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English Language and History

The brief stories below are taken from history, myth or fiction. Each one is accompanied by games and exercises in essential grammar and free composition, based on old school textbooks.

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Dr Wollaston
Music: Johann Baptist Cramer
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.

AFTER graduating in medicine from Gonville and Caius in 1793, and practising as a rural doctor in Cambridgeshire for a few years, William Wollaston came into family money and settled in London, free to indulge his passion for chemistry.

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Featured Topic
Tagged ‘Victorian Era’ (59 posts)
page 1
1 Thomas Brassey
The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
2 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.
3 The Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Businessmen in Liverpool engaged George Stephenson to build one of his new-fangled railways.
4 Judicial Iniquity
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill reminds us that governments and the courts must never be allowed to criminalise matters of belief or opinion.
5 Not the World’s Policeman
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Richard Cobden questioned both the wisdom and the motives of politicians who intervene on foreign soil.
6 ‘My English Joy’
By Sir William Sterndale Bennett
(1816-1875)
In 1837 William Sterndale Bennett, then regarded as England’s most exciting young composer, made history in quite another... field.
page 2
7 Sir William Sterndale Bennett
Acclaimed in Germany as a composer on a par with Mendelssohn himself, Bennett sacrificed his life and talents for music in Britain.
8 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.
9 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.
10 Guardian of Peace
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
J. S. Mill argues that free trade has done more to put an end to war than any political union or military alliance.
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 Grievances of the South
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden believed British politicians supporting the slave-owning American South had been led a merry dance.
page 3
13 Dixie on Thames
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden offered a startling analogy for the American Civil War.
14 Inquire Within
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
Philosopher and social activist John Stuart Mill discusses the most liberating kind of education.
15 India’s First Railway
The opening of the Bombay to Thane line was the real beginning of British India.
16 The Railway Clearing House
All but forgotten today, the RCH was one of the most important steps forward in British industrial history.
17 Character Witness
A former convict gives his own account of his debt to Thomas Wright, the prisoner’s friend.
18 The Prisoner’s Friend
Thomas Wright never earned more than a foreman’s wage, but he helped hundreds of prisoners back into society.
page 4
19 The Great Baby
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens rails at the way Parliament and do-gooders treat the public like an irresponsible child.
20 A Selfish Liberty
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass contrasts two kinds of ‘nationalist’.
21 Douglass in Britain
Frederick Douglass, the American runaway slave turned Abolitionist, spent some of his happiest days in Britain.
22 Dr Wollaston
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.
23 Douglass’s Debt
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
British statesmen were among those who inspired the career of one of America’s greatest men, Frederick Douglass.
24 Mr Faraday
Faraday’s work on electromagnetism made him an architect of modern living, and one of Albert Einstein’s three most revered physicists.
page 5
25 Sir Sandford Fleming
What George Stephenson was to the railways of England, Sandford Fleming was to the railways of Canada.
26 How Britain Brought Football to Chile
British expats in Valparaíso kicked off the Chilean passion for soccer.
27 The London and Birmingham Railway
The textile moguls of Manchester and Liverpool engaged the Stephensons to complete their link to the capital.
28 The Obstinacy of Fowell Buxton
Fatherless teenage tearaway Fowell Buxton was not a promising boy, but the Gurney family changed all that.
29 The Boer Wars
South African settlers of Dutch descent could not escape the march of the British Empire.
30 The Unselfishess of Free Trade
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
Victorian MP Richard Cobden pleaded for Britain to set the world an example as a nation open for business.
page 6
31 Huskisson’s Legacy
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens explains how cutting tax and regulation on Britain’s global trade made everyone better off.
32 The Founding of Australia
Within little more than half a century a British penal colony turned into a prosperous, free-trade democracy.
33 How Liberating the Slaves also Clothed the Poor
Based on an article by Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
