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Posted in Animals, Customs, Historical articles, History, Sport on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about the Palio of Siena originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 292 published on 19 August 1967.
A race in which jockeys carry vicious leather whips with which to hit out at other riders and where a riderless horse can still win first prize must obviously be something of a special occasion.
Add to these unusual facts a background of medieval pageantry and an environment steeped in history, and the stage is set for one of the world’s most interesting and colourful festivals.
The occasion is the ‘Palio of Siena’, held twice a year in the Italian hill city of Siena, set in the former grand duchy of Tuscany.
The origins of the present-day festival go back to the 15th century, when Siena was a free republic, and festivities were centred round the districts of the old medieval city.
For military and administrative purposes Siena was divided into three large sectors known as ‘Terzi’, or ‘thirds’. These sectors were again sub-divided into districts corresponding to the areas served by the various churches of the city. Each district had its own military company with its own standard, standard-bearer and weapons. Discipline was very strict, and members were forbidden to joust or play any games under a company insignia.
It therefore became the custom for outside groups of men to form teams to participate in local games and military manoeuvres. The teams sometimes included men from the various city companies.
The new groups were called ‘Contrade’ and they often met for recreational activities at times when there was no threat of war in the city. Each group had its own flag of brilliant colours that carried a distinctive animal symbol representing such attributes as strength (elephant), cunning (fox), wisdom (owl), determination (snail) and ferocity (dragon).
Over the years the simple games extended to embrace mock battles, bull fights, donkey and buffalo races. These competitions produced a team spirit among the Contrade, and all was well until the 16th century, when the Hapsburg king, Charles V, laid siege to the Republic and destroyed its independence.
The military companies were disbanded and only the Contrade, now divided into 17 groups, were left to carry on the old traditions. In time they became territorial bodies, with boundaries fixed in 1729 by an emissary of the Medici, the famous Florentine family which had exercised so much control over medieval Italy.
These boundaries are still observed, and the inhabitants of the Contrade are in effect citizens of a State within a State, a city within a city. At one time each was ruled by its own small democratically elected ‘government’, which passed laws, proclaimed ceremonies and founded traditions. Rivalry was great, and battles between warring Contrade were not unknown.
In all the Contrade, however, the main annual event was the buffalo races. In the first half of the 17th century these were alternated with horse-races, and eventually the buffalo races were stopped altogether.
It is from this time that the event as we now know it really took shape. Although the organisation of the festival has been improved, the costumes and significance of the various Contrade modified and the number of competitors reduced, the race is very much as it was over 300 years ago.
Of the 17 sections in the city, ten are elected to choose horses and riders to participate in the race round the shell-shaped city square.
The race is held on the 2nd July (Feast of the Madonna of Provenzano) and the 15th August (Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the city), the prize for the winner being a silken banner – the Palio – decorated with a picture of the Virgin and the arms of the city.
Race days are an occasion for flags and bunting to be hung from every balcony and for all the magnificent costumes of multi-coloured velvet, brocade, silk and damask to be proudly worn by the citizens.
Before the race the horses are taken into their local churches to be blessed, and many Sienese citizens observe the old pagan custom of consecrating themselves with the fresh waters of the fountains in their districts.
Up to 50,000 people come to watch the race and the parade which precedes it and in which the Palio is solemnly drawn along the race route by four white oxen; it is followed by armoured riders, flag dancers, banner wavers and a multitude of men and women who could quite easily have stepped out of the pages of history, so authentic and breathtaking are their costumes.
For the race the ten horses are ridden bareback three times round the square. No holds are barred and the whips are used not on the horses, but on nearby riders, in an effort to carve a way through the pack. Very often jockeys are thrown and injured, but if the horse crosses the winning line first the jockey still claims the Palio as his prize!
Victory brings not so much riches as personal honour and homage to the winner, who figures prominently in the elaborate and unusual victory celebrations of the lucky Contrada.
