Category Archives: history

What Guy Fawkes could have done!

I just can’t leave the following alone.  It was in the ‘Daily Mail’ of Saturday 28th October 2017 in their ‘Weekend Magazine’ supplement.  It reads:

‘If Guy Fawkes had managed to blow up Parliament on this day – Saturday 5th November 1605 – it has been calculated that the 5,500lbs of gunpowder would have also destroyed everything within a 500-metre radius – and that that would have included Westminster Abbey!’

 

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Today is Hallowe’en – day or night

My most recent version of Chamber’s Book of Days [2004] tells us that:
This is All-Hallows Eve, better known as Hallowe’en, when witches fly abroad and ghosts, fairies, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are at their most active.  The traditional beliefs and practices of Hallowe’en may be connected in origin with the rituals performed during the night before Samhain.

The 1864 edition of Chambers said:
Great fun goes on in watching the attempts of the youngster in the pursuit of the swimming fruit, which wriggles from side to side of the tub, and evades all attempts to capture it; whilst the disappointed aspirant is obliged to abandon the chase in favour of another whose turn has now arrived.  The apples provided with stalks are generally caught first, and then comes the tug of war to win those which possess no such appendages.  Some competitors will deftly suck up the apple, if a small one, into their mouths.  Others plunge manfully overhead in pursuit of a particular apple, and having forced it to the bottom of the tub, seize it firmly with their teeth, and emerge, dripping and triumphant, with their prize.

So – what is the ‘real’ story?

The last night of October; Old Year’s Night in the Celtic calendar; was a night of witches and fires that was changed by the Church into the vigil of All Saints’ or Hallowe’en.

‘Teanlas’ or ‘tinley’ fires would glow on northern hills on All Souls’ Eve, symbolising the ascent to heaven of souls in purgatory. It was only the introduction of farming enclosures, when bushes were grubbed up, that put an end to the small ‘tindles’, lighted in the furze of Derbyshire commons.

In one Lancashire field, called Purgatory by the old folk, men stood in a circle to throw forkfuls of burning straw high in the air on the night breeze, and all present fell to their knees praying for the souls of the departed. More prosaically – some farmers maintained that the procedure was useful against weed ‘darnel’.

Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.  The Celtic day began and ended at sunset so it was traditionally celebrated through the 31st October to 1st November – a time that is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

That’s it – there’s nothing for me to add apart from just saying:

HAVE A GREAT TIME ON THIS HALLOWE’EN

Tomorrow – 31st October – is Hallowe’en. So – what is that all about?

The origin of the festival is disputed, and there are both pagan and Christian practices that have evolved into what Hallowe’en is like today.  Some believe it originates from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which celebrated the end of the harvest season.

Gaels believed that it was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. Places were set at the dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Gaels would also offer food and drink, and light bonfires to ward off the evil spirits.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them.

The Christian origin of the holiday is that it falls on the days before the feast of All Hallows, which was set in the eighth century to attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians would honour saints and pray for souls who have not yet reached heaven.

Celts dressed up in white with blackened faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits that they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

By the 11th century, this had been adapted by the Church into a tradition called ‘souling’, which is seen as being the origin of trick-or-treating. Children go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. They went dressed up as angels, demons or saints.  The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.

In the 19th century, souling gave way to guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes – instead of prayer – in exchange for fruit or money.

We’ll go into a little more detail tomorrow – Hallowe’en day/night itself!  Have a great time.

The gunfights I had as a child – but don’t worry too much about the heading

Yesterday – 26th October 1881 – was the day of the gunfight at the OK Corral; the most famous – or was it infamous – shoot out in the Wild West.  It took place in Tombstone, Arizona when the Earp family [Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan] had a shoot-out with the Clantons [Ike, Phineas and Billy] and the McLaurys [Tom and Frank].

The sight of this gunfight is now a tourist attraction with life-size replicas of the combatants and a daily re-enactment of the 30-second exchange of bullets that have resounded through history and captured the imagination of cowboy enthusiasts the world over.

I was one of those ‘cowboys’ here in England back in the 1940s and, maybe, into the early 1950s.  My children – and grandchildren – just look blankly at me when I tell them of the ‘battles’ I had when I was their age.

