The Original Foley Artists – The View from the Junkyard

busterkeatonSome new Windows into History content is now being posted on our sister site, The View from the Junkyard, eventually forming one integrated site.  This is an ad free site, so will provide you with a more comfortable reading experience.  Please click across for today’s new article about the silent film era.

Until the late 1920s films were all silent, with musical accompaniment generally provided live by a pianist. You might have seen clips of silent films with some very clichéd music playing on a hideous honky-tonk piano, such as Mysterioso Pizzicato (The Villain’s Theme). You will know that piece of music whether you think you do or not. However, that cliché is a very distorted view of the art of the silent cinema pianist. […]

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Pliny’s UFO – The View from the Junkyard

meteorSome new Windows into History content is now being posted on our sister site, The View from the Junkyard, eventually forming one integrated site.  This is an ad free site, so will provide you with a more comfortable reading experience.  Please click across for today’s new article about a possible UFO sighting mentioned by Pliny.

Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia is a fascinating piece of work, displaying an understanding of the world that seems remarkably ahead of its time. The first book concerns what we could broadly term astronomy. I recommend reading the whole text, but I am going to focus here on chapter 35, which has been picked up by UFOlogists as possible evidence for a sighting in 76BC […]

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Windows into History Signed Copy

A limited number of signed copies of Windows into History are now available for UK postage.

For further details please follow the link below to our sister site:

Windows into History – Signed Copies

Travel journals offer us a window into the past. They free us from the interpretations and opinions of modern historians and offer us eye-witness accounts, from the perspective of a visitor to a foreign land.

The big events in history often had an impact on what tourists found when they arrived at their destination, but they were seldom the focus of their writing. Instead, they have left us with a snapshot of everyday life: the rich and the poor, the towns and the countryside, the behaviour and the misbehaviour. It is probably the closest we will ever come to travelling back into the past to find out what life was like. These old journals do not deserve to be forgotten; they are the key to our own history.

This is a detailed exploration of ten travel journals from the 19th Century, covering much of the globe. Explore a journey further along the Nile than anyone had ever been before, and read a fascinating unpublished journal. Some amazing journeys await…

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The UFO Baptism – The View from the Junkyard

baptismofchristSome new Windows into History content is now being posted on our sister site, The View from the Junkyard, eventually forming one integrated site.  This is an ad free site, so will provide you with a more comfortable reading experience.  Please click across for today’s new article about an alleged representation of a UFO in art.

My article about UFOs in Rome provoked an interesting discussion among my friends, and I am indebted to one of them for sending me this image… It was sent as an example of the possibility of UFOs in art, and I’m sorry but what follows is going to have to be a hatchet job on that line of thinking. When I see something that looks strange, I always want to dig deeper […]

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UFOs in Rome – The View from the Junkyard

Photo by Davi Pimentel on <a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo/colosseum-rome-italy-2064827/"Some new Windows into History content is now being posted on our sister site, The View from the Junkyard, eventually forming one integrated site.  This is an ad free site, so will provide you with a more comfortable reading experience.  Please click across for today’s new article about arguably one of the first ever UFO sightings.

When you look at lists of UFO sightings through history, one of the events that makes the list is recorded in Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (The History of Rome), and took place in 218BC.  You tend to just see the quote in isolation, and here it is […]

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The Film Rights War

New Windows into History content will gradually start to appear on our sister site from now on, The View from the Junkyard, eventually forming one integrated site.  This is an add free site, so will provide you with a more comfortable reading experience.  Please click across for today’s new article about a significant moment in the early days of cinema.

In the very early days of cinema there was nothing in the way of regulations to protect the interests of the film-makers. As cinema became more and more popular, this became an increasing problem. Films were sold to theatres to be shown, and from that point onwards the film-makers had lost control of their work […]

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The Gloucester Miser

Jemmy Wood by George RoweSnippets 214. 184 years ago today, the “richest commoner” in Britain died.  James (Jemmy) Wood made his money in banking, and had wealth of around £900,000.  Calculating the value of that money in today’s terms is notoriously difficult, and depending on the way you calculate it you will probably find results varying from £80 million to £4 billion.  In terms of his status as the richest man outside of the aristocracy, the latter figure doesn’t look unreasonable.  He was also notoriously frugal, earning himself the nickname “The Gloucester Miser”.  The following quote is from The Book of Days (1864) by Robert Chambers, one of the great pioneers of the trivia book.

