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Archive for September, 2011

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Prize-fighter, fiddler and publican – the great Jem Mace

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Bare-knuckle fighting, picture, image, illustration

Bare-knuckle fights were popular throughout the C18 and C19 centuries, by Peter Jackson

In the nineteenth century, before the Queensberry Rules, which now govern boxing, were introduced, boxers fought with their bare fists. Often a contest lasted until one of the combatants was battered almost to death.

One of the most famous boxers of the time was James Mace. But Jem, as he was known, was no musclebound bruiser; when he had finished his rounds in the booth he liked to relax by playing the violin.

Born on 8th April, 1831, at Beeston in Norfolk. Jem began his career in the rough and tumble world of a travelling boxing booth. At fairs, the booth would be set up and he would challenge all comers to fight him for a purse.

Soon Jem progressed from fairground fighting, and on the night of 19th January, 1860, he defeated Bob Brettle and became middleweight champion of England. Although Jem was defeated several times after that, he always managed to get his championship back and he was holding it when he retired from the ring in 1871.

One of Jem’s most famous fights was against Thomas King on 28th January, 1862. After 43 rounds of hard, but even, fighting he finally won.

In those days the authorities tried hard to stop prize-fighting and in 1867 Mace was arrested for taking part in the sport.

Following this he went to Canada and Australia, continuing his fighting career and becoming landlord of a pub.

After his retirement from championship fighting. Jem Mace continued to give exhibitions at circuses, but as time went on he was faced with poverty.

At last he was forced into becoming a sparring partner in a small sideshow – he was back where he had started. Jem continued at this hard trade until his death on 30th November, 1910.

The remarkable history of W H Smith

Posted in Historical articles, Literature, Railways, Trade on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about retail originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Railway station, picture, image, illustration

A branch of W H Smith next to the Booking Office on the station platform

“My dear Miss Fortescue, books are not part of our business. You should persuade customers not to buy them.” “But sir,” protested the shop assistant. “Your son said we should sell as many books as we can.” “Bah!” retorted W.H. Smith senior. “My parents founded this business on newspapers and if newspapers were good enough for them and for me they should be good enough for my son.”

And with those words he stormed out of the shop, leaving the poor bewildered assistant even more confused than she had been before.

Later he continued the argument with his son, William Henry, named after himself, but to no avail. “We must move with the times, father,” his son had insisted.

W.H. senior retired from the discussion muttering under his breath. “I don’t know what the youth of this country is coming to. Over thirty years I have been in this business and now he tells me what to do. Still, I suppose I was the same when I was the same age as he is now.”

His thoughts turned back to the day in 1816 when he and his brother had taken over the business on the death of their mother.

Anna worked hard in the newsagent’s in Little Grosvenor Street, London, which she and her husband. Henry Walton Smith, had started in 1792.

A short while later, Henry Walton died. “I must have only been a few months old at the time,” mused William Henry. “It says a lot for her industry and determination that she was able to bring up myself and Henry Edward and still manage the business so well.” When she died, the prospering business trading as “newspaper agents, booksellers, and binders,” passed to the two sons and became H. & W. Smith.

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William’s forgotten Duchess, Mathilda of Normandy

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about Normandy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Norman invasion, picture, image, illustration

As Duke William prepared to invade England, he left Normandy under the rule of his Duchess, Mathilda. Picture by Peter Jackson

Duke William of Normandy and his wife Mathilda were a most attached couple. William not only entrusted his wife with tremendous power but often freely acknowledged that without her help he would never have been as successful as he was. But this happy marriage followed a most unusual courtship.

After spending seven unsuccessful years trying to win Mathilda’s affection, William became desperate. One Sunday, according to a Norman story-teller, he waylaid her as she left a church in Bruges, Belgium, seized her, rolled her in the dirt and hit her several times. He then jumped on his horse and rode off. This apparently made him irresistible to Mathilda who then consented to become his wife!

When William announced to his barons that he intended to invade England, not many of them were enthusiastic.

“Who will take care of this dukedom while you are running after a kingdom?” they complained.

William replied: “That is a care that shall not need to trouble our neighbours; by the grace of God we are blessed with a prudent wife and loving subjects who will keep our borders securely during our absence.”

So Mathilda was left behind, invested with the power of a regent.

While William was away Mathilda ruled with kindness and firmness; there was not a hint of trouble in the land. Her government was not only popular, but prosperous. She encouraged the arts and trade and the Norman standard of living went up and up.

“In a word,” says a Norman historian, “she exceeded all commendations, and won the love of all hearts.”

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The prehistoric Mammoth preserved in ice

Posted in Animals, Biology, Prehistory, Science on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about prehistoric animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Mamoths, picture, image, illustration

Mammoths of the Ice Age by Angus McBride

Cautiosly, the fur-clad man peered into the huge block of ice. With a gasp of horror, he flung his hands in front of his face and rushed from the scene.