Do you have any situations like this? I’d love to hear about them if you have.

A king that changed England

Anne became Queen of England on Wednesday 8th March 1702 and, on Sunday 1st May 1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain.  Seven years later, on Wednesday 1st August 1714, she died in Kensington Palace in London.

Let us roll forward now to Saturday 20st October 1714.  By the terms of the Act of Settlement, at her death Queen Anne, who had no surviving children, was to be succeeded by her second cousin; George, Elector of Hanover who was to be crowned King George I on this day in Westminster Abbey.  However, the service was less than smooth!

George could not speak much English so the ceremonies had to be conducted mostly in Latin as his ministers could speak no German!

He was also not a choice of most people in the country and, on the Coronation day, banners mocking the new king were displayed throughout the country. When loyalists celebrated the Coronation they were disrupted by rioters in over twenty towns in the south and west of England. In addition to this, the Tory aristocrats and gentry absented themselves from the Coronation, and in some towns they arrived with their supporters to disrupt the Hanoverian proceedings.

Things were happening across parts of Britain on the night before the coronation.

In Taunton one Francis Sherry said that “on the morrow we must take up Arms against the King”.

In Birmingham a local rioter, John Hargrave, said they must “pull down this King and Sett up a King of our own”.

In Dorchester rioters attempted to rescue an effigy of the Catholic James Stuart, who had a strong claim to the throne, that was to be burnt by Dissenters and asked: “Who dares disown the Pretender?”.

The Anglican clergy mainly kept a low profile but at Newton Abbot the minister removed the bell-clappers so that the bells could not be rung in celebration of the Coronation.  All in all it was a very unusual Coronation.

During George’s reign however, the powers of the monarchy diminished and Britain began a transition to the modern system of cabinet government led by a prime minister. Towards the end of his reign, actual political power was held by Robert Walpole, now recognised as Britain’s first de facto prime minister.

George died of a stroke on a trip to his native Hanover, where he was buried.

A Queen and her husband don’t quite get what they expected.

It was Tuesday 8th October 1861 and Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Albert her husband, are in Inverness-shire, Scotland and heading for their evening abode. She writes in her diary:

It became cold and windy with occasional rain. At length, and not till a quarter to nine, did we reach the inn of Dalwhinnie – 29 miles from where we had left our ponies – which stands by itself, away from any village.

Here, again (as yesterday), there were a few people assembled, and I thought they knew us; but it seems they did not, and it was only when we arrived that one of the maids recognised me.

She had seen me at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  We went upstairs: the inn was much larger than at Fettercairn, but not nearly so nice and cheerful; there was a drawing-room and a dining-room; and we had a good-sized bed-room.

Albert had a dressing-room of equal size.  Mary Andrews [a wardrobe-maid] who was very useful and efficient and Lady Churchill’s maid had a room together, every one being in the house; but unfortunately there was hardly anything to eat, and two miserable starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes!  No pudding, and no fun; no little maid [the two there not wishing to come in], nor our two people – who were wet and drying our, and their, things – to wait on us!  It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet.  As it was late we soon retired to rest.

Mary and Maxted [Lady Churchill’s maid] had been dining below with Grant, Brown, and Stewart [who came, the same as last time, with the maids] in the ‘commercial room’ at the foot of the stairs.  They had only the remains of our two starved chickens!

I wonder what the morrow will bring. 

Dorothy Wordsworth walking and talking in England’s Lake District,

It is Tuesday 2nd October 1849 and Dorothy Wordsworth is in Grasmere in England’s Lake District. It would appear to be a semi-planned time as she writes into her diary:

‘A very rainy morning.  We walked after dinner to observe the torrents.  I followed William to Rydale, he afterwards went to Butterlip How.  I came home to receive the Lloyds.  They walked with us to see Churnmilk force and the Black quarter.  The black quarter looked marshy, and the general prospect was cold, but the Force was very grand.

We also find an interesting conversation regarding the manners of the rich of the country.  These are described as avaricious and greedy for gain while having the effeminacy, unnaturalness and the unworthiness of their kind.

I don’t think Dorothy liked the upper-crust of Britain’s rich!

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.

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.

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?