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Archive for March, 2013

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The great Colchester earthquake of 1884

Posted in Disasters, Geography, Geology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about earthquakes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

Comrie Castle, picture, image, illustration

Comrie Castle near Comrie village which has felt over 400 tremors in a century and a half

The air had become very still in Westminster on February 8, 1750. Suddenly the ground trembled: a few people were knocked off their feet; chimney stacks crashed into the streets; and one or two walls fell down. But no one was hurt and very little damage was done.

Britons do not think of their country having earthquakes, but historians have recorded 1,190 in Great Britain between 974 and 1916. Only twenty-two of them were strong enough to cause damage but even they do not compare with the disasters that in other countries have laid waste whole cities and killed thousands of their inhabitants.

Near Inverness, four strong earthquakes occurred during the nineteenth century. These were probably caused by a slip in the “great fault” which crosses Scotland along the line of the Caledonian Canal (a fault is a fracture in the earth’s crust along which the rocks on one side have been displaced in relation to the other). The village of Comrie in Perthshire is the most famous earthquake district in the British Isles. Between 1788 and 1921, 421 tremors were felt there.

Hereford is the most important of many earthquake-centres in England and Wales. The rest are mostly situated in the midland counties and in the southern counties of Wales.

Most of Britain’s disturbances are what geologists call twin-earthquakes. That is they consist of two distinct shocks, each one coming from a different centre. These shocks have never been very serious. Over a period of a thousand years only one person has ever been killed. That was in 1580; a draper’s apprentice was hit by a falling chimney pot when a slight tremor shook London.

Britain’s most severe earthquake was one morning in April, 1884, when a loud rumbling was heard at Colchester and the ground began to shake. A church was completely wrecked.

Popular Victorian sports won fans in their thousands

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about Victorian sports and pastimes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

Victorian tennis, picture, image, illustration

A game of mixed doubles in the Victorian era by Peter Jackson

In no respect was the Victorian Age more revolutionary than in leisure and recreation. When it began these were the privileges of the few, but by the end of the nineteenth century they had been widely extended to other classes.

In racing in particular the Victorian Age showed the shape of things to come. In 1899 the Grand National was “bioscoped,” or filmed as it would now be termed, and shown at the Palace Theatre in London the same evening.

Two operators took the necessary apparatus to Aintree in a railway van, and arranged with a man who said he had the fastest horse in Liverpool to drive them back to catch the train to Lime Street Station. The railway authorities had agreed to put on a special coach, arranged as a dark room, and promised that if necessary the train would be held up for ten minutes. The race started at 3.35, and as soon as they had taken the picture the cameramen bolted across the course to the place where the fast horse and trap were waiting for them, the driver having tied a white handkerchief round his arm for identification purposes. They had twenty minutes in which to do the five miles to Lime Street, but they got there at 4.7, so the train was only delayed by two minutes.

The film was developed on the journey, put on a big wooden drum, and constantly turned to dry. At Euston the train was met by a furniture van, and the drum, not yet dry, was lifted into it. Finally, the film got into the printing-machine, was developed, the positive printed from the negative, and dried. At eleven o’clock that night the patrons of the Palace Theatre were watching the Grand National run that afternoon.

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Copernicus died before the Church could punish him

Posted in Astronomy, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Science on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about Copernicus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

Copernicus, picture, image, illustration

Copernicus observing an eclipse of the moon in Rome

The Earth upon which we live is a planet, moving round the Sun at a distance of 93,000,000 miles; the Sun itself is a star, much less luminous than many of the stars visible on any clear night. These facts are known to everyone, but they were certainly not known five hundred years ago. In those days, astronomers believed that the Earth lay in the centre of the universe, with the Sun, Moon, planets and stars revolving round it. This had been the view of Ptolemy, last of the great scientists of ancient times, and Ptolemy’s authority was so great that few people cared to question it.

