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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Labour Party, London, Politics on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about the Match Girls’ Strike first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.
The Match Girls at Bryant and May went on strike, by Peter Jackson
Each evening, a few minutes after the whistle had blown, they could be seen streaming out of the Bryant and May factory off the Bow Road, a female army of pale ghosts dressed in drab and tattered clothing and wearing down at heel shoes. Stamped with the indelible mark of poverty, their eyes red-rimmed and heavy with permanent despair, they shuffled off nightly to their respective hovels in the slum wasteland of the East End. If no one gave them any more than a passing glance as they went by, it was because such sights were all too common in the streets of London.
The members of this particular pitiful army were known as the Match Girls, who were even more worse off than most. Working in the Bryant and May Match Factory, meant working long hours in primitive conditions, with no proper washrooms and toilets, More to the point it meant handling dangerous chemicals which turned many of them into physical wrecks. For this they were paid anything from 4/- (20p) to 13/- (65p) a week, from which fines were deducted for such trivial offences as answering back the bullying charge hands who had the power to fire any girl on the spot who seemed a potential trouble maker.
It was the year of 1888, and thanks mainly to the Trades Unions, recent legislation had put a stop to some of the worst abuses carried out in the factories. But the little that had been done had been confined to the skilled workers. The illiterate, unskilled workers remained as they had always been, underpaid, and exploited, and with seemingly no opportunity of having their wrongs redressed.
But for the Match Girls, at least, help was at hand in the formidable shape of one Mrs Annie Besant, a woman of forty, who had already made herself unpopular in many circles for her fight for women’s rights, which were practically non-existent at the time.
Among other things, Annie Besant was a member of the Fabian Society, a small group of people who had named their society after the Roman, Quintus Fabius Maximus, known as the Delayer, because he had harrassed Hannibal’s army for three years without once entering into a major encounter on the battlefield. The Fabians, who were all Socialists, hoped to use similar tactics to bring about a number of social and economic reforms. Using the slogan “Evolution not Revolution,” they hoped to break down the prejudices of their Establishment with reasoned argument. But reason, alas, does not always prevail, and already it was beginning to dawn on the Fabians that militancy was sometimes necessary. Mrs Annie Besant was perhaps rather different to the other members of the society inasmuch as that she had always been a militant. Aggressive, determined and totally devoted to the cause of women’s emancipation, she was the ideal person to fight for the cause of the Match Girls. Her efforts on their behalf were to have far wider ramifications than she could have ever realised.
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Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Law, Politics on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about the Tolpuddle Martyrs first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.
Even when the Tolpuddle Martyrs were pardoned, their neighbours regarded them as convicts and avoided them, by Ken Petts
The picture of death, with its grim, gaunt features, was six feet high and awesome, terrifying. It seemed to fill the cramped room of the cottage at Tolpuddle, Dorset, glowering down upon the two initiates who knelt cringing before it.
For John Lock and Edward Legg, the sight increased the fears already fostered by the atmosphere of secrecy, and the solemn, white-robed figures of George Loveless and his brother James.
“Remember your fate!” James warned them, pointing to the picture, and it was in trembling awareness of exactly that, that Legg and Lock then took an oath never to reveal to outsiders anything of the agricultural workers’ union they were about to join.
Scenes like this deliberately designed to appeal to primitive fears and stir deep-rooted superstition, were not uncommon in the forming of trade unions. Intelligent men like George Loveless, founder of the Tolpuddle union in December 1833, disliked such ritual, but in the circumstances there was little alternative.
It was virtually the only way to impress illiterate workers, whose spirits had been withered into apathy by endless labour and absolute poverty.
As far as rural England was concerned, the myth persisted of the sturdy industrious peasant happily labouring in fresh fields and unpolluted air. This was indeed a myth, as George Loveless and his fellow unionists knew only too well, for a wage that never exceeded nine shillings a week offered nothing but despair.
There was little health or happiness to be found in the wretched insanitary hovels most employers grudgingly provided, nor in the constant presence of children, hollow-eyed and gaunt from lack of food. There could be nothing industrious about men who knew that however hard and long they worked, they could never earn enough to give their families any hope of anything better.
It was little wonder that in such circumstances, many were tempted into crime and some into violence. A few, like George Loveless, turned to the idea of forming trades unions to bargain with employers for better conditions.
Though this seems the most intelligent reaction, it was, apart from violent revolution, the most dangerous.
