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About History: Named after a Battle

In an earlier article we explored the origin of the French dish Chicken à la Marengo which was named, according to a popular myth, after the battle of the same name where the French army of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte defeated an Austrian army in June 1800. While researching and writing that article we also came across some other familiar things also reputedly named after famous battles. What follows, therefore, is a brief exploration of their origin stories starting with the earliest, the marathon running race.

Marathon, and a battle

Some readers might be aware of the origins of the long-distance foot race known as a ‘marathon’ but for those who are not, it is named after the bay of Marathon (Greek: Μαραθώνιος) located about 27 kilometres (17 mi) northeast of Athens [1]. In August, or possibly September, 490 BC this was the scene of a battle between the armies of ancient Greece and Persia.

The Greco-Persian Wars The Battle of Marathon was the culmination of the first Persian invasion of Greece which had its roots in the Ionian Revolt, the earliest phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. The revolt itself began when Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus [2], operating with support from, and in the name of the Persian Empire of Darius the Great, launched an unsuccessful military expedition against the island of Naxos. In the aftermath, the Persian king’s attempt to remove Aristagoras from power was thwarted when the latter suddenly abdicated and declared the city-state (poleis) of Miletus a democracy. The other cities of ancient Ionia [3] followed suit, ejecting their Persian-appointed tyrants, and declaring themselves democracies. Aristagoras then appealed to the states of mainland Greece for support, but only Athens and Eretria offered to send troops. The Ionian revolt was finally crushed by the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC, and King Darius I began plans to subjugate Greece.

First Persian invasion In 490 BC, King Darius sent a naval task force commanded by Datis, a Median noble and admiral, and Artaphernes, the king’s brother, to subjugate the Cyclades, an island group in the Aegean Sea, and then to make punitive attacks on Athens and Eretria. Reaching Euboea in mid-summer after a successful campaign in the Aegean, the Persians proceeded to besiege and capture Eretria. The Persian force then sailed for Attica, landing in the bay near the town of Marathon.

Help needed Under the guidance of Miltiades, the Athenian general with the greatest experience of fighting the Persians, the Athenian army marched quickly to block the two exits from the plain of Marathon, and prevent the Persians moving inland. Concurrently, a message requesting the Spartan army march to the aid of Athens was carried to Sparta by Pheidippides, Athens's greatest runner, as he was named in Herodutus’ history of the Greco-Persian wars [4]. He ran a distance of over 225 kilometres (140 miles), arriving in Sparta the following day only to discover the Spartans were celebrating their festival of Karneia, a sacrosanct period of peace. Pheidippides (or Philippides) [4] was informed that the Spartan army could not march to war until the full moon rose. Athens therefore could not expect reinforcement for at least ten days and would have to hold out at Marathon [5]. As it was, they were reinforced by the full muster of 1,000 hoplites from the small city of Plataea, which steadied the nerves of the Athenians and won the Plataeans their unending gratitude.

Having everything to lose by attacking, and much to gain by waiting, the Athenians remained on the defensive in the prelude to the battle. The numerically inferior Greeks could not hope to overwhelm the Persian host. Moreover, the well-armoured Greek hoplites were vulnerable to attacks by cavalry, of which the Persians had substantial numbers. So, any offensive manoeuvre by the Athenians would potentially leave them at even more at risk. In contrast, the Persian infantry was evidently lightly armoured, and no match for hoplites in a face-to-face confrontation as would be demonstrated at the later battles of Thermopylae and Plataea. With the Athenians in a strong defensive position, the Persians were reluctant to attack them head-on. A stalemate ensued and for approximately five days the two armies simply confronted each other across the plain of Marathon. Yet, as each day brought the arrival of the Spartans ever closer, the delay worked in favour of the Athenians.

