Friday, 30 September 2011

The Roman Mob

The Roman mob could oust emperors
Over a million people lived in ancient Rome. Many of them were voting citizens who did not have a regular job. Even the most powerful emperors had to keep this vast mob of Romans happy. If the mob rioted, the emperor might be killed and replaced with somebody the citizens preferred.

Each seat was allocated to a particular person
People attending the gladiator games had their own seats. The row and seat numbers were written on small clay tablets which were handed out by the editor of the games. Some seats were given to whoever queued up outside the arena.

Women had to sit at the back
The seats with good views were reserved for the men who had votes and money to help the editor. Women in ancient Rome could not vote, so they were given seats right at the back of the crowd.

The mob tried to decide which gladiators lived, and which died
If one gladiator was wounded, he could appeal for mercy. The man held up the first finger of his left hand. The editor then decided whether or not to grant a missus, allowing the man to leave alive. The mob would give a thumbs down gesture if they thought the man should die, or hide their thumbs in a clenched fist if they thought he had fought well enough to live. The editor usually did what the mob wanted so as to gain favour.

From 100 Things you should know about Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 26 September 2011

Make a Barbarian Pen Top

Make a Barbarian Pen Top
You will need:
Thick paper
Sticky tape
White glue

1. Fold a piece of thick paper in half and draw a barbarian on it.
2. Cut out the barbarian through both layers of paper.
3. Tape the pipecleaner on to one piece of paper.
4. Glue the two barbarians together with the pipecleaner between them.
5. Colour in the two sides of the barbarian.
6. Twist the pipecleaner around the end of your pencil.


100 Things You Should Know About Arms and Armour

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Nimitz Class of aircraft carrier

The place of the Forrestal class supercarriers was taken by the ten ships of the Nimitz class. These began entering service in 1975 when the USS Nimitz herself was commissioned. The most recent to enter service was the USS George H.W. Bush in January 2009. These ships are even larger than the Forrestal class. They displace about 101,000 tons, are 1,092 feet long, 252 feet wide and draw 37 feet. Their nuclear engines provide effectively unlimited endurance, though they ships need to restock with food and other supplies from time to time, and can achieve speeds in excess of 30 knots. For defensive purposes they have up to 40 anti-aircraft missiles.

Each ship of the Nimitz class can accommodate up to 90 fixed wing aircraft or helicopters, or a mix of the two. Among the fixed wing aircraft flown from the ships are the F/A-18 Super Hornet multirole fighter and the EA6B Prowler electronic weapons aircraft. Each carrier forms the heart of a carrier strike force, which consists of a number of warships including cruisers and destroyers. These provide anti-aircraft protection in depth, act as launch pads for cruise missiles and are able to lay down gunfire in support of amphibious landings. Two cruisers and five destroyers, for instance, escort the USS Nimitz. 
 From THE WORLD ATLAS OF WEAPONRY by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia

After making peace in 1807, Russia’s Tsar Alexander had been growing increasingly fearful of Napoleon and his ambitions. He watched the war of 1809 and decided to reform his army along the lines pioneered by Austria. With his new army, Alexander grew increasingly restive and by 1812 Napoleon had become convinced that Russia was about to declare war.
Napoleon decided to attack Russia before Tsar Alexander could conclude an alliance with Britain and, perhaps, Austria. For the showdown with Russia Napoleon mustered an army of 600,000 men, but 400,000 of these came from allies who were serving more or less under duress and had no real desire to invade Russia. Napoleon knew this and earmarked them for garrison and patrol duty, keeping his 200,000 Frenchmen for the key task of fighting battles. He crossed the border in June.

Alexander had about 250,000 men, who he put under the command of the veteran General Kutusov. Kutusov recognized that his main task was to avoid being defeated, so he opted to withdraw deep in to Russia rather than fight a battle on the borders. He wanted to force Napoleon to leave behind troops to garrison towns and forts, thus weakening his main army. Meanwhile the long supply lines would leave the French short of food and ammunition.

Finally, on 7 September, Kutuzov calculated the French were sufficiently weakened. He stopped to fight at Borodino with 121,000 men. Napoleon could field 130,000 men. The resulting battle was a bloody stalemate that saw the French losing 30,000 men and the Russians 45,000. Realizing he had miscalculated, Kutusov retreated once more and abandoned Moscow.

Napoleon entered the Russian capital in triumph, but it was a hollow victory. He had no food and the Russians stubbornly refused to come to terms. Instead, Napoleon was forced to retreat after 5 weeks. The return march became a nightmare as food ran out and the bitter Russian winter closed in – and the Russian army harried the invaders mercilessly.

By the time Napoleon regained friendly territory his losses had been enormous. About 350,000 men had died, either in battle or due to disease, while another 100,000 had been taken prisoner. His army had ceased to exist as a major force.

