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Subject: ‘British Cities’

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Permanent street lighting helped to banish fear and crime

Posted in British Cities, British Towns, Historical articles, History, London, Science, Technology on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

This edited article about street lighting first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 577 published on 3 February 1973.

Moving street lights,  picture, image, illustration
Before street lights, the rich employed people to hold torches to light their evening strolls

Man has always been afraid of the dark. Nobody knew in early days what terrible existence awaited them as soon as day crept into night and blackness magically floated down to earth. Nobody knew; not many dared to find out. The world about would sleep until the sun came out, as if to regenerate the chemicals of life.

But man could not hide from the dark for long. He had to conquer it. In ancient Babylon they used thick tow wicks containing about one hundredweight of fat. The flickering lights would pinpoint a route through the deathly dark to safety. The wicks were so expensive, though, that they could only be afforded at festival times.

Imperial Rome was not much better off. They had no lights, and the coming of night covered the city in a darkness that brought death and emptiness. If you went out to supper without having first made out your will, you would have been considered outrageously mad. Important people might just risk venturing out into the night by having torch bearers with them, or at least a torch of resinous pine. But ordinary folk just wouldn’t consider braving the dark streets, and if they had to, it would be planned well in advance in time for the full moon.

The moon was never sufficient, though. In the 17th Century watchmen along the streets of London used to sing:

“A light here maids, hang out your lights,
And see your horns be clear and bright
That so your candle clear may shine
Continuing from six to nine
That honest men may walk along
And see to pass safe without wrong.”

Honest men, and dishonest ones, come to that, were probably safer in Paris. People there were prepared to pay for their safety, and one distinguished gentleman had a monopoly hiring guides with hand lanterns to travellers at night.

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The fluctuating fortunes of High Victorian architecture

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, British Towns, Famous landmarks, London, Railways on Friday, 7 February 2014

This edited article about architecture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 547 published on 8 July 1972.

St Pancras Station,  picture, image, illustration
The St Pancras, Midland Railway Station, London, erected in the years 1866-69

Fashions change. Victorian art, architecture and interior decoration and, indeed, Victorian costume are all very much “in” things at the present time.

Forty years ago you could not have given away odd bits of Victorian bric-a-brac, like vases, glassware, paper-weights, and similar oddments, all of which fetch enormous prices nowadays. In the years between the two World Wars, Victoriana was a great big joke and no aspect of Victoriana was more laughable than its architecture. Someone coined a jibe to the effect that the Victorians were jolly nice chaps, but that they should never have been allowed to get their hands on bricks and mortar.

However, there has been a reappraisal of Victoriana, and of Victorian architecture in particular – since this has a way of standing around and continuing to make itself known long after its creators, and their beliefs, have crumbled away to nothing.

Our light-hearted look at architecture, so far, has really been a matter of examining various architectural styles in relation to the people who did the building, and the environment in which they lived.

Nomadic people, like desert Arabs, dreamed up a portable house of sticks and skins and called it a tent. Firmly established in the rich and fertile Nile valley, the Ancient Egyptians went to the other extreme from the temporary and portable dwelling, and built their homes to last for ever.

It was the good Greek eye, sharpened by the clear atmosphere and the revealing sun, that devised the perfection of the Classical style. Those go-ahead and pushy fellows the Romans took over Greek architecture and bent it to their own needs; adding the techniques of building in brick and concrete, and exploiting the dome and the arch.

The Gothic style grew out of religion and added techniques that enabled men to show their adoration of God by extending slim shafts of stonework towards the skies of Northern Europe, towards Heaven.

All these architectural styles evolved for a reason. They were and are immediately recognisable because they each sing with one voice, in tune. They all have coherence.

By the 19th century, architecture ceased to have any coherence. There was no more singing in tune, everyone was singing solo.

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Britain is a living museum of fine domestic architecture

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, British Countryside, British Towns, Country House, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 5 February 2014

This edited article about architecture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 543 published on 10 June 1972.