Long tables are set up in the main street for the holding of a victory feast, and at the head of the table will be, not the jockey, but the horse whose strength has brought fame to the district.
A pageant will recall events in the history of the Contrada, and nearly everyone will be in costume.
Posted in America, Historical articles, Sea, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about Gertrude Ederle originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 291 published on 12 August 1967.
On 6th August, 1926, the exhausted figure of a girl staggered out of the sea at Dover. Her name was Gertrude Caroline Ederle and she had just become the first woman to swim the English Channel. She had swum 35 miles from Cap Gris Nez on the coast of France in 14 hours 31 minutes, breaking the previous record by one hour and 59 minutes.
The feat of this American girl became sensational news around the world, and made a fitting climax to a career devoted to swimming. Born in New York on 23rd October, 1907, Trudy (as she was affectionately known by her fans) began swimming at an early age. Her instructor soon realised that she was a girl whose determination and skill would make her a champion. This faith in her was borne out when she won her first major international race at the age of 14. Four years later she held 18 world records for various distances.
The idea of long-distance swimming had always fascinated Trudy, and in 1925 she broke the men’s record for the swim from the Battery to Sandy Hook in New York Bay. This was done in seven hours 11 minutes, but it was only a step towards her greatest ambition.
Captain Matthew Webb, a daring Englishman, had been the first to swim the Channel on 24th August, 1875. Since then four other men had succeeded in making the crossing. Gertrude Ederle was determined to be the sixth Channel swimmer – and the first woman. So 41 years ago this week, she entered the sea at Cap Gris Nez and began her historic swim towards England using a powerful crawl stroke.
After her victory she devoted herself to the teaching of swimming.
Posted in Customs, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sport, War on Friday, 7 June 2013
This edited article about Florentine customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 284 published on 24 June 1967.
For the people of Florence, the commemorative games of football played on the first Sunday in May and on the 24th June symbolise confidence in the face of danger. Picture by Pat Nicolle
Just as we recall the cool defiance of Sir Francis Drake in the face of a Spanish invasion, so the people of Florence recall the courage shown by their ancestors when besieged by foreign troops.
For them it is a game of football that symbolises confidence in the face of danger. Twice a year, on the first Sunday in May and on 24th June, the day of St. John, the patron saint of the city, commemorative games are played in one of the city Squares. These are no ordinary football matches, for the rules go back nearly 400 years, and an accompanying parade recalls the glory that was Italy.
Although it is known that a match was played in the fourth century at a time when the city was under siege, the recorded history of the game really starts with the match played on the 17th February 1530 when the troops of the Hapsburg king, Charles V, were laying siege to the city.
The citizens decided to show their contempt for danger by holding their Carnival and football match as usual. To annoy their enemies they stationed musicians with trumpets and other instruments on the roof of the church of Sants Croce to provide fanfares for their celebrations! Despite bombardment by the infuriated Hapsburg troops, no damage or loss of life was recorded, and the festivities continued uninterrupted.
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Posted in Animals, Historical articles, Sport on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about the Derby originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 267 published on 25 February 1967.
Today horse-racing is one of the world’s “cleanest” sports. The few crooks who find their way on to the racecourse are soon chased off again by the hundreds of people who keep an eagle eye open to see that a fine sport isn’t ruined.
Lord George Bentinck, the man who cleaned up racing, deserves the title “The Sherlock Holmes of the Turf”.
Racing in the middle of the last century attracted rogues the way a bright light draws moths. In 1844, when the Derby, one of the greatest Classic races in the world, was won by the colt “Running Rein”, that victory meant a lot to a certain Mr. Goodman, who gained £50,000 by it.
Lord George was suspicious. The Derby is for three-year-olds only, and an older and more experienced horse would have a good chance of beating the pick of any of these. Somebody whispered to Lord George that “Running Rein” was a little older than three.
But there wasn’t much he could do to prove the whisper right or wrong – or not until, after nearly a year of quiet investigation, he heard a rumour that the horse’s legs had been dyed or stained another colour before the race.
