Digital Heritage. Town Exploration. Virtual Amsterdam

You may have been following my ramblings on my attempts to work out Amsterdam’s history from maps and tramping the streets. But you might want to find out more about the History of Amsterdam from your armchair. So, this is my exploration of virtual Amsterdam. But bear in mind the ideas here can be used in any town exploration.

But if you have only a little time, here are my best tips for exploring Amsterdam online.

First, below is a very good 15 minute introduction to Amsterdam history on YouTube.

Try this Google Earth satellite view of Amsterdam and have fun exploring! Then put your feet up and explore the Van Gogh collection in all its excellent online glory.

But if you have a little more time, lets look at the options as to how the Internet can help you discover Amsterdam.

Online Encyclopedias


Encyclopedia Britannica | Britannica –

I quite often edit Wikipedia pages when I come across entries which are out of date or wrong. The quality of information can be variable but mostly its good. And reading the Amsterdam Page, as long as you are prepared to follow up some of the hypertext links, such as to the ‘Canals of Amsterdam’ or the ‘Defence Line of Amsterdam’ you can get a good idea of the history. But Wikipedia, however great for humanity, is none-the-less aspiring to be an encyclopedia, and not either literature, travel-writing, non-fiction nor entertainment. It is certainly not a virtual tour, and it takes quite a lot of timeto get a good overview of the City and it is not really something I ever do for ‘enjoyment’.

Encyclopedia Britannica has been published exclusively online since 2016 and it is a better read than Wikipedia, less rambling and more to the point. Definitely a better starting point, but still a long read, and, again, something I can’t remember reading with pleasure.


There are a number of video lectures/talks/tours on YouTube for free and I will just mention a few – please let me know if you find anything else interesting and I will add it here.

I’ve already linked to the 15 minute ‘A Quick History of Amsterdam (That Dam Guide), which is well put together and gives a good summary. Not enough about the walls in my opinion, and probably a little too much about the major drivers of historical change and not enough about the specific details of what made Amsterdam the town. That is probably asking too much for a 15 minute introduction. And, in effect, this guide is an advert for ‘That Dam Guide’ and the author’s guided virtual tours. He does live streamed 1 hour Amsterdam Tours (none on in March) Very good production values too.

Searching for ‘Amsterdam Virtual Tour’ brings me to the: The Amsterdam Drone Tour which gives a largely drone-eye view of Amsterdam, with slightly annoying music and not enough captions to really feel you are getting to know streets, areas and districts, but it does give an interesting ‘overview’. It is 9 minutes long.

A Free Virtual Tours Amsterdam is an interesting intro to Amsterdam in two 5 minute videos. It does give you some more of, what I would call, ‘structural’ analysis of the history and development of Holland/Amsterdam. It is, to an extent, complimentary to ‘That Dam Guide’. I should not be mentioning it as the ‘Free Walks’ groups are deadly rivals to ‘London Walks’, who I do my walks for. We have a fixed fee for a professional guide, while the Free Walks say they are free but put a lot of pressure on to get customers to pay up a reasonable amount (or so we think!).

Another ‘Tips based’ guide on YouTube is Tim, who gives a 20 minute free walking tour. This one is more of a real virtual walk, as it is a filmed guided walk, with all its imperfections. But, very good in terms of authenticity.

Google Earth

This uses the Google Earth satellite view of Amsterdam, with pins marking many, but by no means all, places of interest. Each place has a little information, and often, a link to Wikipedia. Clicking on the ‘more information’ tab brings up further, and sometimes an extensive number of pictures. There is also a paper aeroplane tab, and this brings up a virtual fly-past which is fun. I was looking for a tab for the Waag, which is one of the remaining gates of old Amsterdam, but I cannot find a tab for it. Nor a search button, which hinders the usefulness of the system. But it is definitely fun!

I have just gone back to Google Earth, found the search icon on the left of the screen, overflown my house, and then searched for the Waag, which I found and here it is! Follow the link to do the fly-past.

