Monday, 27 April 2015

24 Hours in the Past

BBC One trailer via YouTube

A 'living history' reality show called 24 Hours in the Past starts tomorrow night (Tues, 28 Apr) at 9pm on BBC1.

So, what is it? Well, in a nutshell, a bunch of celebrities have to spend time working as Victorians, and sampling four different workplaces over four different days. They also have to live in a Victorian style.

Who are the celebrities? There are six celebrities - several of which have previously featured on Strictly Come Dancing. They include Ann Widdecombe, Alistair McGowan, Tyger Drew-Honey (Outnumbered) and Welsh athlete Colin Jackson.

So, only time will tell how good or otherwise the programme turns out to be - but anything that encourages an interest in history and social history is worth a try.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Illness of a General

Was there a chink in Caesar's armour? This article from Discovery News explores the possibility that the famous general suffered from mini strokes. Take a look!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Hidden Arthurian Gems

Hi everyone, thought I'd tell you about this article showing hidden gems discovered by UV light in the medieval manuscript known as the Black Book of Carmarthen. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Learn the Lingo - Alias


The term alias is used when an individual used more than one name. Most commonly, this will be found in criminal records - for example 'John Smith alias George Jones was found guilty of...' This is because people in trouble with the law often changed their names to avoid their pasts and evade detection.

The second most common use of an alias is in the case of illegitimacy. Where a child was born outside marriage, they may be known by both their father and their mother's last name, for example 'John Jones alias Evans,' this can also happen in the case of fostering, informal adoption, or remarriage of one of the child's parents. 

There are of course also many individually unique reasons why someone may be known by more than one name.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Happy Easter!

Hi everyone, just a quick note to say Happy Easter to everyone and thank you for your continued support for me and Family History By Cerys

Monday, 30 March 2015

The hat, the train, and the german tailor

I recently finished reading Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway murder by Kate Colquhoun (you may remember my post about a book by the same author detailing the case of Mrs Maybrick, and the death of her husband.) This book is about one of the most famous cases of the Victorian period.
image courtesy of Sakhorn38 at
It's well-written, engaging, and very good at setting the scene. Unlike the book about Florence Maybrick, this avoids direct speech - which is a lot less grating in terms of tone and accuracy. Colquhoun discusses in the issues surrounding this infamous Victorian crime with skill and intrigue.

So, who was this Mr Briggs? Why was his hat so important? Well, Mr Briggs was an elderly middle-class banker from London who, when returning from visiting a relative, was murdered on the train. The body was later found on the railway line - the first indication that something was wrong was a blood-spattered carriage and a hat. Every middle-class man (and most working-class men) wore a hat at this period - but this hat was not Mr Briggs'. So where was Mr Briggs' hat?

What followed was a manhunt based around the fears of the Victorian class system - middle-class men were not murdered on trains. It was indecent. Hundreds of members of the lower-class may be killed in a more brutal manner, but that, in comparison, was only to be expected. What's more, clearly the murderer was decently and genteelly behaved enough to be travelling in a first-class train compartment - something which shook Victorian pre-conceptions of society and crime.

The main suspect, a German tailor named Franz Muller, did something to allay middle-class hysteria. A foreigner who was relatively impoverished was a relatively acceptable villain. Germany was also far from friendly with the British Empire at the time, so it fit in nicely with current public feeling towards German people.

A curious tale, this mystery is one which never totally wrapped up in a satisfying way. There would always remain questions - mainly regarding the fact that there was no proof that Muller was on the train, and some evidence that he was in Clerkenwell, several miles away at the time.

The question of whether the hat in the carriage belonged to Muller, as well as whether the hat he was found with when the law caught up with him half a world away did ever belong to Thomas Briggs, became the matter of very subjective debate. Other questions also arouse: what reason would Muller have to kill Thomas Briggs? Yes, he had been in possession of Briggs' watch and chain, but why would he leave the obvious diamond ring on Briggs' finger? What about the fact that a friend of Thomas Briggs had seen him that night in the railway carriage, sitting with two gentlemen, neither of which was Franz Muller? What about the threats that Thomas Briggs had received before his death from a 'decent' and 'respectable' associate?

It's likely that we'll never know the answer to these questions, but it's to Colquhoun's credit that she keeps the intrigue alive.

Other issues are also discussed here - most notably the press. The newspapers and reading public created a frenzy around the case, and it's possible that they not only prejudiced any possible trial, but also encouraged a morbid and ghoulish fascination. It's a difficult question which still has relevance today.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Learn the Lingo - Black Sheep

Black Sheep

A 'black sheep' ancestor is one with a criminal or otherwise scandalous past. Most family trees have at least one, and they tend to make for some of the most interesting stories. Tracking a black sheep can be difficult as they often have a habit of hiding or changing their names, ages, and other distinguishing features (e.g. where they were from.) With a lot of hard work, their stories can be discovered, and you may find something interesting about your own family's past.