People

Fists, bribes, guns and wheels: Plugger Bill Martin, cycling’s first official hard man

March 2, 2016
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William 'Plugger' Martin, winner of the first Madison Six in 1891.

One by one, the riders entered Martin’s hotel room. On the bed, bribes were laid out in piles of notes and sovereigns; Martin, loaded revolver by his side, addressed each successive visitor, stating the terms of their contract. “Quite right, Bill,” came the replies. Notes and coins changed hands and were signed for. Soon afterwards,…

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The Greatest Six-Day Bicycle Race Ever Seen

February 18, 2015
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The Greatest Six-Day Bicycle Race Ever Seen

The Irishman who won the famous Madison Six of 1896 was English. And everyone knew, except the history books.

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America’s Loneliest Road

August 8, 2014
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America’s Loneliest Road

Running from Ocean City, Maryland on the U.S. east coast all the way to Sacramento in California, U.S. Route 50 cuts an impressive swathe through alpine forests, desert valleys, ghost towns and petroglyphs. It’s the bit that crosses a 287-mile stretch of Nevada, from Ely to Fernley, that prompted the author of a 1986 Life…

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Jerry Gretzinger’s Map

August 21, 2013
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Jerry Gretzinger’s Map

It started as a doodle 50 years ago. Since then, Jerry Gretzinger has added a new hand-drawn panel to his map of an imaginary world every day. At 2000 sq feet and counting, the map includes fictional towns, cities, rivers, railroads…an entire world detailed on 2600 individual cards. New facilities and landmarks archived on a…

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The oldest surviving film

August 7, 2013
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Louis Le Prince's Camera, on which the oldest known moving picture was shot.

While Thomas Edison and/or the Lumiere brothers are popularly credited with the invention of the moving picture – something which Edison, a notorious credit taker did little to discourage – history suggests otherwise. As, indeed, does this very short film clip, shot in Roundhay, near Leeds in 1888 by inventor Louis le Prince.

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The Alfred Denny Museum

February 22, 2013
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The Alfred Denny Museum

Since opening its doors to students in 1905, the Alfred Denny Zoology Museum at Sheffield University remained a largely unknown cabinet of curiosities in the north of England – Until September 2012, when it opened to the public, and delights such as Arthur the Half-Hedgehog, fossilised flying dinousaurs, the Terror Bird and a model skull…

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The Life of Edward the Confessor

February 17, 2013
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The Life of Edward the Confessor

The only known illustrated copy of the Life of St. Edward the Confessor (1003-05 – 1066), written in England c1230-1240, is held by Cambridge University. Considered a masterpiece of mid-13th-century English illumination, the text is a hagiography describing Edward’s life, visions and miracles, his patronage of Westminster Abbey, how his rule benefited the people of…

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John Dee’s Mirror

February 8, 2013
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John Dee’s Mirror

Made from obsidian and used by him for what he called “angelic communications”, John Dee’s mirror did no small amount of damage to the reputation of a man who, in his day, was celebrated across Europe for his scientific knowledge. Said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Prospero and JK Rowling’s Professor Dumbledore, English…

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The most expensive photos in the world…

January 29, 2013
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The most expensive photos in the world…

It’s amazing to think that one of the most expensive photographs ever sold should be of the inside of an ultra-cheapo 99c store, but life’s funny like that. Andreas Gursky’s “99 cent II Diptychon” sold for the not-insignificant sum of $3,346,456 at Sotheby’s in London back in February 2007. A second print sold for $2.5…

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First photograph of a human being c.1838

January 25, 2013
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First photograph of a human being c.1838

Boulevard du Temple was taken in Paris in 1838/1839 by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerrotype process – the first commercially successful photographic process. The picture’s of a street scene, but the 10+ mins exposure time captured the man getting his boots polished in the bottom left of the shot – the only thing (other…

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The Mechanical Galleon

January 24, 2013
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The Mechanical Galleon

Dating from c1585, Hans Schlottheim’s mechanical galleon was a clock with a difference… Designed to ‘sail’ down a long banqueting table, it had model sailors hammering bells from the crow’s nest, a small organ for added musicality and, just in case it hadn’t caught your attention, a drum skin stretched across the base of the…

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