Newsletter 19

Welcome to the May 2010 issue of our occasional newsletter.



We recently learned that Roy’s book on Trafalgar was published in Portugal late last year, with the title Trafalgar: A Biografia de uma Batalha. We’ve not yet seen a copy, but the publisher is Aletheia, and we are told it is selling strongly.

Telegraph and Collingwood:

The UK version of the book, Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle (Abacus paperback), was chosen for the March 2010 ‘Book of the Month’ for the Telegraph newspaper’s ex-pat book club. We are very pleased that the paperback is still selling well (in the US, it is called Nelson’s Trafalgar and is published by Penguin). The ex-pats website has all sorts of interesting features that will be of interest to far more people than the British community living abroad. The accompanying piece Roy wrote for the Telegraph starts with Collingwood, Nelson’s second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar. Until 24th October 2010 (three days beyond after the 205th anniversary of the battle), there is a Collingwood 2010 Festival, which is a celebration of his achievements. This year is the 200th anniversary of Collingwood’s tragic death – tragic in that he never made it home after the battle to see his beloved wife and children, but was obliged to remain at sea. The festival is taking place mainly in his native north-east England, and links have been established worldwide.


Right on the edge of the River Tyne at Tynemouth, north-east England, stands the massive monument to Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, which you can see here:

The Collingwood monument at Tynemouth
The Collingwood monument at Tynemouth

Early years:

Cuthbert Collingwood was born on 26th September 1748 at Newburn in Northumberland. His father was a moderately prosperous merchant in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and it was here that Collingwood gained his early education at the Newcastle free school. In 1761, at the age of 12, he joined the Royal Navy, serving first in the frigate Shannon commanded by his uncle, Captain Richard Braithwaite. Collingwood met Nelson in 1773 and the two remained firm friends, although Collingwood seemed destined to be forever in his shadow. He seemed almost to be following in Nelson’s footsteps, always one rung below him on the ladder of promotion.

Collingwood was unusual in that he did not very often resort to corporal punishment, yet he maintained good discipline and was loved by the men who served under him. He did what he could to train his crews, and in keeping with the class hierarchy of the time, he felt that officers were gentlemen who should set an example to the ‘common men’ of the crew, who knew no better. In this respect he was more strict with his officers than with his crew, and in at least one instance set a midshipman to mess with the men for a few months, partly as punishment and partly to give him an understanding of those he was to command.


At the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain near Cadiz on 21st October 1805, Collingwood was Nelson’s second-in-command. When the British fleet divided into two columns to attack the combined French and Spanish fleet, Nelson led one column in HMS Victory and Collingwood led the other column in HMS Royal Sovereign. Collingwood’s ship was not fast or elegant, but on the day of the battle, with light winds, it was the Royal Sovereign (with a newly coppered bottom) and not the Victory that reached the enemy line first. Collingwood knew how much Nelson wanted to lead the fleet into the attack, but fate decreed that for once Nelson would have to take second place to his friend.

A cannon from the Royal Sovereign, now part of the Collingwood Monument
A cannon from the Royal Sovereign, now part of the Collingwood Monument

The Royal Sovereign cut the enemy line in front of the French ship Fougueux and behind the Spanish ship Santa Ana, letting fly with a broadside of triple-shotted guns into the vulnerable stern of the Santa Ana. Each cannon had been loaded with either three cannonballs or two cannonballs and grapeshot, the total amounting to around 1½ tons of iron. The broadside was a crippling blow, the cannonballs and shrapnel scything the length of the Spanish ship’s gun decks.

After Trafalgar:

After the battle, with Nelson dead and the surviving ships badly damaged, it was Collingwood who had to take charge. It was obvious that a storm was approaching, and although later criticised for his decisions, Collingwood literally had little room for manoeuvre. His fleet was being blown on to the Spanish coast with its deadly rocks and shoals, while there was a constant threat that the enemy ships which had retreated to the shelter of Cadiz harbour might return to renew the battle. The terrible storm lasted for several days, and Collingwood was lucky that no British ship was lost. There was, though, greater loss of life during the storm than during the fighting, especially on board the captured ships.

