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Archive for October, 2011

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Tea – the most popular drink in Britain

Posted in Historical articles, Medicine, Trade on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about tea originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Chinese tea workers, picture, image, illustration

Chinese workers loading tea onto a clipper, by Angus McBride

When was tea first drunk and when was it introduced into Britain? If these questions have puzzled you, you will be interested to know that tea is believed to have been used by the Chinese as a medicine as early as the third or fourth century. But it did not become an everyday drink there until about two centuries later. It is said that tea was first brought to Britain by the merchant Christopher Borough, who travelled to Persia with a trading expedition in 1579.

Napoleon Bonaparte – from gilded conqueror to inglorious exile

Posted in Historical articles, History on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about Napoleon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Napoleon, picture, image, illustration

Napoleon in exile on the island of St Helena,, by Severino Baraldi

On the remote island of St. Helena in the Atlantic, one of the world’s greatest generals died on 5th May, 1821.

His name was Napoleon Bonaparte and he had risen rapidly to power when, following the French Revolution in 1789, the new republic needed able officers.

This gave Napoleon the chance he was seeking. He organised the army and with it gained victory after victory for the French people. Under his generalship, French armies overran practically the whole of Europe. Almost alone, Britain continued to defy him.

In 1804, Napoleon was crowned emperor of the French.

Gradually, other nations rose against him. Enemies closed in on Paris from all sides and the city had to surrender. Napoleon was deported to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean.

Napoleon escaped, and resumed the throne. All Europe raised fresh armies to crush him, and he was defeated by British and Prussian troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Later, he surrendered to the British and was exiled to St. Helena, where he died.

Pits of all kinds became place-names

Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Historical articles, Interesting Words, Language on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about place-names originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

C18 coalpit, picture, image, illustration

A eighteenth-century coalpit by Harry Green

Do you live in Fallapit?

Or in any other place with a name ending in pit? If so, your town or village could have been the scene of industry or the capture of wild animals.

This is because the places bearing this name were originally beside a sawpit, where trees were sawn into logs, a coalpit, where coal was mined, or a pitfall.

A pitfall was a trap for wild animals, which could have consisted of a pit covered with bracken. An unwary creature on the prowl could have fallen into such a pit and provided the occupants of the village with a meal.

Woolpit in Suffolk got its name from a wolfpit that was dug near an early settlement. And Fallapit in Devon derives its name from a falling-into pit.

A story is told of the discovery of an abandoned baby in one of these pits. It was given the name of Pitt because it was found in a pit.

Rosewall and Hoad – fierce tennis rivals from Sydney

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Davis Cup, picture, image, illustration

The first Davis Cup was thought up by Dwight Davis, who was on the winning team

Two sets of very proud parents sat in the stands as the two 11-year-olds, immaculate in their new gear, warmed up for their tennis match at Rockdale, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

The star-studded American Davis Cup team was in town for an exhibition match and someone thought it might be a good idea if two of the most promising local youngsters came together in a curtain-raiser.

The boys chosen were Kenneth Robert Rosewall and Lewis Alan Hoad. Both came from Sydney, although from opposite sides of the city, both were born in 1934, with only three weeks separating their birthdays.

It was the first of hundreds of sets they were to play against each other, and the beginning of a rivalry that was to span some of the most illustrious years of tennis.

Ken Rosewall, although frail in appearance, proved more than a match for his more hard-hitting rival. He won that first match in two sets without losing a game and in three more meetings repeated the feat before Hoad managed to win a game.

Lew Hoad, stocky, tough and a keen player of all sports, was a little erratic in all he did. He hit the ball harder than any player of his age, but Rosewall, whose father had coached him carefully since the age of five, had the skill and speed to return everything.

Whereas Rosewall kept with his tennis, Hoad drifted away for a spell enjoying every sport he took up. He might have been lost to the game had it not been for Adrian Quist, a Wimbledon doubles winner before the war and one of the stalwarts of the Australian Davis Cup side in the thirties and forties.

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The Tower: the oldest occupied fortress in the world

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about the Tower of London originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Tower of London, picture, image, illustration

The White Tower, part of the present Tower of London, during its construction, by Harry Green

It was during the early days of World War Two that Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy Fuhrer, arrived in London under a heavy escort. At the time his presence in the heart of enemy territory was something of a mystery, for he had flown to Scotland of his own free will.

