Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer Mike Biles – A Bit About Britain – The dastardly shooting of Lorna (Doone) #History


Delighted to welcome Mike Biles, author of A Bit About Britain’s History as a guest writer until the end of the year.  This week Mike lifts the lid and reveals the truth about one of my favourite books and television series as a child..Lorna Doone…

The dastardly shooting of Lorna (Doone)

St Mary's Church, Oare, Exmoor, Somerset

The Victorian novel, “Lorna Doone – a Romance of Exmoor”, is generally assumed to be a work of fiction, set in a stunning location on the borders of Devon and Somerset and against the turbulent historical backdrop of the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Yet some believe that the author, R D Blackmore, drew upon illusive tales of real people who once lived, fought, loved and died in his beloved Exmoor. The book is seen through the eyes of honest young farmer John Ridd, and tells the story of his love for the beautiful and mysterious Lorna, whom everyone believes to be the granddaughter of Sir Ensor Doone. The Doones are a vicious, brutal, gang who terrorise the neighbourhood, robbing, murdering and extorting. John – or ‘Jan’ in West Country dialect – after many adventures eventually defeats the Doones and wins his bride. But the menacing and jealous Carver Doone is still on the loose. Seeking revenge, he makes his way to Oare church on the happy couple’s wedding day – and shoots Lorna.

Lorna Doone, Oare Church, Somerset

“It is impossible for any who have not loved as I have to conceive my joy and pride, when after ring and all was done, and the parson had blessed us, Lorna turned to look at me with her glances of subtle fun subdued by this great act.

Her eyes, which none on earth may ever equal, or compare with, told me such a depth of comfort, yet awaiting further commune, that I was almost amazed, thoroughly as I knew them. Darling eyes, the sweetest eyes, the loveliest, the most loving eyes – the sound of a shot rang through the church and those eyes were filled with death.

Lorna fell across my knees when I was going to kiss her, as the bridegroom is allowed to do, and encouraged, if he needs it; a flood of blood came out upon the yellow wood of the altar steps, and at my feet lay Lorna, trying to tell me some last message out of her faithful eyes. I lifted her up, and petted her, and coaxed her, but it was no good; the only sign of life remaining was a spirt of bright red blood.”

Oare Church, Somerset, Lorna Doone

So you can’t possibly visit Exmoor without going to St Mary’s in Oare, where this terrible and dramatic act is supposed to have happened (in the book). We were staying with our friend Paul, who generously undertook all the driving as we rattled along slender lanes at the bottom of deep combes, a couple of miles inland somewhere between Bagworthy and Countisbury. Fortunately, there was no other traffic. A red doe (a deer, a female deer…) leapt in front of us and scrabbled in panic up the wooded slope on the other side of the track. Stupidly, we’d left the decent map behind and I was trying to see where we were on an inadequate small-scale road atlas, whilst simultaneously playfully head-butting Paul’s roof. Then we were on it, an ancient diminutive stone affair on a bank above a sunken lane with a distinctive, whitewashed, porch.

Oare Church, Exmoor, Somerset

House martins had built their nest inside the ridge of the porch roof and looked down nervously as we creaked open the door. It is a peaceful, simple, church, lined with box pews. The nave is believed to be 15th century, the tower and the chancel added in the 19th century. Tiny now, at the time in which the novel was set it would have been even smaller, perhaps only accommodating a dozen or so worshippers. The window through which Carver Doone is meant to have fired his gun would have been unglazed in the 17th century. There’s a memorial to Richard Doddridge Blackmore (1825-1900) on the north wall; he is buried in Teddington. Outside, the setting was overcast, but just wonderful – and totally silent.

Oare Church on Exmoor, Lorna Doone

When we got home, I took down an old copy of “Lorna Doone”. It was amongst a collection of books that have been in the family for years, a lovely, small, red-bound thing with gilt lettering on the spine, published by Collins and with illustrations by Wilmot Lunt. There’s no date in it; I should imagine it was printed sometime in the 1920s or 30s, and doubt whether it had been opened for at least half a century. Intriguingly, there’s an unknown woman’s name written in the front – perhaps someone’s old girlfriend, long gone. In any event, not having ever read the full version, I thought I better had – particularly having visited Oare church. Besides, I wanted to know what happened – don’t you?