The threat of French invasion had passed, and attention was now focused on the continuing war in Europe. To some extent the Royal Navy had to take second place. It was Collingwood’s tragedy that the Admiralty relied upon him for the continued security of the Mediterranean. After Trafalgar, Collingwood was constantly at sea for nearly five years, organising the continued blockade of Mediterranean ports. During that time he did not return to England and hardly set foot on land anywhere, and yet what he really wanted to do was return home to his family. His one comfort was the companionship of his pet dog called Bounce, but in 1809 Bounce was lost overboard. Eventually the workload took its toll, and Collingwood becaming increasingly ill. He requested the Admiralty to allow him to return home, but died at sea on 7th March 1810. He was later buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, very close to Nelson.

View across the Tyne to South Shields from the Collingwood Monument
View across the Tyne to South Shields from the Collingwood Monument

North-East Hero:

For most of Britain, Nelson is perhaps the foremost hero and certainly the foremost naval hero. In north-east England, while the people acknowledge Nelson as a great man, it is Collingwood who is the hero. Collingwood was a kind, humane commander who sacrificed everything in the line of duty. His statue at the top of the monument at Tynemouth shows him turning slightly left looking out to sea, while the view in front of him is across the Tyne to South Shields. The monument was set up in 1845 and paid for by public subscription. The four cannons at the base of the monument, placed on iron carriages and not the wooden gun trucks they would have rested on at sea, were added in 1849. They are some of the cannons from the Royal Sovereign – some of the guns that fired the first British broadside at Trafalgar.


Here in the UK, April and May almost seem to grind to a halt at times, as public holidays fall so close together. This year, we had Easter holidays in early April, when Good Friday and the following Monday were holidays. The first Monday closest to May Day is the next holiday, and that fell on 3rd May this year, but the weather was poor across much of the country. Monday 31st May will be yet another holiday. Tourist boards and businesses are now asking for the May Day holiday to be scrapped, and because no public holidays fall between the end of August and Christmas, they are asking instead to have a public holiday in October. Trafalgar Day, 21st October, has been suggested by them.


Our latest magazine article to be published is ‘Signs of the Times’ in Family History Monthly for June 2010, pages 40 to 43. This tells the story of the signs that have from earliest times advertised the existence and name of a tavern, inn or public house – establishments that originally grew up to cater for travellers needing refreshment and a bed for the night, as well as stabling for horses. The first inn signs that we know about date to the Roman period, the most famous being mosaic floors with drinking signs in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy. From this period it was common to hang a bush of vine leaves or ivy outside to denote that the building sold liquor, a simple type of sign that continued for hundreds of years. Some inns still have ‘bush’ as part of their name.


Many traditional names have been replaced with trendier names, which can provoke fury with local people – even if the true meaning of the original name is not understood. Names like ‘The Anchor’ or ‘The Ship Inn’ may feel wonderfully nautical, but many inns were set up to cater for pilgrims, and these two names and many others can also have Biblical meanings. The process of renaming is not new, and hostelries have commonly changed their name to commemorate a local or national hero like Nelson or Collingwood. There are many pubs named after Collingwood, such as the ‘Collingwood Arms’ or the ‘Lord Collingwood’, and many of these are of course situated in north-east England.


This book of ours was first published in 2006 and in paperback in 2007. It has recently been reviewed in the ‘Books’ section of the international monthly magazine Ships and Shipping (February 2010). Their reviewer says that ‘This lengthy, wide-ranging, well-researched and very well written book explains well what happened in that turbulent and vitally important period.’ We’re very pleased with the comments, but the publishers Little, Brown have agreed that this must be a record for the time it has taken for a review to appear. We very much hope they will review Jack Tar before too long!


While writing our last three books on maritime themes, we found the volumes published by the Navy Records Society extremely useful. The Navy Records Society was founded in 1893 by a small group of historians, naval officers, statesmen and others for the specific purpose of publishing original papers, books and journals on the history of the Royal Navy. Over the past 100 years the Society’s publications have included more than 150 volumes of documents, many of them rare or hard to find. These volumes range from the 14th century up to the Second World War and beyond. Membership of the Society is open to anyone in the UK, or indeed anywhere in the world, who is interested in the history of the Royal Navy. Members receive a copy of each volume published during their membership, and other volumes can be purchased at reduced prices. The NRS, which has charitable status, receives no grants or public money, but continues to flourish through the dedicated support of an international membership. The website of the Navy Records Society is here.

The Society has very kindly donated two copies of its Volume 31 for prizes in the competition (for details, see below).


Our book about the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs continues to sell well in the Far East, and we have just learned that in Japan nearly 30,000 paperbacks have been sold so far. The Tokyo publisher there is Shinchosha, and the title is Rozetta-Stone-Kaidoku.


