Z is for Jan Zizka

Žižka statue in Prague

Jan Žižka ‘the One-Eyed’ is one of that elite band of great military commanders who never lost a battle and the man who invented the tank 500 years before World War One, and yet in death, he chose to be eternally beaten. But more of that little riddle later.

Žižka was born in 1360 in the Bohemian village of Trocnov, in what is now the western half of modern-day Czechoslovakia, and spent his early years attached to the court of Queen Sophia. Read more ›››

Y is for Henry Yule

Henry Yule

English is a rather predatory language that snatches words and phrases from other tongues, making them its own. and few cultures have added more than India and the Asian sub-continent.

The man who chronicled the words loaned to the English language was the geographer, Orientalist and travel writer Sir Henry Yule whose Anglo-Indian dictionary has never been out of print. Read more ›››

X is for Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Oh dear, the dreaded letter X – not an easy one when your subjects are people’s names, so I’m cheating a little bit this time by writing about Malcolm Little, or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as he became, and better known as the human rights activist Malcolm X.

But rather than write about his life, interesting though it was, I wanted to focus on his death and the conspiracy theories that surround it. Read more ›››

W is for James Wyld

James Wyld

James Wyld was an eminent Victorian geographer and map maker, Member of Parliament and businessman who also turned the world inside out with his ‘Great Globe’.

Wyld was born in 1812 and named after his father, the geographer royal James Wyld who had introduced the art of lithography to England, using it to create his maps for the quartermaster-general’s office. Read more ›››

V is for Vicki Van Meter

Vicki Van Meter

Vicki Van Meter is the youngest female pilot to have made a transatlantic flight when she was aged twelve, but despite a promising future before her, she was to die by her own hand when she was just 26.

Van Meter was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1982 and became hooked on the idea of flying and space travel when NASA visited her junior school. Read more ›››

U is for James Ussher

James Ussher

The subject of my ABC Wednesday post this week is James Ussher, polyglot, prolific scholar, a man of the church and perhaps the man responsible for what we know today as ‘creationism’.

Ussher was born in 1581 to a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family living in the Pale of Dublin (that’s ‘pale’ as in the phrase ‘beyond the pale‘). Read more ›››

T is for John Tarrant

The Ghost Runner

John Tarrant was possibly the greatest athlete of his generation who could break long-distance running records at will and yet his achievements were never acknowledged because of the rules governing amateurism.

Born in 1932 in Shepherd’s Bush, London, Tarrant was first abandoned by his father and then his mother died of TB leaving her son to the not so tender mercies of a children’s home. Read more ›››