Lorna Doone a Romance of Exmoor, R D Blackmore, London & Glasgow, Collins clear type press

My copy of “Lorna Doone – a Romance of Exmoor” is charming. But it is also 640 pages of some of the most tortuous Victorian prose I have ever come across; RD Blackmore was certainly no Bernard Cornwell. I found myself getting incredibly frustrated on occasions with our hero, Jan Ridd, who not only seemed incapable of saying anything in one word when he had twenty at his disposal and, in so doing, in a round about kind of way, without wishing to prevaricate or obfuscate, and certainly not to overly use subordinate clauses, if you get my drift, often took a heck of a long time to get to the point. It also saddens me to say that Jan, for all his undoubted virtues, could sometimes be ponderously thick. That said, it is a great story – full of adventure, romance (of course), not without humour – and deservedly a classic. Though it’s been both filmed and televised numerous times, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a more memorable or successful movie version. David Lean could have done something with it, but now I’m thinking it’s more Spielberg – or possibly Ron Howard or Tom Hanks; definitely not Tarantino. Will you contact them, or shall I?

Oh – you still don’t know what happened, do you? If you don’t want to know the result – look away now…

For the rest of you – Jan tracked wicked Carver Doone down to the moors where they fought. Carver was beat and then got accidentally sucked into the black bog, never to be seen again. Exhausted, Jan made his way home to find that, miraculously, Lorna had survived. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Statue, Lorna Doone, DulvertonOare Church, piscina, Exmoor
© Images Mike Biles 2019

A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

One of the recent reviews for the book on Goodreads

Sep 24, 2019 Susan Swiderski rated it four stars

Like most Americans, I had a rather rudimentary education about British history, so this book seemed the perfect antidote for that particular affliction. Indeed, it did fill in some gaps nicely, and what’s more, it did so with some delightful dollops of humor, (ahem… humour…) as well.

Do you have to be a history nerd to enjoy this book? No, of course not. (But it helps.) I particularly enjoyed reading the parts about more recent history… like from WWI on. It was interesting to get a fresh perspective (i.e. Brit point of view) on parts of history I was already fairly familiar with.

I must, however, confess that I skimmed over (i.e. skipped) the lengthy time line at the end of the book. I appreciate how much research and effort the author put into compiling it, but I chose not to read it. For me, it was kinda like skipping the “begats” in the Bible, ya know? (Something tells me I probably missed out on some really good chuckles by skipping it, though…

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

Follow Mike on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles and explore his wonderful archives

Website home pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/
Blog pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/blog-2/
Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

My thanks to Mike for sharing the background and the location for this wonderful story, and I must have read an abridged version in the 1960s where Jan was given a better script…and a new film version would be wonderful..

Join Mike again next week for another glimpse into the history, people and places in Britain.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer Mike Biles – A Bit About Britain- The George Inn at Borough #Southwark #History


Delighted to welcome Mike Biles, author of A Bit About Britain’s History as a guest writer until the end of the year. This week Mike shares the history of The George Inn at Borough the only surviving galleried coaching inn to be found in London.The original pub served customers in the reign of King Henry VIII.

George Inn, Southwark, Borough, SE1, coaching inn

I wonder how many pints of ale have been supped here? Let me see: if just twenty people drank a modest 4 pints every night, that would be, er, 29,200 pints a year – 2,920,000 for every century. But the revenue generated by that amount of beer would not be enough to make the place viable. So given that there has been an inn on the present site of the George Inn since medieval times, the mind boggles at how much alcohol and food has been consumed within its precincts over the centuries.

George Inn, old London pubs, Southwark

You can play this game at hundreds of pubs throughout Britain of course. Unlike several, the George does not claim to be the oldest pub in the land, but it is the only surviving galleried coaching inn to be found in London and therefore deserves a little respect. You’ll find it in Southwark, tucked away off Borough High Street and just a few minutes from London Bridge station. During the reign of Henry VIII it was called the St George – I idly wonder if this was anything to do with the parish of St George the Martyr nearby – and was probably known to, if not frequented by, William Shakespeare. The inn was badly damaged by fire in 1669 and then destroyed in the great fire that engulfed much of this part of Southwark in 1676. It was rebuilt, apparently on the same footprint, in 1677. Coaching inns of yesteryear provided so much more than merely food and drink for the weary traveller and, at one time, the George must have been huge, a building occupying three sides of a long galleried rectangle with a central courtyard where plays were performed and a gated frontage off the High Street.