We revised this book in 2005, which was published in an updated hardback by Facts On File, a major New York publisher of reference works. It has since been translated into Russian, and a few weeks ago we were sent another translation, this time Chinese. This translation was published in early 2010 in China by The Commercial Press, as a paperback of 839 pages. This same publisher also publishes our Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome.


In the last newsletter, we said that in March Travel Editions was hosting a Panorama of History weekend at The Charlecote Pheasant Hotel in Charlecote, Warwickshire. We were there for part of the weekend, which was attended by around 80 people. Our own talk was on the Saturday morning, and so we arrived on Friday evening. The hotel was excellent, as was the food (though not the weather), and overall this history weekend appeared to us to be really good value. Several of the guests told us that they had booked because such a variety of history was on offer. If you missed it, don’t worry! There is another weekend scheduled for 5th to 7th November 2010.

Charlecote Park:

You can arrange to stay an extra night or two at the hotel, a tempting prospect with Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, being so close. The National Trust’s property of Charlecote Park with its Tudor mansion is directly opposite the hotel. Charlecote has been the home of the Lucy family for more than 700 years, and Shakespeare was allegedly caught poaching deer in the park. He was brought before Sir Thomas Lucy, the magistrate, and may have been flogged for the offence. In retaliation, Shakespeare is said to have composed a satirical ballad, but this caused such trouble that he fled to London. There is no proof for these events, as they happened in his ‘lost years’, 1585 to 1592, a time when little is known about his life. These stories were circulating from the end of the 17th century, so there may be some element of truth in them. Shakespeare subsequently made fun of Sir Thomas, who can be identified with Justice Shallow in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’. We’ve never visited this National Trust property, but certainly want to do so. In November, the gardens, park and shop should be open every day, and the mansion looks as if it will be open on Saturday and Sunday.

Other talks:

We have some other Jack Tar talks lined up for later in the year, which don’t require advance booking. Just turn up – all are welcome. The first one is in the afternoon at Brixham Heritage Museum in south Devon on Monday 6th September at 2.30pm. The museum’s address is Bolton Cross, New Road, Brixham, TQ5 8LZ. The doors open at 2pm.


A vote for mercy:

It’s a safe bet that most people who work in the publishing industry will be unaware that the title ‘editor’ derives from the Latin word editor, meaning someone who puts on public entertainments – most commonly gladiatorial combats and wild beast shows. Roman editors hundreds of years ago knew what the population wanted most of all – bloodshed – and so fights between gladiators in amphitheatres were a common form of entertainment, widely known today from countless films and TV programmes. The scenario is familiar: a close-fought contest, but at last one man wins and has his opponent at his mercy. The victorious gladiator appeals to the watching crowd for a final decision. Because both men fought bravely and put on a good show, the vanquished man deserves to be spared. At this point the camera pans across the spectators in close-up, showing that the majority have their thumbs pointing upwards. The dramatic music swells to raise the tension and drown out the crowd. The winning man also sees that the majority are voting for mercy and so he releases his victim to fight another a day. A familiar scene, but an inaccurate portrayal!

The arena of the Roman amphitheatre at Arles, in southern France
The arena of the Roman amphitheatre at Arles, in southern France

A vote to kill:

Let’s run the film again. The winning gladiator has his foot on his defeated opponent’s chest and appeals for a decision. The camera pans the crowd, the vast majority of whom have their thumbs up, but if we cut the dramatic music, then we can hear them chanting ‘jugular! jugular!’. The editor takes note of the crowd’s decision and orders the appropriate signal, perhaps a long blast on a horn, and in response the victorious man cuts the throat of the defeated gladiator.

Thumbs up gesture:

When Jean-Léon Gérôme painted his famous scene of a defeated Roman gladiator in 1872 called ‘Pollice Verso’ (now in Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona), it was thought that the death sentence was given by a ‘thumbs down’ signal. Gérôme duly shows the crowd gesturing in this way. The upward turn of the thumb was believed to mean ‘life’, and in many western cultures today, ‘thumbs up’ means ‘good’ or ‘OK’. In films about Rome, ‘thumbs up’ has come to represent ‘life’ or ‘mercy’ for those defeated in the arena and ‘thumbs down’ the opposite.

