over several decades, and only living a few miles away in another part of Edinburgh, I never really appreciated Leith’s history until I wrote a small piece for my previous book, A-Z of Edinburgh. I spent a short time walking around parts of Leith and taking photographs, and I knew then that I wanted to write a book about Leith. I spent several months researching the area, taking photographs, and talking to Leithers both online and in person, and I learned so much in the process.

    I was always aware that Leithers were very proud of their heritage and their home, and now I feel I can understand why. There are centuries of history still evident in the very stones and streets – the remains of Leith Citadel date back to the middle of the seventeenth century, and Leith Fort to the late eighteenth century. The street names themselves hark back to a bygone time and Leith’s overseas trading connections – Cadiz Street, Elbe Street, Madeira Street, Timber Bush. Leith’s proud history as a port and docks is all around, from the wonderful Trinity House which was the base of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipbuilders and is now a maritime museum, to the Malmaison Hotel which is in a former sailors’ home, to the Corn Exchange building with its magnificent frieze showing cherubs taking part in sowing, harvesting and transporting the grain which would eventually make its way to Leith. It has survived wars, sieges, bombings, and being amalgamated, against its will, into the city of Edinburgh!

    Swing Bridge Caption - Victoria Swing Bridge built in 1894 to connect the east and west sides of the harbour. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    From the sixteenth century, Leith had been a centre for storage of wine and brandy, and later whisky production and storage. The whisky industry, with its associated trades such as coopering and transporting, employed thousands of people in Leith, and several famous names were created here, including VAT 69 and Highland Queen whiskies, Glayva, Crabbie’s Green Ginger and, unusually, a non-alcoholic drink, Rose’s Lime Juice. Sadly, from there being as many as 100 whisky bonds at the peak of the industry, the last whisky bond closed in 1995, but the buildings still remain, converted into flats or commercial property.

    Shipbuilding was of course another major trade and employer in Leith for many centuries, with the shipyards having built vessels which sailed all over the world. The last Leith shipyard, Henry Robb, closed in 1984 and another great tradition and major employer came to an end.

    Reflections Caption - Reflections of old and new Leith, with modern flats alongside the Malmaison Hotel, situated in the former Sailors' Home of 1885. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    But Leith isn’t all about history. After a decline which saw many sub-standard tenements being demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, property developers began to see its potential for water-front redevelopment. This led to many new properties being built, along with wine bars and expensive restaurants. Old, run-down, historic buildings were repaired and restored, and given new life and a new purpose. This ‘gentrification’ has been, and continues to be, a subject of great debate, as the price of these luxurious new water-front housing developments is far beyond what many long-time Leith residents can afford. The wine bars and restaurants have replaced the pubs and fish and chip shops that had been there for decades. The Shore area in particular has gone from being the haunt of sailors and “ladies of the night” to a place where people arrive from other parts of town or other countries to eat expensive meals and drink expensive wines in Michelin-starred restaurants.

    Despite some of the new developments being given almost a “theme park” image with nautical themes and paraphernalia seemingly randomly dropped in, Leith isn’t just an area looking to its past. Leithers never forget their motto - “Persevere” - and they move forward. There are now many new businesses dealing in design and IT, buildings providing hubs for small businesses, and unique shops and coffee bars serve locals and visitors alike. The area continues to produce writers, artists, and musicians. It remains a vibrant community, proud of its past, but always looking to the future.

    Lisa Sibbald's new book A-Z of Leith is available for purchase now.

  • The Chinese in Britain by Barclay Price

    A History of Visitors & Settlers

    The Chinese Magicians, Drury Lane, 1854. (Public domain, The Chinese in Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the earliest Chinese to travel to Britain were Chinese Jugglers. Although described as jugglers, their acts also included acrobatics and magic. The first recorded troupe arrived in 1816 and were well received; ‘The Nobility, Gentry and Public in general, are most respectfully informed that The Chinese Jugglers continue to exhibit their wonderful performances every day, and to attract numerous spectators; many of whom do not tire of repeatedly witnessing the astonishing feats of these foreigners.’

