The history of alcohol

“CIVILISATION begins,” William Faulkner once pronounced, “with distillation.” He may have felt differently had he considered Georgian London, a major step back for civilisation by any standards. It was here that the city’s fetid backstreets spawned the Gin Craze, causing decades of soul-searching among philanthropists, politicians and magistrates about the wretched lives of the poor. Gin’s reputation as the crack cocaine of its day was cemented with lurid press tales about gin-fuelled degradation and squalor, culminating in William Hogarth’s infamous 1751 engraving “Gin Lane” (pictured).

These days, however, gin is indeed rather civilised. Britain is its greatest exporter, with 56 new distilleries opening in the past two years alone, and the government is hoping to make it into the new whisky—prestigious and lucrative. In the 1990s this popularity explosion would have been a distant dream. From the 1960s until recently, gin makers were forced to batten down the hatches in the face of dwindling interest. Now they cannot export it to Brazil, Spain, India and China fast enough.

This is in large part due to the cluster of “craft” gins that set up shop at the turn of the century. Since Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s launched in 1999, coinciding with the British cocktail bar boom, gin has become unstoppable, as more and more distillers compete to become bartenders’ and tipplers’ favourite. Even the recession did not prove much of a hiccup, as a general consensus to drink “less but better” seemed to win out. Drinkers in droves, then and now, are willing to pay £7 and up for a punchy Negroni or a delicate White Lady, rather than the cheaper but boring spirit-and-mixers they drank before.

Though the Roaring 20s get more attention, cocktails in fact took off in Britain in the early 19th century, when the development of gin-based long drinks helped to lift the spirit out of the gutter. An early success came from Pimm’s Oyster Bar, opened in London in 1823 and selling a winning mixture of gin, liqueurs and fruit to aid digestion. From 1859, the namesake drinks were bottled to be sold beyond the Oyster Bars and from there, Pimm’s No 1 Cup became a firm fixture of summertime drinking.

Londoners’ new love for these “mixed drinks” was confirmed during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Alexis Soyer, a Frenchman who worked at the Reform Club on Pall Mall, opened the Victorian equivalent of a pop-up bar with a wondrous choice of 40 cocktails in Hyde Park. The Exhibition organisers had asked him to make non-alcoholic cocktails, which affronted him. Soyer instead set up shop next to the Exhibition, where he could make his drinks as strong as he wanted, his ambition reflected in his venture’s name: the Gastronomic Symposium of All Nations. It drew 1,000 visitors a day. Although he spent so much money on the decoration, entertainment and ingredients that he actually plunged himself into debt, it did show a more prudent businessman that there was money to be made in cocktails.

The rise of the fashionable mixed drink coincided with the British Empire’s expansion, during which quinine (originally from South America) became widely invaluable as an anti-malarial, especially in India. Unfortunately it was extremely bitter, and the daily dose was dreaded among colonialists. To turn this chore into a treat they began to stir it in with sugar, water and gin, creating a proto-gin-and-tonic. (The bubbles came when Johann Jakob Schweppe, descendant of a German jeweller based in Geneva, used his newly patented bubbling device on a mixture of oranges, sugar and quinine and named it Schweppes Indian Tonic Water.) The GT was soon accompanied by other “medicinal” drinks, such as the gimlet with lime juice, to avoid scurvy on ship, and pink gin, which was said to ease seasickness. These concoctions were brought back and popularised in Britain, their medical pretexts soon forgotten. By 1849 gin was respectable enough to be included in the Fortnum Mason catalogue for the first time.

Gin would reach the height of glamour when it became the fuel for the parties of debutantes and bright young things after the first world war. Gin brands benefited hugely from aristocratic endorsements, and in particular that of the young Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who would later make the Windsors a family of gin-drinkers. Thanks to Prohibition, renowned bartenders flocked to London, where they were revered for their skill. Many brought out their own glossy cocktail books, as celebrity chefs do now.

With the help of all these sociable aristocrats, inventive colonialists, and daring distillers, gin’s disreputable past is a fading memory. But for those government ministers seeking to make lifelong gin-drinkers out of the hipsters who rehabilitated absinthe and blue-collar American lagers, gin’s rakish past might be its greatest asset.  


