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Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Railways, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 19 March 2014
This edited article about the London Underground first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.
A station on the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863 by Pat Nicolle
Snorting, plump-bellied horses clattered along the London streets. With their harnesses jingling and the springs of their carriages creaking, they paraded through the busy thoroughfares with the dignity of true, thoroughbred carriage horses.
Clearly, they were the lords of the highway. And their fashionable passengers sitting in open carriages behind them, dressed in their finery for all to admire, oozed with aristocratic refinement.
At intervals, however, a horse’s well-fed, dappled belly found itself poised over one of a number of holes, covered with gratings, that had begun to appear in the road. And at regular periods, there would be an eruption like a miniature volcano from the hole. Thick, sooty smoke, scalding steam and showers of sparks would belch forth from it.
If an unfortunate horse happened to be passing over the hole at the exact moment of the eruption, it received a hot blast on its belly that made it bolt in terror. A gentle jaunt became a steeplechase, and the passengers found their sedate carriage transformed into a rocketing projectile.
Meanwhile, just below the road, the device which had caused the horse’s discomfiture would be spinning along the track of London’s first underground railway. The culprit was a steam locomotive which created a great deal of smoke. To enable this to escape, “blow holes” were cut in the tunnel roof, and the resulting eruptions frequently caught horses unawares.
However, even the horses got used to it in the end, and the problem was later lessened by the introduction of improved locomotives.
Nevertheless, Londoners were pleased with their underground railway. It had been opened in 1863 and ran for 3 ¾ miles from Bishop’s Road, Paddington to Farringdon Street in the City.
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Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Travel on Tuesday, 18 March 2014
This edited article about Timbuctoo first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 593 published on 26 May 1973.
Explorers set out for Timbuctoo in Africa whilst braving the tropical heat in clothing only suitable for Britain
The British Consul at Mogadore in Morocco, north-west Africa, was in a bad temper. His afternoon siesta had been disturbed by some half-crazy man who gabbled away in broken English that he wanted to go to America.
As he clumped down the stairs of his consulate building and crunched into the pebbly courtyard, he muttered grumpily, “Why on earth should anyone want to go to America?” It was a good question, for this was 1813, when Britain and America were at war.
In the courtyard, the consul, Mr. Joseph Dupuis, confronted a tattered, sun-blackened scarecrow of a man, who gabbled at him desperately in a mixture of Arabic and English. They were garbled phrases, but they made sense.
“I’m an American,” he said. “My name is Robert Adams. I was shipwrecked three years ago and captured by Arabs. I’ve been their slave ever since. Now I’ve got away and I want to go home.” Finally there came the unbelievable words, “I have been to Timbuctoo.”
Timbuctoo! Dupuis’s immediate reaction was one of sheer disbelief. No white man had ever reached the fabled city that was reputed to lie in the heart of Africa, a city where a strange black race lived in unimaginable splendour and used gold as though it were of no account.
Explorers in France, Britain and Germany were busy compiling every scrap of information they could lay their hands on in an effort to piece together a picture of Timbuctoo. And, here was a half-dead, illiterate sailor who claimed that he had actually been there!
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Posted in Communications, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Sunday, 16 March 2014
This edited article about Britain’s postal service first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.
The Royal Palace of Sheen, in Surrey, was unnaturally quiet. Instead of the usual gaiety and music, the bustling of servants and the gossip of courtiers, there were only silent groups of grave-faced men and women. They were waiting for the end of an age, for their Queen, Elizabeth I, was dying. Soon after midnight on 24th March, 1603, their long vigil ended.
Within half-an-hour a rider cantered out of the courtyard, at the start of a long journey to Edinburgh where King James would learn of the throne which awaited him. The messenger, Sir Robert Carey, galloped on through the day, changing horses every 20 miles or so. The roads were atrocious and he passed many a coach, floundering up to the axles in mud. But the Tudor postal system, with its regular stages and efficient organisation was designed to help a single rider and he eventually completed the 400 mile journey in under three days.
Not everyone, however, heard the news with such speed. There were parts of Devon and Cornwall where the people were still unaware of the change of monarch six months later! It was at times like these that people realised how much still needed to be done before the Postal Service could really be said to cover the country and it took another 250 years to achieve this.
