Book Review: Lawson lies still in the Thames by Gill Blanchard.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 May 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445661233

Gill Blanchard charts the life of an interesting 17th century figure, who’s career spanned the civil wars, the commonwealth and the Restoration. To gain a greater understanding of any period in history, biographies like this are invaluable. You will gain a greater insight to 17th century England by studying its people, as uounwill the politics and wars, because it was men like Lawson who took part in them.

Lawson, a perennially cash strapped, unshakeably pious, die hard Republican, of obscure origins emerged from the merchant service when he ran coal up and down the country, to play a somewhat obscure part in the civil war and on to become a rear admiral of the commonwealth and fought against the Dutch in the 1650s.

His life is an up and down voyage over a troubled sea. Where his values were constantly put to the test by friend and foe alike. He hurts most fully upon the stage during the restoration crisis that preceded the return of the monarchy. When the commonwealth was split over what was to be done after Cromwell’s totalitarianism had thrown the new republic on the rocks. Lawson who had already spent time in the tower after being implicated in a plot to kill the Lord protector, had faced down the army in a land and sea standoff which effectively ended when Monck took control, but it is probably even less appreciated that Lawson then played a vital part in the restoration of King Charles II.

Blanchard has painted an excellent portrait of a fascinating figure. A man who could stand as an excellent conduit to the great events and movements of this turbulent period. It’s unlikely for instance that a general reader will care to give their time to a study of non conformism in the 17th century, but through works like this the issue is brought to the surface, as is the curiously haphazard nature of 17th century English naval affairs, where soldiers became admirals, sorry “General’s at Sea”, and colliers could end up commanding fleets and the fates of nations.

In a way it is an ironic life. A republican who opposed monarchy, yet helped bring it back & then was mortally wounded fighting under the royal standard he had fought to pull down in the civil wars.

His death, as it happened, from a wound incurred by the shattering of his kneecap at the Battle of Lowestoft is actually a prime example of why surgeons would usually amputate any joint wound, and his demise was a direct consequence of efforts to remove bone fragments and the ball.

A comparison with Nelson is perhaps warranted. Indeed Lawson is somewhat singular amongst the more famous admirals of his day, in that he actually knew how to sail, and was a seaman, unlike General Monck or his sometime adversary Prince Rupert. Lawson was of the breed of Drake and Raleigh, and for his day he was a new kind of admiral, a man who new his business, and who came from obscure origins. He was the sort of man that the modern navy would be built upon.

Lawson Lies Still in the Thames is a splendid book with which to delve deeper into this topsy turvy era.


Helping History Happen Podcast: Creating High Quality Historical Interpretation featuring Kyle Jenks.

Introduction by Historyland:

The world of interpretive history is sometimes confusing and mysterious, they tend to be the people who know all about Historyland. And this week hopefully we will get a little sneak peek into the effort and dedication that goes in to creating Historical impressions that spark our imaginations. A podcast called Helping History Happen with Allison Pettengill recently featured an interview with Historical Interpreter Kyle Jenks in an episode called “Creating High Quality Historical Interpretation” that… well I’ll let the guest fill in the details:

Continue reading

UK Remember the Alamo 2017 set to Break Records!

Alamo Church San Antonio

Alamo Church San Antonio. Wikipedia.

On 24 and 25 June at least 750 reenactors from all over the world will gather at Weston Park, Staffordshire to commemorate the Battle of the Alamo, historically fought on 6 March 1836 at San Antonio de Bexar, Texas.
When the subject of the pivotal battle of the Texian Revolution comes up, the lush green countryside of the west-country isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. The parkland of a stately home hardly conjures up visions of Spanish missions set on the wide prairie. Nor do people immediately associate Britain with the sort of enthusiasm for the subject that one might presume most Americans have.
Yet it turns out that there is as much enthusiasm for the legendary last stand on the “right” side of the Atlantic as there is on the “left”. Musician Phil Collins, a man born in Chiswick, London, freely admits to the Alamo being his obsession and as of 2014 owned one the largest private collections of Alamo memorabilia in the world.
“Alamo” Mo Jones, from Wales, was one of the principle founders of a website dedicated to the famous 1959 movie The Alamo, starring John Wayne, and since 2008 the accompanying discussion forum remains the only place on the internet principally oriented towards the history and popular culture surrounding the battle.

