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Never A Cross Word – The history of crosswords with Liz Harris

I’m thrilled to welcome Liz Harris to my blog today to enlighten us about crosswords. Over to Liz!

Liz Harris History of Crosswords
Liz Harris

If you heard someone claim that in their relationship that they’d never had a cross word, you’d raise your eyebrows in disbelief. ‘Pull the other one!’ you’d exclaim. At least, I would. And had ‘cross’ and ‘word’ been joined together, your response might still have been the same.

A lover of cryptic crosswords, I’d rather assumed that there’d never been a time when newspapers hadn’t included a crossword. But I was wrong. The first known published crossword that shared features with crosswords today, appeared in a Sunday newspaper, the New York World, in December 1913.

I discovered this when planning a verbal exchange between Charles Linford and his wife, Sarah, characters in The Flame Within, a novel set in the 1920s. I saw bored banker Charles as the sort of man who’d do a crossword when hidden away in his office. Before writing their exchange, I thought I ought to check that The Times, the newspaper I wanted Charles to be reading, did indeed have a crossword. To my surprise, it didn’t. Curious, I found myself looking back into the development of the crossword.

The WordCross

The word-cross, as it was then called, which first appeared in New York World, had been created by one of their journalists, Arthur Wynne, who’d been born in Liverpool. Wynne’s word-cross was published in the newspaper’s eight-page ‘Fun’ section as a mental exercise. An illustrator later reversed ‘word-cross’, which became ‘cross-word’.

Above: Fun’s First Crossword Puzzle, by Arthur Wynne, in New York World.

The diamond shape being eye-catching, and the clues easy, it was an instant hit with readers, and what seems to have been intended for children or as a light bit of fun, gradually developed into a serious adult pastime. Within ten years, most American newspapers included a crossword.

The first puzzles didn’t have any internal black squares, but as they became more popular, they developed the form with which we’re familiar – a grid made up of black and white squares, with all the white squares appearing in horizontal rows or vertical columns, but not always separated with black squares.

Anyone who’s done an American crossword knows that they’re different in style from crosswords in the UK. In the US, every letter is part of both an ‘across’ word and a ‘down’ word, and there are usually at least three letters in every answer. Shaded squares form about one-sixth of the total. Whereas, on average a traditional crossword grid in the UK has about 25% of shaded squares, and half the letters in an answer are unchecked.

So when did crosswords reach the UK?

Forms of crosswords had existed in Britain in the 19th century. These were derived from the word square – a group of words arranged with the letters reading both vertically and horizontally – and they were printed in children’s puzzle books and periodicals. There are differences of opinion about the exact date of the first appearance in a newspaper of a crossword as we know it, but there was certainly one in Pearson’s Magazine in February 1922, in the Sunday Express in November 1924, and in The Times in February 1930. The word ‘crossword’ first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1933.

Unlike in the US, cryptic crosswords took hold in Britain, and rapidly gained in popularity. A famous cryptic crossword enthusiast was none other than Inspector Morse. His creator, Colin Dexter OBE, was a huge fan of cryptic crosswords, and delighted in characterising Morse as such, too.

A Love of Crosswords

Some years ago, I was introduced to Colin Dexter at a party given by the Oxford Writers’ Group. During our conversation, much of which focused on The Archers, we found that we both loved cryptic crosswords. A few days later, Colin gave me a book he’d written, Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, and he gave a talk at the Waterstones Oxford launch of my debut novel, The Road Back.

GliColin Dexter Meets Liz Harris
Liz Harris and Colin Dexter

My favourite cryptic crosswords are those in the Daily Telegraph, but rather than buy the newspaper, I buy their books of cryptic crosswords. The first book of crossword puzzles was published by Simon & Schuster in 1924, following a suggestion from co-founder Richard Simon’s aunt. Initially sceptical about the book, Simon printed only a small run at first, promoting the book by attaching a pencil to it. To his amazement, it was an instant hit.

The Flame Within - Linford family sagaCharacters and crosswords

I was determined to use what I’d found out about crossword puzzles in the body of The Flame Within, and this is how I used it. Sarah Linford is nagging her husband, Charles, over his lack of ambition, as she habitually did at breakfast:

‘That’s you all over, Charles—anything for an easy life.’ Sarah spread a thick layer of butter on her toast, her movements brusque. ‘Reading the Daily Express says it all,’ she added, nodding towards his newspaper. ‘Most people in your position would read The Daily Telegraph or The Times. On second thoughts, not The Times. I dislike the way they were all in favour of the war, and also their comment three months ago that Jewish people were the world’s greatest danger. That was quite appalling. No, The Daily Telegraph should be the paper of choice for someone like you.’


‘But it doesn’t have a crossword, does it? Whoever came up with the idea of a crossword in a newspaper is a genius. By having the Daily Express, when I’m bored in the day, all I have to do is take out my paper and do the crossword.’


‘Ah, but if you read The Daily Telegraph, you might see an advertisement for a job that would actually challenge you, and interest you, so there’d be no need to kill time with a crossword.’

Crossword History

Liz’s just started crossword is above. Hope she solved it all!

About The Flame Within


Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.

 But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.

 More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.

 Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.




Twitter: @lizharrisauthor Instagram: liz.harris.52206


Riding with the gauchos – Burke in the Land of Silver

Gaucho 6

I’m delighted to welcome Tom Williams to my blog today, to tell us all about riding with the gauchos, and his new book.