The battle Finally, battle was joined. We cannot be certain why, but the Greek hoplites attacked. Perhaps the Persian cavalry left Marathon for an unspecified reason, and the Greeks moved to take the offensive advantage. This theory is largely based on the absence of any mention of cavalry in Herodotus' account of the battle. It also surmises the possibility that, while the infantry fixed the Greeks in place, the cavalry was being re-embarked on their ships, the Persian objective being to move by sea and attack (undefended) Athens. However, the removal of the biggest threat to the hoplite phalanx may well have initiated the battle. Yet it is equally possible that after five days of stalemate the Persians took the initiative and seeing them advancing, the Athenians went on the offensive and attacked. Either way, both theories imply some kind of Persian activity occurred on or about the fifth day which triggered the battle.

Perhaps both theories are correct such that when the Persians sent the cavalry by ship to attack Athens, they simultaneously sent their infantry to attack at Marathon, triggering the Greek counterattack. Whatever happened the Greek army inflicted a crushing defeat on the numerically superior Persians which marked a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars. In the immediate aftermath, Herodotus says that the Persian fleet sailed around Cape Sounion to attack Athens directly. Realising their city was still threatened, the Athenians marched as quickly as possible the 25 miles (40 km) or so back to Athens. They arrived in the late afternoon in time to see the Persian ships turn away from Athens, thus completing the Athenian victory.

The myth So why is the long-distance running race known as a ‘marathon’? Remember Pheidippides (aka Philippides) who ran from Athens to Sparta and back again to ask for assistance before the battle? Well, his feat was later conflated with the Athenian army’s forced march from Marathon to Athens as recorded by Herodotus. He makes no mention of a messenger, but the resulting popular myth has Pheidippides running from Marathon to Athens after the battle to convey word of the Greek’s victory. Moreover, on arrival, with the word “nenikēkamen!” (Attic: νενικήκαμεν; “We've won!”), Pheidippides promptly dies of exhaustion. Scroll forward half a millennium and this version of the story first appears in Plutarch's 1st-century AD work “On the Glory of Athens”. But it seems Plutarch was quoting a lost work by Heracleides of Pontus from which he, puzzlingly, records the runner's name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles. Even later, in the 2nd-century AD, when Lucian of Samosata repeats the same story, he names the runner “Philippides” not Pheidippides. To be fair, in some copies of Herodotus’ manuscripts (presumably the versions Lucian and Pausanias had access to) the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides.

Whichever name you prefer (the author’s preference is for Pheidippides), Lucian is the only classical source containing all the elements of this evocative story: a messenger running from the fields of Marathon to announce victory, then dying on completion of his mission. It was this tale that inspired Robert Browning’s 1879 poem “Pheidippides” (see above) which in turn motivated Baron Pierre de Coubertin and other founders of the modern Olympic Games to invent a running race recalling the ancient glory of Greece. It was one Michel Bréal who had the idea of organising a "marathon race" for the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Echoing the legendary version of events, competitors were to run from Marathon to Athens, an approximate distance of 25 miles (40 km). The length of the race varied for the first few years until in 1921 when the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF; now World Athletics) standardised the distance at 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km) first run at the 1908 Summer Olympic Games in London (refer to the InfoBox top).

Battle Abbey and its town

Battle Abbey, and the town, Battle, in East Sussex, are so named because they are situated on the presumed site of the battle of Hastings in 1066. That year, a year of three kings of England, is particular important for this country’s history. What started as Anglo-Saxon England would, 12 months later, end as Norman England.

1066 and all that Edward the Confessor, who was crowned King of England in 1042 with Norman support, dies on January 5th, 1066. The most powerful man in the country, Harold Godwinson Earl of Wessex, claims the vacant throne. In what appears to be unseemly haste, his coronation tales place one day after Edward’s death on January 6th. Perhaps the new king, Harold II, was fully aware of the threat posed by an alternative claimant to the throne, namely Duke William II of Normandy. The latter contended that the old king Edward had agreed to William’s succession during Edward’s lengthy, 25-year exile mainly in Normandy up to AD 1042. On hearing of Harold's coronation in January 1066, William set in motion plans to invade England, building 700 warships and transports at Dives-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast. Support for William’s cause was slow to materialise, however, until he claimed Harold had broken an oath sworn on sacred relics. Whether true or not, this, and an embassy from William seeking papal blessing, prompted the Pope Alexander II to formally declare William the rightful heir to the throne of England. The nobles flocked to William’s cause.

