A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps tells the rich, layered, and breathtaking history of England through thirty-six of its fascinating, often beautiful, and sometimes eccentric postage stamps. West shows that stamps have always mirrored the events, attitudes, and styles of their time. Through them, one can glimpse the whole epic tale of an empire unfolding. From the famous Penny Black, printed soon after Queen Victoria’s coronation, to the Victory! stamp of 1946, anticipating the struggle of postwar reconstruction—A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps is a hugely entertaining and idiosyncratic romp, told in Chris West’s lively prose.
On their own, stamps can be curiosities, even artistic marvels; in this book, stamps become a window into the larger sweep of history.
I have a terrible feeling that A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps may be a hard sell for some readers. But trust me: Chris West’s cultural history is fast paced and engaging, and the organizing principle takes the narrative in all kinds of unexpected directions. Sure, there’s a little light philately in there, but even those who only communicate electronically will be glad they picked it up.
So I guess I have to read it, despite having zero interest in stamps.
From British Archaeology #131 (July/August): [There was] a Wessex Archaeology dig in 2004-05 at Cliffs End farm in Thanet, a piece of north-east Kent that was an island up until the 16th century when silting finished connecting it to mainland England. What we’re dealing with here is ritual murder, some pretty strange disposal of the dead and ancient Scandinavian migrants. ...
[It went] on for 800 years, well into the Middle Iron Age about 200 cal BC. A three-century hiatus during the Early Iron Age, I speculate, may be covered by the part of the feature that hasn’t been excavated.
At least 24 people end[ed] up in sacrificial pits between 1000 and 800: males and females, ages 6 to 55. One large pit sees the following sequence (image above):
1. Redeposited human bones and two new-born lambs
2. Woman over 50, killed by sword blows to the back of the head
3. Another pair of lambs
4. Cow’s head, two children and a teenage girl
5. Cattle foot and bag containing dismembered man, 30-35
6. More redeposited bones from people who died before the pit was dug …
Iron Age practices in the sacrificial pit complex are less intense and intricate: over a period of three centuries, eight people get buried whole and seven disarticulated bone bundles are deposited. One young man is buried on top of half a horse. The bone bundles bear signs of scavenging by dogs.
Who were these people then? Could anybody at Cliffs End get roped in for sacrifice and be denied respectful burial at the whim of the local druid? ...
Andrew Millard of Durham University analysed all suitable teeth from 25 individuals. Here’s the geographical breakdown of the sacrificial victims’ area of origin:
32% southern Norway or Sweden
20% western Mediterranean
The reason that you do more than one tooth from the same individual is that teeth form in sequence during gestation, childhood and adolescence. If you move or change your diet during that period, this shows up in the isotope ratios of whatever tooth your body is making at the time. This gave particularly interesting results in the case of an old woman whose disarticulated skull was redeposited in the Late Bronze Age charnel pit discussed above. She was born in Scandinavia, moved to northern Britain as a child, lived a long life and finally ended up as a prop in a religious ritual on Thanet.
More than half of the victims are foreigners. And though more than a third are locals, we don’t know if their parents were locals as DNA hasn’t been done yet. Who travels like this in the 1st millennium BC? Certainly not tourists. Traders do travel, but for a community dependent on long-distance bronze deliveries, it would not be a sustainable strategy to ambush and kill the traders – never mind that these were in all likelihood well organised and armed. My guess is that we’re dealing with slave raiding and slave trade. Goods travelled, and one valuable commodity was slaves. All valuable commodities were appropriate as sacrifices to the gods when that time came.
In the case of the well-travelled old woman, I imagine her being taken from her tribe in southern Norway by Scottish slave raiders, growing up in Scotland, and then being traded on maturity to a Kentish tribe with odd religious practices. She probably gives birth to more slaves there (perhaps a few of the recovered individuals with local isotope signatures) and lives most of her adult life at Cliffs End. Not as a member of the clan, but as property of a clan member. And then comes that final Beltane feast out by the barrows.
Renowned British cat burglar Peter Scott warned the Telegraph in 1994 that he would consider it “a massive disappointment” if his passing were to be overlooked by its obituary writing staff. The Telegraph did not disappoint him.
Scott stole jewels, furs and artworks worth more than £30 million. He held none of his victims in great esteem (“upper-class prats chattering in monosyllables”). The roll-call of “marks” from whom he claimed to have stolen valuables included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren, Maria Callas and the gambling club and zoo owner John Aspinall. “Robbing that bastard Aspinall was one of my favourites,” he recollected. “Sophia Loren got what she deserved too.”
