Dating the past

Dating the past. When was 1066?

27th april 2017

The battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066. Just saying that seems to imbue the date with the quality of being an incontestable fact. I will go on to show that dating the past is not always as simple as it might seem.

But first. Let us recall some things that are known about the battle – which actually took place near to the bay of Pevensey, in what is today the county of East Sussex. The battle was fought between the king of England Harold Godwinson and William, Duke of Normandy. A few days earlier Harold had won a battle against invading Danes under the leadership of Harald Sigurdsson of Norway, known as Hardrada. This was the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harald was killed, along with Earl Tostig Godwinson, brother of the English king in a conflict that saw Harold Godwinson victorious.

William of Normandy’s fleet of ships landed at the bay of Pevensey, which is between the modern day towns of Eastbourne and Hastings. During the battle, Harold’s younger brother Gyrth Godwinson and his other brother Leofwine were killed. The battle was fought close to the place now called Battle – about eight miles from modern day Hastings; an abbey was erected to mark the conflict near to the site where it had traditionally been said to have been fought. The town of Hastings was first mentioned in the late 8th century when it was known as Hastingas. Clearly there was a settlement there during Anglo-Saxon times. Battle Abbey was built in 1095.

The earliest account of the battle is found in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, written in the 11th century. Only a copy of it, from the early 12th century, still survives.

Following the battle at Pevensey, where Harold Godwinson was killed, the English nobles surrendered to William at Berkhamstead in December, after which William rode into London and was crowned, at Westminster Abbey, on Christmas day.

My interest in this event was kindled by watching the series on BBC2 television: 1066 – a year to conquer England.

So how certain can we be that dates given in historical accounts are accurate? Clearly, medieval writers know dates and could record any date on which an event took place. Our problem is in counting backwards and saying that an event took place x or y hundred years ago.

This problem stems from changes to the calendar that has been used over time. The calendar we use today, at least in the West, is the Gregorian Calendar which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century, in October 1582. That calendar was introduced because errors were discovered in the previous calendar – the Julian – which was based on an even earlier one – the Roman calendar. The Julian calendar introduced a very small correction to the length of the year. Not all European countries adopted the Gregorian calendar straight away – Greece did not adopt it until 1923. The Gregorian calendar was used to calculate the date of Easter, a very important festival for the Christian church. According to Wikipedia, ‘Since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, the difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates has increased by three days every four centuries.’ This article goes on to explain variations between the two calendars in some detail. A table shows that the differences in days can vary between 10 and 14 days.

Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The Wikipedia article (see below for references) provides an example of the problems that can occur when dating important events: ‘So, for example, the Parliamentary record lists the execution of Charles I on 30 January as occurring in 1648 (as the year did not end until 24 March), although later histories adjust the start of the year to 1 January and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

So, when the scribes – who wrote about the Battle that took place in Southern England – gave the date as 14th October 1066, they would have been using the Julian calender.

Even today, various other calendars exist. The Islamic faith has its own calendar, which differs from that of the Christian church. There is a calendar for the Chinese which is based astronomical observations of the sun’s longitude and the phases of the moon.

Going back to the Norman invasion, how long did it take them, to fully conquer the whole country? In particular, when did they take over Leicester? William died in 1087. That marked a milestone in Norman Britain. He was succeeded by his third son, William who was crowned William II in 1087. He has become known as ‘William Rufus.’ The years of William’s reign were marked by sporadic insurgencies and the odd rebellion and by threats of invasion from mainland Europe. There was an uprising by the Northumbrians who captured Durham and lay siege to York. The 21 years of William’s rule were peppered with revolts and uprisings. After conquering England, William ousted the old aristocracy replacing it with his system of Earls and nobles. Although the Normans introduced a powerful aristocracy to the country they preserved some of the established Anglo-Saxon posts and positions of the local administrations, much as the Roman had done several centuries earlier. Just as Roman rule did not extend fully into Scotland, so too the Normans failed to subdue the Scottish tribes.

When did the Normans take over Leicester?

Robert de Beaumont was created the 1st Earl of Leicester (born sometime between 1040 and 1050, died 5 June 1118). He was a close associate of William. He fought at Hastings. He had four descendants all of whom were called Robert and they all became Earl of Leicester. Leicester castle was built around 1070 under the governorship of Hugh de Grandmesnil. It was constructed on the site of a much earlier Roman fortification. The castle still exists today and the mound of the Motte can be visited. It had remained in continuous use since it began though for several years it fell into a state of poor repair. The great hall was given a brick frontage in the style of Queen Anne. Before the coming of the Normans, Leicester had been a thriving Anglo-Saxon town. The town was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, when it was called Ledecestre. It was described as a small walled town surrounded by farms, fields and agricultural plots. There were four gates in the walls. William’s army had taken over nearly the whole of England prior to his being crowed, in London, on Christmas day 1066. Before the times of the Anglo-Saxons, the town was an important centre for the Romans, when it was called Ratae Corieltauvorum.


Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest: the battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England, 2012. Random House.

Difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates, Wikipedia,

Dating the past, article in Science Learning Hub,

Dating the past, chapter 4, in Archaeology an introduction, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2002,

Chronological dating in Wikipedia,

Dating the Past: An Introduction to Geochronology. FREDERICK E. ZEUNER. (xx, 495 pp.,
103 figures, 24 plates, $8.00. Third revised edition. Methuen & Co., Ltd., London
and Longmans, Green & Co., Inc., New York, 1952.)

Language and Evolution introduced

An Introduction to Language and Evolution

In this article Trevor Locke looks at how language played a key role in the evolution of human species and in determining which species became extinct and which were successful.

A topic that is of fundamental importance to both anthropology and archaeology is the relationship between language and human evolution. The evolution of mankind – a social animal – is marked by the increasing size of the brain. If the size of a brain increases we assume that mental powers also grow. This is, however, an assumption about which we must be careful, as I go on to discuss below. Many groups of animals and insects communicate, some in quite sophisticated ways, such as oceanic mammals. Birds and bees are known to use a variety of methods to communicate with each other and with the group as a whole. Where the hominin (early humans) is concerned, it is likely that communication evolved into language as various groups and species developed. That transition from simple communication (largely non-verbal) to language was very likely to have been driven by changes in climatic conditions, migration to new and more challenging environments and by increasing sophistication in the fabrication and use of tools and artefacts.

Once spoken language became established, we can speculate that writing followed as well as art and ritual. The development of culture in hominid groups required language as a way of expressing and passing on cultural forms. The problem for palaeopathologists and archaeologists is that language leaves little or no evidence in the fossil record or in deposits and strata that provide us with our understanding of early hominin lifestyles. It is only when writing developed that archaeologists were able to find artefacts that confirmed that early people could inscribe symbols and icons on to wood, stone, bone or antler. Some examples of early ‘written language’ come from paintings made in caves, symbols carved into artefacts and the first creation of icons and totems on pieces of material.

Could the very earliest hominid species ‘talk’? Scientists have analysed human bones to see if they could detect whether such remains indicated the ability to speak. In humans, most of the mechanisms used for communication are soft tissues and cartilage and these are not preserved in the fossil record. The skulls and bones of the spinal chord might suggest the size and shape and where the soft tissues of the voice box might have been and the shape of the mouth, suggested by the jaw bones, and the nasal air passages within the skull are thought to provide clues about whether speech – as we know it – was possible in these early hominids. Looking at the bones and skulls of primates might give some clues as to what kind of sounds they made but not as to what gestures they made, posturing or hand and arm movements.

Talking about survival

We can also look at the way that modern apes and chimpanzees communicate and that provides more pointers to how early hominids communicated. Some communication would have involved gesture (including signing), facial expression and possibly touch as well as vocal sounds. Early hominid species, such as Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis – appear to have limited verbal capabilities, suggested by the bones and skulls that have been found. Some scientists think that Neanderthals were capable of language but this of course not clear whether this was a mixture of complex signing and vocalisations. The language in this case could be fairly advanced (compared to previous species) and (possibly) the larger brain capacity would have made it possible for there to be a proto-language and this would have supported both increasing technological capability and extensive migration into new environments. Survival in new lands would require early peoples to be able to share effective indications about where food can be found, what is edible and what is not and to give warnings about the approach of predators. Huntings parties would need to communicate in order to track and kill prey.

Once hominids had developed the ability to use words – as opposed to simply making calls or vocal alerts – the number of ‘words’ used in a group would increase and that led to establishing rules about how individual ‘words’ should be combined to communicate understandable thoughts. This requires rudimentary grammar and syntax. Bear in mind that this process probably took thousands of years. The origins of verbal words might have lay in increasingly complex gestures. In evolutionary terms, the species that were most adept at gestures and then verbal communications tended to survive and their communities prospered. It is possible that some hominid groups became communities of speakers. Some groups might have worked up a proto-language which they used amongst themselves. The spread of languages in areas like Africa, Europe or Asia would have required large numbers of people to engage in talking as a means of communication. Using language and talking went hand in hand with the gradual development of thought and culture; as some people thought using words and sentences and gradually developed the capacity to have abstract thoughts rather than just uttering names or directions. Words have meaning; just as gestures mean something to those that see them. It was grammatical speech that allowed abstract thought to emerge.

Talking for generations

For this to happen successfully the brain had to have the capacity to recognise meaning and to retrieve it from memory. That requires members of a language community to have been together over successive generations. Once a group had developed the capacity to share words and the syntax for combining them, the capacity is handed on from one generation to the next and the ability to use language becomes both cultural and genetic. Speaking a language over many generations led to changes in the skeletal and muscular morphology of the body. Language implies the ability to store knowledge and to have collective understandings of the environment and to share things of significance between contemporary members of a group and to pass this knowledge from one generation to the next. Once groups had to the ability to talk to each other, they could transmit their collective knowledge down the generations.

Talking fluently involves speaking words – in the right order and in the right way – and emphasising them with gestures or vocal tones. Modern speakers use spoken words amplified by facial expressions and hand movements and emphasise words or phrases with intonations of the voice. This could well have been true for early hominids making the transition, from communication that was very visually mediated, to proto-language with a more extensive repertoire of calls and signs. As brain power increased, so did the ability to organise sounds and gestures into rules that would enable a more complex level of communication. Groups that shared a common system of communication could speak to each other in more varied ways and share increasingly sophisticated ideas. Giving directions, making warnings and alerts, indicating where good food supplies were located, reacting to good and bad behaviour – all these could be shared among the members of group or tribe as well as taught by adults to their children.

Words and gestures are symbols; they mean something when they are used. They can be simple signals or they can indicate more complex thoughts. One of the key factors in the development of language was very possibly the ability to ask questions. ‘Have you seen any antelopes? Where can I go to collect ripe berries?’ Being able to give detailed and specific replies to such questions requires a more complex ability to communicate than simply pointing in a general direction and giving a sign for antelopes. Migratory groups had to learn what was good to eat and what was poisonous in a new habitat. The group needed to collect, store and share knowledge of the environment in order to live in it. Those that developed enhanced language skills stood more chance of survival than those who did not.

How can we study the evolution of language? Recent advances in the analysis of DNA has thrown light on the spread and distribution of Homo sapiens in various continents. Linguists have looked at modern languages in order to trace their roots in ancient tongues. It is not until we begin to find artefacts, artworks and carved iconographs and cave paintings that we can date anything. Pre-history can only be inferred from the fossil record and remains left in datable strata. There is a growing body of knowledge from studies of DNA about how early man spread out across the world from African origins.

Palaeopathologists have mapped the dispersion of hominids from Africa into Europe and Asia. This pattern of dispersion and migration would be roughly the same for the distribution of languages. Hominid groups that talked to each other had to have some process through which older members could teach verbal skills to children. Groups that broke away from their main migratory community would have settled in a place and their language would have changed to reflect the circumstances and ecology of their new local area. Clearly, even by the bronze age, many different languages were being spoken in various parts of the world. Over many thousands of years, humans would have developed genes for language. That went in tandem with changing skeletal and muscular morphology of the skull, lungs and nervous system that aided the ability to talk. Hominids evolved into talking man.

Passing on skills

Many early hominids made tools from stone, wood, bone and antler. The skills for making these implements were passed from one generation to another. This activity of ‘training’ in skills used to make things either involved fairly elaborate communication or led to the emergence of language. Some skill transmission was simply through imitation – this occurs in modern animals that watch a parent or other adult animal doing something and then copying what they see. No communication is involved in this. The Cro-Magnons tool kit was complex, varied and innovative. This reflects intentional design and planning which are the basis of complex mental processes and can be associated with language. The physical features associated with spoken language, such as the vocal tract, the structure of the brain and the size of the spinal cord, are identical between Cro-Magnon people and humans living today. This means that Cro-Magnon people would have been capable of producing the same sounds we use in speech.¹ Some scientists use the phrase ‘proto-language’ to signify the transition from sophisticated non-verbal communication to the beginnings of language as we know it. Any enhanced verbal communication requires breathing muscles to be controlled in order to vary pitch and tone with the voice box.

It is when we find symbolic artefacts in the archaeology that we can be confident that Homo sapiens had developed language. The existence of artefacts that had no obvious use suggests that they were works of art – connected possibly with the emergence of ritual or expressions of thoughts and feelings about the natural world. ARTefacts are created when people start to think in a abstract way about death, the existence of spiritual forces that control the world, the afterlife and shared reverence for ancestors. The development of symbolism requires sophisticated mental processes and any objects found that unambiguously portray symbols or icons and have no obvious use (as tools) strongly suggests that language has been established. Evidence of art prior to 40,000 years ago is limited and solid evidence of symbolism only occurs after this time. Artefacts were part of an increasing awareness of how the world and life could be interpreted, understood and explained. Art works, physical icons and totems played a part in handing on beliefs from one generation to the next.

This calls into question the meaning of the word ‘language.’ What is the difference between non-verbal communication and speaking using a language? We know from observations of animal communication that fairly complex patterns of communication exist, in some insects, oceanic mammals and the higher apes. Some have gone so far as claim that animals have a language. So, at what point does communication become language? The transition from complex communication to a fully-formed language did not have a clear threshold; the gradual development of verbal language took thousands of years and many generations and required a continuity of community capable to allowing successive generations to hand on language, beliefs and complex ideas used in interpreting the world in which they lived.

Life, death, natural forces, afterlife and ancestors are all highly abstract concepts and require language in order to be thought. Very early man might have had some emotions and intuitions about life and death and these inchoate impressions would have led to the emergence of more sophisticated beliefs, values and concepts; in this process there would have been a mutual interaction between thought and words. As people began to use a word for death, they could then begin to build icons for death and as they began to bury or burn dead bodies, rituals grew around this activity and that led to people using sentences about these things. This suggests that a group of people shared beliefs about death in common with each other and were able to pass on those beliefs from one generation to the next; the sharing of beliefs was not just for one group at one period but was inter-generational and language allowed belief systems to be shared both by the group and its heirs and successors.

When does complex communication become language?

Studies of gorillas’ and chimpanzees’ behaviours has revealed that a variety of methods are used in their communication. One writer used the term ‘the unfolding dance’ to characterise communications in great apes.³ Monkeys use a range of visual and auditory signals to communicate with others either individually or to the group as a whole. Calls are made to warn of danger, gestures are made with hands and arms, a gorilla might beat its chest as a signal, postures and facial expressions are all part of the varied armoury of signals that the great apes can use in communicating with others. Studies of marine mammals indicate that some – such as the Orca – give out calls which are specific to an individual – they call out another animals ‘name.’ A pod of killer whales uses a complex system of communications, particularly when hunting.

Here’s an interesting thought: can we think without words? I wrote recently that most of my thinking is done with language – I hear myself talking, silently, inside my head. I guess this is common for writers who are always figuring out sentences. Poets on the other hand probably think with symbols, images, feelings that occur to them in a non-verbal way. Eventually they have to capture that in the written word but a lot of the mental activity begins non-verbally. Painters probably spend a lot of time thinking with images, colours, scenes, layouts, shapes. Musicians might spend time thinking with sounds, tunes, melodies, notes, riffs, harmonies and rhythms. Artists have to use intuition. Without non-verbal thought our minds would not be agile enough to compose art. This leads me to wonder if animals think what they are to communicate before they do the communication or is what they do – calls, gestures, facial expressions, postures – simply reactive, in response to something they get from another animal or an event in their environment. I guess that is an unanswerable question, although some research on neural activity might throw light on it. A human walking through the jungle or across the plain, would have to feel the landscape intuitively. Some archaeologists believe that early man ‘felt’ the surrounding environment and that a bronze age man would see the landscape very differently to a modern human would see it. Visual recognition works sub-verbally; if we walk through a landscape where there is no written signage – a wood, a field, a lakeside – we ‘see’ trees, grass, water, catch sight of living creatures and we need to know and react to what we are seeing intuitively. Hunter-gatherers would have to react quickly to perceived risks and opportunities in their environment; they did not have time to think verbally, they have to go for it immediately. Otherwise they go home empty handed or become a meal for predator.

Do animals think about what they are about to communicate before they communicate? I think this is unlikely. Humans, on the other hand, with their large and more sophisticated mental apparatus, can premeditate what they are about to say. Premeditation is important to being successful when it comes to survival-related language and communication; issuing warnings and alerts, giving directions to food sources, indicating what is edible and what is not, giving instructions about how to male tools, teaching how to prepare foods – all require communication to be clear and unambiguous. If someone misunderstands what is being said to them, the consequences can be disastrous. Communities that can communicate clearly are more likely to survive and prosper than those than cannot.

The other thing that fascinates me is how people in China and Japan think; these are cultures that use a different, more visual and symbolic, language and writing set, to us in the West. Do Chinese people think differently to users of English? If your written language uses pictograms, does that make you think differently? Words, pictograms, icons, hieroglyphs and other visual representations of thoughts either promote or inhibit the development of culture and belief systems; those that allow sophisticated and complex thoughts are more likely to encourage beliefs and more fluid and flexible interpretations of the world than those that are limited and simplistic. How writing influenced the evolution of technology, culture and civilisation is clearly a very interesting topic but one for another time.

