Newsletter 67

Welcome to the April 2023 issue of our occasional news.


When There Were Birds paperback

The paperback of our book When There Were Birds: the forgotten history of our connections was published at the end of March, ISBN 978-0-349-14447-4. It is also still available as a hardback, audiobook and e-book. The paperback publication coincides with the new David Attenborough BBC series called ‘Wild Isles’. If you watch his programmes and read our book, you will have an excellent idea of birdlife in the British Isles. An understanding of birds and the environment in the past is essential for making sense of many aspects of history.

The paperback jacket has been tweaked, with more vibrant colours and some review quotes, and a few minor tweaks have been made to the text. We have also changed (on page 374) the number of bird species that we have seen in our garden – from more than thirty to more than forty species, tangible proof that our wild garden is working!


We have a few talks lined up, and look forward to meeting some of you at these events:


Exeter, Devon, Wednesday 24th May 2023: We will be talking about ‘Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy’ from 10.45am to 11.45am. Venue: The Mint Methodist Church, Fore Street, Exeter, EX4 3AT. This talk is in the programme of the group called ‘The Forum’, but everyone is welcome (the hall is very large), with a fee of just £3 for non-members.

This is a joint talk with the Exeter Heritage Harbour Festival, part of a week-long maritime event to celebrate Exeter’s Quay and Ship Canal. Details will shortly be listed on the Custom House website.


Wokingham, Berkshire, Thursday 22nd June 2023: This will be an afternoon talk (at 2pm) on ‘When There Were Birds’ at the brand-new library. The address is: Carnival Hub, Wellington Road, Wokingham, RG40 2AF. There will be a small charge. We always enjoy giving talks to this library and look forward to meeting everyone at the new premises.


London, Saturday 14th October 2023: We will be talking to the London branch of the Jane Austen Society at 11am, on ‘All at Sea in the Time of Jane Austen’. This is an all-day branch meeting with three talks (ours is the first). The venue is St Columba’s Church, Pont Street, London, SW1X 0BD, not far from Hans Place where Jane Austen lived for a while with her brother Henry. All welcome. See full details here.

Johnny Cope

In Folklife West (issue 72, January 2023), we had an article published called ‘Johnny Cope’, about the song that is based on Sir John Cope, the English army officer who is infamous for having been defeated at the Battle of Prestonpans on 21st September 1745.

This was the first battle of the Jacobite Rebellion, and it took place near Musselburgh on the coast of the Firth of Forth. Many versions of the song exist (and of Cope’s name), and one Scottish poet wrote: ‘I once heard a peasant boast … that he could sing Johnnie Cope with all nineteen variations.’

See our previous newsletter for details of other articles we have had published in this magazine. You can subscribe separately to Folklife Traditions Journal (which has no geographical limits) or else to Folklife West magazine (which includes Folklife Traditions). See the website here for details..


Six Stars

Quite a long time has passed since we last looked at our book The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo. It’s very easy to forget what a vast amount of research we did, and so it was a real surprise to find that Seb Palmer (who we see is a talented artist) posted a review on his blog on 6th February 2023: ‘This is a fantastic book. Worthy of the rare but coveted six stars … This is a rollicking good read. History at its dramatic finest.’ Much appreciated! (You can see the review here).


World Book Day


We were delighted that Jack Tar was Gibraltar’s Book of the Day on World Book Day, 2nd March 2023, when the image shown here was on the Facebook page of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. It was accompanied by a quote taken from our book about ‘blackstrap’ wine that was drunk by seafarers at Gibraltar. To be stationed in the Mediterranean was even known as being blackstrapped.

You can see the World Book Day Facebook post here:

The paperback is on sale in the Gibraltar Heritage Trust’s shop and also via their website.





