Before diesel and electric engines made sailing convenient, boats and barges had to be either rowed or pulled. In many European countries such as the Netherlands and the UK, and to some extent in France, Germany, and Belgium, horse-drawn boats were common. Horses and sometimes mules and donkeys would walk along the canal on a towpath pulling behind a small tow-boat loaded with goods or passengers. Because the cargo moves on water, friction is minimal, allowing the horse to pull fifty times as much weight as it could pull in a traditional cart on road.
A vintage English narrow boat being pulled by a horse, on the Cromford Canal, near Matlock, UK. Photo credit: david muscroft / Shutterstock.com
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In south-west England, there runs a great earthwork from the mouth of River Dee near Chester, to the estuary of River Severn near Chepstow, traversing through more than 150 miles, although the earthwork is not continuous. This is Offa’s Dyke, and for centuries it has marked the boundary between England and Wales.
Offa was the king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia during the second half of the 8th century. He controlled large swathes of land in the lowlands of Britain to the east and south-east of what was to become England, but the land to the west was divided into a number of kingdoms free from Anglo-Saxon rule. These kingdoms, ruled by the Romano-Britons—a culture that evolved after the fall of the Roman Empire—eventually become … Read the rest
This neat little box containing a pair of bellows and an assortment of pipes and other fixtures is a Tobacco Resuscitator Kit from the 18th century, approved for use and distributed by London’s Royal Humane Society, then known as Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. Tobacco was thought to have invigorating properties and the ability to soak up moisture and warm the body from the inside. Thus blowing tobacco smoke through various orifices of the human body was the recommended procedure to revive the apparently lifeless body of a drowned victim. The bellows in the kit enabled the physician or the reviver to pump tobacco smoke through the various nozzles that were ideally designed to fit into the victim’s nostrils and the … Read the rest
The Westbury White Horse carved on the hillside near Westbury in Wiltshire, England. Photo credit: tipwarm/Shutterstock.com
A large portion of Southern England is made up of chalk. This white limestone are the shells of tiny marine organisms that lived and died in the seas that once covered much of Britain some 90 million years ago. As time progressed, layers of calcium carbonate built up and got compacted into a solid layer of rock. Later, tectonic movements lifted the sea floor out of the sea and these became the magnificent downland in south of England.
Much of this chalk is hidden by a thin layer of soil and vegetation, except on the edges where the chalk is exposed to the sea, leading to such dramatic headlands as … Read the rest
For centuries, children and kindergarteners have sung and danced to the tune of London Bridge is falling down, but when engineers discovered that the London Bridge was actually falling down in the early 1900s, it was no laughing matter. The stone bridge was just over a century old, and was the busiest point in London crossed by 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles every hour. Surveyors found that the bridge was slowly sinking—about one third of a centimeter every year. When measurements were taken in 1924, they found that the bridge’s east side stood some 9 cm lower than the west side. Another four decades had passed before the City Council could arrive at a decision.
Council member Ivan Luckin suggested that instead of demolishing the … Read the rest
Driving along the M62 motorway, on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire between junctions 22 and 23, motorists are greeted with an unusual sight—a farm situated smack dab in the middle of the motorway. The two incoming carriageways of the high-speed motorway connecting the cities of Liverpool and Hull separates at this point to make room for the Stott Hall Farm. For the past half a century, the farm has become one of the best-known sights, seen by a hundred thousand people everyday as they pass by at 70 miles per hour. One motorist has driven past the farm so many times that over time he claims to have seen the entire selection of underwear of the farmer’s wife hanging out on the line.
Photo credit: … Read the rest
There was a time in Great Britain when having windows in homes and buildings were prohibitively expensive.
That time began in 1696 with the introduction of the much-despised window tax, that levied tax on property owners based on the number of windows or window-like openings the property had. The details of the tax kept changing with time, but the basic premise was that the more windows the house had, the more tax the owner had to pay.
In the eyes of the legislature the window tax was a brilliant way to put the burden of tax on the shoulder of the upper class. The rich usually had larger houses with more windows, and so were liable to pay more taxes. Poor people, on the other hand, … Read the rest
Between the 13th and the 19th centuries, the northern hemisphere was in the grip of a “Little Ice Age”. Temperatures dropped worldwide as summers became cold and wet while winters became colder, long and harsh.
In the Swiss Alps encroaching glaciers destroyed farmlands and villages. Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands froze up frequently hampering navigation. Greenland was largely cut off by sea ice for three hundred years. With failing crops, many Norse colonies in Greenland starved to death and disappeared.
While famine and death became common across Europe, people also started taking advantage of the cold weather. Frozen ponds and rivers became impromptu ice skating rinks, and outdoor winter sports became popular pastime activities.
A Frost Fair on the River Thames in … Read the rest
The Monument to the Great Fire of London that stands near the northern end of London Bridge is a pretty well known landmark. It’s a tall Doric column decorated with dragons near the base and topped with a golden orb. Its height—202 feet—corresponds to the distance from its base to the bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire started. On the inside of the hollow column is a spiraling staircase that stretches all the way to the top, and out on to a viewing platform.
Completed in 1677, the Monument was designed by the celebrated British architect Christopher Wren, and the famous scientist Robert Hooke. At that time, Wren was the Surveyor of the King's Works, and as such he was widely involved in rebuilding the … Read the rest
If you ever find yourself in Oxford, England in search of a bed for the night, you might consider booking a room at the student dorm accommodation of Christ Church College, University of Oxford for a real-life Harry Potter experience. The university not only provides accommodation over the summer months, but your stay comes with an all access pass to wander the campus, halls and gardens out of hours. Largely empty in summer, several parts of the campus feature in the Harry Potter films, including the famous dining hall, and the college even served as an inspiration to Alice in Wonderland.… Read the rest