Scott stole a £200,000 necklace from the Italian star when she was in Britain filming The Millionairess in 1960. Billed in the newspapers as Britain’s biggest jewellery theft, it yielded Scott £30,000 from a “fence”. After Miss Loren had pointed at him on television saying: “I come from a long line of gipsies. You will have no luck,” Scott lost every penny in the Palm Beach Casino at Cannes.
In the 1950s and 1960s he pinpointed his targets by perusing the society columns in the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Nor did he ease up with the approach of middle-age; in the 1980s he was still scaling walls and drainpipes. In one Bond Street caper alone he stole jewellery worth £1.5 million, and in 1985 he was jailed for four years. On his release he expanded his social horizons by becoming a celebrity “tennis bum”, a racquet for hire at a smart London club where — as he put it in his autobiography — he coached still more potential “rich prats”.
By the mid-1990s, Scott had served 12 years in prison in the course of half a dozen separate stretches, and claimed to have laid down his “cane” [jemmy] and retired from a life of crime.
But in 1998 he was jailed for another three and a half years for handling, following the theft of Picasso’s Tête de Femme from the Lefevre Gallery in Mayfair the year before. To the impassive detectives who arrested him, Scott quoted a line from WE Henley: “Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.” He often drew on literary allusions, quoting Confucius, Oscar Wilde and Proust.
Scott was also a past-master in self-justification of his crimes and misdemeanours: “The people I burgled got rich by greed and skulduggery. They indulged in the mechanics of ostentation — they deserved me and I deserved them. If I rob Ivana Trump, it is just a meeting of two different kinds of degeneracy on a dark rooftop.”
In his memoirs, Gentleman Thief (1995), Scott admitted to an even stronger motivation than fear as he contemplated another “job”: “Even now, after 30 years, it was a sexual thrill.” There was the additional satisfaction in his assumption that the millions reading about his exploits in the papers were silently cheering him on.
Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, played field hockey during her visit to St. Andrew’s School, where she attended school from 1986 till 1995, in Pangbourne, Berkshire, England, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Kate told teachers and students at the private school that her 10 years there were “some of my happiest years.”
As someone married to a brunette field hockey player, I was amused to see photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge girlishly waving one of those field hockey sticks during a visit to her former school.
The Duchess of Cambridge has gone back to school. The royal, formerly known as Kate Middleton, played hockey and revealed her childhood nickname — Squeak — when she returned to her elementary school for a visit Friday. ...
Kate, who captained the hockey team at her high school, joined a group of 12-year-olds for a training session in a green-and-blue Alexander McQueen tartan coat and three-inch-high boots.
“Swan Upping in 1875” from Life on the Upper Thames
The Guardian reports that the Thames is currently in flood, and there will be no swan upping this year.
Queen’s swan marker says water is too high and too fast to safely carry out annual census dating back to 12th century
The ancient ceremony of swan upping, the annual census of the bird by the Queen’s official swan marker on the Thames, has been cancelled, possibly for the first time in its history, owing to flood conditions. ...
David Barber, the Queen’s swan marker for 20 years, said he informed the palace that the water was “too high, and too fast” for the upping to be conducted safely.
“As far as we know it has never been cancelled before, maybe not for hundreds of years,” he said. “It is a real disappointment. We will now have to miss a year, which is diabolical for us.”
The census is seen as a useful conservation activity as checks are made on the health of the birds, especially cygnets which are weighed and measured. The young birds are at particular risk of being caught in fishing tackle, and the cancellation meant extra vigilance would be required to ensure no cygnets suffered as a result, Barber said.
The swan upping ceremony was originally a way of marking ownership, at a time when the birds were regarded as a delicious dish at banquets and feasts.
Each day of the week-long event, the boats seek out broods. The first to sight a brood shouts “all up!”, the traditional call warning all the boats to get into position to catch the swans. When the birds are caught, the marks on the parent swans’ beaks are examined to establish ownership.
As the swan uppers pass Windsor Castle, they stand to attention in their boats with oars raised to salute “Her Majesty the Queen, seigneur of the swans”.
[T]he Monarch of the United Kingdom retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This dates from the 12th century, during which time swans were a common food source for royalty. Swan upping is a means of establishing a swan census, and today also serves to check the health of swans. Under a Royal Charter of the 15th century, the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company, two Livery Companies of the City of London, are entitled to share in the Sovereign’s ownership. They conduct the census through a process of ringing the swan’s feet, but the swans are no longer eaten.
Swan upping occurs annually during the third week of July. During the ceremony, the Queen’s, the Vintners’, and the Dyers’ Swan Uppers row up the river in skiffs. Swans caught by the Queen’s Swan Uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker are unmarked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust For Ornithology (BTO). Those caught by the Dyers’ and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of a further ring on the other leg. Today, only swans with cygnets are caught and ringed. This gives a yearly snapshot as to how well (or not) Thames swans are breeding. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would be marked on the bill — a practice commemorated in the pub name The Swan with Two Necks, a corruption of the term “The Swan with Two Nicks”.
