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Posts Tagged ‘Britain

“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs”*…


The digging of Crossrail, London’s new twenty-three-billion-dollar east-west underground commuter line, has been one long party for archeologists. Since construction began, in 2009, imposing encampments, clad in blue fencing and busy with trucks, have appeared across the city, providing access points for the cranes and the huge boring machines that are needed to carve out tunnels, vents, and stations along the line’s seventy-three miles. Almost always, there have also been archeologists on the scene, clipboards and trowels in hand, to see what can be unearthed from the briefly exposed soil. So far, there have been excavations at thirty of Crossrail’s forty building sites, yielding up a section of a medieval barge, in Canning Town; a Bronze Age wooden walkway, in Plumstead; and the remains of a Mesolithic campfire, in North Woolwich.

On a recent, gray spring afternoon, I went to see the latest, and largest, Crossrail dig, across the road from Liverpool Street station, in the middle of the financial district, where a new ticket hall will soon occupy the space previously filled by London’s first municipal graveyard. The New Churchyard, an acre in size, was first used in 1569, not long after an outbreak of bubonic plague, as an alternative to the overcrowded parish plots inside the old city walls. It was not attached to any church, which made it a natural resting place for radicals, nonconformists, migrants, mad people, and drifters—Londoners, in other words. It closed some time in the seventeen-twenties, full many times over. Ten thousand people were buried there; in 1984, a partial excavation found graves dug through graves, eight skeletons per cubic meter…

More urban archaeology at “Bedlam’s Big Dig.”

* William Shakespeare, Richard II


As we memento mori, we might recall that it was on this date in 1606 that King James I, having inherited the English and Irish thrones to go with the Scottish monarchy that (as James IV) he already had, decreed the design of a new flag for his domains, according to which the flag of England (a red cross on a white background, known as St George’s Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as the Saltire or St Andrew’s Cross), would be joined together, forming the flag of England and Scotland for maritime purposes. King James also began to refer to a “Kingdom of Great Britaine”, although the union remained a personal one.  The flag– known as the Union Flag or Union Jack– was adopted as the national flag in 1707, after the completion of the Treaty of Union and the passage of the Acts of Union.



Written by LW

April 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“This is a service station. We offer service. There’s no higher purpose”*…


This quaint art deco Tower Conoco Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe in Shamrock, Texas, was one of the first businesses the tiny panhandle town built along Route 66, in 1936. Built by architect Joseph Barry, it’s now owned by the city and used as a visitor’s center. (CLINTON STEEDS VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Gas stations are rarely known for their aesthetics. Looking like a truck stop is no compliment for a work of architecture. It hasn’t always been so: In the early days of American car culture, gas stations were designed with enough architectural flamboyance to lure customers off the highway. As driving has become an ingrained way of life, though, that extra design effort has fallen by the wayside. Though in general we’re not a huge fan of city driving, as long as people continue to rely on cars, there will have to be places to fuel up. Why make car infrastructure more of a blight on the landscape than it already is?

Some of the best-known architects of our time have set their sights on gas station architecture, from midcentury icons like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, to Jean Prouvé to Norman Foster. In a new book from Architizer founder Marc Kushner, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Kushner devotes an entire section to this car-centic architecture that outclasses the barren Shell stations of today by a mile…

This gas station in Matúškovo, Slovakia, built in 2011 by Atelier SAD, looks like a spacecraft. The columns supporting the concrete overhang also serve as drainage pipes.  (TOMAS SOUCEK)

Fill ‘er up at “9 Gorgeous Gas Stations Throughout History.”

* “Socrates” (Nick Nolte), a gas station attendant in Peaceful Warrior


As we opt for unleaded, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Britain introduced the first Driver’s Test for licensing.  Optional until 1935 (so as to avoid a crush at the test centers), the new requirement, enacted with the Highway Code of 1934, followed a year in which cars on the road topped 1 million in the U.K. and road deaths reached 7,300.  In an effort to calm motorists made nervous by the new requirement, Ford produced a short, reassuring film, narrated by motor racer and land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell:

email readers click here for video


Written by LW

March 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

There will always be an England…


Via Collective History.


As we look both ways, we might send covert birthday greetings to Ian Lancaster Fleming; he was born on this date in 1908.  The scion of a wealthy merchant banking family, Fleming worked as a journalist and served as a naval intelligence officer before finding his stride, starting in 1952, as the author of a series of spy novels featuring a suave MI6 agent who was licensed to kill.  While he also wrote such well-known works as Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, his James Bond novels have sold over 100 million copies; the films based on his novels have grossed over $12 billion (adjusted for inflation), second as a series only to the Harry Potter films.



Written by LW

May 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

Rule, Britannia!…


What do Guatemala, Tajikistan, Luxembourg, and the Marshall Islands have in common?

Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.  But that oft-recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.

A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.

The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.

Find the other 18 unviolated nations in the full story at The Telegraph.


As we realize that, perhaps, “Cool Britannia” isn’t such a bad idea after all, we might recall that this was the date in 1955 to which Marty McFly returned in Back to the Future (and Back to the Future II).


Written by LW

November 12, 2012 at 1:01 am

Water Wigs…


Water balloons dropped onto the heads of bald men, as captured by photographer Tim Tadder

[TotH to Laughing Squid]


As we reach for our hair-dryers, we might recall that it was on this date in 55 BCE that Julius Caesar first landed in Britain (or so historians reckon).  It’s unclear whether the expedition to the (then Iron Age) island was intended as an invasion (he crossed from Gaul with two Legions) or a reconnaissance-in-force; in any case, it succeeded in establishing a beachhead in (what’s now) Kent– where, the following year, Caesar’s successful invasion landed.



Written by LW

August 27, 2012 at 1:01 am

Playing golf while blitzed…

During World War II, German aircraft from Norway would fly on missions to northern England; because of the icy weather conditions, the barrels of their guns had a small dab of wax to protect them. As they crossed the coast, they would clear their guns by firing a few rounds at the golf courses there. Undaunted, the British played on…

There will always be an England…

From Doug Ross @ Journal, via Boing Boing. [TotH to Don Smith]

As rethink our aversion to bunkers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1805 that a force of U.S. Marines and Berber mercenaries attacked the Tripolitan port city of Derna on a mission to depose Yusuf Karamanli, the ruling pasha of Tripoli, who had seized power from his brother, Hamet Karamanli, a pasha who was sympathetic to the United States.  Lieutenant Presley O’ Bannon, commanding the Marines, performed so heroically in what one might now think of as “the first Libyan War” that Hamet Karamanli presented him with the elaborately-designed sword that serves as the pattern for the swords carried by Marine officers; the phrase “to the shores of Tripoli,” from the official song of the U.S. Marine Corps, is a reference to the Derna campaign.

Presley O’ Bannon (source)


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