Greene King, Abbot, George, London pubs

Southwark was once well-stocked with inns and hostelries of all sorts. Until 1729, London Bridge was the only bridge across the Thames east of Kingston. Travellers from the south up the old Roman Stane and Watling Streets converged in Southwark, and if they arrived at nightfall after curfew they needed somewhere to stay before entering London the following day. Merchants heading south would cross London Bridge before curfew, to avoid morning rush-hour, sleep over in Southwark and make an early start.

Dickens wrote in The Pickwick Papers (1836):

“In the Borough especially, there still remain some half dozen old inns, which have preserved their external features unchanged, and which have escaped alike the rage for public improvement, and the encroachments of private speculation. Great, rambling, queer, old places they are, with galleries, and passages, and staircases, wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories, supposing we should ever be reduced to the lamentable necessity of inventing any, and that the world should exist long enough to exhaust the innumerable veracious legends connected with old London Bridge, and its adjacent neighbourhood on the Surrey side.”

Dickens was about to introduce his readers to the celebrated White Hart Inn, which once stood immediately to the north of the George and which was demolished in 1881. The White Hart was allegedly used as a headquarters by the 15th century rebel leader Jack Cade. Immediately to the south of the George Inn stood an even more famous inn, the Tabard, which was allegedly doing business in the early 14th century. It was from here that Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered before setting off on their journey in the 1380s:

Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne-and-twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambers and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So had I spoken with hem everychon,
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey, ther as I yow devyse.

Now it happened in that season one day,
In Southwark at the Tabard where I lay,
All ready to be on my way
To Canterbury with a very devout heart,
That there had come into that hostelry
At night some twenty-nine, a company
Of various people who by chance fell
Into fellowship, and they were all pilgrims
Who intended to ride to Canterbury.
The bedrooms and the stables were spacious
And were well accommodated in the best way.
And by the time the sun had gone to rest
I had so spoken to every one of them
That I was soon in their fellowship,
And we agreed to rise early
To make our way, as I will tell you.

The Tabard was renamed the Talbot and was demolished in 1873. Talbot Yard is next to the George Inn.

Many of the inns that once lined Borough High Street were rendered redundant by the arrival of the railway. Indeed, the Great Northern Railway Company demolished the north and east wings of the George in 1889, to make way for warehouses. Now, what remains of the place is safe in the ownership of the National Trust, who lease it out. At my last visit it served a rather pleasant Abbot Ale – I’m quite partial to Greene King – and there wasn’t a TV or slot machine in sight; perfect! So, tarry awhile amongst the wood panelling in this surviving relic of London’s past and contemplate all who have supped before you. Dickens certainly did – he mentions the George in Little Dorrit.

George Inn, Borough, historic pubs, London

I have discovered there’s a book about The George at Borough – “Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub” – looks like it could be a fascinating read and is available from Amazon. It’s by Pete Brown

© Images Mike Biles 2019

A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

My review for the book on October 31st

A wonderfully succinct but rich timeline of British History.I loved history at school and more recently I explored our own family history as part of the Oxford Gene project in 2001 and then with Ancestry DNA. Not half as interesting or entertaining as A Bit About Britain’s History. Mike Biles has succeeded in bringing every major event from the formation of the land through to the present day in an easy to read and absorb timeline. And at the back of the book you will find a very useful section summarizing those key dates and events that have forged the ethnicity, culture, religion and alliances of modern day Britain.

Clearly painstakingly researched and compiled, there is nothing dry and dusty about this book as it brings hundreds of thousands of years of history to life. There were more than a few ‘I did not know that’ moments’, and two of those were the reasons behind the name ‘Redcoats’ for British soldiers and how the Coldstream Guards got their name.

Even if history has not been one of your passions, I do recommend that you read this book as it has all the elements of a murder mystery, political thriller and action packed historical novel. Add in some humour and it will both inform and entertain you.

Whether you are British, or one of the millions around the world with British roots, this book will give you a sense of pride, in both your origins, and the incredible challenges your ancestors had to survive in order for you to be here today.

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

Follow Mike on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles

Website home pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/
Blog pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/blog-2/
Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

 My thanks to Mike for sharing the history of this ancient watering hole..

Join Mike again next week for another glimpse into the history, people and places in Britain.

Smorgasbord Book Reviews – A Bit About Britain’s History by Mike Biles.


Delighted to review the new release from Mike Biles – A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

My review for the book

A wonderfully succinct but rich timeline of British History.