Tudor house,  picture, image, illustration
The construction of a Tudor house by Peter Jackson

Pharaoh Cheops’s pyramid was built around 3733 BC. Five thousand years have gone by, but no one in Medieval Europe, or indeed in the whole of the known world, has come within shouting distance of rivalling that fabulous edifice in sheer size or in technical brilliance of construction. And when we think of Roman plumbing, with all the luxury of running hot and cold water, and compare it with the plumbing facilities in 13th century London, we well may pause to wonder what progress is all about.

However, most of the architecture we have examined so far has concerned buildings that were put up for purposes of religious worship, to flatter the ego of some tyrannical ruler, or as an expression of national pride in craftsmanship.

There was hardly any choice, for not much else remains for us to examine. The mud hovels of the labourers who built the pyramids have long since crumbled to sand, along with the superior mud mansions of their masters. There are the much-cobbled fragments of a few Roman villas dotted about Europe and the Middle East, there are the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but not much else to tell of the humble millions who made up the mighty empire that once owned the known world.

If human progress can be measured by the increasing tendency for quite ordinary people to build houses for themselves and their descendants that rivalled, in soundness and structure, the temples and churches of religion and the palaces of their rulers, then there was some forward progress by the Middle Ages. Plumbing or no plumbing.

And of all Europe we are particularly lucky, in these islands, to have so many of the smaller domestic medieval buildings surviving; most of them still lived in, and most of them regarded (as the estate agents say) as very desirable residences.

The Romans made little or no impact on the native domestic architecture of these islands. Their villas, with inner courts open to all weathers, did not commend themselves to the natives; nor were the natives beguiled by all that insistence on baths and plumbing.

The largest domestic unit in Medieval England was the manor house. Every small community had one. It was the home of the local landowner, and the centre of community life.

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The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous historic street

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 31 January 2014

This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 534 published on 8 April 1972.

Edinburgh's Royal Mile,  picture, image, illustration
A picture history of Edinburgh's Royal Mile by Peter Jackson

More than half a million years ago, great glaciers ground and crunched through Europe, scouring away the soil and rocks and leaving behind them, when the weather warmed, floods which smoothed the devastated areas into broad valleys.

One of these valleys lies like a midland girdle across the map of Scotland, studded with huge “bosses” of rock too hard for the ice to shift: the remains of old volcanoes. Once the floods retreated, early men clung to these giant crags. They built fortresses atop them, wattled huts surrounded by rough stone ramparts. In the valleys they hunted, and gathered berries and spring water.

Two of these great mounds dominate the city of Edinburgh. The narrow spiny strip running between them is one of the most historic miles in all Britain: the Royal Mile. If the Thames can fairly be called liquid history, this surely is solid history!

At one end, Castle Rock rears its head, crowned by Queen Margaret’s Chapel and the grim castle itself; at the other, Arthur’s seat, with the skeleton of the ancient Abbey of the Holy Rood, and the palace where David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s secretary, was dragged screaming from her dining-table, blood spurting from his dagger-wounds.

Mary’s unhappy ghost haunts the Royal Mile. At the further end, in the rough security of one of the castle’s tiny rooms, she gave birth to the baby who was to unite three kingdoms for the first time: James VI of Scotland and I of England (“the wisest fool in Christendom”). The castle, too, was her last stronghold; held by her loyal followers for three years when hope was virtually gone.

Scores of times, over the centuries, it was besieged, and stormed. Once the raiding party climbed the rock at black of night, led by a lad who had earlier learned to scale it in the dark to visit his girlfriend!

Edinburgh’s name is popularly believed to have come from King Edwin, the 7th-century King of Northumbria, who certainly needed a strongpoint to dominate the wild northern fringes of his territory. But there are other possibilities. The Gaelic eudin means “a hill-brow.” And it was 400 years after Edwin that the city really entered history, with King Malcolm III, who moved his capital there from Dunfermline. It was Malcolm’s beautiful and saintly Queen Margaret who ordered the building of the sturdy little chapel (the oldest building still standing in the city) on the summit of Castle Rock.