One man who was not satisfied was Nicolaus Koppernigk, better remembered today as Copernicus. He was not a professional astronomer; he was a churchman, and he also practised medicine, but his main interests were in science – and it was he who took the first step in showing that Ptolemy’s picture of the universe could not be correct.

Copernicus was born at Thorn, on the River Vistula, in 1473, and spent some time studying in Italy before going back to live in his native Poland. While still a young man, he began to have serious doubts as to whether the Earth could really be the centre of the Universe, as he had always been taught. The main trouble, as he saw it, was that Ptolemy’s theory was so complicated. In science, a simple and straightforward picture is generally more accurate than a clumsy one, and at last Copernicus thought that he could see a way out of the difficulty. If the Sun were put in the centre of the Solar System, with the Earth and other planets moving round it, everything would fall into place.

Copernicus went on with his studies, and by 1533 he had almost finished writing a book, the title of which may be translated as “Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Bodies.” In this book, he laid down the principle of a central Sun and a moving Earth. Unfortunately, it would have been very unwise to publish it, because there would be strong opposition from the Church; and this would put Copernicus in an impossible position, since he was himself a priest.

The Church authorities would never bring themselves to believe that the Earth could be anything but the most important body in the universe. Copernicus knew this quite well, and so for many years his book remained unpublished. At last his friend Georg Rhaeticus, Professor of Mathematics at the German university of Wittenberg, went to stay at Copernicus’s home, and urged that the book should not be kept back any longer. After much persuasion, Copernicus agreed, and Rhaeticus took the book away to have it printed.

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The F8U Crusader could exceed the speed of sound

Posted in Aerospace, America, Aviation, Historical articles, Technology, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

F8U Crusader, picture, image, illustration

The F8U Crusader by Wilf Hardy

Jet engines screaming, two F8U Crusaders, not long delivered to United States Marine Squadron 122, lined up on the runway on a day in March, 1957, at Beaufort Naval Air Station, South Carolina, ready for a practice combat flight. Asking and receiving permission to take off, the pilots pushed the throttles right forward, standing on the brake pedals as the engines thundered to full power. Then, brakes off and throttles into afterburner – extra fuel squirted from a ring of nozzles in the tail and ignited with a thunderclap in the already white hot exhaust from the engine – the F8Us streaked down the runway and into the air, pulling almost straight up into the sky.

At 40,000 feet they levelled off and got ready for the mock combat in which only the reels of film in the camera guns would be shot as they fought to get the edge on their “enemy”.

As his companion turned and shot away, Lieutenant John Glenn, now famous as an American astronaut, in the other F8U whipped over to follow and get on his tail. The fight grew fast and furious as they felt out the qualities of the big new jet in combat flying and suddenly Glenn, an extremely determined and aggressive pilot, went a little too far as he chased after his target and exceeded the F8U’s high-altitude limitations. Handled a little too violently in the thin air it stopped flying and dropped like a brick.

As Glenn pulled the throttle shut to kill the mounting speed he was hurled sideways and his gloved hand knocked the throttle lever into the engine cut-off position. The big jet coughed and “flamed-out”, dying completely.

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Middle-class domestic life in Victorian England

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, History, Inventions on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about the Victorian home originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Victorian parlour, picture, image, illustration

Victorian parlour by Ron Embleton

Foreigners visiting Victorian England never ceased to wonder at its wealth, and the Frenchman Taine recorded that if one took a cab from Sydenham, where the re-erected Crystal Palace stood, one could travel for five continuous miles past houses representing an annual outlay of £1,500, and this was by no means the most fashionable part of London.

Some of this wealth was the direct result of the Industrial Revolution, but a good deal came from the countries overseas which were being developed, and with which the means of communication were being steadily improved.

The ordinary upper-class home reflected all this, whether it was in Bayswater, Edgbaston, Stockport, or Everton. The furniture was massive judged by modern standards. There was everywhere an attempt to imitate the “stately homes.” The living-rooms, with their soft pile Brussels carpets, were crowded out with thick padded settees and ottomans, elaborately carved tables of polished mahogany – a wood beloved of the Victorians – and of rosewood with marble tops, and enormous gilt mirrors.