The Roads Around Late-18th-Century London, Mapped in Close-Up Detail

Geographer Alan M. MacEachren writes that “maps that could be considered in strip format … existed as early as 2000 B.C., in the form of Egyptian ‘guides to the beyond’ drawn on coffin bottoms.” Strip maps, MacEachren continues, have often been used to outline travel routes; the linear format of a strip map abstracts a route from its surrounding geography, allowing the cartographer to focus on the aspects of the route that the traveler might find helpful.


HISTORY: Planes, trains and Polish migrants in Waltham Forest

Polish migration to Waltham Forest is anything but new and dates back to a time when the borough we know of today consisted of farms and manor houses.

With Poles being the second largest migrant population in Waltham Forest and the fastest-growing eastern European population, digital arts and heritage group Share UK set out to find out why so many Poles ended up in the borough.

After two years of research and interviews with 18 current residents of Polish descent, Share UK found no two answers were the same, and it largely remained random.

From the mid-19th century until post-WWII, many Polish Jews fleeing oppression, persecution and poverty arrived on British shores, while the fall of communism and Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 allowed for free movement of its people.

However, there were local factors that contributed heavily, particularly the formation of the Great Eastern Railway and Thomas Warner’s pioneering house building project in the 1880s that made Waltham Forest a destination of choice.

Share UK founder and project manager of ‘From Poland to Waltham Forest’ Esther Freeman found Polish people have either permanently or temporarily made the borough their home for over 150 years.

Ms Freeman, said: “From around 1880 Polish migrants have played an intrinsic part in shaping this borough.

“A lot of them were entrepreneurs, carpenters, tailors and hairdressers.

“The railway was really important in bringing migrants out of the east end.

“If it wasn’t for the railway and the construction of working class housing, they wouldn’t have come out here.

“They made their money in the east end and then moved to Waltham Forest with their families.

“The borough was seen as a retreat, particularly Walthamstow; it was an aspirational place for working class migrants to live.”

Second to left (sitting) political activist Boleslaw Antoni Jedrzejowski moved to Leytonstone in 1900

It was home to several high-profile Polish Jews including exiled Boleslaw Jedrzejowski, who was secretary of the Polish Socialist Party, and lived in Coleworth Road, Leytonstone.

But also a place of residence for workers at the nearby Lebus Factory on the fringe of Walthamstow in Ferry Lane, Tottenham.

Polish Jewish migrant Louis Lebus, established his furniture-making business in Spitalfields in the 1840s but after his death, his son Harris, moved the business to Ferry Lane in 1904.

The Lebus furniture was strongly linked to William Morris’s art and crafts movement and employed thousands of Polish migrants.

Following the outbreak of WWII, the factory stopped producing furniture and began manufacturing the Airspeed Horsa glider and the all-wood Mosquito aircraft, nicknamed the ‘Wooden Wonder, which was considered to be one of the fastest operational aircraft in 1941 and was almost impossible to intercept.

It was here that Walthamstow resident Henry Buritsky worked and where “some of Britain’s finest war-time victories were born”.

He lived with his E17 born-and-bred wife, Rose, and two daughters in Beacontree Avenue.

His eldest daughter, June, continued to live in Walthamstow up until her death in 2010 and made a generous contribution before her death to local society ‘Music in the Village’.

Throughout Ms Freeman’s research, she found similar stories rung true for many of the 8,200 Polish descendants living in Waltham Forest today.

Adding: “We found several people have decided to settle here today because of their ancestors’ ties to the borough, whether it was a grandfather as a pilot in the Polish Air Force or relatives who served under British High Command and gained citizenship under the 1947 Resettlement Act”.

As a great-granddaughter of Polish heritage and a Walthamstow resident, Ms Freeman also found it important to debunk stereotypes.

“We found a lot of Polish people came over to study English or work.

“Many of the people interviewed were artists, volunteers and lawyers – not a single one was on benefits.

“What our project revealed, and wider national studies have also proved, is that migrants generally put in more than they take out.

“They are on average better educated than British nationals, and make huge contributions to local communities.

“Many things we think of as quintessentially British – Tesco, Marks and Spencer and the NHS have been born out of, or continue to exist because of migration.”

The project was exhibited at Vestry House Museum during the E17 Arts Trail and is available to view online at

Newlyweds: Henry Buritsky with his wife Rose on their wedding day in 1925 


ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: In London, a tale of two Europes


My most recent trip to London was probably one of the most enjoyable and enlightening since I began traveling to Europe during the summers over 20 years ago. My previous trips had focused mostly on France and Italy, but as a Washingtonian and somewhat of a lover of history, visiting London had special significance.

