A History of the Roman Empire in 21 women

Below, I give links to the Late November and early December Posts I have revised and republished. But, first, I would like to tell you about a great lecture I heard at the British Museum, this evening. It was given by Dr Emma Southon on her book about women in the Roman Empire. Her viewpoint was that a study of women in the Roman Empire gives a radically different insight into the Roman world than the traditional. One full of humanity rather than normal evidence which is, generally, about wars, and Empires and bravery and horrific cruelty and ambition and honour. She started with the story of Turia, whose extraordinary epitaph on her tombstone miraculous survived and gave her husband’s view of his extraordinary wife, and his utter sorrow at his loss on her death. Below, is a review of the book and a link to a podcast with the Author.

So, here are the December posts. December 1st and 2nd give an overview of December and the meaning of Winter. December 3rd is about Advent and the fact that you were not allowed to marry during Advent. December 4 gives a Shakespearean view of a cold winter’s day, and a composition by Vaughan Williams.

And late November posts, November 28th tells some interesting tales, both ancient and modern, about Eels, Pies, Rock ‘n’ Roll and my horror of Jellied Eels. November 29th, tells you how to make a ‘dish of snow’ and introduces Ice Houses. November 30th is about Scotland and St Andrews. Like them if you like them! And share them if you want to share them.

December 26th – Boxing Day & St Stephens Day

St Stephens, Walbrook. Unusual photo taken during building work. The part of the Church to the right is much ‘cruder’ because Christopher Wren was saving money by not ‘finishing off’ parts that could not be seen from the public thoroughfare. Photo by the Author in 2008

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

It is the Feast day of St Stephen, the day when Wrens could be hunted.. He is the first Christian Martyr and was stoned to death not long after Jesus’ apotheosis. It is the day people used to give presents (Boxes) particularly to servants and people who have helped out. Other days for presents include Dec 6th, St Nicholas’s Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Twelfth Night and any other day, Night, Eve (or Morn) you fancy.

Swedish Choir singing in St Stephen’s London – I was taking them around the City of London on a guided walk, and we happened to find St Stephen’s open, and they just fancied the acoustics.
Picture of Christmas greenery on a gift box
by Tjana Drndarski-via unsplash

In 1858 James Ewing Richie wrote about ‘Boxing Night’ in The Night Side of London. I’ve mixed it with another source to give a list of the people who came knocking at the door for the traditional Boxing Day Box.

Richie’s advice was to tie up your knocker as these people would come and knock on it:

The Sweep; Varlets playing French Horns pretending to be the Waits – The Waits were licensed musical beggars.

Then came the Turncock, the Postman, the Dustman; the Road Waterer in summer, and the Road Scrapper in Winter. After this the real Waits turned up for a musical turn. Then the Lamplighter, the Grocer’s Boy and the Butcher’s Boy.

I imagine the Knocker-upper also got a Box. My grandmother told me about the knocker-upper in Old Street in the early Twentieth Century.

Google search image 'knocker-upper', the lady at top left worked in Limehouse
Google search image ‘knocker-upper’, the lady at top left worked in Limehouse and is using a pea-shooter.

Richie says he had to give 6 people, who wished him a Happy Christmas on his way to work, half a crown each. He thought his wife would be lucky to get away with a shilling per person for the list above. His belief was that it would all do more harm than good as it would be spent on drink leading to the miseries of drunkenness.


The Great British Smog December 5th 1952

Image from Facebook

It was on this day, in 2022, that I read, in the Guardian Newspaper, that life expectancy in the UK is reducing for the first time in 200 years, (and that in parts of the UK it has gone down by 10 years during the time of austerity) it is also the anniversary of the Great Smog of 1952.

I’m tempted to say don’t read any more of this and listen to the BBC’s excellent episode of ‘Inside Science: Killer Smog’ instead (or if you cannot use BBC Sounds, then go to the link to a Podcast at the bottom of the piece) Both pieces are based on the work of Dr. Gary Fuller of King’s College, London, detailed in his book ‘Air Pollution: The Invisible Killer’.

