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Who was Saint Stephen?

Helen Castor and Tom Holland return with a new series of Radio 4's popular history programme. This week, they explore forgotten and unexplained festive leftovers from our past.

Helen Castor is in the chair for a festive edition of the popular history magazine programme. She's joined by Professor Miri Rubin from Queen Mary, University of London and Tony Collins the Professor of Sport at De Montfort University in Leicester.

On this feast of Stephen, Tom visits Norwich to find out more about the character who met a violent death and became the first christian martyr. He talks to the choristers who will be singing Good King Wenceslas in the city's grand Norman cathedral over Christmas and the Bishop of Norwich the Rt Reverend Graham James.

Dr Hugh Doherty from the University of East Anglia takes the story of martyrdom on to the 12th century. In Norwich, a city which had no saint, a twelve year old boy called William was found dead just before the feast of Passover. Some pointed the finger of blame for this death at the city's growing Jewish community, accusing them of a ritual murder. Was William a martyr as some in Norwich tried to make him, or was this nothing more than a nasty anti-semitic medieval marketing campaign.

Boxing Day is a time for games and a feast of sport. A football match will be on many people's festive agenda. Journalist Paul Brown has traced festive football back to its Victorian and Edwardian roots and discovered that Everton FC once played no fewer than three games on Christmas Day and Boxing Day!

Finally, a new game - Top Town History. Two Making History listeners go head to head to prove that where they live is best for history. Today, Fort William meets Reading in a battle for the past.

Producer: Nick Patrick
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Boxing Day 2017 15:30


Helen Castor is in the chair for a festive edition of BBC Radio 4’s popular history magazine programme. She's joined by:

Professor Mary Rubin from Queen Mary University of London 

Professor Tony Collins from DEMontfort University in Leicester 

William of Norwich

In the middle of the twelfth century when Norwich Cathedral was being completed, there was a need in the city for a Saint or martyr to help raise the profile of the place. In the 1150’s a monk at the cathedral, Thomas of Monmouth, began writing about the ritual killing of an 11 year-old boy by Jews up on Household Heath which overlooks the medieval centre of Norwich. That story and the miracles that went with it were entirely fabricated in a particularly nasty plot to divide the religious communities living in this important city. Not all were taken in but this is the first example of such a story in medieval Europe and within 150 years England’s Jewish community that had been invited to the country by William the Conquerer had suffered terrible persecution and were expelled by King Edward I.

Dr Hugh Doherty from the University of East Anglia takes Tom to the scene of the crime to explain the facts of the case and point out that Norwich didn’t really get its martyr until the body of nurse Edith Cavell was brought back to her home city after the First World War.

Dr Hugh Doherty   

Jewish Encyclopaedia  

History in an Hour   

See The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe by E.M Rose for a recent, but contested, account.

Edith Cavell  

On The Ball City

Is this the oldest club football song in the world?  Norwich City FC were formed in 1902 and the story goes that this very Edwardian song, which is still sung today, came with the club. But, research by historian Ed Couzens Lake shows that the Canaries more likely than not took the song from another club in the city.

Fan Chant   

Literary Norfolk  

Football and Music  

Festive Football

Helen Castor talks to Paul Brown, the author of Savage Enthusiasm: A History of Football Fans.

Soccer History  

The Guardian  

Dick Kerr’s Ladies   

Top Town History

Fort William play Reading in the first round of a short competition to try and find the place which can claim to be top for history in the UK.

To suggest a town email:

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4


  • Boxing Day 2017 15:30