Pictures tell the story

Some of the earliest cave paintings were pictograms. In very ancient times, people would paint very stylised images of themselves or animals on the walls of caves. This might have led, over thousands of years, to the earliest forms of writing, such as cuneiform and hieroglyphs. These early pictograms represented an idea; they were usually mostly used to represent or signify things in the real world. It was much later that icons were drawn to represent an abstract idea – something that did not exist in the real world. That was some 9,000 years BC. Series of symbols that were the earliest methods of writing came into existence about 5,000 years BC. Carvings found on an obelisk in southern Turkey in the city of Göbekli Tepe, are thought to be around 12,000 years old. They could be the oldest ‘written’ language yet discovered. The carvings were pictographs – a series of pictorial images rather than writings that used an alphabet. It can be argued that the use of pictographs is an early form of writing. Written language, as it is known it today, probably appeared several thousands years later; Sumerian writing is known from 3,100 BC. In its earliest phrase it was a system of pictograms; these gradually became simplified into the system of wedge-shaped characters that we know as cuneiform script. Proto-writing (which preceded fully-fledged written language) employed ideographs and symbols. These were representations of things in the real world and did not relate to spoken words. These early pictograms and pictographs could be understood but not spoken. The correlation between written symbols and spoken words developed much later.

It is not yet clear why paintings were made in caves. They were sometimes left very deep inside the caves, where very few people would have seen them. This has led some archaeologists to suggest that cave art was ritualistic, possibly related to beliefs about death, ancestors or the spirit world. Early man was very visual; our ancient ancestors needed to be acutely aware of their surroundings; their safety depended on it as did their ability to hunt. Hunter-gatherers needed to figure out why some hunting expeditions worked well and others did not. Tribes in the Amazon jungle today say prayers or make offerings before going on a hunting expedition. It is possible that our early ancestors began to think that hunting was governed by supernatural forces. The act of painting an animal or a hunting scene on the wall of the cave might have a ritualistic significance, it has been suggested. Early people would have had a much more elaborate set of images than we do; images of their surrounding habitat, images that have significance for them when they see their environment. Psychoanalysts have suggested that dreams play a part in the formation of imagery. Aboriginal people understand a ‘dream world’ that interprets the real world for them. As our ancestors evolved they developed beliefs and this came with the introduction of abstract thought. Over thousands of years beliefs and rituals became religious systems. That happened when human societies became larger and more complex and power systems grew up through which communities were organised by the few to control the activities of the many. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

How words are made

When I was at Manchester University I did a course in ethnomethodology. What I remember about that course was the way they broke words down into pieces – I think they called them phonemes – the units of sound that words are made from. The way phonemes are made depends on the shape of the mouth, lips, tongue and larynx and vary from one language to another. Language requires speakers to learn phonemes in order to make words; then it is a question of how to arrange words into phrases. When we listen to someone speaking we hear the phonemes and these allow us to distinguish one word from another. There are 44 phonemes in English. The are 26 letters in the alphabet and so some letters have to be combined together to form a sound – ‘ch’ for example. However, ‘ch’ can be spoken in different ways to make different sounds depending on which word is used. Chef, Choir and Cheese all contain ‘ch’ but are said differently. English can be a difficult language to learn because the way it is spoken and the way it is written do not always marry up. The way words are spelt is not always phonetic. English has it roots in many early European languages including Latin, French, Danish, German and now even Asiatic languages. In the Xhosa language of South Africa, a variety of sounds are made with the mouth, that do not occur in European languages, such as click consonants and different meanings that flow from using rising or falling intonation. The clicks are known as dental clicks, lateral clicks and post-alveolar clicks (made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and sound somewhat like a cork pulled from a bottle.)

Despite the many complexities in the way that English is spoken, it is possible for people to understand what each other is saying even if they come from widely different areas of the country. Providing they use standard English (and not regional dialect words) someone from Cornwall should be understand someone from Glasgow speaking in English. Not always the case of course. Almost every language has its regional dialects. There are however some phonemes that occur in other languages that are not present at all in English. Modern standard Arabic has 28 consonant phonemes and 6 vowel phonemes. Moreover, the way that these are pronounced can change in meaning. Some syllables can be given stress that would make them different in meaning those from that are not given stress but then that is true of many European languages. If we learn Latin we have to know how to emphasise or put stress on a syllable – we have to know if the last, penultimate or third to last syllable is stressed in order to speak a language correctly. Some speakers are clear in the way they pronounce words – they are articulate. Others have more sloppy and lazy approach to speaking, using words that are slurred or truncated. This is true of some dialects. English has changed a lot since it was first spoken. When I was doing my A-Level in English Literature I had to learn to speak middle English in order to read the works of Chaucer aloud in class. The English of Chaucer sounded very different to modern English but you could just make out some of it in the written text.

To make sense of the way that spoken language influences human evolution we need to use techniques such as phonemics and the tools provided by ethnomethodology. The way in which a language is spoken changes over time in response to cultural, political and religious trends and the variations in power between different indigenous and migrant groups. Changes in spoken language can itself lead to changes in power relationships and cause conflict within communities of speakers. It is not difficult to observe that process happening in medieval Britain; it might therefore be to safe to assume that similar processes went on in early ancestral tribal societies.

Brain size and hominin language development

As part of my course in the study of Homo floresiensis (human fossils discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia), I posed this question:

A big, unanswered question is “how big was the brain of the hominin that founded the Flores colony?” We don’t really know what happened but with 700,000 year old tools we urgently need an early skull. This would help us to know how much the brain “shrunk” over a period of over half a million years. The point is that if the brain shrunk over a period of well over half a million years how did the nature of the stone tools vary over the same period. Were later tool-makers with smaller brains better tool-makers than their bigger brained ancestors? It raises an interesting question of the relationship between brain size and intelligence in hominins.

In response to this, a fellow student contributed his own thoughts on the matter; my reply to him was

I liked Christopher’s point until I came to the word ‘intelligence’. I am not convinced that brain size = enhanced intelligence. Because (a) I am not clear what is meant by ‘intelligence’ and (b) there are a lot of other mental activities going on inside the brain other than the kind of things measured by intelligence. The key question for me is whether there is any co-relation between brain size and the development of any kind of language. So far, I have not seen anything on this course which suggests that H.f. had developed language (as we know it.) There is no evidence of ritual or rudimentary religion, two things that go hand in hand with the emergence of language in early hominids.

My fellow student responded by adding:

Perhaps I should have put the word intelligence in quotes, as I quite often do. It is easiest to think in terms of a basic brain functionality, which we have in common with animals at a biological level, and cultural information which is exchanged between individuals. A number of animals apart from human share some cultural information (the great apes, orca, elephants) but we differ in that we use language to “speed learn” cultural information. I think all early hominins had a primitive language to handle social interactions, which developed very slowly over millions of years. There was a critical tipping point (perhaps about 150,000 years ago) when one group discovered how to use language to speed up the teaching of how to make better tools – and significantly you could use language to teach your children how to use language – and the cultural knowledge explosion began with no biological modifications being needed. While H.f. almost certainly did not use language as we know it, if it was alive today I suspect that we could teach it to use language!

This dialogue raises the interesting issue of the relationship between brain size and intelligence (if by that we mean mental capacities including reasoning and abstract thought.) The fossil record shows changes in the size of human brains as evidenced by the skulls that have been found. Simply increasing the size of the brain – as evidence by the capacity of the cranium – does not allow us to infer that the owner’s were smarter. There is no convincing evidence that there is a direct correlation between the total size of a brain and its capacity to think; too many other variables are at play.

My fellow course member went to say

I believe some early hominins developed a highly vocal communication language for use in hunting. It then started to be used to discuss the results of the hunt round the camp fire and young children started to learn about hunting without being put at risk. The language then morphed into a “speed-learning” tool for passing information rapidly from generation to generation. The more efficient the language became the more that could be taught … and human knowledge started to expand exponentially.

Imaginative thinking but it does pose challenging and important questions for palaeoanthropology. It suggests that language developed from life-style, from what early people needed to do to survive in their habitat and what they needed to do in order to survive and meet the challenges of the new environments into which they were migrating. Those species that did not die out and become extinct, were successful in coping with changes in climate, the need to settle in new locations and the demands brought about by slowly moving into new territories that were markedly different from where they had been living before. This process of adaption requires high levels of communication and communal co-operation. Human communication had to become more complex in order to meet the challenges facing the early humans as they migrated into new regions.

I concluded the dialogue by saying

‘we now know the modern humans were migrating through South-east Asia on their way to Australia ‘ Interesting enough but evidence that modern humans settled in Flores would be more important in conjecturing about possible interaction between H.f. and other humans. I speculate that prolonged interaction between species has consequences for both groups and that would leave behind evidence in the strata. Two things would stand out for me (1) evidence of transfer of skills in making artefacts and (2) cultural influences particularly those relating to language. Such evidence already exists from cross-fertilisation discoveries in other parts of the world for pre-historic communities. One last thing is whether species interaction spreads disease. We known from modern interaction between people from different continents that disease has catastrophic consequences for isolated tribal groups. Evidence of disease should be available from bone samples and teeth.

What are the timescales for all this?

By the time we get to the early bronze-age we get the picture of man (Homo sapiens) that indicates the existence of fully-fledged language. Bronze-age people disposed of their dead in a way that suggests they had symbolic concepts of life and death and practised rituals around the remains of the dead. People at this time had developed attitudes to death and attitudes are cultural and that means they must have had language. Intentional burial of human remains appears to have started in the Middle Palaeolithic period (250,000 to 40,000 years ago). Excavations indicate burial practices in Neanderthal and modern humans. In the Upper Palaeolithic period, Cro-Magnons were interring their dead sometimes also placing in the grave objects such as animal bones or ochre powder, tools and jewellery such as bracelets.² By the Bronze age, man had developed a full capability for spoken language, the fabrication of sophisticated tools and jewellery, had started to make clothing, had a variety of cooking methods and had developed conceptual thought to the extent that they could dispose of their dead using ritual, ceremony and the beginnings of religious belief.

People gradually changed from the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers to a settled way of life that permitted farming and agriculture. Human settlements took on long-term timescales in their activities and we see the emergence of buildings and other forms of construction that required high levels of co-operation and crowd endeavour. The construction of monuments and henges required the collaboration of hundreds of people over a long period of time. Art and craft became increasingly sophisticated and we see the emergence of trading, warfare, culture and religion. There is evidence that early communities had a knowledge of astronomy and could tell that changes would occur in the seasons, tides and the weather by observations of the moon. That required abstract thought.

That picture is the end point of the evolutionary process from very early hominids to modern Homo sapiens.

Evolution revisited.

If we look at the work of Charles Darwen and others writing at the time, we get some basic concepts about human evolution. One of the most widely known concepts in early theories of evolution is ‘survival of the fittest.’ Darwen did not have access to the vast array of scientific discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries that have thrown light on our early ancestors. Our knowledge of the evolution of human species in pre-history has created much more evidence as to why some species became extinct and other survived. If the notion that the fittest humans survived if valid, then we have to ask why we mean by ‘fittest.’ Darwen’s writings focus on the evidence that he could observe, that of physical survival in the world of predators and the ability to hunt or to access natural resources. Those that were successful could multiply; those that failed to protect themselves or to eat well became extinct. Being fit to inhabit an environment, being able to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, being able to interpret the landscape – these are all skills that relate to survival in early hominid communities. Changes in climate, the intrusion of immigrant groups, the disappearance of food sources, changing sea levels, territories becoming drier and arid, rivers drying up – are all changes that would kill off some communities but which could be survived by those that were adaptable. The capacity to adapt to fundamental change can be seen as being closely related to language, culture and the ability to modify belief systems.

The approach of this article is to try to work out the role played by language in the process of human evolution. I have considered what language is in order to begin to analyse the part it could have played in evolution. Not an easy task; we are dealing with something that does not survive in the fossil record and clues are few until we get to artefacts that represent linguistic behaviour. Much of this is guesswork and assumption. Trying to imagine how language shaped human behaviour is useful in as much as it gives some direction to how remains may be analysed. By looking at artefacts we can arrive at some understanding of the emergence of belief systems, culture and religion. If we make assumptions (in the absence of hard evidence) then they must be credible, accurate and verifiable by observations and data that are available.

Language gave early man the ability to communicate ideas and this aided survival and gave him an advantage over other species that were limited to complex but non-verbal communication. Being able to work with a toolkit of words increased early man’s conceptual powers. He began to think more clearly, use abstract ideas and employ a wider and more sophisticated battery of mental processes.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 to 1934) was a Soviet psychologist, the founder of a theory of human cultural and bio-social development commonly referred to as cultural-historical psychology, and leader of the Vygotsky Circle. Vygotsky worked on the relationship between language and thought; that is what I know him for most of all. His books – such as Thought and language, Mind in society, Thinking and speech – establishes the explicit and profound connection between speech (both silent inner speech and oral language), and the development of mental concepts and cognitive awareness. Since Vygotsky, many have worked on the relationship between language and evolution. As new and fresh findings have become available from archaeology and the fossil record, from studies plotting DNA dispersion from Africa, results from linguistics showing how modern language might relate to those of our ancestors, and many other sources, we are becoming aware of how much has been discovered and how much more remains to be discovered about this challenging relationship.

Feeding bigger brains

Life before the bronze age saw people living in small groups that moved around the landscape searching for food. For early man, life was an endless round of finding food, shelter and safety. The development of language gave people the ability to communicate knowledge of their environment and aided the process of passing on skills in the fabrication of tools and artefacts. At some point early man learned how to harness fire and the main use to which he put this was cooking. When our ancestors learned how to make fire and to cook food they gained a further advantage which took them another step up the evolutionary ladder. Being able to eat cooked food improved diet and nutrition and, some have claimed, aided the growth of the brain.

The evidence suggests that as our species learnt to make fire, rather than to just escape from it, we gradually ate more and more food that we had cooked. Over hundreds of thousands of year, the digestive system of Homo sapiens adapted so that it became efficient at extracting energy from food that had been cooked, more so than from food which was raw. Scientific papers have suggested that cooked food provides a higher level of energy, when digested, and this aided the evolution of a larger brain. As an organ, the brain and its activities uses high levels of energy. It was only through the development of cooked food that such large brains could evolve.

There is no evidence, as far as I know, of any other animal species using fire. Several species use tools of various kinds but it is only our species that had learnt how to start fires and then use them. Cooking food using fire goes back many thousands of years in the archaeological record. The remains of cooking appear in nearly all excavations of human settlements in modern times and also occur widely in the fossil record for early hominins. Having more energy meant that early man could think more and that aided the develop of both language and of conceptual capacity. Man being to have abstract thoughts. That led to the construction of ritual and religion to the creation of culture and art. By the time we get to the bronze age we see how far this whole process had come.

It could be said that what characterises modern humans is their ability to cook food before eating it. No other species can do that. The implications are profound. Recent studies found that people who chose to eat only raw food, either meats or vegetables, had a lower body mass than those who lived on a normal (cooked) diet and often became malnourished. Our digestive systems have adapted over tens of thousands of years to eating cooked food. A consequence of this is that we are more able to turn food into energy by cooking it and this provides an ample supply of energy to our brains. Cooking is such a fundamentally important aspect of archaeology and history. We cannot fully understand the lifestyles of human communities without making reference to the way they get their food – either by hunting, scavenging or by farming – and the way they prepared it before eating it. Food preparation gives rise to many cultural characteristics and in some cases to religious rituals. Whether we are studying the fossil record or digging in the period of recorded history, looking at farming, agriculture, food distribution and cooking is completely necessary to understanding the life of any community.

Death – finding the right words

As human species developed, towards the bronze age, their life styles became increasingly complex. Their technologies were becoming ever more sophisticated and varied, they had an increasing awareness of their environment and they began to treat death differently. By the time of the bronze age, people were burying their dead and placing ritual objects in the graves. It is likely therefore, I would argue, that they developed words and thoughts that represented how they felt and thought about the processes of funerals and how the present generation of people related to those who had gone before. Language was being more sophisticated and that created a further element in the advance of their evolution. Funerary arrangements had become increasingly complex by the bronze age and the practice of mummification had become established in Egypt and the British Isles. [Mike Parker Pearson, 2005]

The technology of making bronze would have required new words, I think. It was an activity that had few parallels in anything else that people were doing at the time. Being able to extract ore, smelt it and work it into tools is a fairly complex process and this suggests, I would argue, that people had language and could talk to each other about this process. It would have been very much harder, if not impossible, had they not had language. This would have been between 2150 BC and 1700 BC. [Stockhammer, 2015]

The ability to start and use fire was a major factor in the evolution of early man and is seen as a major adaptive advantage to people in the late neolithic period. [Wrangham, 2010] Newspaper reports on the discovery of a bronze age settlement near Peterborough

Almost 3,000 years after being destroyed by fire, the astonishingly well preserved remains of two bronze age houses and their contents have been discovered at a quarry site in Peterborough. The artefacts include a collection of everyday domestic objects unprecedented from any site in Britain, including jewellery, spears, daggers, giant food storage jars and delicate drinking cups, glass beads, textiles and a copper spindle with thread still wound around it. [Kennedy, 2016]

The site was in use 3,000 years ago. Excavations of the site produced examples of cooking pots and well-preserved metal artefacts. By this time the evidence suggests that these people were farmers. I have already argued that the life style of hunting and gathering required knowledge of the habitats that people moved in. The transition to the kind of settled existence required for farming demanded increasing knowledge, skills and technology and that would have led to a larger number of words and increasingly sophisticated language.
Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Harvard University Press, 30 Jun 2009


Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.
Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian,  A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute,

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from:

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence?  from

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size  – Fluid intelligence has two facets that rely on brain size and energy production –  Psychology Today. From

See William S-Y Wang, Language and the Evolution of Modern Humans, City University of Hong Kong,  from

Brain Size

Size does not matter

it’s what you do with it that counts

Brain size, language and evolution

This article forms part of a large work on which I am currently engaged (August 2016). ‘Language and  Evolution’ is a subject that flowed from a course I took that studied the discovery of the remains of an extinct hominid called Homo floresiensis, in the Ling Bua cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia.  I tried to discover if this species could talk using a language. It is not possible to know from the archaeological evidence. I will be posting more from my studies of the development of human language through evolution, as sections are completed.

