It is a truth universally acknowledged by those who know me that I am a massive history nerd. It’s something I inherited from my father, and the enduring reason for me choosing a History degree at university. I have always loved hearing and reading stories from the past. It’s why I’m such a voracious reader. The best (and sometimes the worst) bit about history is that the stories all actually took place. It sounds awful to say, but the fact that throughout history there were plagues, fire and wars makes for an exciting story or two, although obviously they weren’t much fun for those living them at the time. Through studying them we can, to a degree, live that moment in time. But sources are limited and can only tell us so much. I have always longed to be able to see these civilisations for myself, to see the stories I’ve read about brought to life. I would love to see the sights, smell the aromas of a world gone by, to absorb myself in the atmosphere of a place and a culture. So this got me thinking: if I had a time machine, a Tardis or DeLorean of my own, where and when would I like to go? Of course, if choices were unlimited I could spend my entire life hopping from one period of history to the next, so in the interest of not boring you I narrowed it down to five.
- Bread and Circuses: A day in Ancient Rome
I have loved Roman history since I started reading The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence aged 12. Even if you are long past 12, I would still highly recommend them! This mystery series is still, to this date, one of my favourite book series, and really ignited a passion for Roman history. I already had an interest in mythology, but the series turned my attention to the most exciting period of Rome (in my opinion) – the Empire, particularly the first twelve emperors. I would love to spend a day in Ancient Rome, perhaps during the reign of Titus or Domitian, when the Coliseum was newly built. I would start with an early morning trip to the temple of my favourite god (probably Minerva, the goddess of wisdom), for luck and protection during the day. From there I would drift around the Forum, browsing countless stalls of jewellery, pottery, bolts of cloth, food and scrolls, before taking in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. Despite its cruelty, I would also have to make a visit to the Coliseum to watch some of the games. From the top of the amphitheatre, of course – women and children were kept furthest away from the action! Finally, I would spend my evening dining at the Palatine Hill with the Emperor and his entourage at his official residence. Reclining in the triclinium under the heady scents of perfume and flowers, enjoying the finest baked dormice (on second thoughts, maybe not…), listening to the soothing sounds of lyre and flute and trying not to get on the wrong side of the Emperor! I would end my evening with a litter down to the river, carried by the Praetorian Guard, and then hop on a boat along the Tiber towards the sea.
- All The World’s A Stage: Shakespeare’s London and the first Globe Theatre
One of the periods of history that I specialised in during my degree was Early Modern England. Essentially, this is the reign of the Tudors and Stuarts, and one of the most exciting periods of English history in my view. The 250 year period saw wars, plague, fire, and the complete overhaul of the religious system, purely at the monarch’s desire. In fact, Henry VIII’s love life reads a bit like the plot of Eastenders, and the court was always rife with intrigue and scandal. But the memorable moment I would like to visit would be somewhere in the middle, during the reign of Elizabeth I. At this time, the career of one William Shakespeare was flourishing, and the original Globe Theatre in Bankside played host to his plays time after time. I would like nothing better than to descend into the raucous playhouse for a Shakespeare production, perhaps with the infamous Bard himself in one of the title roles. I am sure it would be outrageous and hilarious, riveting and thought-provoking, and would bring a whole new enjoyment to the texts we all know so well from our school studies.
- Pride and Prejudice: Meeting Jane Austen and a Regency ball
I love Jane Austen’s writing, and I love the idea of attending a Regency ball. What could be better than an evening combining the two? We could take a horse drawn carriage to the ball in someone’s grand house, and once inside, spend the evening gossiping behind our fans whilst watching the dancers spin about the room in a whirl of bright colours and pretty fabrics. We could even join them for a dance or two, and swap titbits of news as we passed each other on the dance floor (I have a great deal of love for Pride and Prejudice – can you tell?) I would love to talk to Jane Austen one on one and get inside her head – and get her real opinion on the Prince Regent! (George IV, if you didn’t know. She was said to have loathed him, but was obliged to dedicate Emma to him, as he was a big fan). I would find it a fascinating insight into Regency society, and an excuse for an evening of dancing in beautiful clothes.
- Whitechapel Creepin’: Hunting Jack the Ripper
Yes, I know this is a very morbid choice, but hear me out. I have always been fascinated by the grim and gruesome story of Jack the Ripper – who doesn’t love an unsolved mystery? Whitechapel in the late 19th century was a dangerous place, and the brutal murders of five* prostitutes at the hands of the infamous Ripper constituted the first great test for the Metropolitan Police, at this stage less than 60 years old and only just branching out into detective work alongside uniform. There were endless conspiracy theorists regarding the identity of the murderer, but he was never caught. If I had the ability to jump back, I would be compelled to jump in, to intervene and catch the Ripper, unmasking him once and for all and solving one of the most hotly debated unsolved mysteries of the modern age.
(*The exact number of victims is debated, but on the whole five women are believed to have been killed by Jack the Ripper during the autumn of 1888. There may, of course, have been many more prior to that or after that the Ripper may have been responsible, but sadly we shall never know).
- Killer Queen: 80s London and a Queen concert
A bit of a modern one to finish, and a little like my own version of Back to the Future! I have always loved 80s music. Rock, electro-pop and dance – my iPod is full of it. I am particularly a fan of Queen, and I always regret not having been around to see them perform in their heyday. I would love to spend an evening rocking out to their best tunes, singing at the top of my voice and dancing into the small hours. I am also a big fan of the TV series Ashes to Ashes, and would love to spend the day in London in the 1980s. I would stock up on some of the crazy, colourful clothes of the age first hand, and go to visit my parents, both of whom lived in London in the 80s. It’s a bit like the next generation of Back to the Future I guess, but I think it would be a brilliant day, and give a whole new, vibrant edge to the London I love.
If you could visit anywhere in history, where would you like to visit and why?