On 20 July, 2009 H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, as “Seigneur of the Swans,” attended the Swan Upping ceremony for the first time in her reign, and the first time that a monarch has watched the ceremony in centuries.
The issue of Edward IV’s legitimacy was revived, after more than 500 years, by a British television documentary, titled Britain’s Real Monarch, which aired in 2004 and which produced documentation from Rouen Cathedral to Richard Plantagenet’s absence during the relevant period.
Theoreticians of this sort of thing exclude female claimants from the hypothetical Clarentian Succession, as the possibility of female succession was a creation by Henry VIII, who by this theory was never king anyway. By their calculations, Michael Abney-Hastings, 14th Earl of Loudoun, who passed away recently in Australia, was the 19th successor to the British throne in descent from George I, former Duke of Clarence.
The 14th Earl of Loudoun and Jerilderie councillor Michael Abney-Hastings died on Saturday morning at the age of 69.
Mr Abney-Hastings is well known in the Jerilderie Shire but is most famous for the 2004 documentary Britain’s Real Monarch, which suggests he should be the King of England in place of Queen Elizabeth II. Mr Abney-Hastings had been battling a debilitating illness and had been in and out of hospital in the lead-up to his death.
But he continued to serve Jerilderie Shire Council to the end and council general manager Craig Moffitt yesterday paid tribute to the “much-loved guy”.
“It is very sad,” Mr Moffitt said.
“He was quite a character around the town.”
Mr Abney-Hastings was born in Sussex in 1942 and attended a private school in Yorkshire before moving to Jerilderie with his family.
His parents were Captain Walter Strickland Lord and the 13th Countess of Loudoun Barbara Abney-Hastings, making him the 14th Earl of Loudoun.
He made world headlines in 2004 when Britain’s Real Monarch explained King Edward IV was conceived illegitimately, and therefore as the direct descendant of the 1st Duke of Clarence he should be the rightful King.
But Mr Abney-Hastings was voted onto Jerilderie council that same year and decided to focus his energy on that.
“He didn’t take his royal position too seriously, at least here in Jerilderie,” Mr Moffitt said.
“He would go over to England for royal ceremonies which he took seriously, but he always found it quite funny.”
Michael Edward Abney-Hastings, 14th Earl of Loudoun (22 July 1942 – 30 June 2012)
Lord Montararat, in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe, opposes reforming the House of Lords alleging the existence of some mystical connection between the conservative nature of the institution and Britain’s historic greatness:
When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
As every child can tell,
The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well:
Yet Britain set the world ablaze
In good King George’s glorious days!
He may very well have been right. Certainly, Parliamentary Reform in 1911, and afterwards, has been a hallmark of a period of astonishing decline.
The Independent, on Friday, remarked on the remarkable abilities of some hereditary peers to bring levels of practical experience and unusual expertise on subjects and in forms never found among professional politicians.
The main argument against reforming the House of Lords is that there are people in it who would be unlikely to get elected but bring a specialised knowledge that the average politician lacks. The truth of this was brought home by a question printed in yesterday’s edition of Hansard from the Countess of Mar, who is in Parliament because she is the elder heir proportionate of her father, the 30th Earl of Mar, who died in 1975. He inherited the title from his second cousin once removed, both being descendants of the sister of the 27th Earl – as you probably already knew. The Countess is a farmer. Who else would table a question asking: “What testing is carried out in addition to Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto and Borrelia afzelii for tick-borne diseases including Bartonellosis, Ehrlichiosis, Borrelia garinii, Babesiosis, Louping ill and Q-fever, and for other zoonoses such as tick-borne encephalitis, Boutonneuse fever, Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever…”? The minister’s answer was quite long, but can be summarised as “it depends”.
As a compliment to Canada, repeating a gesture made in 1897 at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“Royal” only since 1904) is being given the honor of replacing the Queen’s Life Guard for twenty-four hours.
In the late Montague Rhodes James’ memoir of his time at school and university, Eton and King’s (1926), James remembers in particular Mrs. Ann Smith, an elderly college servant at King’s College, who tidied up college rooms and made the students’ beds for them.
James describes her as “tall and austere in aspect,” but with a gift for “noteworthy speech” and prone to apply the mot juste. Mrs. Smith was also evidently capable of penetrating political acumen.
“Politics, I don’t think she studied much, but after a General Election she has said to me, ‘Well Sir, simple as I am, I’ve always heard there was never better times than when the Conservatives was in power.’”