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The Thames Tunnel was opened to the public on 25 March, 1843. It was the first tunnel in the world to be built under a navigable river, and quickly became a tourist attraction for visitors to London. In the early days of its construction Londoners had been admitted for one shilling, but by mid-century the new admission charge was just one penny, and around two million people a year paid to pass through some of the 1300 feet of the tunnel’s length. It was soon to be filled with stall-holders, hawkers, buskers and official musicians, including an organist performing on a grand instrument specially designed for the location. It also quickly became the haunt of prostitutes and criminals. Nevertheless, no tourist to the capital would be satisfied without visiting what one American called “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. Isambard Kingdom Brunel had himself held a banquet in the tunnel after repairing the damage in 1827, and now the work was finished and the attraction opened, others were quick to follow in using the space for celebration and entertainment. Its arches were festooned with lights and the interior served as banqueting hall, market hall, occasional ballroom and vast subterranean salon for fashionable society. It would be 1865 before it was finally bought by the East London Railway and put to use in the only way appropriate in the Railway Age – as a train tunnel.
Many more pictures relating to the Thames Tunnel can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
This edited article about English festivals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 340 published on 20 July 1968.
The three noble huntsmen had not had a very good day. But now, at last, their hounds had flushed out a wild boar on Eskdaleside, near Whitby.
The wounded animal, hotly pursued by the hounds, fled through the open door of Eskdaleside chapel, where a monk from Whitby Abbey was at his devotions. The kindly cleric, taking pity on the wounded creature, closed the chapel door to keep out the hunters. They, in their anger at being denied their prize, set upon the monk with their boar-staves and mortally wounded him.
The monk, on the point of death, sent for the Abbot of Whitby, who wanted to make the noblemen pay for their crime with their lives. The monk, however, forgave them, and promised that they would be spared provided they promised to observe a penance “for the safeguard of their souls”. As long as the penance was observed, the noblemen and their successors could continue to hold their lands. Refusal to observe it would mean forfeiting them.
The penance required the offenders, at sunrise on every Ascension Eve, to go to a local wood, where they would be met by an officer of the Abbot of Whitby (he would blow his horn so that he could be easily found). The officer would give each man a certain number of stakes, which had to be cut with “a knife of a penny price.” The noblemen had to carry these stakes, plus other wood, on their backs to the town of Whitby, and be there by 9 a.m.
They then had to build a stout fence of stakes and interlaced boughs on the beach. Each stake had to be exactly one yard from its neighbours, and each fence so constructed as to be capable of withstanding three tides “without removing by the force of the water”. They had to be erected in “several places”, and as they were building them, the noblemen were required to remember their cruel deed, offer repentance and resolve to do “good works” in future. Just to make sure they observed the penance, the officer of Eskdaleside attended the noblemen during their duties and at intervals blew his horn, proclaimed their crime and cried out, “Out on ye! Out on ye!”
This unusual ceremony is still observed today much as it was in the year 1159, except that the details of the crime are no longer announced, and the participants own the land which formerly belonged to the Abbot of Whitby.
The ancient horn is blown by the Bailiff to the Lady of the Manor, and his voice can be heard echoing across Whitby sands as he cries out the ancient chastisement: “Out on ye! Out on ye!”
The popular term ‘penny hedge’ is really a corruption of ‘penance hedge’.
This edited article about Christianity originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 333 published on 1 June 1968.
Whit-Sunday commemorates the strange happenings recorded in the Bible when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and filled them with a power which enabled them to preach about their new faith.
In the official calendar of the Church, Whit-Sunday is second in importance only to Easter, and is one of the oldest of its festivals. It commemorates the strange happenings recorded in the Bible (Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-4), when the Holy Spirit came upon the first Christian leaders (the apostles) and filled them with a power which enabled them to go boldly into the streets of Jerusalem preaching about their new faith. This was really the beginning of the world-wide Christian Church, so Whit-Sunday may be looked on as the birthday of the Church when it comes round each year.