This wealthy and most extraordinary individual died on the 20th of April 1836, having attained the age of eighty years. ‘Jemmy Wood’ – for by such name he was usually recognised – was the sole proprietor of the old Gloucester Bank, which had been established by his grandfather in the year 1716, being one of those primitive banking concerns which took their rise in a shop business, and of which, perhaps, hardly one example now survives. Wood’s bank was conducted to the last by the proprietor and two or three clerks, at the end of a common chandlery shop, which they also attended to. Wood was latterly considered as the richest commoner in the kingdom. His habits were those of a thrifty old bachelor. In the bank or shop his whole time was passed: he went to no one’s house, and never invited any person to his. It was his habit on Sundays to go to church regularly, eat his dinner on his return, and then take a short walk into the country. He left several wills of a conflicting character, and, as a matter of course, these documents caused litigation, and gave employment to lawyers and attorneys for years.

Many anecdotes illustrating his penuriousness are told; amongst others the following: One Sunday before leaving his house to proceed to church, he gave to a little boy, who acted as his servant, a chicken, which he intended to be roasted for dinner. The cooking process commenced; and as the bird was turned and basted, the savoury steam which it gave forth sharpened the boy’s appetite, and he ventured to rub his finger on the breast, which was being gradually browned, and apply his finger to his mouth. The taste was delicious! He became bolder, and picked away a morsel of the breast of the bird; then another; other bits followed, until none of the breast remained. Hunger was gnawing at the boy’s heart, and he could not resist temptation; so the whole chicken speedily disappeared. His hunger now appeased, he saw his fault, and, trembling at the prospect of meeting his thrifty master, like most little boys after doing wrong, he thought of hiding. On entering a closet adjoining the room, his eye fell on a small bottle, having on it a label with the awful word ‘poison’ in legible characters. He feared death much, but his master still more, and in a minute he resolved to end his days; accordingly, he drained the bottle, and was, as he thought, safe from his master’s rage. In a short time, the old banker appeared on the scene, resolved to enjoy his chicken and glass of brandy and water. Great was his astonishment to see the spit empty, and find the boy away. On making a search he found the latter lying on the pantry floor with the empty bottle, which quickly brought before his mind a solution of the mystery. The boy was drunk, for the bottle contained old Wood’s brandy, which was marked ‘poison,’ to guard it from the possibility of being touched by the servants. What the old gentleman did with the lad is not recorded.


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Life of a Fern Hunter

brazilSnippets 213. The following quote is taken from Over the Sea and Far Away, by Thomas Woodbine Hinchcliff, published in 1876:

Of all regions that I have as yet seen in the world there is nothing comparable to this Brazilian hill country, as a field for the fern-hunter… to the last day of our three months’ sojourn, I believe we never once went into the woods without finding some hitherto unnoticed treasure, and there would be work for several months more before any one could pretend to have exhausted all the haunts within easy reach.

No sportsman ever enjoyed the pursuit of game more thoroughly than we enjoyed our daily fern-hunts. Armed with our tin vasculums, we used to scramble up any convenient bank and push our way as best we could through the jungle and up into the dark depths of the forest. I suppose we ought properly to have been afraid of snakes, tarantulas, jiggers, and all kinds of noxious insects, which were certainly there, but no notion of the kind ever checked us in our favourite pursuit. What true lover of it would allow himself to be stopped by anything short of a Bengal tiger, when he has good reason to expect fresh discoveries at every step? Strong hobnailed boots that had been christened on the Alps were, however, absolutely necessary on the wet and slippery slopes where a dense vegetation often prevented us from seeing our footing, and where we were sometimes startled by putting a leg up to the knee in the rotten trunk of a fallen and invisible monarch of the forest. Then we divided the ground between us, occasionally shouting to each other, partly with a view to prevent losing ourselves entirely and partly to announce a new and precious “find.”…

In these scrambles and tusslings in the forests it was often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to avoid a tumble among the trailing plants which were generally ready to trip up our feet; and we used to present a very shabby appearance when, dishevelled, covered with moss, and bathed in perspiration, we emerged upon the paths of daylight, and had the intense pleasure of sitting down to compare discoveries under the soothing influence of the pipe of tranquillity.

Thomas Woodbine Hinchcliff was a mountaineer, explorer and travel writer, who served as President of the London-based Alpine Club, the first mountaineering club in the world, between 1875 and 1877. During that time Over the Sea and Far Away was published, one of several travel journals Hinchcliff wrote.

