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Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Geography, Geology, Historical articles, History, London on Friday, 17 May 2013
The seat of G B Greenough, Regent's Park, London.
Grove House dates from 1824-28 and was designed by Decimus Burton, who was soon to begin work on laying out the Zoological Gardens. This perfect villa was built for G B Greenough, President of the Geological Society and of the Royal Geographical Society. A cultivated bachelor, he held numerous charity parties and balls, and at other times specially invited guests were able to see his important fossil collection. The house was altered in 1877 and during the early twentieth century, but the substance of it and the splendid simplicity of Burton’s original conception have survived. Each elevation had views of the park and was different; in this picture we can see the grandest, the south front, with its roof-height portico of four Ionic double columns.
Many more pictures of Regent’s Park can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Exploration, Famous news stories, Geography, Historical articles, History on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about Roald Amundsen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
For centuries men had been aware of the existence of a great land-mass in the extreme south. Captain Cook was the first to sail beyond the Antarctic circle, but no one ventured to explore the ice-bound continent.
The quest for the South Pole did not begin in earnest until the first years of this century. Scott and Shackleton are the best remembered of those who set records in degrees of latitude south that they reached. In 1910, Scott was organising an attempt on the South Pole when he found himself matched against an unexpected ‘competitor’, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
From early youth, Amundsen was fascinated by the Unknown. He was the first to negotiate the North-West Passage (1903-06). He planned an attempt on the North Pole in the ship Fram, lent by the Norwegian government, but he was forestalled by the successful expedition of the American explorer, Commander Peary. Amundsen secretly redirected his plans to the opposite end of the earth – the South Pole – and announced his intention after Scott’s expedition had set out.
Amundsen used dogs to pull his sledges; Scott and his party dragged their own on the final stage of their trek. This was the difference which swung the balance. Amundsen’s expedition was blessed with remarkably good weather, but merciless blizzards beat down on Scott’s party.
Amundsen and his men reached the South Pole on 16th December, 1911 – a month before Scott.
Posted in Customs, Geography, Historical articles, History, Politics on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about Andorra originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Traditional dancing during a festival in Andorra
Andorra is a tiny principality in the Pyrenees. Spain and France are its neighbours. It is a little group of valleys with about 6,000 inhabitants, surrounded by high mountains.
The people of Andorra are wedded to the land. Tobacco is the main crop, and there is plentiful pasturage for sheep and cattle during the summer months. Lack of winter fodder is a serious problem, and so are the capricious weather conditions. At the highest levels, drought is a serious hazard; in the lower regions, excessive rainfall leaves the land derelict of cultivation.
Andorra has a growing tourist trade, and smuggling thrives. Along the main street of Andorra la Vieja, the capital, shops are full of goods from all over the world at tax-reduced prices.
Andorra is believed to have gained its independence from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, in the ninth century. He freed it from the clutches of Saracen aggressors. It has kept its status as a principality and in many ways is still the feudal state it was 700 years ago. But it is ruled in a very unusual way by the joint authority of the French state and the Bishop of Urgel in Spain.
Two powerful lords, the Count of Foix, in France, and the Bishop of Urgel, agreed in 1278 to defend the Andorra valleys in return for feudal service. The rights of the Count of Foix passed by marriage and inheritance to King Henry IV of France, so the joint overlordship of Andorra moved to Paris. It stayed with whatever chief of state France has had since – King, Emperor or President.
Annual dues are still received from the principality. France receives 960 francs, and the bishop 460 pesetas. Every two years the current bishop of Urgel receives his feudal dues – money, cheeses, hams and game.
Andorra is governed by a Council General of 24 men chosen by the heads of the families in the six parishes of Andorra. Justice is executed by two civil judges and by two magistrates, chosen by France and the Bishop. The two magistrates are resident in the capital where the Council General also meets, in its tiny, unimposing Parliament House. Both Spanish and French currency are in general use.
The medieval arrangement to rule Andorra in this way really came about because neither lord could enforce his supremacy over the other. The division of the lordship between two such ‘princes’ has made it possible for Andorra to survive.
Posted in Engineering, Geography, Historical articles, History on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Suez Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.
Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Suez Canal
For thousands of years men turned over in their minds the possibility of joining the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea by a canal. In ancient times a small waterway was dug and the idea was never forgotten.
During the 19th century, France took the lead in plans for the construction of the present Suez Canal. The driving force behind the scheme was Ferdinand de Lesseps, a man whose determination made headway against overwhelming odds.
The Khedive of Egypt consented to the proposed Canal and to the formation of a company to finance it. But shares in the company were slow to sell, people believing that the enterprise would fail and that they would lose their money. England, in particular, was not interested in investing in the project, and it was only saved by the Khedive agreeing to buy the remaining shares himself.
Work began in April, 1859, and the 100-mile Canal was opened by the Empress of France on 16th November, 1869. Only then did the world realise the significance of what had been achieved.
The Prime Minister of England, Benjamin Disraeli, realised the opportunity England had missed.
In November, 1875, Disraeli heard that the Khedive’s shares were to be sold and, against the wishes of his most important ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, he decided that Britain should buy them and have her interests represented in the administration of the Canal.
The Suez Canal has continued to figure prominently in world history. In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt announced that the Canal was to be nationalised. Fearing that this vital link between Europe and the Far East might be severed or made unworkable by the Egyptians, the British and French governments decided to take military action and occupy the Canal zone, and this situation was further complicated by an Israeli attack on Egypt. After a period of international tension, the United Nations stepped in and Britain and France withdrew.
Posted in Animals, Disasters, Geography, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about St Bernard dogs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
Over 8,000 feet high, the Great St. Bernard Pass winds 50 miles, from Valais in Switzerland to Piedmont in Italy. On the wild, bleak summit of the Pass stands the sturdy, ancient monastery hospice of St. Bernard, founded in the 10th century by St. Bernard of Menthon. He cleared the Pass of robbers and gathered together a group of laymen to watch over it. In 1150 the community became a religious one.
The Rule of the St. Bernard Hospice requires that help be given to wayfarers. In medieval times, one ox was grilled daily for up to 100 travellers, free of charge. It is only in recent years, with the vast increase of traffic over the Pass that a modest payment has been asked for hospitality.
Winter at the summit can be wicked; with deep snow, blizzards, fog and avalanches. The Pass is blocked with snow and most people use the tunnel to cross between Switzerland and Italy, but accidents still happen. Throughout the year the hospice carries on the help-giving tradition started by St. Bernard. In trying to deal with incidents of distress, all the latest ski equipment is used, as well as the famous St. Bernard dogs.
The hospice normally has under training about half a dozen of these huge, reddish-brown and white, benign and sensitive creatures.
When trained, they are sent out to search for travellers, lost and overcome by the cold. Blankets are strapped to them and a small parcel of stimulants hung round their necks. A typical piece of rescue work occurred not long ago, when a small plane ran into the mountains. One of the dogs, called Ella, swiftly found the pilot, although he had been killed in the crash.
It is thought that St. Bernards originated in Tibet, went from there to Greece and from Greece to Rome, and that the Roman soldiers brought them to Switzerland’s Rh√¥ne valley about 50 years before the birth of Christ. A nobleman gave two of them to the hospice centuries ago and they have been kept and trained there ever since. At one time, when the breed was practically extinct, it was restored by cross-breeding with the native Pyrenean sheepdog and the Great Dane. But the St. Bernard’s at the hospice are working dogs and are slightly smaller (with uneven, rough coats), than the heavyweight, ponderous specimens seen in Great Britain.
In the days before tunnels, cars and skis, these dogs with their keen sense of smell were of the greatest importance for tracing people in the deep snow. Gradually they assumed the name of the Pass and the hospice with which their work was associated. Despite all the modern equipment available for rescue work today, St. Bernard dogs are still indispensable; their recorded rescues in the Alps total 2,000 lives.
Posted in Engineering, Geography, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Mont Cenis Tunnel, from the Italian side
On 12th September, 1871, the Mont Cenis tunnel was opened and for the first time a train could pass under the Alps between France and Italy.
