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Subject: ‘Institutions’

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George Smith receiving his thirty lashes at Newgate

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

George Smith the garotter,  picture, image, illustration
George Smith, the garotter, receiving the sixth out of his thirty lashes in Her Majesty's gaol of Newgate

Little is known about George Smith, the particular garotter being punished with the lash in this illustration. However, this old-fashioned punishment more characteristic of military and naval tribunals than of the Central criminal court, was considered quite distatsteful by the British public. A contemporary account of one such flogging written only two years later captures the terrible atmosphere of Newgate during similar proceedings to those pictured above showing George Smith:
“A brawny-shouldered, well-nurtured ruffian, with a bullet-head, and a chin deeper and broader than his forehead; a muscular young fellow, standing five feet eight or so. His shirt had been hung loosely over his back, and, as soon as the witnesses had settled in their places, he was revealed with his upper part bare, and the hangman led him to the whipping-post. He was in a mortal fright, but he said nothing: he only shivered while his bare back became what is known as “gooseflesh,” and uttered a muffled snort, like that of a horse with his head in a nose-bag. It was coming close now!”

Many more pictures relating to crime and punishment in London can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The South Sea Bubble ended in ruin, in prison and in suicide

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Politics on Monday, 24 February 2014

This edited article about the South Sea Bubble first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 564 published on 4 November 1972.

South Sea Company directors,  picture, image, illustration
Everyone was pushing and struggling to get at the carriage carrying the most hated men in England – the directors of the South Sea Company, by C L Doughty

As the coach approached the Houses of Parliament, the anger of the crowd became louder and more alarming, so that its occupants huddled away from the doors and windows.

Lords, ladies, landowners, merchants, farmers, in fact representatives of almost every section of the English public were there, pushing and struggling to get at the carriage carrying the most hated men in England – the directors of the South Sea Company.

Yet these same men – now on their way to interrogation – had until recently been honoured by Parliament and public alike. Men who had created the word millionaire and had made fortunes for their shareholders almost overnight. Until, over-confident, their greedy manipulations had burst the South Sea Bubble of instant prosperity. Thousands were ruined. Banks closed their doors. Wealth and work disappeared and there was hunger and riot.

How could this happen in an enlightened age in which Newton revolutionised science and Swift pinpointed man’s follies in his brilliant satire – “Gulliver’s Travels?”

In the early 18th century men had discovered credit – the use of paper money, bonds, stocks and shares, each carrying a promise that it could be exchanged for the traditional forms of hard currency such as gold and silver. With credit a man need no longer carry a bag of gold or jewels to pay his way. A banknote was easier to carry, easier to keep safely and its value could be clearly stated.

England was at war with France and Spain, and in 1711, Robert Harley, the Earl of Oxford and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was becoming increasingly concerned about the National Debt – money borrowed by the government to wage war. Harley therefore suggested to Parliament that a private company should be set up which would exchange its stock for bonds which the government had issued to its creditors – those who had loaned it money. In return for taking over part of the government’s debts, the company would be given a monopoly of trade with South America and the Pacific islands.

So the South Sea Company was set up.

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England’s wealthy had no intention of sharing their riches

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.

Tolpuddle Martyrs shunned,  picture, image, illustration
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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In 1926 the army and the middle classes broke the General Strike

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.

The General Strike of 1926,  picture, image, illustration
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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Ancient customs and modern laws co-exist in Britain

Posted in Customs, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

This edited article about the British legal system first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 558 published on 23 September 1972.

Peter de Sibley,  picture, image, illustration
Peter de Sibley had to wade into the sea in search of a ship as proof of the fact that he was serious in his attempt to leave the country, in accordance with the coroner's instructions, by Angus McBride

Peter de Sibley ran until his lungs were bursting and his breath came in a series of choking gasps. His legs began to feel like lead weights but still he forced himself to stagger on for the noise of his pursuers was never far behind and he was running for his life. At last he reached the great Abbey church and, flinging himself at the great oaken door he pounded against it until the bolts were drawn back and he was confronted by a grave-faced monk. Peter had only just time to whisper “I seek sanctuary” before the motley crowd of soldiers and spectators also reached the church door. But he was just in time, for now the monk and the full authority of the Church stood between him and his pursuers. Making the sign of the cross the monk stood firmly between the hunters and the hunted and, for a time at least, Peter de Sibley was safe.