Scientific studies of early hominid skulls and other skeletal parts have provided some understanding of the sizes of brains of early humans, compared to those of modern people and some animals, including modern great apes.

What we do not yet understand, I would say, is the relationship between brain size and capabilities.  The brain governs what animals can do, how they can do it and how much they can learn in order to ‘know’ what to do. The brain is the repository of behavioural characteristics. Just having a small brain does not always indicate lack of behavioural characteristics. Species with smaller brains could still make some tools. Complex communication skills might also have been possible in hominids with relatively smaller brains. The skeletal remains can reveal quite a lot but not what the brain inside the bones could do. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude that Homo sapiens had a large brain, comparatively, and that he also could talk in a language.

Neanderthals left very little in the way of artistic artefacts and this suggests that symbolic thought was limited to a few individuals and not widespread in the species. Scientific work on how Neanderthals spoke suggests a more limited range of voiced sounds that we find in modern man.¹ The size of a brain is not the most important indicator of intelligence. The functionality of a brain comes from various elements including the spinal cord and brain stem; it also involves the nervous system and the extent to which the animal can see, hear and sense its surroundings (its cognitive abilities.) The behaviour of an animal will reflect its ability to learn from experience; the survival of a species, it can be said, is a function of its ability to learn quickly and to adapt to changes in its environment. I will discuss (below) how the acquisition of language increases the functionality of the brain and enhances a range of behaviours that stem from the brain’s capabilities.

But be careful –  brain size it not what you think.  Kendra Lechtenberg makes this point

The relationship between brain size and intelligence, both amongst humans and between different species, has never been particularly well-defined. Humans like to believe that our exceptional cognitive abilities must indicate that we are the kings of the animal kingdom in terms of brain size, or at least that we have the largest brains relative to our body size. As nature would have it, both of these common assumptions are incorrect. Whales and elephants have much bigger brains than humans, and we have about the same brain-to-body mass ratio as mice. Since it would be against human nature to admit defeat, scientists have crafted a third measure of brain size called the encephalization quotient, which is the ratio of actual brain mass relative to the predicted brain mass for an animal’s size (based off the assumption that larger animals require slightly less brain matter relative to their size compared to very small animals). By this metric, at least, humans come out on top, with an EQ of 7.5 far surpassing the dolphin’s 5.3 and the mouse’s measly 0.5.

As Kendra goes on to say ‘there is more to intelligence than brain size.’  The concept of intelligence is difficult; it is both controversial and troublesome. Many have challenged the credibility and accuracy of testing to provide a ‘intelligence quotient.’ What intelligence test measure is not the be all and end all of cognitive ability. When we are trying to analyse and discover how the brain has affected human evolution, we need to look at the whole picture of human functioning. Measuring the internal capacity of a cranium in litres is not really going to tell us all that much. As Alexandra Horowitz pointed out (Alexandra Horowitz, 2013) some animals appear to be smarter because they live in human environments but this is not always the case. As babies grow to adulthood, the size of their brain increases. But this does not give the whole picture; growth and development involve processes going on inside the brain with the growth of synapses. She writes

Consider, though, the strange case of that growing child. Every infant’s brain develops through a period of synaptogenesis—wanton proliferation of synapses, which are the connections between neurons—in the first year or so of life. But one could argue that it is when this intense brain growth ends that the real growth of the child qua individual begins. The next phase of brain development occurs in large part through an increase in synaptic pruning: paring of those connections that are not useful for perceiving, considering or understanding the world the child is facing. In this sense, it’s by downsizing that an individual’s brain is born.

It is possible to compare the mass of a brain with the mass of a body and to see if, on average, some animals – including humans – have a higher score than others. This itself does not answer the question about whether larger brain size co-relates with effective functioning. Many other factors come into play, not least, culture, social integration and knowledge. The intelligence of an individual is a product of how the brain cells work, how neural pathways are connected and many other factors that affect the level of function of the mind. If we want to consider how social groups function, mentally, we have to look at sociocultural factors alongside any analysis of the neurological functioning of the brain and its associated nervous system and cognitive behaviour. The individual Homo floresiensis might have had a comparatively small skull but we cannot conclude from that they were unintelligent. Simply measuring the capacity of its cranium is not going to tell us much. Viatcheslav Wlassoff (2015) commented

There are no doubts that the size of the human brain has increased tremendously in the last couple of million years, from around 600 cm3 in Homo habilis to an average of 1200 cm3 in Homo sapiens. The rise of our intelligence was most certainly linked with this increase of brain size… It is of great interest that the brain size of Neanderthals (1600 cm3) was much larger than in modern humans. We don’t know how Neanderthals would have performed in the IQ test, but we know that they were out-competed by Homo sapiens, even though Neanderthals were physically superior to our ancestors. It is quite likely that our higher level of intelligence played some role in this event.

A new insight into thinking (rather than just brains) comes from Christopher Bergland, (June 2016) who wrote

Fluid intelligence is the ability to think creatively, adapt to new situations, and solve problems you’ve often never encountered before in novel situations. Fluid intelligence generally involves the ability to use critical thinking—along with explicit and implicit knowledge—to identify patterns and connect-the-dots in a personal and original way. As Albert Szent-Györgyi once said, “Thus, the task is not to see what nobody has seen, but to think what nobody has thought, about what everybody sees.”

When it comes to the survival of the fittest and the evolution of human species, this idea of ‘fluid intelligence’ does seem to suggest how some individuals stepped up the ladder and became innovators and then made an impact on the life chances of the group as a whole. To take that iconic example, it was the man who discovered how to make fire that changed the course of human evolution.

This subject is also discussed in my feature article on Language and Evolution.

Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from


It is possible to work out how Neanderthals may have spoken by reconstructing their vocal tracts and then comparing them with those of modern apes and modern humans.

The vocal tract’s structure is revealed in the base of the skull. Modern apes, such as chimpanzees, have a flat skull base and a high larynx whereas modern humans have an arched skull base and a low larynx. Our low larynx allows room for an extended pharynx and this structure enables us to produce the wide range of sounds we use in speech. Neanderthal skull bases appear to be less arched than those of modern humans but more arched than those of modern apes. This suggests that the Neanderthals would have been capable of some speech but probably not the complete range of sounds that modern humans produce.


Researchers studying Neanderthal genes discovered that they shared the same version of a gene FOXP2 with modern humans. FOXP2 is the only gene known so far that plays a key role in language. When mutated, it primarily affects language without affecting other
abilities. This gene appears in different forms in other vertebrates where it performs a slightly different function. This suggests the gene mutated not long before the split between the Neanderthals and modern human lines. However, there are plenty of genes involved in language so it takes more than the FOXP2 gene to prove a language ability.


The 90,000 year-old double burial from Jebel Qafzeh, Israel is one of the earliest that shows careful placement of the deceased. Burials of modern humans become increasingly complex over time, and Cro-Magnon burials usually include grave goods and other evidence of ritual activity. This pattern of behaviour is also seen at burial sites of other modern human cultures throughout the world.

[from Fran Dorey , Exhibition Project Coordinator

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Barbara J King.


Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.

Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, ‘A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute,

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from:

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence? from

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size, Psychology Today.  From


Referendum on the European Union

25th June 2016

This article digests what I made of the debate right up to polling day on 23rd June.

In the last referendum on European membership (on the 5th June 1975), I voted NO after being persuaded by Tony Benn. I am writing this article not because I am in any way an expert on this subject, clearly I am not, but because I like to practice my journalism skills.


My predictions are

(a) the turnout for the eligible electorate will not exceed 50% [I got this wrong; I made this prediction early on in the run-up debate when a lot of people seem disinterested in the whole thing.]

(b) the result of the referendum will be a win for the remain campaign though the vote will be close. [Again I got it wrong; even right at the last moment, I still thought that remain would win, though by a narrow majority. I was surprised by the final result.]

The result of the vote

13th July

Brexit means Brexit

As Theresa May unpacks at Downing Street, I look at her election pledge to make withdrawal from the EU a reality. She said “Brexit means Brexit” but it will be up to her to define what this means. It will be up to Ms May and her Cabinet to set the timetable for withdrawal from the EU, if indeed, that it what they plan to do.

Leaving the EU could offer Britain an opportunity to negotiate fundamental changes to the way that the EU is run and the policies and procedures on which it is based.

In the last few days a large posse of lawyers went to some lengths to point out that the result of the referendum is ‘advisory’ and not mandatory. According to press reports, over one thousands barristers (high level lawyers in this country) have concluded that the vote to leave the EU provides the government only with ‘advice.’ [The Guardian, 11th July 2016]

The senior lawyers have advised the government that it should up to Parliament to decide whether Britain should leave the EU. In a letter they argue that the referendum result as only advisory because it was based on “misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered”. The letter, published in full by The Independent on 11th July, said:

‘The European Referendum Act does not make it legally binding. We believe that in order to trigger Article 50, there must first be primary legislation. It is of the utmost importance that the legislative process is informed by an objective understanding as to the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50.’

They continued ‘Since the result was only narrowly in favour of Brexit, it cannot be discounted that the misrepresentations and promises were a decisive or contributory factor in the result. The parliamentary vote must not be similarly affected. The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.’

The question asked in the referendum was simple: do you want to stay in the EU or leave it? It would be up to the government formed this week by the new prime minister Theresa May to work out how they want to handle negations with Brussels over leaving and the timescale within which that will happen.

The barristers concluded that ‘For all of these reasons, it is proposed that the Government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a Royal Commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations.

The Parliamentary vote should not take place until the Commission has reported. In view of the extremely serious constitutional, economic and legal importance of the vote either way, we believe that there should be a free vote in Parliament.’ [The Independent ]

Meanwhile, Mrs May has floated the idea of a new government department to take day-to-day charge of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU – to be headed by someone who campaigned to leave in the referendum. Chris Grayling, a prominent Brexiteer who supported her leadership bid, acting as her campaign manager, has been touted as a possible candidate for this role. Liam Fox, another Leave supporter who got behind Mrs May, after his own leadership bid failed, will also have hopes of a top job, according to the BBC.

Talk of having a second referendum on the issue of the EU is interesting though largely impractical, not leave because of the cost, estimated to be in excess of £142 million. The big political test for the Government’s policies will come at the time of the next general election. Many commentators would say that an election would return a Conservative government, doubtless with an increased majority, and the political wind is blowing in that direction.

12th July

The fallout from the referendum continues: Theresa May is to replace Cameron as prime minister. Labour is embroiled in a leadership battle. People are talking about a second referendum, hoping that all those who voted LEAVE will see the error of their ways. But the new prime minister is still saying the UK will leave, even though she campaigned to remain. Everyone respects the will of the people and their vote should be upheld. The date of the next general election will be sooner than we think. The issue will come back back again at that time.

Referendum day

On polling day it seems the country was equally divided. On the morning of the vote, a trawl through websites suggested that the result will be too close to call. Towards the end of the run-up campaign, the people became increasingly passionate about the side they had chosen – although a very large proportion had not made up their minds by the eve of the vote.

So if the result was very close, what would that mean for British politics? If there was no overwhelming, landslide victory for one side would the Government be bound to follow the will of the people? I looked at this issue. Some analysts said that the legislation that set up the referendum did not make the result legally binding. Even if Brexit won the vote, Parliament would still have to legislate to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. As far as I can see, pro-Europeans have a majority in the House of Commons. If the vote resulted in a decision to leave – even by a very narrow majority – it would be political suicide for Cameron and his Conservative government to overturn the will of the people.

But then most commentators see a success for Brexit as heralding the end of Cameron’s premiership. There is an interesting scenario: what if Labour managed to force a general election and won it? In the wake of a vote to leave, a general election could be forced through and if a party wins it that is committed to remain that would be put forward as a political mandate. As to whether it is more or less of a political mandate than the referendum is difficult to see. If more people voted in a general election and the gap was wider than for the referendum result, in this scenario, then Parliament could conclude that the referendum had been superseded by the result of a general election.

Early on in the campaign, I predicted that the turnout of voters in the referendum would be less than fifty percent; I still doubt that it will be more than the turnout in a general election. The problem for politicians is, when it comes to determining the will of the people – who do they believe? The referendum vote is simple: two choices – leave or remain. In a general election all constituencies will have multiple choices and even with ‘first-past-the-post’ elections, it is possible that the will of the people will be less than decisive. Only a landslide election victory with a big turnout could overturn the referendum result.

There is however another scenario. Let’s assume that Brexit has won. Parliament votes to leave. The process begins but is set to last for two years before anything really happens. During that time political and popular opinion changes and a majority forms in favour of remaining in the EU. The next general election is set for 2020. It is not unknown for elections to be brought forward. We can imagine a picture in which the leave vote wreaked havoc on the UK economy and ignited a strong change in opinion in favour of remaining. an early general election is fought around the EU question and a remain party wins with a comfortably majority. If that party is not the Conservatives, then Parliament would be in a position to put the whole withdrawal process to the vote. So the UK position would become ‘I know we said we were leaving but actually we have changed our minds and now we want to remain.’

41 years later – has anything changed?

A major decision faces the British people on 23rd June 2016 – possibly. Britons return to the ballot box to decide whether they should in or out of the EU. I say ‘possibly’ because a few people dispute how major this decision actually is and whether it faces the British people, as a whole, depends on which part of it you live in.

Forty years ago the vote was put to the people; it might seen that a lot has changed over that time but has it? In many ways the issue we will face on 23rd June this year is much the same as it was in 1975.

In parliament, the heavyweights have got into position; Cameron said today (February 22nd) that leaving the EU would be “a leap in the dark” and PM contender Boris Johnson has joined the NO campaign, putting his weight behind those who want out. Do they, as they claim, have the nation’s best interests at heart? Or are they just watching their backs, caring more for the future of the Conservative Party and who will fill the PM’s chair at Downing Street, when it becomes vacant. Indeed, if the ‘exits’ have it, many believe that will be the end of Cameron’s premiership.

Meanwhile, the Labour party exhibits a mixed bag of views. Mr Corbyn saw the EU negotiations as a “theatrical sideshow.” He claims that Labour is “overwhelmingly for staying in.” Corbyn might disagree with Cameron on many things but they are united in their belief that the UK should continue to be a member of the EU.

The two major campaigns – ‘stay in’ and ‘leave’ – have started their work of persuading the public which way they should vote. Stronger In, for example, began to drop literature through people’s letterbox in January. has similarly started started to bombard us with their side of the propaganda war. Meanwhile the media has been having a field day with constant news stories about who is saying what and who has done what.

For both sides of the argument, the hymn sheets have been made ready for politicians and business leaders to sing to. Both sides are honing their cases, the positions that claim are the key ones for the voters in June.

How long to get out?

What difference will the vote on 23rd June make? Will the UK suddenly become an ‘independent’ sovereign state on 24th June? Several commentators have said that the decision could be challenged in the European court; even the terms negotiated by Cameron over the weekend will not automatically fall into place, if we believe what the analysts are saying. Even if details of the terms go unchallenged in the courts, it would take two years to finally cut the chains holding our island to the mainland of Europe, I have heard it said. Indeed, some believe that leaving the EU is simply a ploy to get more favourable terms for staying in. Commentators have been saying that Cameron’s tour of the 27 member states was a weak manoeuvre and what he left Brussels with was hardly worth having. What he got and what he asked for, were separated by a gulf wider than the English channel. But if many millions of voters give a resounding OUT that puts the UK in a much more demanding position.

Meanwhile, the scare-mongers are lining up to frighten prospective voters. From the Scots, who are threatening to devolve from the ‘united’ kingdom through to the law, order and security brigade who see 24th June as being the start of Armageddon. What some say they don’t have is the facts; even so, what politicians are not short of is facts, even though many produce figures that are contradictory and hotly contested by others. Members of the public interviewed on the TV vox pop news films seemed to be roundly confused by it all.

An independent England?

It’s not just the Byzantine complexities of the EU; the question of tariffs and barriers and boundaries with the rest of the world is a mire of murky misinformation and misunderstandings. OK so the rest of the world is actually bigger than Europe and even if we did walk away from it, Europe will still be there long after we have voted with our feet. What staggers me is that we got so little support from our European neighbours when the PM sat down to talk. Cameron’s shopping list of ‘demands’ got watered down by the time he left Brussels. What Cameron came away from Brussels with was a feeble set of compromises.

Labour, says Corbyn, will campaign to stay in and he Tweeted his reasons why. Workers rights, paid maternity leave, equal pay and more being seen as the headline benefits conferred by EU membership. ‘Stay in and make it better’ seems to be the Corbyn mantra. He would love to see an end to the kind of austerity measures that embittered Greece. Writing in The Guardian (on 22nd June) Corbyn argued ‘… being part of Europe [sic] has brought Britain investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment.’ He meant to write ‘EU’, surely? He went on to say ‘The prime minister has been negotiating for the wrong goals in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.’