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Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sport, War on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Marathon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Pheidippides bringing news of Pan's promise to Athens in 490 BC by Alberto Salinas
The runner was at the point of exhaustion, for it was September and the land around was swimming with heat. It was an inhospitable area, this stretch of country between Athens and Sparta. The rocky ground rose steeply on each side of the track, forming cliffs pitted with deep caves.
As he reeled past one of the larger caverns the runner saw – or thought he saw – a strange figure emerging from its depths: the figure of a man with the legs and horns of a goat. It could only be Pan, the god of nature, and, in his exhaustion, the runner thought that the god spoke, promising victory to the Athenians in coming battle, if they would honour him.
The year was 490 B.C., and the Persian army was on the move – an army created out of an enormous empire that stretched from the Black Sea to Egypt – sworn to destroy the arrogant Greeks.
There could have seemed little doubt as to the issue. The Persian general had under his command Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Medes, all knitted into one great army numbering perhaps 30,000 men. Opposing it were the tiny independent cities of Greece, whom all the world knew were incapable of combining against a common enemy.
The Persians crossed from Asia into Europe by the narrow sea now known as the Dardanelles and then turned southward, but, before Athens, there was a small plain called Marathon where perhaps the great hordes could be held at bay until help came. The Athenians marched all their available troops to Marathon, but these numbered only 10,000. The Spartans had promised to send an army and therefore an Athenian citizen, the runner Pheidippides, was sent hastening to them to warn them that the time was at hand.
It was about 150 miles from Athens to Sparta – and Pheidippides covered the distance in just 48 hours! In all that time he could have snatched only the briefest periods of rest. But there was bitter disappointment for him when he arrived at the city. The Spartans agreed to send help – but not until the night of the full moon, nearly two weeks away. Pheidippides did not reproach them, for all Greeks were bound by the oracles. He turned and ran the long, weary way back to Athens with his bad news. But he brought, too, the promise of the god Pan.
There could be no further delay, for the Persian army were already at Marathon. Tradition has it that Pheidippides continued on to Marathon in time for the fantastic Greek charge which completely routed the dismayed Persians. A mile separated the two forces, but the heavily-armed Greeks charged the distance at the double in the stifling heat. The Persians fled: the Athenians believed that Pan had kept his promise and spread dismay among them, and so they later erected an altar to his honour.
Pheidippides, too, had his memorial, and one that outlasted that of Pan. The Athenians named one of the great races of their Olympic games the ‘Marathon’, after his run, and even today the name is used for any great feat of endurance.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Scotland, Sport on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Scotland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
Few places in Britain have a more time-worn atmosphere than the long street in Edinburgh called the Royal Mile. The street runs from the grim, black castle on the crest of the hill, down past the ruined Holyrood Abbey and the restored royal palace of Holyrood House.
Medieval ‘skyscrapers’, among the oldest in Europe, still cling precariously on the height close by the castle. More than half a dozen storeys high, these old tenements are black and shabby, but they were once the best houses in town. This was before people of influence moved down into the flat land below the castle, where Edinburgh’s New Town was laid out in the early 19th century.
This ‘new town’, which had squares of classical proportions and long, wide streets such as Princes Street, Queen Street and George Street, was inspired by the Scottish-born architects, the Adam brothers.
The tall assembly hall of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland stands on the hill alongside the tenements. Farther down the street are St. Giles, the Presbyterian’s principal ‘kirk’, the black stone official chambers of the city’s Lord Provost, and the restored medieval cross where royal proclamations are still made.
The errand boys of Edinburgh once congregated here. They were called ‘caddies’, a Scottish version of the French word, cadets, meaning ‘youngsters’ or ‘juniors’. An English traveller, Edward Topham, referred to them in 1776 as “a set of men who are called in this country caddies, who constantly attend the Cross in the High-street and whose business is to do anything that anybody can want and discharge any kind of business . . .” In other words, they were jacks-of-all-trades, willing to turn their hands to most tasks.