The idea of a regular series of messengers was nothing new, for both the Persian and the Roman Empires relied on state couriers to deliver despatches over the thousands of miles of territory they controlled. Houses were built at regular stages, or posts, along all the main roads and these provided protection, fresh horses, and reserve messengers so that the service could be as speedy as possible. The Greek historian, Herodotus was a great admirer of these despatch riders and he wrote:
‘Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’
A good system of posts, it was realised was an aid to power and so it was the King who usually kept tight control over the system.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 15 March 2014
This edited article about the railway age first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.
When George Hudson was elected an M.P. the police came out in extra numbers to deal with the Sunderland mob
Railway mania! It seemed in the 1840s that the entire population of Great Britain had gone railway mad, and it was hardly surprising. Think of the excitement when Man first set foot on the Moon, think how our grandfathers felt in the early days of flying. Multiply that excitement by ten and you still would not begin to imagine what the early Victorians felt about railways.
The reason can be summed up in a single word – speed!
For thousands of years men had never been able to go faster than a horse at full gallop, but suddenly, from the 1820s onwards, all this changed. By 1837, an engine driver was getting into trouble for going at 45 m.p.h., thrilling as his passengers found it. Every year Britain seemed to be shrinking, every year travel became more and more popular. It was a true revolution. By 1848, 5,000 miles of track crisscrossed the country, built by rough workers called navvies, who could conquer any obstacle.
There were giants in those days who planned and directed those campaigns to build the railways, who designed and built locomotives, bridges, tunnels; famous names like George and Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And there was also George Hudson who, before scandal blighted his name, was known throughout the land as the railway king.
Hudson, one of Britain’s first millionaires, was a Yorkshire farmer’s son. Like many great Victorians – engineers, explorers, inventors – he was a human dynamo, part genius and part rule-breaker. He himself, businessman that he was, was also something of a land pirate!
He was a strongly-built, rough, bluff, swaggering man, born in 1800, and his education was strictly limited. He started as a draper’s apprentice and he did well, wisely marrying his boss’s daughter and soon becoming a partner in the firm. Suddenly, in 1827, he was left £30,000, worth about ten times as much as it would be today, and he seized his chance to enter politics and, more importantly, to plunge headlong into the booming world of the railways.
He was no engineer, but a born businessman, to put it mildly. He poured vast sums into railway schemes, got to know the great George Stephenson and became his friend, and was elected Lord Mayor of York. He opened his first railway, the York and North Midland, in 1839.
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Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 15 March 2014
This edited article about motorcycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.
Acetylene headlights on a motor car, a motor tricycle and a bicycle
Most of the early makes of motorcycle achieved fame in the racing world, but some of the largest makers ignored this side of the sporting scene. Ariels were among these – they concentrated on producing machines for the man in the street and demonstrated their merits in trials and attention-catching stunts.
The first Ariel, made in 1898, was a motor tricycle with the engine fitted in front of the back axle under the saddle. Before it could be sold the public had to be convinced that this new fangled idea worked, so Jack Stocks, a cycle racing champion, rode the tricycle from London to Birmingham. Jack Stocks’s famous name was good for advertising – and no doubt his powerful legs were equally useful when the engine needed some assistance up hills!
By 1903 the firm was producing a little 2 ½ hp motorcycle and to prove its merits it was ridden from Land’s End to John o’Groats – a remarkable feat on the terrible roads of the time. From then on Charles Sangster, the head of the firm, kept pace with developments, so that by the time of World War I Ariels had the luxury of a three speed gear box although they retained a belt drive as this helped smooth out the roughness of early engines.
After the war the firm rather daringly experimented with a spring frame but it did not meet with much success – perhaps because the riders of the day had so many other problems that they were not very worried about a few bumps! Motorcycles were only just beginning to be fitted with internal expanding brakes in place of the cycle type which were only just adequate on dry days and hopeless in the wet. Lighting was by acetylene gas generated by allowing water to drip on calcium carbide – a smelly business which produced a light so poor that it enforced slow riding. The early 1920s saw the introduction of proper pillion seats – known as “flapper brackets,” because the short skirted “flappers” of the period sat astride. Previously young ladies had ridden sidesaddle on a cushion strapped to the carrier.
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Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Transport, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.