A brother’s rebellion At about the same time things take an unexpected direction when, early in 1066, Harold’s brother, Tostig returnd from exile to raid the coast of SE England as far as Sandwich. He is forced to retreat in the face of King Harold’s navy and his land forces, the Fyrd, and heads north. After an unsuccessful attempt to get his brother Gyrth to join him, Tostig raided Norfolk and Lincolnshire whereupon the Earls Edwin and Morcar brought him to battle and defeated him decisively. Deserted by his men, Tostig fled to his ally, King Malcolm III of Scotland where he spent the summer of 1066.

While across the Channel, Harold assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight but, having spent nine months preparing and being ready to set sail on August 12th, poor weather or unfavourable winds delayed the Norman fleet’s departure. With provisions running out, and after waiting all summer on the South coast for William’s expected invasion, on September 8th Harold was forced to stand down the Fyrd and his fleet in time for his men to return home to gather that year’s harvest. Harold meanwhile returned to London. On the same day, the invasion force of King Harald III Hardrada of Norway (“harðráði” in Old Norse, meaning “hard ruler”), landed at the mouth of the River Tyne, arriving with a reported fleet of 300 ships and accompanied by Tostig.

Viking defeat On September 20th, 1066, the northern Anglo-Saxon Earls Edwin and Morcar attack the invaders but are defeated at the Battle of Fulford just south of York. The victorious Viking army seizes York, formerly the old Viking town of Jorvik, taking hostages after a peaceful surrender, and acquiring provisions. The defeat at Fulford provoked King Harold II to force-march his troops 190 miles (310 km), from London to York. Covering the distance within a week King Harold II managed to surprise the Viking army and defeat them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25th. Harald Hardrada, Tostig and many of their men were killed. Reputedly only 24 of the original 300 ships are needed to ferry the surviving Vikings home.

William lands Two days after the victory at Stamford Bridge, the Norman fleet set sail for England on September 27th, arriving the following day at Pevensey on the coast of East Sussex. Harold left much of his forces in the north, including Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion. It is unclear when Harold learned of William's landing, but it was probably during the march. Harold stopped in London for about a week before facing William and the perhaps 7,000 men who had landed with him in Sussex. It is likely that the English army spent about a week on a forced-march south, averaging about 27 miles (43 km) per day, for the approximately 200 miles (320 km).

The night before battle Harold camped at Caldbec Hill on the night of October 13th, near a "hoar-apple tree", about 8 miles (13 km) from the castle William had established at Hastings. It is probable that Harold's intention had been to repeat his success at Stamford Bridge by catching Duke William unawares, but Norman scouts reported the English arrival to the duke. The exact events preceding the battle are obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William's army advanced the 6 miles (9.7 km) from his castle at Hastings towards the enemy who had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill (present-day Battle, East Sussex). The two armies clashed on October 14th, 1066.

Battle is joined Battle is joined at about 9 am on Saturday October 14th, 1066; it will last until dusk just before 5 pm. Harold's forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of a steep slope, with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them. The line may have extended far enough to be anchored on a nearby stream. Sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on: some sources state the site of the abbey, but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill. With English defending the higher ground, William’s archers are forced to shoot uphill. Arrows will have dropped short, passed over the English shield wall, or were stopped by said shields held edge-to-edge or overlapping. With his cavalry in support, William’s spear-armed infantry were met with a barrage of thrown spears, axes and stones. The English shield wall remained unbroken.

The failure of the infantry and cavalry to make headway began a general retreat, blamed on the Breton division on William's left. A rumour had started that the duke had been killed, only adding to the confusion. The English began to pursue the fleeing invaders, but William rode through his forces, showing his face and yelling that he was still alive. The duke then led a counterattack against the pursuing English forces; some of whom rallied on a hillock before being overwhelmed. It is not known who if anyone ordered the pursuit, but the Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold's brothers Gyrth and Leofwine (pictured) occurring just before the fight around the hillock. This may mean that the two brothers may have responsible.

A lull probably occurred early in the afternoon, and a break for rest and food would probably have been needed. It is possible that William used the time to devise a new strategy inspired by the pursuit of the English and their subsequent rout by the Normans. If he could send his cavalry against the shield wall, feign a retreat and draw the English into more pursuits further breaks in the English line might form.

