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Posted in Art, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Literature, London, Royalty, Science on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about the Royal Society originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
Bust of Charles II, with Lord Brouncker (left), the first President of the Royal Society, and Francis Bacon (right); frontispiece to Bishop Sprat's History of the Royal Society, 1667, by Wenceslaus Hollar
So many things changed in England at the time of the Civil War of the 17th century, when a king was executed and the country was ruled for a time without a sovereign lord. Men were thinking out new ideas; new solutions were found to old problems. Men were engrossed in science and mathematics, and their discoveries laid down the foundations of our present knowledge.
In this quest for knowledge, it was not the universities that played the major part, but the Royal Society, which was founded in this century.
Although groups of learned men had been meeting quite regularly in both Oxford and London, it was not until the King, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660, bringing with him a more settled political atmosphere, that the group meetings blossomed into a society.
On 28th November, 1660, after a meeting at which Christopher Wren (then better known as an astronomer) had given a lecture, a suggestion was made for founding a society to promote inquiry into mathematics and science. A list was made of 40 people considered suitable for membership. They were to pay one shilling a week subscription.
King Charles II regarded the Society with interest. In 1662 he granted it a Royal Charter of privileges and became its patron. Since then the reigning monarch has always been a patron of the Society.
Specialised study of one subject was a thing unknown in the 17th century, and the early members of the Royal Society included men of widely differing talents: Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, whom we know through their diaries; John Locke, the political theorist, and John Dryden, the poet.
The Royal Society began to be a specifically scientific society from the time when Isaac Newton became a Fellow in 1671. Regarded by many people as the first ‘modern’ scientist, Newton did his greatest work on gravity, astronomy and light while he was a member of the Royal Society. He was its president from 1703-27 and, attracted by his fame, its membership and reputation grew.
In more recent times, the Royal Society has been active in the realms of scientific investigation. It played a large part in the founding of the National Physical Laboratory, which was opened in 1901 and has organised much of the work done there. Through a special committee, the Society assists the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The Royal Society has always been a source of encouragement to scientists. The aims of the Charter of 1662 have been faithfully observed, and the Fellows of today are as actively engaged in the pursuit of science as were its members in the 17th century.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics, Royalty on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about the House of Commons Speaker originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
William Lenthall, the Speaker who spoke up for the House of Commons
No one except the sovereign in Britain lives in greater state today than ‘Mr Speaker’, who presides over the House of Commons.
He lives in the Palace of Westminster. Only Queen Elizabeth can countermand a command from him that you join him for dinner. He is provided not only with limousines but also with a magnificent golden coach.
His everyday dress is exquisite. Besides an imposing long white wig of horsehair, he wears black knee breeches, black silk stockings, fine lace at the throat and wrists, and a silken cloak so long that it requires a train-bearer.
His everyday escort includes a mace-bearer, a chaplain and a clerk, all with swords swinging beside their black knee breeches, except for the chaplain in long robes.
“Hats off!” is the cry that rings through the corridors of Parliament daily as the Speaker’s little procession treads its measured pace to the Commons’ chamber. There his words are law. Even the Prime Minister sinks into his seat at the Speaker’s command.
But it was not always so. At least six Speakers have lost their heads since the Commons in 1377 named one of their number to be their spokesman, or Speaker, to present their opinions to the King.
In those days, when Kings usually wanted money from Commons who were loath to pay, the Speaker had a very courageous role to play.
Some early Speakers were understandably subservient to the sovereign, until one Speaker spoke up firmly for the rights of the House of Commons. The sovereign never again set foot in their chamber.
This happened when King Charles I, storming into the Commons, confronted the Speaker, William Lenthall, and demanded the arrest of five members. Lenthall dropped to his knees, but his words soared.
He said, “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”
Later, as political parties emerged, Speakers inevitably were drawn from party adherents. It was not until the 19th century that the tradition of impartiality grew supreme.
By then the Speaker’s duties had changed. The system of Cabinet and Prime Minister had evolved, so the Speaker was limited to presiding over the House of Commons and representing it on official occasions.
Within the last few decades, the Speaker’s voice has, like a healing oil, been powerful in injecting dignity, harmony and humour into the often quarrelsome, tiresome business of lawmaking.
In 1619, Britain sent the tradition of Mr Speaker to Virginia, her first colony in the New World. He remained in the United States and sits today in Congress on Capitol Hill.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about the Metropolitan police originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 246 published on 1 October 1966.
In London at the beginning of the nineteenth century, crime was increasing. One and a half million people were living in slum dwellings, others were moving into the rapidly sprawling suburbs. Many parents who went out to work left their children unminded, to gather at street corners, hatch mischief and wander through the streets pilfering what they could. Loafers could sell their day’s ‘takings’ at any one of thousands of shops set up to receive stolen goods.
This unregulated city, splitting at the seams, teaming with people, had an equally haphazard and inadequate police system to deal with it.