    In 1818, the troupe had an unusual booking in London when they performed in the nude at a Royal Academy lecture on the naked figure. ‘Some have been so illiberal as to censure such exhibitions at the Royal Academy, but this extraordinary display of the muscles in forms and uses never before beheld, was a circumstance of the utmost service to Artists; it was a display that might never again appear in Europe; the actions of an African, at the Academy, had surprised them, those of the Indian Jugglers had astonished them, but the present ones surpassed all belief or power of description. The Chinese Jugglers then, performed their positions, and the distortions of their extremities surpassed everything that could have been conceived of them. The room was immensely crowded; the applause at the conclusion was general.’

    In 1853, another troupe included Tuck Guy whose knife-throwing trick was a standout of the show; ‘Placing his daughter, a prepossessing girl of about thirteen years of age, at one end of the stage, and causing her to stand with her back against some soft wood, her hands expanded and her fingers separated, he retires to distance. A parcel of very large knives are produced, he picks them up one after another, and, apparently without taking aim, or occupying any time in preparation, slings them recklessly at the child. With wonder amounting to amazement the spectator perceives that every knife has been aimed in the most accurate manner, and that they have been planted one between each of the girl’s fingers, one on each side of her cheek, and others close around her neck, but that not one has grazed her skin, though all have entered deeply into the wall behind her. This unique and unrivalled specimen of sharp practice—if it may be so termed—was well deserving of the applause which was elicited.’

    James Legge and the three students who attended Duchess of Gordon’s school in Huntly in 1846, engraving by J. Cochran after painting by Henry Room. (Public domain, The Chinese in Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    The Victorians also delighted in exhibitions of human ‘freaks’ and in 1864 James ‘Marquis’ Chisholm, a Scottish musician, was touring in China and noticed Chang Yu Sing. Chang was not a man easy to miss as he was at least 7 foot 8 inches in height and Chisholm saw a money-making opportunity.  He convinced Chang to travel with him to Britain, along with a dwarf, Chung-Mow. Chang the Giant and Chung-Mow were exhibited to great success at The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly accompanied by Chisholm playing his specially composed The Great Chang Polka. Chang swiftly gained star status. He was invited to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House and at the request of the royal children, wrote his name in Chinese characters on the wall at a height of ten feet from the ground. He later toured to America and Australia, as well as within Britain, and he settled in Bournemouth, where he and his wife, Kitty, ran a tearoom and an 'Oriental Bazaar' selling Chinese curios.

    The Chinese in Britain offers a fascinating portrayal of these and the many other Chinese travellers to Britain since the first in 1687, including seamen, students, cooks, brides, diplomats, servants, sportsmen, bureaucrats and writers. As China becomes a pre-eminent world power again in the twenty-first century, this book uncovers our long relationship with the country and its people.

    Barclay Price's new book The Chinese in Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History by S. D. Tucker

    THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The Quack Discipline of ‘Zone Therapy’

    In an extract from his new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, out now in paperback, SD Tucker examines the bizarre ‘medical’ advice that combing your hands and squeezing your fingers can cure all ailments known to man.

    Albert Ankers's 1879 painting Der Quacksalber illustrated perfectly the origins of the word 'Quack'; namely, an old Dutch term for someone hawking dubious medicines. (Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the most comical pseudo-medical fads of all time was something called either ‘Zone Therapy’ or ‘Zonotherapy’, depending on how fancy your local quack wished to sound. This involved splitting the body up into ten different vertical zones, and claiming that symptoms in one area of the body could be diagnosed and then resolved by applying pressure to other, corresponding, zones, as everything was connected beneath the skin by nerves. Most of these nerve-networks seemed to terminate in one or other of the fingers or toes.

    This was curious, as anatomists had never managed to actually see these particular nerve-networks before, when cutting up human bodies for analysis. The Zone Therapists conveniently replied that this was because they were invisible.

    Invented around 1909 by Dr William H. Fitzgerald (1872–1942), the chief physician and senior ear, nose and throat surgeon at St Francis Hospital in Connecticut, the fake discipline first came to the attention of the wider world thanks to an article written for Everybody’s Magazine in 1915 entitled ‘To Stop That Toothache, Squeeze Your Toe!’ by the man who would become Fitzgerald’s long-time partner in such nonsense, Dr Edwin F. Bowers (b.1871).

