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Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Inventions on Tuesday, 21 May 2013
This edited article about the Davy Safety lamp originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 261 published on 14 January 1967.
With a cry of terror the miner saw a light coming down the tunnel to the pit face.
“Get back,” he yelled, “or we’ll all be dead!”
But the light came steadily on. The miner pressed himself against the rock wall, tensing himself for the explosion which he expected at any second.
“For God’s sake, go back,” he implored. “This place is full of fire damp . . .” His voice trailed off.
No wonder the man was filled with fear. At the beginning of the last century scores of miners died annually from fire damp explosions. Fire damp is a dangerous mixture of methane gas and air which will explode on contact with the smallest flame. Because of this danger, miners worked in almost total darkness, their only illumination coming from a device they called a steel mill. This was simply a steel disc which revolved in contact with a piece of flint and gave off a faint glow.
To strike a match or light a candle underground was to commit suicide, yet here was someone walking in the pit with a lamp! He went right up to the cowering miner, raised the light high and said: “You have no need to fear. Here is a new lamp which will burn safely underground.”
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Posted in Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Revolution on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about John Kay originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.
A weaver sits at a loom showing the workings of the flying shuttle
Man has been weaving cloth for thousands of years, but until the flying shuttle was invented by John Kay, born on July 16, 1704, the weaver’s craft had hardly changed since the days of Ancient Egypt.
Cloth is woven by passing horizontal threads, called the weft, through alternate vertical threads called the warp. The weft threads were held in a device called a shuttle, which was sent forward through the warp threads by one hand, and returned by the other.
John Kay was the son of a weaver and he had often watched his father swinging the shuttle backwards and forwards by hand. It occurred to him that there must be some easier way of moving the shuttle.
He made experiments and in 1733 took out a patent for a new type of loom, needing only one hand to pass the shuttle backwards and forwards through the warp. He also invented an automatic mechanism which closed up the threads of the weft much more tightly.
Weaving firms quickly realised that Kay’s Flying Shuttle would greatly speed up production, but had no intention of paying for the idea. In court Kay’s claims were upheld, but the legal costs were so heavy that he lost most of his money.
Kay managed to open a factory of his own, but the weavers, fearing the new looms would put many of them out of work, wrecked his workshop.
Kay went to France for a time. He invented a power loom but was too poor to develop it. He returned to England to find the weavers making huge profits out of his invention. He died in poverty in 1764.
Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Literature, News, War on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about the Victorian popular press originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.
Archibald Forbes was the peerless war reporter for the Daily News during the Franco-Prussian War
The development of the daily newspaper was one of the great achievements of the Victorian Age, and it was not possible until 1840. In that year publication of the proceedings in the Houses of Parliament was for the first time officially allowed.
The Morning Chronicle is said to have been the first paper to employ a regular staff of Parliamentary reporters working in relays in the gallery of the House of Commons. It was the Morning Herald which first established correspondents in the chief European capitals, as well as in large cities in the British Isles.
Circulation in those early days was extremely small, for a very large number of people could not read. At the beginning of the Queen’s reign the total sale of the six leading London daily papers was only about 75,000, and of these The Times accounted for 50,000.
During the earlier part of the Victorian Age journalism in Great Britain was dominated by The Times under the proprietorship of various members of the Walter family, and especially under the editorship of John Delane, who succeeded to the position at the age of twenty-three, and remained from 1841 to 1879. Perhaps it gained its greatest influence during the Crimean War when Delane organized war correspondents on a scale never before attempted, and ruthlessly exposed the faults in the conduct of the campaign and the deficiencies in the equipment of the troops. It was mainly through William Howard Russell’s articles that Florence Nightingale was stimulated to undertake her nursing mission. The Times raised a large sum of money to assist her.
In 1855 the stamp duty on newspapers was repealed, and six years later the duty on paper went as well. This paved the way for new and low-priced newspapers, as this was just the time when the number of people who could read was rapidly increasing.
