My favourite historical places: Professor Robert Bickers

Little church of Culbone on Exmoor Somerset, said to be the smallest complere parish church in England 

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In the first of a new weekly series, Professor Robert Bickers from the University of Bristol picks out his favourite historical places to visit

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Q: What is your favourite historical place in Britain? 

A: Nowhere in particular, yet nearly everywhere: as a student of the interconnectedness of the local and the global, of the British Isles and the worlds of Britain’s empire and beyond, I am an avid parish church visitor. Nearly always on the walls or on the gravestones are records of individual local encounters with China, or India, the Caribbean and more – take a look around your local church.

Q: What is your favourite historical place overseas? 

A: I am always thrilled by Shanghai’s Bund, the river-side promenade with its iconic buildings that was once the headquarters of the foreign presence in this now-again raucously energetic city. Most of the buildings survive, and I have been able to follow in the footsteps of some of those I’ve researched, Shanghai policeman Maurice Tinkler, for example, knowing that they would still recognise it today.

Q: Where would you most like to visit? 

A: In 1875 a Scottish engineer, David Marr Henderson, fought his way through the dense sub-tropical bush on the very southern tip of Taiwan, and located the site on which he would oversee the building in 1881-3 of a fortified lighthouse. With its apparatus made in Birmingham, and its tower in Newcastle, South Cape Lighthouse was a major feat of engineering and logistics – and it is one of the few of Henderson’s lighthouses that survive intact.

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Robert Bickers is the author Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, and The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, both published by Penguin