It was Margaret’s pious son, David I, who built the Abbey a mile away. Out hunting one day, he suddenly found himself cornered by a vicious white hart. He was only saved by a mysterious (he believed miraculous) “rude” (cross) which appeared between the beast’s antlers, forcing it back. In gratitude, he founded the Abbey of the Holy Rude in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. He also granted the Canons of the Abbey the right to establish their own burgh (town) between the Abbey buildings and the burgh of Edinburgh, which had grown up around the castle.

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Cottonopolis gave us muck, cloth, music and the Guardian

Posted in British Cities, Historical articles, History, Industry, Trade on Thursday, 23 January 2014

This edited article about Manchester first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 523 published on 22 January 1972.

Cotton mills, picture, image, illustration
The cotton mills swept away the cottages and gardens of eighteenth-century Manchester, by C L Doughty

From all the surrounding villages they came, silk banners streaming out defiant messages under the August sky: “Vote by Ballot,” “Universal Suffrage” . . .

Bands blared. Red Caps of Liberty (the symbol of Reform) bobbed on sticks. Girls in cheap finery danced and sang.

“All hail! The day what I do see
It is the Cap of Liberty
Placed on the Rights of Man:
No Corn Laws! Britons shall be free!”

From every town in the cotton-belt – from Middleton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham – they swarmed into Manchester’s St Peter’s Field . . . hot, tired, and excited after their long tramp, pushing and shoving good-naturedly, eager to hear the speeches.

Close at hand local magistrates waited uneasily. Troops were stationed in nearby streets. Behind the singing the smell of danger hung in the air.

A roar went up as the orators arrived. Music and chatter died. Impassioned speeches began. Bursts of cheering and bellows of approval set the soldiers’ ill-trained horses stirring, nudging the square like the wind through wheat.

“The Yeomanry . . . The Yeomanry . . . The soldiers are coming . . . LOOK OUT!”

Fitful sunshine flashes on high-held sabres. The crowd turns this way and that. Fear rises to panic.

A woman stumbles. She screams as a thick-booted workman lurches across her. A sabre flashes down . . .

Eleven died that day in August, 1819 and several hundred were injured: the actual number is disputed still. They called it “Peterloo” – an echo of the four-year-old Battle of Waterloo. Like that greater battle, it was to leave its mark on history.

Peterloo was not the first gathering of its kind. Riots, strikes, marches and meetings had been spreading for years. Poverty, overwork, squalor, unemployment, disease; bitterness for the present and fear for the future had caused resentment throughout the newly-industrialised English north.

Too much had happened too quickly.

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A surprisingly accurate futuristic vision of British life in 2001

Posted in British Cities, British Towns, Science, Technology on Thursday, 2 January 2014

This edited article about progress first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 501 published on 21 August 1971.

Life in 2001, picture, image, illustration
Shopping will be done using electronic images in 2001

In 30 years time most of you will be married and living in your own homes. Your children will be going to school.

What will life be like in the year 2001? What kind of homes will we live in? What will our schools be like? What sorts of food will we be eating? What strange styles of clothing will we be wearing? Will we still be wearing long hair or short hair? Will we still be using decimal currency?

It is difficult if not impossible to give very accurate answers to questions like these. We can, however, make fairly intelligent guesses about life in 30 years’ time. We can do this by thinking about the advances in science and industry which have occurred in the 30 years which have passed. We can also make reasonable predictions about the future by considering the kind of life we have today.

We can begin by being reasonably certain that most homes will be centrally heated in 2001. Thirty years ago most people used to heat their homes by having a coal fire burning in a grate in each room. Fewer people used gas or electric fires in much the same way, which was more expensive than just using coal.

Today more and more new houses and flats are being built which have central-heating. There are many gas and electric fires still being used, but these for the most part are of a modern kind which warm the air in the room, rather than just giving off a friendly glow which in very cold weather makes us too warm in the front and leaves us too cold in the back! And the coal fires still being used burn the new smokeless fuels which are also designed to warm the air.

It now seems unlikely that future homes will use central-heating which relies upon coal or gas, or even mains-electricity. We are already finding that supplies of coal, gas and oil are rapidly diminishing. It is likely that we will become more and more dependent upon atomic energy.