Google Earth view of the Waag, City Gate, Dissection Theatre, and now a Restaurant.
My house, on google-earth, to the south of the Canal is a strip of Grass, I live at the extreme left of that strip of grass.
My house, on google-earth, to the south of the Canal is a strip of Grass, I live at the extreme left of that strip of grass.

I would definitely use this to explore, and, if I were to be giving a guided tour of Amsterdam I would, indeed, use it in advance to consolidate my knowledge. It has the advantage that it brings to your attention things you would otherwise not know about, and gives a really clear idea of what the place is and what its environment looks like. For example it brought to my attention the houseboat museum, which is now on my must-see bucket list, previously unknown to me.

By the way, I found the Google Earth tour on this blog: which has other interesting tips for exploring virtual Amsterdam.

Guided Walks Apps

I thought these didn’t really count as they are designed to give a smart-phone based on location walking tour and not an armchair guide. is linked to GPS and the user can either access other people’s guided walks, or create their own. I tried it out in Stratford-on-Avon and found it remarkably easy to do. You find the places you want on the tour, and the app ‘sucks in’ the data and pictures from Wikipedia. So within a few minutes you have, a credible, guided tour and a GPS route around the City. In fact, I found it most useful just for creating my own walking routes – much easier than Google, or CityMapper, Just put in the stops and soon your SmartPhone will be dictating your route to you!

But you don’t have to access it via an app, in fact, if you are not going to Amsterdam, its better to visit the web site, and you can go to this link, scroll down and you will see a map, and the text for all the stops on the tour. Quite a good introduction, although not inspired. (Its possible you might need to login but I’m not sure as I do have a login.)

Another example is izi-travel, but this provides free and paid for audio guides. Again designed for a smart-phone app to guide around the location, but it can also be accessed on a computer at home. So here is the link to the Amsterdam tour – there are several to choose from.

I would definitely use gpsmycity on tour – I didn’t because I dropped my phone in the oily bilge of my boat, and it went insane for about 2 hours, and reset a lot of my settings, and deleted a few of my apps, including gpsmycity, before deciding to stage a recovery. Izi-travel I have had loaded for several years, and never used, but now listening to it I might have used it like a radio show to introduce me to Amsterdam. I’m also wondering about making my very many guided walks into virtual guided walks on apps like this.

Museum On Line Tours

The Amsterdam Museum should be the museum I would be pointing to for a great on line tour about Amsterdam’s History but it has a temporary Web Site while it works on opening a new Museum. The web has interesting stuff on it, and has the collection online, but nothing that pulls it together like an exhibition, or really gives you much of an introduction to the history of Amsterdam which is very disappointing.

The Van Gogh Museum, by contrast, has an excellent online collection which can be seen, as if a virtual exhibition. But this is much easier for an art museum than a history museum, for two main reasons: the art works are more immediately visually appealing that many objects in Museum Collections which often require context to understand; and art collections are much smaller than history museum collections and so easier to see as a ‘tour’.


There is nothing to beat walking around a City in the real world. There is nothing, yet, that even comes close to it. Smart Phone tours offer an easy way to tour the physical city, but its difficult to find content on line which provides a really enjoyable armchair online substitute.

The way I explore a City, after finding the walls of course(!), is to read a good guide book. Then buy a good non-fiction history of the city, and search the second hand bookshops for histories/guides/maps and that very special book that noone has heard of and no one knows about which gives unique insights/information that a good guided tour needs. Finally, I try to read a famous novel set in the City, or if in need of light relief, find a local fictional detective.

Podcasts, and ChatGBT also need to be explored.

Remember, if you want more Amsterdam to explore visit here:

March 25th Feast of the Annunciation

Duccio's painting of the Archangel Gabriel bringing the news to Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Son of God.
Duccio’s The Annunciation. Egg Tempera on Wood c 1307-11

Today, is the anniversary of the conception of Jesus Christ. 9 Months before Christmas.