A noisy new motor car frightening villagers and their horses by Richard Hook
It has been said that the Victorians made the money, and the Edwardians spent it! A new phrase to describe the young Edwardian descendants of their manufacturing forefathers was “the idle rich”. And idle a great many of them were; inheritors of huge fortunes which it was their pleasure to spend on all the wonders of the new age, and on one wonder in particular – the motor-car, the “horseless carriage”, a new-fangled monster which quite serious thinkers at the turn of the century condemned as a passing craze which would soon appear only in museums and would never displace the horse.
It was in a Daimler that the King made history by driving from Sandringham to Newmarket in Suffolk to enjoy a day’s horse racing. At 30 miles-an-hour the Monarch, followed by a cloud of dust, came speeding through the main street of Downham to the dusty cheers of his loyal subjects. The legal speed limit was then twelve miles an hour, but no Norfolk bobby would flag down his king.
Edward was always in the forefront of the merriest forms of progress. Before the advent of the “horseless-carriage” he followed – rather than set – the craze for the bicycle. Thanks to the inflatable tyre devised by a Belfast vet named Boyd Dunlop the bicycle became the thing, and there went Edward, knickerbockered, upon his own machine.
Late Victorian England regarded the new-fangled motor-car with the greatest distrust. It lacked elegance, it gave forth a vile smell, and it was a menace to chickens and old ladies who were often drawn by cartoonists of the time toddling away in terror at the approach of a Benz, a Darracq or a Daimler.
In 1896, the Red Flag Act, which had required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every motor car and warn people of its approach, was repealed. To celebrate the event 33 motorists set off on a drive from London to Brighton, some steam-propelled, the majority petrol-driven, and most of them “foreigners”. The manufacturers of these Mercedes’s, Darracqs, Delauney-Bellevilles, Benz’s and Daimlers, having had no “Red Flag Act” to contend with, had the edge over the early British ‘motormakers’, such as a Mr Morris of Oxford and a Mr Austin of Birmingham. Of the 33 starters only thirteen made the grade, but they had started something – the annual London-Brighton run for veteran cars. Five years later, in 1901, 65 cars assembled in London’s Hyde Park to start a gruelling 1,000 mile test course to prove the merits of petrol versus steam, horizontal versus vertical engines, the two cylinders versus four, air versus water, cooling belt transmission versus chain and sprocket drive.
The test run was a national sensation. Scarcely a road in the country was other than a dust-track in the summer and a mud-bath in the winter. The early motorist was scarcely a popular figure as he trundled through the countryside raising behind him a dust cloud 20 feet high and a mile long. In tweed hats with ear-flaps, heavy goggles (because there were no windscreens) and long “dust-coats” these gentry are portrayed as “road-hogs”, terrorising the chickens which fled squawking before them, frightening villagers and, above all, raising panic among horses. They outraged the “carriage-folk” whose age of elegance was under threat and whose coachmen whenever they had the chance lashed out with their whips across the faces of any motorist rash enough to pass close to them.
But there was no doubt about it – the motor-car had arrived. In 1904 nearly 9,000 private vehicles were on the roads. Ten years later the figure had risen to 132,000. 1903 was the year when, for the fee of £1, the motorist was required to register his diabolical machine and to pay a further two guineas for a licence to possess such a thing. A driving licence cost five-shillings, though whether a man or a woman was able to drive did not concern the authorities. The early cars, of course, were eternally breaking down, likewise the first motor-buses. These, especially in London, were greeted with hatred and derision by the drivers of the horse-drawn buses.
In 1905, there were still 4,000 four-wheeler horse cabs plying for hire. In London alone there were 3,500 horse-buses and 7,000 hansom cabs, those superbly elegant carriages made for two which had been described as the “gondolas” of London. But then came 240 motor-buses to revolutionise public transport and the petrol-driven taxi, which made its first appearance in that year. By 1910, the year of the King’s death, there were over 6,000 of them.
A year later the very last horse-bus to clip-clop through the London streets had disappeared.