The closure of slave plantations following the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833 had a curious side-effect.
34 Burning Daylight
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson argued that his steam engines were solar-powered.
35 Muzio Clementi
From performance and composition to instrument-making, Clementi left his mark on British and European classical music.
36 The Siren ‘Greatness’
In encouraging women into music, Alice Mary Smith thought promises of ‘greatness’ counterproductive.
page 7
37 David Livingstone
The Scottish missionary and medic believed that slavery could better be eradicated by trade than by force.
38 The Ashes of English Cricket
How the cricketing rivalry between England and Australia got its name.
39 ‘Risoluto’
Music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
(1833-1897)
Despite setback after setback, Stanford was determined to hear his music played in public.
40 Grace Darling
Mild-mannered Grace Darling persuaded her father to let her help him rescue the survivors of a shipwreck.
41 Cragside: the Home of Modern Living
Lord Armstrong’s home was an Aladdin’s cave of Victorian technology.
42 How the British Invented Cool
Michael Faraday showed that gases could be compressed and evaporated to preserve food and make ice.
page 8
43 The Pig-and-Potato War
In 1859, peaceful co-existence on the Canadian border was severely tested by a marauding pig.
44 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.
45 A Nation’s Wealth
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
It is not politicians and their policies that create wealth, but the hard work and ingenuity of ordinary people.
46 Character and Learning
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Intellectual learning is to be respected, but it should never be confused with good character.
47 Elias Parish Alvars
Music by Elias Parish Alvars
(1808-1849)
Eli Parish of Teignmouth in Devon became one of Europe’s most celebrated virtuosos.
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 Cecil Rhodes
The ruthless diamond magnate who donated his fortune to the education and empowerment of Africans.
51 The Anglo-Zanzibar War
It lasted barely forty minutes, but it brought slavery to an end in the little island territory.
52 The ‘Raindrop’ Prelude
By Georges Sand
(1804-1876)
As the storm raged around him, raindrops fell like music on the pianist’s heart.
53 The Harmonious Blacksmith
Music by George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759)
Handel called it ‘Air and Variations’, but by Charles Dickens’s day everyone knew it as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’.
54 Brahms: Three Intermezzi Op. 117
A Scottish widow’s lullaby for her fatherless child inspired his music, but Brahms’s message struck closer to home.
page 10
55 Peace By Free Trade
By Richard Cobden
(1804-1865)
The blessing of trade free from political interference was one of most important insights in British, indeed world history.
56 Ignaz Moscheles
Music by Ignaz Moscheles
(1794-1870)
Moscheles taught his adopted country how to write enchanting music for decades to come.
57 Sir Titus Salt
His alpaca-wool mills near Bradford proved the social benefits of private enterprise in the right hands.
58 ‘Better Habits, Not Greater Rights’
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
The extraordinary productivity and social mobility of the Victorian era is to the credit not of the governing class, but of the working man.
59 The Character of George Stephenson
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
A self-made man who never forgot his humble beginnings.
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Subject and Object

Use each of the words below as either the subject or the object of a verb.

Laugh. Depression. Variation.

The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
By William Ewart Gladstone
(1808-1898)
William Gladstone explains that a truly ‘exceptional nation’ respects the equality and rights of all nations.
By William Ewart Gladstone
(1808-1898)
William Gladstone warns voters not to leave foreign policy in the hands of interventionist politicians.
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
George Stephenson won the admiration of French navvies by showing them how a Geordie works a shovel.
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 ‘Bird of Prey’
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
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with TALL and finish with SHIP.
Do you know ‘entertainer’ (7 letters), and ‘distant’ (3 letters)?
Do you know ‘meticulous’ (7 letters), and ‘father of Goneril, Regan and Cordelia’ (4 letters)?
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with FULL and finish with STOP.
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with SPIT and finish with FIRE.
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
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letters game

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Make the total shown using two or more of the numbers underneath it. You can add, subtract, divide and multiply. Use any number once only.

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