Forgotten History of Britain with Matthew Green

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Forgotten History of Britain with Matthew Green

Experience the forgotten history of Britain on this immersive journey from the Stone Age to the present day exploring the people and places that have slipped through the fingers of time as an elegiac resurrection of the past and, as the waters rise and the planet heats, a startling premonition of the future. 

Vivid and haunting, the eight-lesson course is an arresting visual rendition of Dr Green’s widely critically acclaimed, Times Top 10 bestselling book, Shadowlands: A Journey through Lost Britain, published by Faber. It provides a dazzlingly original account of Britain’s past and a fresh perspective upon some of the great set-pieces of British history, explaining how pivotal moments in history transformed Britain’s landscape. 

About the Tutor

Dr Matthew Green is a historian, writer and broadcaster with a doctorate from Oxford University. He is the author of the Times Top 10 bestselling Shadowlands: A Journey through Lost Britain (Faber), shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for best nature writing 2022, a Waterstones Book of the Year 2023, and praised as ‘beautifully written and intelligent’ (—Sunday Times), ‘startling’ (—FT), ‘poetic’ (—Daily Mail), ‘eloquent and splendid’ (—Guardian), ‘excellent’ (—Spectator), ‘cautionary’ (— New Yorker) and ‘so moving and engrossing’ (—Wall Street Journal). Matthew has appeared in documentaries on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and writes historical features for the Guardian, Financial Times and has a monthly column for historical features in the Telegraph. He is the founder of Unreal City Audio, which produces immersive tours of London as live events, podcasts and apps. His first book was London: A Travel Guide Through Time (Penguin), which inspired his first Idler online course on the history of London. He lives in London and likes red wine and wild swimming (not at once). X/IG: @drmatthewgreen

What you Get

On-demand videos: eight video lessons to watch any time

Live online session: “Meet the Tutor” Q&A with Matthew Green

Audio: listen to the lessons in podcast form

Notes: in your printable notes you’ll find an introduction to the course from Matthew Green, lesson summaries, a reading list, and a timeline

Exclusive course forum: chat and share your thoughts on the course with fellow Academy members

Quiz: test what you’ve learned with our fun multiple choice quiz

Certificate: when you pass the quiz you will be sent a personalised Idler Academy Certificate of Completion


Course Outline

Lesson One: The Eruption of Civilisation: Skara Brae (c. 7000 BC to 2500 BC)  

(28 minutes)

We start at the Neolithic Period when humans began to build permanent settlements, paving the way for civilisation. The most striking survival from this period was Skara Brae, a commune bored into the earth in Orkney, older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

Lesson Two: Colonisation and the Appearance of the Earliest Cities: Old and New Winchelsea (c. 2500 BC to 1300 AD) 

(45 minutes)

Next came the Bronze Age and a keen competition for land and resources. Tribal elites, Celts and then the Romans take over. We learn about feuding Anglo-Saxons, Viking marauders, and Alfred the Great’s efforts to unify the English. The Normans bring the first true market towns and cities to the British isles since the Romans.

Lesson Three: From Boom to Bust: Trellech (c. 1200 AD to 1340 AD) 

(24 minutes)

Matthew takes us to the new medieval cities, specialising in a particular commodity. For Trellech, in the Welsh Marches, it was iron, from which came the armoury needed to subjugate Wales. We learn how Welsh boom towns turned to bust.      

Lesson Four: The Biggest Catastrophe in Western History: Wharram Percy and the Black Death Villages (c. 1348 AD to 1517 AD) 

(30 minutes)

In this lesson, we look at the Black Death which would haunt Britain for three centuries. Most settlements were wiped from the map. Wharram Percy, in the Yorkshire Wolds was one of them.

Lesson Five: Renaissance, Reformation, and Storms: Dunwich (c. 1485 AD to 1650 AD) 

 (24 minutes)

The Medieval Warm Period (c. 900 — c. 1250) which succeeded the Little Ice Age. The period 1250 to 1400 was unusually tempestuous, leading to 2.5 million people drowning in Northern Europe. As the city of Dunwich sinks beneath the waves we meet the typographers of the Renaissance and learn how they informed the Reformation (1517—1555).

Lesson Six: The Enlightened Voyages to the Ends of the Earth: St Kilda (c. 1699 AD to 1930 AD) 

 (28 minutes)

In this lesson Matthew focuses on the Enlightenment (c. 1690s — 1760s) built on the Renaissance’s concern for demonstrable truths. Britain was now the fulcrum of the biggest empire the world had seen since the Romans and there was much exploration of alien societies. St Kilda offered philosophical travellers a specimen close to home but what was the fate of this remote community?

Lesson Seven: The Hollowing Hand of War: STANTA (c. 1940 AD to 1945 AD) 

 (17 minutes)

We’ve now reached the 1930s and 40s, the free nations of Europe faced an existential threat for their survival from the Third Reich. The War Office needed land to prepare troops effectively. This entailed 20 percent of the entire landmass of Britain being requisitioned by the military in the early 1940s.

Lesson Eight: Industry’s Filthy Conscience, and the Drowned Worlds of the Future: Capel Celyn (c. 1940 AD to 1945 AD) 

 (27 minutes)

In our final lesson we turn to the Industrial Revolution. (c. 1750 to c. 1850) During this time Britain became the foremost industrial power in the world but there were sacrifices, like Capel Celyn, a tiny Welsh village drowned deliberately.

Meet the Tutor: Matthew Green (Tuesday 16 April, 6-7pm)

This is your chance to meet Matthew and ask him questions directly, on Zoom.

Idler Academy and Digital Academy members will receive an invitation to this exclusive event. You will find more information and a booking link on the course page.