The bedrooms were on a similar scale. The entire floor would be carpeted, with a strip of oilcloth in front of the wash-stand and matting on the wall behind it – basins with running water being quite unknown. There would be two dressing-tables, a swing looking-glass, a great bed, three pairs of candles, paper spills in pretty holders, and pin-cushions. On the wash-stand would be two porcelain jugs and basins, a dish for toothbrushes, two soap-dishes, and two water-bottles and tumblers.

Bathrooms were still a rarity, but in the bedrooms of the well-to-do a shallow zinc bath would be placed in the evening, together with a large jug of cold water: in the morning there would appear a brass can of boiling water, while in a corner of the room there was to be found a towel-horse with several towels of different sizes hanging on it.

So far as lighting was concerned, there were several changes during the Victorian era. To the very end of the century and even into the reign of Edward VII there were many houses, especially in the country, which depended on oil lamps and candles.

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Courage, skill and showmanship characterise the Black Arrows

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Black Arrows, picture, image, illustration

The Black Arrows by Wilf Hardy

Whistling in at 800 feet through a clear blue sky, the gleaming jet-black Hawker Hunters of Treble-One Squadron, Royal Air Force, headed straight down the runway at Odiham, Hampshire, where television camera crews eagerly waited to film them. Leading the flight formation display was Squadron-Leader Roger Topp, who had trained and drilled his men into the finest aerobatic pilots in the world.

It was May, 1957, when, positioned exactly right for the TV cameras, Topp pressed the radio button on the control stick to order the first manoeuvre in a carefully-rehearsed sequence – but the radio was dead! Topp, who had to call out every move in the display with split-second timing, could not speak to his men or hear them!

A sixth sense alerted the pilot in the Number Three position. All the pilots knew the sequence of aerobatics by heart and could fly it in their sleep; so, guessing his leader’s trouble, Number Three took over and called the moves himself.

Squadron-Leader Topp got the idea. In a flash he swung slightly ahead of the formation and, a fraction of a second after each move was called, he took over to lead it. Only the men in the control tower knew what was wrong and even they could see no fault in the flying. The display was as slick as ever.

Treble-One Squadron, unofficially known as “The Black Arrows,” held the coveted honour of being R.A.F. Fighter Command’s aerobatic team for three years running, so brilliant was their teamwork and flying.

In 1956, they provided the reserve team, and in 1957 became the main team. Squadron-Leader Topp immediately added a fifth aircraft to the traditional four jet fighters, and was permitted the singular honour of painting his five aircraft a glossy black instead of the standard R.A.F. grey and green camouflage. They became black all over, with R.A.F. roundel and flash markings outlined in white. When the squadron’s display career began in 1957, these markings became famous throughout Europe.

The appearance of the team of five aircraft was eagerly awaited at the 1957 Farnborough Air Show. The event was announced over the loudspeakers and the spectators, looking out across Laffan’s Plain, saw nine black Hunters in tight formation. Obviously Treble-One would fly past straight and level before splitting into groups of five and four for the display. . . . But, instead, all nine aircraft swept up and over in a breathtaking loop. Swooping down, they levelled out and went smoothly into a formation roll!

Nine aircraft had looped and rolled before in public, but only in the pre-war days of 200 m.p.h. biplanes. The Hunters were flying at nearly 500 m.p.h.!

In 1958, sixteen Treble-One Hunters looped and rolled, and in 1959, twenty-two close-packed Hunters awed the Farnborough crowds!

Supreme flying and showmanship are the two essentials for an outstanding aerobatic team. All R.A.F. teams, before and since Treble-One, have possessed these qualities in full measure.

All the displays are carefully worked from the spectators’ point of view. Turns are made away from the crowd, and manoeuvres are carried out so that no excessive “neck-twisting” is necessary to watch them.