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Aberdeen’s turbulent history is carved in Scottish granite

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Scotland on Monday, 9 December 2013

This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 482 published on 10 April 1971.

Aberdeen Cathedral, picture, image, illustration
The Cathedral Church of St Machar, Aberdeen

The Earl of Moray smiled triumphantly at his half-sister, the lovely 20 year old Mary Queen of Scots.

“Come to the window, ma’am,” he cried tauntingly. “Your friend Sir John Gordon, having lost a battle, is now about to lose his head.”

But the tall, slim, beautiful queen who had been given the anguish of ordering the execution of a former friend, could not bear to watch it. Turning her proud face imploringly towards the earl, she pleaded, “Spare me this torment.”

The dust had barely settled on the battlefield at Corrichie, 15 miles away from the granite house in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the Queen was staying in October, 1562.

Mary was the Roman Catholic queen of a Protestant Scotland. In the courtyard below her room, awaiting the attentions of the executioner, was Sir John Gordon, whose father, the Earl of Huntly, a Catholic, had offered to fight the Protestants in order to make Mary the Catholic queen of Catholic subjects.

She had turned down the Earl of Huntly’s offer because she did not want further wars. But the Earl’s son, Sir John, a gay, dashing young man, had won her friendship.

The Earl of Huntly, with his clan of Gordon fighters, refused to make peace with Protestantism. The battle of Corrichie was the result of antagonism between him and the Earl of Moray, the queen’s half brother, who led her army of 2,000 men.

Huntly, taken prisoner at the battle, died from a heart attack; his son, Sir John Gordon, was condemned to death.

That event, then so tragic and terrible, is now a shadow from the past in the chequered history of Aberdeen. The site of the house from which Mary was forced to watch the death of the young man who had fought for his ideals, exists unrecorded somewhere among the sturdy buildings in this granite city.

For granite is the stone of which this town is constructed, and granite is the stone in which its history is written.

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The Shrine of Edward II brought countless pilgrims to Gloucester Cathedral

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Thursday, 5 December 2013

This edited article about Gloucester Cathedral first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 479 published on 20 March 1971.

Gloucester Cathedral, picture, image, illustration
Gloucester Cathedral by William Warren

The history behind the magnificence of Gloucester Cathedral goes back a very long way. In A.D. 42 the Roman 2nd Legion established a camp where the city of Gloucester now straddles the River Severn. Since then, a succession of invaders have seen the wisdom of this site and contributed to its development.

In 681, King Ethelred gave a local chieftain permission to found a monastery there. This led the way to make Gloucester a royal city. Edward the Confessor held a Witan – the Supreme Council of the Anglo-Saxons – in the old monastery, and Ethelfleda, King Alfred’s daughter, or, as she was known, the “Lady of the Mercians,” requested that she be buried in the city. Other Saxon kings and queens visited the church which, by 1066, had deteriorated to a point of insignificance.

Basically, William the Conqueror selected Gloucester for an abbey church because the town had an excellent ford across the Severn. It also had traditional connections with the former royalty. In 1072, Serlo was duly appointed as first abbot of a new foundation. He set about tearing down the Saxon buildings and erecting a glorious new one. Many parts of this Norman church are still in existence and one must admire the men who built the great cylindrical piers which flank the nave. And the cloisters of Gloucester, which took Gloucester’s masons 30 years to create, are bound to impress the visitor with the delicacy of their fan-vaulting.

Typical of the rival claims to the throne which makes British history so interesting is the affair of Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror. In those far-off days succession did not come to the eldest as a born right. The dying monarch appointed the next ruler and William chose William Rufus as King of England. Unfortunately, the barons preferred Robert who was much weaker and in 1088, Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Belleme led a rising to place Duke Robert on the throne. The rebellion was a failure, thanks to the English who believed William Rufus’s word that he would provide “better laws than had ever been in this land.”

When the First Crusade set out for the Holy Land, Duke Robert led an expedition of Normans. To obtain the money to support his troops, he pledged his duchy to brother William Rufus. Again, Fate was unkind to Robert. William Rufus died and another brother, Henry I, seized the throne without delay. Robert, furious at being denied England for a second time, made war but was defeated and taken prisoner at Tinchebrai.