I loved history at school and more recently I explored our own family history as part of the Oxford Gene project in 2001 and then with Ancestry DNA. Not half as interesting or entertaining as A Bit About Britain’s History. Mike Biles has succeeded in bringing every major event from the formation of the land through to the present day in an easy to read and absorb timeline. And at the back of the book you will find a very useful section summarizing those key dates and events that have forged the ethnicity, culture, religion and alliances of modern day Britain.

Clearly painstakingly researched and compiled, there is nothing dry and dusty about this book as it brings hundreds of thousands of years of history to life. There were more than a few ‘I did not know that’ moments’, and two of those were the reasons behind the name ‘Redcoats’ for British soldiers and how the Coldstream Guards got their name.

Even if history has not been one of your passions, I do recommend that you read this book as it has all the elements of a murder mystery, political thriller and action packed historical novel. Add in some humour and it will both inform and entertain you.

Whether you are British, or one of the millions around the world with British roots, this book will give you a sense of pride, in both your origins, and the incredible challenges your ancestors had to survive in order for you to be here today.

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

Follow Mike on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles

Website home pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/
Blog pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/blog-2/
Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

Thank you for dropping in today and  I hope you have enjoyed the review and will head over to buy and read yourself.  Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer Mike Biles – A Bit About Britain – Kipling’s House


Delighted to welcome Mike Biles, author of A Bit About Britain’s History as a guest writer until the end of the year. In his first post, Mike visits the home of author and poet Rudyard Kipling.

Bateman's, Jacobean, house, Kipling

We travelled to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s Sussex home for 34 years, through the impossibly pretty village of Burwash, all whitewash and weatherboard. You reach the house down what Kipling described as “an enlarged rabbit-hole of a lane” to arrive in what is now a car park. I wondered how it had all looked when the Kiplings first saw, and fell in love with, the place.

“At very first sight the Committee of Ways and Means (Kipling and his wife, Carrie) said: ‘That’s her! The only She! Make an honest woman of her – quick!’ We entered and felt her Spirit – her Feng Shui – to be good. We went through every room and found no shadow of ancient regrets, stifled miseries, nor any menace, though the ‘new’ end of her was three hundred years old.”

Joseph Rudyard Kipling is a controversial literary figure. Described by George Orwell as a “prophet of British imperialism”, Kipling was probably all that Orwell implied, including a racist; he was also a satirist, a master story-teller and, in my humble opinion, a fascinating egotist. Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 30th December 1865, though educated in England, Kipling was in many ways a product of the British Raj and, inevitably, a man of his time; why should he be otherwise? Judge Kipling with narrow political correctness and you are not only missing the point but also bound to come away disappointed.

The man brought us so many familiar characters – Mowgli, the man-cub, Akela, the great lone grey wolf (and scout leader), Baghera the black panther, Baloo the bear and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose – the tales of the ‘Jungle Book’ (written for his daughter, Josephine), ‘Just So Stories’, ‘Kim’ and ‘The Man Who would Be King’. Where would Walt Disney and Michael Caine be without Kipling? Then there was his poetry – ‘Gunga Din’, ‘White Man’s Burden’ and ‘If’, written for his son, John. ‘If’ was runaway winner of The Bookworm’s quest to discover the nation’s favourite poem in 1995, beating anything by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, or anyone else, hands-down.

I found, on my bookshelves, an 1897 edition of ‘Barrack Room Ballads’ that had belonged to my grandfather and a 1942 compilation, ‘Humorous Tales’ and dipped into them both. I confess to finding a portion of the work almost totally incomprehensible and Kipling’s habit of writing in an excruciatingly awful mock cockney accent when reporting some speech – notably of private soldiers and NCOs – a little irritating: “I went into a public ‘ouse to get a pint ‘o beer, The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ‘We serve no red-coats here.’ ” I wonder what he’d make of ‘East Enders’? But the imagination is astonishing, the phrases are page-turners and a rather innocent humour rubs shoulders with a desire to explain why things are the way they are.

Ruyard Kipling, study, Bateman's

If there’s romance in Kipling’s work, maybe he inherited it. He was named for Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, where his parents courted; presumably, a friend of mine had a similar idea when he called his son ‘Ford’. Kipling himself married Caroline (Carrie) Balestier, sister of a close American friend, in London in 1892 and the couple settled for awhile in Vermont. First, they rented a simple home called – I like to think appropriately – Bliss Cottage. They then built their own house, Naulakha, where ‘Jungle Book’ was written. The house is still there, and you can stay in it if you’ve a mind to – it sleeps 8 and you can take a look at it via the Landmark Trust’s website.