Golf was the principal sport in Scotland, and one of the most frequent tasks of the caddies was to carry the players’ clubs on the links. The term ‘links’ referring to a golf course, which has now become world wide, originated in Scotland and is still the term used in Scotland to describe any stretch of semi-waste land along the sea. (Early golfers had found their courses among the natural plateaux and hollows of sand dunes near the sea shores.)
When Scotland’s King James VI came to London as England’s King James I, he played golf on Blackheath, near the old Greenwich Palace, and here two caddies were employed. One of them was called the forward caddy, and players used to cry “fore” to warn him to follow the ball that had just been hit.
Caddies no longer serve as messengers and handymen in Edinburgh, and mechanical devices are replacing caddies on the Scottish links, as elsewhere. But, especially in big matches, a golfer will still occasionally call for a caddy.
Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about W G Grace originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
Dr W. G. Grace, English cricketer, playing for Eltham, in the match between Gravesend and Eltham at Gravesend, in September 1913, a month before his 65th birthday
One name stands above all others in the annals of English cricket – that of W. G. Grace. He is the only sportsman commemorated with an LCC blue plaque, which is to be found, well away from the noisy heart of London, at Fairmount, Mottingham Lane, London, S.E.9. The ‘Old Man’ played his last game from this house on 25th July, 1914, when he made 69 not out for Eltham at Grove Park.
Son of a doctor, William Gilbert Grace was himself trained as a surgeon, and for 20 years led the busy life of a country physician. Like others in the family, however, his real passion was for cricket. He learned to handle a bat when very young, and is said to have played for West Gloucestershire at the age of ten.
Grace made his first major impact on the cricketing world when, at 16, he played for The Gentlemen against The Players at the Oval in 1865. Thanks to him, the victory went to The Gentlemen for the first time in many years.
Two years later, he was playing for England against Surrey, and astonished all with an extraordinary score. Wickets were decidedly rough in those days – modern players would probably have pronounced them impossible – there was no boundary line and all runs scored were actually run. Moreover, the hours of play were longer, and there were few intervals. For a man to score more than 50 in such conditions was unusual, and a century was rare indeed, so there was quite a lot of excitement when this game ended with ‘W.G.’ still at the wicket, not out and with 224 runs to his credit!
He didn’t always win, of course – in 1871 he was twice bowled in the first over – but that sort of thing didn’t happen very often. He was also a bowler of formidable skill.
Truly a national figure, W.G.’s burly, bearded form was familiar far beyond the cricket field. He was feted wherever he went.
In 1880, W.G. played for England in the first Test against Australia, and afterwards captained every English Test side for nearly 20 years. In 1899, he accepted an invitation to become manager and captain of the newly formed London County Cricket Club. The venture was not a success and the club closed in 1908 – the year of the Old Man’s last appearance in first-class cricket.
He was then 60. During his career he scored 54,896 runs, made 126 centuries and took 2,876 wickets.
Posted in Africa, Cars, Sport on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about motor rallying originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
The car was far from new, but the brothers Jogindar and Jaswant were proud of it.
They sat side by side in the tough, ruggedly-built Swedish Volvo, with, all around them, Europe’s leading rally drivers, ready for the start of the 13th East African Safari from Nairobi, Kenya. In the teeming rain it was impossible to tell the gleaming new cars from the old.
Jogindar and Jaswant Singh belonged to a Sikh family which had left India to settle in Kenya. Nairobi was their home town, and their greatest ambition was to be the first non-Europeans ever to win the Safari Rally.
In the rally list, they were to be first away at the start.
“What’s the weather forecast?” Jaswant asked his brother.
Jogindar grinned. “Floods and landslides all the way. Three thousand miles. I think we can take it – but can the car?”
There was no time for Jaswant to answer; they were flagged away into the night, leading a long stream of 85 cars signalled off at three-minute intervals from a ramp outside Nairobi City Hall.