For Corbyn the real issues are about the steel industry, stopping the spread of low pay and insecure jobs and the exploitation of migrant workers. Well he is after all a Labour politician. It’s all a clash of philosophies – free marketism versus social co-operation. His point is a worrying one; he referred to the ‘bonfire of rights’ that could follow a British exit. No longer bridled by Brussels, a Tory government could wipe the slate clean on worker’s rights, pay and equality.

Norway is often paraded as an example of what independence can achieve. The reality is rather different. Travelling between Sweden and Norway you will not encounter a border control or need to show a passport. Even though Norway is not a member of the EU they still have to deal with fish quotas and tariffs but they have no say in how these are set. Norway is a member of EFTA and a member of the European Economic Area (the EEA) along with Iceland and Liechtenstein. Prime minister Erna Solberg said that Norway’s own arrangement would not work for the UK. The Nordic country voted in 1972 against joining and again in 1994, though, in both cases, by a majority of just over half. Norway still contributes a significant amount of money to the EU.

If England leaves the EU, it will still have to negotiate tariff deals. Bear in mind that the economy of Europe is not at its best right now and if and when it began to improve, the position of this country would change and our position might well have to be renegotiated if we leave after the vote.

EU and whose army?

In fact there are many associations and organisations that have a bearing on European countries and their trade – The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) of which the UK has been a member since January 1973. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has had the UK in its membership since 1949. There is a bevy of associations concerned with technologies; for example, the UK joined one that regulates atomic energy.

Britain is surrounded by an army of international bodies, organisations and multilateral treaties. The EU itself operates through a clutch of institutions: the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Justice, to name but a few. That is not forgetting a basket of charters and conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Europe is not something a country can just walk away from. Even two years for a divorce would be highly optimistic. Let’s not forget that the United Kingdom is in membership of the EU; that leaves open the position of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Voting patterns could vary enormously in the countries of the UK. Geography is just one of many dimensions of how this question breaks down.

It was a British prime minister who first thought up the idea of bringing together European countries – Winston Churchill. “We cannot aim at anything less than than the union of Europe as a whole and we look forward with confidence to the day when that union will be achieved” Churchill said when he was in Amsterdam after the end of the war. It was a prophetic statement but it was just tub-thumping, pointing to the way forward without having idea of where to go with it. It was Robert Schuman who joined up the dots. He was, and is regarded as, one of the founding fathers of European Union. Even as early as the 1950s it was always the vision that there would be a federal union and if Britain would not accept that it, then it could not join. We did not join and so we did not invent it and we were not there at the origin, Tony Blair was to say. Back in 1955 the vision was limited to coal and steel until ministers came to together to discuss a wider concept that would harmonise not just economic but also social policies. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 by six states to create the European Community. Britain had therefore played no part in the writing of the rules on which the common market was based. Harold McMillan sent Edward Heath to see how Britain’s trade could be wedged into this new order that had been put together in Brussels. It was in 1963 that De Gaulle effectively vetoed Britain’s entry to the common market, leading McMillan to feel that he had been betrayed by his old wartime ally. In 1971 both major parties were split. Labour MPs broke ranks and joined the Tories in the ‘yes’ lobby. Heath went to Brussels to sign the treaty in 1972 but it still had to be ratified by parliament.

The EU in Leicester

I take Leicester because it is in many ways a microcosm of the wider nation. Localism gets right to the heart of the debate. It’s not just about what might happen to one member state; it’s also about regions and cities, both here and on the continent.

Here in Leicester – one of the most diverse cities in England – the impact of the EU is widely present and easy to see in this city. A thriving Polish community testifies to the success of migration; their shops are everywhere and most large supermarkets now stock products that reflect Polish tastes. The city’s hospitals are staffed by European doctors and nurses and in the streets of the city centre you hear the cacophony of foreign voices amongst the shoppers. Local businesses rely on migrant workers coming in to fill the vacancies left by indigenous workers. They clean our homes and offices. They care for our children and old people. They cook our food and fill our supermarket shelves. They pay taxes but take little or no benefits from the public coffers they enrich. They do however put pressure on our schools; in this city the birth rate is high and the streets are crowded with the pushchairs and prams of migrant workers. Here health and care services are open doors; is there room enough inside for everyone who wants a place? Migration is not itself an issue for most voters; it is the impact of immigration that divides opinion. Closing the borders between England and Europe would almost certainly harm many local businesses – those that depends on the skills provided by migrant labour. Depending, of course, on what border controls remain in force or would be changed by an exit. Even if England left the EU, it is doubtful that cross-country migration would decline, all that much. Let’s not forget that around 125 million Brits go to the Europe to work and/or live.

The issue of migration

It’s very clear that England has, for a very long time, been unable to fill the vast range of vacancies created by the services sector of the economy, let alone hospitals, construction and food production. The EU came into existence, partly, to enable the free flow of workers between its member states. Just as Europeans come here to work, so 125 million of our own people went to Europe in search of jobs or housing. Over three million jobs, it is said, are linked to the UK’s trade with European countries. Over 200,000 UK businesses trade with the EU member states. Without European migrant labour many UK businesses would grind to a halt, as would many of our hospitals. Workers who come to this country pay into public coffers through their taxes; they spend their wages in our shops, they help maintain the productivity of the companies in which they work… but all this depends, in the last analysis, on how you look at it. The one thing I have noticed about the EU debate is that opposing sides are throwing statistics at each other in large numbers.

Immigration is not about numbers but the rate at which people arrive. We must, as a country, as a state and as a community, integrate new arrivals. These comments from campaigners struck a chord with me. Some come, the migration issue is not about the absolute numbers coming into the country but more about what happens to them as they arrive and to the people already here.

Many people see EU membership as taking away migration controls. I am not sure this is correct. Several Brexit campaigners said that leaving the EU would enable the country to make its own arrangements for who it will allow in. Some suggested that we should adopt a points system, similar to that used by Australia.

Why is it that so few people from this country choose to go to Europe to work? I remember it being said that over a million Brits have gone to Europe to work.

The vote should not be decided on a single issue; membership of the EU is not a single issue question. It would be wrong to base one’s vote on the issue of immigration alone.

Its not just the numbers and rate coming into the country as a whole but how they are distributed. Certain towns have been over-run by migrants and clearly are unable to cope, such Ipswich, some commentators argue. It’s not a question solely of border controls; it’s far to do with the qualifications of migrants and what they intend to do when they get here and what work they intend to look for. That varies considerably from one area of the UK to another.

Housing, schools, health… these have to be able to cope with new arrivals. UK should change the way that EU migration happens. A key issue during the campaign was whether incoming migrants should be able to claim state benefits.

Claims that the EU is undemocratic figured widely during the campaign. It probably is, many thought, but then how exactly could it be made democratic? We elect our MEPs in our own country. But we have no vote in which gets the top jobs – which all go to white males. Several commentators and campaigners challenged people to name any of the presidents of the EC. Leave campaigners were often quick to point out that all the presidential office holders were white males.

How the future of the EU could affect Britain.

What if there was a right wing take over of the EU by parties even more right wing than the Tories? What if Turkey joined and created a sudden increase in the influence of Islamic fundamentalists? There are many questions about how future tends in the politics of the EU might affect life in this country. Much was made during the campaign of the desire of some euro-politicians to move towards a federalised Europe. Nigel Lawson argued that there is a movement towards the creation of a European superstate. He clearly does not want Britain to be part of that. Federalism is already in place in various parts of the world. The USA is perhaps the prime example. There are several models of federalism; some tighter than others, some more able to function effectively than others.

Originally, when Britain joined, the European institution was a common market. Since the 1970s, there has been a drift towards ever more political integration. As Lawson said in his article: ‘…That is the creation of a federal European superstate, a United States of Europe. Despite the resonance of the phrase, not one of the conditions that contributed to making a success of the United States of America exists in the case of the EU.’ [Telegraph, 2nd May 2016]

Europeanisation begs the question ‘what is European about?’ This comes into sharp focus when we consider the accession of Turkey to the EU. As it stands today, Turkey is anything but European. The issue calls into question what defines European-ness. The extent to which all 28 member states share the same root political philosophies is open to debate. I suspect that some Americans might be exercised about what the USA American. It could be argued tat across Europe there is an even wider diversity of cultures, values and political philosophies than may be found in north America.

Will the UK be able to govern itself?

Has England ever enjoyed a period of absolute sovereignty? Over the past 500 years, even during the days of monarchical absolute power, we have been hemmed in by external influences both of our foes and our allies. Go back twice as far and you find a country being ruled by the Italians; then it was the Danes; then it was the French… the Victorian era was perhaps the golden age of the British Empire. Even then there was no absolute freedom; our territories and dependencies exerted influences over what the British could or could not do.

Having heard some of the opinions expressed in the media about sovereignty, it appears that plenty of people think we would start governing ourselves on 24th June. Boris Johnson referred to ‘independence day.’ Nothing of the sort. I doubt there ever has been a time when the UK enjoyed absolute sovereignty and leaving the EU will not give us much more power than we already have over our own affairs. After all, the EU affects only part of our governance; it does not reach into things such as taxation, the operation of the NHS, defence… and we will still be members of the commonwealth. And NATO.

Chatham House said, in a paper published from its website

In a world that is more interdependent today than it was when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the notion of ‘absolute’ British sovereignty is illusory. It is also worthless if it limits the ability of future British governments to ensure the security and prosperity of their citizens. Judging from the UK’s experience and its future prospects, the opportunities from remaining in the EU far outweigh the risks of doing so, and the risks of leaving far outweigh the opportunities.

See more.

I liked this statement; it views nation states as being ‘ interdependent’, and sees absolute sovereignty as being an illusion. In my view, the idea that Britain can rule itself autonomously without regard to other countries is not something that is possible in the current world order. Whether or not Britain is in the EU, it will always be a signatory to a variety of international treaties. Each time a country signs a treaty it agrees to forgo some of its powers of self-determination. Trading with other countries and particularly with a regional block always requires some degree of diminution of independence. Referendum campaigners often referred to British law being made in Brussels and found figure to quote that, in their minds, represented the percentage of laws made in Westminster. In fact Brussels give us rules and regulations, not laws. It might well be the case that the EU has imposed hundreds of rules and regulations on us and the most important decisions that affect us have all been made by our own elected politicians sitting in the House of Commons.

We sacrificed some of our sovereignty when we joined the EU but voting to leave will not confer on us a new golden age of complete self-governance. The world is a much too complicated place for any country to enjoy that kind of thing.

Would the EU survive a leave vote?

What if the British decide, in June, to leave the EU? Would it survive? Several commentators suggest that Britain’s withdraw from the EU would be its downfall. Leaving the UK might lead to other countries leaving too. When we last voted on the issue, 40 years ago, Europe was dominated by Germany and France. Today, German is the single most dominant economy in Europe. Some member states worry that a British vote to leave could spark off a series of similar votes around the 28 states that would leave to collapse of the entire EU edifice. Indeed, if the British can re-write the terms its memberships, that would lead others to do the same thing, some politicians in Brussels believe. If enough building blocks are changed, the entire structure ceases to be the same thing that 27 countries thought it was or wanted it to be when they joined.

Do I look bothered?

Are the British people really that bothered about the result of the referendum? There are two sides to this story: one is the vox pop interviewing of random members of the public and the other is the polls? Many voters might be concerned about specific issues – such as border controls and immigration – but appear to be befuddled by the whole thing. What is most worrying is that many voters will mark their ballot papers based on what they believe will be the effect stemming from one or two specific issues rather than having weighed-up the whole case. Ten years ago the French and the Dutch voted NO to the constitutional and Lisbon treaties. It’s not just the voting public who fail to see the wood for the trees. Many of the leaders who have sat together in summits and other get-togethers have become so bogged down in details that they have failed to address the bigger pictures. Even British prime ministers it would seem have failed to grasp the wider issues. Many of the interviews I have seen, read or heard in the media take a single-issue approach to the question. Business leaders look at as though it was about only trading.

Are other members island states?

Cyprus is an island. Malta is an island. Ireland is partly an island. Greece is a country of islands. Denmark has lots of islands. Is there something about being an island that makes a people different to their counterparts who live on the main land? Do the British have an island mentality that makes them think differently to more mainland countries? I like to look back at the time when there was no channel and the landmass of what is now Britain was simply an archipelago on the mainland of the continent we now call Europe. Our ancestors simply walked from their homelands to this country and so, in historical terms, we are all descendants of migrants. Genetically, the British have the DNA of most Europeans and the peoples of North Africa. Being an island did not stop the Victorians from creating an empire. Many of those who are arguing in favour of leaving the EU base their case on opening up new markets in other parts of the world; drawn by the prospect of trading on a much wider footing – they can hardly have an island mentality. Being part of something bigger (Europe or the world) is an idea and whether you are an island or a mainland country, it’s about what you think being part of something bigger will give you.

My referendum diary

24th February

The BBC reported that EU reforms cannot be reversed (by judges) according to Donald Tusk, EU Council president. Tusk told MEPs that the deal negotiated by Cameron was “legally binding and irreversible.” What promoted this was Michael Gove (Justice Secretary) saying that the European Court of Justice could throw out some measures without changes to the treaty. But Downing Street and the Attorney general maintained that the reforms could not be reversed. Gove is one of five cabinet ministers for are for an exit from the EU. Only when the treaties are changed will be European Court be bound by them. If the British people vote to leave, the deal with cease to exist, Mr. Tusk said.

This is not a simple issue; states can express their consent to an agreement in a number of ways; 28 nations have agreed to the deal and intend to be bound by it. Simply agreeing to a deal does not change treaties; any of them could raise the matter with the European Court of Justice. The chances that the court would rule to overturn a measure in the deal is remote.

29th March
In a piece published on the website of the Electoral Reform Society Josiah Mortimer revealed the results of a poll taken to predict the turnout for the EU Referendum. In a poll conducted by BMG research, it reported that
We asked what people thought turnout would be in the referendum – When asked, the average response shows that the public predict turnout will be 57% on June 23rd. What is interesting is that this is broadly in line with non-poll based predictions, particularly amid valid fears about low turnout being a big issue in this referendum. And it certainly links in with the fact that most people do not feel informed about the vote. – See more.

12th April

The government’s controversial booklet about the EU referendum arrived in the post today. Controversial because of the cost of it producing it and it gives only side of the argument and several sources claim it is factually in accurate. As I read through it, here are my thoughts:

The commentary begins with some simple facts:

The UK has not joined the euro
The UK has not joined the Shengan border controls -new rules have been applied to migrants seeking welfare benefits

It reads partly like a public information leaflet put together by civil servants and party like a party manifesto. It some respects it is both. The leading argument is that staying inside the EU will given Britain a stronger economy. This gets to the nub of the whole debate: do we see the future of this country in trading with Europe or with the rest of the world. It is claimed that Europe offers us the world’s biggest single market. Is that true? Would we be better off trading mainly inside the EU or are we thereby missing out on trade with other parts of the world that could offer much more.

According to the brochure, the EU is ‘by far the UK’s biggest trading Partner.’ It goes on to assert that ‘remaining inside the EU guarantees our full access to its Single Market.’ Despite the arguments given in the brochure, business people and industry leaders are divided over the issue; some want to stay in and argue that this is good for business; others want to leave and seek better markets elsewhere. The brochure claims that ‘over 3 million UK job are linked to exports to the EU’, a claim that has been challenged by a variety of commentators and analysts.

Writing in the BBC’s Reality Check Peter Barnes looks at the question of how many UK businesses trade within the EU. He notes that there have been differing claims over how many businesses trade with EU member states. As he points out ‘There are no official figures for the total number of companies that export to and import from the EU. Both numbers are estimates. ‘

Statistics are a minefield and it depends on which sources you choose to believe.

It is little wonder that many of the people interviewed by BBC news reporters feel confused by the welter of conflicting statistics and find it hard to make up their minds given the arguments they have heard about which set of figures are correct.

In the view of the brochure’s authors, leaving in the EU could leave to years of uncertainty, as we unpick our relationship and negotiate a new deal with Europe. As Harold Wilson was once famously quoted as saying “a week is a long time in politics.” Well if a week is a long time, then 20 years is an era. That could be the length of time any exit from the EU could take. We know that David Cameron will not be prime minister for longer than a few years more. Over even ten years, the Conservatives could very well be replaced by another party and the position could change. The result of the vote on 23rd June could well have major repercussions on the outcome of the next general election in 2020. EU membership could become a major plank on which parties contest the next election. Whatever the outcome of the vote on 23rd June, that will not be the end of the story. The parties are very likely to present the next election with post-vote views on how the country should react to what ever result is given.

16th May
Today I received, by post, a copy of The 2016 EU referendum voting guide issued by the Electoral Commission. This leaflet had six sides of text. The headings included: What is the referendum about? Can I vote? Who has produced this booklet? Information from lead campaigners How do I fill in the ballot paper? How do I vote? How do I find out more?
Under the heading Information from lead campaigners the brochures explained that ‘the text two pages’ provide information about the arguments for and against leaving the EU. The content of these two pages was not written by the Electoral Commission. The website addresses of the two campaigns were given.
The brochure provided an informative guide to the process of technicalities of voting. The question was stated as being: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
Two choices were available: Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.
Voters were advised to place a X in only one of the two boxes.
The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament, its website states.

18th May
In article on the BMG research website, it was given that 45% of voters would vote to leave the EU compared with 43% who who would vote to remain with 13% being undecided (data appears to be rounded up.) The shows a fairly unchanged picture from the previous results. Based on political affiliation, the results suggest that Labour voters are more likely to vote to remain. Conservative voters are fairly split with a narrow majority voting to leave. Liberal Democrat voters are likely to vote to remain and UKIP voters overwhelmingly likely to vote to leave.

31st May
What has characterised the debate about the Referendum recently is the battle of claim and counter-claim and the barrage of statistics from either side. Coming under fire has been the £350 million figure claimed to be what the UK pays every week to the EU. This was heavily qualified by those who say it is a gross figure and in fact we get a rebate on that; and those who claim that the real figure is even higher than this. it is understandable therefore that the average prospective voter is caught in the middle of all this, not know which side to believe – if any of them.