In 1896, circumstances brought the Kiplings, with two young daughters, to England – which they can hardly have known – first to Torquay and the following year to Rottingdean, near Brighton. Here, they rented “The Elms” (on the market for £1.45 million in May 2014), where their son was born and they were happy for awhile. But tragedy struck in 1899 when their elder daughter Josephine died, aged six, from pneumonia. They needed to escape memories and, apparently, trippers gawping at the house – Kipling was a celebrity, probably the most famous author in Britain at the time.

Bateman's, Kipling's house

So it was necessary that Bateman’s should contain no regrets or stifled miseries; it would become a sanctuary, “The very-own house” and “A good and peaceable place”, situated in a tiny corner of the Sussex Weald, the Dudwell valley, and close to a rich English heritage that often inspired Kipling’s tales. Rudyard and Carrie bought Bateman’s for £9,300 in 1902. It had no bathroom, electricity or upstairs running water. But Kipling was earning around £5,000 a year, a huge amount in those days, and could afford to dabble. Within the 33 acre estate was an old mill; Kipling had the 18th century mechanism decommissioned and a modern water turbine and generator installed to bring electric light into the house.

He enlisted the help of Sir William Willcocks, who had installed the first Aswan Dam (“a trifling affair on the Nile”), on the project. And that’s another thing about Kipling: he was extraordinarily well-connected. Stanley Baldwin, politician and three times Prime Minister, was a cousin and particular friend. Other chums included Henry James, H Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cecil Rhodes, Max Aitken and King George V. By all accounts, he loved visitors and you get a sense of this from wandering round the house. It was built in 1634 for a local ‘ironmaster’ (iron producer); iron had been worked in this part of Sussex since before the Romans came. Yet despite its antiquity, Bateman’s is stuck firmly in a time somewhere between late Victorian and the 1920s. Which is exactly right – and what you want. It was bequeathed to the National Trust on Carrie’s death in 1939, and a first-class job has been done preserving the place so that it speaks of the man and his family.

John Kipling, bedroom, Bateman's

Outside, garaged and unfortunately behind glass, is Kipling’s 1928 Rolls Royce. He loved motoring, though he never learned to drive himself. The grounds, which in Kipling’s lifetime were gradually expanded, include a delightfully aromatic herb border. We watched iridescent-blue dragonflies skim around the pond, paid for out of the Nobel Prize Kipling won in 1907. “I was just going to inspect my navy”, was Kipling’s opening to a youthful American visitor, meeting Kipling for the first time; he led his guest to the pond, where there was a 6-foot hand-cranked paddle-boat. Beyond the pond, an informal wild garden provides a riot of colour and the river Dudwell – a tiny apology for a river, really – flows gently through the estate. Inside, the house is full of treasures – genuine valuables, family paraphernalia and, like a memory of elderly relatives’ houses, fragments of old empire.

Mill, Bateman's, Kipling

One room is furnished for their son, John. Kipling was immensely influential and, after the First World War began in 1914, was delighted to write propaganda for the government in support of Britain’s war aims – one of 25 well-known authors to be invited to do so. Kipling viewed the war as a crusade against German aggression. He also used his influence, and friendship with Field Marshall Earl Roberts, to get John a commission in the Irish Guards. John, like his father hopelessly short-sighted, had already been turned down by the navy and other branches of the army. He was just 18 when he went missing at the Battle of Loos in September 1915. His parents searched for years but never found their son. He was last seen blundering myopically toward enemy lines, screaming and with his face torn. This particular episode in Kipling’s life was captured in the play, and subsequent film, “My Boy Jack” by David Haig. The film starred Haig as Kipling, Kim Cattrall as Carrie and Daniel Radcliffe as John. Lieutenant Kipling’s body was tentatively identified in 1992, but the remains may be someone else’s.

Bateman's, Kipling, Sussex

After the war, Kipling developed a close association with the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and suggested “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”, from the book of Ecclesiastes, which is inscribed on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries, and the phrase “Known Unto God”, which is inscribed on the graves of soldiers who could not be identified. He was vehemently anti-Communist and, as fascism grew in the 1920s and 30s, vehemently anti-fascist too. He continued writing at Bateman’s and died of a duodenal ulcer aged 70 on his wedding anniversary, 18th January, 1936. His ashes are interred in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Batemans is a worthwhile visit, whether you want to sense something of the man who most recently lived there, or just enjoy wandering round pleasant houses and gardens. There is humour, and sadness, there. The staff were friendly and helpful when we last went, and there is the ubiquitous National Trust shop and café – where you’d like to think they sold exceedingly good cakes.