The picture above is by Duccio, from Sienna in Italy. It shows the Archangel Gabriel bringing Mary the news that she is to give birth to the Son of God. It is in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. I chose it to represent March 25th as it has a special meaning to me. When I suggested taking my groups to the National Gallery I was surprised to find myself agreeing to leading a tour of the Gallery. For an archaeologist to give an Art History Tour was a particular thrill. I decided the only way I could do it was to find a narrative thread to pull my tour together, and my choice was the development of perspective. I had been reading a book on the subject by David Hockney.

The painting shows that Duccio does not understand single-point perspective. But then, no one could do perspective at that time in Europe. This skill was lost following the Roman Period, but here at the beginning of the 14th Century, painters like Duccio from Sienna, and Giotto from Florence, were groping towards more realistic representation. You might say they wanted a more human depiction in which events are shown in spaces that are trying to look real, filled with more realistic looking people and beginning to show on their faces what can be interpreted as real emotions. Previously, the Byzantine style produced iconic, storytelling images, that were somewhat cartoon-like rather than realistic. Here, is an detail from one such, where there is little attempt to make the encounter seem real, in a real space between real people. But it does tell the story effectively.

The Annunciation, St Catherine's Monastery,   12th Century. showing the archangel gabriel telling Mary about the conception of jesus
The Annunciation, St Catherine’s Monastery, 12th Century.

Now, look at the Duccio, he uses the arcading at the top of the painting to give an impression of this being an encounter in a real space, and the Archangel Gabriel is moving through that space decisively. This is not just a picture with a story, this shows Duccio’s interest in capturing a fleeting but incredibly emotional moment. It happens to be the most important moment in the history of the world (from a Christian view point), the moment that the son of God is conceived as a human.

Gabriel is striding towards Mary, who has come out of her house to see him. He is just telling her ‘Hey, you are going to give birth to the Son of God.’ She looks overwhelmed, holding her arm protectively towards her. ‘What me?’ she might be saying but is also pointing at the Bible where this moment in time is predicted by Isaiah. Their faces are rounded, and realistic, Mary is clearly emotional. Also if you look at Gabriel’s feet he is quite well grounded unlike many other medieval paintings, where people often seem to be floating above the ground. Mary, too is firmly, anchored, although you cannot see her feet. It’s by no means ‘perfect’ because they don’t know the rules of perspective, not yet have discovered they could use lenses to develop the ability to do photorealistic portraits but they are searching for methods that can bring spaces and people towards realistic life. It mirrors a humanistic trend to see Mary not as sort of Goddess, but as a real mother.

Above the arcading can be seen a small sphere of blue sky from which emanates several ‘rays’ and a tiny Holy Dove. As I told the story, the rays are showing the moment of conception coming from Heaven to her womb which is hinted at by the red of her dress. The National Gallery commentary, which you can read here, suggests ‘The conception takes place at the moment she hears the words, which is why a tiny white dove, representing the Holy Ghost, flies towards her ear‘. This made me stop and think – the tiny dove is heading to her ear is it? Really? Why? Gabriel is the messenger saying the words, the words head to the ear. The Holy Dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Its role, in the painting, is to show that God is the Father. So why, would the Holy Spirit enter by the ear?

I have been using a ruler to try to see if the National Gallery are right! It’s difficult to be sure with a reproduction. but my ruler says the rays from Heaven are neither heading to the ear not directly to the womb but in the general direction of her body. If they are right that the rays from heaven are heading for her ear, then is this rather the moment she is being told she will conceive rather than the moment of conception?

But the National Gallery text accepts that it is the moment of conception that is shown. So, I’ve looked at Luke 1:26-38:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

On first reading he is telling her she will conceive, but reading it more carefully he is saying ‘now, you will conceive’. So Duccio is paying very careful attention to the Gospel and by the time Gabriel finishes his sentence she will have been impregnated by the Holy Dove.

Looking at other paintings of the Annunciation the rays from heaven/Holy Ghost head generally towards the virgin, sometimes to her head, nothing suggesting the ear. I’ve included a 19th Century Rossetti painting because it is so beautiful. It shows a lilly representing purity, instead of the rays, pointing to Mary’s womb.

