Flower’s Barrow

This is a hillfort with a limited future”, says a reviewer talking about Flower’s Barrow, an Iron Age hillfort on the Dorset coast. Its life is limited. It seems appropriate to look at something falling into the sea this month, as last September I wrote about Dunwich, a medieval town that has slowly disappeared into […]

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The heat did me in this week. I am usually OK with high temperatures, or at least I thought I was. I have often worked outside in soaring temperatures. As an archaeologist I worked in wide open fields during heatwaves and remember the sweat dripping off my nose like a leaking tap. I developed a […]

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London Wall

What is London Wall? It is many things including a main road. It is archaeology, history and mythology. But above all, it is a boundary, that, although no longer here, is still ever present.

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The Hand of John Snow

The Mode on Communication of Cholera is a scientific publication by John Snow, the doctor, physician, and, unbeknownst to him, early epidemiologist. It contains his findings on Cholera and how it was spread, or, communicated. Up to the late 1850s the theory of disease contamination was one of miasma. To ensure disease was not spread, […]

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London is a Roman Creation

I don’t know exactly when the realisation dawned upon me, but for most of its history, London was really, just the “square mile”, the City of London. That City is a Roman creation, and still is very much Roman. The present boundary of it mirrors the Roman town, Londinium. But I am thinking of this […]

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The Silence and the Noise

The last thing I was expecting our lockdown to bring was a serene and eerie atmosphere. It is something I am not used to, and it leaves me unsettled. I could not put my finger on it, until I realised it was a lack of modern noise that was unnerving. It is the thing science […]

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Water God

My very first archaeological dig was on a massive Roman farm estate, located right in the centre of the wheat production area of Roman Britain. It was a huge excavation and I spent a wonderful summer living in a tent. The Roman owner of this estate would have been a business “magnate”, as opposed to […]

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Another dirty book

The Metorpolitan Commission of Sewers, surveryors report, Soho, 1855 Thinking of my previous article on dirty books and manuscripts, I once worked on a book that was covered in very different kind of grime, and a very different context. This could be some archaeology I discovered in the archives? One area of history I have […]

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Dusty and Dirty Books

As soon as you walk into an archive store, you can smell the dust. 100,000s of books and documents dating back hundreds of years, all carry dust and dirt they picked up along the way. They are encrusted with it. As you open a book or the lid of an archive box, it hits you […]

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The Gard’ner’s Almanac

The Kaledarium Hortense is a classic gardening book by John Evelyn. It takes the gentleman gardener through the year, detailing what he is meant to do in the garden with fruit vegetables and flowers. Much of his advice is straight forward gardening knowledge and logic, and something you may well hear on TV, radio or […]

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“On Saturday morning, an accident which has unfortunately terminated fatally, occurred to a man named Dobson,” starts a news article from the 1850s. “The deceased sat upon the stone while it was being raised, to prevent it shaking the scaffolding”. I read this out loud to an audience as part of a talk on the […]


The Abbey

The meaning of historic places has very much changed in recent years. People have been using them in very different and personal ways, above and beyond the usual interest in architecture and historical events. I’ve seen this developing at Creake Abbey, an historic site I’ve been visiting for the past 15 years or so. It […]

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Visscher’s People

Claes Visscher’s panorama of London is one of the most famous images of the City for many reasons. We see the various landmarks across London, such as the churches, Leadenhall and the Exchange, all of them labelled. Architecturally the panorama is superb, with the buildings drawn in great quality, detail and precision. It shows us […]

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The Hand in Hand Birds

This doodle of two entwined birds was drawn in May 1670 while recording the names of an illegal gathering in Kingston Upon Thames. The image is on the back of a document held in the Kingston upon Thames archives. It is a simple line sketch, using one stroke of a quill and ink pen, creating […]

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Engineering is a thing of beauty.

There used to be a joke. Look up Engineering in the Yellow Pages – it says “See Boring”. A whole generation, or more accurately, the post modern generation, labelled engineering as being something for the un-adventurous, for those without passion or compassion. The subject has no style, taste or philosophy. It is an occupation not […]

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Flanders Fields

Soften your tread. Methinks the Earth’s surface is but bodies of the dead,  Walk slowly in the air, so you do not trample on the remains of God’s servants. Abu al-Alaa al-Maarri   It has a romantic ring to it: Flanders Fields. The Fields make up a beautiful, peaceful, rolling landscape. There are long lines […]

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Archive documents are dirty. They are especially so around the edges. Historians love the phrase “patina of history” and it is this you can see in the years of dust, dirt from fingers, smoke (fire places, tobacco) and from just being in a room where they were stored. Archive documents are also imperfect. There are […]

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Shakespeare in London

Shakespeare’s life in London has always intrigued me. It’s 400 years since he died this weekend. I know something about the man, less about his work, although I enjoy regular visits to the Globe. Where was he, where did he live, eat, drink? The Tudor city is gone, but you can draw together many glimpses […]

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This Tudor Man

It is dangerous to get interested in history, so hard core archivists claim. “Don’t get carried away by what’s in the archive, don’t become interested. You won’t get any work done.”  As I stare at the paper, I feel dangerously interested.  Luckily, I am not an archivist, although I work in libraries and archives. My […]

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What is an Historier’s Miscellany?

The Historier dates back at least to the mid-1400s. Around 1449, he is mentioned as “Sithen historiers dwelling in thilk same cuntre..kouthen knowe better the treuthe of the deede than othere men.” In 1490, Caxton in his Boke yf Eneydos wrote “Wrytynges and dyctes of olde and auncyente cronycles or historyers.” In the next century, […]

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