The first Whit-Sunday fell on a Jewish feast dating from much earlier times. This was the Feast of Pentecost which fell 50 days after the Passover. It was one of three harvest thanksgivings kept by the Jews, and on this one the first sheaves of the corn harvest were offered to God. The Feast of Pentecost was also the day on which the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses was remembered. The early Christians gave the feast day a new meaning for their own followers, but in many countries the old name was kept. In France, for example, it is still known as Pentecote.
The English name ‘Whit’ (or ‘Wit’) Sunday may have come into use in either of two ways. Christians were often baptised on the evening before great festivals, and the ‘Whit’ may refer to the white robes which they wore for this ceremony. On the other hand, the word may come from the old Saxon word ‘Wit’ meaning ‘wisdom’, and refer to the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gave to the apostles to help them fulfil their master’s command to preach the gospel to every creature. Despite the different spelling, this meaning may be the truer one.
So important is Whit-Sunday in the Churches of many countries that all the Sundays in the remaining half of the Church year are called ‘Sundays after Pentecost’. The Church of England (and those churches overseas which grew out of its missionary work) is alone in naming these Sundays after the festival of Trinity Sunday, about which I shall be writing next week.
Whit-Sunday also recalls another important event in the history of the Church of England. On that day, in the year 1549, the first English prayer book was required by law to be used in our churches, in place of the old Latin services.
It is hard for us to imagine what a revolution this must have seemed at the time, but undoubtedly one of the most remarkable days in the history of Christianity in the English-speaking world was when the now familiar words “Dearly beloved brethren . . .” were first heard in our churches.
This edited article about British customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 332 published on 25 May 1968.
Oliver Cromwell was dead. His son, known to his enemies as ‘Tumbledown Dick’ was living in semi-retirement in the country: Britain was without a leader.
The army’s leader, General Monk, realised that the people yearned for the restoration of the monarchy. When, therefore, he entered London at the head of his troops to proclaim Charles II as the country’s lawful ruler, there were scenes of great rejoicing.
The date was May 29th, 1660. Charles’s birthday – now known as Oak Apple Day, both in memory of the Restoration, and of Charles’s escape after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he eluded the searching Roundhead troops by hiding in an oak tree in Boscobel Wood.
At the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, which was founded by Charles II, a Founder’s Day celebration is observed on Oak Apple Day. A parade of pensioners is reviewed by either a member of the Royal Family or a Field-Marshal. This year the Reviewing Officer will be Field-Marshal Sir Gerald Templer.
The equestrian statue of King Charles in the Figure Court, where the parade is held, will be decorated with oak leaves, and these will also be worn by the hospital governor, his staff and all the pensioners.
In the village of Wishford Magna, in the Wylye Valley about six miles north-west of Salisbury, an unusual custom will be observed on the same day.
From time immemorial, the villagers of Wishford Magna have claimed the right to drive their swine into nearby Grovely Forest to feed on the acorns there, and to collect firewood.
When the owner of the forest, the Earl of Pembroke, disputed these rights in 1603, a Court was convened in the forest itself and, after hearing all the evidence, found in favour of the villagers. There was naturally great rejoicing, and the Grovely procession was born.
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This edited article about British festivals and customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 332 published on 25 May 1968.
In the Derbyshire village of Castleton, May 29th is the day when the annual “Garland Day” festivities take place.
These begin with an evening procession led by a mounted ‘King’ and ‘Queen’. Both are dressed in seventeenth century costume and are followed by the village brass band playing the traditional ‘Garland Dance’, which closely resembles the Helston Furry Dance. They lead the rest of the procession in which local girls in white dresses adorned with posies of wild flowers are prominent.
The ‘King’ wears an enormous bell-shaped Garland which is over three feet high and sixty pounds in weight, completely covered with leaves and wild flowers, and topped with a special bunch of flowers, known as the Queen’s Posy.
After the procession, the children dance round the maypole in the Market Square, and the Garland is surrendered and hauled to the top of the church tower, which is decorated with sprigs of oak.
These celebrations date from the Restoration, when they were revived and modified to commemorate Charles II’s triumphal return to London.
This edited article about Lady Day originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 323 published on 23 March 1968.