One of London’s most notable features to an American is all the monuments and memorials to some of the great figures of world history. Visiting Charles Dickens’ grave in Westminster Abbey brought it all into focus. The Abbey is the final resting place for over 3,000 British notables and saw its first crowning of an English monarch in 1066, even before the Norman conquest.

Being this up close and personal to such a long and revered legacy was awe-inspiring, especially considering we live in a country in which is less than 250 years old and even the oldest monuments less than 400. Visiting the British parliament was a real treat because you realize that this is the birthplace of the form of democracy that has made America so great.

But the other thing that really struck me about London was that it is truly the most cosmopolitan city I have ever visited. It is stocked full of people from all over the world — Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and from all over Europe, Russia and the Americas.

Radio host and columnist Armstrong Williams. (Image courtesy of New Chapter Publisher)

Radio host and columnist Armstrong Williams. (Image courtesy of New Chapter Publisher) more 

The City, which is an incorporated district in the middle of London, is home to London’s financial center as well some of the world’s wealthiest people. Conspicuous spending is back, with every conceivable luxury boutique apparently doing a brisk business. I witnessed one Middle Eastern man spend almost 65,000 on three handbags at a Bally store in the City. Residences there have become so opulent in recent years that the entire City is practically off limits to common Londoners — a fact not in the least lost on them.

Shockingly, less than three miles away on the outskirts of London, there are big pockets of unbelievable poverty. Conditions for the poor in London appear to reflect a worsening class divide in Europe as a whole, which has seen its social safety net erode in the face of the past decade’s economic turmoil. While London is unquestionably one of the wealthiest cities in the world, it has the highest poverty rate in England, with over one-quarter of the population living below the poverty line.

For the most part the level of impoverishment is hidden from the public — at the least the tourist American public — and is increasingly being disbursed to the outer suburbs of the city, as even the traditionally poor areas of East and South London have experienced skyrocketing housing costs.

London is increasingly reflective of a bifurcated and stratified Europe in the aftermath of the great recession that was in many ways far worse than in America and in which some countries like Greece and Portugal experienced unemployment reaching as high as 50 percent. Germany, Monaco and the Scandinavian countries went largely unscathed due to their more conservative fiscal policies.

The resulting situation in Europe resembles a barbell. There has been a massive increase in the poverty level overall in Europe, even as the European economies have recovered from the recession. And there are also increasingly pockets of immense wealth — especially in major cities like London, where people with the means have escaped the political turmoil and oppression of their respective countries and sought refuge in a gilded cosmopolitan enclave that looks less like Old Europe and more like Disneyland.

In London, for the first time in modern history, the percentage of the middle class has sunk below 50 percent of the population, with almost thirty percent falling below the poverty line and a quarter of the population qualifying as wealthy. This squeezing-out of the middle class is likely to have significant social and political implications for these countries, including questions about the continued legitimacy of nationalism and democracy.

One of the most important questions is whether national identity will continue to play a major role in Europe. There has already been significant migration of both labor and capital within Europe from the struggling peripheral nations to the more robust central economies. However, that migration has also exacerbated ethnic tensions and concerns over terrorism and security — as evidenced by the attacks last summer at Charlie Hebdo.

Europe looks from up close like a construction project that has been interrupted. The basic structure of the new edifice is apparent — ease of travel between the countries and a (struggling) common currency — but the rest of the building is missing. In many ways the wealthy act as though they are an island entirely unto themselves, while the swelling numbers of the poor cast off outside the walls of the city-state are left to question the redeemable value of their national identity.

Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.


Slumdog’s Rahman In UK For Independence Day

Double Oscar winner AR Rahman says his decision to play a greatest hits concert in London on Indian Independence Day was due to the shared history between the two countries.

Speaking to Sky News, the Bollywood composer, who has won international acclaim, said: “There’s a lot of history between India and England. (The decision) was a friendly notion. I’ve been working in England for 15 years…You have a great crowd here.”

He said it was important to move forward from the colonial past and instead share positives like “knowledge, wisdom, love and music”.

Rahman’s career, spanning 23 years, has seen him compose 100 soundtracks, sell 200 million albums and appear on Time Magazine’s most influential people list. 

His soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s 2009 film Slumdog Millionaire earned him two Oscars, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe Award and two Grammys.