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Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Industry, World War 1, World War 2 on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about Louis Renault first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
the Paris to Madrid race of 1903, which had cost Louis his brother's life by Graham Coton
Louis Renault hadn’t a hope. Accusing fingers were pointing at this wealthy French motor car manufacturer.
He was a collaborationist, they said. He made tanks and aeroplane engines for the Nazis, they cried. He had grown fat and rich in the Second World War while most of occupied France starved under German rule, they screamed.
Louis Renault must die.
It was a hate campaign against war profiteers, among whom Louis Renault was classed. His punishment had begun when his great sprawling factory had crumbled under the bombs of the R.A.F. because they were working for the German army.
But he had rebuilt it with the rugged tenacity that had brought him through a life of shattering disasters.
He had made the name of Renault famous throughout the world with a succession of fine cars for the family motorist and fast models for the racing track. He had perfected devices like a special gearbox that earned him royalties for many years from all the other motor manufacturers. Renault had given the car to the people.
And now he was going to pay the price. His arrest was inevitable. The sentence of the court beyond doubt.
Renault had worked for the Germans. Renault would pay the penalty.
As he looked back over his life in the anxious days before the police called to arrest him, he must have wondered what had changed him from the shy, stuttering youth whose main joy was in tinkering with machinery, to the single-minded autocratic employer whose sole interest was in keeping his vast factory in production, whether it was making cars for the French people or tanks for the Germans.
Renault was in love with his factory. And he had to keep its heart throbbing, whatever the cost.
Part of that cost had been paid during the frightful bloodbath of the Paris to Madrid race of 1903, which had seared a burning scar in his memory and cost him the brother, who was his co-director.
Renault had entered cars driven by himself, his brother, Marcel, and another driver named Oury.
The race turned out to be a deadly fiasco. It was stopped at Bordeaux after an unbelievable series of accidents in which fast cars crashed on 16th century hump-backed bridges or broke their axles on bumps in the road that were all right for a dog cart but calamitous for a car.
Less than half the cars which started the race reached Bordeaux. The rest were charred and shattered ruins, death traps for their drivers and mechanics.
Spectators were knocked down like ninepins as the out-of-control cars ran amok among the crowds lining the route. A soldier died trying to shield a child. Onlookers crowding round a blazing car were killed when a following one smashed into it.
The terrible tragedy put an end to town-to-town races, apart from those on properly controlled road circuits cleared of stray crowds, and it nearly put an end to Louis Renault.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Labour Party, Politics, Trade on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about the General Strike first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 559 published on 30 September 1972.
Volunteer bus drivers were protected during the General Strike of 1926 by John Keay
Overnight, the country seemed to have died. Docks, factories, mines and power stations were idle. There were no trains, buses or newspapers . . . half of Britain was on strike against poverty, but the other half was determined to keep the country alive.
The soldiers stood with their guns at the ready, their eyes wary and watchful. There had been no trouble yet, but the tenseness, the almost eerie calm of the strikers lining the roads to the London docks might explode into violence at any moment.
Inside the dock gates, some of the older men loading lorries with meat and flour were wilting under the effort, for they were quite unused to this strenuous labour that hardened the hands and mesmerised the mind with its tedium. The undergraduates who worked with them were naturally more energetic, but were just as obviously strangers to dock-work. Their expressions lacked the sullen glower of the strikers in the crowd outside. Their faces were free of the undernourished grey, and the lines stamped by poverty and restive envy of those to whom life had been less generous.
This strange reversal of roles, in which solicitors, stockbrokers, students and other members of the middle class temporarily assumed the tasks of labourers, occurred on 9th May, 1926, at a time when want and insecurity still marked the lives of many British working men.
All over Britain, overcrowded slums polluted towns and cities, spawning a population whose health was suspect, whose work was menial and could be dangerous, and whose diet sometimes barely skirted starvation level.
After World War I, it was to people like this that employers addressed demands that wages should be cut.
The protests were, naturally, vigorous and, at first, seemed successful. After strike action by railwaymen in 1919, proposals to reduce their wages were withdrawn. And though miners’ pay was forced down in 1921, the mine-owners three years later conceded a rise and a seven instead of an eight-hour day.
The basic conflict however, remained; and it remained at its most aggressive in the mining industry where, despite sporadic flickers upwards, exports were falling in the face of European competition.
In this situation, employers and employed took firm and stubbornly opposing stands.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Philanthropy, Politics on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
This edited article about the Victorians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 557 published on 16 September 1972.
