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Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, Trade on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about money originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Economists frown over it, people earn it, save it and spend it, but few remember its chequered history. England’s currency, confusing to foreign visitors, is a conglomeration of age-old systems of payment by money.
During the 8th century, silver coins were minted by the Anglo-Saxons. Two hundred and forty were made from each pound weight of silver. These silver pennies were the only form of currency until the 13th century.
Under the 7th century King Ine of Wessex, the ‘penny’ is mentioned in a set of his laws, as the coin of lowest value in circulation. It seems that the word ‘penny’ comes from the name of one of the most powerful Kings of the ancient middle kingdom of England, (Mercia) called Penda, who issued them.
Under Offa, a later King of Mercia, many different coins, some of high artistic merit, were minted. These silver pennies had the King’s name on one side and the name of the man who minted them on the other.
Daily we use the signs £ s. d. for our pounds, shillings and pence without really noticing that they do not bear much resemblance to the words we use. After the Norman Conquest, when Latin was the common language for documents, the Latin words libra, solidus and denarius were used for accounting purposes. And today we still add up our money sums under the initial letters of these words as they did centuries ago.
From the middle of the 14th century gold coins of a much higher value were introduced into England. Exquisite gold coins – 1 and a half inches in diameter and very thin – survive from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I showing her crowned profile on one side and the royal arms on the other. The intrinsic value of this gold coin was one pound. The first gold piece worth a pound had been produced by the Queen’s grandfather, the first Tudor King, Henry VII, in 1489. It bore such a magnificent portrait of him that the piece became known as the ‘sovereign’.
The only silver coin called a pound is one bearing an equestrian portrait of King Charles I. He ran out of gold during the Civil War of his reign, and had to resort to silver. He made a few of these coins, which are two inches in diameter and one quarter of an inch thick, before he lost his head. The face value of this coin was 20 shillings, or 240 pennies.
From Saxon times, pennies had to be of such a weight that 240 of them, a pound’s worth, had to weigh precisely one pound.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Pierre Radisson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
Pierre Radisson runs the gauntlet of whips and thongs to prove his courage to his Mohak captors by Severino Baraldi
All the winter long, sixteen-year-old Pierre Radisson and his friends had been cooped-up in their homes in the little village of Three Rivers, near Montreal, in French Canada. Then, with the coming of Spring, the three boys decided to go on a hunting trip. They set out to shoot duck, and the wild geese which were winging their way north to the Arctic.
Once past the wooden stakes that surrounded and protected their village, the boys were themselves in danger of being hunted. They risked capture by the fierce Mohawk Indians. This was the spring of 1652, when there was great enmity between the Canadian Indians and the French settlers who had founded their own colony in the St. Lawrence Valley. As they moved along the banks of the St. Lawrence towards Lake St. Peter, the boys kept a sharp look out for Indians. But in the excitement of ‘bagging’ three geese, ten ducks, and a crane, Pierre forgot all about the Mohawks. He became separated from his two friends, and was appalled when he suddenly stumbled across their blood-soaked bodies. They had been brutally killed and scalped!
Then, before he had time to turn and run, he was himself attacked by some thirty Mohawks. He fired at them with his fowling piece and pistols, but he was soon overpowered and thrown to the ground. He was certain that, like his friends, he would be scalped and then cut to pieces by his captors’ tomahawks.
Instead the Mohawks kept Pierre a prisoner. They daubed his face with red and black war paint, and covered his body with thick grease. They then tied him up in one of their canoes, and began the return journey to their village.
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Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Historical articles, History, Religion, Trade, World War 2 on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Coventry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
The entrance to Coventry's guildhall, St Mary's Hall, in Bailey Lane, where the buildings show the city's division between religion and commerce
The city of Coventry was heavily attacked in the last World War. On the night of 14th November, 1940, German bombs devastated the city. Again, in the following April, air attacks wrought widespread destruction, and the ancient city was almost razed to the ground. But, naturally resilient, it has largely been rebuilt, emphasising modernity especially in the inspired design of the new Coventry cathedral. Yet at the same time it treasures its heritage from the past.
Coventry grew up around a Benedictine monastery erected in 1043 by Earl Leofric and his wife, Godgyfu (known to us as Godiva), on one of their manors. The Earl had control of one-half of the settlement and the prior of the monastery kept control of the other.
