Newsletter 52

Welcome to the March 2018 issue of our occasional newsletters.



In our last newsletter, we mentioned being impressed by our first ever visit to Lancaster. In the 1st century AD, the Romans established a fort here, at a point where the river crossing could be defended, and seagoing ships and boats would sail up the river estuary with supplies. A thousand years later, the Domesday Book’s name for the place was ‘Loncastre’, meaning ‘Roman fort on the River Lune’. A bridge may have been built during the Roman occupation, and one has certainly existed since medieval times.

The port

St George’s Quay was developed on the south bank of the River Lune in the mid-18th century, and with access to the open sea, large sailing ships could moor close to the warehouses and load and unload goods.

St George’s Quay with its row of Georgian warehouses

The flourishing port was further boosted by the construction of the Lancaster Canal, the southern stretch of which opened in 1797 and the northern part, between Lancaster and Kendal, in 1819. With good road links because of the bridge over the river and with the canal providing transport for heavy and delicate goods, the town prospered. Packet boats carrying passengers also ran between Preston and Lancaster and later as far as Kendal, with faster ones introduced to compete with the railways.


The flow of goods through the port encouraged the establishment of various industries, such as the manufacture of high-quality furniture by the Gillow family (now very collectable), oilcloth, linoleum,  stained glass, chemicals and even railway carriages. Lancaster’s prosperity also derived from the slave trade, as it became the fourth largest slave port in England. Many local families were involved, some even building the slave ships. These ships would leave Lancaster laden with cargoes that could be bartered for slaves, who were then transported from Africa to the Caribbean and America. The vessels returned to Lancaster with cargoes such as rum, sugar, tobacco and mahogany for the furniture industry.

Maritime Museum

The slave ships tended to be smaller than those from Liverpool, Bristol and London because of the limitations of the Lune tidal estuary. At each low tide, the river was too shallow to navigate, and eventually an enclosed, deep-water dock was built down the coast at Glasson. After being linked to Lancaster by a canal in 1826, St George’s Quay lost most of its trade.


The Custom House on St George’s Quay was built in 1764 to a design by Richard Gillow of the furniture-making family. It went out of use in 1882 and was restored by Lancaster City Council a century later. This county town of Lancashire was only made a city in 1937, but in the 1960s Lancaster was bypassed by the M6 motorway, so that much of its heritage has escaped destruction. The Maritime Museum is one of the hidden highlights, occupying the Custom House and part of an adjacent warehouse.

Lancaster’s Custom House, now the Maritime Museum

This is an excellent museum, with displays explaining the development of the port, the local fishing industry and the Lancaster Canal, including a reconstruction of a fast packet boat. There is also information on the transatlantic slave trade, and the museum produces a very useful leaflet showing the many buildings in Lancaster that are connected to the slave trade. Further information is on the museum’s website.



Lune Aqueduct

Still keeping with Lancaster, the main road bridge over the River Lune is on the north side, and a short walk further north alongside the river brings you to Rennie’s Bridge, better known as the Lune Aqueduct, which carries the canal over the river.

The Lune Aqueduct over the River Lune

The Lune Aqueduct is a fine example of Georgian architecture, largely in its original form and built of sandstone blocks with piers resting on timber piles driven into the river bed. It is protected as a Grade 1 Listed Building and is often claimed to be the best example of the work of the engineer John Rennie (1761–1821), sometimes called John Rennie the Elder to distinguish him from his son John Rennie. He was responsible for building a number of canals, including the Lancaster Canal.


The Lancaster Canal crossing the River Lune via the Lune Aqueduct

Alexander Stevens

Although Rennie designed the bridge, it was constructed by the Scottish architect Alexander Stevens, who had a long and successful career building bridges, mainly in Scotland. The Lune Aqueduct proved to be his final project, because he died in 1796, and the aqueduct was completed by his son, also called Alexander Stevens. Although he had spent most of his working life in Scotland, he was buried in the churchyard of the ancient priory church of St Mary at Lancaster, which stands on a hill next to the castle, overlooking the city and the River Lune. On the exterior of the south wall of the church is a memorial plaque:

‘Sacred to the memory of Alexr. Stevens, Architect. In private life he was respected and beloved. The many public works executed by him, especially the aqueduct over the River Lune, near this town, are the best encomium of his professional merit. He died Jany. XXIXth. MDCCXCVI [January 29th 1796] aged LXVI [66] years.’


