Ian Mortimer


What was New in 2020?

7 December 2020
Visiting your grandparents' grandparents' grandparents for Christmas 1820...

I wrote a fun article for the Daily Telegraph on what to expect for Christmas 1820.

6 December 2020
Travels through time

An interview with John Hillman about visiting the year 1825 has gone live on the Travels through Time website.

12 November 2020
Introduction to The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain

Today the fourth Time Traveller's Guide is published in the UK in hardback, ebook and audiobook, so I've made the Introduction available on the book's website. Click on this link to take yourself back to the Regency.

Appropriately, a rainbow appeared while I was up on Mardon rehearsing my lecture for the evening's launch.

6 November 2020
Introduction to The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain

The Times has published the first review of the new book, and I am very grateful to the reviewer, Andrew Taylor, for being so generous. He writes: 'Mortimer's erudition is formidable, and he rarely writes a dull sentence. The learning is lightly worn - you barely notice that the delectable anecdotes and the fascinating snippets of information are lent coherence by a solid contextual framework of statistical evidence.'

And then he adds that 'Jane Austen would have found in its pages not only her own world, but other Regency worlds she probably never knew existed. And now, two hundred years later, so can we.'


27 October 2020
The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain

Dan Snow interviewed me a couple of days ago about Regency Britain for his podcast, History Hit. You can hear the edited results by clicking below.

Monday 12 October 2020
Speech at the European Union Sustainability Network annual meeting, Berlin

I was invited by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety to give a short speech for the annual meeting of the network in Berlin. Initially, I was scheduled to the speaker directly before Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was exciting.

Sadly, it had to take place virtually, and so was broadcast from my dining room. Also, to permit there to be a 45 minutes of questions and comments rather than just 30, I was shifted to a session on the previous day, speaking after the Minister, Svenja Schulze. The text of my speech is available here. Some comments made by me in the ensuing discussion are here

5 August 2020
The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain

As of today it is 100 days to the publication of the new Time Traveller's Guide. As a lead-in to the book, I am tweeting one fact or quote from it each day from now until it appears - on 12 November. Go to the Time Traveller's Guides twitter account to see these 100 facts as they come out. Alternatively, try out the new Time Traveller's Guides website, which is now live. This covers all four books, including the contents and introduction in each case, plus articles, interviews, reviewers' comments, information about foreign editions, 100 facts (for Restoration and Regency), and a section about writing each book.

28 July 2020
Walk across Dartmoor

The second-stage proofs of The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain are back with the publisher and typesetter. We're still on course for publication on the 12 November. So last Friday, off I set with my sons to cross the central southern part of Dartmoor. This is a part of the moor I don't know well at all. My grandfather lived on the southwestern edge, so I know that; I've lived on the northeastern side for 22 of the last 29 years; and the northwestern bit I've visited a few times on long walks around Yes Tor, and the southeastern corner we have visited many times over the years. But this was to be new.

Alexander, Oliver and I walked from Wrangaton golf course up on to the high moor, meeting up with the track to Red Lake china clay works built in 1911. There were earthworks that looked like gun emplacements and the foundation slabs of several twentieth-century structures alongside the path. Ancient vestiges too, from farming enclosures to Spurrell's Cross.

Unfortunately, although the Met. Office had forecast a dry day, it was far from dry. First, low clouds drifted in. Then there was an intermittent drizzle almost all day.

After a while we discovered that the path we were trying to follow on the map did not actually exist. It was marked as a bridleway but in fact was a dead straight line that did not relate to any path on the ground. Rather irresponsible of the Ordnance Survey, I thought, to mark a path where there wasn't one. This was all the more the case when the mist came down. The landscape is so barren that there are no landmarks to navigate by. We crossed Red Lake and walked up the valley where Black Lane Brook runs on to the mire at the head. No tors. No sheep. No cattle. No ancient remains here. Nothing. Only horseflies. It is very similar to the most desolate parts of the north moor, although not quite as difficult to walk on. Still, 18inch-high tussocks and marsh ground between them do not make for a pleasant stroll.