From the moment they left the town, they were off the smooth road surfaces from which the teeming rain drained away. The Safari route was over rough tracks which, muddy and full of potholes even in the best of weather, had now turned into a sea of brown slime. The driving rain made it impossible to see the potholes until the wheels of the car crashed down into them with spine-jarring force, twisting the steering-wheel in the driver’s grasp and wrenching even the Volvo’s tough suspension.
As leaders, Jogindar and Jaswant saw nothing of their rivals until they reached a checkpoint in the morning.
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Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Sport on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about the Turf originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 241 published on 27 August 1966.
The Godolphin Barb was pulling a market gardener's cart in Paris when a shrewd Englishman saw the stallion
Nearly fifty-four million years ago, when the earth’s crust was still marshy, an animal known as Eohippus, or ‘little dawn horse’, lived in North America. Eohippus was the ancestor of the modern horse, but at that time he was no bigger than a fox, and he had five toes on the front feet and three toes on the hind. As the ages passed and the swamps changed to forests and dry land, his legs grew longer and his feet adapted to the hard ground. The central toe broadened and the nail gradually changed, forming the hoof of the modern horse.
The horse became temporarily extinct in America, possibly due to disease, but before the breed died out, they spread across the Bering Straits which connected the Western and Eastern Hemispheres at that time. They gradually divided into two main groups, the strong, resilient horse of the cold Northern Hemisphere and the elegant, fast animal of the warmer Southern Hemisphere.
Primitive man hunted horses for food, but thousands of years passed before someone discovered that they could be tamed and controlled by inserting a ‘bit’ into their mouths. Afterwards men used the horse as a draught animal, to pull ploughs and carry loads.
Horses were used to pull war-chariots in Greece in 4000 B.C., and Assyrian kings had specialised racing stables about 1500 B.C.
Grecian racehorses were bred mostly in Greece itself, but many were imported from Asia Minor and North Africa. As early as 1000 B.C. North African horses were highly esteemed and much sought-after. They were the ancestral stocks from which the Arabian, Turks and Barbs of modern times descend, while these, in turn, were the fathers from which the present thoroughbred derives. When Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C. he found highly skilled war-charioteers, who greatly impressed him.
The status of the sport of racing was aristocratic from the beginning. Rich noblemen probably purchased the best horses they could buy and raced against each other for fun. The earliest formal description of mounted horse racing in England is 1174, during the reign of Henry II. It took place outside the gates of London and Smithfield, where horse fairs were held every Friday.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about W G Grace originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 236 published on 23 July 1966.
William Gilbert Grace, born on July 18, 1848, became one of the greatest cricketers of all time. Although he qualified as a doctor, his whole life was devoted to cricket.
He came from a famous cricketing family. His father, also a doctor, was a well-known player, and his two brothers both played for Gloucestershire and England.
W. G. Grace was in the team which in 1880 played the first Test Match against Australia, and he subsequently captained the England eleven in all the Tests until 1899.
An unrivalled batsman, Grace scored 54,000 runs between 1863 and 1900, his best single total being 344 (out of 546) for the M.C.C. against Kent in 1876.
His total of 126 three-figure innings in first-class cricket remained a record until it was beaten by Jack Hobbs in 1925. Grace also passed the double century on ten occasions; three times his score in a single innings was a triple century; and on three occasions he made a century in both innings of a match.
Besides being a superb batsman, Grace was an outstanding bowler. During his career he took a total of 2,800 wickets, and in each of seven seasons took over 100 wickets. Once, in an innings against Oxford University, he took all ten wickets.
On another occasion, Grace and his spaniel defeated the St. George’s Club, Bristol. The Club batted, Grace bowled, and the spaniel “fielded”. When Grace went in to bat, nothing could move him.
Over six feet tall and with a long, black beard, Grace was always an impressive figure at the wicket. He died on October 23, 1915.