From then, 1106, until Robert’s death in 1134, the Conqueror’s eldest son remained a prisoner at Cardiff Castle. He was buried in Gloucester Abbey. An interesting wooden effigy dating from the 13th century covers his grave before the High Altar.

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Worcester Cathedral houses the tomb of young Arthur, Prince of Wales

Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion on Thursday, 5 December 2013

This edited article about Worcester Cathedral first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 478 published on 13 March 1971.

Worcester Cathedral, picture, image, illustration
Worcester Cathedral by Alfred Robert Quinton

When Henry VII arranged the marriage of his eldest son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon, England rejoiced. When Arthur died at Ludlow Castle five months later, a shadow covered not only England but Europe, and the world.

It is impossible to calculate the effects of this momentous event. At the time of Arthur’s death his brother – the future King Henry VIII – was destined to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Suddenly, England’s fortunes were thrown into the lap of fate.

Had Arthur lived he would have been king and there would have been no divorce of Catherine, no quarrel with the Pope, no need for those persecutions which followed in the wake of Henry VIII’s coronation and “Bloody” Mary’s efforts to restore a Catholic domination upon a now-Protestant England.

Any visitor to beautiful Worcester Cathedral can see for himself, in this Severnside church with finely proportioned tower rising above clustered red roofs and green trees, the tomb of young Arthur, which is a constant reminder of the changes 1502 forced upon us.

Long before this, Worcester had gained notable distinction. Ever since the Romans left Britain, a church had stood on the ancient fortress foundations overlooking the Severn. Being a major waterway, the river provided marauding Danes with a quick route into England’s heart. Consequently the church buildings were continually being sacked by a succession of pirates.

In 1062, Wulstan became Bishop of Worcester and gazed upon what was left of Saint Oswald’s monastery there. He felt sad, yet elated. His friend – Edward the Confessor – had entrusted him with a gigantic task and this son of Saxon parents had never backed away from any religious duty. Working day and night, Wulstan set about repairing the old church, taking time off to walk around his sprawling diocese to meet the peasants he loved so much.

Then, in 1066, William of Normandy conquered England and sent word to Wulstan to report to Westminster. It was a foregone conclusion what William wanted. The Normans did not like Saxons holding high office, much preferring French-speaking clergymen to control the subjected masses.

Wulstan, undismayed, walked all the way to London and paid homage at the tomb of his friend, Edward. Placing his ring and staff on the Confessor’s tomb he said: “I received these from you and to you I return them.”

When William heard of this he ordered that the staff be removed – but no-one could raise it. No-one except Wulstan. At this, William decided he had been given a sign that Wulstan must remain Bishop of Worcester.

So began the long history of a beautiful cathedral.

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Norwich is a fine old city with an historic rebellious streak

Posted in British Cities, Historical articles, History, Religion on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Norwich first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Kett leading Norfolk peasants, picture, image, illustration
The twenty-seven day King of Norwich, Robert Kett, leading a peasants' revolt by C L Doughty

The young man was in the dumps as he strolled across Mousehold Heath above Norwich. He was fed up with his job in the lawyer’s office and spent more time studying languages than the law books which he should have been reading. He was rudely shaken out of his thoughts by a young gypsy who accosted him and claimed to recognise him from a meeting when they had been boys. It was only when the gypsy described the earlier meeting that the young clerk recalled the events.

As if reading the young man’s thoughts the gypsy declared, “Life is sweet, brother.”

“Do you think so?” replied the disgruntled clerk.

“Think so! There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”

Those words, in his fictional autobiography, Lavengro, were to become among the most famous that George Borrow wrote. They expressed his own feelings when later he left his job with the lawyer and, after a brief spell in London, set off on a journey that took him through Europe and which ended in Russia where he supervised the translation of the Bible into Manchu. He went on to travel through Spain selling bibles and then went on that walk through Wales which formed the basis for his book, Wild Wales, one of the books that blew through the stuffy Victorian rooms and tempted people to try out their own legs and go walking in the country.

The Heath and the old city of Norwich had known many rebels.

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