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Posted in Historical articles, History, Philanthropy, Politics, Ships on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about Samuel Plimsoll originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 265 published on 11 February 1967.
Mr Plimsoll speaking in the House of Commons on Shipping Interests, 1870
The House of Commons was in an uproar. The Honourable Member for Derby had called the Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli, “a villain,” and he had shaken his fist at the Speaker.
The cause of the disturbance was Samuel Plimsoll, a Liberal M.P. He was furious because the Prime Minister had announced that a Bill he had introduced which he believed would save the lives of hundreds of sailors every year, was to be dropped.
This man, who in his indignation insulted Mr. Disraeli, was born on 10th February, 1824, in Bristol. He came to London and set up as a coal merchant, but trade was very bad and for a long time he only had seven shillings a week to live on.
Forced to live in the cheapest lodgings he could find, he came in contact with the poorest people of the city. He was shocked at their plight and was determined to help them: particularly the sailors. He had been horrified to learn how the greedy owners of ships – ‘coffin ships’ the sailors called them – insured them for much more than their value and sent them to sea in bad condition. When the ships sank because they were not seaworthy, or because they were overloaded, the owners collected large sums of money from the insurance companies. They did not worry about the seamen who went down with the ships. But Samuel Plimsoll did.
When his business improved Plimsoll became a Member of Parliament with the one idea of stopping the coffin ships. So when the Prime Minister announced that his Bill to safeguard sailors was to be dropped, Plimsoll was very angry.
At first he was censured, but then people began to wonder why he had felt so strongly. The Bill was re-examined and suddenly Plimsoll found himself with a great many supporters. Finally a law was passed that ships had to have a line painted on their hulls indicating the limit to which the ship might be safely loaded. To this day the ‘safe load’ device on a ship’s side is known as the Plimsoll Mark.
Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about the South Sea Bubble originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 265 published on 11 February 1967.
The Directors of the South Sea Company making their getaway among an angry crowd, by C L Doughty
Ever since the great days of Drake and Raleigh, the Spanish Main had exercised a powerful lure for Englishmen.
When, therefore, the Lord Chancellor of England formed a company in 1711 to trade with Spanish America, widespread interest was aroused.
The glowing prospectus of the South Sea Company totally ignored the fact that the days of piracy were over, and that the countries which they proposed to exploit were firmly under the control of Spain. It also conveniently glossed over the fact that only one ship a year could trade with Mexico, Peru and Chile, and that the king of Spain would take at least a quarter of even these small profits.
The public was vastly encouraged by the fact that the South Sea Company was backed at the very highest level. When George I opened Parliament in November, 1719, he emphasised to the Commons that some way must be found to reduce the National Debt. This stood then at some £55 million and statesmen were worried that it would never be repaid. It therefore seemed an excellent idea to transfer a large part of the Debt to the South Sea Company as stock, and make the ‘dead’ money work. Those who were owed money by the government were offered shares in the Company. The Prince of Wales himself was now the patron – what better guarantee of success for the Company could there be?
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Medicine, Plants, Politics on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about coffee originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
For more than a century after the first coffee house was opened in London in 1652, the drinking of coffee was a fashionable thing to do. More coffee houses were opened to keep pace with the demand, and before long, men were to be found discussing business and politics over a cup of coffee.
A coffee house in St. James’s Street was the accepted meeting place for members of the Whig political party; others, like the Grecian in the Strand, catered for men of literary tastes.
Anyone with a nose for news could be found in the coffee houses, whence came the latest information especially from abroad.
Britain’s famous group of underwriters grew up round a coffee house which was opened by Edward Lloyd in 1688. Those connected with shipping used to gather there and do business while enjoying a cup of the proprietor’s best blend. By 1692, Edward Lloyd had to find more spacious premises, and before four years had passed, Lloyd’s News, giving information on shipping affairs, was being published for the use of patrons. Before long, a number of customers formed a company to deal with maritime insurance.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, London, News, Philanthropy, Politics on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about W H Smith originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
A branch of W H Smith at a Victorian railway station
The rather stately house at No. 12 Hyde Park Street, Westminster, is not the sort of property one would expect to be the home of a bookseller. But then, W. H. Smith, who once occupied it, was no ordinary bookseller, and the blue plaque there mentions another aspect of his life, for William Henry Smith was one of the leading statesmen of his time.
