On this day in 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University
of Oxford for publishing a pamphlet entitled ‘The Necessity of
Atheism’. Shelley is best known as a famous English poet, who was part
of a group of fellow prominent writers including his wife Mary Shelley
and Lord Byron. As well as being as being an author, Shelley was a
radical political activist who advocated non-violent protest. Having
begun study at Oxford in 1810, it is often said that he only attended
one lecture during his time there. He published several works whilst at
university, but it was his atheistic pamphlet which led to his
appearance before the College fellows and his eventual expulsion as he
refused to deny authorship. ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ argued that
people do not choose their beliefs and thus atheists shouldn’t be
persecuted. However it is unclear whether Shelley was personally an
atheist; he may have instead been an agnostic or a pantheist. Either
way, this document is an interesting insight into Shelley’s views and
shows how atheism was stigmatised in the early nineteenth century.
“Truth has always been found to promote the best interests of
mankind. Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof of the
existence of a Deity”
While on military training during
World War Two, Gilbert Bradley was in love. He exchanged hundreds of
letters with his sweetheart - who merely signed with the initial “G”.
But more than 70 years later, it was discovered that G stood for Gordon,
and Gilbert had been in love with a man.
At the time, not only was homosexuality illegal, but those in the armed forces could be shot for having gay sex. The
letters, which emerged after Mr Bradley’s death in 2008, are therefore
unusual and shed an important light on homosexual relationships during
the war. What do we know about this forbidden love affair?
Wednesday January 24th 1939
I lie awake all night waiting for the postman in the early morning, and
then when he does not bring anything from you I just exist, a mass of
All my love forever,
gleaned from the letters indicate Mr Bradley was a reluctant soldier.
He did not want to be in the Army, and even pretended to have epilepsy
to avoid it. His ruse did not work, though, and in 1939 he was
stationed at Park Hall Camp in Oswestry, Shropshire, to train as an
He was already in love with Gordon Bowsher.
The pair had met on a houseboat holiday in Devon in 1938 when Mr Bowsher
was in a relationship with Mr Bradley’s nephew. Mr Bowsher was from a well-to-do family. His father ran a shipping company, and the Bowshers also owned tea plantations. When war broke out a year later he trained as an infantryman and was stationed at locations across the country.
February 12 1940, Park Grange
My own darling boy,
There is nothing more than I desire in life but to have you with me constantly…
can see or I imagine I can see, what your mother and father’s reaction
would be… the rest of the world have no conception of what our love is
- they do not know that it is love…
life as a homosexual in the 1940s was incredibly difficult. Gay
activity was a court-martial offence, jail sentences for so-called
“gross indecency” were common, and much of society strongly disapproved
of same-sex relationships. It was not until the Sexual Offences
Act 1967 that consenting men aged 21 and over were legally allowed to
have gay relationships - and being openly gay in the armed services was
not allowed until 2000.
The letters, which emerged after Mr
Bradley’s death in 2008, are rare because most homosexual couples would
get rid of anything so incriminating, says gay rights activist Peter
Roscoe. In one letter Mr Bowsher urges his lover to “do one
thing for me in deadly seriousness. I want all my letters destroyed.
Please darling do this for me. Til then and forever I worship you.”
Mr Roscoe says the letters are inspiring in their positivity. “There
is a gay history and it isn’t always negative and tearful,” he says.
“So many stories are about arrests - Oscar Wilde, Reading Gaol and all
those awful, awful stories. "But despite all the awful
circumstances, gay men and lesbians managed to rise above it all and
have fascinating and good lives despite everything.”
February 1st, 1941 K . C. Gloucester Regiment, Priors Road, Cheltenham
My darling boy,
For years I had it drummed into me that no love could last for life…
I want you darling seriously to delve into your own mind, and to look for once in to the future.
the time when the war is over and we are living together… would it
not be better to live on from now on the memory of our life together
when it was at its most golden pitch.
Your own G.
But was this a love story with a happy ending?
Probably not. At
one point, Mr Bradley was sent to Scotland on a mission to defend the
Forth Bridge. He met and fell in love with two other men. Rather
surprisingly, he wrote and told Mr Bowsher all about his romances north
of the border. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Mr Bowsher took it all in
his stride, writing that he “understood why they fell in love with you.
After all, so did I”.
Although the couple wrote throughout the war, the letters stopped in 1945.
However, both went on to enjoy interesting lives.Mr
Bowsher moved to California and became a well-known horse trainer. In a
strange twist, he employed Sirhan Sirhan, who would go on to be
convicted of assassinating Robert Kennedy. Mr
Bradley was briefly entangled with the MP Sir Paul Latham, who was
imprisoned in 1941 following a court martial for “improper conduct” with
three gunners and a civilian. Sir Paul was exposed after some
“indiscreet letters” were discovered.Mr Bradley moved to Brighton
and died in 2008. A house clearance company found the letters and sold
them to a dealer specialising in military mail.
