Monthly Archives: September 2009

Navy at ‘minimum capability’

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope

The Royal Navy is at its ‘minimum capability’, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope has told the Portsmouth Evening News.

With a full defence spending review likely whoever wins the next General Election, the armed forces have already begun talking about possible cuts. Admiral Stanhope warned that he faced a battle in the Defence Review, and that the Navy could take no more cuts if it was to carry on with its existing roles. Not only does it have its existing roles to think about, but also any unforseen developments on the global stage. Who could have predicted 9/11 and the impact it would have on global security?

With massive cuts in public spending necessary in light of the global recession and spiralling national debt, it is inevitable that some Defence projects will come under threat. This is a difficult balance to find. Big construction projects, such as shipbuilding, secure many jobs around the country, and are vital to economic recovery in several industries. Also, we are committed to projects such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. Even though we probably dont need 200+ Eurofighters, we were committed to ordering that many to keep the international consortium building them afloat.

Public support for the Army is very strong at present, given its visible role in Afghanistan, and the persistent outcry over the lack of and inferiority of equipment issued to troops serving in theatre. The price of a few Eurofighters would pay for a hell of a lot of top quality body armour.

The Royal Navy faces a particularly though time, as it has committed itself to two huge 60,000 ton aircraft carriers, at the expense of frigates and destroyers. Indeed, the new Type 45 Destroyer was cut from a planned 12 ships to an eventual order for 6, which of course is nowhere near enough. There are as yet no firm plans to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates. Ships can only be in one place at any time, and for every ship on duty, you have to plan for at least 1, possibly 2 being in port or refit.

One cannot help if we might have been better served with several smaller, cheaper aircraft carriers and more escorts to protect them. The first Aircraft Carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be safe as work has already started on her and it would cost more to cancel her. But the second, HMS Prince of Wales, will almost certainly come under threat. We could potentially be left with one huge and expensive to run aircraft carrier, which is far too inflexible.

As much as politicians may give credit to our armed forces, their commitment – or lack of it – really shows when it comes to finding the money to back them up for real. Defence Reviews are a notoriously tricky business and have caused the demise of more than one politician, as John Nott will testify.

Expect to see more Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals making their cases in the news in the coming months.



Filed under Army, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force

Family History #6 – Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates

part of a Birth Certificate

part of a Birth Certificate

After the Civil Registration act in 1837, it became law to officially register every birth, marriage and death in the United Kingdom. As a result, it became much easier to track how many people were being born, where, how many people were dying, and so forth. Hundreds of years later, the hatch match and dispatch records are invaluable for doing your family tree.

Every birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership or death registered in England or Wales has a General Register Office (GRO) index reference number. It usually consists of the year, volume number, page number and district in which the event was registered. For example, my great-grandparents marriage certificate in Portsmouth in 1917 has the reference ‘1917, 2b, 865, Portsmouth’.

You can find a certificate even if you are not completely sure when an event took place. As long as you know which quarter it happened in, this makes things much easier, as you can search the BMD indexes, at sites such as FreeBMD and Ancestry. The indexes are also available to search in many local librarys and archives. From 1837 to 1984 the index information for each year is divided into quarters. The quarters are split as follows:

* March quarter – events registered in January, February and March
* June quarter – April, May and June
* September quarter – July, August and September
* December quarter – October, November and December

The earliest index is for September quarter 1837. After 1984 the indexes are organised by year only.

Once you have an index number, you can apply for a copy certificate from either the General Register Office in London, or the local Register office where the event took place. There is normally a charge for this, depending on what exactly it is you want, and how long it takes the staff to search for the original entry.

The make up of the certificates and the information that they contain has changed slightly over time, but most of the common features remain.

Birth certificates -these are normally red – tell you when and where the birth took place, the name of the child, gender, full name of father (if known or entered, of course!), full name and maiden name of mother, occupation of father, details of the informant, when registered and the name of the registrar.

Marriage certificates – these are usually in the green – tell you when the marriage took place, the full names of the husband and wife, their ages and conditions, rank or profession, residence at time of marriage, fathers surname and profession. Interestingly, it also tells you what parish the marriage took place in, if it was in the rites of any chuch or religion, and the minister who officiated.