W. H. Smith’s business life was thrust upon him by his father, a leading newsagent, who insisted that, instead of going to Oxford University, he should enter the family firm. Bitterly disappointed, the young man nevertheless threw himself into his work, and, at 21, became his father’s partner.
He was very shrewd, and soon realised that the new railways offered great possibilities for the company. His first step was to obtain exclusive rights to open bookstalls on the stations of all important lines – and on one of them he was known for a time as the ‘North-Western Missionary’, owing to his refusal to sell books he considered dubious. At main stations he leased all appropriate blank walls, which he then let to those wishing to practise the new art of advertising. He opened a circulating library with a stock of many thousands of volumes, and entered the publishing trade with a series of cheap reprints. By the time his father died, in 1865, he was 40 years old and head of a large and very profitable business.
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Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Politics on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about Spencer Perceval originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 262 published on 21 January 1967.
John Bellingham assassinating the Rt Hon Spencer Perceval in the Lobby of the House of Commons, 11 May 1812, by George Cruikshank
In the small hours of the morning of 2nd May, 1812, Mr. John Williams, a respected mine-owner of Redruth, in Cornwall, awoke from a vivid and disturbing dream. It worried him so much that he awoke his wife and told her, but she only laughed and told him to go back to sleep.
Mr. Williams did so, but twice more he had the dream.
“I dreamed that I was in the lobby of the House of Commons – a place well known to me. A small man, dressed in a blue coat and white waistcoat, entered – and immediately I saw another man take a pistol from under his coat and point it at the little man.
“The pistol was discharged and the ball entered under the left breast of the person at whom it was directed. I saw the blood issue from the place where the ball had struck him and he fell to the ground. Upon inquiry who the sufferer might be, I was informed that he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Next morning, Mr. Williams was so troubled that he wondered whether he ought to go to London and make an official statement. Friends persuaded him not to, but it might have been better for Spencer Perceval, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, if Mr. Williams had made known his dream. A little over a week afterwards Perceval was murdered in the House of Commons in exactly the manner that Williams had seen in his dream.
The assassin was a man called Bellingham, whose career had been as disastrous as Perceval’s had been fortunate. Bellingham’s father had died in a lunatic asylum and Bellingham was himself probably insane. A series of business ventures he commenced all failed and culminated in a bitter experience in Russia. An insurance company with which he was connected refused to pay compensation on a Russian ship lost at sea, and Bellingham was made the scapegoat. He suffered five years’ imprisonment and returned to England nursing a burning grievance against the British Government, which had been unable to obtain his release from prison.
Back in England, Bellingham pestered everyone who would listen to an account of his wrongs. He approached Perceval with a request that a petition should be presented to Parliament, but the Prime Minister was unable to grant the request. Bellingham then had the petition printed and circulated to all members of the Commons.
It failed in its purpose and the failure seems finally to have turned his brain. On 11th May he stationed himself quite openly in the lobby of the House and, when Perceval arrived, he fired. The Prime Minister died almost immediately and Bellingham made no attempt to escape. Indeed, when an officer of the House called out “Where is the rascal that fired?” Bellingham stepped forward. “I am the unfortunate man.” He was tried and executed a week later, despite the fact that he was obviously not responsible for his actions.
Meanwhile, in Cornwall, Mr. Williams anxiously scrutinised the infrequent newspapers. He was beginning to believe that his dream had been nothing more than a dream, when, on 13th May “my second son, returning from Truro, came in a hurried manner into the room where I was sitting and exclaimed: ‘Father, your dream has come true. Mr. Perceval has been shot in the lobby of the House of Commons.’ ”
Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Politics on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
The Humours of St Giles's
The Intrepid Fox was a popular alehouse in Wardour Street, Soho. Its reputation as a place of ill repute owes as much to its political habitues as it does to the drunken rascals who sought oblivion there. The growth and importance of coffee houses as places of artistic and political discourse in the Eighteenth Century is well known, but public houses have not enjoyed so lofty an historical pedigree. The Intrepid Fox, however, owes its name to the radical politics of its owner, one Samuel House, who named his premises after the great Whig politician Charles James Fox, during the Westminster election of 1784. In modern times the rebuilt pub became an alternative venue for rock and Heavy Metal music fans, and was frequented by the Rolling Stones among other famous musicians. It relocated to St Giles in 2006, the parish mentioned in the title of our picture, where Sam House can be seen at the window, and his tavern sign shows a fearless fox running from its pursuers.
