Exhale, Exhale, Exhale!
On this day in 1875, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel.
After having making an unsuccessful attempt earlier in the month, Webb began his second attempt from Admiralty Pier at Dover on August 24th. He was backed by three escort boats and smeared in porpoise oil. After 21 hours and 45 minutes he landed near Calais—the first successful cross-channel swim. His zig-zag course across the Channel was over 39 miles long.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Burning of Washington
On this day in 1814, a British force under Major General Robert Ross, burnt down the White House, as well as a number of other important buildings including the Capitol, in what would become known as 'The Burning of Washington'. Throughout the history of the United States, the United Kingdom is the only country to have ever captured Washington, D.C. and indeed the only time since the American Revolutionary War a foreign power has captured and occupied the United States capital.
The event was part of the War of 1812, which had broken out following rising tensions between the two nations, at least in part caused by a naval blockade imposed by Britain to choke off the USA’s trade with Napoleonic France, who Britain were at war with. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; in the United States and Canada, it is seen as a war in its own right. Neither country was particularly well prepared for a fight on the American continent and the war rumbled on inconclusively until 1815.
The Burning of Washington occurred following the British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg earlier in the day. President James Madison, military officials, and his government, who had mostly been present at the battle, had already fled the city. The American army had been completely routed and the British army was able to enter Washington D.C. unopposed.
Less than a day after the attack began, a sudden, very heavy thunderstorm put out the fires. It also spun off a tornado that passed through the centre of the capital, setting down on Constitution Avenue and lifting two cannons before dropping them several yards away, killing British troops and American civilians alike. Following the storm, the British returned to their ships, many of which were badly damaged. The occupation of Washington lasted only about 26 hours. After the "Storm that saved Washington", as it soon came to be called, the Americans returned to the city.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on interesting events and people in British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1769 Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, Baron Cuvier, better known as Georges Cuvier, was born. Cuvier became an extremely accomplished naturalist and zoologist and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils. He is sometimes referred to as the "father of paleontology".
One of Cuvier’s accomplishments was the identification in 1796 of the woolly mammoth as a distinct, extinct species and that mammoth remain did not, as had been previously thought, belong to elephants that had wandered or been transported north. This concept was not widely accepted at the time.
In 1799 the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach gave the woolly mammoth its first scientific name, Elephas primigenius, placing it in the same genus as the Asian elephant. Cuvier would coin the name Elephas mammonteus a few months later, but it did not replace Blumenbach’s. In 1828, the British naturalist Joshua Brookes used the name Mammuthus borealis for woolly mammoth fossils, thereby coining a new genus name. The woolly mammoth, which lived in Europe and North America and would eventually become extinct during the late Pleistocene / early Holocene is now known by the scientific name Mammuthus primigenius.
This scene was built by James Pegrum because he wanted to build a mammoth. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see all of our models first.
Battle of Thermopylae
On this day in 480 BC it is possible that the Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. September 8th to 10th are also considered to be strong possibilities for the date of the battle. The fighting took place at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae ("The Hot Gates"), where the Greeks were able to hold a numerically superior Persian army for three days, before the rear-guard of 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and possibly 400 Thebans where annihilated. The battle is held as an example of how good training, equipment, and use terrain can overcome much larger opponents has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.
In early 480 BC, following years of preparation, a huge Persian army under Xerxes I invaded Greece. According to Herodotus, Xerxes' army was so large that, upon arriving at the banks of the Echeidorus River, his soldiers proceeded to drink it dry. The invasion had come in response to Athens and Eretriae encouraging an unsuccessful Ionian Revolt against the Persian Empire of Darius I in 499–494 BC. Darius had died in 486 BC and so the task had past to his son, Xerxes. The Persians not only sought revenge, but saw an opportunity to expand the empire into the fractious world of Ancient Greece.
he Persian army seems to have made slow progress and news of the invasion reached Greece in August. At this time of year the Spartans, de facto military leaders of the alliance, were celebrating the festival of Carneia. During the Carneia, military activity was forbidden by Spartan law. However, on this occasion, the ephors decided the urgency was sufficiently great to justify an advance expedition to block the pass. Leonidas I took with him the 300 men of the royal bodyguard, the Hippeis. This expedition was to try to gather as many other Greek soldiers along the way as possible and to await the arrival of the main Spartan army.
