When Gustav Eiffel unveiled his famous tower in 1889, Edward Watkin decided that London should go one better by building an even taller tower in Wembley.
Watkin was an MP and chairman of the Metropolitan Railway and his vision was to create the tower as the centrepiece of a pleasure park just 12 minutes from Baker Street station. Read more ›››
The Alaskan mining prospector ‘Professor’ Dick Willoughby was looking out across the Muir Glacier in June 1888 when he caught a glimpse of a most remarkable sight – the outline of a modern city skyline looming out of the misty horizon.
Although the mirage lasted only a few minutes, he was able to photograph it to prove that he had indeed seen it. Willoughby speculated that what he had witnessed was the reflection of a real city many thousands of miles away. Read more ›››
Of the thousands of people who have swum the English Channel, the unluckiest has to be Jabez ‘Jappy’ Wolffe who made at least twenty-two attempts and never succeeded.
Wolffe was born in Glasgow in 1876, just a year after Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim unaided across the Strait of Dover and so sparking what has become an obsession for many wild water swimmers. Read more ›››
Adrian Carton de Wiart is known as the unkillable soldier who served in the Boer War and World Wars One and Two.
Along the way he was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a prisoner-of-war camp and; tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Read more ›››
This week I give you another of the remarkable women who operated in Europe during World War Two in the shape of Nancy Wake, also known as The White Mouse.
Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1912, the youngest of six children. Two years later the family moved to Australia only for her father to return to New Zealand leaving his wife to raise the children alone. Read more ›››
It has been a while since I wrote about some of history’s more disreputable characters, but I make up for it this week with one of the most notorious criminal masterminds – Adam Worth, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ and the real-life Moriarty.
Worth was born in Germany around 1844, although no-one is sure exactly when. Nor whether Worth was his real name – it may have been Werth or Wirtz. Read more ›››
The word filibuster is usually used to refer to someone obstructs a legislative assembly by talking too much, but it has an earlier meaning – a person engaging in unauthorized warfare against a foreign state.
And the greatest filibuster of them all by this definition was the American, William Walker, regarded by some as a hero, for others he is a symbol of American imperialism. Read more ›››
Charles Waterton is another of my English eccentrics, but more than that he was also an eminent naturalist, an early environmentalist, as well as making a major contribution to medicine.
Waterton was born in 1782 to a well-t0-do family at Walton Hall, Wakefield, Yorkshire, and was educated at the Jesuit Stonyhurst College in Lancashire… Read more ›››