The letters were
finally bought by Oswestry Town Museum, when curator Mark Hignett was
searching on eBay for items connected with the town. He bought
just three at first, and says the content led him to believe a fond
girlfriend or fiancé was the sender. There were queries about bed
sheets, living conditions - and their dreams for their future life
together. When he spotted there were more for sale, he snapped them up too -
and on transcribing the letters for a display in the museum, Mr Hignett
and his colleagues discovered the truth. The “girlfriend” was a
The revelation piqued Mr Hignett’s interest - he
describes his experience as being similar to reading a book and finding
the last page ripped out: “I just had to keep buying the letters to find
out what happened next.” Although he’s spent “thousands of
pounds” on the collection of more than 600 letters, he believes in terms
of historical worth the correspondence is “invaluable”. “Such
letters are extremely rare because they were incriminating - gay men
faced years in prison with or without hard labour,” he says. “There was
even the possibility that gay soldiers could have been shot.”
Work on a book is already under way at the museum, where the letters will also go on display. Perhaps most poignantly, one of the letters contains the lines: “Wouldn’t
it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a
more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we
day in 1944, a group of Allied prisoners of war staged a daring escape
attempt from the German prisoner of war camp at Stalag Luft III. This
camp, located in what is now Poland, held captured Allied pilots mostly
from Britain and the United States. In 1943, an Escape Committee under
the leadership of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell of the RAF, supervised
prisoners surreptitiously digging three 30 foot tunnels out of the camp,
which they nicknamed ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’. The tunnels led to
woods beyond the camp and were remarkably sophisticated - lined with
wood, and equipped with rudimentary ventilation and electric lighting.
The successful construction of the tunnels was particularly impressive
as the Stalag Luft III camp was designed to make it extremely difficult
to tunnel out as the barracks were raised and the area had a sandy
subsoil. ‘Tom’ was discovered by the Germans in September 1943, and
‘Dick’ was abandoned to be used as a dirt depository, leaving ‘Harry’ as
the prisoners’ only hope. By the time of the escape, American prisoners
who had assisted in tunneling had been relocated to a different
compound, making the escapeees mostly British and Commonwealth citizens.
200 airmen had planned to make their escape through the ‘Harry’ tunnel,
but on the night of March 24th 1944, only 76 managed to escape the camp
before they were discovered by the guards. However, only three of the
escapees - Norwegians Per Bergsland and Jens Müller and Dutchman Bram
van der Stok -
found their freedom. The remaining 73 were recaptured, and 50 of them,
including Bushell, were executed by the Gestapo on Adolf Hitler’s
orders, while the rest were sent to other camps. While the escape was
generally a failure, it helped boost morale among prisoners of war, and
has become enshrined in popular memory due to its fictionalised depiction
in the 1963 film The Great Escape.
“Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!” - Roger Bushell
A 22-year-old Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in chalk by Hungarian artist, Charles Brocky, 1841. Commissioned that same year after Victoria saw his portrait of
Georgiana Liddell, one of her maid’s of honour, and fell in love with his work. This romantic pair of portraits resides today in the Queen’s sitting room at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Build shortly after the Norman Conquest (1066-1072 CE), Peveril Castle stands out as one of the few Norman castles to be built originally in stone rather than timber. The castle fell into the hands of the crown following the civil war known as The Anarchy (1135-1153). It remained more-or-less a royal property until its decline in the 15th century.
this day in 1855, heavy snowfall hit southern Devon in the United
Kingdom. The next morning locals awoke to find a mysterious set of
footprints in the snow. The footprints were in single file in the shape
of cloven hooves, and supposedly stretched for hundreds of miles, going
through walls, houses and over water and rooftops. The single file
footprints suggested a creature on two legs rather than four, and the
cloven shape fitted with contemporary imagery of the Devil. Satan is
traditionally pictured with cloven hooves, as its image was adapted from a
pagan deity, and the wings represent Lucifer’s nature as a fallen angel.
There have been numerous theories put forward beyond the
supernatural, from escaped kangaroos, a hot air balloon dangling a
rope, to roaming badgers. It is unlikely the footprints were faked,
though their appearance did certainly benefit the Devon clergy as the
churches were filled with people terrified by the Devil. The mystery
remains unsolved to this day, but modern thinkers tend to reject the
notion that the Devil traversed across nineteenth century Devon.
this day in 1963, the first album by the Beatles, ‘Please
Please Me’, was released in the UK by Parlophone Records. The Beatles
formed in Liverpool, and made their musical start by performing concerts
in Liverpool’s Cavern Club and playing in Hamburg, Germany. The first
singles from their debut album,
‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ had been very successful, with the
latter topping the charts in the United Kingdom. The success of their
debut album was followed
up with their second UK album ‘With the Beatles’ in November 1963. The
Beatles went on to become one of the most famous music groups of their
and its members - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo
Starr - became international icons. The band’s influence continued long
break up in 1970 and endures to this day.
↳Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort of Great Britain and Ireland; Empress Consort of Hanover
“Queen Charlotte made many contributions to Britain as it is today, though the evidence is not obvious or well publicized. Her African bloodline in the British royal family is not common knowledge. Portraits of the Queen had been reduced to fiction of the Black Magi, until two art historians suggested that the definite African features of the paintings derived from actual subjects, not the minds of painters.”