Scud Hill

Too much blackstrap possibly gave rise to Gibraltar’s street name ‘Scud Hill’ (see the photo below). In the latest Gibraltar Heritage Journal (volume 28 for 2022), on pages 138–9,  we discuss its derivation. Although there are mentions dating to the time of the Great Siege, none give the name’s origin, but a visitor in 1814 attributed it to sailors flying down the hill after their officers had driven them out of the winehouses (that had no doubt sold them blackstrap wine). The word ‘scud’ in seafaring usage is ‘to run before the wind’ in stormy weather, and this link with Gibraltar’s maritime heritage is very apt.


Looking up Scud Hill, Gibraltar




The name ‘Lloyd’s’ is known worldwide and will be familiar to anyone interested in maritime history, but with so many different uses of this name, confusion can occur. Because the name was an asset, it was even freely adopted by organisations worldwide. Many of the examples that are mentioned here owe their existence to Lloyd’s Coffee-House in the City of London. Lloyds Bank (no apostrophe), one of the ‘Big Four’ British clearing banks, can be discounted. It was founded in 1765 as Taylors & Lloyds, a private bank in Birmingham.

Lloyd’s Coffee-House

It all began in Tower Street, a haunt of seafarers, with the first clue being given by The London Gazette in February 1688: ‘Mr. Edw. Loyds Coffee House in Tower-street’. In 1691 the coffee-house moved to Lombard Street, close to the Post Office and the Royal Exchange commercial centre. It attracted merchants, shipowners and those connected with shipping and marine insurance, and it also held regular auction sales. The proprietor, Mr Edward Lloyd, provided his customers with any shipping intelligence he could obtain. He died in 1713, and by 1769 the coffee-house was in decline, which caused many of the customers to move to a New Lloyd’s Coffee-House in nearby Pope’s Head Alley.

Lloyd’s of London

Lloyd’s of London began as an association of underwriters who met in Lloyd’s Coffee-House and later on in the New Lloyd’s Coffee-House, but when that became too cramped, an agreement was made in December 1771 by 79 of the customers – merchants, bankers, shipowners, underwriters and brokers – to subscribe to their own premises. This marked the foundation of the insurers known as the Society of Lloyd’s of London. It was only in 1774 that they moved into spacious rooms in the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, conducting business solely as underwriters. The name Lloyd’s was retained.


The Subscription Room at Lloyd’s in the Royal Exchange around 1809


Until the late 19th century, their focus was marine insurance, while the chartered corporations concentrated on fire and life insurance. Over time, Lloyd’s built up a sophisticated network of agents for gathering shipping intelligence. Disaster struck on 10th January 1838, when the Royal Exchange was burned down by a fire that started in the Lloyd’s rooms. They moved back in 1844 after it was rebuilt. See more on their history here.

Lloyd’s News

From 1692, Edward Lloyd sold at his coffee-house a weekly bulletin with lists of ships arriving at or departing from ports, and the bulletins were also read aloud by a waiter. Details were supplied by his network of correspondents. A surviving sheet of 1702 includes missing ships that had sailed from England to India and China. From 1696 Lloyd also produced Lloyd’s News, a single sheet of general news, but it only lasted a few months.

Lloyd’s List

In 1734 Thomas Jemson, the new owner of Lloyd’s Coffee-House, started Lloyd’s List, a weekly newspaper devoted to shipping intelligence, mostly the arrivals and departures of vessels at different ports. A financial agreement was made for correspondents to send information free-of-charge to the Post Office branch in Lombard Street, addressed simply to Lloyd’s. From 1735 Lloyd’s List became twice-weekly. In 1769, shortly after the New Lloyd’s Coffee-House opened in Pope’s Head Alley, a rival New Lloyd’s List was issued with a similar Post Office agreement (the word ‘New’ was soon dropped when the original List ceased).


The correspondents, who were later called agents, transmitted information from ports all over the world. In time, Lloyd’s List was published daily (except Sunday), and in 1884 it merged with the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette. It is one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the world and may even have developed from Edward Lloyd’s 1692 bulletin. Since 2013 it has been digital only.


Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund

This was officially established by Lloyd’s of London in 1803 to give financial aid to seafarers injured in action while protecting their country, to assist the relatives of those killed, and to make presentations (such as swords) to people who distinguished themselves in battle. It originated in 1782, when money was raised at Lloyd’s Coffee-House to help widows and children after the Royal George sank at Spithead while preparing to relieve Gibraltar (see our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History).


Lloyd’s Register

Lloyd’s Register is the world’s first marine classification society. It was established at Lloyd’s Coffee-House in Lombard Street in 1760 as The Society for the Registry of Shipping, because of the need for merchants and underwriters to know about the quality of ships and the likelihood of safe voyages. Early on, surveyors based at several ports regularly inspected vessels in order to rate (or ‘class’) them. That information was constantly updated in annual registers of shipping paid for by subscribers. From 1812, surveyors began to be appointed outside Britain.


Disputes about the classification system led to a rival body being set up in London in 1799, known as the Society of Merchants, Shipowners and Underwriters. In 1834 agreement was finally reached, and the two bodies merged to become the Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. They took offices at White Lion Court in Cornhill, and in 1901 moved into a new head office at 71 Fenchurch Street. In 1914, with much of the world’s shipping being classed by Lloyd’s Register, the name was changed to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.



Today Lloyd’s Register is a global professional services company specialising in engineering and technology for the maritime industry and is wholly owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a registered charity, working together for a safer world.


Lloyd’s Register of Ships

The first Lloyd’s Register of Ships (also known as The Register of Shipping) appeared in 1760 and consisted of handwritten details about vessels. The first surviving printed copy dates to 1764. Right from the start, much information was given, including the ship’s name, former names, master, port, size, guns, where built and when, with alphabetical letters denoting the state (or class) of the ship. The registers were also known as the Underwriters’ Registers or Green Books from the colour of their covers. The rival registers from 1799 to 1833 were called the New Register Books of Shipping, also referred to as the Shipowners’ Registers or the Red Books.


Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre …

Lloyd’s Register Foundation was established in 2012 and is a politically and financially independent global charity that aims to engineer a safer world through promoting safety and education. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre has an extensive maritime archive, with a focus on learning from the past to help the future and on increasing the understanding and importance of maritime safety.


At present, the visitor centre at 71 Fenchurch Street in London is closed for refurbishment, but much material is available online and is of particular interest to maritime, industrial history and family history researchers. For those new to this archive, you could start with the Information Sheets.


…  and Stories

On the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre’s website, under ‘Learn & Explore’, there is a link to the quarterly Dispatch Magazine, which you can sign up to. In Issue 7, towards the end, you will find a piece about us. You can also download it here.

We are currently involved in researching stories for this website that relate to safety at sea in the past (or quite often, lack of safety at sea). Our very first story, ‘The Cospatrick Disaster’ is here.

This is a story of the 1874 shipwreck of the Cospatrick, a clipper ship with emigrants that was bound for New Zealand, but caught fire and sank in the Atlantic Ocean, with repercussions around the world.


The Cospatrick ‘Blackwall frigate’ at Port Chalmers, New Zealand,

 in July or August 1873 (the year before the disaster)




A Picture of Health

We live near the city of Exeter in Devon, which has an enviable museum – the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM), built in the Gothic Revival style, seen below. It opened in 1868 and was one of many memorials and monuments named in memory of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, who died in 1861 at the age of 42, possibly of typhoid fever. See the museum’s history here.


Windows over the main entrance of the museum in Exeter

From October 2022 to the end of January 2023, the museum had a temporary exhibition, ‘A Picture of Health: Exeter’s Medical History’, examining health and well-being in the city from the 18th century. Visitors were told: ‘Please be advised that real human remains are featured in this exhibition’. Was this a warning or a clever way of attracting a crowd?



As archaeologists, we know that children and adults alike are fascinated by human remains, from skeletons to bog bodies and mummies. Strangely, there were virtually no human remains on display, apart from a wired articulated arm that was donated in 1866 and was probably used by medical students. A warning was given that ‘This case contains human remains’.