Trembling, he returned home. Two summers had passed since Ossip Shumakhov had first glimpsed the ominously dark shadow within the ice, but only on that fateful day in 1801 were his worst fears realised. The figure had been the complete carcass of a woolly mammoth – a ferocious beast whose tusks were as long as the body of a grown man.

But it was not the size of the huge animal which worried Shumakhov. He was frightened of the curse. Had not a friend and his family died not so long ago after making a similar discovery?

His superstitious fears increased when he, too, fell ill shortly afterwards. It was with a mixture of relief and amazement that he eventually recovered. With his health and confidence restored, Shumakhov was persuaded in March, 1804, to guide a Russian ivory merchant to the lonely spot in the wilds of Siberia where he had seen the monster. The ice had completely melted and the tusks were there for the taking . . . as was the meat.

When a scientific expedition arrived to examine the remains, the carcass was found to have been ravaged by wolves and other carnivores which had found the meat edible, although it was more than 30,000 years old. Fortunately, enough of the mammoth remained to be transferred to a museum at Leningrad, U.S.S.R., where it is still on display.

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King Herod fails to fool the Three Wise Men

Posted in Christmas, Religion on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about Christmas originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

The Magi, picture, image, illustration

The Three Wise Men by Collier

The great palace of King Herod, with its three lofty towers, dominated the west side of Jerusalem. It was not only a royal residence and fortress, but a busy seat of government. There was a constant coming and going of officials, messengers and ordinary citizens seeking some royal favour.

Visitors from other lands were common enough, too. So it came as no surprise to the king when a court chamberlain announced that three distinguished travellers from Persia, many days’ journey to the east, urgently sought audience with him.

Herod readily agreed to see them. To tell the truth, he was happier with foreigners than with his own Jewish subjects. He found the latter a stubborn and ungrateful people. Since becoming king of Judaea, he had given the country over 30 years of relative peace and order, apart from a few rebellious outbreaks rapidly quelled by his foreign mercenary soldiers. He had organised an efficient system of government; he had spent vast sums on rebuilding towns, and building new ones.

Above all it was he who had been responsible for the rebuilding of the Temple on a far larger and more imposing scale than ever before. Faced with white marble and sheet gold, the new Temple, gleaming in the sunlight, presented a magnificent spectacle, visible for many miles.

Yet even this had not softened the hostility of the priests and religious leaders. To them Herod, an Edomite by birth, was a foreigner, despite his conversion to their faith. Even worse, in their eyes, was the fact that he had been placed on the throne by the hated Romans, under whose heel the country now lay.

For the mass of ordinary folk, what mattered more was the added burden of taxation that Herod’s reign had brought. They were taxed three times over: for the traditional contributions to the church, for Herod’s royal coffers – and finally for the Imperial treasury at Rome.

Herod knew that fresh discontent would be brewing now that Augustus, Rome’s new master, was seeking new ways to extract money from his subjects. To assist in these measures a decree had gone out that a complete census should be carried out of all subject populations, including that of Judaea.

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Masked raider and hat trimmer – the Racoon

Posted in America, Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

racoon, picture, image, illustration

The racoon

The racoon’s sharp teeth and slashing claws mean that it has few natural enemies, but its taste for poultry, eggs and vegetables has earned it the enmity of American farmers. Because of this – and the popularity of its fur – the hungry little New World hunter, once one of the most common animals in North America, is now rare.

When much of America was not yet cultivated, fur-trappers relentlessly hunted down racoons for their furs, and hats made from racoon pelts – with the racoon’s distinctively striped tail hanging down the back – were popular in both America and Europe. Racoon pelts were an important part of the fur trade, and as recently as 100 years ago traders in the Mississippi Valley used racoon skins instead of money as a medium of exchange.

The racoon belongs to the same family of carnivorous animals as the bear. An adult is about a metre long from nose to tail. They are fierce fighters if attacked, and a lone dog is likely to come off second best in a clash with a fully-grown “coon”.

They are creatures of the night, and are seldom seen by day, except in cloudy weather. Many American farmers believe that if they catch sight of a racoon during the day, rain cannot be far off.

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The children’s author, Louisa May Alcott

Posted in America, Historical articles, Literature on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Louisa May Alcott, picture, image, illustration

Louisa May Alcott worked as a Union nurse during the American Civil War, by John Keay

At Germantown, Pennsylvania on 29th November, 1832, a little girl was born who is remembered today as a writer of much-loved children’s books. Her name was Louisa May Alcott.

Louisa had little formal education. Her father taught her himself. The family did not have much money. As Louisa grew up, it became necessary for her to work as a teacher for a number of years.

It was while she was helping her family in this way that she dreamed of becoming a writer, and in 1855 her first book, Flower Fables, was published. It did not receive much attention.