The Spartan force was reinforced en route to Thermopylae by contingents from various cities and numbered more than 7,000 by the time it arrived at the pass. Leonidas chose to camp at, and defend, the "middle gate", the narrowest part of the pass of Thermopylae, where the Phocians had built a defensive wall some time before. News also reached Leonidas, from the nearby city of Trachis, that there was a mountain track that could be used to outflank the pass of Thermopylae. Leonidas stationed 1,000 Phocians on the heights to prevent such a manoeuvre.
The Persians likely arrived at the Pass around mid-August and Xerxes sent a Persian emissary to negotiate with Leonidas. The Greeks however refused the terms and when they were asked to hand over their arms, Leonidas' is said to have responded "Molṑn labé", usually translated as "come and take them". A fight was now inevitable. though Xerxes delayed for four days to give the Greeks the opportunity to disperse.
The number of troops which Xerxes had at his disposal been the subject of endless dispute. Herodotus claimed that there were, in total, 2.6 million military personnel, accompanied by an equivalent number of support personnel while the poet Simonides, who was a near-contemporary, talks of four million. Modern scholars tend to reject the figures given by Herodotus and other ancient sources as unrealistic, resulting from miscalculations or exaggerations on the part of the victors. Modern scholarly estimates are generally in the range 120,000–300,000. Opposing them, it is estimated that there were around 7,000 Greeks.
The terrain of the battlefield was nothing that Xerxes and his forces were accustomed to. The pure ruggedness of this area is caused by torrential downpours for four months of the year, combined with an intense summer season of scorching heat that cracks the ground. Vegetation is scarce and consists of low, thorny shrubs. The hillsides along the pass are covered in thick brush, with some plants reaching 10 feet high. With the sea on one side and steep, impassable hills on the other, King Leonidas and his men chose the perfect topographical position to battle the Persians. By defending a constricted passage, the Greeks' inferior numbers became less problematic and providing they could maintain that position, removed the need to seek a decisive battle. Conversely, for the Persians the problem of supplying such a large army meant they could not remain in the same place for very long. The Persians, therefore, had to retreat or advance, and advancing required forcing the pass of Thermopylae.
The battle began on the fifth day after the Persian arrival at Thermopylae. It opened with 5,000 Persian archers firing a barrage of arrows into the pass, though this proved ineffective as the bronze shields and helmets of the Greeks proved a sufficient defence. Persians soon launched a frontal assault, in waves of around 10,000 men, on the Greek position. The Greeks stood at the narrowest point in the pass, probably in phalanx formation. By doing so they were able to hold the Persians at a distance, preventing the weaker shields, and shorter spears and swords of the Persians from effectively engaging. According to Ctesias, the first wave was "cut to ribbons", with only two or three Spartans killed in return.
According to Herodotus and Diodorus, the king, having taken the measure of the enemy, threw his best troops into a second assault the same day, the Immortals, an elite corps of 10,000 men. However, the Immortals fared no better than the Medes, and failed to make any headway against the Greeks.The Spartans apparently used a tactic of feigning retreat, and then turning and killing the enemy troops when they ran after them. So ended the first day.
The Persians fared no better on the second day and at its end Xerxes stopped the assault and withdrew to his camp, "totally perplexed”. Later that day, however, as the Persian king was pondering what to do next, he received a windfall; a Trachinian named Ephialtes informed him of the mountain path around Thermopylae and offered to guide the Persian army. That evening, Xerxes sent his commander Hydarnes with around 20,000 men to encircle the Greeks via the path.
At daybreak on the third day, the Phocians guarding the path above Thermopylae became aware of the outflanking Persian column by the rustling of oak leaves. The Phocians retreated to a nearby hill to make their stand but, not wishing to be delayed, the Persians merely shot a volley of arrows at them, before bypassing them to continue with their encirclement of the main Greek force.
Learning from a runner that the Phocians had not held the path, Leonidas called a council of war at dawn. Some of the Greeks argued for withdrawal, but Leonidas resolved to stay at the pass with the Spartans. Upon discovering that his army had been encircled, Leonidas told his allies that they could leave if they wanted to. While many of the Greeks took him up on his offer and fled, around two thousand soldiers stayed behind to fight a rear-guard action, in which they would probably die. Knowing that the end was near, the Greeks marched into the open field and met the Persians head-on. Many of the Greek contingents then either chose to withdraw or were ordered to leave by Leonidas. The contingent of 700 Thespians, led by their general Demophilus, refused to leave and committed themselves to the fight. Also present were the 400 Thebans and probably the helots who had accompanied the Spartans.