    Unfortunately, whilst Dr Fitzgerald was a real, genuine surgeon, well-educated and well-travelled and with medical certificates spilling out of his ears, nose and throat, ‘Dr’ Bowers was not. An investigation carried out into Bowers by American medical authorities in 1929 revealed that the man had not so much as attended medical college for even a single day’s worth of instruction.

    Simply gripping a comb tightly in your hand in the fashion illustrated above would be enough to ensure an entirely painless childbirth for any woman. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    There’s One Born Every Minute

    Having established himself as Zonotherapy’s chief propagandist, Bowers set to work collaborating on a book with Dr Fitzgerald, 1917’s Zone Therapy: Or, Relieving Pain at Home, whose introduction jauntily promised it would advance medical knowledge far beyond geneticists’ recent discovery of ‘the evil possibilities in marrying one’s cousin’. The basic idea was that, when your eyes were hurting, say, you would look up in a Zonotherapy book which other part of your body secretly corresponded to these organs, and then apply pressure to this area to put a stop to the pain.

    In this case, the nerves within the first and second fingers of the human hand corresponded to the eyes, so the best remedy was to tie elastic bands around them, or encircle them tightly with little wire-springs until they turned blue. If neither of these items were to hand, you could always try attaching clothes-pegs to them instead – this is not a joke, this was Bowers and Fitzgerald’s actual advice, and they provided S&M-style photographs of people transformed into human washing-lines to prove it.

    The book was marketed primarily as a practical means for dispelling pain when it erupted around the home, away from your doctor with his reassuring stores of opium – even if the pain arose from as serious a thing as childbirth. In order to achieve a painless birth, all the expectant Zonotherapy-loving mother had to do was sit there with a metal comb in each hand, gripping onto them and thereby numbing her nerves whilst she pushed away merrily.

    Doing this, said the authors, would result in a new mother laughing and joking her way through the complete non-trauma of pushing a live infant out through her genitals. One new mother told her Zonotherapist that ‘she did not experience any pain whatever’ using this method, and ‘could not believe the child was born’. ‘This is not so bad,’ she laughed happily, no doubt wanting to drop out another immediately, just for fun.

    Fitzgerald claimed to have performed several successful minor operations without anaesthetic, rendering the whole procedure painless simply by applying constant pressure to his patients’ fingers prior to applying the knife, a discovery he initially termed ‘Pressure Anaesthesia’. Sceptics were invited to let practitioners squeeze the nerves in their hands, then close their eyes and see if they could feel it when pins were jabbed into their flesh.

    Apparently, they said they couldn’t; one daring fellow kept his lids open and let his Zonotherapist attach a hook into his eyeball without feeling so much as a scratch. The keen quack then ‘put several pins into his face’ before calling the man’s wife into the room to show her what he had done. The wife did not seem pleased.

    About as Much Use as a Comb to a Bald Man

    Deafness, meanwhile, could be treated by clamping a clothes-peg around your third toe or poking at your teeth with a cotton-bud, thus enabling you to hear nearby people laughing at you. You could also try combing deaf people’s hands, or solve an earache by fastening a clothes-peg ‘for five minutes or thereabouts’ on the tip of your ring-finger.

    Headaches were dispelled by sucking your thumb and pressing it hard into the roof of your mouth, thus allowing you to ‘push the headache out through the top of the head’. Alternatively, you could ‘attack’ your migraine by shoving your fingers up your nose. If your friends’ heads felt all fuzzy, you could even invade their nasal orifices for them, although it was wise to inform them of your intentions first.

    If you were going bald, meanwhile, you had to sit there ‘rubbing the fingernails of both hands briskly one against the other in a lateral motion for three or four minutes at a time, at intervals throughout the day’ until your hair re-sprouted, thus making you glad you had already invested in a metal comb for your pregnant wife upon the Zonotherapists’ wise advice.

    Those disposed to stomach-ache were advised to ‘arm yourself with a wire-hair brush and a metal comb’ every time they boarded public transport. Then, rather than vomiting over their fellow passengers, they could simply ‘get busy with the comb and brush – not on your head – but on your hands’, thus dispelling travel-sickness, indigestion and ‘distension from gas’. The sight of you obsessively combing your bare hands until you farted might still make people want to sit far away from you, however, in which case it was recommended, for no apparent reason, that you just eat some salted popcorn instead.