He had to be guarded with total security, and so he was taken to a great, square, ancient building beside the River Thames. Men who still wore the centuries-old Beefeater uniform met the German and led him away. The massive gates crashed shut behind him, and the escort breathed a sign of relief.

For nearly a thousand years the Tower of London had provided safe lodgings for England’s enemies, and it was highly unlikely that it would start losing them now.

“They have put him in the Tower,” people said, and it was astonishing how doom-laden that phrase could still be. Down through the centuries the history of that pale fortress has abounded with tales of men and women who had sought power unwisely, played the traitor, or made an enemy of king or queen.

The Tower was the ultimate symbol of authority, and although it had often enough been used as a kind of royal hotel, its grim reputation was that of a place to which prisoners made a one-way journey; once its gates closed on their victim there was no coming back.

Grim the Tower may be, but it is fascinating, too, as may be judged from the fact that it is London’s top tourist attraction. People flock from all over the world for a guided tour, and it is not just stories of beheadings on Tower Hill that bring them.

The Tower is as much a marvel of construction today as it was when William the Conquerer ordered it to be built within weeks of his seizure of the British throne. And with what genius his masons worked can be judged from the fact that it has survived virtually untouched by the passage of the centuries. It is also a unique building, the oldest occupied fortress in the world.

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Annie Peck proclaimed women’s rights from mountaintops

Posted in Adventure, America, Geography, Historical articles on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about mountaineering originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Mount Shasta, picture, image, illustration

A photograph of Mount Shasta taken around the time of Annie Peck’s 1888 ascent

The American mountaineer, Annie Smith Peck, her guide and her Indian carriers huddled in their small tent way above the snow line on Mount Huascaran in Peru, camped between 4,000 and 5,000 metres. The summit was another 2,000 metres higher, but Annie was determined to beat the mountain and show that a woman could conquer a height where no man had stood.

Next day they carried on. Four more nights and days took their toll. On the last day came the worst blow of all: with the peak just a couple of hundred metres away they realized they were too tired to reach the summit and descend in safety. They had to turn back, but within two days Annie had made plans to set out again.

Annie Smith Peck was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1850, and started climbing in her mid-30s when she travelled to Europe to study archaeology. Her first important climb, to the top of the 4,400-metre Mount Shasta in California, was made in 1888 at the age of 38. Before taking up climbing, she earned her living by giving lectures on Greek and Roman archaeology but soon found audiences preferred to hear about her climbing adventures.

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Queen Elizabeth I knights her favourite buccaneer

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Ships on Saturday, 29 October 2011

This edited article about buccaneers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Francis Drake, picture, image, illustration

Drake was wounded by an arrow when approaching Mocha off the coast of Chile, by Severino Baraldi

Francis Drake was alone and wandering in the hills of what is now Panama when, on an impulse, he climbed the tree that was to point the way to his destiny and fame.

It was, we are told, “a goodlie and great high tree”, and from its upper branches the young ship’s captain could see on one side the mighty Atlantic, which he already knew so well, and on the other, the Pacific, shimmering in the distance.

Drake came down from the tree, fell on his knees, and prayed that he might one day become the first of his countrymen to sail on the Pacific. It was a bold prayer, for the Spaniards regarded the Pacific Ocean as all their own and it was unthinkable to them that any foreigner would dare to enter it.

Drake, born in Devon, took to a seafaring life while he was still a boy. Like all English seamen of Elizabethan days, he quickly learned to hate the Spaniards – England’s arch enemies.

He was still a young man when he won modest fame for himself by seizing a quantity of Spanish gold at the Isthmus of Panama. It was then that he went for a walk in the mountains and climbed that tree to see the Pacific for the first time.

Five years later, in 1577, his dream was fulfilled. Queen Elizabeth, protesting her friendship for King Philip of Spain but privately hating him, gave Drake most of the money he needed to sail secretly into the Spanish seas. With it Drake fitted out the Golden Hind and three other ships. Pretending that the Mediterranean was his destination, he sailed to the Cape Verde Islands, and then westwards across the Atlantic.

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Balzac’s genius for detail creates ‘The Human Comedy’

Posted in Historical articles, Literature on Saturday, 29 October 2011

This edited article about literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Honore de Balzac, picture, image, illustration

Honore de Balzac meets Madam Hanska who would become his idol

Britain has its Dickens, Russia its Tolstoy, Germany its Goethe. To France belongs the gigantic figure of Honore de Balzac, whose 20 volume panorama of French society, The Human Comedy, has placed him firmly among the literary immortals.