It is uncertain where the thumbs up gesture with its positive meaning originated – in many eastern cultures it is regarded as negative, rude or positively obscene. Ancient Roman manuscripts suggest that the crowd in the arena expressed their wishes by hand gestures and chanting. For a positive vote, it seems that people hid their thumbs and perhaps waved something like a white cloth, while calling out for mercy. The ‘pollice verso’ (‘with turned thumb’) was a vote for death, and the thumbs were turned upwards, not downwards. There appears to have been no Roman ‘thumbs down’ gesture. Instead, ‘thumbs up’ called for blood.

Roman mosaic from Cyprus showing gladiators fighting
Roman mosaic from Cyprus showing gladiators fighting

Editor’s choice:

More certain is the fact that the victorious gladiator did not make his own decision based on scanning the crowd. Generally the matter was in the hands of the editor who had set up the games and had money invested – not least in the gladiators themselves, who cost money to feed and train. He had to balance financial concerns against popularity, which was the main reason for holding games in the first place. When so much was at stake (not to mention the small matter of life or death for the defeated – life really was cheap in Roman times), it was not left to chance. Hand gestures could be misinterpreted, so a pre-arranged (and clear) signal transmitted the editor’s wishes to the winning gladiator, and he acted accordingly. If the Emperor was present at the games, he usually usurped the rights of the editor in this matter, and not having quite the same pressures on him as the man who had set up the games, he sometimes made his own decisions regardless of the crowd.

Modern view of history:

The matter of the actual meaning of ‘thumbs up’ in Roman times may seem a trivial detail, but it is a symptom of the divergence of ‘real’ history from ‘filmic’ history. Most people unconsciously accumulate their ideas of past ages from a variety of sources, many of them fictional, but at some point errors are set in stone and prove almost impossible to correct. Even modern children’s books on the Romans say things like, ‘It is believed that the “thumbs up” sign meant “live”, and that “thumbs down” meant “die”.’

No film producer would now dare to try to put the record straight by portraying the Roman Empire as it really was. Straying too far from accepted wisdom guarantees a box-office flop. The modern interpretation of past ‘golden ages’, be they Roman, Elizabethan or whatever, can be highly enjoyable when watched on screen, but what you see may be a far cry from real life for the majority of people in those periods. Only one thing is absolutely certain about the ‘thumbs up’ gesture, and that is it will continue to be used in portrayals of gladiator fights as a positive rather than a deadly gesture.

Thumbs up for authors:

And what of editors in the publishing industry? Well, as every writer knows, when you are told that the editor has given your book the thumbs up, it could mean anything. As Thomas Hughes said in the preface to the 1892 edition of The Scouring of the White Horse, ‘Publishers are after all but fallible men, but as it is their special business to know what the reading people want – or rather what they think they want, and will buy – the author’s soundest policy is to submit with a good grace.’


Dragon or horse?

Politicians and administrators seldom have more than a passing regard for geographers, archaeologists or even the concerns of local people when they set about changing administrative boundaries. It is not surprising, therefore, that the statement ‘White Horse Hill, 856 feet above mean sea level, is the highest point on the Berkshire Downs’ is nonsense – due to administrative changes, White Horse Hill near Uffington is now in the county of Oxfordshire in England and not in the county of Berkshire.

However much they play with labels, politicians cannot change the reality that White Horse Hill is part of a long range of hills covered with hillforts and other prehistoric earthworks and which carries the ancient track called the Ridgeway. What marks this hill out from all others is – predictably – the figure of a horse made by cutting through the turf to expose the white chalk beneath. The figure is not easily recognised as a horse and has at times been interpreted as a dragon, so giving rise to a local legend: just to the north of the figure, on a hill slightly below it in height, St George is supposed to have slain the legendary dragon, and the hill figure was said to have been cut to remind people of that event. An alternative theory was that the horse was made to commemorate the victory of King Ethelred and his brother Alfred (later Alfred the Great) at the Battle of Ashdown, fought against the Danes in AD 871. This was the prevalent view in the 19th century, when historical research had shown that the figure was known in the 12th century, with the location ‘White Horse Hill’ being recorded as early as 1084.

The moving horse:

As the study of archaeology in Britain progressed, some scholars noticed the similarity between the strange form of the figure and the images on Iron Age coins that were thought to portray stylised horses. Gradually the idea that the white horse was over 2,000 years old began to be accepted, although there were still opposing arguments. It was also realised that the figure had changed shape and position over the years due to natural erosion. Because the figure is on the slope of a hill, weathering causes soil on the upper edges to crumble and roll down to the lower edges, where it forms a silt. This effect was observed as early as 1738, and the figure is in fact nearer the summit of the hill than when it was originally cut. This came to be accepted as the explanation of the local legend that the horse has climbed the hill on its own.