These points are the responsibility of the leader. To produce a good display, his flying must be rock-steady and precise. Any slight correction he makes to his flying is transmitted through the formation until the outermost and rearmost aircraft have to make hefty control and throttle movements to maintain their positions. If the air is gusty or rough, or if there is scattered cloud about, then the demands on the pilot’s skill are twice as great.

Performing at 500 m.p.h., the aircraft travel eighty feet in one-tenth of a second, fly only feet apart, often with wings overlapping. Each display is ten minutes of solid mental and physical effort.

One thing is worth remembering the next time you see a display team in action, and this is that, during their year in the limelight, the pilots are still part of the nation’s air-defence network and are training hard for this duty. Many squadrons have been known to dazzle air display crowds and sweep the board in the R.A.F. air-to-air gunnery competitions in the same year!

The audacious Allied invasion of North Africa

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 2 on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Allies invade North Africa, picture, image, illustration

The Allied invasion of North Africa by Gerry Wood

From the bridge of the submarine H.M.S. Seraph, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Jewell, kept close watch on a destroyer escorting Seraph out to sea from the naval base at Gibraltar. Shortly before dawn, a shaded light on the destroyer flashed the message, “Goodbye and good luck.” Jewell pressed the klaxon and, as its strident note reverberated through the vessel and it prepared to submerge, he scrambled below.

It was October 20, 1942, and Seraph was heading for the Algerian coast. Waiting for Lieutenant Jewell in the wardroom were five Americans – General Mark Clark, Naval Captain Jerauld Wright, another general and two colonels.

A few days previously, General Clark had attended a dinner party held by Winston Churchill at 10 Downing Street, and the Prime Minister had stressed to Clark the importance of getting French support for the impending Allied invasion of North Africa.

“If your secret negotiations succeed,” said Churchill, “the French will not oppose the landings, and thousands of lives will be saved. Besides, we need every man to fight the Germans. There are 100,000 of them in Tunisia, and Rommel is nearly in Cairo.”

Now, in the stuffy atmosphere of the wardroom, General Clark explained where they were making for.

“The house where I’m going to meet the French general is sixty miles east along the coast from Algiers,” he said. “It is white with a red tile roof, and it can be pinpointed by the hill behind it and by a strong white light that will be shining seawards from an upper window. There is also a dark patch on the foreshore which is a small olive grove.”

All day the submarine crept nearer the North African coast and, when darkness fell and Lieutenant Jewell surfaced to recharge batteries, the Commandos who had come aboard at Gibraltar took their collapsible folboats up on deck to practice launching them and embarking the American passengers. As Jewell watched from the bridge, he could not help thinking that this was madness. With the forehatch open and so many people milling about, he would never be able to submerge in time if an enemy craft appeared. But at last the Commandos were satisfied, and, much to the Lieutenant’s relief, everybody went below.

Later, steaming parallel to the shore, Seraph was faced with another danger – mines. She had to stay on the surface instead of diving, and nosed her way along, while lookouts anxiously scanned the sea.

Suddenly the Officer of the Watch called out, “White light dead ahead.” He added, “I can see a house with a hill behind it, and a dark patch by the edge of the water.”

This was the place all right, but it was now four o’clock in the morning, and too late to land the party of Americans. Jewell ordered, “Hard a-starboard,” and sounded the klaxon. Seraph dived and headed out to sea.

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France’s oldest bande dessinee depicts the Battle of Hastings

Posted in Art, Arts and Crafts, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about the Bayeux Tapestry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Queen Matilda, picture, image, illustration

Some believe Queen Matilda,pictures above, commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, by Richard Hook

In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the English in the Battle of Hastings. That battle and the events leading up to it were recorded in a tapestry which can still be seen in the town of Bayeux in Normandy

The Bayeux tapestry, as it is generally known, is believed to have been made at the request of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, a brother of William the Conqueror.

The earliest known mention of the tapestry occurs in an inventory of the ornaments of the Cathedral of Bayeux, taken in the year 1476. In 1562, members of the strong Protestant sect known as The Calvinists pillaged the Catholic Cathedral. The tapestry, along with other treasures, was handed over by the clergy to the municipal authorities for safe keeping. Shortly afterwards it was back in the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities.