Although the feigned flights did not break the lines, they probably thinned out the housecarls in the English shield wall. The housecarls were replaced with members of the fyrd, however, and the shield wall held. Archers appear to have been used again before and during an assault by the Norman cavalry and infantry led by the duke. It is not known how many assaults were launched against the English lines, but some sources record various actions by both Normans and Englishmen that took place during the afternoon's fighting.

Death of a King Harold appears to have died late in the battle, after perhaps nine hours of hard fighting, although accounts in the various sources are contradictory. The Bayeux Tapestry is not helpful, as it shows a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a falling fighter being struck by a sword (right). Over both figures is an inscription that reads “hic harold rex interfectus est” meaning “Here King Harold has been killed”. The name “harold” is written above the warrior with an arrow in his eye, but the words “interfectus est” (has been killed) appear to refer to the second warrior being hacked down by the mounted Norman swordsman. It is not clear therefore which figure is meant to be Harold, or if both are meant to be. Nevertheless, Harold's death, and those of his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine, left the English forces leaderless, and they began to collapse. Many fled pursued by the Normans, but the soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harold's body and fought to the end.

Aftermath The day after the battle, Harold's body was identified, either by his armour or by marks on his body. His personal standard was presented to William, and later sent to the papacy. The bodies of the English dead, including those of Harold's brothers and housecarls, were left on the battlefield, some were later recovered by relatives. The Norman dead were buried in a large communal grave, which has still not been found. Exact casualty figures are unknown, but of the English known to be at the battle, the number of dead implies a death rate of about 50% (although this figure may be too high). Of the named Normans who fought at Hastings, one in seven are recorded as dying. Significantly, these were all noblemen, so it is probable that the death rate among the common soldiers was much higher. One source speculates that perhaps 2,000 Normans and 4,000 Englishmen were killed during the battle; some reports even claimed that the English dead were still being found on the hillside years later.

If the victorious Duke William thought he would receive the submission of the surviving English leaders, he was sadly mistaken. Instead, with the support of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Stigand the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ealdred the Archbishop of York, Edgar the Ætheling (‘royal prince’) was proclaimed king by his council, the Witenagemot [6]. To counter this turn of events, William advanced on London via a circuitous route, in order to cross the river Thames unopposed, during which he fought further engagements against English forces from the city. William’s continued military success eventually forced the English leaders to surrender to him at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred, the Archbishop of York on December 25th, 1066, in Westminster Abbey.

The eponymous Battle Abbey was founded by William at the site of this historic encounter. Later 12th-century sources claim William had vowed to build the abbey, with its high altar marking where Harold supposedly died, but it is more likely, bearing in mind William’s enterprise was backed by the papacy, that the foundation was imposed on the king by papal legates in 1070. Either way, the construction of the abbey altered the topography of the battle site. The top of the ridge was built up and levelled and today the slope defended by the English is much less steep than it was at the time. The town that grew around the abbey is also named Battle being as, unsurprisingly, it is adjoins the battle site.

Yet the name traditionally given to the battlefield seemingly makes little sense as there were several settlements closer to it than Hastings. While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle “at the hoary apple tree”, within 40 years the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis described it as “Senlac”. This is a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word “Sandlacu” meaning “sandy water”, which may have been the name of the stream crossing the battlefield. In 1086 the Domesday Book referred to “bellum Haestingas” or “Battle of Hastings”. So, despite the battle being fought some 6 miles from Hastings itself, this most decisive encounter that changed the course of Anglo-Saxon England is known popularly as the Battle of Hastings.

Blenheim Orange

Unlike its name suggests the Blenheim Orange is a variety of apple first identified sometime around 1740 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The parents of this apple variety are unknown, but it is named after the nearby Blenheim Palace, ancestral home of the Churchill family. Blenheim Orange apples are slightly larger than the other, similar varieties, albeit with a rather flattened shape. The skin has a green and yellow to orange colour with some rather feint red streaking to produce a moderate russeting. For cooking purposes, the Blenheim Orange is great in apple pies as it cooks to a stiff purée, but the apples should be used from early October. If left to ripen for a month or so longer, the fruits develop a sweeter flavour and make good eating as a dessert apple.