By the way look at the feet in Rossetti’s painting. This is an early Rossetti painting, who was poet and I don’t think he yet had the skills to ground feet, but he takes advantage of it in this case and disguises his ineptitude by giving Gabriel fiery feet. Subsequently, Rossetti concentrated on paintings of women from the waist up. Since, first writing this, I have visited an exhibition of Rosetti’s drawings, and they show a very capable draughtsman. For more on March 25th. This page shows that, in fact, from a Christian perspective, March 25th is the most important day in history.

Veronese ‘The Annunciation’
The Annunciation by Rossetti originally known as Ecce Ancilla Domini! 1849 - 1850
The Annunciation by Rossetti originally known as Ecce Ancilla Domini! 1849 – 1850

Town Exploration Amsterdam 3 Making sense of the Canals & Defenses

Plan of Amsterdam Wall Circuit

So, I have built up a story of a Medieval City Wall of Amsterdam with a moat around it and the Amstell flowing through the middle. In the 17th Century the defenses are developed and a set of concentric canals are built.

You can see the details in the schematic plan above. Defensive circuit around the outside, concentric circles of canals inside. The first doubt came to my mind when the pilot of the tourist boat we took around the canals said the concentric rings were built up outwards progressively from the 13th Century onwards.

So, this must mean the original circuit was small and the later circuits expanded the size of the City. Just have a look at a modern plan for a moment.

City plan

Therefore, the medieval circuit was the inner concentric ring and the latest 17th Century circuit was the outer ring. So at least two different defensive perimeters. Let’s look back at the earliest plan of Amsterdam.

The oldest view of Amsterdam by Cornelius Antonisz 1538

This shows the City wall, the port on the seafront at the bottom of the painting with the River Amstel running through the middle of the City, and canals running parallel. There is a moot running outside the wall circuit. This moat is not, as I previously thought, the outer circuit as shown on the modern plan, or on the grey plaque. It is, in fact, the inner circuit. I’ve just looked it up and the moat is called the Singel, originally called the Stedegracht (“City Canal”).

Look at the Google map. The inner blue circuit is the Singel, the original moat and medieval defensive wall. The word Amsterdam is written above where the Singel meets the Amstell. The outer circuit is the 17th Century defensive circuit. You’ll see the icon of Rijksmuseum on this outer canal.

Google Map of the Hiatoric Centre 0f Amsterdarm
Google Map of the Hiatoric Centre 0f Amsterdarm

Now, a bit of research shows that the Pilot on the boat was repeating an old tale that the canals were progressively expanded from the medieval period onwards. He suggested that as Amsterdam grew it built itself another circuit of canals. But wikipedia assures me this is wrong. What happened was that Amsterdam became so overcrowded in the 17th Century that the authorities had to do something and what they decided to do was to enlarge the City and built a grid of concentric canals linked by linear canals, with an outer circuit of defensive bastions. surrounded by a final concentric canal. The main engine of development was commercial success followed by massive immigration. Its an amazing story of foresight. It meant that Amsterdam’s merchants could all enjoy direct access to goods coming by river and sea, or to shipping if they were exporting.

Each merchant had a tall thin warehouse/workshop of 5 to 7 stories high with a gable with a pole built into it for a pulley to lift goods up from the barges moored outside the merchants house. These houses are mostly of brick although the richest have the trappings of classical columns, and staircases leading up to the first floor. And Amsterdam also had the foresight to keep these merchants houses, and not knock them down. So a large percentage of the centrum of the City is still made up of these brick merchants houses. In the prestigious areas they are banks and offices, elsewhere shops, and houses.

This is a defensive tower on the medieval circuit

Defensive tower on the Medieval Defensive Circuit
Defensive tower on the Medieval Defensive Circuit

I’m not sure if this insight into my working process is enjoyable or not. Its something I have always done because for many years I have enjoyed leading guided walks, and cultural study tours around historic towns in the UK and Europe. In order to feel confident about the tour I have to feel I know the City, and how it articulates, and developed through time. Often it isn’t just a case of reading a guide book or wikipedia. It needs quite a lot of work to understand what is happening are what are the structural elements that led to the City as we see it today. I doubt for example, I would have realised that the Pilot was wrong, had I not had an image of the 16th Century City in my mind to compare with what he was saying.