The influence of that movie should not be underestimated, it wasn’t an instant commercial success, but it proved a popular one and is calculated to leave an impression on a young mind. I was impressed with the VHS in the 90s so you can imagine what the big screen version must have done for the legacy of the siege.
We need not look very far therefore to find yet more cultural inspiration for the British wanting to play out this important moment in US history. Already Davy Crockett was an internationally recognised symbol of the old frontier thanks to Disney’s TV 1950’s series starring Fess Parker, and perhaps more importantly the naggingly catchy title song that a young Phil Collins performed at Butlins before he became famous.
By 1984, when the last Alamo reenactment was held in the U.K. Yes there have been others! Over 200 people dressed up, in what was then period accurate costume, and stormed a prefab fort, the one occurring this June will at the most conservative estimate have 4 times the manpower in the field.

So is Nostalgia the answer? It would be if all the participants were over 50. Although fond memories of childhood adventure heroes plays a part, the event is well timed. Firstly it comes only two years after the largest Waterloo reenactment in history. Over 6,000 people have been left with the taste of powder in their mouths, and access to a musket suitable for the Texas Revolution, about half of which wore a uniform in 2015 that with a little tampering can double as a Mexican one cutting costs in half.
Britain has a growing Napoleonic reenactment community, many of whom love the idea of such an original event despite not really knowing all about it. With so many participants the Alamo at Weston Park is set to be the biggest “horse and musket” reenactment in a hobby of which the large scale shows are dominated by the English Civil War.

Although when the project was announced in early 2016 some worried that everyone would want to be a Texian, it soon turned out that the Brits have no particular problem with playing the “bad guys”. By comparison it’s usually quite hard to muster a decent number of soldados to storm American Alamo’s. At some of this year’s Texas Revolution gatherings there was a distinct lack of Mexican opponents to fight. Yet it cannot be said that Americans are ignorant of the significance of the Alamo. Especially in the south it is one of the revered moments in the formation of the republic.
Why then is it so hard to muster even 50 people to reenact the Alamo in a country that hosts the largest reenactments in the world?
The answer is politics. And not just Republican and Democrat this goes beyond petty presidential elections. The reenactment scene in America is governed by several bodies, all of which construct events to their own rules and regulations, and won’t or can’t work with the others as a result.

The UK Alamo is being staged in honour of the 300th anniversary of the Grand Masonic Lodge of England, and the American Civil War Society of the UK was invited to form the core of each side. Although their Facebook page lists he group as the host, it is not an official ACWS run event.
Heading up the organisation of the event is Paul Barrass, who will be playing Santa Anna. Paul and his admin staff are firm in their resolution to keep this all about the history:
“All we ask is no politics or religion follow the safety rules and please leave your egos at the door”. Says Barrass, who confirms an “unprecedented level of cooperation in putting together this event”.
Author and longtime Alamo forum member Ned Huthmacher who is travelling from the US to be at Weston Park in June confirmed this opinion on the forum and Facebook: “One reason why there is so many reenactors being recruited into the Mexican army is they have no real connection-loyalty to the history of the battle, but just want to get in on a large scale reenactment. Also many of the recruits do/have already done Napoleonic reenactments.”

Ned is one of those generous souls who’s willing to share his enthusiasm and experience with anyone, and in the world of Internet forums, he and the old guard of the John Wayne the Alamo forum do the traditions of southern hospitality proud. When I asked why Britain and not America he replied that the most concise reason is “no infighting amongst all the different reenactor groups”. Terence Boniface wrote on Facebook “the organisers have selected the Alamo because no group reenacts that event here.”
And it has worked spectacularly so far, with a possible maximum turnout of 120 defenders and 1,000 Mexicans, some coming from as far afield as Inverness. Not too far from the original numbers at the battle in 1836 where on a cold Texas night in March 185-260 Texians (some of them Scots) were overrun and wiped out by 1,800 Mexican soldiers. It has been noted that this reenactment will be the biggest ever recreation of the battle outside of a movie production.
Strange as it may seem the events of 1836 have always had an interest value to the people of Britain. Coverage in the newspapers were reporting the fighting in Texas in the very year they were happening, with an understandable lag as the news crossed the Atlantic. Interest was resumed around the time of the Mexican American war, and it is well known that several Alamo defenders actually came from Britain. In the end we can only admit that Courage and sacrifice are International virtues that speak to us all, and that is why even Britain remembers the Alamo.