It was fairly early in Edward’s reign when motor-cars of English manufacture began to push the Continentals out of supremacy. The Austin, the Morris, the Arrol-Johnson, the Swift, the Humber, the Napier, and, mightiest of them all, the Rolls-Royce reigned supreme. The moment when the Honourable C. S. Rolls, an intrepid racing driver and car-dealer, met a meticulous engineer from Manchester named Henry Royce, was, in its way, the greatest moment in the history of the motor-car. Already Henry Royce had been manufacturing small, twin-cylinder cars of ten horse-power. The “little Royce” was extremely popular. But Rolls, the intuitive sales and publicity man, knew a genius when he saw one. Royce would make the best car in the world, and Rolls would sell it as just that. “The Best Car in the World” was, and still is, the simple slogan under which Rolls-Royce have traded, almost unchallenged, for some 65 years.
And what a sensation it was, this “Silver Ghost”, which appeared at the Paris Motor-Show of 1908. The long, sleek bonnet with its distinctive radiator, the almost silent 40 horse-power, six-cylinder engine beneath it, the gleaming coachwork. The entire car had an overall air of confident good breeding.
The great Montague Napier whose six-cylinder car had already beaten the cream of the Continentals, could not equal Henry Royce’s masterpiece, even though it had already averaged 65 mph for 24 hours over the first motor-racing circuit in Britain – Brooklands.
“British and Best” was the war-cry of the Edwardian motor-makers. Not only did they prove it with cars by Royce, Napier and Lanchester, but in the eccentric “drive it to death” stunt of tyre-maker Harvey du Cros. In 1904 he drove his little Ariel car up the track of the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon, the last half-a-mile of it being a gradient of one in five. There on the summit, stood the Ariel, seeming to say to the world: “That’ll show you.”
Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Alexander Mackenzie first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Mackenzie and his party setting off to find a route due West to the Pacific Ocean, crossing rocks and rapids by Graham Coton
It was the year of 1788, and winter had closed in on the little fur trading post of Fort Chipewyan in the far North West of Canada. Imprisoned in their log huts by the cold, the little colony had settled down to sit out the long months and pass the time as best they could. One could play cards, or one could read or one could gaze out of the window at the falling snow piling up steadily against the other log cabins. There was alcohol, of course, but not enough to numb the senses as it was strictly rationed. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that everyone on the station was already bored to death.
Well, almost everyone.
There was one exception, a young Scot from the Outer Hebrides named Alexander Mackenzie. He was not bored because he was obsessed with a dream that had occupied his mind for some time. The dream was to find a route to the Pacific coast of Canada, which would then give the fur trading company a direct access to China, the greatest fur market in the world.
Knowing that there were no tracks across the forest-clad Canadian interior, Mackenzie dreamed of finding some great river flowing ever westwards until it finally emptied itself in the Pacific. It was a dream not entirely rooted in fantasy. According to Captain Cooke who had voyaged along the Pacific coast some ten years before, such a river probably existed. The problem was how to find it amid the thousands of miles of uncharted territory that made up the great tracts of Northern Canada.
Mackenzie had only one clue to work on. A group of Red Indians who had visited the trading company had spoken of a great inland sea known as The Great Slave Lake. From there, they claimed, a big river flowed westwards. It was Mackenzie’s plan to make his way there with a small band of men and three canoes when the Spring came. In the meantime, Mackenzie dreamed and planned.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about pioneering balloon flight first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.
Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon made by the Montgolfier brothers, by Wilf Hardy
They were only a few miles from the French coast, but it seemed certain that their historic trip was destined to end, not in a blaze of glory but in the waters of the English Channel. They had hoped to be the first men to cross the Channel by air, but their leaking balloon was lowering them steadily towards the waves.
The two men were Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, and an American doctor called John Jeffries, and the extraordinary thing about their adventure was that it happened as far back as 1785. We tend to think of flying as very much a 20th century achievement, and that only in our own times have men been able to look down on the Earth from above. Yet the balloon age began on November 21, 1783.
On that great day, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon. It had been made by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, who were French paper-makers by trade. They got their idea after noticing how open paper bags floated into the air after being thrown on a fire.
They made a balloon of linen and paper and lit a fire under it, and its pull was so strong that it needed eight men to hold it. Suddenly, it shot up to 6,000 feet and came down a mile away.
The first passengers were a chicken, a duck and a sheep. Then came the first manned flight.
