Episode 0 – Introduction

British History has been covered in many ways, on podcasts, documentaries, and blogs. But I want to look at things differently. I want to take the villages, towns and cities of Britain and Ireland, and talk about history through the eyes of the people living there. Who were they? What impact did each place have on these islands? What events happened in their streets?

In the old days, before Google Maps, you had to figure out your directions from a paper map. In the back of the map was an index with all the place names from A to Z, and you’d need to plan your route carefully as the map wouldn’t give you a time estimate or three different routes to get there. I’ve got my own road map of Britain, the AA 2014 Great Britain and Ireland map, from whose index of place names I will be working. Not every settlement in Britain is listed – a few small hamlets will be missed out, sadly, but there is plenty to be getting on with.

In 1086, William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, sent out his chroniclers to document his lands in what would be called the Domesday Book. It was a time-consuming and expensive task, but today we are able to look back at that book and see what society’s structure was around the time of the Norman Conquest. There were over 13,000 settlements at the time, but fortunately today many of those have joined together so I hope there will not need to be 13,000 episodes in this series.

Now I’m sure you’re all eager for me to get going with the first place on our list: Abberley in Worcestershire. But before I get into that, I want to give a quick overview of important events from history. As we go through the series, we will find out more and more about the different events, and go into far more detail on some things than you might believe.

  • From 50s BCE, the Romans try to conquer Britain. Eventually take most of the mainland, but get stuck at Scotland so Hadrian builds a wall.

  • Late 4th Century CE, the Romans slowly retreat from Britain, leaving the Romanised, Christianised people by themselves. Soon the Picts (Scotland) and Irish start attacking. Brits get the Anglo-Saxons to help out.

  • Up to 600 CE, the Saxons decide they like Britain, so they stay. Most of what is now England becomes theirs apart from Cornwall. The British remain separate in Wales. There are a bunch of Saxon kingdoms, but the main ones are East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex.

  • Irish missionaries found a monastery at Iona in Scotland, and convert the tribes to Celtic Christianity. Later, Roman Christianity takes hold.

  • From 793 CE, Vikings start raiding across Britain’s west coast and Ireland. Soon the Vikings decide conquering is better than raiding, and decide to take north Scotland and Saxon lands for themselves.

  • 9th Century, Kenneth MacAlpine unites the clans and Scotland becomes a single country.

  • Late 9th Century, the Vikings and the Saxons form a treaty, splitting the land in half, with the Viking half called the Danelaw. But raiding continues into what becomes England. Sometimes Vikings have the upper hand, sometimes the Saxons. But eventually the English take the whole land.

  • 1066, Saxon King Edward the Confessor dies, and there is some dispute over the succession. Eventually, William of Normandy becomes King of England.

  • Late 12th Century, the Normans conquer Ireland. Irish not very happy about this. Ireland has an independent parliament, and are mostly left to get on with it until the 16th Century.

  • Late 13th Century, Edward I conquers Wales and makes it part of the English kingdom. Welsh not very happy about this. Up until very recently, Wales was considered a principality of the UK, not a country. Edward also tries to conquer Scotland, but fails. Scottish not happy about this either.

  • 16th Century, protestant reformation. Henry VIII is mad the Pope won’t let him divorce his wife, so he uses the reformation to set himself up the Church of England, and grants himself his divorce. Catholic monasteries get dissolved.

  • In Scotland, the reformation was much more extreme. The protestant ideas took hold in a big way, and society was completely altered with changes to the educational and religious structure.

  • In Ireland, Henry VIII tried to get the English reformation to take hold, but this failed aside from in the north-east, setting the country up for centuries of sectarian conflict. Until the last few years, the Catholic church had a very strong hold on the Emerald Isle.

  • 17th Century. Elizabeth I dies and the heir to the throne is James VI of Scotland. He becomes James I of England. He’s a Protestant. Some Catholic guys try to blow him up but failed miserably.

  • From 1642, England is torn apart by Civil War between monarchists and parliamentarians. Britain briefly becomes a republic. Eventually Charles II becomes King but now monarchs have to respect parliament more.

  • 1706, the decision is made to unite the English and Scottish parliaments. The United Kingdom is born a year later 1707.

  • 1801, Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom and doesn’t have an independent parliament any more.

  • 1921, Ireland becomes an independent country. Apart from Northern Ireland which decides to stay in the UK. Most people in Ireland get on fairly well with the British today, except a few people who use this as an excuse to blow people up.

As we travel around Britain, I hope to be able to cover all these events and more, looking into the many stories that make up the history of this country, and impacted the lives of the people. I’m not a historian by any means, just an interested amateur, but I will link to my sources at the end of each episode so you can see where I’ve found my information. So, let’s get going shall we?

Next episode: 1 – Abberley, Worcestershire