Our two means of keeping track of our location were occasional glimpses of the mast that rises from North Hessary Tor, near Princetown, and Ryder's Hill, a very distinctive volcano-shaped hill not far from Red Lake (in the picture below). Alexander said there's a 10-mile race up to this hill from Ivybridge. 'Do you want to do it?' I asked him. 'I was just dipping my toe in that thought-puddle', he replied. Hmm. Although most of that run would be on the military track we followed earlier, it's the uphill bit that puts me off. The older I get the more I appreciate not running up hills.

After a couple of hours of trudging through bog, tempers became frayed, and we headed to Foxtor - the one landmark we could hope to find in a barren, mist-filled, boggy, otherwise featureless landscape. From there, it was just a step down to Childe's Tomb. I'd always wanted to visit this. It's pretty remote, being on the far side of Foxtor Mire from Whiteworks, to which there is a track you can drive along. A very well-preserved kistvaen given a cross in medieval times.

It was shortly after leaving Childe's Tomb that the irresposibility of the OS map in showing bridleways that do not actually exist became apparent. We could see a family with two young children and a dog making their way to Childe's Tomb. When they left, they decided to go straight across the mire. They couldn't have been local, otherwise they'd have known that mires can be dangerous, and Foxtor Mire is never a safe place for a family. They got stuck. As we took the long path around the mire to Whiteworks, we watched them make their way very slowly to the edge, where there were a couple doing some surveying work for the Dartmoor Tin Research Group. (In the rain... I was impressed with their dedication.) The family finally extricated themselves, and all was well. So this is a picture of Foxtor Mire looking innocent again. I wonder how many bones lie down beneath its surface.

From Whiteworks it was a wet but relatively easy walk over the hills to Sherberton, where the valley looked so green and inviting, it seemed quintessentially Devon. I had to take another picture. Some people like to relax on a sandy beach, others prefer skiing or a view of a mountain or a lake, but of all natural surroundings, I think this lush greenery pleases me most. At least, I find it deeply satisfying.

Oliver decided he'd had enough at Hexworthy as his feet had worn blisters, and called home for a lift. He'd done about 29K across some pretty tough ground and was wet and miserable. Alexander and I pressed on. For us, it was now a case of walking fast to stay ahead of the dusk and the heavy rain expected at 8pm. But I couldn't help taking us via Dartmeet, one of the focal points of Dartmoor. After that it was a swift march up the East Dart to Babeny (one of the ancient tenements on Dartmoor), then up on to Corndon Common, Cator Common, down to Soussons, over to Challacombe and up to Grimspound and home via North Bovey. I tried to take a picture of us at the iconic ringed settlement but the mist was just too thick. So let the last picture of our 52K-long walk across the moor be the snap of the two of us at Dartmeet.

2 July 2020

As we head into the second half of the year, I am pleased to be able to report that the first-stage proofs of The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain have been checked and corrected and are now back with the publisher. All on course for publication on the 12 November. Between now and then I will do a countdown of 100 facts and quotations from the book via twitter, and revamp the time traveller's guides website. And write a couple of articles on the period for BBC History Magazine, as well as a research article on medieval freeholds in my home parish of Moretonhampstead, Devon. Also, as I told a few people via twitter last week, I'm going to experiment with the idea of writing 'a history of England through the windows of an ordinary house'. It might not work, mixing the local and the national, the inward-looking and the outward, the social and the political; but, in theory, it should result in a form of history written with more intgrity than most traditional approaches permit. We will see.

12 June 2020

Maggie Wang from the Oxford University History Society interviewed me via Skype recently about the forthcoming Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, as well as other things. You can hear the podcast - and similar podcasts by several other distinguished historians - at this page.