He was condemned in his lifetime, and even today by many critics, for his tortuous style and minute descriptions of even the smallest objects, to say nothing of his habit of breaking the flow of a novel by launching into a learned dissertation on one of his pet subjects.

Yet his work has endured for the sheer power of much of his writing, and for the accuracy of his insight into human nature.

History has handed down to us a picture of a paunchy figure, often dressed in a monastic white robe with a gold chain as a girdle. He wrote week after week for 12 hours at a stretch, sustained with jugs of black coffee, while he worked on his great project, The Human Comedy, finally dying at the age of 51 from overwork. In that short span of life, Balzac still managed to pack in a great deal of living, away from his desk.

Balzac was born in 1799 at Tours, the eldest son of a taciturn father and a mother who was 30 years younger than her husband. After a rather unhappy childhood, much of it spent away at boarding school, he rejected his parents’ wish that he should become a lawyer, and headed for Paris.

There he starved in a garret while trying to establish himself as a writer. His early novels, published under pseudonyms, brought him neither money nor fame.

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Lichens: lowly but precious forms of plant life

Posted in Nature, Plants on Saturday, 29 October 2011

This edited article about botany originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Lichens, picture, image, illustration

Various lichens we see every day by Eric Saunders

Most people know what lichens look like. They would probably describe them as forms of moss, grey, green or yellow in colour, that grow on such surfaces as those of tree trunks or stone walls.

In fact, lichens are not mosses. They are not any one sort of plant at all – but a combination of two, growing in a strange partnership.

Lichens are composite growths consisting of fungus and algae. The latter are a group of primitive plants, generally growing in water. They range in size from giant seaweeds with 200-metre stems to the minute cells that float as green scum on a pond, or often coat the sides of aquarium tanks.

The fungi include not only the familiar mushrooms and toadstools, but also the moulds and many microscopic forms.

A fungus, which many botanists do not classify as a true plant, normally depends for food on the dead or living plant or animal matter on which it grows.

Algae, on the other hand, though very simple in structure, are true plants, and as such they contain chlorophyll, a substance made possible by the process known as photosynthesis.

By means of photosynthesis, a plant uses the energy of the sun, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water drawn up through the roots to supply itself with the carbohydrates which it needs to live and grow.

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The 1963 Skopje earthquake shocked the world

Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories on Saturday, 29 October 2011

This edited article about disasters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Skopje earthquake, picture, image, illustration

The devastating earthquake in Skopje by John Keay

A pathetic man carrying a canary in a cage . . . a woman screaming frantically as she tore at the rubble of what had once been her home. These were among the survivors of an earthquake which shattered the city of Skopje in the south of Yugoslavia on 26th July, 1963.

It had begun with a dull rumble as the earth’s crust began to split, displacing tons of rock beneath the surface. As the ground began to cave in, so did the buildings.

A hotel swayed drunkenly and collapsed, its foundations torn away. For hundreds of guests it had been their holiday home; now it was their tomb.

Everywhere in the city, the story was being repeated with the continuous thud of falling masonry, the splintering of glass and the blinding clouds of dust.

Homes were smashed. Walls collapsed, ceilings fell in, bricks and beams fell. Wide fissures appeared in the streets.

As soon as the outside world heard of the earthquake, help began to pour in. Firemen, doctors, nurses and rescuers raced to Skopje. Hospitals made emergency arrangements to look after the flood of injured victims.

At the final count, 1,600 people had been killed and many thousands injured. A total of 34,000 homes had been smashed and 68 schools destroyed, or largely so. Not one hospital remained undamaged.

Two days after the earthquake, 150,000 people had been taken out of the city. They were housed in tents or other emergency accommodation until more permanent homes could be found for them.

A grim inspection was made of the houses that remained erect. They were daubed with paint to indicate their fitness. Green showed that the houses were habitable; yellow that they could be repaired and red that they had to be demolished – and there was more red paint used than that of any other colour.

This tragedy touched the hearts of people throughout the world. Thousands and thousands of pounds were raised to provide the people of Skopje with food, clothing and temporary homes.

With this help, Skopje slowly and painfully began to recover from the earthquake which had pummelled most of the city to powder. Plans were made for villages of temporary homes, in which the people could recover from their physical and mental wounds before tackling the immense job of building a new Skopje from the rubble of the old.