Namesakes Blenheim Palace near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, was the seat of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, one of England’s greatest generals. His father, Sir Winston Churchill [7], a member of Parliament possessing only a moderate property, was sufficiently influential at the court of King Charles II to be able to provide for his sons as courtiers and in the armed forces. John, the eldest, advanced rapidly both at court and in the army but, marrying for love, remained throughout his life dependent upon his career in the public service for financial support. When Queen Anne came to throne in 1702, Churchill as Earl of Marlborough secured his fame and fortune. His marriage to the quick-tempered Sarah Jennings – Anne's close friend – certainly helped his rise, becoming first the Captain-Generalcy of British forces, then securing promotion to duke. Later, he became the richest of all Anne's subjects. During the War of the Spanish Succession, Marlborough led British and allied armies to important victories over the armies of King Louis XIV of France, notably at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), and Oudenaarde (1708). While he never succeeded in crushing his detractors, Marlborough’s victories enabled Britain’s rise to very great power and riches through the 18th-century.

On behalf of a grateful nation, parliament presented Churchill a gift of land upon which the construction of Blenheim Palace began in 1705; it was completed in 1724. Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, it is regarded as the finest example of truly Baroque architecture in Great Britain. Although initially Queen Anne had provided some financial support, the project soon became the subject of political infighting. The Crown cancelled further financial support in 1712, Marlborough found himself voluntarily exiled to the Continent for three years, Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough fell from influence at court, and lasting damage was caused to the reputation of Vanbrugh, the architect.

Today little remains of the original landscaping designed by Queen Anne’s gardener, Henry Wise. In keeping with changing fashions, the Palace grounds were redesigned by Lancelot (Capability) Brown in the pastoral style of informal or seemingly natural landscapes of woods, lawns, and waterways. In 1987 the palace and its surrounding property were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 2,100-acre (850-hectare) estate, which has remained in the Churchill family, is now open to the public.

Famous son Significantly, 150 years after its completion, possibly Blenheim Palace’s most famous son was born to Lord Randolph Churchill, a younger son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, and Jenny Jerome. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD FRS PC (b. November 30th, 1874; d. January 24th, 1965) was to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, once during World War II, and again in the early 1950s. Sir Winston was the only person to have been a member of the British Government during both World Wars, and the last commoner (non-royal) to be granted a state funeral. In his long life he been a soldier, journalist, Minister of State, artist, historian, and writer winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953.


Most people are probably familiar with a form of cloth headgear known as a “balaclava” typically worn over the head exposing only part of the face, usually the eyes and mouth. The garment’s name, however, is derived from Balaklava, a settlement on the Crimean Peninsula (and part of the city of Sevastopol), which became the Anglo-French base during the Crimean War. This 19th-century conflict was fought from October 1853 to February 1856 between the Russian Empire and an ultimately victorious alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, the United kingdom, and Sardinia-Piedmont.

Winters in this area can be harsh and British troops were ill-prepared for the bitterly cold weather. Logistical failures meant that supplies of warm clothing, weatherproof quarters, and food were woefully delayed. Volunteers in Britain hand-knitted woollen headgear which were duly sent to the British troops to help keep them warm, and thus the name balaclava was born. Interestingly, however, in his History of Handknitting, Richard Rutt notes that the term “balaclava helmet” was not used during the war but appears much later, in 1881 (Rutt, 1987, 134-5).


On June 4th, 1859 a battle took place near the town of Magenta in the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, a crown land of the Austrian Empire, during the Second Italian War of Independence. It resulted in a French-Sardinian victory under Napoleon III against an Austrian force commanded by Marshal Ferencz Gyulai. In the same year, two British chemists, Edward Chambers Nicholson and George Maule, working at the laboratory of the paint manufacturer George Simpson, located in Walworth, south of London, made another aniline dye with a similar red-purple colour, which they began to manufacture in 1860 under the name “roseine”. In 1860 they changed the name to “magenta”, in honour of the Battle of Magenta, as was the Boulevard de Magenta in Paris.