The small area of the City of London proper had an assorted police force of watchmen and constables. Outside the City, the Bow Street Magistrates Court had established the famous foot and horse patrols known as the Bow Street Runners. Constables and watchmen were, otherwise, employed by the parishes, business firms or sometimes by individuals for their own protection.
The inefficiency of these watchmen was notorious. Nicknamed ‘Charlies’, they were often old and villainous themselves. In any case they did little to hinder the activities of quick-witted criminals. The constable was suspect too: he often succumbed to the temptation of a handsome bribe and ‘turned a blind eye’.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
The beaver is the emblem of Canada
On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act came into effect and the former colonies of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united as the self-governing Dominion of Canada.
Canada had had a long and not always peaceful struggle to win self-government. Since the French first settled in Canada in the sixteenth century, and for many years after the Treaty of Paris ceded the territory to Britain in 1763, Canada was governed in a despotic and arbitrary manner.
It was the American War of Independence that set Canada on the road to self-government, for, curiously enough, the men who began to work for Canadian Independence were the loyalists who, at the end of the American War, flocked across the border to Canada.
They had been accustomed in the American colonies to a fairly advanced type of democratic government and, resenting the despotic rule of the British government in their new home, began agitating against it. In 1791, the Canadians were allowed to elect popular assemblies, but their powers were so limited that a number of rebellions broke out.
Following a particularly serious rebellion in 1837, British statesmen realised that, so far as Canada’s domestic affairs were concerned, she must be allowed self-government.
For all practical purposes, Canada was already self-governing when the Act of 1867 gave her official independence and Dominion status.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics, Royalty on Wednesday, 13 March 2013
This edited article about British prime ministers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 191 published on 11 September 1965.
Londoners demonstrated against the Lords’ voting down the Reform Act by C L Doughty
If it can be said of any man that he devoted his life to a single great cause – then it can be said of Charles Grey.
And if ever there was a man who saw his life’s work bear fruit in an atmosphere of high temper – high drama, even – then Charles Grey is that man.
What was this cause for which Charles Grey fought for forty-five years? Nothing less than the reform of Parliament.
The parliamentary situation, at the end of the eighteenth century was such as to make a mockery of democratic procedures. Many of the seats were controlled by the Government. Others could be bought for substantial sums of money. Also, great new centres of population had grown up with the swell of the industrial revolution, but these were not, in the main, represented by Members of Parliament.
Charles Grey set himself to redress these obvious injustices. But, as he began his battle, he had little idea how hard it would be, how long it would take, and in what desperate circumstances it was to reach its climax.
Charles Grey became an M.P. in 1786, when he was only twenty-two, but in spite of this early success, few people would have given a halfpenny for his chances of ever becoming Prime Minister. Tall and good-looking, his eloquence, it was said, excited greater admiration than his judgement or command of temper.
In 1797 Grey put forward his Parliamentary Reform Bill, but it was defeated. Discouraged, he withdrew to the country and for a time paid only infrequent visits to Westminster. Indeed, he seriously considered giving up his political career altogether.
“I feel more and more convinced,” he wrote in 1804, “of my unfitness for a pursuit which I detest, and which I only sigh for an opportunity of abandoning decidedly and forever.”
However, two years later came a change in his fortunes. He was offered and accepted a post in Grenville’s government.
For twelve months, Grey was First Lord of the Admiralty. Then the government collapsed, and the next job that he was to be offered – more than twenty years later – was that of Prime Minister.
It happened in 1830. Wellington’s government was defeated on November 15, and the next day King William sent for Grey, who, by dint of his long service and the elimination of other candidates, was now leader of the Whigs.
Grey took office. He was now sixty-six, an elderly man surrounded by younger faces. His experience of office was small, and in order to bolster himself he brought members of his own family into the government.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics on Saturday, 9 March 2013
This edited article about Nancy Astor originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 180 published on 26 June 1965.
Nancy Astor electioneering in 1919
A crowd of people, most of them dockers and their wives, listen patiently to a small, neat figure in black haranguing them vigorously from a carriage. On some of the faces there is pleased agreement, on others pride, bewilderment or even dull hostility. This is a typical electioneering scene of 1919 – except for one thing. The figure in the carriage is a woman. . . .
1919 was the year that Lady Nancy Astor fought and won her astonishing campaign in the tough dockland area of Sutton, Plymouth, to become the first woman member of Parliament to sit in the British House of Commons. By the end of the campaign she had the dockers and their families, the sailors and the local shopkeepers cheering as she romped home to victory with a vast majority over her male opponents.
Born in America in 1879, Nancy married Waldorf Astor, the Conservative Member for Sutton, Plymouth, in 1906. In 1919 her husband became the second Viscount Astor on his father’s death, and, despite all his attempts to renounce his title, was forced to enter the House of Lords, giving up his Plymouth seat in the Commons.
Nancy had already helped her husband in his election fights and now, when she saw his bitter disappointment, she determined to hold the seat for his party herself. At first the members of the election committee were dubious, but soon they succumbed to Lady Astor’s gay and determined charm and became her enthusiastic supporters.