Victorian England was, in many ways, a tremendously exciting place. It was a period bursting with energy and inventiveness. Enormous strides were made in science, particularly in communications and power. A new main road system came into being, then the railway system.
Steam power was harnessed to industrial processes. Gas-lighting gave way to electricity; electricity led the way to the telegraph, telephone and radio. The names that ring down the years from the 1800s are those of engineers, builders and inventors: Watt, Stephenson, Faraday, Edison, Bell, Morse, Marconi.
This changed both the look of the land, and the lives of ordinary people more, and more quickly, than in the whole of man’s previous history. Instead of being born, living and dying in the same village, even the poorest began to move.
In their thousands they moved from the countryside into the rapidly-growing towns, to man scores of new factories. The Industrial Revolution actually began long before Victoria came to the throne, but increased in speed and force as the 19th-century progressed. In 1773 fewer than 14,000 people lived in Manchester. Before the century ended there were 70,000. By 1900 the population had shot up to over half a million. A French critic and historian described it in the 1860s as “a Babel built of brick.”
The simple peasants who left their insanitary country hovels and back-breaking slavery on the land, or the “cottage industries” killed off by new production methods, believed they were moving into a world of bright lights and easy jobs “minding the machines.” They could not have been more wrong. They were merely exchanging one kind of slavery for another, in even worse circumstances.
As the factory-owners moved out of the city centres to the pleasant suburbs, their houses were replaced by towering factories and rows of tiny terraced houses, or tenements, into which the workers were crammed; often several families to one house. Sometimes whole families lived in one small, damp, cellar under the shadow of the soot-blackened factory walls where they spent anything up to sixteen hours every day, working for a pittance. Occasionally they brought the family pigs and hens from the country to share, and increase, their squalor.
It was not just the men who worked. Their wives and children, too, spent most of their waking hours toiling in miserable, often dangerous, conditions; dying of new industrial diseases as well as exhaustion and lack of good food.
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Posted in Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, History, Industry on Friday, 14 February 2014
This edited article about Josiah Wedgwood first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 552 published on 12 August 1972.
When Josiah Wedgwood was born at Burslem in Staffordshire in 1730, the thirteenth child of Thomas and Mary Wedgwood, his family had been potters in the town for well over a century. His years at school were very few for when he was 9 years old his father died and it became necessary for him to earn his own living. He went to work for his eldest brother, Thomas, and when he was 14 became one of his apprentices. Josiah became skilful as a “thrower,” which meant that it was his job to shape the clay on a turn-table which he kept spinning with a foot treadle. An attack of smallpox left him with a weak right knee which gave him trouble for many years until the leg was eventually amputated in 1768. He might have remained a thrower but for his disability which made it impossible for him to continue this work. He therefore set about widening his knowledge and skill in the pottery trade.
Josiah’s great enthusiasm for improving his craft was not shared by his brother Thomas who considered his experiments to make clay resemble various natural stones such as onyx and agate an unprofitable waste of time and materials. Neither was he interested in Josiah’s efforts to improve the quality of the everyday ware produced by the pottery. In 1749 when his apprenticeship was at an end Josiah was turned down by Thomas when he requested a partnership.
After a brief, unsuccessful partnership in a business near Stoke, Josiah entered into partnership with a master potter named Whieldon. This man loved experimenting as much as Wedgwood and both men were keen to improve the potter’s craft. They produced a wide variety of different types of pottery including a ware developed by Wedgwood to resemble tortoise-shell and a green glaze ware used for making pottery “Leaves.”
After five happy and profitable years with Whieldon, Wedgwood decided to set up in a “pot bank” (pottery) of his own. He first leased modest premises at Burslem known as Ivy House but soon his business had grown to such an extent that he had to move to the Bell Works where he had more space.
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Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Inventions, Weapons on Thursday, 6 February 2014
This edited article about Henry Bessemer first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 546 published on 1 July 1972.
Henry Bessemer, inventor of the Bessemer process
Henry Bessemer’s fertile mind was always busy with inventions. Born in Hertfordshire in 1813 he was the son of a successful inventor and it was in a type-foundry on the family estate that young Henry gained his first experience in engineering.
The family settled in London, when he was 17, and Bessemer began to produce many new ideas. Among these were a speedier method of type-setting; a cheaper way of making lead pencils; a forerunner of the modern franking machine; and a perforating machine to put the date on stamps so that they could not be re-used. However, he had not a very good head for business and he made little or no money from these ideas, although he received a knighthood for the inventions of the perforating machine 46 years after the Stamp Office had begun using it.