Death certificates – suitable in black – tell you when and where someone died, the deceased’s name, gender, age, occupation, cause of death, signature description and residence of the informant, when registered, and a signature of the registrar.

So you can see how for every certificate you manage to get hold of, it will give you a step backwards to the next generation. That way, used alongside the census returns, you can trace your family back one step at a time.

Not only do certificates give you an idea of names, dates, places, but they give you a lot more social information too, that colours what is otherwise a very impersonal family tree. You can find out about the jobs that your ancestors did, how they migrated and moved around the country, any illnesses that they might have had, and what religion they were. So something that could be just any other family history suddenly becomes very personal to you.


Filed under Family History

£13m for UK’s Heritage

The Heritage Lottery Fund today announced £13m worth of grants for four Heritage projects around the UK.

Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes is the historic site of secret British code breaking activities during World War Two and birthplace of the modern computer. It has been awarded HLF development funding of £460,500 towards a further potential application of £4.1million. Proposals include: repairing key buildings to highlight the crucial part the site played in the World War Two code breaking story; improving visitor facilities; and expanding the site’s educational programmes.

HLF’s £3.3million grant will fund the transformation of the redundant 19th-century All Souls Church in Bolton into a state-of-the-art facility providing training, education, youth activities, health and welfare services to the local community. Plans include taking out the existing pews and replacing them with a community centre, made up of two ‘pods’ that will sit within the church building.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will also benefit. Thanks to HLF’s £5million grant, an elegant and inviting entrance will be created directly from Greenwich Park and much more of the collection and archive will be displayed in the new library, archive facilities and special exhibitions gallery.

The Vindolanda Trust has some of the most important collections of ‘real life’ from the Roman world. Their museums are situated on the extensive remains of two Roman forts and civilian settlements on Hadrian’s Wall – England’s largest World Heritage Site. The HLF’s £4million grant will link the two sites and the proposed new gallery space and education centre have been designed to inspire the next generation of young archaeologists. A significant element of Vindolanda’s collection currently in storage will be on show for the first time.

Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckinghamshire was created by some of the 18th century’s leading architects, sculptors and gardeners, including Capability Brown, John Vanbrugh and William Kent. Thanks to a grant of £1.5million, the original entrance to the Garden will be reinstated. By transforming the visitor experience, people will enjoy a greater understanding of what it would have been like to visit Stowe in its heyday.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 28,800 projects, allocating over £4.3billion across the UK.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, maritime history, Museums, News, social history, World War Two

Arnhem Airborne Museum opens new extension

The new Airborne Museum extension, Arnhem

The new Airborne Museum extension, Arnhem

The Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek, Arnhem opened its brand new multi-million extension during this years 60th anniversary commemorations.

A museum about the battle was first opened in 1949 in Doorwerth Castle near the Rhine. In 1980 it moved to the Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek. This large white hotel had been the headquarters of Feldmarschall Walter Model before the battle and was the HQ of Major General Roy Urquhart during the siege of Oosterbeek. I’ve visitied the museum three times now and every time I have been struck by the loving care with which it has obviously been put together, and how it is looked after so well.

An ambitious renovation programme has brought the museum right into the 21st century, with dramatic and evocative dioramas, new multimedia displays and a thoughtful emphasis on the future. It involved closing the museum for 9 months, digging an underground basement next to the museum and turning this into a new extension, leaving the original museum intact. This should make what is a grand and famous museum more accessible and enjoyable for younger visitors.

It looks like the legacy of the Battle of Arnhem is in safe hands for years to come. I can’t wait to go and see the new extension.


Filed under Arnhem, News, World War Two

Historian chic?

Isn’t it funny how certain jobs seem to have their own informal uniform? Without there being any written down rules, certain professions just seem to dress a certain way. And Historians seem to be no exception.

