Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Festival of Britain comes to its end

Two or three times my parents had said that we would go to the Festival of Britain – but the promises were never turned into fact.  But now the whole thing was closing and I had been deprived of being part of it.  However events had been held all over Britain, not just in London and, after all, we had haved one Festival in our village!

It was on Sunday 30th September 1951 that the Festival of Britain came to an end. It had been organised to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and, after a special service attended by the King, Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and other senior members of the royal family, King George declared the festival open in a broadcast from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The official closing ceremony was planned to also be pronounced by the King but, unfortunately, he was not well enough and the closing speech was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He described the Festival as being ‘a real family party’ and ‘the standard by which we shall face the future’.   He said that there were many legacies of the Festival – trees planted, and statues and other artworks commissioned.  He also said that the Festival had given a better awareness of Britain as a thriving economy with a skilled workforce.

 

 

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Today is Michaelmas day – the day of St Michael and All Angels.

29th September is one of the four days of the year on which quarterly rents are/were traditionally paid. For many it was also the day when Goose would be served for dinner. It was thought that eating goose on St Michael’s Day would bring financial prosperity in the year to come. The geese were fattened for the table by allowing them to glean fallen grain on the stubble fields after the harvest – and are often referred to in past-times as a “stubble-goose”.
Allegedly this tradition stems back to the practice of giving one’s Landlord a goose as a gift on this rent day – either in lieu of money or to keep him at ease with you.

In 1575 George Gascoigne wrote ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne’ which includes:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent,
They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a Capon, at Michael a goose,
And somewhat else at New-year’s tide, for fear their lease flies loose.

There is another perk if you are interested: by tradition one may sleep late on St Michael’s Day! The tradition says that ‘Nature requires five, Custom gives seven; Laziness takes nine, and Michaelmas eleven.’

 

PS: There is a local link for some readers of these blogs: Most of Gascoigne’s works were published during the last years of his life. He died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack, near Stamford, England, where he was the guest of George Whetstone.  He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

The BBC Radio Times is 94 years old today

It was on Friday 28th September 1923 that the Radio Times, price 2d, was first published.

It had all begun in that spring when John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General, had received an ultimatum from the Newspaper Publishers Association that warned and then threatened him that ‘unless the Corporation paid a significant fee, none of its NPA members would carry radio programme listings.’ The threat was soon withdrawn but it was there long enough for Reith to think through an idea for the corporation to publish its own listings magazine. He came to a joint agreement with George Newnes Ltd., and the first edition of ‘The Radio Times’ – the official organ of the BBC – appeared on the news-stands on this day.

150 years of Police support

It was at 6pm on Tuesday 29th September 1829 that the first parties of the ‘new police’ – England’s new, original Metropolitan Police Force – went on duty.  At first this was a far from safe role and the men were subjected to criticism and prejudice; exposed to criticism and prejudice, and ridden down and bludgeoned on patrol.  However, within a year of its formation this new police force had 3,000 men organized into seventeen divisions outside of the London city centre.  However, their discipline, patience, courage and humour won the day.  Over the following 40 years similar forces were formed across the country and, by September 1979, there were 51 individual forces comprising over 123,000 officers.  It was on Tuesday 26th September 1979 that the British Post Office postal service issued a set of four postage stamps in their honour.

Wednesday 20th September and the Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on Saturday 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.  The first presentation ceremony was held on Thursday 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.

The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – Wednesday 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.

63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership.

‘The Fete at Blackpool – a great Electric Light Demonstration’

It was on Thursday 18th September 1879 that the Manchester Courier reported that:

‘In the history of Blackpool there has not been such an excitement as there was seen on Thursday in every ramification of its thoroughfares. It is growing late in the autumn, but this favourite seaside resort was full to overflowing. Trains arriving from all quarters, not only from all parts of Lancashire but from the north, south, east and west of broad England, poured their copious freights into the town. The esplanade was populated by a mob of fashionable people with a considerable mixture of people who have no pretention to fashion at all. The piers throughout presented an appearance that might be compared without much exaggeration to a couple of bee-swarmings. Flags are flying from every coign of vantage; brass bands are blaring in the streets. On this Thursday night the illumination of the town of Blackpool by the electric light was inaugurated on a scale of splendour, and with the result of a success which cannot fail to influence the future of this famous bathing place. The essential fact to be stated in the foreground of our description is that it has been determined that Blackpool shall be lighted in future with the electric light, and on Thursday night the multitudes of visitors drawn thither by the announcement of the fact had an opportunity of judging the effect of this improvement.’

