Surprisingly inspiring town of Leamington Spa


Thanks to Powershift (motto: “data science is the new rocket science”) I recently visited Leamington Spa to present a few simple growth hacking ideas.

In the process of wandering around waiting for our meeting, I picked up two curious historical facts about WWII, which was unexpected as I associated the town’s history around the Royal Pump Rooms and Baths:

  • The blast from a bomb dropped by the German Luffwaffe moved the statue to Queen Victoria in the centre of town by one inch, but failed to destroy it.
  • The HQ for the Camouflage Unit was based in RLS during WWII, and employed many artists, including Christopher Ironside, who later designed the decimal coinage.

I also stumbled across a large Polish Club down one of the backstreets of the town. However, I missed the fact that the Free Czechoslovak Army, which was based there during the war.

If I get the chance to travel to Leamington again I’ll be sure to visit the memorial in Jephson Gardens, and do a little more ‘growth hacking’, history-geek-style.

While I was ‘killing time’ I also popped into see the film ‘Lucy’, directed by Luc Besson, at Leamington’s Vue Cinema, but had to leave at a critical point to make our meeting!

Screenshot 2014-12-10 17.09.24 (2)

Why Leicester is so key to the Wars of the Roses



My comment in The Independent today:

“It’s not quite correct that the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was slain, brought to a close the Wars of the Roses. Two years later at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487 the Yorkists fought their last stand. The two battlefields are 44.6 miles or so from each other. This adds to the historic importance of the city of Leicester, which lies between them, and where the body of Richard III was found.

“So far the debate about where Richard III should be buried has not considered the importance of Leicester in this strategic context, at a pivotal location between the final battles of the Wars of the Roses, and where the last English King to die in battle was buried.”

King Richard III: the manner of his death


The wounds inflicted in battle, and post-battle ‘humiliation injuries’ inflicted on King Richard III highlight the manner of his death, the last English king to die in battle:

“Ten peri-mortem wounds have been identified on the remains, eight on the skull and
two on the post-cranial skeleton. Two large wounds underneath the back of the skull,
consistent with a halberd and a sword blow, are likely to have been fatal. A third, smaller,
penetrating wound to the top of the skull is more enigmatic, but may have been caused by a sharp blow from a pointed weapon, such as a dagger, on the crown of the head.

“Other wounds were more superficial and none of the skull injuries could have been inflicted on someone wearing a helmet of the type favoured in the late fifteenth century. Two wounds, a cut on a right rib and a cut to the right pelvis typical of a thrust through the right buttock, are again unlikely to have been inflicted on someone wearing armour. These, along with two wounds to the face, may be ‘humiliation injuries’ delivered after death.”

(‘The king in the car park’: new light on the death and burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485: Full article PDF)


King Richard III Grey Friars plaque is back on Google’s Street View



In 2010 I uploaded this image taken off Google Map’s Street View of the King Richard III memorial plaque on Grey Friars in  a blog post, as I thought it was a shame it had been covered over by a ‘To Let’ sign.

I was even more surprised to see the plaque still showing it covered over on Google Map’s Street View after the discovery of Richard’s body; so I wrote to Google to see if they’d take another image and upload that instead. They replied on 23rd February, to say they’d consider the issue:

“Thank you for informing us of your request regarding Street View imagery. We’re currently reviewing the imagery you reported so that we can take the appropriate action per your request. We appreciate your patience and assistance as we work to resolve this situation.”

So not expecting much I checked today, and indeed a new image taken in the city sunshine shows the plaque as it should be; so any visitors from abroad looking at the area via Google maps can see the historic area, and the plaque, and appreciate better the city’s rich history.

View Larger Map

PS: A few days later, after I contacted the Leicester Mercury, a piece appeared in the paper titled ‘Google sorts king cover-up’, complete with a rare pic of me on the streets of the city.


Images of Richard III’s grave and skeleton


It’s official, the body is that of King Richard III. Congratulations to the team at the University of Leicester. Plus congrats, to Philippa Langley who persuaded Leicester City Council to go ahead with the excavation in the first place, and the Richard III Society (who’s website is being updated, no doubt to take account of the tremendous news).

The Mayor Peter Soulsby also confirmed the remains will be interred in Leicester Cathedral, which is likely to be early next year. There will be a temporary exhibition in the Leicester Guildhall on 8th February.

Key to establishing the identity beyond reasonable doubt was the results of the DNA test. Dr Turi King, project geneticist, said there had been concern DNA in the bones would be too degraded:

“The question was could we get a sample of DNA to work with, and I am extremely pleased to tell you that we could.”

She added: “There is a DNA match between the maternal DNA of the descendants of the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig.

“In short, the DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III.”

Note: It was suggested by Jo Appleby, an osteologist at Leicester (pictured below), that King Richard III lost his helmet in battle, due to wounds to his head, and wounds also included post-mortum ‘humiliation injuries’. This included wounds to the buttocks, maybe to his body as carried by horse to the city of Leicester from the Battle of Bosworth. Here are a few pics taken live from the press conference, but you can also see the University of Leicester pics in full on Owly.

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I played a very small part in this process, after being contacted by the Leicester Civic Society I was one of many who contacted Channel 4 to suggest they run with an idea for a documentary, which they eventually agreed to, and which shows tonite as a “world exclusive” at 9pm. Oh, and in true #thinslicing manner I set up the FourSquare check-in for ‘Body of King Richard III’ before the dig was announced. Though that hasn’t got much traction as yet, that may change once the visitor centre is open.

