Trading in War by Margarette Lincoln

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Trading in War by Margarette Lincoln and published by Yale Books.


About the Book

A vivid account of the forgotten citizens of maritime London who sustained Britain during the Revolutionary Wars

In the half-century before the Battle of Trafalgar the port of London became the commercial nexus of a global empire and launch pad of Britain’s military campaigns in North America and Napoleonic Europe. The unruly riverside parishes east of the Tower seethed with life, a crowded, cosmopolitan, and incendiary mix of sailors, soldiers, traders, and the network of ordinary citizens that served them. Harnessing little-known archival and archaeological sources, Lincoln recovers a forgotten maritime world. Her gripping narrative highlights the pervasive impact of war, which brought violence, smuggling, pilfering from ships on the river, and a susceptibility to subversive political ideas. It also commemorates the working maritime community: shipwrights and those who built London’s first docks, wives who coped while husbands were at sea, and early trade unions. This meticulously researched work reveals the lives of ordinary Londoners behind the unstoppable rise of Britain’s sea power and its eventual defeat of Napoleon.


About the Author

Dr Margarette Lincoln was director of research and collections and, from 2001, deputy director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. She is now a visiting fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. She lives in London.


My Review

The Port of London has always been significant, but in the fifty or so years before the Battle of Trafalgar, it grew and grew in importance becoming the commercial hub of what was rapidly becoming a global empire. The docks were east of the Tower of London and centred in the Parishes of Rotherhithe, Deptford, Greenwich and Wapping. Other parishes around supplied materials and people into the riverside shipwrights and victualler that kept the vast machine that was the Navy, fed.

On top of all the industry, there was a seething mass of humanity, dockers, sailors, shipwrights, traders, cooks, crooks and Navy wives who lived in the area. This place was changing rapidly as it expanded to meet the demands of the crown. The dynamics though meant that it was a place that brought in people who had a different view on the rule of law. Not only were there criminals and thieves but with a revolution in the air over the channel in France, then there was an undercurrent of subversion and open challenges to the authority of the monarch.

It is a vivid story of life in the London docks. Just some of the details that Lincoln has uncovered in the excellent social history are quite staggering. For example, bakers made 6500kg of biscuits a day to keep the navy supplied, a constant supply of livestock that was being slaughtered for food for the ships. Women who took over from their late husbands and continued to supply the navy for years after. Most campaigns could not have been undertaken without the tonnes of material that flowed into the docks and headed out onto the world’s oceans and as the area became more important more businesses appeared to ensure that they could become suppliers to the docks and shipbuilders. There were chemical factories producing sulphuric acid in huge vats, as well as a never-ending stream of felled trees to build the ships being launched fairly frequently.

If you have any interest in the history of London, maritime events or social history then I can highly recommend this. This is crammed with detail, the narrative takes you from musings on the political changes of the time to personal stories of the people that lived, worked, sailed from the port right up to global events that affected the ebb and flow of life in the area. I liked the way that the chapters are split into broad themes. Lincoln writes with clarity, ensuring that this really complex story of London does not read like an academic text.


Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour


About the Wolfson History Prize

First awarded by the Wolfson Foundation in 1972, the Wolfson History Prize remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability for a general audience and excellence in writing and research. The most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, the Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually, with the winner receiving £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. Over £1.1 million has been awarded to more than 100 historians in the prize’s 47-year history. Previous winners include Mary Beard, Simon Schama, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Amanda Vickery, Antony Beevor, Christopher Bayly, and Antonia Fraser.

To be eligible for consideration, authors must be resident in the UK in the year of the book’s publication (the preceding year of the award), must not be a previous winner of the Prize and must have written a book which is scholarly, accessible and well written.

To learn more about the Wolfson History Prize please visit, or connect on Twitter via @WolfsonHistory / #WolfsonHistoryPrize.

About the Wolfson History Prize Judges

David Cannadine is an historian of modern British history from 1800 to 2000 and a trustee of the Wolfson Foundation. He is Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University, a Visiting Professor of History at the University of Oxford, the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and became President of the British Academy in July 2017. He has previously taught at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University, New York. He was Director and Professor of History at the Institute of Historical Research from 1998-2003. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Literature, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society. In 2009 he was awarded a knighthood for services to scholarship. His publications include Margaret Thatcher: A Life And Legacy (2017), The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond our Differences (2012), Mellon: An American Life (2006), Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (2001), Class in Britain (1998), and The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (1990).  He has contributed to many national bodies in heritage and the arts, including the National Portrait Gallery, English Heritage, Westminster Abbey, the Victorian Society, Royal Academy Trust and the Library of Birmingham Trust.


Richard Evans is Provost of Gresham College in the City of London and Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of numerous books on modern German and European History, including A Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830-1910, which won the Wolfson History Prize in 1989. His most recent books are The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914, a volume in the Penguin History of Europe, and Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, published in February 2019. From 2010 to 2017 he was President of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and was knighted in 2012 for services to scholarship.


Carole Hillenbrand has been Professor Emerita of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh since 2008 and Professorial Fellow (Islamic History), at the University of St Andrews since 2013. Studied Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge, Arabic and Turkish at the University of Oxford, and wrote a PhD on Islamic history at the University of Edinburgh.  She has held Visiting Fellowships in America and Holland. She was elected an Honorary Life Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford in 2010 and a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2012.  She was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Islamic Studies in 2005 and the British Academy/ Nayef Al Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding in 2016. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Historical Society. In 2009 she was awarded an OBE for services to Higher Education and in 2018 she was awarded a CBE for services to the understanding of Islamic history.


Diarmaid MacCulloch is a Fellow of Saint Cross College and Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Historical Society and of the Society of Antiquaries of London; he co-edited the Journal of Ecclesiastical History for twenty years. He was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1987 and in 2012 was knighted for services to scholarship. His chosen research field has been Tudor England (including a biography of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and a study of the Reformation under Edward VI); he has also written on the wider history of the European Reformation and on world Christianity generally. His History of Christianity: the first three thousand years (winner of the 2010 Hessell-Tiltman Prize and the 2010 Cundill History Prize, Montreal) was followed by the BBC series A History of Christianity (given the Radio Times Readers’ Award, May 2010). Further television work has included How God made the English, 2012, Henry VIII’s Fixer: the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, 2013, and Sex and the Church, 2015. His biography of Thomas Cromwell was published in September 2018. He won the Wolfson History Prize in 2004 for Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700.


About the Wolfson Foundation

The Wolfson Foundation ( is an independent grant-making charity that aims to promote the civic health of society by supporting excellence in the arts & humanities, education, science and health. Since 1955, almost £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded to nearly 11,000 projects and individuals across the UK, all on the basis of expert peer review. The Wolfson Foundation is committed to supporting history and the humanities more broadly. Since 2012, awards across the UK of more than £10.7 million have been made for Postgraduate Scholarships to support research in the humanities at universities, and some £11 million to museums and galleries, as well as numerous awards for historic buildings. You can connect via twitter @wolfsonfdn.

Buy this and all of the others on the shortlist at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Ben at Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    That sounds like an outstanding work of social history and one that truly deserves its place on the shortlist.

    • admin

      These things can be dry at times, but this was really well written.

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