Designed and built by French engineers, the Mont Cenis tunnel is 7 3/4 miles long, 26 feet wide and 19 feet high. It climbs upwards through the Alps and at its highest point reaches an altitude of 4,245 feet. Although a comparatively small tunnel by modern standards, it was, in its day, a tremendous engineering achievement.
Courage, muscles, candles and gunpowder were all the equipment the builders had when they started to bore their way through the Alps in 1857. Most of the rock had to be shattered by charges of gunpowder wedged in holes slowly and laboriously cut with hammers and chisels.
All the work had to be done by the light of candles, of which a ton were burned every week. With no mechanical haulage, every scrap of stone cut had to be hauled away by horses hitched to trucks.
The tunnel was bored from both ends and the surveyors did their work so well that when eventually the tunnellers from the two ends met, there was an error in alignment of only twelve inches.
For the first four years, the rate of tunnelling was only about seven feet a day. This was far too slow to satisfy Germain Sommeillier, the engineer in charge. After many experiments to speed up the work, he invented the pneumatic drill. This made the work of boring shot holes so much easier and quicker that the tunnelling speed was increased by 21 feet a day.
Posted in Geography, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 2 May 2013
This edited article about Mont Blanc originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 239 published on 13 August 1966.
Die Calotte des Mont Blanc
On the evening of August 8, 1786, Dr. Michel Paccard and his friend, Jacques Balmat, strode out of Chamonix, the little village at the foot of Mont Blanc to try and climb to the summit (15,782 ft.) of this highest peak in the French Alps.
Very little was known about Mont Blanc, or the Accursed Mountain, as the local people called it. Paccard and Balmat had nothing except a few scraps of information gathered from local mountaineers who had ventured only a few hundred feet up the mountain, which was considered unclimbable.
By nightfall the two men had reached a ridge called the Montagne de la Cote. There they wrapped themselves in rugs and rested until three o’clock the following morning. At dawn they started off towards the Grand Plateau, a great snow basin from which the final slopes of the mountain rise. The plateau was swept by strong winds, which at times forced the climbers to their knees.
They climbed steadily upwards: the cold grew more bitter with every step and the thin air made breathing difficult. At times their progress was less than half a mile an hour.
On August 9, at eight o’clock in the evening, they at last reached the summit. For the first time, men had climbed to the top of the Alps. As Doctor Paccard said soon after they returned to Chamonix: “We have been where no living being has ever been before, not even the eagle and the chamois.”
The conquest of Mont Blanc wrote the first chapter in the history of mountain exploration. It was a great achievement 150 years ago, when there were no scientific aids to mountaineering and not even a technique for climbing.
Posted in Adventure, Australia, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about Matthew Flinders originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
At No. 56 Stanhope Street, first round the corner from London’s Euston Station, is the house of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. It is not likely to be there much longer, for the demolition men aren’t far away, but while it still exists it is easily found, its blue plaque being one of the few bright spots of colour in a drab street.
Born in 1774 of a family whose menfolk had for several generations been surgeons, it was intended that young Matthew should also join the medical profession. However, Daniel Defoe and his book Robinson Crusoe intervened. The book fired young Matthew’s imagination, and he spent his spare time teaching himself geometry and the craft of navigation.
At sixteen he realized his ambition to go to sea and in 1790 he sailed for the South Seas in a vessel called Providence. The object of the voyage incidentally, was to try to transplant bread-fruit trees to the West Indies – a mission which was successfully accomplished.
His next voyage took him to Australia, where he and the ship’s doctor, a man named Bass, spent much time exploring and surveying the coasts near Port Jackson. One day he was sent out in a 25-ton sloop – his first command. He was away for three months and, when he returned, he was able to report that he had discovered and named Bass Strait.
The value of Flinders’s quite extensive work was rapidly realized when he returned to England, and as a result he sailed again for Terra Australis less than a year later. The date was July 18, 1801, and this time he was in charge of an official expedition.
This voyage continued for two years, by which time his ship was rotten beyond repair and his men sick with scurvy. But the charts he drew then are still used as a basis for modern charts of much of the Australian coast.