. I have no doubt that this recreation will inspire more interest in the story for new generations and offer a unique day out this summer.

If you’re interested in going or contacting the organisers, follow the links below.


A Memory of the Olympias or “THAT BLOODY BYRON ROGERS” by Nigel Hillpaul.

The “sly, apotropaic eyes” of Olympias at the Naval Tradition Park, Palaio Faliro. She is the only commissioned ship of her kind in the world. Ελληνικά: Φωτογράφηση εξ ιδίων Wikimedia commons.


My first sight of the Trireme Olympias was as I turned a page of an Osprey Book about the Greek and Persian Wars. Thrilling isn’t it? But if a picture can blow a fellow away, imagine what it must have been like to sail on her. If I’m honest I’ve never given much thought to who actually put Olympias through her paces. Luckily today’s guest post has been written by just such a man, who urged by an article written by journalist, essayist, historian and biographer Byron Rogers who is an “historian of the quirky and forgotten, of people and places other journalists don’t even know exist or ignore if they do”’embarked on an true adventure in a Historyland all his own, and shared by a select few. Olympias was built between 1985 and 1987 as an accurate replica of the ship that probably saved western civilisation. Designed by John F. Coates who consulted with many other learned people on the project, Olympias was built in Greece between 1985 and 1987. The information gathered during her many sea trials revolutionised the understanding of ancient seamanship and set a bar for all subsequent experimental archeologists. The author of the following story took part in the 1987 trials as one of “Happy few” who helped bring the Tireme back to life: Continue reading

Book Review: Napoleon in America by Shannon Selin.

Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Dry Wall Publishing (7 Jan. 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0992127505

What if Napoleon had escaped after Waterloo? Some people ask me.
“He’d have gone to America” I say. It’s an easy question to answer because the motives of the emperor at that time were still clear and his power of choice was still his own. Most people do not ask, what if Napoleon had escaped from St Helena. Continue reading

The Battle of Oriskany, August 6th 1777.

As part of his master plan for capturing the Hudson Valley General Burgoyne detached General Barry St Leger to invade the Mohawk Valley to divert American resources. To secure this natural avenue, St Leger’s expedition aimed to capture Fort Stanwix (Renamed Schuyler by the Americans) which guarded the portage road between Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. He was joined by Sir John Johnson and his step Uncle Joseph Brant with 1,000 Iroquois and his own regiment of loyalists (Royal New York). Thinking it a ruin guarded by 60 men, when in fact it was newly rebuilt and had a Garrison of 550 men, Brant’s force advanced through Wood Creek as an advance guard to cut the fort off. Moving fast despite obstacles, terrain and enemy troops they managed a pace of 10 miles a day but arrived just too late to stop a supply column getting inside the Fort on August 2nd. Three days later on the 5th as St Leger was busy carving a supply road through the forest, building earthworks and having his sharpshooters start picking off stray colonials when he heard that a relief force, which had left Fort Dayton on the 4th would be upon him the next day. Continue reading

Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812.

Last week an email popped into my inbox, and I’m really excited to share it with you. I really loved playing strategy games when I was a kid, anyone out there remember Sharpe’s Attack? It was pretty much Stratego (another sweet game), but it was awesome! Another great one I remember was called Lionheart, made by the makers of the classic game risk. For myself I still love these types of games, so when the folks at Hand 2 Hand Entertainment showed me their new War of 1812 game I was only to pleased to give them a place in Historyland. As yet I’ve not played the game, hopefully I will be able to review it for you guys in the future when prototype models are available. For now they’d appreciate your time and support. Here is what they have to say: Continue reading