My email with reference to my own documentary attempt with a more modern historical figure (Dr Martin Luther King), above and the story of how the site of his death and it’s use as a means of urban regeneration become a controversial story in itself in Memphis.

The Birth Of Silicon Valley


Nice short story in the Fast Company on the birth of what’s now known as ‘Silicon Valley’ by a group of 8 guys who fell out with their boss, and secured the very first VC funding:

Most of the modern technology that we hold dear today–from laptops to ATMs to iPhones–probably wouldn’t exist if in 1957 a group of eight young geniuses hadn’t banded together and left their brilliant but maniacal boss, William Shockley, to form the first venture-backed startup.

Dubbed the “Traitorous Eight” by Shockley, the colleagues, who included future Intel cofounders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, would go on to build the first practical integrated circuit and the first wave of Valley companies. One of the eight, Jay Last, now 83, recalls how it happened.

Shockley was a brilliant scientist but a terrible manager. He’d won the Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor and started trying to make an impossible device that didn’t work. So he took it out on us. We complained to Arnold Beckman, who funded Shockley Labs. At first he sided with us, but when we confronted Shockley, Beckman left us adrift. We knew we couldn’t keep working there.

One evening we met at the house of Vic Grinich [another member of the Traitorous Eight] to talk about our next move. We were all downhearted, sitting in this dark-paneled room. We could get jobs easily, but we liked working together. That night, we made the decision to find some way that we could work as a group. But we were asking, How can we get a company to hire a group of eight people?

We sent a letter to Hayden, Stone & Co., a firm that the father of Eugene Kleiner [another member of the group] knew, telling them what we had to offer. Art Rock was a young guy working there, and he had the wit not to throw our letter in the wastebasket. He and his boss, Bud Coyle, flew out to meet us and told us about this novel idea that was really the start of venture capital. Art said, ‘The way you do this is you start your own company.’ We were blown away. There was no concept of funding a group back then. Hayden, Stone agreed to find us a backer.

After being turned down by 30 people, we met with Sherman Fairchild, whose father was one of the first IBM investors. He invested $1.5 million in our group to create Fairchild Semiconductor. The eight of us, plus Hayden, Stone, owned the company, and we had a buyout option after a five-year period. We didn’t realize at the time the legacy we’d leave. If you trace the family tree, several hundred companies came out of Fairchild. I helped start Silicon Valley. Thank God Shockley was so paranoid or we’d still be sitting there.

Leicester’s history revealed by Google Street View


According to the Daily Mail today Google is extending its Street View service to peer at 95 per cent of homes in the UK.

GreyfriarsPhoto by Stuart Glendinning Hall

In honour of this I’ve uploaded (above) a pic taken from a screen-grab of Street View of the spot in Leicester where a memorial plaque to Richard III, who some say is buried beneath the streets of the ancient city, is mounted. Except it’s covered up (Google Street View pic taken in 2009). By a lettings advert. For a building which is still vacant. And which is surrounded by barbed wire.

Fortunately the advert has gone now, and the memorial is now visible, though it still appears covered on Google Maps Street View which is a shame.

There’s a nice article from the Leicester Chronicle, donated by the Richard III Society, on clues to where exactly Richard III might be buried. Personally my favourite plaque is round near the old castle, which says something like ‘back at the time of the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 the people of Leicester met two kings in two days’. Or words to that effect.

The exact location of the battle between the two kings of England is now on show to the public:

The precise location of one of Britain’s most famous lost battlefields has been revealed today (19th February 2010).

The latest discoveries, announced by Leicestershire County Council pinpoint the exact location of Bosworth Battlefield, where Henry Tudor and King Richard III clashed on 22nd August 1485, and shed new light on the way the battle was fought and where King Richard III died.

The exact location, which has been the topic of much debate amongst historians for years, was discovered as part of a groundbreaking archaeological survey to locate the Battle of Bosworth, funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Save the Bowstring Bridge


I thought I should report this from the Leicester Civic Society as I understand there’s a petition to save the Western Bridge:

“The ‘Bowstring Bridge’ viaduct at the junction of Western Boulevard and Braunstone Gate has been a Leicester landmark since the 1890s and is now under imminent threat of demolition.

“De Montfort University now own the nearby Pump & Tap public house and the land surrounding the bridge and are seeking to build a new swimming pool there. Various reports have suggested that the bridge is in danger of collapse yet years of delays to the demolition and the fact that the road underneath is still in use suggest otherwise. It has carried 1000 ton trains for over 100 years!

“The bridge itself is primarily above the road and does not substantially occupy development land. We believe a solution can be found whereby DMU get to build the much-needed city centre swimming pool whilst retaining this unique remnant of the Great Central Railway.

“DMU have made some important contributions to the regeneration of Leicester and we believe this is an opportunity for them to go the extra mile and prove they care about Leicester heritage. The bridge itself would make a fantastic centrepiece to any new development.

“We therefore call upon De Montfort University and Leicester City Council to retain and reuse the bridge. Please sign our online petition below.”

Hmm, wonder if my old Leicester classmate of BBC TV’s Restoration Marianne Sur knows about this?