There’s an interesting postscript: – The Kiplings’ surviving daughter, Elsie, had married Captain George Bembridge in 1924. They purchased Wimpole Hall, the largest house in Cambridgeshire, in 1938 and allegedly used the inheritance from Elsie’s father to restore the property. George died in 1943. They had no children. Elsie collected and catalogued many of her parents’ papers and, on her death in 1976, left both the property and the archive to the National Trust.

Bateman's, Kipling, front door

For more about Rudyard Kipling, you might find the Kipling Society’s website useful.

© Images Mike Biles 2019

A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

One of the recent reviews for the book

From the moment that Mr God approved the plans for a series of islands in the North Atlantic to the moment that Britain finally wore out and began to fall apart like an old teddybear, this book leads you through all of the key battles, important people and significant happenings. It’s serious, and yet it’s also funny in just enough places to keep your giggle-bone alert. It’s about Britain, so there’s a mon-u-mental amount of history to get through, but it’s about Britain, so there’s also heaps of self-deprecation to be thrown into the mix. This book will remind you of and reinforce all of those tales and facts and even dates (but not figs, there are no figs) that you heard in a million lessons in school but didn’t realise that your brain still remembered, sommewhere deep down. It’s not a “heavy” history – it’s “just enough” with a cherry on top.

The layout and formatting of this book has no errors that I tripped across. The writing style is what I would describe as “highly readable” – not hectoring, not difficult, it just works and works well, and that’s as it should be. I didn’t fall face-first over a single grammatical error or a creeping Americanism – most excellent indeed. Approachable by and suitable for all ages from “still dribbling but just in long trousers” through “know it all teenager” to “seen it all before adult” to “dribbling again old crusty with a Zimmerframe”. The only audience that this book might be unsuitable for would be the dead, but that’s just a feeling, I have no empirical evidence to offer (as yet; the local cemetery is always locked).

Did I enjoy reading it? Yes I did. I have limited bookshelf space, will I be keeping this book? Yes, it has permanent residence in my home now. Can I recommend it? More than “can”, I DO.

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

Follow Mike on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles

Website home pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/
Blog pagehttp://bitaboutbritain.com/blog-2/
Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

My thanks to Mike for a fascinating look at the life of an author whose books have played such a prominent role in our childhoods.  He would love to answer any of your questions.

Join Mike again next week for another glimpse into the history, people and places in Britain.

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New Book on the Shelves – A Bit about Britain’s History by Mike Biles


Delighted to feature the new release from Mike Biles – A Bit about Britain’s History: From a long time ago to quite recently.

About the book

Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?

A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a serious, yet light, introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now.

What did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?

Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Brief articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.

A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading

An early review for the book

Helen Devries 5.0 out of 5 stars Multum in Parvo…a super overview of the history of Britain 29 August 2019

It is accurate, it is easy to read, and its wealth of information is delivered with humour.
Thanks to good teaching and a lifelong interest I do know my history, but still enjoyed the book, which would be ideal for someone a bit hazy on who and when all the Georges were or what happened to the Druids.

The timeline section is very useful to anchor the text – though when I lived near Happisburgh for a while I had the impression that the humanoid presence of 700 to 800 BC had left living traces…

Read the reviews and buy the book in print and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23

Follow Mike on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

About Mike Biles

Mike has lived in Britain all his life and generally loves the place, warts and all. He first learned history on his dad’s knee and went on to study medieval and modern British and European history at university. He was planning on teaching it, but then drifted into a career running his own business. Despite having worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious firms, he is often at his happiest with his nose in a history book, or exploring a historic site where the past is close. Several years ago, Mike began a blog – now an increasingly authoritative website – ‘A Bit About Britain’. He had to write a bit about Britain’s history for the website, and it seemed only sensible to put the material into his first book, ‘A Bit About Britain’s History’.

Connect to Mike Biles

Website home page http://bitaboutbritain.com/
Blog page http://bitaboutbritain.com/blog-2/
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitter https://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Pinterest https://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

Thank you for dropping in today and it would be great if you could spread the news about Mike’s new book.. thanks Sally.