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  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    Sign by sign, history is told on London's walls

    LONDON — Not that it is unusual to see shabby old buildings being gutted by construction workers in a rapidly gentrifying area of east London like Hackney Road, but I felt a pang of regret when I spotted them starting work on one last week. I wasn’t concerned about its architecture, which is much the same as that of any of the other 19th-century terraced houses in the neighborhood, but about the signage.“To all responsible person” is painted in big black letters on the front of the building, and a description of a locksmith and safe maker is engraved on the side wall. “John Tann’s Reliance Locks, Fire & Burglarproof, Safes, Iron Doors,” it begins. Both signs have long outlived their usefulness: like the missing “s” at the end of “person,” Tann’s workshop disappeared decades ago.Will those signs survive the house’s renovation? I doubt it. The only reason they are still there is because the building has been neglected for so long, and was not deemed to be worth repairing or rebuilding until recently. Yet if the signs are removed, the neighborhood will be the poorer, having lost part of its character and some poignant symbols of its history....

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Crossrail unearths evidence humans lived on Thames in 7,000 BC

    Rare evidence that humans lived on the River Thames 9,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists working on the Crossrail project.A Mesolithic tool-making factory featuring 150 pieces of flint was found at the tunnelling worksite in Woolwich.Archaeologists said prehistoric Londoners were using the site to prepare river cobbles which were then made into flint tools.Gold has also been discovered at its site in Liverpool Street....

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Remains of 16th century Londoners found in Bedlam burial ground

    Crossrail archaeologists have unearthed the remains of patients from the infamous Bedlam Hospital, the world's first psychiatric asylum.The skeletons, unearthed in the UK's largest archaeological site, belonged to a few of the 20,000 people interred in a burial ground established adjacent to the psychiatric asylum.Crossrail's lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: "we've got a sixteenth century burial ground existing right below our feet in the road here, about two metres from where we're standing are the skeletons of perhaps up to four thousand people who live and died in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."...

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Work on new railway line unearths layers of London history

    LONDON — Jewelry, pieces of ships, medieval ice skates, centuries-old skulls — some fascinating pieces of London’s history aren’t in museums, but underground.More often than not, they stay there, but work on a new railway line under the British capital is bringing centuries of that buried history to light.The 118-kilometer (73-mile) Crossrail line is Britain’s biggest construction project and the largest archaeological dig in London for decades. In the city’s busy business core, archaeologists have struck pay dirt, uncovering everything from a chunk of Roman road to dozens of 2,000-year-old horseshoes, some golden 16th-century bling — and the bones of long-dead Londoners....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    A secret sperm donor service in post-WWI London

    These days there are sophisticated and scientific solutions to the dismal problem of unwanted childlessness — there are IVF, Viagra and well-established egg and sperm donor services. We think of these as recent advantages and give thanks for the modern age.But what only very few people are aware of is that long before sperm donation was practically or ethically possible, in the early 20th century, a secret sperm donation service existed for those women most in need.Helena Wright was a renowned doctor, bestselling author, campaigner and educator who overcame the establishment to pioneer contraceptive medicine in England and throughout the world. Kind, intelligent, funny and attractive, Helena had a way with words and a devoted set of friends. She adored men and spent her life helping women....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Brompton Road Underground tube bunker for sale

    Brompton Road tube station is one of London’s abandoned underground stations which went on to play a critical role in the Second World War as the command bunker for the capital’s anti-aircraft defences.Now the ghost tube station is being sold off after decades in the hands of the Ministry of Defence.Situated in the heart of Kensington, a short walk from Harrods, the building and its tunnels beneath are expected to fetch more than £20 million when they go on the market next month.“It will need quite a bit of work. There’s no power and there’s been no one down here full time for 60 years,” said Julian Chafer, an MoD property surveyor, as he showed the Telegraph through the abandoned tunnels and lift shafts....

  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    Mandela: Inspiration for an era of activism

    LONDON — In the welter of passion and memory surrounding the decline of Nelson Mandela, a more modest commemoration slipped by a week ago that said much about the role he played as an inspiration in his long years of imprisonment, when the daily grind of struggle against apartheid fell to others who fought in his name.It was a reminder, too, that the battle to end white rule was fought on many levels, ranging from the activism of anti-apartheid exiles here in London to a brutal shadow war in South Africa itself that offered no quarter to those seeking a new order.The events of June 27, 1985, offered a particular insight.