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Posted in Architecture, Art, Arts and Crafts, Famous landmarks, Famous news stories, Flags, Historical articles, History, Industry, Leisure, London, Royalty, Science on Thursday, 21 March 2013
This edited article about the Great Exhibition of 1851 originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 207 published on 1 January 1966.
The Palace of Glass for the Great Industrial Exhibition, 1851
A New Britain appeared before the world at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. The idea of the exhibition seems to have originated with the Prince Consort, and in July, 1849, he invited some members of the Society of Arts to Buckingham Palace to hear their views. What he had in mind was to show the world what Britain was doing in the way of manufactures. His enthusiasm proved catching, and he easily converted the others to his views.
But the Prince had also to win the manufacturers round to his way of thinking. They were frightened that trade secrets would be given away, but he made an appeal to them on the ground that the profit of the individual must be sacrificed for the good of the world, and to their credit many of them agreed to support him. The Prince was careful to keep his own name out of the project as much as possible, and he was annoyed when, as he said, it looked as if he were “to be advertised, and used as a means of drawing a full house.”
At first the public did not take the Exhibition very seriously, but the Prince was persistent, and in the winter of 1849-50 after five thousand guarantors had been somewhat reluctantly enlisted, a Royal Commission was set up. Sixteen acres of land on the southern side of Hyde Park were secured, and a design for a monster palace of glass was accepted from Joseph Paxton, who had built the conservatories at Chatsworth for the Duke of Devonshire. It was this glass palace which excited the most ridicule, and it was freely prophesied that it would prove impossible to erect.
Other criticisms were made, too. It was feared that the Exhibition would attract enormous crowds of very undesirable people, who would trample all over the flower-beds in Hyde Park, and as likely as not finish up by pillaging the houses in Belgravia and Kensington. This would be bad enough, but there would be sure to be hordes of very dubious foreigners, and at that time foreigners were regarded with grave suspicion. Colonel Sibthorpe, M.P., whom we have already seen, was a violent opponent of the railways, even went so far as to get up in the House of Commons and pray that “hail or lightning might descend from Heaven” to defeat Prince Albert’s plans. The American press foretold general massacre and insurrection.
One critic wrote to The Times to point out that when the guns in Hyde Park fired a Royal Salute the glass of the building would crash to the ground.
In spite of all opposition and sneers the glittering Palace steadily rose above the green spaces of Hyde Park, and Thackeray in his May Day Ode wrote:
A blazing arch of lucid glass
Leaps like a fountain from the grass
To meet the sun.
Two thousand workmen were employed on the building which was over six hundred yards long, containing nearly a million square feet of glass and providing over eight miles of table space for the exhibits.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Politics, Railways, Royalty on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about the Victorian age originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 204 published on 11 December 1965.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arriving at Paddington Station by Ron Embleton
Victorianism is rather a dreary word these days, and to call anybody or anything “Victorian” is almost a term of abuse, suggesting that they or it are thoroughly out-of-date.
Yet there is another side to the picture, for the Victorian period, whether we like it or not, is part of Britain’s history, and it must be studied as such. The more we study it the more we realize that it was an age of great beginnings. Most of the things in life today that we take for granted had their origin at that time.
The period takes its name from Queen Victoria who was on the throne from 1837 to 1901, and who had been born in 1819. Perhaps the easiest way to realize the changes which took place in her lifetime is to make some comparisons between the state of affairs in her youth and when she died.
Take communications first of all. In 1837, if the Queen had wished to go to Balmoral she could not possibly have reached Aberdeen by coach in less than two days: when she died she could have covered the 540 miles in twelve hours. The reason for the contrast is, of course, that in the interval the railway had made its appearance. In fact the whole Victorian period was dominated by the railways, though by the time that the old Queen died the motor car had begun to make its presence felt.