The Historical Atlas of the World at War 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Afternoon Tea in Kent

“Afternoon tea is the finest contribution that England has made to cuisine”, or so my grandmother always had it. And she was in a position to know. My childhood memories are filled with images of that kindly lady cutting Victoria sponges, handing round buttered scones and pouring out cups (never mugs) of nice fresh tea.

Ever since those long off days I have had a particular affinity for afternoon tea. I like to keep a cake on the go at home so that, come 4 o’clock, I can cut off a slice and take a break from the work of writing to sip a hot cup of tea and munch on the cake. I’m sure my wife thinks I’m a bit odd.

Essential as a cuppa and a cake at the desk might be to the working day, it cannot possibly compare with a visit to a traditional tea shop. I might have a cake at home, but a good tea shop will have a whole range of cakes from which slices can be carved as well as a range of buns, pastries and scones. And if you are lucky there will be cucumber sandwiches on offer as well. There is nothing quite like a good tea shop. I confess that I am totally unable to see one without wanting to pop in.

Addicted as I might be to the delights of a cream tea, I know full well that the tasty dainties can add worryingly to the waistline. So all visits to a teashop should be accompanied by a bit of light exercise – a walk.

Such is the purpose of this book.

I have selected 16 of the finest tea shops that Kent has to offer and that lie close to a convenient walk that offers something by way of scenery, history, wildlife or art. I hope that you enjoy the walks and the teas. I have certainly enjoyed putting this book together and would like to thank the many local residents who have helped me with the task.


Teashop and Pub Drives in Kent [Paperback]

by Rupert Matthews 

Friday, 16 September 2011

King Caractacus on the Medway

The wide River Medway with its broad, marshy valley and extensive flood plain cuts south across Kent from the Thames estuary to Tonbridge, where its headwaters rise in the Weald. Until recently the Weald was an area of thick forests standing on damp clay soils that were almost impassable in winter or wet weather. The Medway thus formed a distinctive and very real barrier to movement from east to west. So clear was this dividing line that folk on one side of the river called themselves Kentish men, while those on the other termed themselves men of Kent.

The river was no less a barrier to the movement of armies, so crossing points have long been a key strategic aim for any army operating in the area. The Romans built a bridge over the Medway at what is now Rochester. That crossing point was retained in good condition through the centuries that followed and in medieval times was guarded by the massive Rochester Castle, the ruins of which are still among the most impressive in England. This drive takes in three key battlefields which determined the outcomes of three very different wars.

Find the Watermans Arms in Wouldford on the main street just south of the church. On leaving the pub drive south along the High Street to find the battlefield of the Medway Battle, fought in AD43 during the Roman invasion of Britain. The Roman army led by the general Aulus Plautius consisted of three legions, the IX Hispania, the XIV Gemina and the XX Valeria, plus a number of auxiliary units and cavalry forces - probably around 35,000 combat troops, plus a number of support and administrative personnel. This army landed at Richborough, secured the harbour at Reculver for their supply ships then headed west along the chalk ridge of the North Downs until they found their route blocked by the Medway. Plautius had left troops behind to garrison Reculver and other places,so he may have had 30,000 men with him on the day of battle.

On the far bank stood an army raised by the Celtic King Caractacus of the Catuvellauni tribe with his various allies. He had an army considerably larger than that of the Romans, perhaps 50,000 men. He seems to have put his main force on the bank more or less opposite Wouldham. There was a ford here in those days, long since dredged out to make the Medway navigable.

The battle began before dawn when Plautius sent a force of Batavian troops down river to swim across. The Batavians came from the lower Rhine and were skilled in river crossings. Plautius seems to have hoped to get these men around the left flank of the British. The move failed as the men were seen and Caractacus sent a force off to attack them. Plautius then moved most of his army forward as if hoping to force the ford. In fact this was a diversion, for the II Augusta under its commander Vespasian (later to be emperor of Rome) was marching south through woods to cross the Medway further upstream. The II Augusta got over the river safely, but by this time it was dusk and the incoming tide cut Vespasian off from any reinforcement.

At dawn Caractacus attacked. It was a bloody engagement and was nearly a defeat for the Romans, but the tide fell just in time to join the action and Plautius was able to push the remaining two legions over the river just in time. Caractacus retreated from the Medway. The defeat proved to be decisive. The tribes allied to Caractacus melted away to make separate peace treaties with Rome. There would be other battles in the years to come, but never again did the Romans look likely to be pushed out of Britain.

Drive south along the lane to the village of Burham. Turn right to the smaller village of Burham Court. A footpath beside the old church here leads to the banks of the Medway. If you are feeling energetic you could walk north along the river bank to find the monument erected in the 20th century to mark the spot where Vespasian crossed the river. The river today flows between embankments and most of what was the marshy floodplain has been drained. The landscape is quite different from that faced by the Romans, but this is still a bleak and largely uninhabited area.