Over six hundred years later three children were fishing in a brook near Ormskirk in Lancashire. The fish were uninterested in their bait and so they turned their attention to the stream bed. One large stone seemed strongly bedded-in but when at last they managed to overturn it the effort had been well worth while. For underneath lay a hoard of Roman coins – 100 silver denarii – worth thousands of pounds and now kept safely in a museum.

The link between Peter de Sibley’s escape and the hoard of treasure-trove discovered so much later is the Coroner, an ancient law-officer whose duties certainly date back from before 1200 A.D. and whose Courts still exist today. Her Majesty’s Coroners have a strange and colourful history and even now they help to administer the law of the land in their own particular way.

For Peter de Sibley, like many others in medieval times, the sanctuary he had obtained would only give him temporary respite. He had thirty days in which to confess his crimes, or face a number of alternatives. In the days when the power of the Church was even greater than the power of the King pursuers would not normally dare to cross the threshold of the church, but they could (and often did) besiege the place until he surrendered or was starved. In the meantime, the Coroner would explain that he could either stand trial or abjure the realm and the offender would have to make his choice.

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The bloody end of the East India Company

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics, Religion, Royalty on Monday, 17 February 2014

This edited article about the East India Company first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 554 published on 26 August 1972.

Havelock at Lucknow,  picture, image, illustration
Sir Henry Havelock at the Relief of Lucknow by Howard Davie

By 1856 only the last few chapters in the history of the East India Company remained unwritten and yet there was no way of knowing how soon and how violently the end would come. The great province of Oudh was annexed, adding 5,000,000 more subjects to Queen Victoria’s Empire, and the business of administering and protecting the vast territories which were under British rule took up all the available time.

The East India Company still had its own Army and Navy (although the Army was partly British-controlled as well). It had, too a vast army of officials, ruling in remote and isolated areas and increasingly worried about the confused and restive native population. The explosion that was to shake British India to its very foundations was not far away.

The unrest that began the Mutiny came partly from religious fears. Among the sepoy army of Bengal in the north, word spread that the British meant to break down the caste system for it was reported that the cartridges for new rifles that the sepoys had to use were greased at one end with a mixture of cow and pig fat. The cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig is considered unclean by the Moslems, so biting the end off the cartridge, to fill a rifle with powder, would offend both religions.

While all this built up into a major clash, much of the Company’s Army was away in Persia. Trouble with the Persian Government had suddenly become much more dangerous when the Army occupied the fabled city of Herat. On the plain where the city stood all the roads from Asia met and with Herat as a base the British feared an attack from the Khyber Pass. It was said that Alexander the Great had founded Herat, for who else could have built fortifications 25 feet high and standing on a huge earthwork 250 feet thick?

It was decided to attack Persia and so the Army was embarked from Bombay. In the sharpness of the dawn sky steamships and sailing ships could be seen crowding the harbour as the sailors waited for the Army to arrive. The whistling of pipes was followed by the thudding of drums and finally the heavy tramp of feet as, finally, the gleaming brown faces of the East India Company’s Army came in sight. Tight, neat uniforms, and pill-box hats were crammed together as the men were ferried out in small cotton boats, to be followed by horses, last-minute stores and baggage.

The campaign was a farce and yet by the time the men returned from chasing a Persian Army that would not stop and fight, India was in the throes of the biggest upheaval since the British rule was established. The flashpoint came on May 10, 1857, at Meerut, north of Delhi. A British Officer ordered his soldiers to use the new cartridges and condemned them to prison for mutiny when they refused. The Indian cavalry retaliated by setting fire to the European quarters and riding off to Delhi, where they seized the arsenal.

From single acts of violence came many more; senseless massacres and executions, looting and the destruction of property. The mutineers released prisoners from the jails, cut telegraph wires and threatened to engulf the remnants of British power in India.