Another 16th Century view of the original core of the town (by Cornelis Antonisz
Another 16th Century view of the original core of the town (by Cornelis Antonisz

Town Exploration Amsterdam 2 Finding the Walls!

Amsterdam City Wall photo K. Flude

Oh! A glorious find! As I said yesterday, I wasn’t sure there was going to be a wall.  But I headed towards the outer of the concentric rings of canals, thinking this is where a defense would be.  I almost went straight to the centre but decided I had to give it a try so walked around the inner side of the outer canal.  And almost immediately I found this slab of ruin.

The Wall!  I thought but was it?  And there was a panel with a plan.

Plan of Amsterdam Wall Circuit

The panel links to this Dutch language site which seems to say in 1663 Amsterdam was given a 5 metre high City Wall.  It talks about 5 sided ‘bolwerken’ which are bastions designed to withstand cannon fire.  And this bit of the wall is near the Osdorp bolwerk.

I then met my daughter and we went to the Rembrandt House which was interesting but very heavily reconstructed and in part difficult to know what was original and what a reconstruction.

Rembrandt House, Amsterdam. Photo K.Flude

In the display was a Rembrandt Etching which features a section of the City Wall and a Windmill.  It is dated to 1641 and so it suggests the 1663 date is for the bolwerken not the wall circuit as such.

The Windmill Rembrandt 1641

The mill was called the Little Stink Mill because it was used in the smelly process of making chamois leather.

There was a plan of the city in Rembrandt’s day but difficult to photo. Our next stop was the Amsterdam Museum which I had insisted we visited to find out information about the history of the City

The oldest view of Amsterdam by Cornelius Antonisz 1538

This shows the City wall with bastions, the port on the seafront at the bottom of the painting with the River Amstel running through the middle of the City, and canals running parallel. There is a moat running outside the wall circuit. What is missing is the concentric ring of canals which now exist inside the wall circuit.

Just to remind you of the current city plan.

City plan

This needs to be turned upside down to match the 16th Century view. A panel in the museum’s notes that Amsterdam is first documented in the late Thirteenth Century. The Protestant Netherlands broke away from the Catholic Hapsburghs in the 16th Century. I’m guessing the walls were built in the late 15th or early 16th Century as the one section I’ve seen is of brick.

So, now I’ve been doing a little research after returning from a visit to the sobering Anne Frank Museum – please remember to challenge prejudice whenever it raises its ugly head. Amsterdam was able to develop into a major town, when a flood turned the shallow river Ij into a wide waterway that linked the Amstel River to the Zuiderzee and the Ijessel in the 12th Century. This gave access to the sea and to the Rhine. It allowed the draining of the banks of the Amstel and with the building of a dam, gave birth to Amsterdam, the Dam on the River Amstel,

In the medieval period the walls were built and bastions added in the 17th Century. In the 17th Century the concentric canal circuits were built and every area given its canal frontage. Virtually all the buildings on the canals have bars protruding from the gable from which to mount a pulley to transfer goods from barge to warehouse, or vice versa,

Between 1880 and 1920 an amazing new defensive circuit was constructed around Amsterdam, which depended up a shallow flooding of the land. But it soon became obelete but is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Oh, and to add to what I said, yesterday, the world’s first Stock Exchange was built in Amsterdam in 1602, the same year the Dutch East India company was founded.

It’s a great City, with lots to enjoy, Big enough to be exciting, small enough to be manageable. Full of cyclists on tall upright bikes, chatting to each other as they cycle. I have seen a lot of cyclists riding with their hands in their pockets or holding an umbrella, and it is the first City I have been terrified of crossing the road because of the bikes who seem to ignore pedestrians and expect them to get out of the way; and the trams that hurtle along.