    If your baby had a tummy-ache, you could pursue similar methods. Rather than beating your crying infant ‘up and down the room’ with your slippers until it either shuts up or dies, why not just comb the baby until it goes peacefully to sleep?

    Submitting to Zone Therapy treatment may have cured your pain, but it could severely injure your dignity. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    Dentally Disturbed

    Even sharp needles could be banished from dentistry via sensible use of Zone Therapy. Instead of having cocaine injected into your mouth to numb the pain, it was much simpler to just sit there with elastic bands wrapped around your fingers. As the fingers and teeth were intimately connected, this meant you would surely feel no pain whilst lying back and relaxing within the dentist’s chair. However, because for some unknown reason (presumably related to the differing level of quasi-hypnotic suggestibility of individual patients) Zonotherapy only worked for 65 per cent of the time, the authors of Zone Therapy were careful to advise that, sometimes, the numbing needle did work best after all.

    Not only pain, but actual disease, could be cured by the Zonotherapists, or so they said. Whooping cough was banished simply by pressing a hidden bodily button located somewhere at the back of the throat. Cancer, appendicitis, goitre, even polio, all could be beaten off, at least temporarily, with naught but clothes-pegs and combs. One woman given Fitzgerald’s treatment went so far as to simply wee a bothersome tumour out from between her legs one day, causing it to make ‘a happy exit’ down the drain.

    There was no end to the wonders Zone Therapy could perform. Attending a dinner-party one evening, Dr Fitzgerald met a female opera-singer who complained that her voice was in terminal decline. Eager to help, the surgeon asked if he could fondle her feet in front of the other guests. As he did so, Fitzgerald discovered a calloused area on the big toe of her right foot. He squeezed it for a bit, then told her to sing. Amazingly, ‘Not only was she able to exactly reach the notes she had been missing, but she was able to reach two notes higher than she had ever done before.’ Dr Fitzgerald must have had a grip like a vice! If only his brain had been in such good working order too …

    S. D. Tucker's new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History is available for purchase now.

  • Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799 by Jonathan North

    Admiral Nelson by Leonardo Guzzardi, an unusual portrait of how Nelson might have appeared in late 1799. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    Nelson and his Crimes

    We live in an age when figures from the past are being called to account for sins against the morals of today. Last summer, on the other side of the Atlantic, there was a wave of anger directed at statues of Confederate generals. A spate of demolition from Maryland to North Carolina saw marble memorials to yesterday’s men bite the dust, or, perhaps more accurately, saw them turned to dust. Over here, with a capital in which Cromwell still stands opposite a bust of Charles Stuart (glowering over a doorway to the parish church of the House of Commons), there has been little appetite to move against the nation’s stone idols. Nevertheless, in August 2017, an indignant broadside by Afua Hirsch in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/22/toppling-statues-nelsons-column-should-be-next-slavery) asked us to question the commemoration of one particular British hero: Horatio Nelson. It pointed out the admiral had been an advocate of slave owners’ interests, and so, beneath an illustration of a Baghdad-style toppling of Nelson’s column, suggested we should cleanse the nation of memorials to this white supremacist. It was a challenge she repeated in her recent Channel 4 documentary on the same theme but, before these hints launched a fleet of revisionist bulldozers, Nelson’s admirers manoeuvred to the admiral’s support, defending the man they see as “a fundamental icon of British national identity. Inspirational leadership, duty – and humanity”.

    Both these extremes are misleading. The admirers of the admirable admiral ignore anything which seems critical, whilst the bold claims of Hirsch impose an anachronistic orthodoxy on a man incapable of understanding her sensitivities. However, of the two, Hirsch’s is the greater disservice to history. For by pushing her own agenda, she draws attention away from the one area where Nelson really should be held to account: the atrocities he helped carry out against the Neapolitan republicans in the summer of 1799.