19th Century Travel journals are fascinating “windows into history”.  If this quote has sparked your interest in this area of history, you might like to consider reading about my recently published book on the subject: Windows into History – The Book


If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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A Love of Adventure

Cecil Lowther

Guest Post 17. In the last half of the 19th century, if your surname was Lowther and you were male, you were most likely to be well-off, or even rich. The most famous Lowther, Hugh Cecil Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, was rich beyond most people’s wildest dreams. His wealth was based on coal. The Lowthers, as well as being “hunting shooting and fishing” men were keen sportsmen. Lord Lonsdale was famous for his support for many sports.

Henry Cecil Lowther, known always as Cecil, was a cousin of Lord Lonsdale and the fourth son of William Lowther. He was to have a successful army career as an officer in the Scots Guards, finishing as a Major-General. Born in 1869, he was commissioned in 1888. To be an officer in the Scots Guards you had to be tall and well-built and have a decent private income. He was also a keen sportsman and a very good footballer. He was so good a player that, had he been born a hundred years later he might have become a professional soccer player. Before he joined the army, he was sent out to a brother’s ranch in Montana to help with the cattle round-up and incidentally expand his education in the tougher ways of the world – which it certainly did.

…for younger sons of noble families who possessed few skills other than riding and shooting, and titled first sons who sensed their British fortunes slipping away, raising cattle along the Rocky Mountain front seemed to offer an irresistible mix of pleasure and profit.¹

Cecil as a teenage cowboy

In Montana you could buy 160 acres and secure a house, corrals and water. Cattle could be driven up from Texas and then allowed to range free on the newly opened land on what was known as free-range. The fattened cattle would then be sold at substantial profit in the East. Cecil Lowther found himself working hard in a different world to that which he had been accustomed. It served him well and he began to write down his experiences.

Young Cecil soon had an introduction to raw life in the West. A few days before he arrived at his destination, Billings, Montana, a tramp had killed a bar-keeper. Not trusting local law some residents set up a lynch party and broke the killer out of gaol and hanged him from a telegraph post. The local photographer duly took a photo of the hanged man, but some days later a number of the lynch party visited the photographer and made him destroy the negative,

…for, said they, it was a disgrace to a rising town such as theirs that a man should be hanged with the knot under the wrong ear…²

For some reason Cecil Lowther retained a copy of the gruesome photograph among his souvenirs and he confirmed that, sure enough, the knot of the rope was beneath the right ear and not the left one. In a few weeks as a junior hand on the wide spaces of Montana he learned much about horsemanship and surviving in rough conditions which was to be useful as a soldier on the African veldt in the South African War. After the round-up he had a few dollars in his pocket and decided to take the train to San Francisco and pay a brief horseback visit to Yosemite Valley and then pick up a stagecoach. It was late in the season and no regular guides were available except for one rough looking character. Waiting for the stage they rested in a log shack. Cecil had already started smoking a pipe, which he lit. He was going to throw the still smouldering match into a corner, but fortunately decided against it and he carefully blew it out.

A few minutes later, I walked over into the corner to see what some tins were along the wall. They contained ‘giant’ blasting-powder, and two of them were open and partly full. So I went out and waited for the stage-coach by the roadside with an uncomfortable feeling about the pit of the stomach.³

The next night, waiting for the next stage to San Francisco and having spent his spare money, he was forced to spend the night sleeping:

…with the rats on the floor of Berenda waiting-room, between a tramp and a Chinaman, and was back in San Francisco a few hours later.

Returning to England, he joined the Scots Guards with an experience of life far greater than his contemporary young upper-class Guards officers.

By the time the Second Boer War had started in 1899, Cecil Lowther had risen to the rank of captain and was appointed adjutant to his battalion. For his exemplary service in the war he was awarded the D.S.O. and his name was noted as a probable future staff officer.

Lowther in the airship

In 1905 he was appointed as the Military Attaché at Paris, Madrid and Lisbon, based mainly in Paris. This was an important position, but as it was city-based it gave no real scope for adventure. At the annual reviews he was required to attend there was an increasing interest in aviation. In 1908 there appeared an extraordinary “dirigible”, the Clement-Bayard 1. These inventions eventually became to be called airships. The appearance of this airship gave Cecil Lowther an opportunity for what was then an adventurous flight.

I was fortunate enough to make an ascent in the Clement-Bayard, and was the only Military Attache who was thus favoured. An official request to ascend would probably not have been granted, but, seeing the dirigible sailing over Paris on her first ascent, I dashed off to the telegraph office and wired to Mr. Oddenino, of the Imperial Restaurant, to see if he could get leave for me to go up. To telegraph to a Regent Street restaurant for authorization to go up in a French dirigible at Sartouville seems rather circuitous, but I knew that my friend Oddenino was one of M Clement’s best friends, and within forty-eight hours one of the latter’s cars was scouring Paris to find me and run me out to the place of departure. The car was just ballasted up, and they were leaving, but one of the workmen jumped out, I jumped in, and away we went to sail over Paris.

I had often been up in spherical balloons before,* but this was quite a new experience. We were three passengers in a fine big car, where one could walk about freely, and, besides ourselves, there were two pilots and two mechanicians. The solidity and power of the great machine gave a wonderful sense of security – at least, it did to M. Clement and to myself. Not so to the third passenger. This distinguished gentleman did not enjoy himself at all, but gripped the rail convulsively with both hands, asking at intervals whether we were going down, or back, or up, or where. When one of the cylinders missed for a few minutes his cup was full, and he sat in silence with the perspiration of mental agony glistening on his brow…

The “car” suspended under the airship was open to the air and not as in later years when it was known as the gondola, fully enclosed. He was polite enough not to give us the name of the “distinguished gentleman” who did not share Cecil Lowther’s love of adventure.

Tearing along at twenty and more miles an hour, we swung round, and were soon safely back at Sartrouville, Dropping our guide ropes at the feet of the man who was waiting for them, we were hauled gently down and the run was over.

The dirigible did not last long. She was sold to the Russian Government. Some Russian officers took her out, ran into a tree, and dropped the balloon into the Seine.4

At the beginning of WW1 he was commanding the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards. He was wounded in November 1914. Following a distinguished war career he was Knighted as K.C.M.G.. He served for a short time as a Member of Parliament. He married in 1920 Dorothy Maude Harvey, a widow. His only other book was as joint author of “The Scots Guards in the Great War 1914-1918”. He died in 1940, aged 71. Although it is not possible to tell his full story here, he was certainly a fearless man who loved adventure and one who had a full life.

* Balloons were used for observation in the South African War.

1 Peter Pagnamenta “Prairie Fever” (Duckworth 2012) p.239
2 Lieut-Colonel H.C. Lowther “From Pillar to Post” (Edward Arnold 1911) p.2
3 “From Pillar to Post” p. 18-19
4 “From Pillar to Post” p.199-200


The guest post article above has been kindly contributed by Geoffrey A. Pocock, author of The Frontiers of Truth, Outrider of Empire: The Life and Adventures of Roger Pocock (University of Alberta Press) and One Hundred Years of the Legion of Frontiersmen (currently out of print).  You can visit his blog and website here.

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Giant Feet and Rhinoceros Gums

Max O'Rell

Max O’Rell

Max of the Month 7.  When reading non-fiction books from the 19th Century, one finds no shortage of great writers who have now been largely forgotten. However, occasionally a writer comes to light whose work is so entertaining, and who was so incredibly popular in his lifetime, that is it almost inconceivable that he is not still a household name. One such author is Max O’Rell.

This month’s quote from the writings of O’Rell is taken from John Bull and his Island, published in 1883, which focusses on Britain.  O’Rell was from France, so this was an outsider’s perspective.

Englishwomen are remarkable for their fresh complexions, their decided and fearless gait, and the length of their feet, which reminds one that twelve inches go to the foot in England. Impossible to make faux pas with such bases as these. They cannot lose their centre of gravity.

When they are pretty, Englishwomen have no equals upon earth – they are angels of beauty; but, too often, their faces have no expression, their eyes lack lustre and piquancy, their teeth are long and protruding, and when they laugh, they show their gums like a rhinoceros. They have only the beauty of youth. An Englishwoman is seldom handsome after thirty. The lower-class women of London are thin-faced or bloated-looking. They are horribly pale; there is no colour to be seen except on the tips of their noses.

Their sculptural lines (generally straight ones) are suggestive, pronounced, exaggerated, or suppressed, according to the fashion of the day.

In 1879, it became fashionable to display a protuberant corsage. There was not a woman, even the thinnest, that was not in a position to exhibit a bust that would have been a splendid capital to a Burgundian wet-nurse. In shop windows might have been seen twin gutta-percha balloons, or bags of millet-seed, which were sold under the name of figure improvers.

Max O’Rell was born Léon Pierre Blouet, but chose a pen name to avoid any embarrassment in his role as a teacher at St Paul’s School in London. He had worked there since 1874, and the same year married his English wife. Such was the success of his writing that he resigned in 1885 to tour, lecture and write full time.  O’Rell wrote more than a dozen books, which fall broadly into two categories: characteristics of different nationalities, and characteristics of women.


If you enjoyed this blog post, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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