When the American Civil war broke out, Louisa became a Union Army nurse. Each day, when her shift was over in the wards, she worked on a series of articles called “Hospital Sketches”. These were read with great interest by a large public, for the material was very topical.

It was in 1868, however, that the name Louisa May Alcott became really famous. Her book Little Women was published and was hailed by the critics for its “charm and naturalness”. No doubt one of the reasons for its success was the fact that it was based on the writer’s own experience of growing up in a New England family. Other books followed.

As well as writing, Louisa campaigned for social reform.

She died on 6th March, 1888.

Irish patriot, Wolfe Tone, and the Great Rebellion

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution on Friday, 30 September 2011

This edited article about Ireland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 829 published on 3 December 1977.

Great Rebellion, picture, image, illustration

In December, 1796, a French fleet attempted to land 15,000 men in Ireland to help Wolfe Tone, by Andrew Howat

The so-called “Great Rebellion of 1798 (it would be more apt to call it the Great Massacre) is still remembered in song and in story both by the Green Nationalists of the Irish Republic and by the Orange Unionists of Northern Ireland. But it was anything but great in the generally accepted meaning of the word.

To the casual observer of history it might appear that the rebellion was an attempt by the Irish to set up a republic allied to the newly-created French Republic, and so provide France with a jumping-off point for an invasion of England, with whom she was then at war.

It is not difficult to draw this conclusion, especially when one considers that the French despatched two expeditions to Ireland during the course of the year and, had the rebellion succeeded, the England we know today might not exist. Certainly, the divided Ireland and the consequent ills of partition would not exist.

However, the annexation of the British Isles by France did not figure in the original plans of the leaders of the rebellion. What they sought was reformation of the British administration of Ireland which discriminated against followers of the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian religions, while favouring those of the Established Church (Church of England).

Ireland at the time had its own Parliament, but it was corrupt and unrepresentative. Only adherents of the Established Church could vote in elections. And although the Irish Parliament had in theory been given its independence, England had still retained control of Irish affairs by appointing the Executive of the Parliament.

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Flora Macdonald, truest friend to Bonnie Prince Charlie

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Thursday, 29 September 2011

This edited article about Scotland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 828 published on 26 November 1977.

Flora and Bonnie Prince Charlie, picture, image, illustration

Flora Macdonald leads the Young Pretender to safety

“You say, Captain O’Neil, that you wish me to help the prince to escape to Skye. But how can that be possible? No one is allowed to leave Benbecula without special permission.”

The young woman who spoke those words waited eagerly for the captain’s reply.

“It is proposed that the prince should disguise himself in woman’s dress,” said Captain O’Neil. “Your father is in charge of the militia here. Perhaps it would be possible for you to obtain a passport for yourself and the prince in the guise of a spinning maid, Betty Burke.”

Flora Macdonald thought about it for a few moments and then said, “It is true I could get permission by saying I was going to visit my mother.” She looked into the captain’s anxious face. “I will agree to do it.”

A few weeks before, on 16th April 1476, Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, had seen the dream of occupying the throne of his forefathers vanish in the smoke of the Battle of Culloden. After it, one thousand of his 7,000 followers lay dead on Culloden Moor.

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Mauch discovers the ancient ruins of Zimbabwe

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles on Thursday, 29 September 2011

This edited article about Africa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 828 published on 26 November 1977.

Mauch discovers Zimbabwe, picture, image, illustration

Mauch discovering the ruins of Zimbabwe by Walter Stanley Paget

“Bravo! That’s it!”

Carl Mauch wiped the sweat off his forehead and peered past his native guide. Below him stretched the plains. Eight kilometres away in a haze of heat, there towered a bare-flanked, green-topped hill, shimmering faintly in the African sun. Around its summit it wore, like a crown, a rampart built of stone.

Mauch had found Zimbabwe.

His guide, a local Karanga tribesman, was unimpressed. The hill on which they were standing, he argued, was the one of interest. Here could be found a pot of great magic, the pot-that-moves-by-itself.

What were old walls compared with such a marvel?

What indeed? Mauch did not bother to explain that nowhere, in the vast plains of Southern Africa where the Bantu tribes dwelt, had evidence been found before of buildings made of stone before white men came.

Why was Mauch searching for old stone ruins in that year of 1871? What had brought him to that part of Africa that today is Rhodesia?

He was a German geologist, born in Wittenberg in 1837. He already had the discovery of two African gold-fields to his credit when, in 1867, he heard a story which seemed unbelievable. It came from a fellow-countryman and missionary, the Rev. A. Merensky.

Deep in the African interior, said Merensky mysteriously, lay great ruins built of stone.

“A marvel, Herr Mauch! What native builds with stone, eh? None! None!”

But that was not all. If, as Merensky believed, the work had been done by others, then he thought he knew who they were. And his theory was startling: “The ruins, my dear Mauch, can only be those mentioned in the Bible – King Solomon’s mines!”

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