It was a dangerous one, because a brazier was fixed to the neck of a new balloon and the two “aeronauts” were ordered to keep the fire stoked after the balloon had been “blasted off” by a fire under the launching platform. During the five mile flight, the two had to keep putting out fires that started in the inflammable painted cloth of the balloon, but they survived.
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Travel on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Daniel Defoe first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 570 published on 16 December 1972.
Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was put in the pillory three times because he disagreed with the government, by Ron Embleton
The Magistrate signed the warrant with a flourish and within minutes Constables were given instructions for the arrest. Once more a writer who had dared to offend the Government would pay the penalty, for in this year of 1703 the freedom of the press did not exist. Pamphlets, papers and even books which criticised those in power were printed with great secrecy and constant changes of address and secret hideouts were needed by author and publisher alike.
This time, however, the Constables were quite sure for whom they were looking. The man’s name was Daniel Defoe, and the warrant described him carefully. “A middle-sized spare man about forty years old of a brown complexion and wears a wig; a hooked nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes and a large mole near his mouth.”
Later that day Defoe was arrested and lodged in Newgate Prison. His crime had been to write a satirical pamphlet on one of the issues that aroused fierce quarrels for almost the whole of his life – whether people who were not members of the Church of England could hold public office. The issue is not relevant today, but in 1703 the Government was determined to punish “Dissenters” like Defoe. The House of Commons ordered that copies of the work should be burned and when Defoe appeared at the Old Bailey he was fined 200 marks, ordered to spend three days in the pillory and sentenced to a period of imprisonment.
This savage sentence made Defoe even more determined to make his voice heard. He continued to write from prison and soon he found he had become a popular hero. For when the time came and he was taken out to stand in the pillory the people came forward to provide him with a guard of honour. They covered the pillory with flowers, drank his health and generally made merry during what was supposed to be part of his punishment. Daniel Defoe had come to a turning point in a strange career which varied from wealth to poverty, from fierce independence to service as a Government agent and from being the king of journalists to prominence as a successful novelist. His story is as turbulent and extraordinary as the times in which he lived.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about aviation pioneers first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 570 published on 16 December 1972.
The first man to fly: Otto Lilienthal
“Hold it Herr Lilienthal! Just one moment!” cried the photographer from beneath his voluminous black cloth. Fifty feet above him a strange moth-like shape swung in the air.
“I am doing my best, mein herr,” shouted its pilot. “but I don’t rule the wind you know!” Even as Otto Lilienthal spoke, the breeze dropped and his flimsy glider soared away towards the foot of the hill.
“OK, I have the picture!” the photographer shouted in triumph – but nobody was listening. Otto Lilienthal was busy making a safe landing while the gaggle of journalists who had gathered to see some real flying were now rushing down the hill to interview the greatest man in the aviation world.
They reached Lilienthal as he was extricating himself from the glider. The year was 1895 and Lilienthal had proved that man could at least glide, even if nobody had as yet managed to build a flying machine with an engine.
“Herr – herr Lilienthal,” said the first of the journalists to reach the glider. “Tell me about this wonderful machine of yours.”
Otto Lilienthal smiled at his eager audience.
“This is my biplane, so called because it has two wings one above the other. I have given it the number 13. I have made three biplanes so far, with wing areas of 18, 10.5 and 20 square metres. They are very stable, which came as a surprise to me, and I have flown in winds of about 25 m.p.h., as you yourselves saw. Ah, here comes, our photographer! I hope your picture is a success mein Herr. As I was saying, when the wind is strong my glider seems to remain stationary. But there are many more problems to solve.”
Otto Lilienthal was a quiet and rather humble man, though he was ever eager to spread his discoveries around and perhaps encourage other people to experiment. Many men before him had tried to fly. Many had died or at least suffered injury, but Otto Lilienthal was a new type of “aeronaut.” He approached the subject carefully and slowly with a scientific mind, though this care in no way dampened his fanatical determination to fly.
Ever since he had been a boy back in the 1850′s Otto Lilienthal had longed to fly. He and his brother even made a six wing ornithopter which was supposed to fly by flapping its wings like a bird. It failed, but right up to his death Lilienthal believed he could build a flying machine that would flap its way into the air. Fortunately for himself, and for the science of aviation, Otto decided to learn as much about flying by gliding as he could.
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