Teashop and Pub Drives in Kent

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

At Bodiam the main attraction is Bodiam Castle, owned by the National Trust. This beautifully sited castle stands in the centre of a lake, which served as a moat when this castle was first built. The fortress was erected in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrydge using money that he had plundered from the French during the Hundred Years War which was then raging. Bodiam was one of the last great castles to be built in England, for by this time cannon were beginning to be used by siege armies. These big guns were, as yet, unreliable and enormously expensive so only royal armies had them and a castle such as Bodiam could expect to hold out against any French raiding party that might have landed in England. Dalyngrydge laid out his castle with great care, paying as much attention to his domestic comfort as to his defences. The luxurious rooms and spacious halls became famous. There was an ingenious flue system within the walls that channelled hot air from the kitchen fires round the hall to heat it without the need for an open fire.

The castle saw action twice. In 1485, during the Wars of the Roses, it was grabbed by Lord Lewknor who declared for Henry Tudor, then invading England by way of Wales with an army of Lancastrian exiles and foreign mercenaries. The Yorkist King Richard III declared Lewknor to be a traitor and sent the Earl of Surrey to capture Bodiam while he himself marched off west to deal with Henry Tudor. The siege does not seem to have got very far when news arrived that Richard had been killed at the Battle of Bosworth and that Henry was now king.

The next siege came in 1643, during the English Civil War. Bodiam was garrisoned for the king, but by that date the tall walls were totally obsolete. No attempt was made to update castle's defences, and the structure was used more as a barracks and arsenal than as a fortress. When Sir William Waller and his Parliamentarian soldiers arrived the garrison surrendered at once. Waller slighted the defences to render them useless and the castle was never again inhabited. It is now a roofless ruin, but remains one of the most complete castles in England and is well worth a visit.

The River Rother lies a few yards from the castle and in medieval times there was a small port here for barges coming up the river from the coast. Nothing of this now remains, but there is a pleasant riverside walk to be had.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Henley and the GWR

The busy, thriving town of Henley was a prosperous river port in the 1820s, so the citizens were probably relieved rather than upset to be bypassed by the new Great Western Railway.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel laid out a route for the GWR that ran direct from Maidenhead to Reading. This route meant cutting through the hill at Sonning, a major feat of engineering, but if the flat land along the river had been followed, the route would have many miles longer. Quite soon the fast, modern railway was taking traffic off the river boats. In the first year that the GWR ran, the river boats lost 23% of their trade and by 1845 long distance traffic had effectively ceased to operate on the Thames. Henley was left with only local river transport and its docks and warehouses stood empty. Moreover the town council watched with envious eyes as Reading prospered on goods brought in by rail. Factories, breweries and mills boomed in Reading, but faded in Henley.

In the spring of 1854, therefore, the Mayor of Henley led a delegation to the offices of the Great Western Railway in London. The townsfolk asked the company to open a branch line to Henley. The GWR had already surveyed a route from Twyford to Henley, but had not gone ahead with the line due to worries about its ability to turn a profit in the face of local hostility. Now that the town council and leading citizens were fully behind the plan, the financial sums were very different. Construction work began that autumn under the direction of Mr Murray, a GWR Engineer.

The route to be taken was uniformly flat and free of obstructions, except for one: the Thames. The site chosen for the crossing was just downstream of Shiplake Lock where an island provided a convenient base for the bridge piers in midstream. Mr Murray decided that the budget he had been given would not stretch to a proper bridge, so a timber viaduct was constructed to carry the railway over the river. By this date the Thames Commissioners, who organised river trade and kept the river navigable, were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy with debts of around £50,000. They were in no position to insist on keeping the river clear for large boats, so Mr Murray’s viaduct gave clearance for only smaller barges such as made up the vast majority of the local river trade.

After taking a surprisingly sharp bend as it left Twyford, the branch line ran almost directly north to cross the river, then bent slightly to the west to run into Henley. Mr Murray built just two stations on the five mile length. The first was slightly north of the river crossing at Shiplake, which consisted of little more than a platform and a lockable shed. The station at Henley was more grand, having a proper station building in the GWR style and an engine shed.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Romantic Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney was already an established novelist and playwright when in 1793 she came to visit her friend Susannah Lock at Norbury Park near Mickleham. Staying just on the other side of the Mole at Juniper Hall was a group of French noblemen who had fled to England to escape the guillotine. One of these was General Alexandre D'Arblay, with whom Fanny soon fell in love. The Burney family disapproved of the Frenchman on the grounds that he was French, Catholic and penniless. However, Fanny was financially independent due to the success of her writings, so she went ahead and married her Frenchman. They bought a house at nearby West Humble that they named Camillia Cottage after Fanny’s most profitable novel. The two lived happily in England and France until the general died in 1818.