Memorial to Alexander Stevens



The American edition of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History has just been published in hardback in the United States and Canada by Viking (ISBN 9780735221628), 449 pages long, plus prelims and prologue, maps and other illustrations. It is also available as an e-book and an audio download. It is almost the same as the UK edition, though with a few corrections and amendments and a very striking jacket.

The French connection

The publication coincides with the 240th anniversary of France becoming officially involved with the American Revolution (War of Independence). Never having recovered from the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), France was looking to ways of seeking revenge against Britain. From 1777 she had allowed arms and other equipment to be shipped to the rebels in America, while American privateers were permitted to shelter in French ports. In March 1778, France signed a treaty recognising American independence, and the first hostile act between Britain and France was a frigate action in June 1778, when the French Belle Poule fought the British Arethusa. The following month, Britain declared war on France. It took France almost another year to persuade Spain to join in, leading to the start of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779.

John Trumbull’s finest painting

The UK and American jackets of Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History are very different, but both are based on the work of contemporary American artists. The UK jacket features a painting by John Singleton Copley (see our newsletter 50), while this Viking jacket uses a magnificent painting by John Trumbull.


Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, Trumbull became a soldier at the beginning of the American Revolution, but turned to painting before it had ended. He is known especially for his depictions of the war, including “The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar”. The sortie took place on the night of 26th November 1781, a one-off event during the siege, when British and Hanoverian troops left the garrison to destroy the encroaching Spanish siegeworks. George Augustus Eliott, the Governor of Gibraltar, had learned that they were poorly defended by night, and the few Spanish troops either fled, were killed or were captured.

The painting depicts, on the left, the soldiers and seamen destroying the siegeworks. In the centre are a dead soldier and a dying Spanish officer – Captain Barboza of the artillery, who had heroically defended his position and is shown refusing the help offered by Eliott on the right, who is flanked by his own officers. Trumbull was told about the sortie by the artist Antonio Cesare de Poggi, who himself did a superb bird’s eye view (used for the endpapers of our UK edition – see our newsletter 50).

Trumbull did five oil paintings of the sortie, the first three of which differ, while the other two are copies. Preliminary sketches also survive. His first version was completed in 1787, but he made an error in the colour of Barboza’s uniform. Until recently it was in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, but is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, though not on display. The painting on our book jacket is the second version, which was done in 1788. It is on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, and measures 20 by 30 inches. The third version is very similar, though the most obvious change is to its size, being on a monumental scale. It measures 71 x 107 inches and is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. John Trumbull’s depiction of the sortie at Gibraltar is considered to be the finest of all his paintings and obviously well worth a visit.



In 1848 the Prudential or ‘the Pru’ was set up in London and came to concentrate on life insurance and a means of saving for professional people and, later on, for the poorer working classes who would pay weekly amounts to agents. It is now a multinational life insurance and financial services company.

In America John Fairfield Dryden lost his father when a young boy. As a result of his experiences, he set up an insurance company at Newark, New Jersey, in 1875, based on the principles and name of the Prudential in London. This new company was called the Prudential Friendly Society and sold industrial insurance to help American working families provide against sickness, accident and death. The company’s history is told in a fascinating book published in 1950 by Doubleday – The Prudential: a story of human security by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler. Its jacket depicts the iconic northern part of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Cover of 1950 book called ‘The Prudential, a story of human security’ by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler


The business struggled, and so in late 1876 Dryden went to London to seek advice on how the business operated in England. As a result, the Prudential Friendly Society was refounded on 15th March 1877 as The Prudential Insurance Company of America, which rapidly prospered and expanded in scope. In the 1890s Dryden was looking for a new slogan and symbol, and Mortimer Remington from the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency in New York came up with the idea. He devised a symbol based on Gibraltar, because a century after the Great Siege, it was still the most famous fortress in the world. Remington also added the slogan ‘The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar’.


The Prudential symbol in 1931, with the image of the Rock

bearing the words ‘The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar’


May and Oursler explain how Gibraltar became a familiar symbol the length and breadth of the United States:

“The campaign which introduced the symbol was one of the first great advertising campaigns in the nation. Through magazine advertisements, newspapers, posters, and direct mail, it made Prudential and the Rock of Gibraltar synonymous words in virtually every home in the land. It has continued to be known as one of the great business symbols of the world.”