13 May 2020
Lockdown life

I wonder how all our experiences of lockdown life will compare at the end of the pandemic? Some must be having a terrible time, and I feel for them. Losing loved ones, not being to visit sick and dying family members, or just living in fear. Others are no doubt miserable for other reasons - constrained in a small flat, having to share their daily lives with people they are arguing with, or a partner whom they want to leave. Still others are quite enjoying the experience. My mother is almost eighty, is quite happily going through each day, not having to be anywhere for anyone at any time, being handed disinfected food parcels by my brother. For my part, I feel a little guilty for being so close to the happy end of the spectrum. This is not entirely accidental. I have always put a high priority on where I live: since becoming a father 21 years ago, I have never been tempted to live close to London or a university for the purposes of benefitting my career over the quality of life to be gained from bringing up a family in the country. Moreover, since 1989 I have been concerned about the unsustainability of modern lifestyles and therefore was aware that living in Devon wold be the most stable place I could settle. There is a low density of population; a high level of food production and fishing; never any likelihood of a serious water shortage; communities that support each other; huge expanses of land to lose yourself in; and natural beauty almost everywhere. Plus it's where my father's family came from, so we fit in here, which is most important. On top of that, as a historian I know that wealth in the seventeenth century was reflected in the amount of food a yeoman could store, and such lessons have informed me as to how I think it best to live these days too. That is why I say it is not altogether luck that I find myself well-equipped to deal with the lockdown. I find myself in a lovely house with my three grown-up children here, sharing the cooking; my work is progressing as usual; I have fantastic views of Dartmoor to the south west, and marvellous walks all around the area. I have not even lost my social life as many of my neighbours are also friends, and I stop and chat whenever I see them - and I see at least three or four of them every time I leave the house. Life could be a lot, lot worse.

Notwithstanidng all that, tempers still become frayed. The young people in the house don't want to have to be here. As my daughter said, 'it's not exactly what I was hoping for from my first year at university'. I myself miss the freedom that I usually enjoy. However, something else unexpected has happened: a sort of meditative approach to life. I have only been inside a shop once since 23 March - I went to two supermarkets in Exeter on 10 April. My only purchases have been vinyl records and historical books, bought online. People compare covid-19 with the plague but the part of the past that the pandemic reminds me of is monasticism, the contemplative life, with its domestic rituals and prayers for day and night. In my case, it's not prayers but thinking, writing, listening to music, playing a guitar or djembe, running and walking. The five of us chat a lot as a family after dinner, whether it's a drinking night or not; we play music and cards, and I occasionally join them in watching a film. On a daily basis, however, there is something about this enforced period of not going to places and not experiencing new stimulations that is thought-provoking and contemplation-inducing. I find myself walking to the beautiful locations around here and just reflecting on life in this part of the world over the last four thousand years. I know very little about the first three thousand but a fair bit about the last thousand, and I wonder when I look out from Wooston hillfort or Hunters Tor hillfort what our Iron-Age ancestors thought of the place - and where they obtained their food, how they cooked, joked, told stories, sang and danced, how cold they were; how much they respected their gods and superiors; how they washed their hair and cut their nails, etcetera. And then I come hom to my medieval house and imagine all that for the centuries between the thirteenth and the twentieth.

As for work, The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain is complete and has been copyedited. Now it is to be read once more by the editor before it goes off for typesetting. The image selection has been done. I will receive the proofs in a few weeks. In the meantime I have an article to review for a journal; another piece of historical writing by a friend to edit for him; and I am planning writing a few articles: one on the concept of greatness in the history world; and another on the uses of present-tense historical writing. I am also planning to revise a piece of scholarship on the fake death of Edward II that has so far not been published - despite spending two years on the desk of one journal editor - because her chosen peer referee was 'too firmly wedded to the orthodox standpoint'. In other words, he was prejudiced and she liked his prejudice over the prospect of getting into hot water, so she effectively censored my research. The argument against the death of Edward II is now principally worth pursuing because it exposes the hypocrisy and bias that exists longside the very best scholarship in academic institutions. And to think that the state funds it is shocking. After that is done, well, we shall see. A return to the Middle Ages, in all probability.

