Guy Fawkes’ Lantern

The British don’t go in much for dates and anniversaries. We’ve heard of 1066 – and of course 1966; but who can name the feasts of St George or St Andrew, still less the actual day when the battle of Hastings was fought or England won the world cup? (23 April, 30 November, 14 October, 30 July for ... CONTINUE READING

John Bigg’s Other Shoe

This month’s story was supposed to have been about the ruined abbey of Godstow, but the response to Bradshaw’s Hat has been so rich and so interesting that we feel compelled to postpone the Dissolution for a while. Martin Sheppard, distinguished publisher of History books, got straight to the point with a reminder of the semiotics of millinery in the ... CONTINUE READING

Bradshaw’s Hat

At two o’clock on the bitterly cold afternoon of Saturday 30 January 1649, King Charles I stepped out from the balcony of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, and onto the executioner’s scaffold … A few minutes later, the masked axeman held up his bloody trophy for all to see. In the words of one observer, there went up in ... CONTINUE READING

Swing Bridge

Once it was pivotal. Now, ivy-clad and rusting, it tells of an era long since past. Yet still it retains a grandeur and a fascination, like the mouldering carcass of some giant metal dinosaur. It’s a railway swing bridge. It dates from 1851. It was designed by none other than Robert, son of George 'Rocket' Stephenson. And it stands ... CONTINUE READING

Einstein’s Blackboard

If you like astrolabes, Oxford is the place for you. There are 170 of them in the History of Science Museum. And not just astrolabes. There are also (according to Christopher and Edward Hibbert’s magisterial Encyclopædia of Oxford) ‘armillary spheres, orreries, globes, equatoria, quadrants, sun-dials, instruments of navigation and telescopes’, plus sextants, microscopes and optical devices. Together they constitute ... CONTINUE READING