The Kop

The Kop end at Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ground, built in 1906, was so named after the Battle of Spion Kop during the Second Boer War in which the Lancashire Fusiliers fought, many of whom were from Liverpool. It is claimed survivors from the battle christened the new stand at Anfield “Spion Kop” in memory of their fallen comrades. Although possibly the most famous, it is not the only single-tier terrace or stand at sporting venues in the UK that once bore or still bear the name. The steep nature of these stands are said to resemble Spioenkop, a hill near Ladysmith, South Africa [8], the scene of the battle in January 1900.

As part of the British plan to relieve the siege of Ladysmith, General Sir Charles Warren, Royal Engineers, decided to capture Spioenkop with a surprise night attack. A force of 1,700 men under Major General Edward Woodgate departed in the pitch dark in drizzling rain at 2100 hrs on January 23rd, 1900. They climbed the spur from the south-west until, by 0200 hrs, they had reached the last plateaux leading to the hill’s summit. Fixing bayonets and forming into lines, the men advanced once more. Out of the darkness came a loud, shouted challenge from the Boers followed by gunfire. Surprised the small Boer piquet was quickly driven from the summit by the British. Consolidating their gains, in the dark the soldiers dug a shallow trench in the unforgiving stony ground and built a low stone rampart on what they considered the best position.

The British had no direct knowledge of the topography of the summit and the darkness and fog had not helped their situational awareness. As dawn broke, they discovered that they in fact only held the smaller and lower part of Spioenkop, while the Boers occupied higher ground on three sides of the British position. To compound their problems, the British trenches were wholly inadequate for all defensive purposes. Because the summit of was mostly hard rock, the British trenches were at most 40 cm (16 in) deep offering exceptionally poor protection. While the British infantry in the trenches could not see over the crest of the plateau, the Boers were able to fire down the length of the crescent-shaped trench from the adjacent peaks. Boer artillery began to bombard the British position, firing shells from the adjacent plateau of Tabanyama at a rate of ten rounds per minute. Uncharacteristically for a guerilla force, hundreds of Boers swarmed to attack the British positions much to the surprise of the British. The massed attack quickly deteriorated into a vicious, close-quarters combat. It is often said that the Boers excelled in marksmanship, but the British Lee–Metford and Lee–Enfield rifles were no less effective than the Boer Mauser rifles. What the British excelled in, however, was close combat so, after an exchange of rifle fire at close range, both sides engaged in hand-to-hand combat, the British wielding fixed bayonets and the Boers brandishing hunting knives and using their own rifles as cudgels. The initial Boer assault carried the crest line but after several minutes of brutal hand-to-hand fighting resulting in serious losses, they could advance no further.

For the next several hours a kind of stalemate settled over Spioenkop. Although the Boers had failed to drive the British from the hill, they still held a firing line on Aloe Knoll from where they could enfilade the British position, which was now under sustained bombardment from the Boer artillery. The British had failed to exploit their initial success, and the initiative now passed to the Boers. Morale began to sag on both sides as the extreme heat, exhaustion and thirst took its toll.

An inconclusive series of engagements continued throughout the day resulting in several of the senior British officers killed or badly wounded. The surviving officers and men from the different units were intermingled, and the British were now effectively leaderless, confused and pinned down by the heavy Boer artillery and rifle fire. As darkness fell, the Boers who had fought bravely on Spioenkop since morning had had enough and abandoned their positions. Unknown to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Thorneycroft, now de facto commander of the British force, the battle was as good as won, but his nerve was shattered. After sixteen hours performing the duties expected of a Brigadier-General, two ranks higher than his Lieutenant Colonelcy, and lacking any instructions from General Warren, Thorneycroft ordered a withdrawal from Spioenkop. His decision is wholly understandable: the soldiers had no water, ammunition was running short, and the British were without effective artillery support to counter the heavy Boer artillery fire. Furthermore, the extreme difficulty of digging trenches on the summit of Spioenkop had left the British soldiers completely exposed and there was little to no possibility of defending the position against a determined attack.