As with so many aspects of archaeology where ‘the answer is in the dirt’, the silt formed by weathering is a key factor in the history of the hill. In excavations carried out two decades ago, samples of early deposits of silt were collected. Scientific analysis dated these to the early 1st millennium BC, making the horse nearly 3,000 years old and fixing it firmly in the Iron Age, before the Romans. This aspect of the silt was useful, but by and large silt produced through erosion is a problem, because left alone it will not only accumulate on the bottom edges of the figure, it will encroach on – and cover – the whole figure itself.

Illustration of the scouring from the book by Thomas Hughes
Illustration of the scouring from

the book by Thomas Hughes

Scouring of the horse:

If erosion is a constant threat, how has the horse survived for nearly three millennia? The answer has to be regular cleaning or ‘scouring’ of the chalk. In historic times, care of the figure was the responsibility of the local Lord of the Manor, who ensured that the horse was scoured every seven years. Records of these scourings go back to about 1650, although details of the event are only available from about a century later. The burden of the work fell on the local people, but to sweeten the task all kinds of festivities were indulged in as well. The event came to be more like a fair than the ritual or even religious task that it may have been many centuries ago. The last scouring conducted in this way was done in 1857 and was recorded in a novel called The Scouring of The White Horse by Thomas Hughes (who is more famous as the author of Tom Brown’s School Days).

While Hughes’s book about the scouring is technically a novel, today it might pass for non-fiction (there are plenty of modern travel books that contain less fact) or at least as ‘faction’, the literary equivalent of a television ‘docu-drama’. Hughes thoroughly researched the subject and included an appendix giving the accumulated historical facts and sources. He also included actual quotations from local newspapers about the event, as well as a hand-bill of 1776 that was produced to advertise the scouring and the associated festivities so as to encourage more people to take part. On top of all this he inserted various songs in a Berkshire (not Oxfordshire) dialect, including the ‘Ballad of the Scouring of the White Horse’. The first verse runs:


The owld White Horse wants zettin to rights,
And the Squire hev promised good cheer,
Zo we’ll gee un a scrape to kip un in shape,
And a’ll last for many a year.


(Translated into modern English dialect, but without correcting the grammar, this would read: The old White Horse wants setting to rights, and the Squire have promised good cheer, So we’ll give him [the horse, not the Squire!] a scrape to keep him in shape, And he’ll last for many a year.’)

Scouring festivities:

The time of year at which the horse was scoured varied, with scourings at Whitsun, Michaelmas and Midsummer all being recorded. The gap between scourings was also not fixed, although in the early 19th century it was generally scoured every seven years. The festivities that took place also varied, but at one time or another they included cheese-rolling (chasing round cheeses down a steep hill), backsword play (fighting with sticks), various types of race, such as a cart horse race, catching the pig and climbing the greasy pole. There were less strenuous activities too, such as taking a bullet out of a tub of flour by only using one’s teeth (the shortest time won) and grinning through a horse collar (it is not clear how the latter competition was judged!). The one element of the scouring that always seems to have been present was plentiful alcohol, which perhaps helped the competitors with the horse collar.

After 1857, there were no more traditional scourings of the horse, probably because it became recognised as an ancient monument and was taken into ‘care’ by the authorities. Intermittent scourings took place after this, such as in 1892 when the horse had almost disappeared through neglect, and again in 1922 when it was again in poor shape. During the Second World War the horse was deliberately covered in case it proved a landmark for enemy bombers.

Modern theories:

Considering the number of times it must have been scoured, it is remarkable that the horse hasn’t been distorted beyond recognition. The site is now in the care of English Heritage, and the edges of the figure have been reinforced with concrete to reduce erosion and minimise the need for scouring.

The current interpretation of the figure is that it was a territorial marker of the Iron Age tribe known as the Dobunni and could be seen from the lands of another tribe, the Atrebates, who occupied an area to the south. What this marker was intended to convey is a matter of opinion, though given the number of hillforts in the area, at least some of which are likely to be contemporary with the horse, the message was probably not likely to have been along the lines of ‘Welcome to the Vale of the White Horse’. The enduring mystery of the White Horse, though, is how it has survived for nearly 3,000 years, outlasting the Roman and Norman invasions, civil war and the desertion of the countryside during the industrial revolution. And was the White Horse of Uffington unique, or is it a lone survivor from an age of strife when
boundaries were routinely marked and regularly disputed?