It was the same at sea. When the Queen was born men still crossed it in sailing ships, and even by 1840 the steamers belonging to England numbered a mere 600 as compared with nearly 9,000 at the time of her death, when the Atlantic had become a mere pond.
Until 1837 there was no telegraph, let alone telephones or wireless, and it took the best part of twelve months to get an answer to a letter sent from London to China or Japan: in that year the electric telegraph was patented. By 1846 it was possible to send a telegram inside the country at the rate of twenty words for a shilling.
The Victorian Age saw no greater change than in leisure and recreation. When it began these were the privileges of the few, but by the end of the nineteenth century they had been widely extended to other classes of the community. This was made possible first by the railway and then by the bicycle. A great stimulus was also given to holiday-making in 1871 by the Act of Parliament which established Bank Holidays. Even the Christmas holiday as we know it today was largely the creation of the Prince Consort and Charles Dickens.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Inventions, Trade, Transport on Thursday, 7 March 2013
This edited article about British trade and export originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 176 published on 24 May 1965.
The Industrial Revolution saw inventions in transport, factory machines and farming machinery increasing Britain’s output during the nineteenth century, by Ronald Lampitt
A little girl of eight was one of scores of children who gave evidence before the various commissions on employment that sat in the early nineteenth century. The girl, who worked half a mile underground in a coal mine where she opened and shut ventilation doors, told a commission: “I go to work at four and sometimes half past three in the morning and come up at five and half past. I have to work the trap without a light and I’m scared.”
More than thirteen hours in total darkness down a pit, six days a week, at the age of eight! And she was one of many thousands of boys and girls from five to fourteen years of age who worked – sometimes up to fifteen, or even nineteen hours a day – in the mines of northern England and Wales, or in the cotton mills of Lancashire.
What has this child slavery to do with exports? The answer is that these appalling sacrifices, which were shared by their parents during the industrial Revolution, gave Britain supremacy, just as much as the new machines such as James Watt’s steam engine, Richard Arkwright’s spinning frame, James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny, and John Kay’s flying shuttle.
We must always remember that it was not merely machines that made Britain great, but the toil and sweat of those countless and nameless folk who paved the way for us to the rewards of prosperity they never knew themselves.
Prosperity for a country like Britain, with its fast-growing population, could only come from exports. We were in a fortunate position. The textile industry which had provided our major exports for centuries was from the eighteenth century becoming mechanized. Production soared, prices dropped, sales boomed. We also had coal and iron in plenty, the two key raw materials for an industrial society.
In 1780, British pits produced 5 million tons of coal. This figure was doubled in twenty years and had risen by twenty times during the following sixty years. Iron output in 1815 was 250,000 tons. By 1848 it was more than 2 million tons. Not only did we export vast quantities of coal and iron, but these raw materials provided the means to make machines for our new factories and the steam power to run them.
Hand in hand with these changes came developments in transport. By 1848 we already had 4,400 miles of railway, speeding our raw materials to the factories and the finished products to our ports. From there, the growing merchant navy protected by our fleets of warships, sailed safely to the markets of the world – especially to the colonies which were hungry for our products and ready to pay lavishly in the food and raw materials we needed.
Let us see what industrial and commercial life was like in the boom period of the second half of the nineteenth century, when the worst evils of the Industrial Revolution had been mitigated.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Trade on Tuesday, 5 March 2013
This edited article about the early British export trade originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 174 published on 10 May 1965.
Godric wandered with small wares round the villages and farms of his neighbourhood; he grew very rich and then gave everything away to the poor, ending his days as a hermit in Durham, by Don Lawrence
When Henry the Second, the first of the Plantagenet kings, came to the throne in the year 1154, Britain was part of the largest and most powerful economic unit in Europe.
Apart from Britain, Henry ruled France from the Channel to the Loire. He married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose lands stretched from the Loire to the Pyrenees, and soon he “overawed” Scotland, Ireland and Wales as well. This European empire facilitated tremendous growth of trade, and many merchants followed in the golden footsteps of St. Godric.
