As Amanda Harrison looks up at the war memorial in her home town of Barnard Castle, County Durham, she points to the names of five great uncles who died in the first world war, one after another. The brothers – Robert (22), George Henry (26), Frederick (21), John William (37) and Alfred (30) – all lost their lives on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium in a period of just 22 months between September 1916 and July 1918.
Four are commemorated in cemeteries near where they fell, while Frederick is remembered on the Menin Gate in Ypres, along with 55,000 other soldiers whose bodies were never found.
To this day, Harrison cannot comprehend how the boys’ mother, Margaret Smith (her great grandmother), endured so much pain and grief. Throughout the war, Margaret and her husband, John, kept a photograph of their boys on the mantelpiece.
But in grim succession, the telegrams arrived with terrible news that another would never return.
“You know yourself when you have got kids,” Harrison says, her eyes closing. “To think that Margaret had all these boys. She lost the first boy, then six or seven weeks later she lost a second one, and then it was only a couple of months later that she lost a third, and they were just getting wiped out. And so it went on. Five of them in all, and mostly they were just kids, only in their early twenties.”
If that were all there was to the extraordinary story of the Smith family’s experiences of the first world war, it would be remarkable enough.
But Harrison, and her children and grandchildren, would not be here today to tell the tale were it not for the equally remarkable events that ensured the survival of a sixth brother, the youngest, Wilfred, her grandfather.
Four of the five Smith brothers from Barnard Castle, County Durham, who died in quick succession in the first world war.
As news of the deaths of successive brothers spread round the town, such was the outpouring of sympathy for the Smiths that some could not bear the thought that even worse might come.
One of those most deeply affected was the wife of the local vicar, a Mrs Bircham, who took it upon herself to write to Queen Mary, George V’s wife, to ask for Wilfred to be returned home to ensure at least one brother survived.
Soon after that intervention, Margaret Smith received a letter from Edward Wallington, private secretary to the queen, and this time it bore good news.
He wrote that the queen “has caused Mr and Mrs Smith’s request concerning their youngest son to be forwarded for consideration of the war authorities”.
Wilfred was duly afforded the necessary official discharge and came back to Barnard Castle to be with his mother in the early autumn of 1918.
Race-winner Katie Godof, right, with a time of 1 minute 11.4 seconds, runs en-route to winning the annual Shrove Tuesday trans-Atlantic pancake race in the town of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, February, 2018.
Shrove Tuesday also known as Pancake Tuesday is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes.
For some years it was assumed that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort had introduced the Christmas Tree into Great Britain.
However, that honour rightfully belongs to Queen Charlotte, the German born wife of George III in December of 1800.
That year Queen Charlotte planned to hold a large Christmas party for the children of all the principal families in Windsor.
And casting about in her mind for a special treat to give the youngsters, she suddenly decided that instead of the customary yew bough, she would pot up an entire yew tree, cover it with baubles and fruit, load it with presents and stand it in the middle of the drawing-room floor at Queen’s Lodge.
Such a tree, she considered, would make an enchanting spectacle for the little ones to gaze upon.
When the children arrived at the house on the evening of Christmas Day and beheld that magical tree, all aglitter with tinsel and glass, they believed themselves transported straight to fairyland and their happiness knew no bounds.
Dr John Watkins, one of Queen Charlotte’s biographers, who attended the party, provides us with a vivid description of this captivating tree ‘from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles’.
He adds that ‘after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted’.
Christmas trees now became all the rage in English upper-class circles, where they formed the focal point at countless children’s gatherings.
As in Germany, any handy evergreen tree might be uprooted for the purpose; yews, box trees, pines or firs. Trees placed on table tops usually also had either a Noah’s Ark or a model farm and numerous gaily-painted wooden animals set out among the presents beneath the branches to add extra allurement to the scene.
By the time Queen Charlotte died in 1818, the Christmas-tree tradition was firmly established in society, and it continued to flourish throughout the 1820s and 1830s.