That was written in 1950, but what is remarkable is that even today Prudential uses a symbol based on the Rock. The advertising agency is also still in existence – J. Walter Thompson (JWT) has been part of the vast WPP Group since 1987.



Early life

The young Henry Ince is shrouded in mystery. Records suggest he was born at Penzance, Cornwall, in 1735 or 1736 and became a nail-maker and miner, but only his mining occupation is certain. For some reason he was in Ireland in 1755 and enlisted in the 2nd Regiment of Foot. He possibly became a Methodist in Ireland, where John Wesley was at that time preaching. The regiment next moved to the Isle of Man and in 1768 to Gibraltar. Ince, now a sergeant, wrote to Wesley lamenting the lack of religion among the soldiers, particularly Methodism. His involvement with Methodism is discussed, along with other details, in an article by Sue Jackson in Gibraltar Heritage Journal 16 (for 2009).


Gibraltar’s defences were being strengthened under the direction of the Chief Engineer, William Green. As the army engineers were officers, the actual work was done by civilians, which Green felt was unsatisfactory. In 1772 he was given permission to form a soldier-artificer company of skilled military workmen, which was a great improvement, and Ince was recruited into the company as a sergeant. One of its first tasks was the construction of the massive King’s Bastion. During the subsequent Great Siege, the soldier-artificers proved invaluable, and decades later the engineers and soldier-artificers were amalgamated into a single unit that eventually became the Royal Engineers.

Tunnel vision

After the sortie, the Spaniards rebuilt their siegeworks, gradually moving closer to the sheer north front of Gibraltar. Because it was difficult to fire at these siegeworks, it was decided to mount guns on top of an outcrop called ‘the Notch’ or ‘the Hook’, about halfway up the cliff face. It would act like a bastion, giving a wide field of fire over the siegeworks. To gain access to this rock platform, they needed to drive a tunnel through the limestone rock.

North front of Gibraltar, facing Spain, with ‘the Notch’ far left (with two later gunports)

and three of Ince’s gunports centre and right


The legend

One story is that Ince, now a sergeant-major, proposed the idea after one bombardment:


‘the Governor [Eliott] attended by the Chief Engineer [Green] and staff made an inspection of the batteries at the north front. Great havoc had been made in some of them by the enemy’s fire, and for the present they were abandoned whilst the artificers were restoring them. Meditating for a few moments over the ruins, he [Eliott] said aloud, “I will give a thousand dollars to anyone who can suggest how I am to get a flanking fire upon the enemy’s works”.’


At this point Ince supposedly suggested a tunnel, but no evidence exists that the reward was ever offered or paid, because Eliott had already issued official orders for such a tunnel, after discussions with Green.

Against the clock

The cutting of the tunnel began on 25th May 1782, with 12 miners led by Ince using basic tools and gunpowder for blasting. The rubble was cleared by hand, and the tunnelling was slow and dangerous, with several deaths and injuries. By early July, the tunnel was 82 feet long and 8 feet high. With an assault by French and Spanish forces expected any day, the miners started to work in shifts night and day, but the smoke and dust made conditions intolerable. It was agreed to blast a ventilation hole through the cliff face, but the amount of gunpowder was overestimated. Ensign Drinkwater recorded the result:


‘the explosion was so amazingly loud, that almost the whole of the Enemy’s camp turned out at the report. But what must their surprise be, when they observed from where the smoke issued! The original intention of this opening was to communicate air to the workmen, who before were almost suffocated with the smoke which remained after blowing the different mines, but, on examining the aperture more closely, an idea was conceived of mounting a gun to bear on all the Enemy’s batteries.’


Because of this accidental formation of a gunport, it was realised that the tunnel could be used as a gun battery now, with cannons set up in additional openings through the cliff face.


Cannon mounted through the cliff face towards Spain


The end in sight

The Notch was never reached before the Great Siege ended in February 1783. Even so, the tunnelling continued, making a formidable battery within the cliff face itself. This work by Henry Ince was the very first tunnel cut in the Rock of Gibraltar, but nowadays there are over 30 miles of tunnels and underground chambers, providing a popular tourist attraction.