16 April 2020
The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain

I see that Random House has released the cover for The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, which is due for publication in the UK on 5 November this year. You can see it below. Currently I'm deeply embedded in the editorial process, cutting the first draft of 221,231 words (plus 15,542 words of endnotes) down to 150,000 words and no more than 10,000 words of endnotes. It's challenging but rewarding work. At the moment I am reviewing chapter eight, where to stay: going over it again and again, tryng to cut superfluous phrases and sentences that digress too much and don't give enough of a reward. And cutting 1/3 of the book isn't easy. Someone said, 'well, just leave out certain chunks - job done'. No way. A text is like the sea: the words you actually read are simply the waves you see, cresting in the sunlight. Within each paragraph there are swells, and each chapter has tides that come and go, and it just wouldn't be right to disrupt them. Deeper still, there are the ocean currents that represent the real movement of the book, and you certainly don't want to disrupt those. The really difficult part is that the first seven chapters have already gone off to the copyeditor, so the pressure on me to trim each chapter builds and builds. If there wasn't a lockdown in place, I would be having to impose my own.

28 March 2020
How life has changed!

How little we expected that life would change like this. For the last week, everyone in the country has only been permitted to leave their houses for essential functions: to shop for food, to attend to a medical need, to get exercise once a day and to go to work. Millions of people are off work, day after day. Millions of us cannot socialise. I type this at my desk reflecting that I have not been in a shop for a week now, and have only left the house four times since Monday: three times to go for a walk and once for a short run. But these are just the physical changes. The mental ones are even more extraordinary. Across the nation there are thousands who are going to die and, who knows? I might be one of them. Or a close relative might. My mother is in her late seventies; my aunts and uncle in their eighties and nineties; some cousins have underlying health problems that would compromise them in the event of an infection. It is startling to hear the news, see the numbers testing increasing exponentially and then to think, perhaps I will never see my mother again.

I am aware that my way of living is probably less affected than anyone else's in the country. I have been working long, long hours on the Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, so it can come out on 5 November as scheduled. I have been communicating by email with my editor, so there is nothing unusual there. The biggest changes in my day-to-day life are that my daughter is home from university, my youngest son off school, and our social life has come to an end. Last Wednesday the 'Last Wednesday in the Month Film Night' that I hold with some friends was done as a virtual event. It wasn't the same. But as I am well aware, I should be counting my blessings. Of all the places to be stuck indoors for months on end, my old house - which has seen the plague, the sweating sickness and smallpox come and go over the centuries - is the best place to be.

So much of our current climate takes me back to my PhD, a study entitled 'Medical assistance to the dying in provincial southern England, 1570-1720'. The fear reminds me of the fear of plague and smallpox. The need for house isolation - a strategy that we introduced to deal with the plague in the sixteenth century - is common to both then and now. The gathering of statistics is also common to both periods: we started to construct data sets in the sixteenth century specifically for the purpose of understanding the spread of plague. By the seventeenth century, bills of mortality were drawn up on a weekly basis in the London region, with causes of death being attributed in each case. In the seventeenth century, the old and vulnerable were helped by volunteers from the community: helping the ill might be done by young boys or servants; only in the second half of that century did the concept of 'nursing' the sick develop, after which 'nurses' were exclusively women. Watching the news, and seeing the police struggle with the idea of policing the sick, I am often reminded of the houses boarded up and guarded for weeks on end when there was a plague victim amog the family inside. Food parcels were delivered regularly and passed through a window. One by one the dead were shrouded and taken out for burial, and the house shut up again with the survivors inside.

What will happen is anyone's guess. Like anyoe else who can operate a spreadsheet and has some grasp of medical statistics, I have seen my estimates of the likely numbers dying radically shift from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Encouraging news reports today say that the number might possibly be below six thousand. I liked the analogy in an article in the The Times this morning - 'Lockdown is on course to reduce total death rate' - which brilliantly demonstrated the need to keep up our confinement measures in the long term. It read: 'The country will avoid the 260,000 fatalities once feared if it keeps on the same path seen in China, statisticians at Imperial College London have calculated. They emphasised that this did not imply that the fears of mass deaths were alarmist, but that the government strategy was working. “Our work shows that social distancing is working against Covid-19 as an effective parachute across multiple countries,” Tom Pike, of Imperial College, said. “That’s no reason for us to cut away our parachutes when we’re still way above the ground.”'

The sun is shining. The months of terrible rain have finally come to an end this week - this week of all weeks. Nevertheless I will go for a run on Mardon later. In the meantime, I will just get on with editing my next book - and hoping that everyone out there who has Covid19 recovers, and everyone who does not keeps themselves safely indoors, wherever they are.