I think it is something that might catch on.

A lady records a wartime scene in England’s conflict in 1941

Mrs Nella Last of Barrow-in-Furness was one of the many volunteer members across Britain of the Mass Observation Archive team – a community that had been set up in 1937 to observe British life by recording a day-to-day account of their everyday lives. These archives now give us a unique insight into the stories and experiences of British civilians going through a time when their country was at war.

This is from her diary for Saturday 13th September 1941 and Nella simply records seeing a child:

‘He was undersized, dirty, tousled and ragged. His poor little eyes were nearly closed with styes and when I touched his cheeks, his flesh had the soft, limp feeling of malnutrition.’

The war was having an impact on people no matter what their age.

Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.

What’s the point of this new stuff?

How many times have we asked this question of ourselves? 

It may well have been said many times in a mining venture that began life in 1902 as a mining company.  The five founders had a very simple plan – they wanted to harvest a mineral known as corundum from a mine called Crystal Bay.   Their company was named ‘The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.’  They became successful and moved on to other projects and products – and their name became easier to recall  – it was 3M and it was on this day – Monday 8th September 1930 – that they launched a new product to the world.  It was a transparent tape that was sticky on one side and smooth on the other.  They called the product Scotch Tape and its job was to seal Cellophane.

In 1937 UK manufacturers started to make a similar product and they called it Sellotape.  Just how did we cope without it?

London is on Fire – it’s 1666

It was late in the evening of Thursday 2nd September 1666 that a disaster began in the streets of London.  It was a small mistake, but with great consequences, when Thomas Farrinor, a baker to King Charles II, thought his fire was out so did not turn off his oven.  However, it appears that some smouldering embers ignited some nearby firewood and, by one o’clock in the morning, his house in Pudding Lane was in flames. He, with his wife and daughter, and one servant, escaped through an upstairs window.  Unfortunately, the baker’s maid wasn’t so fortunate and became the Great Fire’s first victim.

The London of 1666 was a city of half-timbered, pitch-covered medieval buildings and sheds that ignited at the touch of a spark.  There was a strong wind blowing on this morning and sparks flew everywhere. The fire crossed Fish Street Hill, engulfed the Star Inn and then spread into Thames Street, where riverfront warehouses were bursting with oil, tallow, and other combustible goods. By now the fire had grown too fierce to be doused by the crude firefighting methods of the day – a bucket-brigades armed with wooden pails of water. The usual solution during a fire of such size was to demolish every building in the path of the flames in order to deprive the fire of fuel, but the city’s mayor hesitated, fearing the high cost of rebuilding. Meanwhile, the fire spread out of control, doing far more damage than anyone could possibly have managed.

By the 4th September half of London was in flames. The King himself joined the fire fighters, passing buckets of water to them in an attempt to quell the flames, but the fire raged on. As a last resort gunpowder was used to blow up houses that lay in the path of the fire, and so create an even bigger fire-break, but the sound of the explosions started rumours that a French invasion was taking place…. even more panic!!  As refugees poured out of the city, St. Paul’s Cathedral was caught in the flames. The acres of lead on the roof melted and poured down on to the street like a river, and the great cathedral collapsed. Luckily the Tower of London escaped the inferno, and eventually the fire was brought under control, and by the 6th September had been extinguished altogether.  Only one fifth of London was left standing! Virtually all the civic buildings had been destroyed as well as 13,000 private dwellings, but amazingly only six people had died.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Eighty-nine parish churches, the Guildhall, numerous other public buildings, jails, markets and fifty-seven halls were now just burnt-out shells.  King Charles gave the fire fighters a generous purse of 100 guineas to share between them. Not for the last time would a nation honour its brave fire fighters.