  • Originally published 05/29/2013

    Medieval readers had eclectic tastes

    Nowadays, people bounce effortlessly from reading news to blogs to email. And it turns out the reading habits of people in medieval times weren't so different, a new book suggests.People in 14th-century London consumed a variety of texts, often linked together in bound volumes. Arthur Bahr, a literature professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores these habits in his new book "Fragments and Assemblages" (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    London Cenotaph to be restored for WWI centenary

    For nearly a century it has stood as a monument to the sacrifice of those killed in the First World War.Now the Cenotaph in London will undergo a restoration ahead of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.The monument is one of hundreds being cleaned and repaired in readiness for the anniversary next year.The £60,000 work on the Cenotaph, which started last week, is being paid for by English Heritage, which is also funding work on scores of other memorials....

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    Ken Livingstone: Throw Out the Myths about Margaret Thatcher

    Ken Livingstone is a former mayor of London.It is a truism that history is written by the victors. As Margaret Thatcher's economic policies were continued after she left office, culminating in economic catastrophe in 2008, it is necessary to throw out the myths peddled about her. The first is that she was popular. The second is that she delivered economic success.Unlike previous governments, Thatcher's never commanded anything close to a majority in a general election. The Tories' biggest share of the vote under her was less than 44% in 1979, after which her vote fell. The false assertions about her popularity are used to insist that Labour can only succeed by carrying out Tory policies. But this is untrue.The reason for the parliamentary landslide in 1983 was not Thatcher's popularity – her share of the vote fell to 42% – but the loss of votes to the defectors of the SDP and their alliance with the Liberals. Labour's voters did not defect to the Tories, whose long-term decline continued under Thatcher....

  • Originally published 04/17/2013

    Thatcher Funeral Draws Dignitaries and Complaints

    LONDON — A horse-drawn gun carriage bore the coffin of Margaret Thatcher to St. Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday for a ceremonial funeral that divided British opinion, much as the former prime minister known as the Iron Lady stirred deep and conflicting emotions during her lifetime and, in death, triggered an equally passionate debate over her legacy.With hymns and prayers and biblical readings, dignitaries from around the world and from Britain’s political elite gathered in the cathedral for a service regarded as austere and devout reflecting her Methodist upbringing as bells pealed over the city and a gun salute boomed from the Tower of London.Some 700 military personnel from three services — the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force — lined the streets, including guards in scarlet tunics and distinctive black bearskin hats on the 24 cathedral steps as the gun carriage processed along Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill from the church of St. Clement Danes in a closely scripted display of ceremonial precision honed over centuries....

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    London's gin palaces, past and present

    London in the 1830s was the biggest city in the world and among the innovations that catered to its vast population was the gin palace. Shops at the time had been spruced up to entice the increasing number of locals who had a disposable income and these businesses, alluringly lit by newly arrived gas lighting and with large plate-glass windows to showcase their wares, provided inspiration for the first wave of gin palaces in the capital.The arrival of London’s gin palaces was preceded by a growing understanding of how to make increasingly sophisticated, palatable spirits, and a desire to consume them in an agreeable setting. Up to that point, most establishments selling alcohol were gloomy, unattractive places; the introduction of gin palaces, illuminated by gaslight and with an unusually ornate exterior, was an exciting addition to the urban landscape. (That said, the palaces’ interiors didn’t mirror their external elegance – they typically contained a long bar at one end, which faced a simple open space without seating.)...

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Black Death skeletons unearthed at rail site

    Workers building a new railway in London have unearthed 13 skeletons thought to be victims of the Black Death plague that swept through Europe in the 14th century, archaeologists said on Friday.The remains were dug up at Charterhouse Square in central London during excavation work for the city's £15 billion ($22.7 billion, 17.4 billion euro) Crossrail project. Archaeologists believe the site could be the location of a plague cemetery described in medieval records, where up to 50,000 victims of the Black Death were buried. The plague wiped out a third of Europe's population between 1348 and 1353. "The depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and the way the skeletons have been set out all point towards this being part of the 14th century emergency burial ground," said Jay Carver, Crossrail's lead archaeologist....