I got the idea that the EU will have do, or should have to, work out how the UK will do business with the rest of the world and negotiate with on the tariffs that affect trade outside of the EU membership states. This applies particularly to those countries that do not have trade treaties with the EU. Comments are saying that Britain is the fifth most economically strong country in the world.

Another issue to emerge is that Britain now has one of the highest – if not the highest – levels of minimum wage in Europe. Of course vast numbers of people want to work here because our minimum wage levels are the highest and certainly far higher than in most of the countries that they come from.
The Leavers say that Britain on its own could be great again and able to trade with the rest of the world on its own terms. I simply do not believe this. That does not fit with my idea of world trade.

Another interesting point recently comes from those who say that the EU simply cannot keep up with the pace of change in technology. Its machinery of rule making is far too slow and cumbersome to keep up with the way that technologies are changing.

Someone from Tate and Lyle appeared on TV saying that the EU is imposing tariffs on importers of sugar and using the money from those tariffs to subside beat producers. Similar arguments were made around fishing. But this referendum is not about single issues and it would be completely wrong for voters to make up their minds on issues at this level of scale. It must be about the bigger picture, not about the minutiae. Many of the regulations established by Brussels ensure food safety and have been imposed to protect consumers. Would a post-Brexit government simply wipe them off the books?

Someone claimed that the UK is a relatively low regulation economy; probably one of the least regulated countries in the world. But if we leave the EU and set out sights on trading mostly with the rest of the world it is highly likely that many of those countries with require us to comply with their standards of safety on products and meet their requirements for labelling and testing.

Leaving the UK, it was claimed, would result in short-term pain as the country slides into recession but this is the price we need to pay in order to achieve our long-term gain. Three quarters of our economy is services, not manufacturing. Some are bullish about this and see the rest of Europe as being so dependent on our services, mainly based in the city of London, as being so important they would continue to use those services even if we left the EU. The short-term recession resulting from Brexit would be outweighed by the benefits we would enjoy from trading with the rest of the world, it has been claimed. It is however, a gamble; it is not something that anyone can guarantee.

So, leaving the EU would be very risky; but, some would argue, so would remaining in the EU. The Euro is about to collapse and even though we are not part of it, we would be affected by it. But to exert a tighter control over the eurozone would require countries to work even more closely together.
Both sides have completely opposite views as to the economic consequences of the vote.

The 23rd June is seen as being out ‘independence day.’ Those who take the historical view looked back on the time when the United States declared its independence from Britain. There is no evidence, the historians argue, that the supporters of that move were mainly concerned with the economic consequences of their actions. Fears about commerce and trade might have been present in 1947 when India declared independence but that did not stop them.

Tuesday 7th June
The original deadline to register to vote at the EU referendum was midnight on Tuesday 7 June. Problems with the Government’s registration website during the final hours before the deadline resulted in the UK Parliament passing legislation to extend the registration deadline in Great Britain for 48 hours to midnight on Thursday 9 June. I heard that there was a late surge in registrations.

At around this time I received a leaflet through my door from the Leave campaign. The European union and your family: the facts stated that ‘this document is to help you to make your decision in the referendum… ‘ and went to to state: ‘FACT: Britain’s official bill for EU membership is £19 billion per year or £350 million every week…’. This figure was widely criticism during the later stages of the campaign of being inaccurate and misleading. The BBC’s realitycheck web page reported that this figure was ‘not entirely true’; for one thing it fails to take account of the rebate that we get. As Theo Leggett explained ‘it’s money that never leaves the country.’

Thursday 16th June
News broke of the murder of Jo Cox, MP. Campaigning is temporarily suspended as a mark of respect. Following her death, Jo’s husband told us that she was killed for her political views. Parliament was recalled early and an emotional session was held in Westminster to honour the much respected member. Vigils held around the UK soon spread world-wide as people around the globe gathered to mark her murder and to express their desire for better politics and to voice their concern for the world’s nastiness. No one could have predicted this turn of events but it had a profound impact on the electorate in this country.

Tuesday 21st June
The BBC broadcasts ‘The Great Debate‘ live from the Wembley Arena with an audience of over six thousand. Impressive performances from the speakers especially from Ruth Davidson and Boris Johnson. I watched some of it. The audience was vocal and passionate about the issues. The programme lasted for nearly two hours.

Thursday 23rd June
A record 46,499,537 people are entitled to take part, according to provisional figures from the Electoral Commission. It is only the third nationwide referendum in UK history and comes after a four-month battle for votes between the Leave and Remain campaigns. states the BBC News website.

I voted to remain in the EU.

This was what I wrote before the vote; I will be writing more as the picture unfolds, watching how to issues unravel and how Britain is affected by the impact of the vote.

Analysis: LCFC victory celebrations

The Leicester City Football Club victory celebrations


This is likely to be a large article. For that reason, I am publishing the first draft and will then update it as research results comes in and as I work through various issues. It will be useful to make it available on the Internet to aid dialogue with others, rather than waiting until the whole piece is finished. This article is, therefore, work in progress.

Article published from 18th May 2016

The LCFC victory parade and celebrations of May 2016

Victoria Park crowd from the air

Monday 16th May 2016 was the day on which Leicester celebrated Leicester City Football Club’s winning the Premier League Trophy. I was there on Victoria Park watching the post-parade show and now I am writing about this event as a local historian. I have a range of other interests in it as a social movement; I do not have an interest in it as a football fan (which I am not.)

This article considers the significance of the victory celebrations, from both social and historical perspectives and draws in narratives about mass observation and the methodologies of local history. The article will look at the wider context of the event as part of a discussion of its significance.

The victory celebrations were also important as a media event. Some of my work will be to look at how the world’s media covered the event and (to a lesser extent) the world media coverage that Leicester had for the Premier League win as a whole. This forms part of the narrative of local history.

Social movements and migrations

Yesterday (16th May) was not a social movement; neither was it a migration. Having said that there are aspects of the whole event that share characteristics in common with social movements per se and with migration as a movement of people.

It is said in the media that 250,000 people were “on the streets of Leicester” to celebrate the LCFC victory. I would like to work out what proportion of those people were residents with LE postcodes compared with those who came into the city from the county of Leicestershire and from further afield. Slight anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of people came into the city by train; some of these might have started at stations in the county but it would be interesting to know what level of traffic came into the city from outside the county. The hypothesis here is day that the day was a national event.#edit

Migration is not the best word to use in this context. Movement of people might be an alternative phrase, if only because the era in which we are living is seeing one of the largest movements of people in the history of the world. This is about migration of millions of people from one country to another. This might not seem relevant to the event in Leicester but it provides a bigger picture about the ability of people to move around, access transport and find out what is happening where and when. Movement of people, travel, transit and attendance is a subject worthy of study.

The route of the event was publicised some days before the parade took place #edit The announcement of the location of the festival on Victoria Park however was given out only a couple of days before the parade. #edit. I use the word ‘festival’ to denote the mass gathering on Victoria Park that took place after the victory parade through the city centre; it was rather like a festival – having a main stage and several music acts.

This section focuses on the mass movement of people in geographical terms.

Mass observation

Both sociologists and historians use mass observation as a method for capturing data about events. I will try to find out if there was an organised mass observation of yesterday’s celebrations. #edit

What surprises me is that I knew that this event would happen right from the word go; although I had enough time to organise around it I did not do anything in advance. I could have brought together a team of people to gather mass observations on the streets during the event. I have organised mass observation projects before, in Leicester, but it did not occur to me to organise such a project for this event.

I will however search for any other projects that treat this event as an opportunity for mass observation.

What would we expect to gain from a mass observation of the victory parade? Quite a lot, actually. Even just me being there at the park, I saw a lot of things that were significant. Things that were unexpected, that meant something to me as an observer of life in Leicester. This article will eventually contain examples from my own observations and from comments scraped from social media.

One of these significant observations was the multi-ethnic composition of the crowd and presence of many women wearing hijabs. I noticed this and so did other commentators on social media.

The other thing I noticed were street vendors. Someone commented to me that he had seen “unemployed people selling merchandise on the streets.” In his view, many of those selling goods were people who had jumped on the bandwagon to make a fast buck. That is significant. I saw organised vendors setting up stalls from around 10:30 in the morning. Many of the shops along London road had put sales points at the front of the building, open to passers by. At last one restaurant and removed all its furnishings to create a space that could be filled with customers. This tells us something about business and commerce. #edit Micro-enterprise I suggest is something that merits study as part of what happens at large gatherings of people.

Historical significance-

Was this the largest public event ever to have taken place in Leicester?
Mass public events have taken place before in Leicester. I remember the two One Big Sunday events that were held on Victoria park, which attracted crowds of around 100,000 people.
The history of Leicester contains accounts of demonstrations, open air meetings, pageants and other events that drew large numbers of people. I will look to see how the size of crowds for past events compares to the numbers who attended in victory celebrations. This will set the event in an historical context.
The re-burial of the remains of King Richard III attracted large numbers of people to Leicester. I observed this event. There are other questions that interest me about the Battle of Bosworth, another large event in Leicester that took place 531 years ago.
How many people were involved in the battle of Bosworth in 1485? How many soldiers fought at Bosworth field? How many people saw King Richard III and his retinue depart from the city and how many witnessed the return of the dead King?
This narrative begins to unravel how events are given significance in historical analyses.

-for Leicester

How did such a large number of people find out that this event was about to happen, where it would take place and the time table made for it by its organisers. #edit. What conclusions may be drawn about the size of the crowds lining the streets and at Victoria Park?

-for England and Britain

I have portrayed the LCFC victory celebrations as a national event. It lasted for one day – as many other national events have done and it was focused in just one local area but that is not uncommon for events where the people of Britain mark something that is important for them. Was it a national event? Or, what it simply an event of national significance?

The view from the ground

How did it feel to be there? I spent most of my day walking around the Victoria park area, watching the crowds, the media, observing activities, watching the main stage… how did I feel about that? I plan to write a poem about the event. #edit As a writer I have a fairly wide scope of output, both in creative and non-fiction works.

Capturing history

History is mainly about old documents. But how is current history made? How to today’s historians document things that happen during their lifetimes?
Today’s historians have access to a wide range of media: films, photographs, news reports, comments made on social media outlets, newspapers… a must broader range of source material than was available in the past. How do historians go about capturing contemporary material to form part of a documentation of events and other aspects of history?
Social media produces a tidal wave, a tsunami, of content but it quickly evaporates and can be very difficult to recover. If we scrape Facebook and Twitter for comments, photos and observations we can quickly build up a large-scale picture of an event. We do need to do that quickly because the long it is left the more difficult it becomes to capture.
We might want to analyse such material but if we document it carefully it becomes source material for later historians to use; they might develop a new slant that we not apparent to us now.

Documenting social media

The twenty-first century saw the mass usage of social media both in Britain and in the rest of the world. That made a considerable impact on how people viewed events, happenings, processes, systems, a huge variety of observations and analyses of politics, sport, culture, entertainment, workings of the media, and so on. #edit

Marketing, trade, commerce and merchandising

Mention has already been made (above) of the large number of street vendors present at the event and of the shops, restaurants, bars and coffee houses along the route of the parade. This section focuses on the way that the event was used by a variety of commercial interests to cash-in on the celebrations.

For example:

Catering for those who enjoy slurping the faces of their sporting heroes, the “Vardyccino” was dreamt up by coffee shop owner Hamza Bodhaniya of Bru Coffee and Gelato in Leicester. Selling at £2.15 for a regular cup and £2.45 for a large, the Vardyccinno has proved popular with punters.The drink is elevated from being a mere cappuccino by chocolate powder dusted on top in the shape of Vardy’s head and upper body. [Source BBC website]

Study notes

University of Leicester, Mass Observation online

Social media 1 – Twitter


Media coverage
BBC Leicester City parade: Clean-up after 240,000 people celebrate

BBC World on the move

Leicester city: who is riding the marketing bandwagon?


Mass Observation Archive


Housing Policy 2

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke

Part 2

Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

If you live in the United Kingdom, you are sure to have seen house bricks. You might live in a house that is made from them. But, have you ever stopped to think what bricks are made of? Most people in this country will have picked up and held a house brick at some point in their lives. Have you ever thought to ask – have bricks always been the same as this? We are all familiar with bricks – their size, shape, colour, texture and feel. But have you ever wondered whether they will always be the same, in the future, as they are now? The British have a characteristic love of brick-built houses, compared to say the wooden structures lived in by many Europeans and the residents of North America. It was not always true, however, in previous periods of history when in inhabitants of the British Isles lived in structures made of sticks and mud, blocks of stone or even holes in the ground in some cases.
If you think that a brick is a brick – you might be surprised to know just how varied they are. The common house brick is a solid block, usually 215 × 102.5 × 65 mm (about 8  5/8 × 4 1/8 × 2 5/8 inches). Some bricks are solid, others have 10 holes in them to decrease their weight; some are made in different sizes and and come in a variety of colours. Most are newly made but there is a big market for reclaimed bricks. I am referring to British bricks because the size of bricks varies from one country to another. Bricks are made from a mixture clay and sand that has been heated in a kiln, to harden it and make it strong. Although most bricks are coloured red (because they are made from clays that contain iron) many have other colours, having been made from clays to which additional materials have been added, such as chalk.
At the present time the production of bricks in 2014 -15 is expected to reach a value of £889.2 million [Allen, 2014]. Standard clay bricks that is. It is said that the recession of 2008 resulted in a shortage of bricks [Szu Ping Chan, 2015]. We can see that the construction industry went into sharp decline from 2008 onwards, not recovering until late 2009/10. This was due largely to the lack of finance for both building and the purchasing of new homes as the credit crunch bit into the availability of finance. It was not until 2014 that house building recovered to its pre-crash levels. We cannot attribute the slump in house building solely to shortages of materials (or the finance required to obtain them); the depressed economy also led to a shortage of skilled labour, as companies laid off construction workers.
How old is the brick? It’s an interesting question. Bricks have been around for a very long time. They are thought to have been used for six thousand years, being found in the city of Babylon for example. The ancient Egyptians made bricks from dried mud, some of which have survived to the present day. In China, millions of workers had to make tens of millions of bricks for the construction of the Great Wall. In the British Isles, the Romans made bricks, firing them in kilns close to the buildings they were constructing. Bricks were rarely used in the UK before the fourteenth century. Flemish refugees brought brick-making to East Anglia; in the fifteenth century, many craftsmen from Holland and Belgium settled in the UK. After the great fire of London in 1666, people began to build houses with brick walls to replace the wooden ones that were susceptible to fire. The Tudors were keen on building with bricks and fine examples of Elizabethan brick-built houses are still standing today. Henry VIII took over Wolsey’s home at Hampton Court Palace, in 1528. Much of Hampton Court is still standing today and visitors can see straight away that most of the facades are made from bricks, rather than stone blocks that would have been noticeable in many structures since Norman times. Between 1485 and 1603, brick-making and brick-laying emerged as a specialised craft. The times of the early Tudors and Elizabethans saw substantial increases in trade and prosperity. The rich and powerful no longer needed to build ‘castles’ that would withstand attack; in the relatively peaceful times of the the Renaissance, houses could be designed to look beautiful and to reflect the wealth of their owners. Stone continued to be used for things like windows, where carved ornamentation was required, but walls and chimneys would be made from bricks, which could be woven into patterns and decorative designs.
The way that house building materials are manufactured is beginning to change. Bricks are being produced from new materials as clay is replaced by plastic alternatives. Interior walls are now constructed from breeze-blocks; ceilings and walls use plasterboards; wall cavities use boards made of wood aggregates and roofing materials have moved away from slate to cheaper and longer-lasting alternatives. The next big change is likely to be the replacement of naturally grown timber with plastic materials that have the same properties and which can be worked in much the same way but which are more resistant to decay, insects and deterioration over time.
Houses having two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living rooms is a fairly new development in this country. In the middle ages domestic dwellings for poor people usually had only one room and in this the family cooked, ate and slept alongside their animals which were brought into the building for the night. In was not until later times, as the wealth of working people increased, that dwellings began to develop separate rooms for different functions, such as bedrooms and kitchens. It was not until the industrial revolution that houses began to feature separate rooms as standard for the majority of working people. The wealthy did of course have separate rooms and the very rich built large houses with a variety of rooms; often with a separation between those where the family lived and those where their servants lived and worked.

Today,  social status is indicated by the number of bedrooms a home has as well as by the number of cars that can be accommodated in the garage space. There was a trend, the 1980s, for the professional classes to move out of urban areas into rural villages as a way of increasing their quality of life. Estates of new build houses sprung up in villages and green fields all over England in response to this demand.