Burke in the Land of Silver tells the story of the doomed British invasion of Argentina in 1806 and the role that may well have been played by real-life spy James Burke. There are beautiful women, evil villains, daring deeds and dastardly plots, but the whole thing is based around real events. Burke’s adventures on the pampa and in the Andes drew a lot on my own experience, as well as fascinating descriptions of life on a cattle ranch at the time by, of all people, Charles Darwin. His journey round the world wasn’t all giant tortoises and Galapagos finches!

Most of the action in Burke in the Land of Silver takes place in what is now Argentina. Our hero is spying for the British who are planning to drive the Spanish out of Buenos Aires. Burke discovers that the cattlemen out in the country (the pampa) have no love for their Spanish rulers and he tries to win them over to the British side. In the story, Burke spends some time with the gauchos, as the cattlemen are called. I particularly enjoyed writing this part as I have spent a short time riding with the gauchos of today, whose lives are, in many ways, remarkably unchanged. They are still magnificent horseman, often wearing their traditional dress as workaday garments.

Gaucho 2 Gaucho 3 Gaucho 5






The object above is something that shows the enormous skill of the gaucho on horseback.

The ring is supposed by some people to represent a wedding ring and it is said that Gaucho 4 gauchos used to play this game to win the hands of their sweethearts.

The clip fastens the ring to a rope stretched above the head of a man on horseback. The gaucho rides at the rope holding a cone shaped metal object in his hand which he has to pass through the ring whilst maintaining at least a fast trot. To win the game, you must carry away the ring without dropping it. What is amazing is how often the gauchos are successful. The photographs show how it is done.

The riders stand in the stirrups, well clear of the saddle, his horse moving so smoothly that the rider can catch up the ring as he passes beneath it.

In the third picture above, the young man has passed the ring without catching it. No congratulations from a beautiful Señora for him.

Riding these Argentinian horses was a strange experience for me. I’m not a particularly good horseman and I have only ridden on a European saddle, so first I had to get used to the Western saddle and the different way of using the reins on an Argentine horse. The biggest difference, though, came when I pushed with my heels. The horses at the ranch where I was riding are “cutting out horses” used for moving into a herd of cattle and cutting out the ones that are to be lassoed for whatever reason. The slightest pressure of the heel moves them into a full gallop immediately. When the gauchos aren’t playing the game with the ring, they enjoy racing each other over very short distances, where victory or defeat depends on just how quickly the horse can start its gallop. I’ve seen horses start by jumping into the air and landing immediately into a gallop with no walk or trot or canter.

You’d think that riding horses like this would be a terrifying experience, but I have never felt so safe on a horse of my life. Riding a full gallop across the pampa when some cattle crossed my path and my horse swerved to avoid them should have had me clinging on in terror, but instead I was able to stay comfortably in my seat, absolutely convinced that my mount would do nothing that might throw me off.

My time spent riding on this dude ranch and, later, in the rather more challenging conditions of the Andes above the snow line, was some of the best days of my life. Strangely, I have hardly been in the saddle since I got back to England: it just doesn’t feel the same.

Burke in the Land of Silver has just been republished by Endeavour Press, and is available from Amazon.

Catch Tom on his Blog 

Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curio-stories – the Lost Ruskin Daguerrotypes

Ruskin - Venice
Venice. The Ducal Palace South Façade. ‘Eastern Windows’ Tracery Looking Out Towards the Lagoon, c.1849–1852. Quarter-plate daguerreotype. By John Ruskin and John Hobbs (Ruskin’s valet)

I have just visited Brantwood, the Lakeland bolt-hole of Victorian giant of arts and literature, John Ruskin. Whilst I was there, I came upon this fascinating story. When Ruskin died in 1900, he was largely-forgotten figure, having suffered from bouts of mental illnesss, brought on, it’s said by a sense of powerlessness to change the industrial world and bring better conditions for the poor and the working classes. So his library, paintings, and personal effects were sold off in what amounts to a car boot sale in 1936.

Everything was laid out on the lawn at his family home, Brantwood, near Coniston, and locals were invited to make offers. All his possessions were sold that day, and have only gradually made their way back to Brantwood, which is now a museum to Ruskin’s life. Ever since then, his wonderful drawings, manuscripts, books and items of furniture have been gradually reappearing as Cumbrian people finally realise what they are, and their significance. The daguerreotypes had been owned by an elderly man who had inherited them, and who wanted to sell, having no idea they were of much value.

Ruskin john_ruskin_small
John Ruskin

The Penrith auctioneers did not help much either, because they misread the label on the box as ‘Vienna’, instead of ‘Venice’, and put in a conservative estimate of £80. Imagine their surprise when two separate bidders – having spotted the possibility they could be Ruskin’s lost photographs – started to bid against each other, each desperate to have them, until the price reached a whopping £75,000. And even better, imagine the face of the elderly gentleman when he heard how much they had made!

So what is a daguerreotype?

A daguerreotype photograph is one where, because of the process, each photograph is unique. The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful process in the history of photography. It uses an iodine-sensitized silvered plate, or even a real silver plate, and mercury vapour to produce the image. It was named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. Nowadays, daguerreotypes are scarce, though some contemporary artists have re-embraced the medium today. Daguerrotypes can give very sharp and luminous images.

Ruskin The_Casa_d_Oro_Venice_Ruskin
The Casa d’Oro, Venice by Ruskin


BBC News  The Telegraph Brantwood, Coniston

Quotations by Ruskin:

‘Fit yourself for the best society, and then, never enter it.’

‘Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.’

‘There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.’

Pictures from Wikipedia and The Telegraph.