During the siege soldiers were encouraged to grow whatever food they could, and Ince used a plot of ground on the western slope. After the siege he was allowed to rent this land on a long lease, and the location is still known as ‘Ince’s Farm’. He was discharged from the soldier-artificers in 1791, but continued to oversee the mining. In 1796 he was commissioned as an Ensign in the Royal Garrison Battalion and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1801. His life then becomes a mystery once more, but at some point he left Gibraltar for England. He died on 9th October 1808 and is buried at St Michael’s church in Gittisham, Devon. The inscription on his gravestone reads:


‘In Memory of Lieut. Henry Ince, late of the Royal Garrison Battn. Gibraltar; the works of which Fortress bear lasting testimony to his skill industry and zeal. After serving his Majesty 49 Years he retired full of honor to this place and closing in piety the remains of an useful life, died October 9th 1808 Aged 72. His principal service was in the Soldier Artificer Company the first unit of the Corps of Royal Engineers.’


Gravestone of Henry Ince at Gittisham, Devon



So far, we have events lined up for ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’ at three of Britain’s most celebrated literary festivals:

Tuesday 15th May 2018. Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature. This is a wonderful festival in the beautiful riverside town of Fowey in Cornwall, running from 11th to 19th May. Our event will be in the Town Hall at Fowey, 10.30am to 11.30am, tickets £8.

Details of the two events below are still to be finalised:

Wednesday afternoon, 19th September 2018. This year is the 10th anniversary of the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, which runs from 19th to 23rd September. This lovely seaside town is situated in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on East Devon’s Jurassic Coast. See

October 2018. We are also delighted to be returning to the Henley Literary Festival, which takes place 28th September to 7th October. Henley-on-Thames is famous both for its rowing regatta on the River Thames and the literary festival.


The Boar’s Head

In Folklife Quarterly 56 for January 2018 we had an article published on ‘The Boar’s Head Carol – and Blood Month’. The Boar’s Head was one of the earliest carols to be printed and describes the medieval boar’s head ceremony at lavish feasts. Farm animals were once slaughtered in November, called Blood Month, meaning that meat became plentiful for Christmas-time. These included the family pig – whereas the boar was an upper-class symbol.

Military History Monthly

Our latest article, ‘Gibraltar 1782’, is published in Military History Monthly 91 for April 2018, which is on sale now. You can find details of this magazine and how to subscribe here. The seven-page article is on the floating battery attack during the Great Siege and has been splendidly designed and published.

Talking History radio interview

We were interviewed by Patrick Geoghegan (professor of modern history at Trinity College, Dublin), on the ‘Talking History’ programme for Newstalk Radio in January 2018. This superb book programme is devoted to history books, the best we’ve ever come across. This particular one was ‘Best of January Books’, which you can hear as a podcast here. It comes up with a picture of The Canterbury Tales. Click on ‘Listen Now’. Ours is the first book featured, and the interview lasts about 10 minutes.

Various reviews

Patrick Geoghegan kindly described Gibraltar as “a brilliant book and a brilliant story”, and we are also pleased to have received other excellent reviews since the last newsletter, including:

“Many readers will wonder why this episode hasn’t been made into a movie … The story is as compelling as it is fantastic – a page-turning history of one of the most important eras of Western civilization” (Kirkus Reviews – starred review)

“a page-turning tale … this well organized, fast-paced book is a worthwhile addition to the literature” (Publishers Weekly)

“This book is fascinating … one of those superbly done factual books where you know how the end plays out, but you wish it were different as you turn page after page for the story unfolding” (Nicky Moxey, The Historical Novels Review of the Historical Novels Society)

“an absorbing examination of an important episode in British and European history” (Jay Freeman, Booklist Online of the American Library Association)

“a meticulous look at the military and civilian experiences of what became known as the Great Siege of Gibraltar” (Kathleen McCallister, Library Journal)

Tony Gerard is not only a surgeon’s mate within the wonderful HMS Acasta re-enactment group, but (as we have just discovered) he has many other skills, as you can see on a YouTube video where he plays the role of a French trapper. He has posted a review on the Acasta website, including the comment: “It’s a riveting story … Just like a novel I often found myself reading longer than intended”.  He ends by saying: “And for all you Americans out there – the siege of Gibraltar has a direct bearing on our independence totally unknown to me! Read the book to find out…”  Well, we hope that his teaser has you all rushing to your local bookstore.