My brief canter through the history of building materials serves to underscore three things: that society’s notion of ‘the home’ has changed over time; that how houses were built was (and still is) a consequence of industrial and commercial change and development and that today’s world brings a range of new pressures to bear on choices about which materials to build with, that we never saw before. The future of building will also depend on the emergence of new concerns and industrial influences, such as climate change, energy efficiency, the speed and pace at which housing building needs to takes place and the relative cost of traditional materials compared to those that are newly emerging. Today, people are changing, as our society ages and as new people come to live in this country, and these demographic trends will shape what people regard as being a home. Housing policy needs to take account of these trends, as we will see in the parts that follow. [For a complete list of contents of this book see link below]
Is the house brick here to stay? It’s a question that policy makers should be asking. In contemporary Britain the house brick is still the icon of construction, where homes are concerned. Developers still tend to regard brick-built houses as the norm for new constructions. What we see in the current preoccupation with building new houses is a predilection for traditional designs but, within that, pressures to change the materials that are being used and to making houses that meet increasingly complex environmental requirements are increasingly coming into play. The houses being built today might look similar to those built after the second world war but they have many new features designed into them that our grandparents and parents never knew. Energy efficiency, for example, is now designed into the choice of materials for housing building in a way that was unknown to previous generations of builders. New concerns about carbon footprints and climate change are pushing builders to construct houses in a way never seen before. I look at how these new materials and new methods of construction are challenging the supremacy of the brick in the world of house building.
Here are a few examples of the house brick is changing. Wienerberger, a leading supplier of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, has launched its brand new e4 brick house™ concept. Using over 200 years of expertise and innovation, the company has analysed economic and social trends to unveil a unique archetype that directly addresses the UK market need. Wienerberger’s leading clay brick and wall technology provides, its claims, the blueprint for the house of tomorrow – ‘an aspirational living space that is practical, sustainable and innovative’ [Wienerberger, 2015]. What these claims indicate is that manufacturers have begun to think again about the brick and to update the idea of it for present day concerns with environment and profit.
Graduate Henry Miller has devised a way to reuse waste plastic as an aggregate in cement, circumventing the energy-intensive process of plastic recycling. By grinding up landfill-bound plastic and mixing it with Portland cement, Miller was able to create a material just as strong as traditional concrete made with mined aggregate. The construction company that made the EcoArk Pavilion in Taipei demonstrates the imaginative use of recycled materials. The walls of the building were made solely of plastic bottles that fitted together like Lego pieces. [Leggett, 2010] The polygonal bottles, called Polli-Bricks, were made of plastic, recycled from items such as water bottles and make the building structurally sound enough to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, are environmentally friendly, and are relatively cheap to make. The bricks can be blow-moulded out of shredded PETÂ bits at a construction site. They are then stacked into rectangular panels. Workers cover the bricks with a film, similar to the coating found on smartphone screens. The coating makes the panels resistant to fire and water.
Peter Lewis has created an innovative machine that can transform discarded plastic – such as bottles and bags – into building blocks. The rock-hard bricks could be used for garden retaining landscaping walls or other interesting features such as shock absorbers behind crash barriers [Byfusion, 2015] [Geiger, 2011]
The traditional clay house brick is relatively expensive to produce, is heavy to transport and can deteriorate over time. The new bricks that are being made from waste products have many of the properties of traditional bricks – they are robust enough for building – but weigh a lot less; their production is ecologically beneficial in a number of ways and they cost much less to manufacture.
Builders are increasingly willing to try new materials, especially if that gives them a cost advantage. Many of these new materials will be used in houses but will never seen by most of their residents because they are hidden inside the walls and roofs. In Europe, builders appear to be far more willing to change over to these new materials, more willing than they are in this country. British builders have always been slow to change, compared with their European counterparts. Having said this, the present economics of housing building are pushing builders into adopting new methods of of construction and new materials. There is a severe shortage of brick/block layers in the UK. ‘What’s more, housebuilders don’t just need bricks – they also need people to lay them. And here again the laws of supply and demand are working against housebuilders. The price of bricks had reached an all-time high. What’s more, ‘according to one senior executive, the day rate demanded by brickies, at least in London, has almost doubled in the last three months from £140 to £240’ [Branson, 2013]. So what to do? asks Adam Branson. He argues: ‘The choice is clear cut. Housebuilders must either stop expanding, absorb the extra costs and take a hit on their profit margins, or they must seek alternative materials and construction techniques. And evidence is emerging they are increasingly plumping for this last option.’
The traditional brick built house current suffers from two serious shortcomings: bricks are expensive and so too are the people required to lay them. Some builders are responding to this by looking for new designs and try to get round this problem. One alternative is to use more timber in house design and to cut down on the number of bricks used. Changing to newer methods of wall construction can save money and speed the time it takes to complete a building. Where bigger masonry blocks are used, the walls can erected more quickly and with wage rates being so high, time means money. Arguments are seen about whether brick manufacturers can cope with rising levels of demand and whether the timber industry can supply sufficient volume of products.
There are, however, some residents who are willing to abandon traditional materials in favour of a range of new ones, where they can achieve ecological goals alongside aesthetic concerns. Whilst such approaches might be the preserve of the well-off middle classes, those who can afford to be individualistic about home building, there is evidence that avant-guard methods will become the leading edge of a broader change in the construction industry.

Changing patterns of house construction

Given the development of technologies for the production of new building materials and the increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, it is likely that traditional materials will change in the future as house builders move away from the kind of natural materials that have been used for thousands of years. Several aspects of house construction are now subject to revision.
From pre-history to relatively recent times, wood was the standard building material. England was once covered in trees and forests. As the climate changed, so did the landscape; more and more forests were cut down as demand for timber increased. Naturally-occurring woodlands diminished, so much so, that the government began to plant new forests on an industrial scale. In fact, wood had to be imported to make up for the shortages in British-sourced timber. As with the brick, new products are being invented that can do the same work as timber but which are constructed from materials that are cheaper and which confer environmental benefits.
If we go back to medieval times, we see walls being constructed of wattle and daub, mud mixed with manure being used to seal the gaps in the wooden lattices made from branches and twigs. It was not until brick manufacture developed (as the road infrastructure allowed for their transportation) that we saw bricks being used as a common material for the construction of walls in the fourteenth century. Houses were originally single room structures and in them animals spent the night with the human occupants. It was only later in history that residential houses were divided into separate rooms. As wealth grew, more storeys were added. The materials used for house building remained virtually unchanged for many centuries. There were some experiments, in the 20th century, in the use of other kinds of materials for making walls (remember the ‘prefabs’?) but contemporary house building is widely oriented to the use of bricks because of their aesthetic appeal for external walls. Some examples have been televised recently in which walls have been made from blocks of straw over which a plaster was coated, giving an acceptable, if rustic, appearance and allowing for a high degree of heat insulation.
Medieval houses were roofed with thatch made from reeds, the most common form of material used to create a waterproof top to a building. It would be several hundred years before clay tiles or slates were widely used as roofing materials in many parts of the UK. Some roofs were made from wood shingles but the frequency of fires led to the wider use of clay tiles. The use of steel sheets, such as corrugated iron, in roofing has not had much appeal in this country. Roofs were angled to let rain run off.
In medieval stone-built castles, windows were small and often no more than holes in the wall. Only in the very wealthiest of buildings, would glass have been used to keep out the cold and wet. It would be a long time before glass would become a way of creating weatherproof windows in more modest buildings. In modern times, we saw the introduction of PVC plastics to replace the traditional wood frames of windows. More glass is used in houses these days than was ever the case in historical times. Glass consumption rose when windows were produced to provide double or secondary glazing. Windows in domestic houses, these days, are bigger than they have ever been. Window glazing now frequently includes some kind of coating to reduce glare. Today’s houses provide much more light than the rather gloomy, dark houses in which our ancestors lived. In modern houses, window frames are frequently made from plastic rather than wood although some builders prefer to use wood frames for their aesthetic appeal.
In the middle ages houses were built largely without any plans; their construction was based on know-how handed down from one generation of builders to another. Houses gradually became more elaborate in the way they were constructed and builders began to work from drawn architectural plans. During the Victorian era there was a vast increase in the number of houses being built; as people began to live and work in cities they needed to live within walking distance of factories. The design of homes gradually became more and more standardised, driven by the requirements of commercial house-building and the kind of prosperity that led to home-owning classes. People, who wanted to own houses, became used to traditional designs. As prosperity increased, there was a demand for separate kitchens, indoor toilets, bathrooms and separate bedrooms for adults and children. Apart from kitchens, these features rarely appeared in medieval domestic constructions. The increasing sophistication of buildings led to the establishment of the specialised professions of architecture and building design. Today’s commercially-built housing estates use variations in the design of houses, rather than the uniformity that characterised building designs from Victorian times onwards. But the styling of estate houses is based on consistency of look, in this country. Some builders give prospective buyers a say in which materials can be used for finishings, in kitchens and bathrooms for example. The British are very old-fashioned and conservative in their approach to house design, compared to say, their counterparts in Germany. [Jenkins, 2015]

Future trends in house building

When we think of housing, we inevitably think of bricks and mortar. I will go on to argue that many other factors come into play when we begin to discuss modern housing practice – factors such as changing demography, patterns of employment, the need to integrate housing with community facilities and the options we want to make available for increasing the supply of housing. In fact, there are several factors which might see changes being made to the kind of building materials that we have been familiar with over many generations. There will also be changes in house design, moving away from the traditional concept that has dominated our idea of what a home should be like, towards the kind of modern approaches that attracted today’s younger generation of house-buyers. When older people sell their large family homes to downsize to smaller ones they can come into conflict with first-time buyers. One solution to this is to encourage the provision of retirement homes, reserved for people aged 50 and over. There are moves to provide housing that meets the needs of older people – retirement homes that allow the over 60s to free up their larger family homes for occupation by younger people who want to start families. Freeing up accommodation in houses that have an estimated 80 million spare bedrooms, in the private sector, would go a long way to solving the crisis in housing. Many older people, whose families have left home, have two or three empty rooms which could be let out – a point that has not been lost of those trying to deal with the contemporary migration problem. In the social sector, the Government made a big mistake, I would argue, by imposing a ‘bedroom tax’, a measure that has achieved nothing but a welter of unintended consequences. If there is a lot of unused capacity in social housing, it would have been better to find a way of bringing spare rooms into use rather than forcing occupants into smaller flats. As we will see, house building is being offered more alternatives, including the provision of pre-fabricated kits that can be assembled very quickly. ‘Vertical villages’ and ‘gardens in the sky’ could offer solutions to the problem of space shortages in urban areas, which now attract more and more residents. There are plenty of potential solutions to the housing problems faced in the UK and we will be looking at these later on.
In the next instalment, I will look at key policy considerations in the organisation and supply of housing and argue the need for better, more integrated policy solutions for dealing with the nation’s current housing crisis.

Part 1 – Policy, practice and history
Contents of the entire work

Further reading

Bricks and motar as the basis of housing. Article in Arts in Leicester magazine, April 2015.

Housing Policy 1

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke

Part 1

Introduction – policy, practice and history

I begin by going back to the core concepts that lie at the roots of public policy. I go on to consider housing, and the materials that have been used to construct homes, because history is a narrative of change. If we can see where housing might go in the future, we might get a firmer grasp of the kind of policies we need to adopt today. As most historians would say, the future is seen through the lens of the past. If we can see how the construction of homes and housing has changed over history, we might be better able to see where trends are likely to go in the future. A number of new policy issues are discussed, including the basis of occupation such as house ownership and renting.
I begin however with a discussion of policy, in the field of housing, one that sets the agenda for many of the issues that follow. The term ‘housing’ is frequently used but, in this context it means ‘homes’ – all types of domestic accommodation. Most people, in this country, live in houses but that gives only a partial picture of what people regard as being their homes; a substantial segment of the British population now live in flats and apartments, a trend that is steadily growing. Having a home is a fundamental element of human existence but whilst a house might provide shelter, a place for cooking and a place to sleep, a home is an emotional anchor that binds people to the place that serves as their base and the bedrock of their identity.
I start by looking at three core concepts: policy, practice and planning. I frequently use these concepts but they deserve some explanation. I then consider history as it relates to these three concepts.


In this book, I refer many times to ‘policy’ and this is a subject on which I have written extensively in the past. It is a term that, in my view, requires some explanation. In the 1990s I wrote a book that, on the face of it, was about planning: New Approaches To Crime in the 1990s [Locke, 1990]. In it, I argued that policy includes a statement about the goals of an organisation or system. A policy also states the definitions, boundaries, principles and requirements that are used to set up and operate a system [ibid p 80]. In chapter 4 ‘A matter of policy‘, I set out what I thought to be a conceptual framework for policy. Bear in mind, that, I was addressing the public sector and the organisations within it, that response to crime and dispense justice at the national and local levels.
Much the same conceptual framework is also true for private sector bodies such as corporations and businesses. Organisations can have policies, I argued, but so too can systems. The criminal justice system, for example, can be (and should be) driven by policies – those of the organisations that run the system, including the courts, the police, local authorities and departments of national government (such as The Home Office, Ministry of Justice and so on). The same model applies equally to housing, where the legislation and guidelines laid down by national government creates a system within which local organisations (the operators, such as local authority housing departments, housing associations and private landlords) implement the policy.
Policy is formulated and then implemented. When policy is formulated, those engaged in the task can undertake policy analysis and evaluation. The task of policy analysis sets out to clarify the underlying values implied in a proposed policy, to articulate and state the goals of the policy and might also look at existing policies, examining the degree to which these have been successful. This is the evaluative side of the process. In the case of housing, national government sets out a policy framework within which its departments and local operators make decisions, take action, and formulate their own policies. One of the goals of policy is to provide a framework within which decision making can be consistent and fair. Where housing is concerned, we can see policy makers being influenced and lobbied by a variety of organisations, as well as the usual dialectic that takes place between elected members and their permanent administrations (civil servants and the officers of local authorities.)
It is because the process of policy formulation is complex that it becomes necessary to grasp how it actually works, how it should work and how best to make it effective. In the 1990s, I had a mission to advocate policy science at both national and local levels within my professional domain (criminal justice) and, today, I feel the need to re-visit that discipline where housing and its related areas of policy are concerned. Twenty five years ago I was embedded in my professional area of work at both national and local levels and had access to policy makers from the top down, at all levels. Today, I have to view housing policy from the outside, observing what is happening, without being part of it. This affords me a degree of freedom I did not always have in my previous career. I acknowledge that I have no inside understanding of how housing policy is being made, who is making it and how they are making and that is, I freely concede, a weakness. I have, however, examined some of the products of the policy process – the statements of policy that have been published and this offers insights into how housing policy is being made.
Has the world of public policy changed that much in 25 years? The people involved in it have certainly changed, as each set of elections has varied the names and faces in the various corridors of power, but I believe that the processes through they make and implement policy have not changed that much. Hence, my argument is that policy making, formulation and implementation needs to be understood as much now as it was then. When I see a variety of policy failures, particularly in the field of housing, I am convinced that these are due to the lack of a discipline that could have avoided these pitfalls and if only policy makers had done the job better then such calamities could have been avoided. Housing policy is frequently of poor quality, both in its formulation and implementation. This is often because it is riddled with unintended consequences that reflect shortcomings in the way it was made. The purpose of the disciplined approach to policy formulation is to follow through to the outcomes, to forward plan implementation and to arrive at a strategy that is likely to work in the round. Hence, the argument that follows for the need for joined-up policies.


Once housing policy has been formulated it then needs to be implemented. There is no point in making policies that cannot be implemented. Policies that fail to be implemented, according to the goals and principles contained within them, are not good policies. Policy leads to practice and practice is about planning. The practice of implementing housing policies, is largely about planning: how they are to be put into effect, who will do what, where, when and how. This forms a cycle in which policy makers look at the way they intended their work to be implemented and, if necessary, to go back to the policy and revise it, because they see difficulties in how it will be put into practice. This is a problem that I frequently see in current housing practice. Policy made at national level results in unintended consequences and this is due, I argue, to failures on the part of policy makers to use the cycle of formulation and implementation that is required to make effective policy [King and Crewe, 2014]. Taking a suck-it-and-see approach wastes times and resources and causes harm to people in the process. In good practice, the consequences of policy have to be accurately predicted before policies are made. Making a policy and then seeing if it will work is bad practice; going back to the policy later to correct mistakes is not good government. What I do not see, in the current approach to housing policy, is a sense of what constitutes approaches to good practice in policy making.
There are some exceptions, where specific policies are concerned: the housing charity Shelter, for example, makes available a set of good practice guides on various aspects of its work for housing practitioners [Shelter, 2015]. The Department of Work and Pensions provides local authorities with information and guidance on the Local Housing Allowance Scheme [DWP, 2013]. The Centre for Housing and Support provides its members with a good practice service, covering a range of topics within its remit [Centre for Housing and Support, 2015]. The Chartered Institute of Housing provides its members with Practice Online ‘an online resource that provides comprehensive advice, guidance and good practice examples on a whole range of housing topics in a single place. Updated daily by a team of CIH specialists and expert legal advisers, this is the sector’s one-stop resource for ‘how to do housing’ [Chartered Institute of Housing, 2015]. These, and many other examples, were not difficult to find. The Government website also provides a selection of guides about housing-related policies, in particular housing benefit. These are resources aimed at local practitioners. There needs to be more advocacy of good practice in working with policy; many policy experts have defined best practice in the processes of formulating and implementing policy but the extent to which these are followed varies greatly both in Whitehall and in local authority areas.
In my work in the 1990s, I used the term strategy to bring together into one conceptual framework the three core elements of the policy process: formulation, implementation and planning. In those days I was heavily influenced by what was happening in the business and commercial side of strategic planning. I found a framework of thinking and research that wrapped together these three elements and joined up the processes of stating goals, specifying planning implementation and guiding practice. It was that strategic approach, to dealing with the problem of crime, that gave me the the vision of how a new approach could be taken to responding to crime in the 1990s [Locke, 1990] and I was vindicated, I think, by the way that government policies on crime and justice panned out in the ten years that followed. What I am now looking for is a strategic approach to housing policy and I do not think that this is out-dated, not my any means. It is reassuring that a large number of English local authorities have issued documents using the words strategic or strategy in the titles of their policy publications. Another book would be needed to see if such documents in fact make practical sense within this context.