    Sir William Hamilton had arrived in Naples in 1764 and, for the next 25 years, his time was divided between entertaining British Visitors and collecting Ancient artefacts. The French Revolution and the wars that followed placed a new and complex burden on his scholarly shoulders. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    When I began my new book on this subject, Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799, for Amberley, I did not set out to sully Nelson’s reputation. I was aware of his qualities, as most historians should be. He was a dynamic, aggressive commander, exactly the kind of man needed when your aim is to destroy the enemy’s fleet. And he excelled at it, again and again. However, my focus was on his conduct away from the fighting, more particularly when he became involved in the brutal suppression of a revolution in Naples in 1799. And the more I looked into this episode, the more horrified I became. For me, Nelson’s wrongs have nothing to do with white supremacy, a failing true of most Georgians, but rather revolve around his war crime which saw the betrayal of thousands of surrendering Italian revolutionaries.

    Nelson arrived in Neapolitan waters in the autumn of 1798 following his destruction of Napoleon’s fleet at Aboukir off the coast of Egypt. In Naples he was swamped by an adoring coterie of fans who declared that the battered hero was their saviour. Each had their reasons for doing so. The British envoy, Sir William Hamilton, enjoyed the reflected glory and dubbed Nelson immortal. His wife, Emma Hamilton, was already a little in love with Nelson, and wanted him to support her friends, the king and queen of Naples, in their struggle against the rampaging armies of revolutionary France. Ferdinand IV of Naples, that Bourbon sex-pest in silk, hoped that Nelson’s presence would keep the French, then plundering Rome, at bay. His wife, the arch Maria Carolina of Austria, hoped for more. She wanted Nelson to persuade the king and his ministers to take the war northwards, and thus perhaps enable her cowardly husband to be proclaimed king of a united Italy.

    So it began. Nelson’s crime was preceded by a tragedy and a farce. The shambolic kingdom of Naples hoped to surprise a France shaken by the loss of her fleet and her Bonaparte, then stuck in Egypt, and so Maria Carolina sent her opera buffa of an army northwards to the Eternal City. It quickly ran into trouble in the shortest of campaigns and scurried home. The royals took Nelson’s ship for Sicily and the surprised French proclaimed a liberal republic in their stead. This new republic was governed by a remarkable set of scholars and reformers, men and women, who set about abolishing feudalism and dragging Naples into the modern age. However, their noble, revolutionary efforts were cut short by a royalist counter-attack in which Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, a warrior cleric leading a horde of bloodthirsty pilgrims, swept up to the gates of the capital. Trapped by this Holy Army of cut-throats and cannibals, the republicans agreed to surrender Naples on condition they be allowed to leave for France. Ruffo, seeing that this would spare the capital further bloodshed, agreed and granted them generous terms. Just as they were about to troop out and board ships taking them into exile, Nelson sailed in from Palermo. He lured the republicans out into the harbour on the pretext they could now depart, then tore up the act of surrender, and promptly handed thousands of unfortunates over to a merciless court. The betrayed republicans were subjected to the full force and barbarity of royal justice in the market places of Naples in that summer of 1799.

    King Ferinard IV of Naples and Queen Maria Carolina. The king had married his Austrain consort, sister to Marie Antoinette, in 1768. His interests were largely restricted to eating and hunting but the queen was an energetic politician, sworn to fight a French revolution that had killed her sister. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    The royal family were again grateful, raising Nelson up to be Duke of Bronte, and Emma Hamilton, basking in reflected glory, completed her journey from Duke Street to a duke’s bed. Even so, the exultation in having placed Ferdinand back on his throne was of short duration and such a victory could not win many friends. The Loyal Opposition back home was even moved to condemn this bloody series of events and naval officers looked askance at the admiral’s vindictiveness. Southey, an early biographer of the admiral, would agree for he too lambasted Nelson for the betrayal of the Neapolitan republicans, calling it “a deplorable transaction, a stain on the memory of Nelson and upon the honour of England”.

    This series of unpleasant events forms the basis for my book on Nelson at Naples. I place much of the blame for the bloodshed on Nelson as he had the authority to make possible this royalist vendetta and, despite the subsequent Victorian smoothing of Nelson’s record, it is clear that Nelson had innocent blood on his hands. I have no doubt that I shall be dubbed a revisionist historian for attacking Nelson so directly, and for questioning his wider legacy. But, in my defence, there is nothing revisionist about my handling of this episode. The truth is that Italian historians have been accusing him of a betrayal ever after the Neapolitan hangman finished his bloody work. And, for a time, many of their British peers advanced similar critiques, although this was more muted whenever the empire felt it preferred heroes.