On March 25th the Church celebrates a joyful and solemn occasion in the life of our Saviour. It is kept as the feast of the day on which the angel Gabriel announced to the Mother of Our Lord the news that she was to bear a Son who would be the Saviour of the world.
Officially called the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this day is popularly known as ‘Lady Day’, and was often, formerly, a date fixed for the completion of legal contracts. This was because it was so well known and widely observed, and falls conveniently at the close of the first quarter of the calendar year, being the first of the four quarter days.
This edited article about Mothering Sunday originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 323 published on 23 March 1968.
Some people are a little sorry to see the words ‘Mother’s Day’ taking the place of the traditional ‘Mothering Sunday’, which falls this year on March 24th.
This has, for many centuries, been a day on which our mothers have been honoured, and thanked for all they do for us. It is a day on which, a century ago and more, young boys and girls working away from home were given a holiday, and allowed to return to their families.
The boys used to gather bunches of violets, or other spring flowers, and take them to their mothers, while the girls often baked a spiced cake called a ‘Simnel cake’, as their gift. The young people then did everything possible to relieve their mothers of housework on this special day, and to show their appreciation of her.
But ‘Mothering Sunday’ did not begin just as a family day, and was never meant to be limited to this.
Mothering Sunday always falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, halfway through the season of fasting, which in older days was far more severe and irksome than it is today. On this day, also known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’, or ‘White Lent’, people were allowed to relax the restrictions which Lent involved, in order to eat, drink and amuse themselves. They were also taught to think of the care shown them by what used to be referred to, much more often then than today, as ‘Mother Church’.
The idea of the church as the provider of many blessings made the symbol of a mother quite fitting, and so the custom grew up of paying a special tribute to ‘Mother Church’.
Known as ‘clipping the church’ (‘clip’ is an old English word for ‘embrace’) the custom grew up for the whole congregation to walk around the outside of the church in procession, or with joined hands, as a sign of their affection for it.
This custom still draws many spectators to the lovely Cotswold church of Painswick, where it has continued without interruption for generations. It is also being revived in an increasing number of other churches, especially for children.
This edited article about festivals in Florida originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 322 published on 16 March 1968.
History was made on the 12th October, 1492, when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. He became famous and rich, took the title of “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” (as the Pacific was then known) and inspired other intrepid adventurers to follow his course to the new land.
In fact, the New World had been ‘discovered’ hundreds of years earlier by such people as Leif Ericson, the Norse adventurer, in about A.D. 1000, and by Chinese merchants and Norwegians, as well as by Basque and Breton fishermen.
Although evidence of these visitors has been found, they left no record of their voyages. Columbus’s expedition, therefore, marked the first official discovery of the New World. (The irony of it was that Columbus believed he had found India!)
When Columbus reported his discovery to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, other Spaniards were eager to set out to seek their fortunes in the distant land. By 1580, Spain had laid claim to all the lands we now know as the southern United States and the Panamanian peninsula (all of which they called “New Spain”) plus the greater part of South America.
Following the landing of Hernando Cortez in Mexico in 1519, and the Spanish conquest of the great Aztec empire, many other explorers were lured to America by the prospect of plundered gold and treasure which would make them rich and give them power at home.
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This edited article about Saint Valentine’s Day originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 317 published on 10 February 1968.
Next week, postmen’s bags throughout the world will be loaded with ‘Valentines’, for February 14th is Saint Valentine’s Day.
Actually, the custom of sending Valentine cards has nothing to do with the person whose name is remembered by the Church on this day, and who has for long been regarded as the patron saint of lovers.
The custom takes its origin from the Lupercalia, a pre-Christian festival which was observed in Rome during February. It was a time for revelry and the mock-capture of Roman girls by the young men who roved the city in search of them on this day.
The Lupercalia remained such a popular festival that the Church, unable either to suppress it or ignore it, made it as respectable as possible by linking it with the feast day of an obscure Christian priest or bishop, Valentinus, who had been put to death by the Roman emperor Claudius in about 270 A.D. Almost nothing is known about Valentinus, except that he was imprisoned for a year because he had helped other Christians to escape persecution, before being beheaded himself.