His journey was eventful. His first command – an old prize taken from the Spanish – was wrecked within a week of sailing. He survived and tried again in a small schooner. This vessel became so leaky that its pumps were eventually out, and the labour of keeping the ship afloat was, it is reported, “excessive.”
By reason of these difficulties, Flinders put in at Mauritius, only to be interned as a spy, for France, which “owned” the island, was not at war with England. He remained a prisoner for seven years before being finally released.
Flinders was one of the first to investigate the phenomenon of compass deviations caused by iron in a ship; he conducted his experiments while he was detained in Mauritius, and he later submitted a paper on the subject to the Royal Society.
He returned to England after his release, and for three years occupied himself with writing a full account of his official voyage. By this time he was a sick man, and he died shortly after completing his final report.
Posted in Adventure, Famous news stories, Geography, Historical articles on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about mountaineering originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
The Roof of the World where the Karakoram Range rises alongside the Himalayas
If ever triumph was snatched from near disaster, it was by the Italian team of four scientists and eleven mountaineers under Dr. Ardito Desio, Professor of Geology at Milan University, in their famous assault on K2 during 1954.
The expedition started early, but had faced setback after setback. All through April the men had been battling wearily through incessant snow, in below freezing temperatures. Often they floundered waist-deep through drifts, though the real climbing had not begun.
Mocking them from above, when visibility allowed, was the 28,250 ft. summit they meant to master – only 725 ft. lower than mighty Everest which the British had conquered a year before. K2 was its official name in the Indian Survey records, but its nickname – “The Killer” – was no flight of fancy. Five brave climbers of other nations had already perished on its treacherous heights.
Before the climb properly began, it was necessary to get over the Baltoro glacier, one of the longest in the world. Every mile was sheer agony, with peril lurking at almost every step, perhaps in the form of a gaping crevasse, or a sudden toppling pillar of ice. There were fierce torrents to be crossed, sometimes on inflated goatskin rafts, sometimes by treacherous, swaying bridges of twisted and plaited vines.
By May the last traces of greenery were left behind. The Hunza porters, staggering under their loads of equipment, food and other stores, resolved among themselves that the whole enterprise was mad. One night they deserted in a body and made tracks for home.
Thus real calamity smote the climbers while “The Killer” still mocked them from the clouds. Dr. Desio consulted a Pakistani transport officer, Major Sadiq, who volunteered to make the difficult journey back to Askole to try and recruit fresh porters. His mission successful, the expedition pressed on.
When, on the last day of May, a base camp was established at the foot of the Abruzzi Ridge, a grim, gaunt, forbidding mass, they were fifteen days behind their planned timetable.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in America, Geography, Historical articles, History, Politics on Tuesday, 9 April 2013
This edited article about Alaska originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 220 published on 2 April 1966.
Russian and United States representatives signing a momentous treaty in 1867, which sold Alaska to America for $7.2 million, a strategically priceless acquisition for the USA
One of the strangest events in American history happened on March 30, 1867, when the United States Government bought from Russia a huge expanse of territory which is today one of the States of the Union.
The territory was Alaska, in the far north of the American continent, and before 1867 it was a Russian colony.
In 1741, Captain Vitus Bering, a Danish-born officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, braved the famous strait that bears his name and landed on a stretch of rugged coast. He was greeted by some Eskimoes who told him the place was called Alakshak, which in their language meant “the great country”.
But Bering was more interested in the Eskimoes’ fur-clothing and the many fur-bearing animals he saw. Russia could never get enough fur to meet her enormous demand for clothing. Here, he thought, is a vast storehouse of fur. So the Russian flag was hoisted and Alakshak was claimed for the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.
The Russians also hoped that Alaska would be rich in gold and other metals, but they never found any. Except for its furs, Alaska seemed a poor and barren land, and no one wanted to settle there. The Russians were only too glad to rid themselves of the territory when Henry Seward, America’s Secretary of State, bought it from them on behalf of the U.S. Government.
Most Americans thought that their government had been swindled into paying £1,450,000 for 586,400 square miles of wilderness uncomfortably close to the North Pole. But Seward had made a bargain. Before the century was out, the territory proved to be a treasure chest yielding more than a hundred times its purchase price in gold, timber and fish.