At dawn the Persians took up the fight once more. A Persian force of 10,000 men, comprising light infantry and cavalry, charged at the front of the Greek formation. The Greeks this time sallied forth from the wall to meet the Persians in the wider part of the pass, in an attempt to slaughter as many Persians as they could. They fought with spears, until every spear was shattered, and then switched to their short swords.] In this struggle, Herodotus states that two of Xerxes' brothers fell: Abrocomes and Hyperanthes. Leonidas also died in the assault, shot down by Persian archers, and the two sides fought over his body; the Greeks took possession. As the Immortals approached from the rear, the Greeks withdrew and took a stand on a hill behind the wall. Herodotus wrote:
"Here they defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth”.
The pass at Thermopylae was thus opened to the Persian army, according to Herodotus, at the cost to the Persians of up to 20,000 fatalities. The Greeks on the other hand, lost in total around 2,000. The Persians proceeded into Greece, sacking and burning Plataea and Thespiae, before marching on the now evacuated city of Athens. The Greeks prepared to make a stand at the Isthmus of Corinth, aiming to replicate the strategy used at Thermopylae. To do this they also had to prepare an effective naval blockade to prevent an amphibious landing. However, instead of a mere blockade, Themistocles persuaded the Greeks to seek a decisive victory against the Persian fleet. Luring the Persian navy into the Straits of Salamis, the Greek fleet was able to destroy much of the Persian fleet in the Battle of Salamis, which essentially ended the threat to the Peloponnese.
Fearing the Greeks might attack the bridges across the Hellespont and trap his army in Europe, Xerxes now retreated with much of the Persian army back to Asia, though nearly all of them died of starvation and disease on the return voyage. He left a hand-picked force, under Mardonius, to complete the conquest the following year. However, under pressure from the Athenians, the Peloponnesians eventually agreed to try to force Mardonius to battle, and they marched on Attica. Mardonius retreated to Boeotia to lure the Greeks into open terrain, and the two sides eventually met near the city of Plataea. At the Battle of Plataea, the Greek army won a decisive victory, destroying much of the Persian army and ending the invasion of Greece. Meanwhile, at the near-simultaneous naval Battle of Mycale, they also destroyed much of the remaining Persian fleet, thereby reducing the threat of further invasions.
This scene was built by Simon Piackard as part of a series of models on world history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
This Saturday our builder Simon Pickard will be holding his own exhibition in Wellington, Somerset. Simon is perhaps best known for making headlines with his very own LEGO filled shanty town, but more importantly he is one of our most talented builders. So important stuff first, here’s the details for Simon’s forthcoming exhibition:
Venue: Wellington Baptist Church, Wellington, Somerset
Date: Saturday 18th August
Time: 11am to 5pm
Tickets: £3 per person (under 2’s go free) and its cash on the door only.
The exhibition will not only have Simon’s history builds, but many of his other models, including models from his newly co-authored LEGO Animal Atlas. Here at Brick to the Past however, we are mostly interested in the history stuff, so here’s a nice little showcase of what Simon has built for us over the years that you can see at Saturday's event! It’s a veritable journey through time!
As you'll see, this lad is a real talent, so take our advice and head to Wellington this Saturday!
Battle of Thermopylae
Simon’s model of Thermopylae is one of the first he built and pre-dated his entry into the Brick to the Past crew. With skills like these we’d be crazy not to have him among us. The model depicts the battle of 480BC between Greeks and Persians and stylistically draws much from the Frank Miller and Lynn Varley graphic novel and subsequent film. The model has not been on public display since 2013, so this is a rare not-to-be-missed opportunity to see it up close.
So what are its vital statistics? The model weighs in with a length of 192 studs and a height of 70 bricks… so t pretty hefty, It has 128 rare Spartan minifigures plus 375 Persian warriors of Simon’s own design. In total, Simon guesses that there are around 20 to 30 thousand parts in this model. Pretty damn impressive for an early piece of work.