When morning came, the Boer generals were astonished to see two burghers [9] on the top of Spioenkop, waving their slouch-hats in triumph. The only British on the hill were either dead or dying. In the end the British suffered 243 fatalities during the battle, with approximately 1,250 either wounded or captured. Many of the dead were simply buried in the trenches where they fell. The Boers suffered 335 casualties of which 68 were killed. In the aftermath, the British retreated back over the Tugela River, which they had crossed a mere six days earlier. The Boers were too exhausted to pursue and follow up their success so once across the river, General Sir Redvers Buller VC managed to rally his troops. After three failed attempts to break the siege, Ladysmith would be relieved by Buller’s force four weeks later.

Although perhaps an ignominious defeat, the action on Spioenkop clearly captured the British imagination. Many football grounds in England have one terrace or stand in their stadia named “Kop” or “Spioen Kop”, an allusion to the aforementioned steep nature of the terracing. A village near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire was named “Spioen Kop” after the battle, as was a hill outside Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, and several golf courses in Britain and those former countries of the British Empire now in the wider Commonwealth. Indeed, not only villages but individual houses and cottages were christened “Spioen Kop” in the early 1900s, and many hills reminiscent of the steep Kop are so named, one in Norway and several again in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland. It seems the sacrifice of the men of Lancashire and further afield have not been forgotten.


References:, ‘Blenheim Orange Apple Tree’ Available online (accessed February 28th, 2024).

Rutt, R., (1987), ‘A History of Handknitting’, Loveland:Interweave Press.

This is Anfield website, (2022), ‘The history of the Spion Kop – How Anfield’s famous stand got its name’, Available online (accessed February 28th, 2024).


1. Marathon is so named after the fields of wild fennel (Greek: μάραθο “ arathon”) that grew in the area; hence Robert Browning’s reference to “Fennel-field” in his 1879 poem “Pheidippides”.

2. Miletus was an ancient Greek city situated on the western coast of Anatolia near the mouth of the Maeander River in ancient Ionia. Before being ruled by Persia from the 6th-century BC onward, Miletus was considered among the greatest and wealthiest of Greek cities. Today its ruins are located near the modern village of Balat in Aydın Province, Turkey.

3. Ionia was an ancient region on the western coast of Anatolia, to the south of present-day İzmir, Turkey. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements. Never a unified state, it was named after the Ionians who had settled in the region before the Archaic period (c. 800 BC to 450 BC).

4. Herodotus (c. 484 – c. 425 BC) was a Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey) and a later citizen of Thurii in modern Calabria, Italy. He is known for having written the Histories – a detailed account of the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus was the first writer to perform systematic investigation of historical events for which the ancient Roman orator Cicero described him as “The Father of History”. Confusingly, having read Herodotus’ account naming Pheidippides (530–490 BC) as the Athenian herald, or hemerodrome (which roughly translates as “professional-running courier”), the later writers Pausanias, Plutarch, and Lucian all use the alternative name Philippides in their histories.

5. The Spartan army arrived at Marathon the day after the battle having covered the 140 miles (225 km) in just two days.

6. The Witan (lit. ‘wise men’) was the king’s council in the Anglo-Saxon government of England from before the 7th-century until the 11th-century. It was composed of the leading men, both ecclesiastic and secular, and meetings of the council were sometimes called the Witenagemot.

7. Sir Winston Churchill (April 18th, 1620 to March 26th, 1688), a Fellow of the Royal Society and known as the Cavalier Colonel, was an English soldier, historian, and politician. He was a direct ancestor and namesake of Winston, who served as British prime minister during the Second World War in the mid 20th-century.

8. Ladysmith is a city in the Uthukela District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It lies 230 km (140 mi) north-west of Durban and 365 km (227 mi) south-east of Johannesburg. During the Second Boer War the town was besieged by Boer forces on November 2nd, 1899. After three British attempts to relieve the defenders and one Boer attempt to take the town all failed, the siege was eventually broken on February 28th, 1900.

9. In the Boer Republics of 19th-century South Africa, a burgher was a fully enfranchised citizen. Burgher rights, however, were restricted to white men, specifically Boers.


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