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Early justice was dispensed by God – and chance

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, Religion on Monday, 17 February 2014

This edited article about the British legal system first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 554 published on 26 August 1972.

Trial by combat,  picture, image, illustration
Two champions were chosen to do the fighting, and the battle went on until one was beaten or conceded defeat, by Angus McBride

The battle began soon after sunrise and long before the early morning dew had dried, the air rang with shouts of encouragement and cries of rage and pain. Two burly yeomen were the contestants, dressed in leather “armour” with red leather shoes and red stockings so that the blood would not show and armed with long wooden staves.

They circled around each other warily until suddenly one produced a flurry of quick blows about his opponent’s head and shoulders. The crowd shouted until the second man got in a shrewd blow that stopped the attack and it became quiet again.

This was Norman England and despite the spectators, what was going on was neither a kind of jousting tournament nor a private feud. It was a trial. In those days, Courts of Law were few and far between and this was just one legal custom which had come over with William the Conqueror. In the grandstand sat the King’s Judges who, like most of the spectators, apparently believed that God would favour the just.

Trial by battle lasted almost two hundred years and countless land disputes between noblemen were settled in this way. Each side could produce a “champion” to do the actual fighting and the battle went on until one was beaten, conceded defeat, or dusk put an end to the conflict. Champions were rarely killed, and if it all ended in a draw then the defendant, or sitting tenant, was judged to have won.

Trial by battle was only one of many strange practices out of which our present laws and legal system have grown. No one suddenly sat down to produce a list of rules and a pattern of conduct which would suit everyone else. Instead our laws have developed gradually over the centuries. Always changing, as the pattern of life changed, they are still being altered and amended and the result is a rich patchwork which shows how the Law itself reflected the stirring events of the past.

In other parts of the world, sets of written laws were developed very early on. King Hammurabi of Babylon had his inscribed on short pillars and set up in the market place, but in England there was no such system and in the chaos of Viking raids and Anglo-Saxon invasions there seemed little chance of starting one. Alfred the Great set the process going and soon local customs were being carefully noted so that in time a body of Common Law grew up. It varied considerably from town to town, but at least the local inhabitants knew roughly what to expect if a dispute had to be settled. Later, Edward the Confessor tried to introduce written laws that would apply throughout his kingdom but it was William I, after the Norman Conquest, who really laid the foundations for today’s courts and laws.

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Da Gama opened up the trade routes for the East India Company

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Ships, Trade on Wednesday, 12 February 2014

This edited article about the East India Company first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.

Court of Akbar,  picture, image, illustration
The East India Company was sanctioned when the Mughal Emperor Akbar received Sir John Mildenhall, Queen Elizabeth I's ambassador, 1599

Diamonds, silk, pepper and cinnamon – these and a thousand other riches lay locked in India. If only the merchants of Britain could establish a trade link with this treasure house the key to prosperity would be theirs

It was the last day of 1600. Outside, the snow was falling heavily, covering everything with a blanket of white, but inside the dining room a roaring log fire threw warmth and a flickering light into the far corners of the room. Twelve men sat around the table, all prosperous London merchants, but their minds were far from the weather or the glasses of Madeira wine in their hands.

Time and time again their talk returned to the fabulous riches of the East – diamonds, silk, pepper and cinnamon. Travellers’ tales of the great Mogul Empire in India, twenty times as large and as rich as Britain; the Spice Islands, where a fortune could be made from a single voyage; mysterious and forbidding China, hardly visited since the great Marco Polo. None of this was new but today they would know whether all their ambitious plans for exploiting the wealth of the East were to be realised.

The sound of horses’ hoofs on the cobbles outside brought all conversation to an abrupt end and everyone glanced towards the door. Seconds later it burst open and the messenger, looking like some dramatic ghost from the windswept snow that still covered him, announced triumphantly “Her Majesty has signed the Charter!”

Late that night lights still burned all over the house as men came and went and preparations were made. The Honourable East India Company was beginning to take shape and the rest of the 125 partners had to be notified. There was money to raise, ships, stores and men to be found, and ahead of them the dreams of excitement and riches.