Describing how difficult it would be to narrow his music down into one night, he said: “It’s a tough thing to do but I go with my instinct. Certain songs become iconic and part of the history of people’s lives.”

His fusion of eastern and western musical styles revolutionised the Indian film industry and thrust him onto the international stage.

“Music should be for all. I love western music, I love eastern music and I wanted my music to have the same philosophy. There’s so many things we can share and it all requires connecting with small steps.”



London Loo tours offer new perspective on the Big Smoke

Walking tours are big business in many cities around the world. They allow you to experience a place at street level and learn from a local guide. But, in London, a tour of the capital’s toilets takes the visitor to another level – literally downward. By doing so, the tour guide promises, you will get to experience a totally new, and quirky, side of London life.

The group on the Loo Tour file down a narrow staircase to look inside a set of ladies’ johns in an unusual location. This pub is one of many places across London worth visiting just for the toilet.

“Hello, and welcome to the Knights Templar,” a man says. “I’m Will, one of the assistant managers here. We’re downstairs to look at the ladies’ toilets. The pub was a late ’90s conversion from the Grand Union bank to what’s now the existing pub. So, we’re led to believe the toilets are situated in what were the vaults.”

The door opens, and Will is right. There are gasps of amazement from the small group. Will starts to describe the room, noting that the toilets are situated in a long room with marble-effect tiled flooring.

“There is lots of marble here and lots of mirrors, which helps make the space even bigger than it actually is,” Will says. Some visitors, he admits, come here just to look at the toilets: “Yes, they might buy a drink out of courtesy, but I think the fundamental reason for their visit is to see the toilets.”

From high culture … to low!

Guide Lucy Whitton introduces herself to the group and explains that the tour will run for an hour and a half, starting at Waterloo station on the south bank of the Thames River and eventually crossing to Covent Garden on the north bank.

Rachel Eriksson (center) became obsessed with toilets while in London.

Loo Tours began life three years ago, when the American Rachel Eriksson was studying in the UK. She was incensed by the idea that there was money to be made out of something as universal as going to the toilet – which gave her an idea.

“I came to the city very much as a tourist, and as an outsider I was fascinated by London’s history and culture, and I went on a lot of tours myself, and then had all this knowledge that I was very excited about,” Eriksson says. “So, I decided to become a tour guide so I could inflict that on other people who would pay me to do it.

“I was originally going to do a Shakespeare tour because that was very much where my passions were. But, in the process of talking to people and doing interviews, it gradually came out that I’d developed this obsession with where you could go to the toilet for free because, as a poor student, of course I didn’t want to spend 50 pence on a toilet – you can get a chocolate bar for that. And so the tour has grown over the years from that. It started mostly as a ‘here are the free toilets of London tour’ and today it’s more of a toilet history tour with some tips about where to go for free thrown in.”

Illuminating a different side to life

In fact, the tour helps illuminate a side of London many might never see. Bells ring at the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican church in the heart of London, just around the corner from Trafalgar Square. There has been a church on the site since Medieval times, but the current structure, with its Doric columns, was built between 1722 and 1726 by James Gibbs in a neoclassical style.

“We’re here at St Martin-in-the-Fields church,” Whitton tells the group. “St. Martin is the patron saint of beggars. This is said to be the church of the ever open door. And there used to be some graffiti in the ladies’ loos which said it was the church of the ever open toilet. It is OK to use the toilet here for free, so if you go into the crypt they’ve got quite nice toilets down there.”

Property is at a premium in London – one toilet has even been turned into a flat!

London’s not the only European capital with a tour of public toilets – there’s one in Berlin for example. But it was in the UK where one of the first public flushing toilets was unveiled in 1851. Over the past decade, the British Toilet Association estimates that almost half of public conveniences have closed down. With property at a premium in the southeast of Britain, some have been imaginatively repurposed.

“Some of these public toilets have been turned into bars or cafes, and one person even has turned it into a flat,” Whitton says. “But that means there’s more need to know where to go in London.”

Not just toilet humor!

Though one hears an awful lot of toilet puns on the tour, there’s also a serious side to what the guides do.

“Currently 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation,” Whitton says. “So, we talk about that and also we talk about things that are being done to try to solve that problem. People are quite shy and reserved talking about toilets and going to the toilet. What’s interesting on the Loo tour is when I first mention poo, people start wincing, but by the end they’ve become quite used to it. And using humor definitely helps. If we in the West with all our lovely clean shiny toilets can be comfortable talking about issues around sanitation, we can help those in the developing world.”