14 March 2020
Champion Oliver

For those who followed the adventures of the Mortimers in 2017 in Why Running Matters, you might be interested to know that my son Oliver today won the Devon Under-18 Chess Championship. Here he is with the trophy. Editing it just now for this website I noticed you can just see in the background my copy of the photograph of my aunt, Angela Mortimer, with the Wimbledon Ladies Singles trophy, in 1961. How appropriate!

24 February 2020
Brighton Half Marathon

To be honest, I wasn't really fit enough to run a half marathon yesterday. I have run very little so far this year, as my shin is still not right - I think the problem is yet another stress fracture, the fourth in four years. Thus I am too heavy and too slow. But the conditions in which we were running, with gusts of wind of more than 50mph, would have slowed me up anyway. I saw several people blown off their feet. Nevertheless, all five of us Mortimers finished. Alexander led us home in 1:43:19; my nephew Tom was not far behind him in 1:43:56; I managed 1:44:10 and Oliver, in his first ever half marathon (as he has only just recently turned seventeen), did 1:56:19. Very creditable for a first run, especially in those conditions. My brother Robbie brought up the rear in 2:00:07. He was gutted to be seven seconds outside two hours. A great family occasion. Not sure when the next one will be, though, with coronavirus sweeping the nation.

3 February 2020
Writing and running, and writing and running...

Nothing much to report - only that I am hard at work on The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, which is scheduled for publication later this year. Chapter eleven (health, hygiene and medicine) is now complete and with the editor. Three chapters remain: the law; pastimes; and the fine arts. By the time I have finished, it will be over four years since I opened the first word file and began work on this book.

Other than that, I have been running. My right shin still isn't right, so I've reduced the distances I've been covering, and it may well be it doesn't fully recover until I stop running on it altogether. But I have two half marathons booked for this month, the first of them next weekend, when my younger son Oliver will join me and his elder brother for the first time, having just turned seventeen. So I don't want to stop now. And I really don't want to stop doing parkrun. Recently I did a couple of Teignmouth Promenade parkrun reports, one of which - on the theme of 'investment' - you can read online here and the other - on the theme of consideration and responsibility - is here. Last year I did one for Torbay, which is here.

10 January 2020
Happy New Year!

Okay, I know it's not exactly New Year still, but this is the first chance I've had to update this page in 2020, so my best wishes to you, despite my tardy arrival on the New Year scene.

What's new? Well, over the Christmas break my eldest son turned twenty-one and today is my daughter's nineteenth birthday. Where did all those years go? The reason I'm not celebrating with her is that she's off in Brighton studying psychology and I need to be here to take my youngest son to Exeter tomorrow for his chess match against Wales (he is playing for Devon under-18s). Suddenly I find only one child at home, and I always thought of myself as a family man. Soon it will just be Sophie and me here. Families don't come to an end with the children's departures, of course, but family life does, and it's sudden and disorientating.

I am carrying on with the next book, The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain. Chapter ten went off to my editor today. 18,600 words long, which I hope he'll cut down to about 12,000. The period is just so rich I cannot resist writing about it in depth, and that takes time. Hence this book will have taken me four years this April, longer than my PhD (by quite some way). I hope I'll have finished by then.

Running isn't going so well. I did the double New Year parkrun in Seaford and Peacehaven with my sons and brother Robbie but ran gingerly as I seem to have an injury in my right shin. This is very annoying as I'm meant to be doing the Exeter 10K next weekend and two half marathons in February, and my youngest son has booked himself in to run his first half marathon the day after he turns seventeen. Very proud of him, I am. But it would be foolish to keep running on an injured leg, and if he beats me in his first long race, so what? His elder brother did, because I had flu and could barely move. Come to think of it, that was the same race, the Exeter City Half Marathon. Ah, dammit. If I have to take a few weeks out, it isn't the end of the world. Besides, I really ought to prioritise that book...

Oh, one thing is new. I finally got around to updating my Christmas Card page with the 2019 poem. So if you want to see last year's atrocious doggerel, which was widely well received (the fools!), it is available via this link.

What was new in previous years