Many more pictures of Soho can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics, World War 2 on Tuesday, 21 May 2013
This edited article about Neville Chamberlain originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 261 published on 14 January 1967.
Chamberlain and Hitler after signing the Munich Agreement by Angus McBride
In the late summer and early autumn of 1938, Europe was again on the brink of war. Adolf Hitler, leader of Germany was casting covetous eyes on Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had been artificially created after the First World War and Hitler now claimed that part of it, called the Sudetanland, belonged to Germany, for it sheltered some 300,000 Germans. News leaked out in May that Hitler was planning a military attack and Europe prepared for war. On 15th September, however, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister flew to Germany and extracted promises from Hitler that seemed to remove the immediate threat of war.
A week later he again flew to Germany: to sign the agreement which had been made the week before.
But, in spite of the official welcome, Chamberlain found that Hitler was bent on increasing his demands. Chamberlain returned to England and began preparing for war – as, indeed, most countries in Europe were preparing. There was little military preparation possible, for England had fallen behind in armaments, but the little that could be done was put in hand. Slit trenches appeared in the parks, sandbags and a few anti-aircraft guns on the public buildings; children were evacuated from London and hospitals emptied.
On Wednesday, 28th September, the Prime Minister was addressing the House of Commons outlining the grave situation, when a message was brought to him. He read it and then looked up, smiling with relief. Hitler, he told the House, was prepared to have another conference. The House went wild with delight.
Chamberlain again left for Germany. This time he met Hitler in Munich and after a gruelling 14-hour session an agreement was reached. Britain and her Allies in effect abandoned Czechoslovakia, but Hitler in return promised that there would be no military action. On the following day Chamberlain had a private talk with Hitler and persuaded him to sign a document saying that the Munich agreement “was symbolic of the desire to our two countries never to go to war with one another again”. Chamberlain intended to give the maximum publicity to this document so that all the world would know what kind of man Hitler was if he broke the agreement. It was this ‘scrap of paper’ which Chamberlain waved to the anxious crowds who awaited him at the airport on his return to England. “I believe it is peace in our time,” he said.
The Prime Minister was greeted rapturously in England but nearly all the countries who would be involved in war shared the relief.
The King of England congratulated him and the British Press was unanimous in its praise.
Just 11 months afterwards, the Second World War broke out – the ‘scrap of paper’ had meant nothing to Adolf Hitler.
Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Oddities, Politics on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about Jacques LeBaudy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 260 published on 7 January 1967.
Berbers on horseback around the time LeBaudy established his empire
From the age of six, Jacques LeBaudy knew exactly what he wanted. He put it into words when his father asked him what he would like for Christmas.
“A throne!” replied the little boy. And to have an empire of his very own was an obsession which remained with him for the rest of his life.
Jacques’s father became a millionaire in the sugar business, and at the age of 24, Jacques inherited his vast fortune. Now that he was one of the richest men in France, he secretly planned to achieve his childhood ambition.
He boarded his yacht Fransquita with 200 men whom he had secretly hired in Paris. Most of them were ex-soldiers, but there was also a sprinkling of men from the underworld. The senior man was an ex-American bank-robber.
As well as being overloaded with passengers, the luxury yacht had a strange cargo; it included 16 cannon, a printing press, a guillotine – and a throne.
The voyage ended at the West African coast. As land came in sight, LeBaudy assembled his men.
“We have come to set up the Saharan Empire of LeBaudy,” he announced.
He went on to explain how he had employed geographical experts to find him a part of the world which did not belong to an existing Power. These experts had discovered that there was a huge ‘no-man’s-land’ in the Sahara, stretching 150 miles from Cape Juby to Cape Bojador. Inland it covered hundreds of square miles, being situated between the frontiers of Morocco and the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro. This vast piece of desert was to be the new ‘Empire’.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Politics, War on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about William Pitt the Younger originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 260 published on 7 January 1967.