The guides work to eliminate people’s squeamishness.

The group have mixed reasons for attending the tour. One woman says she was attracted by the tour’s unusual nature.

“It was just a bit unusual, the thought of it, so my friend booked the tickets and said would I like to come?” she says. “I said, ‘Yeah, sounds interesting, yeah.’”

Another man says: “My wife bought me the ticket. She knew I’d be interested in this sort of thing. I’ve always been interested in industrial history, Victoriana. She also says I spend a lot of my life on the toilet.” He laughs sheepishly.

He’s right. On average, we spend between 1.5 and three years of our lives on the toilet. So, finding out more about this act we all share maybe doesn’t seem such a funny idea after all, especially when the tour illuminates a previously hidden side of London life in the bargain.


Robert Mugabe tells Natural History Museum to return human skulls

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has demanded that London’s Natural History Museum returns the skulls of freedom fighters who were killed by British colonisers.

British officials acknowledged that discussion about the repatriation of Zimbabwean human remains began last year but did not say whether a final decision had been made.

Mugabe said the missing skulls were those of leaders of “the first chimurenga”, an uprising against white settlers in the late 19th century, that included the spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who were hanged from a tree in 1898.

“The first chimurenga leaders, whose heads were decapitated by the colonial occupying force, were then dispatched to England, to signify British victory over, and subjugation of, the local population,” Mugabe said this week, during a Heroes Day commemoration in Harare. “Surely, keeping decapitated heads as war trophies, in this day and age, in a national history museum, must rank among the highest forms of racist moral decadence, sadism and human insensitivity.”

Once the remains were repatriated, the 91-year-old president added, the government would consult with traditional leaders about how to bury them at sacred shrines across the country.

Zimbabwe’s state-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Thursday that the heads would be sent back to the country as soon as the logistical issues had been resolved.

But the British embassy in Harare was more cautious. It said: “The issue of the potential repatriation of Zimbabwean human remains was first discussed by British and Zimbabwean authorities in December 2014. The UK has since invited Zimbabwe to appoint technical experts to meet their museum counterparts in London, in order to discuss some remains of Zimbabwean origin. It is not yet clear whether these remains are related to the events, places or people referred to in the president’s speech this week.

“We await the appointment of the required Zimbabwean experts in order to take this forward. This story highlights the importance of following due process when handling sensitive museum collections.”

Repatriation of human remains is a fraught legacy of European colonialism in Africa. In 2011, Germany returned 20 skulls to Namibia that had once been used for racial experiments. The plane carrying the skulls back was greeted by warriors on horseback who shouted war cries. But hundreds more skulls remain in Germany.

A year later, the remains of a Khoisan couple, Klaas and Trooi Pienaar, were repatriated to South Africa from Austria. The Pienaars’ bodies were illegally exhumed and shipped to Austria in 1909, where they became part of racial “research” by the Austrian scientist Rudolf Poch.

The Herald said it had tracked down the great-grandson of Chitekedza Chishawira, who was killed by the British during the first chimurenga in 1897. Tichadii Ziwengwa Chishawira told the paper: “It is painful for us. My great-grandfather died after he was tied to the leg of a horse. The whites accused him of rebellion after he resisted and fought white supremacy. The decapitation of our forefather is an indictment of how insensitive imperialists were.”

Chief Mashayamombe, whose great-grandfather Mashayamombe was also killed, was quoted as saying that the displaying of human skulls in museums was taboo in African culture and showed the brutality of the settlers. “That shows disrespect for our culture,” he told the Herald. “That is why I have written a letter to the government, even to Her Majesty the Queen, saying I want the skull of my leader. So, we welcome the development being undertaken to return them. But we are not happy with the attitude of the imperialists. Even the killing itself was brutal.”

The Natural History Museum did not give details of how the remains were acquired or whether they had been on public display. A spokesperson said: “The Natural History Museum has a policy of considering requests for return of human remains to their places of origin, under the provisions of section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004. The Museum actively engages in discussions with governments and communities with an interest in, or who wish to make a claim for, return of remains.”


17th-century HMS London gun carriage lifted from Southend seabed

A unique 17th-century gun carriage has been successfully lifted from the seabed off Southend, where it went down with the warship the London 350 years ago.