But, if you are still with me, what happened in 1952 changed Britain forever, but Fuller makes it clear it did not change Britain enough. What happened was that a terrible smog developed which lasted for a week, beginning on Dec 5th 1952. It killed probably 12,000 people and the hospitals, the emergency services, the mortuaries, the funeral parlours had more work to do than during the Blitz or the Cholera epidemics. Higher deaths than normal were still occurring as late as January 1953,

What changed Britain was that it finally persuaded people that coal-polluted air was a killer. People had debated it since the Victorian period, but did very little about it, some even believing smoke was good for you. After 1952, it was clear what a killer smog was. In 1956, a reluctant government introduced the Clean Air Act which established zones where only smokeless fuels could be used, and other measures including dispersal of polluting industries from the towns, and taller chimneys. This eventually cleared up the problem.

Job done, or so we all thought. Dr Gary Fuller tells us that we are incapable of dealing with more than one pollution threat at a time. In 1962, another smog, created by sulphur dioxide pollution, killed perhaps 1,000 people in London. And London still has a lot of air pollution, not just from traffic fumes, and it is still killing people.

Traffic pollution in London is being dealt with more aggressively, partly as a response to a brave coroner who found that a 9-year-old girl, Ella Kissi-Debrah, died because of air pollution. (girls-death-contributed-to-by-air-pollution-coroner-rules-in-landmark-case). The London Mayor is finally addressing this issue by, first creating and then expanding, the Ultra Low Emission Zone, to encompass all the London Boroughs. This has been very controversial as it has meant many people having to sell cars that do not meet the standard. It has an unfortunate byproduce which was that it enables the unpopular Conservative Party hanging on, by the skin of their teeth, to Boris Johnson’s old constituency. Results in other by-elections and opinion polls suggested they would lose it. Since, then, the Rishi Sunak Government has gone full petrol head, rowing back on Climate Change targets in various areas.

Another front against car pollution are the Local Traffic Neighbourhoods which were set up by local authorities using COVID-19 legislation to introduce traffic reduction methods by blocking off many neighbourhood roads from through traffic. These have been fought tooth and nail by its opponents, but generally has not affected local government elections.

But much less well known are other threats. For example, there is an increasing threat from trendy wood burning stoves which are very polluting, and yet their sales are soaring as people seek ways of mitigating soaring post-Ukraine war electricity prices. Agriculture is very polluting too, with fertiliser, and manure mixing with urban pollution to create dangerous particulates. It turns out that the most polluting time of the year is not Autumn, nor Winter but Spring because of this agricultural activity.

The 1952 episode was created by a temperature inversion which kept a blanket of cold damp air over London, stopping pollutants being dispersed and blown away. What made it such a killer was that Britain, in post-war austerity (this time introduced by the Labour Party) meant that we were exporting our top grade coals and allowing domestic users to use terrible stuff called ‘nutty slack’ which was sludge, dust, and fragments of very low grade and therefore very smokey coal. 18% of the coal used was domestic, but it contributed 60% to the emissions. The fog was yellow and sulphuric, transport was halted as no one could see beyond their hands in front of their faces, and people had to leave cinemas because no one could see the screens.

Following our second (Conservative induced) austerity our systems are in collapse, ambulances, hospitals, water supplies in a terrible condition. Our water companies are pumping sewage into our rivers and seas, a vast tide of Food banks and warm spaces trying to help people in their bitter choices between eating and heating, and the Government has closed down the infrastructures that helped us through the COVID-19 crisis.

We need to stop being short-sighted, not just ‘solving’ one problem before moving onto the next. We need a fundamental revision of our systems to allow us to enjoy the last two of the four freedoms so eloquently expressed by Roosevelt (the subject of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures):

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

Air Pollution Podcast click here:

First Published on December 5th 2022, Revised and republished on December 5th 2023.


