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Dark tourism, World Cup 1938, The mobile library

Helen Castor presents stories from the past with a bearing on issues today, including dark tourism, the politics of the 1938 World Cup and the start of the mobile library service.

Helen Castor presents the first in a new series of the popular history magazine. She's joined today by Dr Jane Hamlett from Royal Holloway University of London.

It's 140 years since the UK prison system was nationalised, and Iszi Lawrence visits Shrewsbury with Professor Alyson Brown from Edge Hill University to discover why a change in organisation was needed then. Today, paying customers are experiencing life here at Her Majesty's pleasure - and all over the world people seem to want to visit places which have a grim and troubling past. So what's the appeal and the purpose of so-called "dark tourism"? Tom Holland talks to Dr Philip Stone from the University of Central Lancashire.

It's another World Cup year. The tournament in Russia comes at a time when President Putin's stock is high at home, but on the floor abroad. Not for the first time, football might offer a political leader a global platform. We go back to France '38 which was held against a backdrop of a growing global diplomatic crisis. Sports writer Julie Welch is joined by Professor Simon Martin and football journalist Jonathan Wilson to explain how, with: civil war in Spain, the merging of the Austrian and German teams after the Nazi Anschluss and Mussolini promoting his brand of fascism through football, this really was a tournament with all to play for.

Council budget cuts, E-readers and on-line delivery are all presenting challenges to Britain's library service, and mobile libraries in particular have been badly affected. But when did the library van first start doing its rounds? Author of Mobile Library, David Whitehouse, heads back home to Nuneaton and the mobile library his mother used to clean.

A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

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28 minutes


Helen Castor is joined by Dr Jane Hamlett Royal Holloway University of London.

World Cup ’38

The 2018 World Cup in Russia was marred by the poison attack in Salisbury, which led to calls for British teams to boycott the competition. Of course, sport and politics have been linked for decades. As Britain’s first female football correspondent, Julie Welch, reminds us, eighty years ago in France the international situation was such that many of the best teams didn’t show and the Italians once more used football to promote their brand of fascism.


Joining Julie are Simon Martin from The British School in Rome and Jonathan Wilson, Editor of The Blizzard.

Mobile Libraries

Our mobile library services are being cut, but where did the idea of taking books to borrowers come from? The author of the novel Mobile Library, David Whitehouse goes back home to Nuneaton in Warwickshire to find out more.


David joins the Bedworth library van which is operated by Warwickshire County Council and he meets up with Dr Cath Feely an historian (and former librarian) who is based at the University of Derby

Top Town History can Gina Antczak from the tiny New Forest village of East Boldre see off the Mercian might of Mark Wilson’s Lichfield?

Prison Nationalisation

Iszi Lawrence visits Shrewsbury Prison which was closed in 2013 and is now  used for heritage tours and stag & hen ‘do’s. There she meets Professor Alyson Brown from Edge Hill University a historian of prisons, to find out about Britain’s first nationalisation, the 1877 Prison Act which came into force 140 years ago and did away with local financing and control of jails.


Shrewsbury is now used for fun and education. It’s part of a global, billion fund industry that’s known as 'dark tourism' Tom Holland spoke to Dr Philip Stone from the Institute of Dark Tourism Research in Preston to find out more about this sometimes difficult use of history.



Making History is produced by Nick Patrick


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A Pier Production