The ship, which sank in 1665 after a mysterious explosion with at least 300 crew members on board, lies broken up on the seabed and is being further damaged with every tide. But the gun carriage has come to the surface in startlingly good condition, still with a length of rope threaded through a pulley block.

As it was brought to shore at Leigh-on-Sea on the crane boat Jumbo, usually used for more prosaic maritime construction work, and the protective tarpaulin came off, the gun carriage already looked like a museum object, every detail perfectly preserved, the wheels ready to turn again.

But the wood could crumble to dust as it dries out, so the gun carriage was soaked with many buckets of water, loaded on to a trailer, and sent to York for a long process of conservation work.

The carriage was landed 100 yards from the fish shop owned by Steve Ellis, the man who discovered it. Ellis, a fishmonger and passionate amateur archaeologist, has been working as a licensed diver on the London wreck for years and has recruited a small armada of local fishing boats to help protect it.

Divers (from left) Carol Ellis, Steve Ellis and Dan Pascoe, who have been excavating the 17th-century shipwreck. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Ellis joined the mission, funded by Historic England, to rescue the timbers from further exposure to damage from the wake of every passing ship. Several of his neighbours cheered as they watched the gun carriage come ashore, and one shouted: “That’ll look good in your garden, Steve!”

Ellis said: “I was working by feel, I could hardly see a thing. When I found the two cheeks – the side pieces – I thought, ‘This could be a gun carriage.’ When I found the wheels, I knew I had it, it couldn’t be anything else. It was the best moment.”

The professional archaeologists did not quite believe him until they saw his murky photographs, taken in minimal visibility in the Thames estuary silt.

Alison James, Historic England’s maritime archaeologist, said: “This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition. It’s a national treasure and the key to new knowledge of our social and naval history.

The wheels from of the gun carriage of the London. ‘This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition … and the key to new knowledge of our social and naval history,’ said Alison James, maritime archaeologist at Historic England. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

“It is complete with all the implements that the gunner would have used to make the cannon fire – all the archaeological material is there with it so it’s hugely exciting. Until now, it’s been well preserved, enclosed in an anaerobic environment, oxygen-free mud, safe from all the creepy-crawlies that would normally erode it. We even have the 350-year-old rope going through the pulley block. But as parts of the gun carriage recently became exposed, we had to act fast to save this rare piece of our history from the ravages of the waves and biological attack.”

The wreck had been protected by the deep silty mud of the Thames estuary, but is now on Historic England’s at-risk register, due to changing tide patterns and being the target of treasure hunters. There has been a court case over the illegal salvage of two of the guns, which were sold to a collector in the US.

In 1665, when the gunpowder barrels on the London caught fire, the explosion killed at least 300 sailors and many women and children who had joined them for the short voyage from Chatham to Gravesend.

The ship, which had been part of the fleet sent to fetch Charles II back to England for the Restoration, had just been expensively refitted to fight in the Anglo-Dutch war and kitted out with the highest status symbol of a 17th-century navy: a complete set of bronze guns.

HMS London sank in such shallow water that the 24 survivors were rescued clinging to timbers still sticking up above the water.

Military historians are agog to study the details of the gun carriage’s construction. Nicholas Hall, the keeper of artillery at the Royal Armouries, which owns a bronze gun from the wreck recovered in the 60s and is caring for two more while their ownership is decided, said its recovery was of great importance as it was far rarer for the carriage to survive than the handsome bronze guns.

Hall said: “Practically the only source for the design of naval gun carriages, from the time guns first went to sea until the 18th century, is from examples recovered from wrecks. Those from the wreck of the Mary Rose show how big guns were first mounted in warships fitted with gun ports.

“The recovery of a gun carriage from HMS London, one of the few ships of the Royal Navy to be armed entirely with bronze guns, shows for the first time how these guns were mounted at this critical period for England, faced by an aggressive and efficient Dutch navy,” he said.

When ship was originally fitted out with bronze guns – including one still bearing Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth arms, which had been ground off most of his guns under the Restoration – they would have been convincing evidence of wealth and power, lined up on the decks of warships promising devastating firepower, said Hall.

He said: “These bronze guns are remarkably durable, as the great armouries of the world demonstrate. These old collections have been enhanced by the work of maritime archaeologists, and not just by the recovery of fine barrels, but by revealing how these guns were mounted and used in action.”

Samuel Pepys wrote in March 1665: ‘This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of The London …’ Photograph: Alamy

In March 1665, the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded the shock of the news of the disaster: “This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of ‘The London’, in which Sir J(ohn) Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance.