View From Edinburgh Castle
View From Edinburgh Castle

This is the Podcast for the Virtual Tour of Edinburgh

To find out or book for the Edinburgh walk and other walks this week end click here

A Virtual Tour Through The Whole Island Of Great Britain. No.5 Edinburgh

Monday 2 May 2022 7 pm

A Virtual Walk Through the Athens of the North

Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first Circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on the last stop on this first circuit we are taking a virtual tour of the most extraordinary City – Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a very unusual City as it was built on the saddle of a hill so its main street runs down the ridge of a hill and the City falls away on either side. This lack of flat land and restricted space led to the City growing upwards. This gave the City an extraordinary density and an unique atmosphere that we will be exploring.

In the Georgian period the City was extended with the addition of a new town quarter which was rationally planned and made a marked contrast on the old Town. Together it gives the Capital of Scotland, a combination of atmospheric and claustrophobic town planning with the elegance of a City that was one of the great Cities of the Enlightenment.

We will begin the virtual walk in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat at the shiny new Scottish Parliament and walk up the Royal Mile from Holyrood to Tollboth, to the Netherbow and onto the Castle at the pinnacle of the City

To Book:


Conwy Estuary from the Castle, looking towards Deganwy to the North

Monday 7th March 2022 7.00 pm

See the gateway to Snowdonia and its magnificent Medieval Castle, Town and Bridges

Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on our second stop we are taking a virtual tour of the gateway to North Wales – the delightful town of Conwy.

For a small town Conwy has everything – an absolutely magnificent Medieval Castle, a City Wall that is still intact around the entire Circuit. Some of the great feats of bridge and tunnel engineering, and a pocket sized town containing historic buildings, nice pubs, and the ‘smallest house in Great Britain.’

It is not only picturesque but was a settlement of enormous strategic importance in the invasions by the Romans and the English. And to finish the tour we will take a small excursion into Snowdonia to see what it guarded

To Book:



THURSDAY. ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON – every Thursday 6.30 PM Click here for details and how to book.



Reconstruction of Dark Age London Bridge
London in the 5th Century Reconstruction painting.

Sunday 6 February 2022 2.30pm Monument Underground

The walk explores the area around the Bridge and London Bridge’s history

London Bridge is not only an iconic part of London’s history but it is also the key to much of the History of London. On this walk we explore the area around the Bridge.

On the north side we explore evidence for the origins of the Bridge, and the early Roman Port of London. We then cross the Bridge discovering the many rebuilds and the wonder of the famous London Bridge with all its houses along it. On the south side we explore the Historic Borough of Southwark which, archaeology has revealed, is very much more than just the first suburb of London.

We range from the prehistoric finds in the River, to the excavation of the Theatres of Shakespeare’s London on Bankside.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks. The walk needs to be booked via this London Walk link. To Book:

Podcast for the Walk

London Bridge


Sunday 6 February 2022 7.30pm

The virtual version of the London Bridge Walk.

To book


This walk has finished but will be repeated next year.

Listen to Podcast

Tuesday 21st September 2021 7.30pm

Druids on Tower Hill for the Equinox
Druids on Tower Hill for the Equinox

On this walk we look at London at the Equinox, its calendars, folklore and events associated with the beginning of Autumn

The Ancient Britons divided up the year according to the major movements of the Sun and the Moon. On this tour we look at the Equinox and the various calendars associated with the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, from the prehistoric period to the present.

We walk around the City of London in search of evidence of how the celestial bodies affects our legal, financial, religious, educational, political, agricultural and human systems. We look at different calendars such as the Pagan year, the Egyptian year, the Roman year, the Christian year, the Jewish year, as well as the various secular years, and explore how they began and how they relate to each other.

On the route we examine folk traditions & customs, festivals and events. We find interesting and historic places in the City of London to link to our stories of the Equinox. We begin at Borough Market and walk over the Thames on London Bridge and explore the City of London and the calendars that have ruled it over the millennia.

To Book: