letters and miscellany


As the holidays approach, and we are all looking for gift ideas, this seems a fine time to revisit the list of 10 most British books of all time, first published in our November ‘04 issue. Available in many editions, both soft and hardcover, any of these classics would be a meaningful addition to the library of many an Anglophile soul.
John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

In the meantime, our countdown continues “On the Bookshelf,” where we carry on our series of essays looking back at these monuments of literature and language. This issue, regular BH writer Siân Ellis confesses that she is confronting Pooh for the first time. Oh, bother!


National polling via the BBC Radio Four Web site to determine what is regarded as the greatest painting in Britain has been completed. After inviting nominations from the public throughout the past months, an eminent panel culled the response into a short list of great British art. In the date order in which they were painted, the finalists were:

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck
The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca
A Rake’s Progress III: “The Orgy” by William Hogarth
Revd Dr Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn
The Hay Wain by John Constable
The Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown A Bar at the Follies-Bergere by Edouard Manet
Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh
Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy 1970-71 by David Hockney

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John Mallord William Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, in London’s National Gallery, holds the popular title “Greatest Painting in Britain.”[/caption]

The winner, finishing in first place with 27 percent, was J.M.W. Turner’s painting (with the full title) The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838. Turner’s 1839 painting can be seen at the National Gallery, London. Finishing second was John Constable’s The Hay Wain, garnering 18 percent of the vote.


Just in time for the holidays, here is a formula for the classic Scottish dessert Atholl Brose. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.

  1. pint stiffly whipped cream

  2. tablespoons liquid honey

  3. jiggers good Scotch

  4. tablespoons coarse toasted oatmeal

Stir gently, adding the whisky last. If you lack ingredients 1, 2 and 4, No. 3 can be taken by itself in consolation, over ice if you like.


‘Twould be a cavalier journal indeed that was not interested in hearing from its readers. I am always delighted to read the comments, anecdotes and brickbats that perceptive BH readers send along. While the old canard about pleasing all of the people all of the time is certainly true, we are delighted that most readers are pleased by the editorial direction that British Heritage has been steering over the past several issues. Our postal address is on the masthead, of course. We are at 741 Miller Dr. SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175. Our e-mail address is [email protected]. Keep those cards and letters coming in!
Speaking of TheHistoryNet.com….It goes without saying that British Heritage would make a wonderful Christmas gift for the Anglophiles, British expats and history or cultural buffs on your Christmas list. TheHistoryNet.com is a great place to browse through the other terrific history magazines of the Primedia History Group, such as Civil War Times, American History and Wild West. Beyond that, the Web site serves as a good resource and library for BH readers. You can browse at will through our archives of British Heritage articles from the past. It’s a terrific resource to keep in mind for students of all ages as well. Shortly after this issue of BH hits the streets, The History Net will unveil a completely redesigned Web site. Do come and look.


Sea Britain 2005 and the National Maritime Museum in London have been partnering this year with Magma Poetry magazine on another interactive arts initiative—to find the Sea Britain 2005 Favorite Poem of the Sea. Through the past months folks had opportunity to nominate their favorite sea poems on www.magmapoetry.com. Among the most popular nominees are:
“Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold
“Sea Fever” by John Masefield
“Cargoes” by John Masefield
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The final results will be announced at an event this autumn at the National Maritime Museum. I will report the official winner next issue. The winner, though, will be “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. You heard it here first!


Our mention of Bartholomew Gosnold drew the appreciation of Dorothey Dean, who wrote: “It has long been a mystery why his accomplishments have been forgotten, not only in England, but the United States as well. I hope you will do additional research on Gosnold and acknowledge his many contributions. He does not deserve to be the man history forgot.” Indeed he does not. BH will return to Gosnold in issues to come.
A charming letter from Veronica Pinckard shares a delightful personal memory awoken by our last issue: “Jim Hargan’s story on Tennyson’s Country, brought back delightful memories of my childhood. As ‘waifs’ from London, a group of us were sent to Market Rasen in Lincolnshire for two weeks in the summer of 1937.
“My homesickness was quickly assuaged as we walked fields and crossed streams in that lovely Lincolnshire countryside. We often rested on the banks of Tennyson’s immortal poem ‘The Brook.’ ‘…for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.’ I was invited to join the boys for a farewell tea at the Castle followed by a treasure hunt around the battlements. We each found a bar of chocolate! And now, Jim Hargan’s story informs me that this was not a castle but a baronial manor which has since been dynamited. How awful! But my childish memories persist along with my love of Tennyson and Lincolnshire. Thank you for resurrecting them.”


The whole Thames was gold. I went to work with a frenzy following the sun and its shimmers on the water.
—Claude Monet

Between 1899 and 1901, Monet painted nearly 100 views along the Thames. His work forms the centerpiece of the first exhibition to showcase Monet’s London masterpieces alongside works by contemporaries like James McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam and Camille Pissarro. Following exhibitions this year in St. Petersburg and Brooklyn, the collection, “Monet’s London: Artists’ Reflections on the Thames, 1859-1914,” is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through the end of the year.


In 1972 UNESCO adopted the World Heritage Convention. The convention designates as World Heritage Sites places that provide an exceptional testimony to a past civilization. There are 26 such sites in the UK, none more historically significant than Hadrian’s Wall. Stretching for 125 miles across three northern English counties, the Hadrian’s Wall site includes the Wall itself with 32 Roman forts, as well as towers, bridges, outposts, cemeteries, temples and civil settlements.
Although 90 percent of the World Heritage Site is privately owned, more than 50 organization have responsibilities for various aspects of Hadrian’s Wall, including the National Trust, English Heritage, the Countryside Agency and sundry local authorities. A Management Plan Committee comprised of representatives of those organizations oversees a management program of conservation, preservation and site development for Hadrian’s Wall. As the best surviving example of a Roman frontier system in concept, design and achievement, the WHS site at Hadrian’s Wall (see page 12, this issue) remains among Britain’s most significant historic landmarks.


Noted English author and broadcast journalist Melvyn Bragg will be hosting a new TV series on ITV this spring, about the tomes that have changed our lives. It may be cheating a little to include some items that really are not books, but his choices are certainly interesting at least and, as it happens, are all British.
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
The First Rule Book of the Football Association (1863)
William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623)
Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687)
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)
Speech to the House of Commons by William Wilberforce (1789)
The King James Bible (1611)
Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769)
A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Experimental Research in Electricity by Michael Faraday (1855)
Married Love by Marie Stopes (1918) Magna Carta (1215)

We often think of things that change the world in terms of attention-grabbing extraordinary events, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or the pall of terrorism continuing to threaten contemporary Britain and America, for example. It does us good to be reminded, as an ITV spokesman said, “that the lives we lead have been formed as often as not by a single book.” So, what is the good book missing from Bragg’s list? Let me know; let’s see what BH readers think.