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Making History
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Begins Tuesday 19 April 2005, 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook and the team answer listeners' historical queries and celebrate the way in which we all 'make' history.
Series 11
Programme 8
7 June 2005

Listen to this programme in full

The Cheshire Prophet

Making History listener John Wright contacted the programme to find out more about the so-called Cheshire Prophet, Robert Nixon.

The story goes that Nixon was a simpleton living in the village of Over in Cheshire in the 15th century and that he (amongst other things) correctly predicted the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth. The stories about Nixon were very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries when he ranked alongside Mother Shipton of Knaresborough as one of the UK's best known prophets. But did he ever exist and how authentic were his prophecies?

Making History consulted Dr Owen Davies at the University of Hertfordshire who showed us the collection of chap-books at the British Library. 'Chap' meant cheap in 18th-century English and these publications were the tabloids of their day, aimed at the largely illiterate population of rural Britain. The stories about characters such as Nixon and Mother Shipton were made up by the hack writers of the day to sell copies of the books. Owen Davies contends that the prophecies seem to come to light during times of national strife - such as the Civil or Napoleonic Wars - and may simply have been a way of reassuring people.

Useful links

Owen Davies's staff page

Alison Milbank, Gothic Satires, Histories and Chap-books, published by Adam Matthew Publications

Barry McKay, An Introduction to Chapbooks (The Incline Press)

National Library of Scotland - chapbooks (includes an extensive reading list)

The British Library


Ronald Boyd contacted Making History with a family story that might link him to the man who gave his name to an area of London's dockland in Canning Town. The place in question is Hallsville, which was developed in the second phase of dock development in the 1850s and which quickly became one of the worst slums in the area. Ronald Boyd wanted to confirm that Hallsville was indeed named after a Mr Hall and what this area of London was like.

"...we find men of every calling labouring at the docks. There are decayed and bankrupt master butchers, master bakers, publicans, grocers, old soldiers, Polish refugees, broken-down gentlemen, discharged lawyer's clerks, suspended government clerks, almsmen, pensioners, servants, thieves - indeed, everyone who wants a loaf and is prepared to work for it. The London dock is one of the few places in the metropolis where men can get employment without either character or recommendation."
Henry Mayhew

Making History consulted Alex West at the Museum of London, Tom Wareham at the Museum in Docklands and Jenni Munro Collins at the Newham Local Studies Library in Stratford.

Useful links

Museum in Docklands
Museum of London
Newham Local Studies Library
The early postal service

Juliet Humphrey contacted Making History to find out more about the British postal system before the penny post. Juliet has a bundles of letters from the mid to late 18th century, but although she understands their contents, she cannot make out how they travelled from A to B. Making History took her to meet the postal historian Peter Basterfield at the Bath Postal Museum.

Bath Postal Museum

Local history hero

Jim Walker of the Queensferry History Group is a leading light in the campaign to erect a memorial to the men who died building the Forth Rail Bridge.

The Forth Railway Bridge Memorial website has more information about the plight of these men and Jim's campaign.

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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

Contact Making History

Send your comments and questions for future programmes to:
Making History
BBC Radio 4
PO Box 3096 Brighton

Or email the programme

Or telephone the Audience Line 08700 100 400

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

See Also

Elsewhere on

BBC History

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Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas.
Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.

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