This division in the early history of the city encouraged a healthy rivalry between the two halves, and Coventry thrived and became prosperous. As early as the reign of King John, the city had a booming trade in wool and cloth, over which loomed the iron discipline of the various guilds which watched over the standard of the goods produced.
Every length of cloth that went through the gates of Coventry was inspected and then branded with the city’s stamp. Coventry had a high reputation for the quality of the cloth produced, and proudly did its best to preserve its good name.
Coventry derived considerable importance from its favourable position in the centre of the country. During the Civil War in the 17th century, the neighbouring city of Birmingham had a habit of sending any stray Cavaliers that were captured to Coventry, to be kept safely behind that city’s strong walls. It was from this practice that in the present day, when a group of people refuse to associate with one of their number, we say he has been “sent to Coventry.”
In the days when Coventry was such an important centre for cloth weaving, the town also gained a tremendous reputation for the dyeing of cloth, especially in the colour blue. It was very difficult to get satisfactory results with blue dye, chiefly because it was particularly susceptible to fading. The quality of Coventry’s blue was credited to the water of the city’s stream, the Sherbourne, so people wanting to describe the steadfastness of materials or friends, spoke of them being “as true as Coventry blue.” In time, the phrase was shortened to ‘true blue’ and, as a mark of distinction, came to rival ‘good as gold.’
Posted in Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Trade on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about John Spencer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
John Spencer seeing the accidentally sheet of metal which gave him an idea which revolutionised the building trade, by John Millar Watt
In the 1840s, railways were spreading rapidly across England. The Spencer Iron Works in Birmingham was making rails for a new line to run between London and Worcester via Oxford. In those days, rails were shaped rather like a broad upside-down “U”.
One day, a sheet of metal serving as a protection for men working on the rail – making machine, worked loose and was pulled into the machine. It emerged thoroughly crunched into a series of waves. The workmen cast it aside, put up a new sheet and got on with the job.
John Spencer, master of the ironworks, was walking round the works, checking that everything was running smoothly, when he saw the spoiled sheet. He picked it up.
Instead of flopping about as a thin sheet of metal normally would, it remained straight and rigid. Spencer stared at it. He stood it up and leaned his weight on it. It did not bend.
Spencer stood still for several minutes. Here was a marvellous new process which actually increased the strength of metal sheets! The sheets would be cheap to produce, easy to transport. They would revolutionise the building industry . . .
Spencer obtained a patent and started manufacturing corrugated sheets, and other iron masters soon followed his example. The sheets were made from wrought or puddled iron.
They were corrugated in the black (raw) state and were then galvanised by dipping in an open bath of molten zinc, to prevent corrosion or rusting. In the early days of the process, the output was small, and the cost higher than John Spencer had anticipated, but the quality was excellent and showed great promise.
In 1860, the corrugating of steel sheets became a commercial proposition, but they were produced only in heavy gauges, and it was not until 30 years later that light gauges were successfully achieved.
By 1891, the total production of corrugated metal exceeded 200,000 tons, 75 per cent of which was exported. The sheets were used for roofing, siding, fume-ducts and culverts, etc. Some of this sheeting is still in use, although it was fixed in place more than 60 years ago.
Nowadays, cardboard, aluminium, plastics and most malleable materials may be corrugated to increase their strength – and all because of that incident at the Spencer works in 1843.
Posted in Architecture, Art, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Trade on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about Henry Tate originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 236 published on 23 July 1966.
It was through lumps of sugar that London got its Tate Gallery, which was opened to the public on July 21, 1897.
In 1834, when 15-year-old Henry Tate started work in a Liverpool grocer’s shop, sugar was sold in either granular form or in large pieces weighing several pounds (one of these pieces was called a “loaf”). Tate realized that it would be much more convenient if people could buy their sugar in small lumps, each containing about as much sugar as a teaspoon would hold.
When he set up in business as a sugar refiner a few years later, Tate invented a machine for cutting sugar loaves into small cubes for household use. The idea proved tremendously popular and Tate made a huge fortune from the sale of his sugar lumps.
