Martin Fone discovers the origins of wedding anniversary names and investigates the origins of the Flitch Trial tradition.

A little more than half, 50.4%, of the population aged sixteen or over in England and Wales was married or in civil partnerships in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. Although much of the focus is on the big day, with about £14.7bn spent on weddings each year, anniversaries afford an opportunity to reminisce, take stock, look to the future, and celebrate.

Fifty years of marriage is a considerable achievement, even more so when life expectancy was much lower than…


Martin Fone retraces the history of the order and discovers the stories of its early recipients.

The Crimean War marked a turning point in the way warfare was perceived. Correspondents on the scene brought vivid accounts of events to the breakfast table at unprecedented speed using the telegraph.

Conditions were grim and although British fatalities were a fraction of those suffered in the First World War, statistically you were less likely to survive the Crimean War and much more likely to succumb to disease than be killed in action.

Although the Order of the Bath, instituted by George I in…


Martin Fone delves into the history of the lawnmower and discovers a link to weaving machines.

I enjoy pushing a lawnmower. I revel in the intoxicating aroma of the green leaf volatiles, part self-healing mechanism, part antibiotic, and part early warning system, released by the grass as the blade goes over it, creating one of the quintessential smells of an English summer.

Recently, I had to replace my machine, making my small contribution to the global lawn mowing market which generated revenues of $18.6 billion in 2019.

A lawn is the physical manifestation of that tenet of English common law…


They’re the bane of gardeners’ lives, but what do we mean by the term weeds? Do they exist in any consistent and logical sense? Martin Fone takes a step back to think about which plants are and aren’t weeds — and why the ‘wrong plant in the wrong place at the wrong time’ definition isn’t quite enough.

For the first two decades of my adult life, I neither rented nor owned a single sod of earth that was not covered either by concrete or bricks and mortar. …


Eighty-three years after it was founded, the RNLI made its largest rescue off the coast of the Lizard, in Cornwall.

For all their beauty, the coastal waters of Britain are treacherous, accounting for an average of 1,800 wrecks a year in the early 19th century. An Isle of Man resident, Sir William Hillary, had seen many a ship founder on the waters around the island. Realising that a more co-ordinated approach to helping the crews and passengers of ships in difficulty was required, he proposed the creation of a National Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck.


Making bread by hand is rewarding, but inconsistent — unlike the stuff you’ll get from a decent automatic bread maker. Martin Fone ponders how such a machine, with is artificial kneading, came into existence.

Bread is one of our oldest and most popular of foodstuffs, with British households buying the equivalent of twelve million loaves a day, of which just over nine million are white. There is a bewildering array of choice with over 200 different kinds of bread produced in the UK, ranging from butter-rich brioche and crisp baguettes to farmhouse loaves and focaccia, soft ciabatta and crumpets to…


Over 20 million people have been tuning in to watch England’s stirring exploits at Euro 2020, and the huge numbers look only set to get bigger as the summer goes on. It’s a far cry from the first ever televised sporting event, almost a century earlier, as Martin Fone explains.

A summer which offers both a delayed major European football championship and the Olympics is manna from heaven for television companies, allowing them to fill up vast lacunae in their schedules that would otherwise have been replete with endless repeats. Coming on top of the normal fare of sports, the…


Martin Fone traces the history of the Olympics and examines the contribution of Shropshire doctor William Penny Brookes.

Organisers remain confident that the 32nd Olympiad will open in Tokyo on July 23, albeit a year later than scheduled. With more than 11,000 athletes, 33 different sports and more than 330 events, it will be far removed from the first modern Olympics held in Athens in 1896. Then, just 241 athletes, all male, from fourteen countries, principally Greece, Germany, Francem and Great Britain, took part in forty-three events.

Long-distance swimmers were taken by boat out to sea and left to make…


Martin Fone wonders whether everyone’s favourite pet fish has greater cognitive abilities than we give it credit for.

About four million households in the UK own fish, which equates to roughly 14% of the population, according to the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association. Attractive, colourful, easy on the eye and calming, ornamental fish offer a low maintenance alternative to cats and dogs and even spare your furniture.

For many children of my generation, a goldfish was the first introduction to the delights and responsibilities of pet ownership, often acquired accidentally, given away as a prize at a fair. …


Houseflies are a health hazard, but attempts to swat them have to contend with the insect’s exceptional defense mechanism, finds Martin Fone.

Suetonius, in his biography of Domitian, noted that at the beginning of his reign the Roman Emperor would spend hours in seclusion every day, doing nothing but catch flies and stab them with a stylus. When asked whether someone was in the room with the emperor, Vibius Crispus retorted, ‘not even a fly’, a quip that has stood the test of two millennia.

In 2009, Barak Obama astounded the world with his ability to deal with a pesky…

Martin Fone

Martin is a blogger and writer. His blog can be found at https://windowthroughtime.wordpress.com and his website at https://martinfone.wordpress.com

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