Lady Astor started her whirlwind campaign against three other candidates by booking every available hall and meeting-place for her own party. Then she took Plymouth by storm. She toured the streets and docks, stopping the dockers on their way home from work to address them, talking indefatigably to their wives, holding public meetings every evening. At one stage she made 50 speeches in four days.
When Nancy Astor took her seat in the House of Commons on December 1, 1919, women everywhere looked to her to uphold their rights and interests. A deeply religious woman and an ardent feminist (a champion of women and their rights) she did not let them down.
From 1919 until 1945, when she finally gave up her Plymouth seat, most of her political energies were devoted to child welfare and education, temperance, widow’s pensions and the inclusion of women in the police force.
Lady Astor died last year, at the age of 86.
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 Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions on Wednesday, 20 February 2013
This edited article about women’s education originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 145 published on 24 October 1964.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College
The idea that girls’ minds could be cultivated and enriched like boys’ by education was described as “offensive,” “revolutionary” and “unnecessary” in the early nineteenth century.
For the poor, there were some charity schools which had classes for girls, but few parents bothered with them. For the rich there were a handful of “ladies’ seminaries” which charged as much as £1,000 for a two-year course of parrot-fashion teaching by question and answer. Most of the actual lessons were a recital of questions by the teacher followed by a chorus of answers from the class – questions like: “Where are the dead buried?” – In cemeteries. “What is the back of a ship called?” – The stern.
For the growing middle-classes, for whom a charity school was socially unthinkable and a ladies’ seminary financially impossible, there was nothing, unless a brother was prepared to pass on some of the education he was receiving in a public or grammar school.
In earlier centuries, at least girls were well instructed in domestic arts. Now, with a glut of servants to do everything, a girl from an ordinary middle-class home might find herself un-instructed and unpractised in even the basic knowledge for running a home. If she were very lucky she might have a governess who could do something more than teach her the three Rs.
The all-time low in girls’ education was reached in 1837, when Victoria came to the throne. Governesses, paid an average of sixteen pounds a year, were usually ignorant of all but the social graces. It was to raise the standard of governesses in England that King’s College, London, made the first real move in female education in this country. A group of enlightened college professors decided to run a series of “lectures to ladies,” mainly to try to improve the minds of the governesses.
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Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Religion, Royalty on Wednesday, 20 February 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 144 published on 17 October 1964.
He was a mere law clerk and overseer of workmen at Windsor Castle at a salary of a shilling a day until death began to take its toll of his superiors. As, one after another, they died he took over their jobs – and salaries. Eventually he had sixteen new appointments including those of dean, canon and rector. In 1362 he had taken Holy Orders to be ready for such opportunities. Soon he was also Clerk of the Exchequer, Keeper of the Royal Forests and Privy Seal.
While still in his forties William of Wykeham became a millionaire.
The Black Death had depopulated the land, closed schools and killed thousands in key jobs. William decided that to “refurbish the state” with clerks and churchmen, a great new school and a college were needed. He had the money and decided to spend it on this work.
By the 1380s he had founded and endowed Winchester College and New College at Oxford. In comparison with other schools, Winchester was very large, with ninety-six scholars, commoners and choristers.
William of Wykeham’s noble enterprise stimulated other men of wealth and culture to found and endow schools over the next few decades, and by the beginning of the fifteenth century there was one grammar school for every 6,000 population. On average there were ten grammar schools in every county and seventeen in Hertfordshire alone, for a population of 30,000. London, with 44,000 inhabitants, had five or six. And a limit was set on numbers per class . . . about twenty-six.
The increase in educational opportunities was stimulated by Winchester, which also set the pattern for all the great traditional public schools we have today, including Eton.
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Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London, Religion on Monday, 11 February 2013
This edited article about Elizabeth Fry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 128 published on 27 June 1964.
Elizabeth Fry visiting Newgate Prison
“R – A – T. . . . Rat,” said the teacher at her blackboard.
“Please, Mum, like them ones?” called a boy as he pointed to the rats scurrying in the dark corner of the room.
“Those ones. . . . . Yes. Like those ones Thomas. Now, say after me. . . .”
Hastily Mrs. Elizabeth Fry turned her face away from the class so they would not see the tear that sprang unbidden to her eye.
For this was no ordinary school. It was nothing more than an empty cell in London’s ancient Newgate Prison. The pupils were the children of the prisoners, brought into the prison with their mothers by a blind and outdated legal code.
Born of a wealthy Quaker family who lived outside Norwich, Elizabeth had a taste of London’s witty and fashionable society before a sudden revelation drove her back to the country. At nineteen she set up a school for poor children.
Even now her real life’s work, the reform of Britain’s prisons, had not begun. After her marriage to a strict but wealthy Quaker named Joseph Fry she began to seek out the sick poor of the city and to set up schools and soup kitchens.
Then came the fateful day in 1813 when she visited Newgate Prison.
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