The fullest description of these early English Yuletide trees is to be found in the diary of Charles Greville, the witty, cultured Clerk of the Privy Council, who in 1829 spent his Christmas holidays at Panshanger, Hertfordshire, home to Peter, 5th Earl Cowper, and his wife Lady Emily.
But it was not until periodicals such as the Illustrated London News, Cassell’s Magazine and The Graphic began to depict and describe the royal Christmas trees every year from 1845 until the late 1850s, that the custom of setting up such trees in their own homes caught on with the masses in England.
By 1860, however, there was scarcely a well-off family in the land that did not sport a Christmas tree in parlour or hall.
And all the December parties held for pauper children at this date featured gift-laden Christmas trees as their main attraction.
The spruce fir was now generally accepted as the festive tree par excellence, but the branches of these firs were no longer cut into artificial tiers or layers as in Germany, but were allowed to remain intact, with candles and ornaments arranged randomly over them, as at the present day.
Another member of the African Choir, 1891. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The African Choir were a group of young South African singers that toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. They were formed to raise funds for a Christian school in their home country and performed for Queen Victoria at Osborne House, a royal residence on the Isle of Wight.
At some point during their stay, they visited the studio of the London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made on plate-glass negatives.
That long-lost series of photographs, unseen for 120 years, is the dramatic centrepiece of an illuminating new exhibition called Black Chronicles II.
Peter Jackson, 2 December 1889. Born in 1860 in St Croix, then the Danish West Indies, Jackson was a boxing champion who spent long periods of time touring Europe.
In England, he staged the famous fight against Jem Smith at the Pelican Club in 1889.
In 1888 he claimed the title of Australian heavyweight champion.
Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
“The portraits were last shown in the London Illustrated News in 1891,” says Renée Mussai, who has co-curated the show at London’s Rivington Place alongside Mark Sealy MBE, director of Autograph ABP, a foundation that focuses on black cultural identity often through the use of overlooked archives.
“The Hulton Archive, where they came from, did not even know they existed until we uncovered them while excavating their archive as part of our research project.”
The London Stereoscopic Company specialised in carte de visites – small photographs printed on cards that were often traded by collectors or used by performers for publicity purposes – and, as their name suggests, they were all in stereo which, when seen through a special viewer, gave the illusion of a three-dimensional photograph.
Cheer/groan (delete according to mindset): The X Factor is back. Author Jeremy Clay tells the story of the show’s Victorian forebear, where the hopefuls had to sing while carrying a pig.
There was no sobbing. None of the hopefuls told a weepy backstory. Not a single one boohoo-ed about the journey they’d been on since the contest began.
At the Victorian version of the X Factor, the talent show format was stripped right back to its bare bones.
Just six contestants and a stage, each and every man singing his heart out to impress the judges.
While carrying a pig.
This singular scene played out in London in 1896, the harebrained brainwave of an auctioneer called CF Rowley.
He wanted to drum up a bumper crowd for his sales.
Putting on a bit of a show to jolly things along seemed a perfectly sensible way of going about it, even if the requirement to hold a hog didn’t.
The High Road, Willesden Green.
Still, it seemed to do the job. Up to 1,500 people crammed into the marquee in Willesden Green, and they weren’t just there for the hammy performances.
There was also a wheelbarrow race, a hot tea-drinking showdown and some non-specific whatnottery involving a chap dressed in a donkey’s skin that the press alluded to but never got round to properly explaining
World famous graffiti artist Inkie got the spray cans out during a visit to the Custard Factory in Birmingham to campaign for the upcoming City of Colours Street Art Festival.
Inkie is one of the most renowned UK graffiti artists to have emerged from the 1980s Bristol Scene – where he finished second in the 1989 World Street Art Championship painting – alongside 3D and Banksy.
From large murals to quirky canvases the City of Colours festival took place across a number of venues to show off what street art has to offer.