The shipwreck survivors who were saved by a soccer ball — and by Watford FC.

The Wreck of the Stella
The Wreck of the Stella
The Wreck of the Stella, The Graphic, April 8 1899, adapted

The footballers from Watford FC were crossing the English Channel when their ship’s lookout spotted two lifeboats. It was 7 am on March 31, 1899, and the team’s players were aboard the SS Vera on their way to Jersey and Guernsey for a series of friendly matches. Huddled in the lifeboats were survivors of the wreck of the SS Stella, a passenger steamship that had sunk 15 hours earlier with the loss of 105 lives. The tragedy has become known as the “Titanic of the Channel Islands”. …

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A singular discovery: How could 30 boys hide inside one barrel?

A few years ago, I was searching through historical newspaper archives for something or other when I came across a fascinating story. It was at the bottom of the last column on the second page of the Sacramento Daily Record-Union, dated Saturday, 11 March 1882. The headline was: “A Singular Discovery.” The story wasn’t relevant to whatever I was researching, but I clipped it out and filed it away.

I spend a lot of time browsing newspaper archives and trawling through old books and manuscripts. I make a habit of collecting interesting stories. Some have inspired articles, books, even movies…

How did a lovestruck English heiress become a notorious American criminal? And why has history erased her identity?

The Female Horse Thief by Paul Brown header image
The Female Horse Thief by Paul Brown header image
Photo: Mikael Kristenson

In the early part of the 19th century, an extraordinary young English woman crossed the Atlantic on a desperate quest to find her exiled lover. She stole a horse, escaped pursuers, and survived a shipwreck, then arrived penniless and alone in America, where she embarked on a gender-swapping, multi-identity crime spree as a horse thief. Her crimes caused outrage and bewilderment, and newspapers spread her legend across the country. She was captured and brutally punished but, as she sat silently in jail, her true identity remained frustratingly unclear. …

An isolated house near an abandoned railway line is the scene of one of Britain’s most mysterious unsolved murders. Who killed stationmaster George Wilson?

Lintz Green Station and the stationmaster’s house, 2020, Paul Brown
Lintz Green Station and the stationmaster’s house, 2020, Paul Brown
Lintz Green Station and the stationmaster’s house, 2020, Paul Brown

1. A lonely place to die

The last train arrived at Lintz Green Station at 10.42 PM — ten minutes later than scheduled. Lintz Green was a quiet rural station, midway between Newcastle upon Tyne and Consett on the now-defunct Consett branch of the North Eastern Railway in the north of England. Formerly a colliery line, it carried passengers, coal, and iron from the industrial villages of County Durham through the picturesque Derwent Valley to the bustling River Tyne.

It was Saturday, October 7, 1911, and the train was a little busier than usual with a handful of residents from the sparsely-populated surrounds returning from a…

A mysterious ring of trees in an ancient village is at the center of a haunting series of events involving witchcraft and secret rituals

The Witches’ Circle, story by Paul Brown, photo by P W
The Witches’ Circle, story by Paul Brown, photo by P W
Photo by P W

I don’t believe in witchcraft, ghosts, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or anything else that can’t be proven to exist via science and logic. However, I am interested in all of the above and pretty much anything else that can be considered paranormal or supernatural. This is mainly because I spent much of my childhood reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World books. But it’s also because I grew up right next to a very strange place that would have given even the late old Arthur C. the willies.

The Witches’ Circle is a ring of oak trees around 60 feet…

The Premier League team named after a munitions works struggled to survive after the Woolwich Arsenal exploded

Officials inspect the damage at Arsenal FC’s Manor Ground, February 1907

“Boom! A muffled roar like that of a mighty thunderclap, a shake like that of an earthquake, and a flash that turned the black sky red!” — Kentish Independent, February 15, 1907

On the morning of Sunday, February 11, 1907, the district of Woolwich in south-east London was rocked by a huge explosion. The blast shattered windows, demolished walls, and blew off roofs. Shockwaves woke people from their sleep across a radius of 40 miles. A flash from the explosion could be seen as far away as Southend-on-Sea.

The explosion occurred at the Royal Arsenal, a thousand-acre site for the…

Alf Doig was a football trailblazer in Scotland, the US, and Canada, but his greatest adventure was a perilous journey in search of gold

Ned Doig went to Blackburn in 1889 and came back with a bag full of gold. The Arbroath and Scotland goalkeeper had agreed to play for Blackburn Rovers against Notts County for the handsome sum of £25. Blackburn won the match 9–0, and Ned had “very little to do.” It was a nice afternoon’s work for an amateur player who usually earned his crust as an apprentice baker. Scottish Ned was unfamiliar with English banknotes and, wary of being ripped off, insisted on being paid in gold sovereigns.

Ned would soon become much more familiar with English banknotes of every…

The untold true story of Edward Robinson, the Newcastle Pirate, who sailed with Blackbeard during the Golden Age of Piracy. Was he really a murderer, and did he deserve his brutal fate?

Original artwork by Muharto

I. We are taken

It was just after sunset on an August evening in 1718, and something was approaching through the twilight. The sloop the Francis had come to anchor in Delaware Bay, on the north-eastern seaboard of America. The single-masted Francis and its small crew would wait out the ebb tide before completing their journey from Antigua to Boston. The sloop’s first mate, James Killing, peered over the water. “There’s a canoe-a-coming,” he said. “I wish they be friends.” The sloop was only lightly armed, and the busy trading routes that brought goods and people to the colonies were patrolled by sea-robbers. …

The extraordinary true story of the Ruhleben Football Association

Football Match at Ruhleben

“Myself and many others would not have survived without football” — Steve Bloomer

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, several of Britain’s most famous soccer players were imprisoned in a brutal internment camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin. Surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, living in squalor and on meager rations, and with their families and freedom far out of reach, the prisoners found purpose and salvation through the Ruhleben Football Association, which organized soccer competitions that were played and watched by thousands of prisoners.

“An epic story of the triumph of the British spirit of…

Paul Brown

Writes about history, sport, true adventure. The Guardian, FourFourTwo, Longreads, etc.

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