Tyndale Monument #photopost #England

This is not too far from Bristol or the thriving metropolis of Yate, not to mention Frampton Cotterell or Chipping Sodbury. We’ve visited it a couple of times with my brother-in-law. I was reminded of it when watching a DVD of “Sherlock Vol 3, his last bow” where it flashes by in the background near the end. You can also see it from the M5, but it’s better to walk there.

William Tyndale, himself, is something of a hero of mine. He was one of the first translators of the bible into English – pre King James. His work started the focus, in English, of going back to the original texts. This was at a time when the Catholic Church didn’t want people to think for themselves, and had the force to do something about it. He was executed in 1536, before completing his work. His work, printed in Antwerp, was banned, confiscated, and destroyed during and after his life. Still, smuggled in water-tight compartments in wine casks, as individual sheets in bales of cloth, or in secret compartments in otherwise normal commerce, his (and other’s) translations continued to make life difficult for those who would repress individual thought.

In addition to being a martyr for religious freedom, he’s an example of why we do not want religion and state mixed.

After making a donation for the upkeep, we ascended the spiral staircase to the top.

This view shows the valley below and the other scene from the Sherlock episode is in it (The white blob in the distance.)

This map shows one of the walks we took. It climbs a staircase from North Nibley. The top of the down is criss-crossed in footpaths and we’ve more often parked at the other end. Parking here is the shortest and easiest way to the monument.

That summer was a bit mucky, so wellies (UK solution) or sandals (Closed toe Keens, my solution, since a little mud never harmed anyone) were a good idea.

The top of the down also houses a neolithic or iron age fort. It’s slowly being uncovered.  You can see this in the map as well.

Afternoon Tea Cakes #victorianrecipe #recipe #goodfood

This is another Victorian recipe from the “Sure to Rise” cookbook.
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I’ve adapted the recipe by increasing the amount of sugar.

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
  • 1 and 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • flour for dusting
  • Fruit Filling – the original says raspberry jam, see below for an easy quick and good apple filling

Mix the butter and flour, thoroughly to form a pie crust like mixture. Add the baking powder and sugar. Mix.

Add the egg, and enough milk to form a smooth dough. Roll it out about 1/4 inch (4 mm or so) thick.
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Then cut in rounds and put about 1/2 teaspoon of filling in each.
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Wet the edges and fold over. Bake at 400F (200C) on a greased sheet for about 10 minutes.
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Apple filling

Quarter, peel, and core one apple. Cut into small pieces. Add about 1 tablespoon sugar. Microwave four minutes and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (if desired). Much easier than making jam in the Victorian manner, but it works.


Continuing on from yesterday…

Even if you use a cipher system that does not carry incriminating evidence, you’re still left with the problem of sending the message. There were more than a few German spies picked up by the British in WW2 because one of their suitcases concealed a radio set.

If a message is obviously secret, even if it can’t be read, it’s obvious that the sender was trying to hide something. That could mean a short stay in a nasty prison followed by a short drop on a patented neck stretching machine or a shave with the ‘national razor.’ Neither is recommended for your health.

By the way this is a problem with book codes. Possession of a certain edition of a book, unless it’s dead common, could be evidence.

So what is a refined genteel lady of the regency to do?

Secret inks and concealed communications.

Step 1: write a letter. Not a problem, then as now females wrote lots of communications. Not email, twitter or texting, but on paper. Remember to inquire after everyone’s health and to tell the recipient up front that everyone here is well. (or not).

Step 2: Prick out or underline certain letters or words in the message. These are the real message. If these markings are noticed, and they will be if they’re in plain ink, you may be in trouble. On the other hand, if they spell out a love missive, you will be excused. It was not uncommon in the days when parents read every young ladies correspondence, to use a subterfuge like this.

Step 3: Use a secret ink to mark out the real real message. You could skip step 2 if appropriate.

So what can you use for an ink?

Here’s the problem, possessing the ink is evidence of your intent to conceal. A Lady of Quality would have vinegars, a few cosmetics, and even the contents of the ‘gozunda’ available to her. These make reasonably decent ‘organic’ inks, where the compound alters the browning temperature of the paper. Heat it and the message is revealed. (There were ‘sympathetic’ inks which required a developing reagent available at the time, but they’d be problematic for a Lady to be carrying around.)


One of the books I’m writing involves a young woman training to be a secret agent in 1803 England. The running title is either “The Art of Deception” or possibly “Pride and Extreme Prejudice.”

Spies like her would need to be versed in secret communications. Unfortunately, possession of a code machine – like Jefferson’s disks – would automatically show that she was a spy. So would possession of secret inks.

She needs a cipher, one that she could easily generate, and one where she could easily destroy the evidence. Given what was available at the time, the best idea seems to be to move the invention date of the “playfair” cipher back a few years and have her use it.

Playfair was the top British cipher for much of the 19th century, which only shows how lame were the opposition. It is one step up from mono-alphabetic encryption (the cryptograms you sometimes have in the better newspapers (although not the AJC)). It encrypts pairs of letters, but in a systematic manner. On a small enough and random enough set of messages this can be really tough to break. A not dissimilar approach occupied Alan Turing for much of 1942 and 1943 when trying to break the German Naval Enigma (they used it to encrypt the rotor settings). Long chunks of text and repeated keys are much easier.

It starts with a keyword and a square (could be a rectangle).  Say “nevermore” and a 5×5 square.

1 2 3 4 5

Put the keyword (nevermore in this example) in the first row, dropping repeated letters. Then fill in with the rest of the alphabet. Have I and J in the same square.

n e v r m
o a b c d
f g h i k
l p q s t
u w x y z

Then for each pair of letters do one of three things.

  • If they’re in opposite corners of a rectangle (th above) take the other corners of the rectangle th -> kq and ht -> qk.
  • If they’re in the same row or column (gh above) take the letters to their right or below gh ->hi, is -> sy. Wrap around if you have to. There are alternatives here. It’s a pity they weren’t used because this is a weak point.
  • If the same letter occurs twice in a row, ‘ll’ for example, encode it as lx lx.

That’s all reasonable, except the distribution of pairs of letters is not flat. ‘th’ is by far the most common pair, and much more common than ‘ht’. So given a long enough message we can count pairs and from that deduce the structure of the 5×5 square. Repeated pairs are very useful because they define relationships between infrequent letters.

One simple way to harden playfair (though not enough to make it secure by modern standards) is to make the key ‘progressive.’

a n e v r
m o b c d
f g h i k
l p q s t
u w x y z
a b n e v
r m o c d
f g h I k
l p q s t
u w x y z

And so on until the 13th iteration. After that it begins to lose too much key to be unique. (Iteration 25 would always be just the alphabet in the square.)

a b c d e
f g h i k
l m n v o
r p q s t
u w x y z

Other schemes would be better than this, but you get the idea.