William Brodie was ostensibly a respectable member of Edinburgh society in the 18th century but he also led a secret life as a thief and was the inspiration for one of the most famous works of fiction.
Brodie was born in 1741 and became a respected cabinet-maker and became the deacon (or president) of the Incorporation of Wrights, the trade association that controlled cabinetmaking. Read more ›››
Alan Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the twentieth century filing 128 patents for electronic and audio engineering, but one we have to thank him for is ‘binaural sound’ or what we today would call stereo.
Blumlein was born in London in 1903, the son a German-born naturalised Britsh subject of Jewish descent. Read more ›››
Gertrude Bell was one of the most remarkable women of this or any other age. Archaeologist, linguist, writer, spy and the greatest woman mountaineer of her age, she was also the architect of the modern Iraq.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born into a wealthy family at Washington New Hall in what was then County Durham in north east England in 1868 and it was her family’s wealth that ensured her education and enabled her travels. Read more ›››
Of all the brave pioneers of flight, perhaps the most remarkable was Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, arguably the greatest aviator who ever flew.
Brown was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1919. His father had been a balloon observer and pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War One and he gave his son his first taste of flight at the age of eight when he flew a single-seat biplane with the younger Brown sat on his lap. Read more ›››
The country parsons of England can be an unconventional lot and perhaps none more so than hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar, Sabine Baring-Gould who is responsible for the lyrics of Onward Christian Soldiers, inspired My Fair Lady (possibly) and the early life of James Bond and wrote the first serious academic study of lycanthropy folklore. Read more ›››
It is a truism of sport that no-one remembers who came in second which is sad because sometimes the achievement of the runner-up can be as impressive as that of the winner.
One such was Thomas William Burgess who was the second person to swim the English Channel, or La Manche if you happen to be French. What is remarkable was that he came second fully 36 years after Captain Matthew Webb. first achieved the feat in 1875. Read more ›››
Apologies for the poor quality of this portrait, but it was the only one I could find that purports to be of Edwin Beard Budding whose claim to fame is that he created the notion of respectable suburbia, or at least the exterior ideal of the well-manicured lawn.
Born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 1795, Beard Budding was the inventor who in 1830 set about solving the problem of achieving an evenly mown lawn that didn’t involve either a flock of sheep or a man skilled enough to use a scythe without amputating his own leg. Read more ›››
Thomas F Byrnes was the celebrated 19th century detective who gave us the expressions ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ and the ‘Third Degree’ whose reputation was almost undone by his own Jack the Ripper.
Byrnes was born in Dublin in 1842 and emigrated to the US as a child. He grew up in New York and became a skilled gas-fitter until the start of the Civil War when he enlisted with the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry. Read more ›››