William Pitt pointing to the map of France after hearing of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz, by Angus McBride
Few young men could look forward to so brilliant a career as could William Pitt in the year 1783. He was not yet 25 – but he was Prime Minister of Great Britain. His father, too, had been a great parliamentarian and when he received the Earldom of Chatham as reward for his services, the young William exclaimed: “I am glad that I am not the eldest son. I want to speak in the House of Commons like Papa.”
Pitt was a comparatively poor man when he entered Parliament for he enjoyed an income of only £300 per year. But when, in 1782, he was offered a post in the government at a salary of £5,000 a year – he declined it. He told the House that he had no intention of accepting any post except a seat in the Cabinet. In those days the Cabinet consisted of about seven men, and many of his colleagues considered that the 23-year-old statesman was being arrogant in the extreme. But Pitt knew what he was doing: a little more than 18 months afterwards he was offered the highest position in the Cabinet.
William Pitt’s first administration lasted for 17 continuous years. During the first half of that period England enjoyed a prosperity and tranquillity she was not to know again for many years. But from 1792 onwards a change came, not only over England but over all Europe. The French Revolution was breaking up the old pattern of power and soon the Revolutionaries were turning their arms upon the neighbouring monarchies.
During the Revolutionary Wars, Pitt played the part which Winston Churchill was to play during the war against Germany. He became the symbol as well as the head of a government determined to resist even when resistance seemed hopeless. Soon the French acquired their own symbol and leader, the Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte and with his military genius, the tide began to turn in favour of France.
In October, 1805, Napoleon defeated the Emperors of Russia and Austria, England’s allies, at the battle of Austerlitz. The French now were dominant on land even though the English controlled the sea. The news almost broke Pitt, for it was the destruction of all that for which he had worked. When the news came to him he gestured at a great map hanging on the wall of his room. “Roll up that map of Europe, it will not be wanted these 10 years.” It was an accurate prophecy. Just 10 years later the victorious Allies drew up the political boundaries of Europe at the peace of Paris. But Pitt survived the news of Austerlitz by only a year. In those last months of his life his face bore an expression of sadness.
Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Politics on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about Lord Salisbury originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Lord Salisbury on the parish councils bill in the House of Lords, January 25, 1894
One of Gladstone’s chief political opponents lived at Fitzroy Square, where, at number 21, there is a plaque bearing his name: Robert Cecil, third Marquis of Salisbury.
Powerful and popular in his heyday, Cecil bore little resemblance to the frail, much bullied Eton schoolboy he had once been.
For most of his youth his health was poor. On the advice of a doctor, he was sent on a voyage and visited South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, where he was briefly involved in the gold rush of 1852. He visited the ‘diggings’ dressed in best London style, with a white topper and a formal suit, but he lived roughly, travelling by foot, horse and cart.
Much strengthened by this experience, Cecil returned to England and, at the age of 23, became a member of Parliament. At first he made little progress there, for other things occupied his attention. He married against his father’s will and as a result had to earn his own living. He became a journalist, working out his political ideas in articles for the weekly reviews.
His fortunes changed in 1865, when his elder brother died. Now heir to an important family line, he became actively involved in politics again. Disliking Disraeli, he attacked him vigorously in the Press and in the House. Disraeli admired his spirit and helped him become Secretary of State for India. Cecil resigned soon afterwards, however, to mark his opposition to an extension of the right to vote, disliking the changes he thought must follow such a step.
Despondent about the leaders of his day, despising their methods of diplomacy and their adherence to party politics, he thought of abandoning parliamentary life. When his father died, he withdrew to the family house at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and buried himself in the affairs of the estate. It was there that he experimented with electricity, and his was the first private house to have electric light. It was also one of the first to have a telephone.
But Cecil took his responsibilities seriously and felt bound to take part in debates at the House of Lords. There he caused a stir. Traditionalists labelled him dangerous and for a long time he invariably found himself in opposition. He became noted for his courage.
In 1874, he once again became Secretary for India, which at that time was still recovering from the Mutiny. He took an unusual interest in race relations and insisted that native opinion be treated with respect. Four years later he was appointed Foreign Secretary, where he made an immediate success of difficult negotiations with Turkey and Russia.
In 1885, Cecil was for the first time appointed Prime Minister. He held the post for a total of 13 years, and was the dominant political figure of his day.