Iron Age Village
Simon’s Iron Age village was originally part of our 2015 model The Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier, for which we recreated the landscape of 2nd century Roman Britain complete with a re-imagination of the Emperor Hadrian’s famous super-structure.
The village features a selection of roundhouses, one of which has a cutaway section to reveal the living conditions inside. Simon has used some real innovative construction methods in this creation, harassing LEGO's flexible tubes to create the conical structures of his roundhouse roofs... though we should point out that they are so delicate and an absolute nightmare to transport! The model also boasts a barrow mound and stone circle, which do of course, reference even earlier times.
Anglo-Saxon Woodcutter's Hut
This creation was originally part of 2016's England 793 model, which took a cross section of Anglo-Saxon England and sprinkled it with encroaching bands of Viking raiders. This section was the wild and quiet part of the model, featuring a high hill and dense forest – there is an absolute wealth of interesting tree techniques packed into this piece. In the centre of this forest is a carpenter’s hut, complete with authentic 8th century machinery. This model also contains one very surprising feature – a vast underground cavern complete with stalagmites and stalactites, subterranean waterfalls and dinosaur skeletons. You’ll have to visit the exhibition to see it!
This galleon is Simon’s latest creation for Brick to the Past and forms part of our model Henry Morgan: Welsh Raider of the Spanish Main. The model is about the aforementioned buccaneer’s raid on Lake Maracaibo in 1669 and Simon’s galleon represents part of the Spanish flotilla Morgan sunk while making his escape. While the galleon provides an extremely tantalising morsel, you’ll be able to see the whole model at the forthcoming Great Western Brick Show in Swindon on the 6th and 7th of October.
Scottish Highland Township
The highland township was part of 2017's model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne, a series of uprisings, rebellions and wars that occurred predominantly in Scotland, but also spread into Ireland and England, between 1689 and 1746.
We feel that one of the most interesting aspects of our work is the depiction of everyday life as lived by ordinary people and so this part of the model was one of its most important. The township is alive with activity including waulking the cloth and cow herding. Simon not only took inspiration from archaeological remains, such as those found in Glen Banchor, but also from the recreation of a township at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore.
Baker Street Station
Baker Street station was part of our 2014 model London 1875: The Capital of an Empire. Simon took on the task of recreating part of the city’s embryonic underground system by constructing a partial replica of the first Baker Street platforms, which comes complete with vaulted roof and an early metropolitan steam train. The station is topped by a museum which is filled with objects inspired by the displays at the National History Museum.
We hope you are impressed with Simon's work and are able to go to his exhibition; you can see more of his work and follow him on Flickr. To be kept up-to-date on all our events and other doings, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
MEGA MASSIVE CHARITY BIKE RIDE KLAXON!
At the end of September, our lad James Pegrum, along with three other luminaries of the LEGO world, will be embarking on a 1,000 km cycle ride from the flagship LEGO store in Leicester Square, London, to the LEGO House in Billund, Denmark. They will do it in seven-and-a-half days, to raise money for our favourite charity, Fairy Bricks.
Since the New Year, James has been racking up the miles in preparation by cycling across as much of Devon as he possibly can. He has form for long distance bike rides, having completed the epic 1,400 km John o’ Groats to Land’s End ride some 20 years ago. He is however, now keen to point out that the intervening years have taken their toll, and that the Billund trip is likely to be his most challenging ever!
James’ team mates are Huw Millington of Brickset, Ed Diment of Bright Bricks and Ralph Doering of massive Star Wars mosaic making fame. They will be supported by Kev Gascoigne and Fly Tipping of Fairy Bricks.
The team will be departing the LEGO Store in Leicester Square at 08:30, Thursday September 20th and aim to arrive in Billund at 11:00 Thursday September 27th.
The purpose of the ride is to raise money for Fairy Bricks (registered charity 1161639) , who have one very simple objective. To give LEGO to children in hospital.
The team hope their efforts and your sponsorship will enable Fairy Bricks to support more children, in more hospitals than ever before. Please make a donation on the event's fundraising page, or via Paypal if you have problems doing so.
Your donation will mean the world to Fairy Bricks, and of course will go directly towards getting our beloved bricks into the hands of sick children in hospitals and hospices around the world.
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