Tate believed that some, at least, of the wealth he had made from the public should be devoted to the public good. He built and equipped the Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool, provided libraries for Liverpool and Manchester universities, and public libraries at Brixton, Streatham and Lambeth.
A life-long enthusiast for 19th-century art, Tate formed a collection of nearly 100 paintings by the outstanding artists of his day. In 1892, he offered his collection to the nation on condition that the government provided a site for a gallery to house them. He also promised £80,000 for the cost of building the gallery.
This offer was accepted and the Tate National Gallery of Modern Art was built on the banks of the Thames. Two years later, Tate doubled its accommodation at his own expense. Other benefactors added new galleries to the Tate, which now houses some 3,000 works by British painters and sculptors and about 500 by foreign artists.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about Raffles originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.
Thomas Stamford Raffles, born on July 5, 1781, became a clerk in the London offices of the East India Company. He became fascinated by everything to do with the East Indies, and studied the Malay language. In 1807 he was sent to Penary as secretary and interpreter to the governor. In 1818 became governor of Sumatra.
When Java was ceded to the Netherlands at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch aimed to get complete control over the East Indies and destroy all British trade there. In 1819, Raffles ended the Dutch dream of a great Asian Empire by occupying Singapore island on behalf of the East India Company.
Singapore lies at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, midway between India and China, and by its command of the Malacca Strait controlled the great trade route to the Far East.
The East India Company was not at all pleased with its new acquisition. Raffles was recalled to London to explain why he had acted without consulting the Company. And as a result of the inquiry, he was ordered to pay £10,000 towards the cost of acquiring Singapore.
But Raffles knew better than his masters. Under British rule, Singapore developed from an obscure fishing village into the chief commercial centre of southern Asia.
Besides being a great administrator, Raffles was also a keen naturalist. He formed a collection of Asian animal life which was the foundation of the London Zoo. He died on July 5, 1826, which was his birthday.
Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 25 April 2013
This edited article about the Kiel Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 232 published on 25 June 1966.
Pre-war Germany shows her military strength in Kiel Bay where the Kiel Canal ends, by Graham Coton
On June 19, 1895, a procession of 80 warships representative of the world’s naval powers passed for the first time through the Kiel Canal, which links the North Sea with the Baltic.
This official opening by Kaiser Wilhelm II made a 500-year-old dream a reality.
Since the expansion of North European trade in the 12th century, the great peninsular of Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein had formed a land barrier between the North Sea and the Baltic. Ships bound from the North Sea ports for those in the Baltic had to make the long, difficult and often stormy passage round the north coast of Denmark; a voyage of 646 miles. A seaway cutting across the peninsular from Hamburg to Kiel, would cut the distance to 121 miles.
Suggestions about cutting a canal all came to nothing on account of cost and the jealousies of local rulers. Then, in 1870, Germany became a united Empire of which Schleswig-Holstein was a part. For Germany, ambitious to become a naval power, it was essential that warships could be moved quickly and safely between the North Sea and the Baltic. To do this, a canal had to be built. It took eight years.
From the estuary of the Elbe on the North Sea to Kiel Bay on the Baltic, the canal is 53 miles long. The canal, which was widened and deepened in 1909, was invaluable to Germany in the First Great War but it was heavily bombed in the Second World War. It is now an International Waterway.
The Kiel Canal has been increasingly used by merchant ships: over 60,000 of them, totalling 30,000,000 tons, now pass along it each year.
Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty, Trade on Monday, 22 April 2013
This edited article about the Royal Exchange originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 230 published on 11 June 1966.
Queen Elizabeth I opens Gresham’s bourse which she called the Royal Exchange, picture by C L Doughty
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, London became an important centre for the wholesale buying and selling of goods. Most of the business was done either at individual merchants’ homes or in the open air in Lombard Street.
Sir Thomas Gresham, a leading London merchant of the mid-sixteenth century, had been struck when visiting Antwerp by the way merchants there did their buying and selling in a special building called a “money market” or “bourse” (from the French word meaning “purse”).
In 1565, Gresham offered to build a suitable bourse on the Antwerp pattern and the City of London agreed to provide the necessary ground. The foundation stone was laid on a site in Cornhill on June 7, 1566. The building consisted of an arcade surrounded by offices or stalls for the merchants. Each particular type of business had its own section of the building. As a compliment to Gresham, the weathervane on the tower was in the form of his family crest – a golden grasshopper.