Links with the USA:

The figure of the White Horse is close to the Iron Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle, and in the nearby village of Uffington is a museum called Tom Brown’s School Museum, because it is housed in the schoolroom that features in Thomas Hughes’s novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which is set largely in Rugby School (which Hughes himself attended from 1834). The museum contains displays of local history and archaeology, as well as mementoes of the writer. Hughes was born in Uffington in 1822 and spent his early years there, so he knew all the local stories about the White Horse and the scourings and was ideally placed to write about them. In 1880, when he was well established as a writer, he founded the town of Rugby in Tennessee, USA, intending it to be a co-operative, class-free colony for English people. Today the town still has many good examples of Victorian architecture.


We mentioned last time an article by us on old maps in Family History Monthly (February 2010), and the theme of maps is a hot topic on television at the moment, with the BBC running two series – ‘The Beauty of Maps’ and ‘Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession’. A new exhibition on maps has also opened at the British Library in London, called ‘Magnificent Maps’. It runs from 30th April until 19th September 2010, 7 days a week, admission free.


For our competition last time, we asked what the initials ‘OS’ on many British maps stands for. We thought that this would be an easy question, but it proved to be the most controversial topic we have set as a competition. Some readers in the US felt it had too much of a British bias and was too difficult, while some British readers commented that it seemed so easy they thought it was a trick question and spent hours researching the subject. Even so, we had by far the largest number of entries for any competition! The answer is in fact the obvious one – ‘OS’ stands for ‘Ordnance Survey’, a name that betrays the military origins of these maps.

Accurate mapping using surveying techniques based on trigonometry began in England in 1784, but the root of this type of accurate mapping actually goes back to 1746 in Scotland. After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which culminated in the Battle/Massacre of Culloden, the English Government wanted a firmer control of Scotland, particularly in the trackless wastes of the Highlands. A series of roads was built to enable armies to march into Scotland quickly, and the surveying for these roads was the very beginnings of scientific mapmaking in Britain.

The Ordnance Survey itself came into being in 1791, prompted by fears of a French invasion. The first area to be tackled was the county of Kent, which was thought most vulnerable to an invasion threat. The maps produced were designed to give an accurate basis for planning military defences and to identify in particular the best places to place artillery (‘ordnance’) – hence it was an ordnance surveying task. The map of Kent was published in 1801, but the words ‘Ordnance Survey’ did not appear on maps until 1810, and the mapping of England and Wales was not complete until 1870. The Ordnance Survey went on to publish a range of maps at various scales, and in 1920 the first tourist map was produced. In the same year O.G.S. Crawford was appointed the first professional Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, employed to investigate and advise on the mapping of ancient monuments. OS maps continued to be published at imperial scales until 1969, when the first metric maps were published. The old one inch to the mile and two and a half inch to a mile scale maps remain extremely useful documents for archaeologists and historians.

Competition [now closed]

This time, for fairness, we have a competition weighted in favour of readers in the USA. The countries of mainland Europe have been accustomed to frequent invasion by neighbours over the centuries. Even Island Britain has had its share of invasions, stretching back from the Norman conquest into the depths of prehistory, when England was joined by a land bridge to the Continent and invasion was easier. The USA by contrast has rarely been invaded, but a British army did on one occasion land on American soil, march to Washington and destroy the public buildings of the city. So, for our question in this newsletter, when did the British burn down the White House in Washington? Was it,

  • A. 1784
  • B. 1794
  • C. 1804
  • D. 1814
  • E. 1824

The first two correct answers out of the hat will be the winners and will each receive a copy of the hardback edition of the Recollections of James Anthony Gardner, Volume 31 of the publications of the Navy Records Society. The NRS has kindly donated these copies as prizes. This fascinating publication is an accurate transcription of Gardner’s own account of his career at sea during during the Napoleonic Wars, ending up in charge of Fairlight Signal Station near Hastings in Sussex. The account is set out with a chapter about each ship in which he served, and at the end of each chapter he gives short, pithy descriptions of some of the men he served with, such as James Wallis, Captain of the Gorgon, who “had strange ways, but was an able officer and seaman.” It is memoirs and journals like these that bring to life the war at sea in Nelson’s time.