Not until he devised a process for making the “gold powder”, used for lettering book covers, to retail at a lower price than that imported from Germany did he achieve commercial success. Bessemer’s powder was made from brass as was that from Germany. Brass cost sixpence a pound and the German product made from it sold at £5.12s. while Bessemer sold his at £4 a pound.
The money he made from this enterprise enabled him to develop his other ideas. He was awarded a gold medal by Prince Albert for the highly-efficient sugar cane press he invented and he began making optical sheet glass and patented an improved method of silvering mirrors.
With the coming of the Crimean War the need was for armaments. His involvement with gun design led to the work for which Bessemer is most famous – the “Bessemer Process” of steel manufacture. Previously Swedish bar-iron, costing up to £20 a ton, was used for making steel. The expensive conversion process took ten days and a mere 50 pounds of steel could be made at a time. Also the type of metal obtained, while being excellent for making knives and other cutting implements, was unsuitable and too costly for other uses.
Bessemer’s process used the much cheaper crude pig iron and 5 tons of steel could be produced in just half an hour. Instead of days in a furnace, using large quantities of coke, by the “Bessemer Process” the iron once melted was kept in a molten state in the converter by the burning of its own impurities while a stream of air was continuously blown through it. The steel obtained was of a higher quality than that made in the old way.
Bessemer set up his own factory and other manufacturers in England and abroad used his process under licence, from which he gained a royalty of £2 a ton.
Henry Bessemer made over a million pounds from this process before he died in 1898. His knowledge of business methods had obviously improved over the years!
Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, London, Politics, Railways, Royalty on Wednesday, 5 February 2014
This edited article about Queen Victoria first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 543 published on 10 June 1972.
Victoria and Albert arrive by train on a Royal Visit, by Ron Embleton
In his arms above the font, the Archbishop of Canterbury held the beautiful, chubby Royal baby. He was about to christen her when a heated argument arose between the Duke of Kent, who was the father, and the Prince Regent. Others joined in, while the Archbishop – and the baby – waited.
That was the scene in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace on June 24, 1819.
It was the strangest Royal christening on record. The first name, Alexandrina, was accepted by all. The second christian name, the father demanded, must be Elizabeth.
Although the baby girl was only fifth in succession to the Throne, the Duke of Kent firmly believed that his daughter would one day be Queen of England. He wanted a name that would be fittingly regal, and he had set his heart on her becoming Queen Elizabeth the Second.
The Prince Regent thought that “Elizabeth” was too regal. He did not want people looking forward to a new Elizabethan age when other relatives were so much closer to the Throne than this baby girl. It was asking for trouble, he believed.
The argument ended when the Prince suggested his mother’s name – Victoria. The relieved Archbishop quickly intoned “Alexandrina Victoria” and it was too late for further discussion.
So it was that a tiny baby, exactly one month old, was given a name that was to mark an age of unparalleled material progress and social change for Britain – the Victorian age.
Yet the family background of the baby girl who was to become ruler of the great world-wide British Empire and the most powerful woman on earth, was one of financial distress and even poverty.
It is impossible to imagine today a member of our Royal Family being in the position in which the Duke of Kent found himself. He had debts of nearly £250,000 and the House of Commons refused to help him by increasing his grant. So in order to economise he rented a small house at Sidmouth in Devon. There he lived in very poor circumstances with his wife, a former German princess, and their baby daughter.
Before Victoria was a year old her father died from a lung infection. Six days later King George the Third died, and his eldest son, the Prince Regent, became George the Fourth.
The Duchess, mother of the child who was now third in succession to the Throne, was penniless. She did not even have the fare from Sidmouth back to London, and money for this, together with the Duke’s funeral expenses, was sent from the Continent by her brother, Prince Leopold.
For Victoria life was lonely. Almost no friends to play with, and no pretty clothes to wear, for her mother was too poor to provide them. Little Victoria wore darned and patched dresses as she wandered alone with her watering can tending the flowers in the gardens of Kensington Palace.
As she worked at her school lessons Victoria had no idea she might one day be Queen. When the death of the Duke of York in 1827 brought her another step nearer the Throne, she noticed that she was becoming a centre of attention. Lords and gentlemen always raised their hats to her, never to anyone she might be with. She asked her governess why.