On January 23, 1570, Gresham’s bourse was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I, at whose suggestion it was called the Royal Exchange. It quickly became the centre of London’s busy commercial life.
The Royal Exchange was destroyed by the Fire of London in 1666. The present building dates from 1844. Nowadays, most of London’s commodity markets do their business in their own exchanges, and the Royal Exchange is used today as commercial offices.
Posted in Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Trade on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about the Hudson’s Bay Company originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 225 published on 7 May 1966.
When King Charles II signed a charter on May 2, 1670, granting to his cousin, Prince Rupert, and seventeen other merchant adventurers sole rights of trade in the unoccupied lands of Hudson’s Bay, no one realized the vast territory that had been handed over to a private trading company.
The story of Hudson’s Bay began in 1517, when Sebastian Cabot sailed into it but made no attempt at exploration. In 1610, Henry Hudson sailed into the bay and gave it his name. But even after these early ventures, the land surrounding the mighty gulf of icy water, stretching as far north as the Arctic Ocean, seemed too inhospitable for Europeans.
Then in 1663, the French trade-explorer Pierre Radison, who had travelled along a small part of the Bay’s shore, brought into Quebec a cargo of 60,000 beaver skins worth £100,000. Dazzled by this, Prince Rupert determined that England should have a share in the wealth of Hudson’s Bay.
Years of exploration were necessary before the Company of Adventurers discovered that the land included all of the present Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and a large part of Alberta.
Prince Rupert’s charter gave the Hudson’s Bay Company more than just trading privileges. The company also owned the land and governed the people. But in 1869, it was forced to surrender most of its privileges and large tracts of its territories to the Dominion of Canada.
Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Railways, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about Victorian railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 205 published on 18 December 1965.
The comfort of the Pullman coach of a late-Victorian passenger train by Harry Green
The great advance which marked the Victorian Age would not have been possible without the development of a more rapid means of travel. On land this was due to the railways, which had the same influence upon people’s lives last century that the motor-car and the aeroplane have upon our lives today. Before they came, people moved about at much the same pace as they had done at the heyday of the Roman Empire fifteen hundred years earlier. For example, when Sir Robert Peel, the statesman, had to come at very short notice from Rome to London in 1834 it took him twelve days to get to Dover. In 1827 Dickens made one of his characters leave London by coach at 7 a.m., reaching Bath, a hundred miles away, over twelve hours later.
The railways got off to a slow start. Short railways worked by horses had long been known, and a few steam locomotives had been built, but they had met with little success. In 1814 George Stephenson succeeded in inventing a locomotive engine which was cheaper than horse-power, and after that things began to move more rapidly. In 1825 a railway was opened between Stockton and Darlington, and five years later another between Liverpool and Manchester.
The directors of the company operating the latter line offered a reward of £500 for the best locomotive that could be made. Four engines were entered for the competition, but Stephenson’s Rocket was the only one that could move, and it proved able to travel at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour.
At the official opening of the Liverpool-Manchester line, William Huskisson, M.P. for Liverpool, was knocked down by a train and killed – the first person in England to lose his life in a railway accident – but it seems that this tragedy did more to attract attention to the power of the locomotive than to discredit it.
Naturally there were a lot of people whose interests were adversely affected by the coming of the railways, and they raised all sorts of objections. Poets like Wordsworth thought railways hideous, and farmers complained of frightened horses and cattle: complaints came from the people whose pockets were going to be affected, such as keepers of posting-houses, stage coachmen, and canal proprietors. They found a doughty champion in Colonel Sibthorpe, M.P. for Lincoln, who “abominated all railroads soever,” and made it his business in the House of Commons to oppose every measure which favoured them. But before Queen Victoria had been ten years on the throne the railway network was roughly what it is today.
For many years the countryside was covered by armies of “navigators” or “navvies” employed in making cuttings, embankments, and tunnels, and in laying the permanent way. In 1848 nearly 200,000 labourers, many of them Irish, were engaged in this vast task. With their rough habits and speech, high wages, and fondness for steaks, plush waistcoats, and whisky – which they called “white beer” – they alarmed the people in every place where they camped.
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