None of these Elizabethan merchants can ever have dreamt, however, of what eventually lay in store. They had created what was to become the most powerful trading company in the world, a Company which sold tea but maintained huge armies; which carried a sword in one hand and a ledger in the other. Now their eyes were set only on the prospects for trade but in time they founded an Empire and owned a continent. The Honourable East India Company would eventually become one of the most colourful and dramatic concerns in British history.

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Lord Shaftesbury epitomised philanthropy and humanity

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Philanthropy, Politics on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about Lord Shaftesbury first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 545 published on 24 June 1972.

Lord Shaftesbury,  picture, image, illustration
The Earl of Shaftesbury exploring the slums of London in 1840

Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in 1801 into a rich and powerful family. His childhood however was a very unhappy one.

Apart from controlling their children by the use of very harsh discipline, his parents took little interest in Anthony and his brothers and sisters. This unhappy home life and the miserable time he spent at a Chiswick boarding school helped to make him compassionate to all those who suffered.

Anthony’s only friend as a young child was his parents’ housekeeper, Maria Millis, who taught him the meaning of affection and implanted in him the seeds of the religious faith which was to stay with him always.

When he was 12 he went to Harrow School and an incident which he witnessed in the town made him resolved to help the poor in any way that he could. He was out walking one day when he saw a funeral procession coming towards him – a pauper’s funeral. The men who carried the coffin were drunk and singing bawdy songs and at one stage actually dropped the coffin. “Good Heavens! Can this be permitted simply because the man was poor and friendless?” was Anthony’s angry reaction.

In 1826 Anthony Ashley Cooper entered Parliament and it was not long before he was asked to serve on a committee to enquire into the treatment of lunatics. He made an impassioned plea for the House for a better life for the people in these places who were treated more like dangerous beasts than human beings. M.P.’s were so moved and horrified that the Government appointed Commissioners to inspect all asylums in the country and in a few years these were much more humane institutions.

In 1828 the Duke of Wellington appointed Cooper to the India Board. His most notable achievement while serving on this Board was to secure the abolition of the repellent Hindu custom of “Suttee,” by which a widow traditionally threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and was burned with him.

While at the India Board Anthony met and married Emily Cowper. “Minny” was to prove his greatest ally in his reforming work during their 42 years of happy marriage.

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Dr Arnold of Rugby crushed the school bullies

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Religion on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about education first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 544 published on 17 June 1972.

Dr Arnold,  picture, image, illustration
Dr Arnold of Rugby

In the early part of the nineteenth-century the education received by boys at public schools was rather poor. The subjects taught, the classics, a little maths, and English were usually badly taught. Due largely to the shortage of masters and the lack of interest which they showed in both the pupils and the running of the schools the conditions under which the boys lived were extremely brutal. Small or timid boys were victimised by the bullies who thrived in such an environment. Drunkenness, rebellion and terrorism of the local inhabitants were common.

The man who did most to reform the public school system was Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby from 1828-1842 who had had first-hand experience of public school life when a pupil at Winchester.

From an early age Thomas decided that he wanted to become a parson. After Winchester he went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he obtained his degree. Shortly afterwards he was made a Fellow of Oriel College and four years later was ordained a deacon as a first step to becoming a priest. But he began to have doubts that this was his true vocation and he now had to decide upon another career.

Thomas’s brother-in-law and Oxford friend, the Rev John Buckland, ran a small school at his Hampton vicarage and was keen to start a larger school. He needed someone to be in charge of the older boys and he offered the job to Thomas. By the autumn of 1819 two houses had been rented at the village of Laleham and Arnold’s career as a schoolmaster began.

Arnold resolved to run his school on humane and Christian lines. He wanted to be a friend to his pupils – a novel idea at the time! He expected hard work from his boys but was patient and sympathetic with his less able pupils. He taught geography and history as well as the usual subjects and did all he could to make lessons interesting. When school was over he would go bird nesting or bathing with the boys. In the evenings the pupils were invited to the Arnolds’ private sitting-room for a meal and a game of chess or chat. In this way Arnold gained their respect and affection and influenced them to follow his example of a Christian life. His years at Laleham were very happy ones.

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