A Japanese Feast of the Dead, 1615

One of the things we all ‘know’ about Halloween is that it’s just an American import. It’s not, though, completely true. Modern Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which itself was imported to the US by Irish migrants in the nineteenth century. But it also has a distant ancestor, too, in…

The Spooky World of Anne Armstrong, 1673

Anne Armstrong was a servant-girl. Probably just a teenager in 1673, she lived at Birches Nook in Northumberland. She also, in the dark seasons of 1672 and early 1673, had a series of terrifying supernatural experiences. So she said. Anne gave her testimony in a string of statements made over the winter and spring of 1673,…

Just a quick list of 17th century euphemisms for being drunk…

From John Ray, A Collection of English Proverbs (1678). ‘Disguised.’ ‘To have a piece of bread and cheese in your head.’ ‘He’s drunk more than he has bled.’ (ouch) ‘Been in the sun.’ ‘Had a jag.’ ‘Had a load.’ ‘To have got a dish.’ ‘To have had a cup too much.’ ‘To be one and…

‘The Foulest Place of Mine Arse is Fairer than thy Face’

On Michaelmas Eve, 1544, two women came to blows in the open street in Winchester. We know who they were. We know the approximate time (two in the afternoon), and we know there were plenty of witnesses. We also know exactly where the fight took place, for when the case came to court, the brawl…

Why Society Needs Historians

‘Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’ Thus spake Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University…

Ten History Books I’d Love to See on Your UCAS Form

In schools up and down the country, budding young historians are just about to go on a quest: a quest for that perfect UCAS text. The history book you read and analyse in a couple of sentences that you hope will dazzle the admissions people at the university of your choice. Unfortunately, most will choose…

In the Shadow of the Bum Courts

Is it a footballer? Is it an MP? No… it’s a Superinjunction! Yes, the infamous writ of Shut-The-Hell-Up is back. Someone’s been bad. But because they’re rich we’re not, repeat not, allowed to talk about it. Unless we’re in Parliament, or Scotland, or anywhere in the world part from England and Wales. The superinjunction is…

Pepys’s Poops!

Ah, Samuel Pepys. Our greatest diarist, Restoration man about town, zero-times winner of Husband of the Year. He’s someone who celebrated the date of his bladder-stone removal like clockwork, but once forgot his wedding anniversary. He’s probably the first known Englishman to record in detail the time he bought pornography (from a bookshop on the…

Happy Historical 2016!

Well, the hangovers have (mostly) subsided, the words to Auld Lang Syne have been hastily reforgotten, and Jools Holland has at last returned to his cave. All that remains, then, is to have a look at some of the big historical anniversaries we hit in 2016. And it’s going to be a bumper year… Everyone will…

When was it okay to bugger a horse in 1650s Yorkshire?

I recently came across an astonishing pair of documents in the National Archives. The documents are ‘depositions’, witness statements, collected for a trial at the Yorkshire Assizes – the local court which dealt with serious crimes – from 1656. They relate to an alleged case of bestiality. William Clarke, labourer, it was alleged, had been…