The riches of the time are shown by the style in which Thomas a Becket (later Archbishop of Canterbury), when he was Henry’s Chancellor, journeyed across France. He took with him fourteen complete changes of clothes, two hundred servants, eight chariots each drawn by five horses, containing tapestries, furniture, gold and silver, a pantry and a complete mobile kitchen.
Each chariot was guarded by a large dog and on the back of each dog rode a trained monkey. The many packhorses were each ridden by a groom kneeling on the horse’s rump. There were knights and their squires and travelling minstrels.
One of the chariots, which were really more like large carts, contained iron-bound casks of English beer, which greatly impressed the French as “surpassing wine in flavour.” This led to our first beer exports to the French nobles who were only too anxious to be drinking the same beverage as their ruler’s Chancellor.
The trading successes of the time made for the growth of town guilds, or groups of merchants and craftsmen joined in trade associations. And it was these very guilds that stopped the expansion of our trade by imposing barriers on imports.
Quite apart from shipping tolls, any foreign merchant who brought his goods to market in any sizeable English town had to pay a series of taxes whether he sold the goods or not. For instance, if he laid them out on the ground he was charged “terrage.” If he put them on a stall already there he was charged “stallage.” If he put up his own stall he had to pay “picage” in order to make the necessary holes in the ground.
He paid “thurghtolle” on his goods for carrying them through the town to the market and “pontage” for use of a bridge. He even had to pay “tronage” if it was necessary to weigh his goods for a customer.
These tolls were later spread ever wider, so that a foreigner had to pay a special tax on the food he needed while in England, right down to bread, cabbages and apples.
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Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Industry, Trade on Saturday, 2 March 2013
This edited article about historic British exports originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 172 published on 1 May 1965.
A Phoenician ship such as came to early Britain
The skilled craftsmen grunted their disapproval. Accustomed to spending anything up to a month to finish one flint tool, such as a saw with no less than twenty-seven teeth to the inch, they looked upon the newcomers as mere crude labourers. For these newcomers, instead of serving a long period of training, had come to the caves merely to chip the rough flints to approximate shapes. They made no cutting edges, no grooves for tying the flints to sticks.
Yet these unskilled labourers at Grime’s Caves near Brandon in Suffolk were probably the first export workers in British history.
The high quality of British flint tools and weapons had presumably been noted by travelling tribes from other countries, travellers who could have walked from Europe across the spit of marshy land that in about 3000 B.C. still, it is believed, joined Britain to the Continent.
They and those who followed them seem to have thought that British flint was better than any other for making daggers, spear heads and axes. So, as there were not enough of the finished products, they were content with rough flints to take away with them for finishing by craftsmen in their homelands.
Whatever the details of any transactions carried on in those far-off days, we have evidence that over the following centuries rough-cut flints from Brandon, and also from Cissbury, near Worthing, were carried along the ancient trade routes that led to the landing places of Christchurch in Hampshire and around the Wash.
But it was not the caves of Suffolk or Sussex, nor the stone-tool factory of Penmaenmawr in Wales that began the first great export boom. It was gold. The precious metal that had long been known and treasured in the most ancient civilizations was discovered in Ireland.
How, or by whom, is unknown. But it seems likely that some of the prospectors who by 2300 B.C. were already making regular voyages from Crete in search of amber at Jutland, may have been driven by storms on to the coast of Ireland. Possibly, with their boats wrecked and little hope of a quick return to the Mediterranean, they settled down – and got to work looking for precious metals. They found, in fact, the Eldorado of the Ancient World.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Labour Party, London on Tuesday, 26 February 2013
This edited article about the General Strike originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 161 published on 13 February 1965.
In London crowds watched convoys of army trucks loaded with food and guarded by armoured cars, go past.
At pit heads all over Britain on the last day of April, 1926, miners coming off work found the men of the new shift clustered around notices pasted on the mine building walls.