Old Moore’s Almanac, January 12th

ebay advert screenshot for Old Moore's Almanac 2024
eBay advert screenshot for Old Moore’s Almanac 2024

This week I received my copy of Old Moore’s Almanac. This is probably the best known Almanac in the Uk. It follows the format of Alamancs which have been published since the medieval period as I discussed in an earlier post about the Kalendar of Shepherds of the 15th Century. Almanacs became the third most popular book published in London.

Old Moore’s, which claims ancestry back to 1697, begins with a large tranche of predictions both for the world and for celebrities, based on astrology. 2024, Frances Moore says, is the ‘Year of Hope’. He says, ‘we may have a good time, [but] a severe money problem from elsewhere may surface to worry us’. Hedging his bets or what?!

He predicts astonishing advances in technology, and thinks that Britain is in a good place to profit from these advances in healthcare, IT, and Robotics.

We need good, old-fashioned leadership to get through challenging times, with Pluto in Aquarius and Saturn through Pisces, we should be steered to ‘safe management.’

Wokery will lead us down a spiral to weakness. However, the Tories will remain disorganised with the country receptive to caring Socialism, with an upsurge in local power. The UK will become a more caring society.

Old Moore hints that Putin might be indicted. The US will have deep financial and social problems. The election might be close, but he also suggests Trump’s support might be on the wane.

There is a page for each month, noting the calendar events such as Epiphany, Burns Night, Australia Day, and other days filled with very random notable events chosen to represent that day through history- 2nd Jan Conquest of Granada 1462. 9th Jan Duchess of Cambridge b. 1982, 13th Jan Trump impeached 2021 etc. It also gives a forecast for the Month. January is likely to see constitutional change, Old Moore predicts which seems very unlikely.

Next are columns for Sun rise and set, high water at London Bridge, moon at London. And a weather column. (Early cold spell followed by normal rainy pattern), which isn’t wrong yet.

It has pages of predictions for celebrities such as King Charles III, which suggests ‘communication problems’ in the family. Who could have guessed that! Anton Du Beke, Adele. Zelenskyy, whose entry suggests success will be achieved only by diplomacy; otherwise the stubbornness predicted by the stars will lead to a long stalemate.

Then there are charts for each star sign. Towards the back are astrological help for winning on Horse Racing, Greyhound Racing, Football pools, Bingo, Lottery, Lucky Lotto, Euro Millions and pages for sowing and planting times for gardening by the moon, and a Guide for Anglers.

£5.41 good value, or is it just cheap? It was £3.50 in 2022.

Town Exploration Amsterdam 1

The Canals of Amsterdam

I’ve relieved of the necessity to search for the Town Walls of Amsterdam without prior research by the fact that I am here to see my daughter who has recently broken her ankle, so she has an excuse for refusing to go on forced forced marches around the City.

I haven’t yet had a good look at a map, but the pattern of Canals circuling the centre is amazing and it seems possible there was no need for walls, when the centre is protected by so many rings of water.

I don’t know much about Amsterdam, but it reminds me of the surprising fact that Holland was a major power in the 17th/18th Century. I discovered this on a visit to Kerala in India where I realised that Portugal had a vast empire which was largely taken over by the Dutch in the 17th Century and then taken over by the British in the 18th Century.

It was one of the major pivots in world history. These three countries were small peripheral seafaring nations of no great importance in Europe until the Age of Discovery. Portugal set up trading systems (perhaps rather systems of exploitation) first down the coast of Africa and then to India and beyond. The Dutch then took over the trading stations and took control of the spice routes. Then the British took over.

Previously the spice routes from the East came through Egypt, Greece, Rome, Carthage and later the Ottoman and the Venetian Empires. This made the Mediterranean the richest place in Europe, both north and southern coasts.

The new ocean routes led to a major shift in power from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, leading to the current situation where the Mediterranean is no longer the centre of the world. Greece, Southern Italy, North Africa now under performing economies. A Roman would find this hard to believe.

Portugal, then Holland followed by Britain rose to the status of world power which would, itself, have been inconceivable before the 16th Century.

Holland was in the perfect geographic position astride the trade routes that lead to the heart of Europe. The entry point was the major river systems around the Rhine/Danube axis including the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Waal, and the Amstel. Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam developed from regional trading towns to global Cities. They spawned a self confident set of merchants who set the foundations of modern capitalism with foundations in spices and slaves.

Central to this was the Dutch East India Company. The first organisation in Europe where an investor only risked their investment rather than the shirt off their back in the event of bankruptcy. This let the shackles off investment, took money out of gold in the bank vaults and multiplied it around the economy.

But not only did it take away the risks of the consequences of investment the Dutch East India Company, set up in Amsterdam in 1602, was given quasi state power, with the ability to fight wars and impose laws on subject populations. This template was copied by the British East India Company which conquered and ran India, setting the seal for the British Empire and Capitalism.

Digital Heritage and the Wayback Machine

360 degree Image of the Herb Garret (4th December 2000) at the Old Operating Theatre Museum. Click on the VR label to go full screen, and use the mouse to navigate.

Digital Heritage Is a subject I had a very early interest in.  My, very minor claim to fame, is that I set up the Museum of London’s and the Victoria and Albert’s first computer systems. I then co-authored one of the earliest hyperlinked digital histories (on the history of London), and set up the first web sites for various museums and organisations such as the Old Operating Theatre Museum, Brunel Engine House, Garden History Museum, Royal Bethlem Museum etc..

But that was a long time ago so long that most of the Museums have changed their names! Despite the desire to do so, I have not had the time to keep up with developments.

So, I’m going to spend a little time investigating online heritage sites, and at the same time, maybe, look back at my part in the history of digital heritage.

Firstly, the principles of the study. Early on I came to the conclusion that the Internet should allow access to Museums for all those people who could not afford, or did not have the time, to visit in person. So, I’m looking for online/virtual visits that have something about them almost as good as a physical visit. Secondly, I’m looking for online exhibitions that provide an enjoyable experience that works in a similar way to a real exhibition. This means for me that the technology does not get in the way, and is not too complex to access and use. I also have an interested in digital guided walking tours.

I must admit that 40 years after I began to see the potential in digital I rarely see virtual visits or exhibitions that I want to spend time with. When I use websites for data and information, which I do all the time. I search, I find, I read but I don’t often linger for pleasure and. I rarely go back.

Yes we have Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and the Metaverse, but they don’t really impact positively on my experience of heritage, history and museums. This might well be because I haven’t looked very hard, or spent much time on the subject in recent years, or because I don’t enjoy digital experiences that much, But, I’m going to have a good look around to see what is on offer, and I hope you will join me.

My starting point is the Old Operating Theatre Museum web site. I was in charge of the Museum for 30 years from the mid 80s onwards. In the early days of my management of the Museum I set up a very early web site designed to give those who could not visit a real idea of the Museum. This was achieved by the usual set of information pages but also with 360 degree annotated panoramic photos of the museum spaces linked together. This gave a simple and informative tour of the museum. which was easy to use, did not take long to see and did not depend on complicated technology on the part of the user. Later we added an online database of the collection to give access to the collection.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine – which is an amazing internet archive, no the internet archive, which archives old web sites, I have been able to retrieve a version of the site, dated to 2000AD so you can have a look at it. As you will see below it is very wordy but I think a really nice design by Highway 57 and Chris Sansom, who is also a composer, and now heading up an innovative jazz band called ‘Perfect Stranger’ .

Unfortunately, good though the Wayback Machine might be it does not have the technology to show the 360degree panoramas. So to get an idea of how they worked please have a look at the image at the top of the page, and imagine the addition of ‘hotspots’ which you could click to see further information or click through to the next panoramic view. Please note this is the second iteration of the site and so far I have been unable to find my original self-designed site.

Early web site of The Old Operating Theatre Museum - in 2000, retrieved from the Wayback Machine
The Old Operating Theatre Museum – in 2000, retrieved from the Wayback Machine

So, I think the interactive tour of the museum gave a pretty good, simple and enjoyable tour of the Museum. I should say that the Old Operating Theatre Museum is one of the most amazing Museums. It is in the roof space of a Church and was a store for herbal medicines, and an operating theatre/emergency room for female surgical patients used before anaesthesia and antiseptic surgery.

