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Two-minute tales from history, myth and fiction, accompanied by word games, grammar games and writing practice, all based on traditional school textbooks.

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Pirates at Penzance
Music: Jean-Baptiste Lully
The people of Penzance in Cornwall did not think an Algerian corsair much better than a French warship.

IN the small hours of 30th September, 1760, Penzance was woken by the firing of guns, and news spread that a large and unusual ship had run aground near Newlyn. A crowd gathered in the grey dawn, fearing to see a French fleet massing in the Channel.

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Featured Topic
Tagged ‘Discovery and Invention’ (65 posts)
page 1
1 Japan’s First Railway
As Japan’s ruling shoguns resist the tide of progress, a Nagasaki-based Scottish entrepreneur steps in.
2 Thomas Brassey
The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
3 A Leader by Example
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson won the admiration of French navvies by showing them how a Geordie works a shovel.
4 The Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Businessmen in Liverpool engaged George Stephenson to build one of his new-fangled railways.
5 Abraham Darby I
To the poor of England, the Worcestershire man gave affordable pots and pans, and to all the world he gave the industrial revolution.
6 Paxton’s Palace
Sir Joseph Paxton not only designed the venue for the Great Exhibition of 1851, he embodied the festival’s most cherished principles.
page 2
7 Mary Anning
A twelve-year-old girl from Lyme Regis made a historic discovery while selling seashells to tourists.
8 Russia’s First Railway
Sixteen-year-old John Wesley Hackworth brought a locomotive over to St Petersburg, and Russia’s railway revolution was ready for the off.
9 The Ladies’ Diary
A long-lived annual of riddles, rhymes and really hard maths aimed specifically at Georgian Britain’s hidden public of clever women.
10 John Dalton
At fifteen John Dalton was a village schoolmaster in Kendal; at forty he had published the first scientific theory of atoms.
11 A Monument to Liberty
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Samuel Smiles explains why the London and Birmingham Railway was an achievement superior to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
12 The Rainhill Trials
To prove that steam power was the future of railways, George Stephenson held a truly historic competition.
page 3
13 India’s First Railway
The opening of the Bombay to Thane line was the real beginning of British India.
14 Britain’s Best Gift to India
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Samuel Smiles reminds us that until we brought the railways to India, we had little to boast about as an imperial power.
15 Alan Blumlein
Railway enthusiast, music lover, and the man who gave us stereo sound.
16 The Story of ‘Charlotte Dundas’
The invention of the steamboat was a formidable challenge not just of engineering, but of politics and finance.
17 The Railway Clearing House
All but forgotten today, the RCH was one of the most important steps forward in British industrial history.
18 Ireland’s First Railway
The Dublin to Dun Laoghaire line opened in 1834, and proved a remarkable testimony to the speed of technological progress.
page 4
19 Dr Wollaston
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.
20 Mr Faraday
Faraday’s work on electromagnetism made him an architect of modern living, and one of Albert Einstein’s three most revered physicists.
21 Sir Sandford Fleming
What George Stephenson was to the railways of England, Sandford Fleming was to the railways of Canada.
22 The Voyage of ‘Golden Hinde’
Elizabethan adventurer Sir Francis Drake combined sailing round the world with really annoying the King of Spain.
23 The London and Birmingham Railway
The textile moguls of Manchester and Liverpool engaged the Stephensons to complete their link to the capital.
24 Heathcoat’s Bobbinet
John Heathcoat’s lace-making machine created thousands of jobs, and gave ordinary people clothes they could never have dreamt of.
page 5
25 Burning Daylight
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson argued that his steam engines were solar-powered.
26 The Re-rediscovery of America
John Day of Bristol did not want Christopher Columbus to labour under a misapprehension.
27 The Hat that Changed the World
Young William’s hat caught the eye of Matthew Boulton, and the world was never the same again.
28 The Genius Next Door
William Murdoch’s experiments with steam traction impressed his next-door neighbour, with world-changing results.
29 The Lessons of Nature
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Samuel Smiles shows us two great achievements inspired by two tiny creatures.
30 Observation
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Great inventions come from those who notice what they see.
page 6
31 The Hetton Railway
The railway earned a special place in history as the first to be designed for steam locomotives only.
32 The Stockton and Darlington Railway
George Stephenson and his son Robert created the world’s first passenger railway.
33 The Music of the Spheres
Sir William Herschel not only discovered Uranus and infrared radiation, but composed two dozen symphonies as well.
34 The Gift of the Gab
There was one form of power that self-taught engineering genius George Stephenson never harnessed.
35 The Bully and the Brakesman
A young George Stephenson takes responsibility for the team spirit at Black Callerton mine.
36 Penicillin
An improbable chain of coincidences led to one of the great medical revolutions just when it was most needed.
page 7
37 Jesty and Jenner’s Jab
Benjamin Jesty and Edward Jenner continue to save millions of lives because they listened to an old wives’ tale.
38 Discovery!
By Mark Twain
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain covets the supreme sensation of being a trailblazer.
39 Cragside: the Home of Modern Living
Lord Armstrong’s home was an Aladdin’s cave of Victorian technology.
40 How the British Invented Cool
Michael Faraday showed that gases could be compressed and evaporated to preserve food and make ice.
41 The Iron Horse and the Iron Cow
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Railways not only brought fresh, healthy food to the urban poor, they improved the conditions of working animals.
42 The Tanfield Railway
Opened in 1725, the Tanfield Railway is one of the oldest railways still operating anywhere in the world.
page 8
43 Earl Stanhope and the Re-Invention of Printing
Britain never knew she was a nation of voracious readers until printing entered the steam age.
44 Sir Humphry Davy
A Cornish professor of chemistry with a poetic turn who helped make science a popular fashion.
45 The Geordie Lamp
Based on an account by Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
The engineer put his own life on the line for the safety of his fellow-workers in the coal industry.
46 Dud Dudley: Iron Man
The 17th-century entrepreneur developed a way of smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal, but the Civil War frustrated his plans.
47 The Fleming Valve
A Victorian children’s book inspired the birth of modern electronics.
48 Bird’s Custard
Alfred Bird’s wife could eat neither eggs nor yeast. So being a Victorian, Alfred put his thinking-cap on.
page 9
49 The Rewards of ‘Patience’
How appropriate that the comic opera ‘Patience’ should introduce the world to the results of thirty years of labour.
50 Sir Titus Salt
His alpaca-wool mills near Bradford proved the social benefits of private enterprise in the right hands.
51 The Science of Salix
Edward Stone wondered if the willow tree might have more in common with the Peruvian cinchona tree than just its damp habitat.
52 A Man called ‘Beta’
For a perennial ‘runner-up’, Eratosthenes had a peculiar knack of being first.
53 Richard Arkwright
Arkwright invented the factory, without which modern life would be impossible.
54 The Ladder with Twenty-Four Rungs
The Duke of Argyll was pleasantly surprised to find one of his gardeners reading a learned book of mathematics - in Latin.
page 10
55 Edmond Halley
Edmond Halley will forever be associated with the comet named after him, but his greatest achievement was getting Sir Isaac Newton to publish ‘Principia Mathematica’.
56 John Logie Baird
Baird’s inventions didn’t always work as well as his televisions.
57 The Character of George Stephenson
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
A self-made man who never forgot his humble beginnings.
58 Perfection is no Trifle
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Michelangelo had a message for all serious entrepreneurs.
59 John Harrison’s Marine Chronometer
When Harrison won the Longitude Prize, fair and square, Parliament wouldn’t pay up.
60 The First Train Journey by Steam
Richard Trevithick’s boss hailed the engineer as a genius. Today he’d have been fired. (Oh, and the train was delayed.)
page 11
61 The Star that Winked
John Goodricke’s observations of Algol won him the Copley Medal while still in his teens, despite his disability.
62 Fashionable Freedom
By Thomas Clarkson
(1760-1846)
Josiah Wedgwood’s promotional gift made Abolitionism fashionable.
63 The Tea-Cup Revolutionary
Josiah Wedgwood, a village potter whose disability meant he could not use a potter’s wheel, brought about a quiet revolution in English society.
64 Timothy Hackworth
Timothy Hackworth (1786-1850) turned steam locomotives into a reliable commercial success.
65 Mrs Clements
Mrs Clements of Durham is not a household name, but the product she invented is.
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Spinner