Those who stopped and read them discovered to their dismay that the government was no longer prepared to subsidize the mines. The mine owners, said the notices, therefore regretted that the miners would have to take a cut in wages.
Soon, above the row of the noisy discussion and argument, one word was heard again and again – strike! The next day, May 1, the pits were silent and empty.
Within hours, other British unions declared that unless the Trades Union Congress and the government could find a solution to the coal miners’ problem by midnight of May 3-4 they would strike in sympathy.
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative Government decided to take several precautionary measures just in case no solution was found. The Army was called in to transport food and blankets. And the public transport was commandeered.
These severe measures were very soon proved to be justified, for the T.U.C. and the government failed to settle their differences. And so, at midnight on May 3-4, all forms of communication in Britain suddenly came to a halt. Trains, buses and trams stopped where they were. Dock workers loading a ship left their loading basket swinging in space.
In London crowds of men assembled in the streets and watched convoys of army trucks loaded with food and guarded by armoured cars, go past. Hyde Park was used as a distribution centre for milk and bread.
In the mining areas, miners’ families settled down for a long stretch of poverty. Housewives carefully guarded the family savings so that the money would last longer.
Normal newspapers did not appear and the Government published a daily British Gazette. Broadcasting, three years old, first showed how useful it could be in an emergency.
By May 8 amateur train drivers were making slow cross-country journeys. Volunteers manned the London bus and underground services. Each driver had a policeman next to him, to prevent him being attacked by angry strikers.
Nine days after the General Strike began the T.U.C. expected that the government would compromise with the miners, so they stopped the strike. The date then was May 12. But when the government proposed the compromise to the mining unions they refused to accept it.
For another terrible six months the miners held on; their families slowly starving and their clothes in tatters. Winter closed in, and the weather turned cold. But no smoke came from the chimneys of the mining towns. They could not afford the coal they used to mine – and even if they could there was nobody mining it.
Cold and hunger finally forced the miners to give in. Frustrated, angry and embittered, they shuffled back to work for the same reduced wage that had been proposed six months earlier.
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Historical articles, History, Industry, Music on Thursday, 7 February 2013
This edited article about Carmarthenshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 120 published on 2 May 1964.
The siege of Carmarthen Castle in 1145, when a large force of Normans, English and Flemings attempted to retake the castle from Rhys, son of Grufydd, by John Harris Valda
The moon came suddenly from behind a cloud to light a deserted stretch of winding road. A poacher, putting his ferret to a rabbit hole, shivered slightly in the night air, and kept a wary eye on the toll-gate keeper’s house a field away. The lights were out, Evans the Gate should be asleep, but you could never be too careful. . . .
Then, in the distance, came the click of a pebble on the road – and the chinking sound of a horse with a loose shoe. The poacher vanished into the shadows, and watched.
Up the road to the toll-gate came a strange procession. At its head a huge carthorse bore a grotesque figure in a bonnet, bundled with petticoats, and behind came a gang of men, dressed in scraps of women’s clothing, carrying axes, billhooks and bales of straw.
The poacher’s mouth dropped open in surprise as the “woman” on the carthorse came to the toll-gate, and demanded in a deep voice, “What is this that bars my way?”
“It is a gate across the public road, Mother Rebecca!” came the reply.
“We cannot have such barriers across the roads of Carmarthenshire! Break it down, my daughters!”
As the axes cut into the wooden gate, the poacher saw the figure of the toll-gate keeper appear. With a coat flung hastily over his nightshirt, he stood helpless as “Rebecca” and her “daughters” piled straw around his cottage – and set it alight.
Then the mob, shouting and jeering, passed by on the road, and the sound of their laughter died in the distance. The poacher left his ferret and his nets, and slipped quietly away in the other direction.
Such was a common scene on the Carmarthenshire roads in 1843. All over southern Wales the country people rose in rebellion against the system of paying tolls in order to use what they considered to be public rights of way.
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