Its now 23 years later. The website has been completely redesigned since I left, and it opens with a very good video that gives an excellent introduction to the museum. Click on the link to have a look at the video on the home page @

Inside the website is a huge amount of information, some very good videos, there is a ‘virtual tour’ which does not work on my browser for some reason, interactive games and a clickable image to explore the Old Operating Theatre itself. Its use of media is much, much better than in the 2000s, and the information is composed now into interesting stories rather than dry information. So a pretty good job of putting the Museum’s stories to the public in an engaging way. I would say however, that perhaps it was a little easier to find out the basic information about the Museum, the Operating Theatre, and the Herb Garret before than it now is. But you can ignore that as my vanity.

I have chosen one of the stories to include here and this is an object that I bought at an auction for the Museum. I remember the excitement well, and the great interest in the medicines that were included in the medical chest.

March 8th International Women’s Day

The Harper Road Burial Southwark a photo of a skeleton in a museum case with grave goods.
The Harper Road Burial Southwark (museum of London web site)

I’ve had a draft of a piece on he Harper Road Burial awaiting a suitable occasion to publish it. And today, International Women’s Day is, perhaps, that occasion. International Women’s Day began, as an idea within Socialist organisations in 1909/1910. Following the February Revolution in Russia and women gaining the vote, March 8th was chosen as the day to celebrate. The wider feminist movement adopted it in the 1960’s followed by the UN in 1977; since when it has been a day to celebrate women’s achievements and campaigns.

The Soviet Union 1949 CPA 1368 stamp (International Women’s Day, March 8. (Wikipedia)

My post was about the Harper’s Road burial, which came up in Dominic Perring’s new book ‘London in the Roman World.’ He uses it to establish that Southwark was a place where people lived both before and after the Roman Conquest in 43AD. The burial was found in the 1970s’ dated to 50 – 70 AD but recent scientific analysis has shown that the burial was of a woman (21 – 38 years of age) with brown eyes and black hair who was brought up in Britain. She was of some wealth by her grave goods. She had both imported Roman pottery and British made objects: a bronze necklace (a torc possibly of Catevalaunian or Trinovantian origin) and a mirror. Dr Rebecca Redfern & Michael Marshall (Human Osteology Curator & Museum of London Archaeology) on the Museum of London’s website make a case for her being: a ‘Powerful women in late Iron Age London’. It’s well worth reading. They make a case for the mirror being ‘used by women for divination and magic, and were a source of knowledge that only women could command. Being able to use and read the mirror meant that the woman was highly regarded by her community.’

Iron age burials are often found either with a sword or a mirror and the thinking is that the mirror reflects an equivalent status to a sword. I think we can say that the finds do reflect someone of standing, but as to the use of the mirror that must be speculation. Divination using a mirror is called ‘scrying’ and the British Museum has John Dee’s scrying apparatus. You can buy scrying mirrors on etsy.

Melanie Giles & Jody Joy in ‘Mirrors in the British Iron Age: performance, revelation and power published in 2007 (and available to read here) conclude:

‘Iron Age mirrors, whether made of iron or bronze were beautiful,  powerful, and potentially terrifying or dangerous objects. They were used in the  preparation and presentation of the body and prestigious displays, but may also have been associated with powers of augury and insight into the past, or access to ancestral or spiritual worlds.’

The evidence we have for iron communities is for a powerful role for women in contrast to the Romans. The Romans dismissed women when they wrote that Boudicca was ‘uncommonly intelligent for a women’. In fact, she nearly forced the Romans to abandon their conquest of Britain. We also know that Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes had executive power in the North of Britain. The Britons also worshipped the three Mother Goddesses, which focussed on the value of woman as maidens, mothers, and grand-mothers.

A book to order today is ‘Patriarchs’ in which Angela Saini investigates when the Patriarchy took over. I heard her talk about it and it seems an excellent summary.