Use these words together in a single sentence:

Fine. Conduct. Particularly.

JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says that the pinnacle of political achievement is the government not of others, but of ourselves.
By John Keats
(1795-1821)
Poet John Keats speaks of the beauties of Autumn, her colours, her sounds and her rich harvest.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Shelley calls on November’s sister months to watch by the graveside of the dead Year.
Cut
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Polyword ‘High’
Make as many words as you can with the letters below. All your words must be at least four letters long, and must also include the highlighted letter. What’s the nine-letter word?

SEE how many words you can make using the letters below. All your words must be at least 4 letters long, and must include the letter (change).

We found commonly used words, plus one 9-letter word. Can you do better?

Use each letter only once. But if there are e.g. two As, you can used them both.

Don’t count proper nouns such as April, Zeus, or Newcastle (pretty much anything that has to be spelled with a capital letter at the start), or acronyms like HMRC.

Don’t just add -S for plurals or third person singular verbs, e.g. CAT → CATS or SPEAK → SPEAKS.

Note: You can find more Polywords and other games on our Nine Lives puzzle page, and most of our stories are accompanied by games with words, grammar and numbers.

More Puzzles
Do you know ‘a republic in the Pyrenees’ (7 letters), and ‘shallow in sentiment’ (5 letters)?
Find the magic letter that can change three words into three different ones.
Do you know ‘stout’ (6 letters), and ‘gloat’ (4 letters)?
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with NOTE and finish with BOOK.
Find the magic letter that can change three words into three different ones.
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
A word-making and word-searching game with a dash of strategy to it.
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letters game

What is the longest word you can make using these letters?

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numbers game

Work across from the number on the left, applying each arithmetical operation to the previous answer. What’s the final total?

Tip: Click any of the four inner squares to check your running total.

More like this: Maths Steps (Mental Arithmetic Game) Mental Arithmetic