    A View of Naples in 1800 by Johann Ziegler. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    That imperial triumphalism heaped on Nelson wiped away not only this stain on Nelson’s memory but what was the sordid life of the naval hero following his victory for the Bourbons. The butchery in Naples was followed by insubordination, infatuation and a fair amount of dissipation before a bitter though diamond-encrusted Nelson limped home with the Hamiltons. Only a hero’s death at Trafalgar saved his reputation.

    Trafalgar and a state funeral for his pickled corpse were followed by heroic biographies which paved the way for the erection of that immutable column so beloved of pigeons and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Nelson’s column overshadows the admiral’s crimes at Naples, and a monument is no replacement for nuanced debate. But perhaps, rather than demolishing it, and replicating the fate of Dublin’s Nelson’s Pillar, we should see it as a prompt for further enquiry. A starting point on a historical journey.

    Afua Hirsch may not agree, but, even after reading about Nelson’s bloody rampage in Naples in 1799, my view is that Nelson’s column should continue to sit in Trafalgar Square. There it can remind us that heroes and history are never black and white.

    Jonathan North's new book Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799 is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Derbyshire by Mike Appleton

    'Of the High Peak are seven wonders writ.’

    There’s a saying … if you do what you have always done, then you will get what you always got.

    I’m paraphrasing a little but I’m sure the basic premise remains the same: if you stay with what you know then it is almost impossible to experience new horizons.

    Discovering 50 Gems of Derbyshire was a simple feat. The Peak District National Park itself, Britain’s first, covers 555 square miles. It has two distinct areas – the White Peak in the lower southern part of the park featuring its caves and valleys, and the Dark Park; more northern and wilder.

    It reaches into five counties: Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester and more than ten million visitors a year enter its boundaries.

    Then you mix in those areas just outside the Park. Buxton for instance is the self-entitled Gateway to the Peak, whilst down in the South East, Derby is one of the finest cities in the country.

    Choosing gems with such an array on offer was a gift. Here are a sneak preview of five of the treasures the county contains.

    Edale Cross

    Sheltered and inset in the corner of the point where two drystone walls meet is an interesting medieval wayside and boundary cross. It stands on the parish boundary between Hatfield and Edale, next to the ancient moorland track between those two villages. It is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 because of its national importance – yet because of its location it begs the question – just how did it end up there?

    Edale Cross - Just a little wander from the Pennine Way, and well worth the diverson. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Kinder Downfall

    I’ve been lucky to visit Kinder Downfall, the 98 foot waterfall on Kinder, in two differing states – but largely in the same weather! The first was on a damp and dreary day, where the upper part of the fall near the Pennine Way was flowing decently and the lower part clouded in mist. The second was when I viewed it from lower down in more windy times and saw the fall blow back on itself. Both states were pretty impressive after a long walk and in winter ice-climbers take on its majesty too.

    The Downfall on a misty day. This is at the point where it crosses the Pennine Way. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Mam Tor

    Dominating the skyline to the west of Castleton is the ‘shivering mountain’ Mam Tor. It stands at 1,696 feet and is part of the Great Ridge which takes in Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill - one of the finest walks in the Peak.

    Mam Tor summit looking towards the great ridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Eldon Hole

    One of the ‘original’ wonders of the Peak, around half an hour’s walk from Peak Forest. Whilst its depths are the goal of cavers, the open chasm is well worth visiting. It is the largest open pothole in Derbyshire at 110 feet by 20 feet at the surface. It descends some 245 feet under the slopes of Eldon Hill and has some fine formations; Phil Wolstenholme’s attached picture doing it more than justice.

    Stunning formation. (c. Phil Wolstenholme, 50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Ashford-in-the-Water

    Edensor may have been designed as a model village, but Ashford-in-the-Water is an original catwalk star; one of the prettiest in the country. It’s a chocolate box scene with beautiful idyllic houses and buildings alongside a medieval packhorse bridge that is sure to be one of the most photographed in the area!

    A medieval packhorse bridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Mike Appleton's new book 50 Gems of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

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