“She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J(ohn) Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart.”

The excavation of the gun carriage was originally planned for later this week but was brought forward by 24 hours due to a rapidly worsening weather forecast. The divers worked until midnight to retrieve all the artefacts, including dozens of linstocks – the long poles used to fire the cannon – some still with scorch marks, a significant find in view of the mysterious explosion.

Dan Pascoe, an archaeologist and diver, weary but elated, said the mass of gunnery equipment was another of London’s mysteries.

“There was far more kit than would ever be needed for one gun,” said Pascoe. “Were they bringing up stores, or did the gun carriage crash down through the decks?

“We’ve excavated a tiny fraction of a ship that was 140-feet long. We know there are scores more guns, and presumably their carriages, and so much more evidence is down there still. This story isn’t over, we need to do more digging.”


Female historians want to build Britain’s ‘first women’s museum’ after Jack …

Now two female history-lovers have taken the matter into their own hands and are fighting to build the ‘lost’ women’s museum.

Sara Huws, a public historian who has worked as a researcher and museum curator, and Sarah Jackson, who wrote a book about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, have set up a website asking for volunteers to help build a women’s museum.

On their website, they write: “When a proposed women’s history museum on Cable Street in East London turned out to be an excuse to cash in on the popularity of a misogynist serial killer, we decided to make the missing museum a reality.

“We are building a museum to share the rich history of women in East London. We need your help, and we want your voice.”

The women told me that, in a few days, more than 300 people have signed up to help – and they will soon consult with the volunteers on how best to set up the museum.

“We don’t have a fixed vision for what the East End Women’s Museum will be, that’s something we need to work out with all the people who have signed up to help,” they said.

“It may be a pop-up exhibition, a heritage trail, a smartphone app or all of these things.

“What we do know is that it will take an intersectional approach. We’re aiming to bring in the voices of women who have been pushed to the margins of society, and of history.

“East London has an incredibly rich social, political, and cultural history and women were part of all of it, although their voices are seldom heard. Those are the stories we want to tell; stories that illuminate the lives of East End women – not only their deaths.”

This is exactly what they feel the Jack the Ripper museum fails to do.

The London Post, November 9th 1888 (Alamy)

Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, a former diversity chief at Google, who owns the museum, has tried to justify the change of plan.

His initial planning document – which was given the green light by Tower Hamlets council last year – said he wanted to “retell the story of the East End through the eyes, voices, experiences and actions” of women.

But now that has clearly changed. He told the Evening Standard: “We did plan to do a museum about social history of women but as the project developed we decided a more interesting angle was from the perspective of the victims of Jack the Ripper.

“It is absolutely not celebrating the crime of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.”

Tower Hamlets council has been made aware of the change of plan regarding the museum, and said: “Planning permission was granted in October 2014 for the change of use of the premises to space for a museum. The council was advised at that time that the premises were intended to be used as a women’s museum and supporting information was submitted with the application to suggest that the vision of the museum was to tell the story of women of the East End of London.

“Ultimately, however, the council has no control in planning terms of the nature of the museum. The council has subsequently granted consents for extensions to the premises and the refurbishment of the front of the building. The council is aware of the Jack the Ripper imagery and is investigating the extent to which unauthorised works may have been carried out at the premises.”


Floyd Mayweather: Muhammad Ali fifth best in boxing history 0

As Floyd Mayweather prepares for his September fight against Andre Berto, he recently was asked about the sport’s greatest fighters.

Topping Mayweather’s list of the best boxer of all time was — Floyd Mayweather.

Putting himself on the top spot wasn’t a shock to some observers, despite many believing Muhammad Ali is deserving of “The Greatest” nickname. What did leave some people baffled was where Ali ended up on Mayweather’s list.

He recently appeared on ESPN Deportes where he discussed his top-five list:

Floyd Mayweather,

Roberto Duran,

Pernell Whitaker,

Julio Cesar Chavez,

Muhammad Ali.

“He was only at one weight-class,” Mayweather said of Ali. “This is me just being honest. It’s so hard (picking a top-five). … “Ali — only one weight class and really lost to Ken Norton three times. What he did is he stood for a cause in an era when African-Americans didn’t stand up for their people.”

Rocky Marciano, whose 49-0 record Mayweather will try to match when he faces Berto, did not make his list either.