The third arm of this strategic approach is planning. Once policies have been stated, they then need to be implemented and this is the process through which policy makers organise who is to do what, where, when and how. To implement a housing strategy, at local level, a variety of agencies must work together: local authority departments concerned with housing, social services, residential care, The NHS, housing associations, the private sector and third sector agencies that identify local needs. So too, at national level, a variety of departments need to collaborate together and with non-government organisations. There might be lead agencies but effective implementation requires a range of bodies to co-ordinate their work and to collaborate around local plans and practices.
A lot of information flows within this system, much of it being statistical but also soft data about the impact and experience that practice is having on the lives of people at the receiving end. In nearly all areas of planning, information is the life-blood of practice. In this regard, both crime and justice systems and housing systems share a common model of operation in which information plays an important role. A recent television programme showed how data is now being used to predict where crime will happen in the future [BBC, 2013, Berg, 2014] Watching this, I realised that what they were doing in Los Angeles, was simply an update on the work I did in the 1990s in Leicester, the North East region and many other local areas. Today, agencies have much more sophisticated modern resources than were available to us in the 80s and 90s. Back then, we formulated a procedure for creating local area profiles of crime, based on gathering and analysing data about where crimes had been committed in small local areas. The work gave a picture of what was happening and we used it to explain how the data could be applied to improving inter-agency collaboration and planning [Evans, 1992]. Developments in real-time analysis of large data sets allowed the LAPD to predict where crimes are most likely to be committed at a micro-level. I can see that the same model could be used to predict trends in housing demand and to indicate to planners were housing would most be needed in the short-term and medium-term future. It would not necessarily need to operate in real-time, but large-scale data sets could be analysed to point to specific areas where accommodation and housing would be needed at the local level. Such an approach would profile local area housing patterns, not dissimilar to those that we developed in the field of policing and justice management.
In 2010, a report talked about the creation and use of modelling in housing, in which economic and social factors were brought together and focused, to some extent, on what it called ‘tenure choice.’ The resulting model allowed certain elements to be predicted. This was useful, particularly in areas of high mobility and change. This work led to the formulation of a predictive model that could be used at regional level. The report explains how the model can be used to predict trends in housing need [Department for Communities and Local Government, 2010]. The government website’s National Planning Policy Framework provides ‘planning practice guidance’, including to do ‘housing and economic development needs assessment.’ This includes a section on the methodology of assessing housing need [Government website, 2014]. The section begins by stating: ‘Establishing future need for housing is not an exact science.’ Not a good start because, in my view at least, the opposite is true. The work on predictive modelling shows how a very exacting application of science (and mathematics) can provide tool kits for working with data to reveal current trends and predict where those trends might go in the future. This kind of work is very exact, employing very precise mathematical algorithms. The same source goes to state that ‘This guidance supports local planning authorities in objectively assessing and evidencing development needs for housing (both market and affordable); and economic development (which includes main town centre uses).
The assessment of housing and economic development needs includes the Strategic Housing Market Assessment requirement as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. It goes on to explain that the objective of the exercise is to ‘identify the future quantity of housing needed, including a breakdown by type, tenure and size’ (among other things.) The application of large data sets to mathematical models can appear very fanciful to housing planners faced with severe shortages of accommodation in a local area. This is all well and good but if housing units cannot be created to meet trends in housing need, is there much point in doing all this? Knowing what the trends in housing needs are now or are likely to be in the future is of little use if local authorities cannot manage the supply side of the equation. This is where we are taken back to the issue of the housing crisis. Solving housing policy, planning issues and problems requires more than just information. Moving on to strategy, I consider some of the elements that need to be brought into play to turn policy into plans and practice.
I looked at some examples of local housing strategies. In Sheffield, there is a housing strategy covering the period 2013 to 2023. The council prefaces this with the statement ‘Our housing strategies help us plan and deliver housing for different groups of people across Sheffield. We update our strategies regularly to make sure we deliver a good choice of high quality housing, supported by excellent services. Our objective is for housing to be at the heart of high-quality, safe and distinctive places that will enable Sheffield’s communities to thrive’ [Sheffield City Council, 2015]. In its policy document, it says: ‘More information about how Sheffield is changing and the challenges for the city going forward can be found in the State of Sheffield report. A detailed assessment of Sheffield’s housing issues, and the need to invest in new and existing homes and housing services is set out in the Strategic Housing Review Report 2012. Both reports contributed to the evidence base for this Housing Strategy’ [ibid]. This illustrates the need for information to lie at the heart of policy. There is evidence, in the report, that the city council will work with other providers to ensure that its policy objectives are achieved. Evidence for a collaborative approach is seen where the report states: ‘Therefore alongside the activity that we are directly responsible for and the work done with or by other organisations, we intend to continue to talk to Government and others about how to reduce the barriers to delivery and create the right powers and environment which will help us achieve our long term goals’ and later ‘It is therefore important to recognise that whilst some of this activity is expected to be housing-led, other activities and improvements are expected to be delivered by the appropriate part of the Council, by partner organisations and by helping local traders and businesses to work together to help themselves. In these circumstances, the main role for the Council will be to coordinate the delivery and broker the engagement of all relevant parties’ [ibid, chapter 2]. Allied to Sheffield’s strategy statement there is an action plan that sets out in detail how the policy is to be implemented. In the introduction to the action plan it says ‘This is the first of three action plans that will be developed over the life of the Housing Strategy and covers the period 2013-16. The Housing Strategy Action Plan 2013 to 2016 describes what we will do over the next three years to help us achieve the housing ambitions contained within the 10 year Housing Strategy. The plan contains actions that are priority programmes and initiatives for the Council and our partners, and reflects the current national and local policy situation and financial challenges that Sheffield is facing’ [Sheffield, 2014]. This document indicates that the Council needs to work with partners and the community to puts its plans into effect, illustrating what I call ‘a collaborative approach.’
In Cardiff, there is a clear commitment to collaboration. In it’s strategy report, Cardiff City Council states: ‘In early 2010, the statutory partnerships in Cardiff agreed to undertake work to integrate their existing plans to develop a single Integrated Partnership Strategy – ‘What Matters’. This new approach, to bring together a revised Community Strategy; Health, Social Care and Wellbeing Strategy; Children and Young People’s Plan; and a Community Safety Strategic Assessment, is indicative of the collaborative working being developed to deliver seamless public services in Cardiff’ [Cardiff City Council, 2015]. What this particularly illustrates is the integration of a number of related policies being implemented through a collaborative approach that draws together a range of agencies. Inter-agency collaboration was something I worked on extensively, through the work I did for the consultancy group ‘Quality Partnerships’ which provided seminars and undertook project work at local level.
These two examples serve to show that the concepts used in work on planning policy implementation, in the 1990s, are still alive today. It would be both interesting and rewarding to examine a range of other examples of local housing strategies but I will forego that now in the interests of brevity. I have to say that the above represents desk-based research; I never went to these areas or talked to people working in them, so I cannot vouch for the credibility of these examples as far as practical impact is concerned.
Having set out my agenda for policy, practice and planning I want to move on to looking at history. The original set of House Bricks articles were inspired by my work on the history of the built environment in the context of my local area of Leicester [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2015].


I have argued already that the best way to understand any community – in history as well as in contemporary times – is to look at how people live, cook and entertain themselves [Locke, 2015]. In the historical context, our concern is with how people arranged their lives, the kind of homes they built and the materials they used to construct their houses – a key part of any historical account that tries to understand and depict a community. Water supply, drainage, sanitation, cooking, waste-disposal and entertainment are also fundamental elements of understanding communities, cities, towns and villages. It is through the lens of history that we may see the future. If we understand the past, we might be better able to predict the future. People live in homes and these are the venues for many of the activities that constitute their daily lives – where they consume food, engage in cleaning, entertainment, bringing up children and perform a wide range of activities that form part of their daily lives. What housing policy attempts to do is to scale up individual homes to the level of neighbourhoods, communities and regions. As we saw in the above section on planning, policy is being rolled out over periods of time. Having a historical perspective on housing might not be necessary to present day practice, but it does confer insights that contribute to the visions being formulated for the future.


Contents of the complete work

Part 2 – Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

Food in the 21st Century

Food in the 21st century

This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 9th February 2016. It has been transferred to this blog (the magazine having closed down.)

The people of Leicester today eat food from everywhere in the world. That is largely because the people of Leicester come from everywhere in the world. This has not always been true. If you walk through the centre of Leicester today, you will see several kinds of people: white Europeans from a variety of origins, Asians who came here from the Indian Subcontinent, Africans and Peoples from the Caribbean, some Asians from the far east, people from the Turkish region of Asia… our population is diverse in ethnicity and cultural heritages. Our popular is so diverse that no one group has a majority.

Well, you can see straight away that Leicester’s demography has important implications for its food. In our city centre there are many restaurants and specialist supermarkets catering for ethnic foods. In our outdoor market you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world. If you want to be gastronomically adventurous and try out the cuisine of other cultures, Leicester would be a great place in which to do that.

That is where we have got to today but it has not always been so. If we start to explore the history of out city’s eating, we will find that food has changed as the people living here have changed. This great feast of culinary cornucopias has not always been a feature of the Leicester community.

Even going back 50 years in time, we would find things to be very different. Let’s start with the end of the second world war. After the war, rationing was gradually phased out. People began to find more things to eat; the shops began to stock more varieties of food products and the contents of larders became gradually more elaborate. Where did people buy their food? A lot of people would have done their shopping in Leicester’s outdoor market. The market was established in 1229 by King Henry III, who allowed an already established fair to change its day from June to February. A permanent market has stood in the centre of the city ever since. The collection of stalls was given a roof in 1971 and even today the whole area is undergoing change and reconstruction.

Between the end of the second world war and the start of the nineteen fifties, cooks had it hard. Food was meagre, supplies limited and the choice of what most people eat was limited.

In the 1950s things began to change. Supermarkets opened, new food products were introduced and tastes began to change. One thing that changes what people were prepared to eat was foreign holidays. British people started to take packaged holidays in Europe and Spain and Italy were popular destinations. A thousands of British people descended on the fishing villages of the Mediterranean resorts, holiday-makers were exposed to radially new dishes – such as Pizza, Risotto, lasagna, Paella, – and when they got back they looked these foods in the shops and gradually they were introduced into the British diet.

Another thing changed the way people cooked: the rise of convenience foods. As supermarkets grew in number and as kitchen appliances became more affordable – particularly the refrigerator and later the freezer – housewives could buy and keep a much wider variety of perishable foodstuffs. I use the term housewives because in the 1950s it was women that did most of the work in the kitchen. Men did not start to cook at home until the 1970s and 80s. One company that changed people’s eating habits was Birdseye. Clarence Frank Birdseye II is credited with the foundation of the modern frozen food industry. He was a New York businessman whose pioneering work on freezing food led to the formation of the Birds Eye brand of food products. Fish Fingers became a staple of the British diet since their invention in Great Yarmouth in 1946 (although the term fish fingers first appeared in 1900.) Many other foodstuffs began to appear in the freezers of Supermarkets, including pea, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables and the consumption of these foods was promoted by television advertising.

During the period of the 1950s to 1970s, life in the kitchen became increasingly easy as the range of convenience and processed foods grew ever larger. Continental products such as pasta began to appear in the shops and English family developed a liking for dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese and pizza. Olive oil became a common culinary ingredient – though before the 1950s it was available only in chemists shops for the treatment of ear wax.

In Leicester the Indian community developed following the independence of Indian in 1947 and the Nationally Act of 1948. As the Indian community grew so did their shops and restaurants. In the 1960s there were many shops selling the kind of spices and vegetables that would be cooked at home and the number and range of restaurants increased accordingly. Today, many people would claim that Leicester is one of the best destinations in the UK for Indian cuisine. The various communities from the Indian subcontinent might seem to dominate the city but in fact there are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, cafes and bars that existing today to serve the tastes of the people of Leicester.

Medieval dishes from KingRichardIII website

The culinary world comes to Leicester

Most supermarkets these days have shelves or isles devoted to ethnic cuisine; curry sauce, as a lot of people know it, has become an established product for English people, both as a dish or as an addition to fish and chips. It has become commonplace for people to ‘go for a curry’ during a night out. According to the BBC, the UK has adopted ‘curry’ as one of its national dishes [BBC Food]  and about 23 million in the UK eat curry on a regular basis. But what is curry? Other than a term wrongly applied to all Indian food. If we go back far enough in history, we find that the word ‘cury’ meant simply hot food, from the French word Curie, meaning to cook. The first recipe for curry (in England) appeared as early as 1747. since it began to appear in this country, curry is a term commonly applied to any spicy sauce that could be said to have been inspired by Indian cuisine.

In England, there was an explosion in demand for European cuisines from France, Spain, Italy and Denmark. This was fuelled partly by foreign travel and partly by the appearance of programmes about food and cooking on the TV. From the 1960s onwards restaurants opened that could offer international menus to cater for the increasingly varied tastes of English consumers.

In the early 1960s shops and supermarkets started to stock an odd food product made from milk and called yogurt (or yoghurt.) It quickly became popular and sales of the little plastic pots soared. A Swiss company called Ski was a major force behind the mass production of this stuff, offering it in convenient pots with the addition of sugar and fresh fruit.



Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005 – part 1

by Trevor Locke

This article forms part of a series called The History of Music in Leicester.

Chapter 1 of this series Music Today has already been published and covered the period from 2014 back to 2005.

This is part 1 of Chapter  2.

Part 2 looks at the 1990s.

In this chapter we look at the period from the early noughties (2000 to 2005) to the 1990s (taken to be the start of the Internet, roughly speaking.) As was noted in Chapter 1, all music of a particular period had its roots in the past;  the music of an era cannot be understood without looking back at the roots that nurtured it at that time. Hence, our journey back through history to see how music has changed and how people’s musical tastes have been shaped and formed by what was happening to them and the people before them. The outstanding feature of the period 1990 to 2014 was the growth of the Internet.

The Rise of the Internet

All kinds music has depended for its growth, development and distribution on the technologies available; music in pre-technological society was exclusively live and its distribution was dependent on the printing of sheet music. Before that, it was all about oral traditions being handed down from one generation to another. All this changed with the invention of the gramophone player, the radio, television, the CD player and then the Internet. Technological development changed the way people listened to music but it also changed the musical tastes of the majority of people by giving a broader access to music. This is covered in more detail in our article Music and Technology.  Peoples’ access to the Internet had two parts of it: email and the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet these were the two services that most people used.

The noughties and the ‘web – 1990 to 2005

The growth of the Internet, particularly from the late 90s onwards, brought huge changes to the way that music was distributed.  It also allowed bands to reach a wider audience, through the medium of the world wide web. This period saw a growth in music festivals and live music venues. The advent of personalised music-playing devices, from the Walkman in the 1970s through to the iPhone’s launch in 2007, allowed listening to become a personalised experience. By contrast, the rise of the big festivals, raves and the construction of high-capacity arenas, brought back a social element to the experience of music, one not seen since the demise of the music halls in the early years of the twentieth century.

One other thing, that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about, was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels.

Mass broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the DIY artists – those who could record music in their bedrooms and reach a large market, usually very cheaply. This revolutionised the means of musical production, compared to the days when the production of gramophone records was prohibitively expensive for the unsigned group or individual. YouTube, Reverbnation and Soundcloud further aided the rise of self-production of music.

In 2005, Arts in Leicestershire was founded. The domain name was registered on 22nd February; this was soon followed by the publication of the early version of the Arts in Leicestershire website, which later became a magazine. The site published content on all forms of art but half its content was about music. By its hey day, over 600 pages existed on the site (covering all genres of music) and, at the height of its popularity,  it had over 28,000 readers per month. The first gig reviews were published on it in 2007. This was made possible by the availability of inexpensive hosting services.  In 2013 the music content was transferred to a new site called Music in Leicester.  When the music content of the old Arts in Leicester website was removed from the Internet, I began making plans to re-publish the gig reviews as a book. Fortunately, I archived the whole of the Arts website to disk and then extracted all the gig reviews, hundreds of them, to a separate file and arranged them into chronological order. The resulting ‘book’ was given the working title A compendium of Leicester gig reviews; it contains a year by year account of many of the music events that took place in Leicester from 2007 through to 2013 when Music in Leicester started. The only other publication to comprehensively record live music over a period of time was The Monograph. Live music is an ephemeral phenomenon and evidence of what happened quickly disappeared. Anyone wishing to research music will find it difficult to extract material from verifiable sources.

At Leicester University, the Oral History Archive has recorded over a thousand interviews with local people and in some of them,  they talk about music, gigs and the shows they went to. Music journalism often misses an important side of life – what people remember about their experience of music events. Today, music fans post their thoughts and experiences on social media every day but this rapidly disappears and there is no easy way to gather and store it for use by the researchers of the future.

Apart from social media platforms, independent websites were set up that provided information about the Leicester music scene. In 2009 Alan Freeman published a list of Leicester rock bands on his website. Arts in Leicester maintained a listing of local rock bands for many years; this captured the names of bands that were playing and sometimes where they came from and style of music they played. Analysing this data enabled Arts in Leicester to claim that ‘Leicester had more bands per head of population than most other cities of comparable size.’

It was in the mid-noughties that Facebook began to challenge MySpace as the ‘must have’ presence on the ‘web for bands, singers, rappers and music artists, alongside countless thousands of music fans who followed them.  There were some early adopters, from Leicester,  such as the singer and songwriter Kevin Hewick who opened an account on it in 2005. Trevor Locke also joined Facebook in the same year. Val McCoy, who was the promoter of the OBS, joined Facebook in 2007. Twitter was launched in 2006 and as its presence grew in the UK, bands started to open accounts to tweet about their activities.

Bands too began to register domain names and to use them for their own websites. Kasabian was one of the earliest UK bands to register its own domain name, in 2002, as we noted in chapter 1; Leicester bands like ICTUS, Autohype and The Screening were early adopters of free-standing websites with their own tailor-made web addresses (i.e. domain names.) Maybeshewill band registered its own domain name in March 2004.

Logo of Stayfree
Logo of Stayfree

Stayfree music, then based on offices in Conduit Street, was home to a web hosting service that its own servers in the same building.  Many local bands used this service at that time.