Frosted glass prevented children and wheelchair users from viewing it, but surely we all want to find out about ourselves as human beings, so why have museums become squeamish? Even so, this fascinating exhibition deserves to be a permanent fixture.

The Birds of Devon

While writing When There Were Birds, we were looking forward to visiting RAMM to see the displays of  birds, but only managed to do so recently. They have one large display of stuffed birds, visually impressive, but difficult to study. Chapter 5 (‘Stuffed’) of our book is on the collecting of birds, either by preserving their skins or by displaying them in glass cases using the art of  taxidermy. Such glass cases became hugely popular for interior decoration, but from the late 19th century naturalists began to raise objections, realising that many birds, even rare ones, were being wantonly slaughtered. Tragically, some museums short-sightedly disposed of their collections, though it has since been realised that historic stuffed birds are an invaluable resource, as is evident in RAMM’s display.



The RAMM display of birds


We thought that there would be many more displays in the museum, informing the visitor about the history of collecting birds, ornithologists, taxidermy, and the profound changes in Devon’s landscape. One excellent resource provided by the museum is their online information. Try and then search for, say, ‘birds’, when over 1,000 results are given.


When we did a search for ‘D’Urban’, there were 60 results, giving an insight into the life of William Stewart Mitchell D’Urban. He was born in 1836, and his early life was spent wherever his army officer father and grandfather were serving, from Ireland to South Africa and Canada, where he contracted diphtheria that left him profoundly deaf. Unable to pursue a military career, he travelled widely, developing his interest in natural history, especially birds. On returning in 1861 to the family home at Newport House, on the River Exe at Countess Wear, he made many contacts and set up the Exeter Naturalists’ Club. Soon after, he was appointed as the first curator of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.


In 1892, D’Urban published an impressive book, The Birds of Devon, which was co-authored with the Reverend Murray Mathew, who was the vicar of Buckland Dinham in Somerset. Mathew had grown up at Barnstaple in north Devon and had known D’Urban for at least four decades. The 19th century saw many books published on birds from different counties and regions of the British Isles, which are invaluable social documents. They vary considerably in the quality of writing, and we rate The Birds of Devon as one of the finest. It has evocative descriptions that highlightthe changing landscapes and the very different way of life then.


Many ornithologists at that time kept live birds in cages and aviaries, and in their book Mathew described transporting nightingales from Surrey to Barnstaple by steam train. ‘We carried them down by the night mail in the guard’s van,’ he said, ‘and in their cages the birds sang throughout the journey.’ At Barnstaple, the nightingales tended not to sing very much except on winter evenings: ‘They were then brought into the dining-room for the sake of the fire, and when the lamps were lighted they often commenced to sing, and would provide us with a concert during dinner.’ Feeding these birds was a task that was made easier by cockroach-infested kitchens: ‘their favourite bonne bouche was a fat cockroach, and great was the excitement in all the cages of a morning when a pie-dish of writhing monsters from the kitchen regions was brought into the room, and the birds were fed in turn by means of a quill-pen.’




We find it difficult to keep track of our various books and the different formats, and whether or not something is still in print, available as an e-book or audiobook, has been translated and even who holds the rights. Through the covid pandemic, audiobooks became hugely popular, and several of our books are available in this format, all unabridged. They are:


When There Were Birds: The forgotten history of our connections  (narrated by John Telfer)

Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle  (narrated by John Telfer)

In the US, the same recording is called Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle that Changed the World

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History  (narrated by John Telfer)

Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy  (narrated by John Telfer)

Our first audiobook was The War for All the Oceans (see ‘Six Stars’ above), and it was narrated by Patrick Lawlor and issued as an unabridged set of CDs by Tantor. It is now available as an audiobook, though possibly only in the US (we see that it can be obtained on, but apparently not on


Happy listening!





Our next newsletter will be later this year.