As far as I can tell, the dress code for your average historian is cordurouy trousers, a tweed jacket or something similar, and scary looking facial hair. For extra Historian-ness, a handkerchief in your jacket pocket and a sensible briefcase type bag full of inane notes really works. Wear braces and you’re Historian royalty. Some of the Historians I’ve seen at work in various places could have walked straight off of the set of All Creatures Great and Small.

The History Department of the University of Darrowby

The History Department of the University of Darrowby

Try walking into a Museum or an Archive to do some research, wearing an Ozzy Osbourne or Metallica T-shirt. Somehow, no-one seems to think you could possible be doing anything worthwhile. But walk into the same place with a side-parting and suitably attired and you could pass off as the leading authority on the history of bilingual ferret stuffing in norther Somerset.

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This week on TV – week beginning 28 Sept 09

Here’s my pick of the interestingly historical looking programmes on the box this coming week.

Monday 28 September – Bang Goes the Theory sees Liz Bonnin joins the RAF’s flight school to find out the truth about multi-tasking. Sounds like a ‘men can’t multitask’ programme this one! (BBC1, 7.30pm).

Tuesday 29 September – In the Victorian Farm Three Historians live the lives of Victorian Farmers. This week they deliver lambs and piglets, and turn to victorian science for a solution to their crop problems (BBC2, 7pm, continues at the same time every day this week). Also on Tuesday Warship sees the Royal Marines training in Brunei, and teambuilding with US colleagues (Five, 8pm).

Wednesday 30 September – In Railway Walks Julia Bradbury looks at the impact of tin and copper in Cornwall (BBC2, 7pm). Also on Wednesday Building the Ultimate looks at the evolution of the aircraft carrier from World War 2 to the present day (Five, 7.30pm). Straight afterwards World War One in Colour follows the battle on the eastern front, leading up to the Russian Revolution (Five, 8pm).

Thursday 1 October – Not strictly a historical programme, but this week David Starkey guests on Question Time. In Brighton for the Labour Party Conference, this should be worth a watch (BBC1, 10.35pm).

Saturday 3 October – In Dads Army Godfrey learns that his cottage faces demolition (BBC2, 7.45pm).


Filed under Army, debate, Navy, News, On TV, World War One

Books of the week – Maritime special

This weeks regular review looks at not one, but two of the latest releases from the National Maritime Museum.

Egyptian Sketches - Edward Lear

Egyptian Sketches - Edward Lear

Art has always had a romantic and insightful role to play in Maritime History. Edward Lear may be better known as a poet and writer of ‘the owl and the pussycat’, but Lear also travelled widely and often illustrated his own writings. Egyptian Sketches is a fascinating collection of watercolour sketches that transports the reader back to nineteenth century Egypt, seen through the eyes of a Victorian traveller. Whilst I could never claim to be an art expert, this collection of sketches illuminates much about Victorian society – keen interest in travel, an antiquary-like passion for ancient civilisation, as well as being set of very pleasant paintings in their own right. Well presented, and with a commentary from Jenny Gaschke, Curator of Fine Art at the National Maritiem Museum, this would be an ideal read for the enthusiast of maritime art.

The Bird of Dawning - John Masefield

The Bird of Dawning - John Masefield

One of my favourites units studying history at university was maritime history. Mornings spent listening to our wisened tutor talking of tea from India more than made up for the more mundance subjects we were inflicted with. So it is with a certain nostalgia that I read The Bird of Dawning, by John Masefield. A Poet Laureate, Masefield spent many of his early years on board ships, and this experience had a profound impact on the young Poet. Evocative of a time when clippers raced back from India to get the best prices for their cargo of tea, disaster strikes and the crew have to survive sharks, mutiny and the unforgiving power of the sea. Masefield’s nautical background ensures that you can almost smell the salt on the pages, and the tension of his narrative fittingly portrays the gravity of the story. The Bird of Dawning was originally published in 1933, and this fine reissue is introduced by Dr. Phillip Errington, an expert on Masefield and his work.

The Bird of Dawning is available now, and Egyptian Sketches is published on 15 October 2009. Both published by the National Maritime Museum.


Filed under art, Book of the Week, fiction, maritime history, Museums, Uncategorized