Whilst there were a few content management platforms, a lot of websites, in those days, had to be hand-crafted using HTML code. Software, such as Dreamweaver, made the task of designing websites easier. Having been created in 1997, Dreamweaver was taken over by the Adobe corporation in 2005. Its killer function was its ability to write code whilst presenting the page in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format. Also at that time, Microsoft provided its own proprietary software called Frontpage. There were plenty of people around who could make websites for bands and artists but some musicians were savvy enough with the Internet and computers to do it themselves. The Internet provided people with a means to communicate on a mass basis, something which, in previous periods,  was limited to the printed page and newspapers, along with the broadcast media.

Music in the noughties (2000 to 2005)

This section looks at the period we call ‘the noughties’ before moving on to the 1990s (in part 2)

The period 2000 to 2005 saw much activity on the Leicester music scene as bands formed, gigs and events took place on a regular basis and there was a high level of activity across all areas of the city’s music industry. The growth of the Internet, from 2002 onwards,  brought significant changes to the way that music was publicised and distributed; it also allowed bands to reach wider audiences, through the world wide web. This period saw a considerable growth in music festivals and live music venues. One other thing that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels. The mass use of broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the  DIY artist – those who could record in their bedrooms and reach a market very cheaply via the Internet.

Leicester developed a vibrant live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow. The number of live music venues increased, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed or listened to. The small venues allowed bands and promoters to put on their own gigs, hiring the venues and selecting their own line-ups of acts. Gig promoters were usually individuals who had a passion for live music and would hire bands to play in a variety of local venues. Some of them also secured bookings for bands to play outside of Leicester.

Apart from the weekly round of gigs, several large-scale events took place in Leicester, including One Big Sunday, which was organised by the BBC’s Radio 1 and took place on Victoria Park on 20th July 2003. It attracted an audience of over 100,000 people.

One Big Sunday on Victoria Park
One Big Sunday on Victoria Park

In February 2000, a big show was held at the DeMontfort Hall ‘featuring the very best bands from Leicester’ and ran from 2 pm to 11pm.  On the advertised line-up were Saracuse (later to become Kasabian), Pendulum,  Last Man Standing, The 13twelve, Marvel, Slider, Fusion, The Incurables and several others. The first Original Bands showcase was held in 2004. The band that won that year was The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS is till going today (2015). In 2006 we saw the beginnings of the Fringe Festival with its mammoth Fringe Thursday, an event that had it’s beginnings as the Summer Sundae Warm Up party. On Fringe Thursday, buses transported music fans around all the live music venues in the city.

It can be argued that such series of shows supported the local music scene and encouraged people to see bands, who might not otherwise have bothered. The value of serial events, such as the OBS, is unclear, in a long-term perspective, but each year they have created live music opportunities for large numbers of acts and the fans who went to see them. Taking part in something like the OBS is enough reward in itself, it could be said. Leicester has not developed any kind of awards recognition institution to celebrate the best of its local music; in fact, as far as amateur local music is concerned, only a handful of cities in the UK have established annual awards ceremonies. Awarding music band and singers is something that was done at national level. This might seem odd given the large number of TV programmes devoted to singing and entertainment competitions that enjoyed massively big audiences. Perhaps local recognition is not so valued as that conferred at national level. Things like Battles of the Bands have occurred regularly in Leicester throughout the noughties and 90s. As a way of organising live music, such series of gigs attracted considerable controversy from bands and fans alike. Leicester bands participated in the national competition Surface Unsigned, often with considerable success.

Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009
Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009

Compact disks and vinyl records were popular in the noughties and Leicester supported a range of retail outlets for them.  Ainsleys record store, once a popular retail outlet, closed in 2004. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001.  He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.

Ainleys music shop
Ainleys music shop

We looked at record shops and stores in Chapter 1. With the growth in digital media, sales of plastic sources of media declined but many fans still value the ability to own CDs and vinyl records and bands continue to provide them for their fans.

Leicester has never been noted for its music industry agencies but in Horus Music, established in Birmingham in 2006, later moved to Leicester which is where it is now. I ran Get Your Band On from June 2005 to November 2009; it acted as an agency for rock bands, providing training, bookings, management and bookings. GYBO worked with a number of bands from Leicester as well as supporting bands and artists from all over the UK. During this period, several people became promoters, putting on gigs and events; in most cases they were individuals. Alongside those who worked with rock bands, there were several entertainment agencies that provided a range of artists for music-related clients. What Leicester lacked in modern times was band management; people or agencies specialising in providing management, bookings and publicity services have been few and far between, given the very large number of bands and artists that have existed in the city. The majority of bands and artists had to do all these things themselves.

Venues in the noughties

The year 2000 saw Darren Nockles take over the Bakers Arms in Wharf Street South, a public that had been active since the 1970s, turning it into the venue we know today as The Musician. The old Musician closed it’s doors on 31st December 2004 only to re-opened in 2005. The Donkey, a pub in Welford Road, became a music venue in 2005. In the following year Gaz Birtles began work there as a promoter. Many will have fond memories of the small venue in the city centre called The Attik. It ran from 1989 to 2006. Andy Wright, who ran The Charlotte remembers that on “16th January 2009, the police shut the doors to stop anymore people getting in and shut the bar down .. was fun that night.” Concerts were held at the University of Leicester, mainly in the Queens Hall and the DeMontfort Hall continued to put on performances by rock bands and orchestras playing classical music. Several large music events were held at The Granby Halls (demolished in 2001 to make way for a car park serving the nearby Tigers Rugby Club.) The Who played there on the opening night of their 1981 tour on 25th January 1981. Churches, including the Cathedral, also provided music-lovers with concerts of music; they kept alive Leicester’s choral tradition which started in the middle ages. It was not just venues that grew over this period. Nightclubs were also popular for those who wanted to hear DJs playing recorded tracks. MOSH nightclub opened in 2003. ‘Red Leicester’ was The University of Leicester Students’ Union Wednesday official night out from 2004 – 2014.

Festivals in the noughties

The first Summer Sundae festival was held in Leicester in 2001. It became one of the most important events both for national bands and artists as well as for the many local acts that played. It attracted an audience from all parts of the country.  A festival was held in Abbey Park in 2002. The Abbey park music festivals played an seminal role in the development of Leicester’s music, from1981 until their demise about twenty years later.  In 2009, Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey park’s bonfire night. A similar-sized crowd was present in 2014 when rising pop stars The Vamps were the headline act, supported by local artists Jonezy and Curtis Clacey. Glastonbudget festival started in 2005 (as mentioned in the previous chapter) and has continued to run every year up to the present day. Strawberry Fields festival started in 2010. Quite a few small local festivals were organised, sometimes on a one-off basis. In 2009 and 2008 Arts in Leicester reported on Summer Sundae, the Big Session festival held on Victoria Park, Glastonbudget, Fristock, and regular events that included music in their programme, such as Gay Pride, Diwali, Caribbean Carnival and the Belgrave Mela. Just over the Leicestershire border, Download attracted large numbers of people from our local area and Arts in Leicester listed the bands that played there. Batfest took place on 21st August, 2010 near Ibstock and was organised by Elliot O’Brart. Batfest was an annual event held for charity in the tiny but pretty village of Battram. The festival was primarily a music festival with a couple of stalls selling home made cakes and a raffle stall [Arts in Leicester magazine] This was typical of a large number of local music events that took place in the city and county during the noughties. Other examples included Cosby Big Love, the Braunstone Carnival (which usually featured a music stage), Glastonblaby, and the Oxjam festivals.

Bands of the noughties

I cannot speak from personal experience about Leicester’s live music scene much before 2005.  My very first reporter’s notebook goes back to 2006. I did not start writing about local music much before 2001; in that year I started a website called Travel to Leicester which had a section about the entertainment which visitors to Leicester could find and which mentioned gigs, bands and venues. During the 1990s I wasn’t living in Leicester; my home was outside the city in Blaby district and in those days we didn’t come into the city at night – unless we had to. It was not until November 2002 that I went to The Shed for the first time. Hence, I missed out on music, as far as Leicester was concerned, in the ’90s. I did, however, attend One Big Sunday, on Victoria Park in July 2003.

It was in 2005 that I started Arts in Leicestershire, a website that took over the content about the arts, including music from the Travel to Leicester website. I have written about the history of this Arts website, now called a magazine [Arts in Leicester] and have covered its history [Arts in Leicester]

Skam playing at The Shed in 2005
Skam playing at The Shed in 2005

From 2005, I really got to know the local bands. Under a heading ‘2007’ I noted many of the bands that were popular at the time. In May 2007, an extensive listing of gigs was well under way. This page showed some of the promoters that were active at the time, such as 101 Promotions which was run by Paul Matts (who previously managed the Attik live music venue.) As far as I know I wrote my first gig review in 2006, the same year that I joined Facebook; in just ten years the Internet had gone from being a fairly limited system to one that offered an array of services, many of them multimedia, and new platforms were coming on stream on a regular basis. I started to write gig reviews for Arts in Leicester magazine, together with collaborators such as Kevin Gaughan; at one time there were as many as 600 amateur bands based in the city and the county. ‘Leicester is home to over 400 working bands, playing all styles of music. Here we give a guide to our pages that are about bands in 2012’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]

The magazine also featured local bands in its Band of the Month, pages and listed of all known bands in the East Midlands from 2011 to 2013. Here is the list of bands that were given featured (band of the month) status:

The Manhattan Project, Backline, Messini Assault, Beat Club, The Utopians, Breek, Subdude, Full Circle, Forty More Autumns, Razmataz, Smoking the Profit, The Heroes, The Truth, The Chairmen (Oct 08), Kids in Cars (Nov 08), Formal Warning (Dec 08), The Steptoos (January 09), The Pennyhangers (February 09), Project Notion (March 09), Skam# (April 09), Shortwave Fade (May 09), The Waits (June 09), Kill The Batman (July 09), The Fazed (August 09), Autohype (Sept 09), Weekend Schemers (Oct 09), AstroManiacs (Nov 09), Azidify (Dec 2009), Kicking Habits (Jan 2010), Drive By Disco (early Feb 2010), The Stiggz (late Feb 2010), Iziggy (Mar 2010), Third Time Lucky (May 2010), Neon Sarcastic (June 2010), Silent Resistance (Jul 2010), Ashdowne (Aug 2010), Go Primitive (Sep 2010), The Black Tears (Oct 2010), Us Wolves (Nov 2010), Maybeshewill (Dec 2010), Skam# (Feb 2011), Glassfoot (Mar 2011), Aphtershock (April 2011), The Boobytraps (May 2011), SuperEvolver (June 2011), Rassoodocks (July 2011), The Chairmen (August 2011), Midnight Wire (September 2011), Muleta Smiles (October 2011), By The Rivers (November 2011), Arms of Atlas (January 2012), Raptusound (February 2012), Resin (March 2012) No band of the month in April, May and June 2012. Vengeance (July 2012). Smokin’ The Profit (August 2012), Axis Mundi (September 2012)

Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005
Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005

The very early Band Of The Month entries have been lost but were very limited (just a highlighted mention and not much more). Covers and commercial bands were listed separately. The magazine also published pages about new bands that had started and young bands. The news sections reported on local bands, venues and music events. Two sections specialised in coverage of African and Asian music (the latter being edited by the late Harjinder Ohbi.) There was also a page about underground and alternative music. The old website – Travel to Leicester – included details of where karaoke evenings took place. In those days these frequently featured high quality singers who attended them and sang for fun; some of them were professional artists and others were simply very good vocalists. Rock was not the only type of music to be covered; the website also had a page about jazz in Leicester and this content was carried across to the new Arts in Leicester web site when it was created in 2005. Bands mentioned in 2007 included The Eaves, Tommy’s heroes, My Amour, Taste The Chase, Ictus, Quaternary Limit, The Iconics, The Jack of Hearts band, The Beat Club, M48, Drumlins, Screwloose, The Chairmen, NG26 (from Nottingham), Proud to have met you, Manhattan Project, The Utopians, 1000 Scars, Killquicks, Sub-Rosa, Firstwave, Kid Vicious, The Codes, Ailse 13, The Elite, Backline, Silent Devices, September Flaw, Messini Assault, Half of Nothing, Rise as one, Black River Project, Internal Conflict, The Authentics, Pink Strip, Blue Light District, Breek and many more. Most of these were local bands, a few were out of town bands that regularly came to play in the city.

Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009
Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009

In September 2004, Kasabian released their debut album.  Having started life as Saracuse, they played one of their first gigs at The Shed, in 2009. The name Kasabian became associated with Leicester,  in much the same way as Arctic Monkeys was associated with Sheffield and Oasis was associated with Manchester. Engelbert Humperdinck said ‘It’s so wonderful to know that we have another up and coming big name on the horizon from Leicester.  I am proud to be from  Leicester.’ [Shooman, 2008] Five musicians, most of them from Blaby and Countesthorpe, formed a band called Saracuse which made an early appearance at The Shed in September 1997. The band also played at the Three Nuns pub in Loughborough and later performed at the town’s University. They also played at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester, in 1999, the same year went back to play again at The Shed. In 2005 the band performed at Glastonbury festival on the ‘other stage.’ It was Kasabian’s third single Club Foot that brought them chart success in 2004. The band won the best live act award at the 2007 NME ceremony. The band became signed to Sony Music. [Shooman, 2008]

Dan White the singer in 2009
Dan White the singer in 2009

Leicester band Roxum formed in 2005 and went on to become a very popular act on the local scene. The year 2008 saw the formation of a clutch of local bands including Neon Sarcastic, Little Night Terrors, The Chairmen, Axis Mundi, The Boobytraps, and many others. In 2009 we saw the emergence of Formal Warning, The Furies, Arms of Atlas, The Weekend Schemers – all of these bands went on to become popular on the local scene and had active careers in music.  Because Arts in Leicester was an arts magazine, it could cover a much wider scope of music than rock and pop; concerts of classical music, opera, ballet and musicals were also reviewed and it made some attempt to report on music from ethnic communities, such as the Indian community. Several local bands achieved national notoriety and success. Among these we would include By The Rivers, The Displacements, Midnight Wire and These Furrows. Many other acts achieved notable successes. For example, The Heroes played at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. Other Leicester bands to play at the coveted Glastonbury festival included By The Rivers.

In July 2008, The Heroes won a competition to be opening band on the main stage at the Summer Sundae festival. ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ Guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band. [Locke, 2015]

Rehearsal rooms and recording studios in the noughties

Several recording studios have come and gone and some are still open today. Deadline Studios, in Aylestone Road, started in 2001; others include Quad Studios, in Friday Street, Yellow Bean Studios (from 2010), in Western Road, (another studio Western Studios, operated in the same premises in around the year 2006). HQ in Charles Street opened in 2012, providing a small recording room. Some Leicester bands went to Nottingham to record their music and some even to London and places further afield. In 2011 Flat Five Records was set up by the Potts brothers, in honour of their father the legendary jazz trumpeter Mick Potts. They published the work of many important bands of this period, such as Kenworthy.

Trevor Locke


References are given on a separate page.

See also

Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Music and technology



10th October 2016


Today I published my essay about homelessness in the UK. It focuses on what it means to have a home and why this is important.

Read my article about Homelessness.

4th December 2015

Housing policy

I am revising my book on housing policy in the UK, taking into account some of the changes that took place earlier this year in the autumn statement and new policies emerging as a result of the political changes, particularly in the Labour party.

Once I have finished the revision, I plan to offer the book for publication.


My novel Holiday (working title) is now in its final draft. I plan to seek a publisher for it early next year.

The novel tells the story of a group of English teenagers who go on a package holiday to Italy in 1966.  Holiday mixes moments of humour with poignancy, light-hearted frivolity with catharsis, and silliness with seriousness, into a heady cocktail of anecdotes, images and stories. It unravels the complexities of youth, the struggles of adolescence and the clash of cultures with the adventure of discovery in a foreign land. It deals with sexual awakening and the start of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

18th August 2015

I am writing about …

I write about a lot of different things.  During August and September  I am doing the following work:

House Bricks:  I am revising and updating the series of four articles I wrote for Arts in Leicestershire magazine on the history of house building and current housing policy issues. The new version is being completely revised and updated.  When finished, I hope to have this published as  book by a publisher. Read my introduction to the original series.

The Trench is my second novel. Its story is about a live music venue, in the 1980s, the bands that play there and the people who go to it.  It is a work of fiction but melts together a range of experiences that I have had in venues across Europe. When it is finished I will offer it to literary agents for publication.

Holiday: is my first novel. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of a group of teenagers who go on a packaged holiday in Italy. It dwells on various themes: adolescence, the clash of cultures, European art and religion, the age-gap, and the experience of growing up, sexual awakening and adventure. When it is finished I will offer it for publication.

The History of Music in Leicester: is intended eventually to be a book, this is currently being published in chapters on Arts in Leicester magazine. The first chapter is already available online. This was followed by chapter two which deals with the period from 1990 to 2005. I am now working on the third part of the series, which looks at music between the end of the second world world and the beginning of the 1990s. I hope to publish this in October.

The History of Leicester,  my magnum opus,  covers the history of Leicester from the present day back to Roman times. Its perspective is the built environment and it looks at two thousand years of habitation through the buildings that people constructed and the houses in which they lived. This will eventually become a book; before then a variety of articles will be published to supplement those already on Arts in Leicestershire magazine.

The History of Food: is an article intended for publication in Arts in Leicester magazine. It traces the development of food, farming, distribution and the economics of food production and how cooking is a vital part of the local history of a community. It is part of the History of Leicester series.

The Economics of live music:  having already written on this subject before [Locke, 2010] I am preparing a follow-up article which delves more deeply into the economics of the local music business. In this article I look at how live music venues are struggling to survive in an age of digital music consumption. See my article on the economics of live music, from 2010.

See a list of previously published works of Trevor Locke