The governess slipped a table of genealogy into one of Victoria’s history books. Victoria saw it and understood at once. And when George the Fourth died in 1830, what had once seemed a distant possibility had become almost a certainty.
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Posted in Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Industry, London, Royalty on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about the Great Exhibition first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 541 published on 27 May 1972.
'Great Exhibition Polka', a typical sheet music cover from 1851
The Victorians, outwardly at least so prim and proper, did not believe in exhibiting themselves in any shape or form. They had heard vaguely of the curious affairs across the Channel, where in Paris the French had put on no less than a dozen international exhibitions in the first half of the 19th century.
But it was not the way British people went about things . . . and therefore when, in 1849, the idea was put forward that all the nations of the world should be invited to take part in a vast exhibition in London, there were considerable misgivings.
As it happened, the inspiration came from no less a personage than Prince Albert himself. Queen Victoria’s beloved husband envisaged an exhibition that would demonstrate the “development of mankind and the unity of the nations.”
The very thought of London being invaded by thousands of foreigners horrified many of his subjects, and when the Prince further suggested that the exhibition should be sited in Hyde Park, the fears and the indignation knew no bounds.
Doctors feared the plague; manufacturers said the country would be flooded by cheap products; members of Parliament warned that cut-throats and anarchists would cause havoc in the capital of the Empire; and the lives of all would be endangered.
Then Joseph Paxton, formerly head gardener to the Duke of Devonshire, who had already put up a huge glass conservatory at Chatsworth, submitted his design to the Exhibition Commissioners. “The Times” described it scathingly as “a monstrous greenhouse”; but the public, when they saw the sketches published, were enthusiastic, and work began on the construction of the Crystal Palace.
Covering 18 acres, the palace was to be 1851 ft long, to coincide with the year of the exhibition, and 408 ft wide. The amount of glass required consumed one-third of the nation’s output for a year. There were 24 miles of guttering, 25 acres of glass, and over 9,000 tons of iron and steel girders. Construction work began in August 1850, as 2,000 workmen swarmed around the Hyde Park site.
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Posted in America, Animals, Historical articles, History, Industry, Trade on Friday, 31 January 2014
This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 535 published on 15 April 1972.
Cattle were driven up from Texas to Abilene on the Chisholm Trail
From the Rio Grande to Abilene, the Chilsholm Trail, named after a half-breed Indian trader, wound through 1,000 miles of dirt, dust and Indian country to become the premier route for the Texas cowboys driving their vast herds northwards to feed a nation.
“Point ‘em North!” The year is 1866, and all over the great plains of Texas, thousands of long-horned cattle are moving slowly, like a great brown sea. They move in an endless column, flowing across the grass of the prairie, the dust from thousands of hooves rising high in the sky. On either side of the herd cowboys mill around on fleet-footed ponies, shouting, cracking whips, whistling – anything to keep the steers on the move.
“North! North! Point ‘em North!”
North to the stockyards at Abilene, Kansas, by way of the Chisholm Trail.
Abilene exists today as a quietly prosperous country town, but the trail that brought it to life has long gone. It has vanished so thoroughly that even historians of America’s pioneer days cannot agree as to exactly where it ran. But that the Chisholm Trail existed is beyond question, for in a few short years it changed the whole pattern of the Wild West.
At the end of the Civil War, the Southern States were in ruins, yet thanks to the foresight of General Grant, the defeated Confederate soldiers were allowed to return home riding their horses and carrying their guns. This was not just a gesture of chivalry towards a gallant foe. So far as the president was concerned it was important to the country to remember that the Southerners were farmers and stockbreeders almost to a man. A horse and a gun were the tools of their trade, and without them it would take that much longer for one time rebels to become useful citizens again.
Few men of the Confederate army found that they could pick up their lives where they had left them at the outbreak of war in 1861. Towns had been shelled or burnt to the ground, and plantations had become overgrown. The State of Texas, too huge to be entirely overrun, posed very special problems. The homecoming Texans were not too concerned to find their ranches in a poor way, for they had built them in the first place and were prepared to do so again. What did cause alarm was the sight of thousand upon thousand of unbranded longhorn cattle running wild upon the open range.
The ranchers repaired their homes, then banded together to round up the tough, bad tempered cattle that were the descendants of the early herds imported from Britain and Ireland. Where a steer carried a brand there was no trouble: the owner took her back into his herd. But the bulk of the steers, born during the years of war, bore no distinguishing mark. Between them, the ranchers shared out the stock, and overnight found themselves owners of enormous herds.
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