In 1730, Father Montfaucon, a Benedictine from the monastery of Saint Maur, made a reduced copy of the tapestry. The second volume of his “Monumens de la Monarchie Francoise” contained engravings of this. At the time of its discovery by Montfaucon in 1730, the tapestry was in two pieces. In spite of the expert manner in which it has been mended, the join may still be detected.

At about this time, the ends were beginning to deteriorate, and in order to save the work from destruction, the clergy arranged for it to be lined.

The tapestry remained intact through the French Revolution. When the local battalion prepared to go to war they improvised carts to transport military equipment. One of these needed a covering. The tapestry was suggested as being suitable, and the administration ordered its delivery. But when M. le Forestier, Commissary of Police, heard what was happening, he ordered that the tapestry be returned.

About this time, some of the citizens of Bayeux formed themselves into a commission for protecting the tapestry and other works of art in the district.

In 1803, at the request of Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, the tapestry was placed in the National Museum in Paris for the public to see. It was returned to Bayeux after three months.

Back in Bayeux, it was put on view in the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall). The mode of exhibition was to wind the tapestry from one cylinder on to another, but the necessary rolling and unrolling was performed so carelessly that, within half a century, the priceless work would almost certainly have been destroyed. To prevent this happening, and remembering its great age, the clergy in 1816 requested that the tapestry be returned to the Cathedral. The Municipal Council refused this request, and began thinking of a permanent resting place for the tapestry.

In 1840, the Municipal Council of Bayeux announced that a special building was being erected for housing the tapestry. In 1842, it was relined and restored and placed on view in the special building. It has remained there to the present day.

Louisa May Alcott was a sentimental realist

Posted in America, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about Louisa M  Alcott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Louisa M Alcott, picture, image, illustration

Louisa M Alcott became a nurse during the American Civil War by John Keay

Few writers have been able to portray how young girls think, believe, and behave as convincingly as the American novelist, Louisa M. Alcott. Her books, Little Women and Good Wives, are wonderful examples of her ability to get inside the very minds of her delightful creations, the four March sisters, Beth, Amy, Meg and Jo.

Nearly always she wrote from her own personal experience, when she was growing up with her sisters in Boston, and Concord, Mass. She remembered vividly all the many events of her girlhood, and said that:

“While a story is under way, I live in it, see the people, more plainly than real ones, round me, hear them talk, and am much interested, surprised or provoked by their actions, for I seem to have no power to rule them, and can simply record their experiences and performances.

“Material for the children’s tales I find in the lives of the little people about me, for no one can invent anything so droll, pretty or pathetic as the sayings and doings of these small actors.”

Louisa Alcott was born at Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1832, one of four daughters of Bronson Alcott, a teacher whose methods were very much in advance of the times. Like many men of great vision, Mr. Alcott was not the most practical of men, and always had difficulty in earning enough money to keep his family.

This poverty was reflected in much of Louisa’s work – as were the educational ideas she got from her father and the famous American writers David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who helped to guide and instruct her. From the very start she wanted to be a writer, but her first career was that of a teacher.

During these years she had a number of stories printed in magazines, and during the American Civil War she worked as a nurse in Washington, inspired by her reading of Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing. She later used this experience in Hospital Sketches, which was successfully published in 1863.

This was followed a year later by Moods, a dramatic and romantic novel, which drew considerable attention. But it wasn’t until 1868, and the appearance of Little Women, that the name of Louisa M. Alcott leapt into fame. The sequels, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys, proved equally popular, and it was obvious that the authoress would never again know the meaning of poverty.

Altogether she wrote hundreds of children’s stories and novels, and with the money these brought she helped support her father and whole family. She never forgot the hard times they had endured together, when they never ate meat, and when their house was full of other poor families whom her father had befriended.

Louisa Alcott never married; she was always at heart the little girl who, when she was fifteen, started a small school in a barn to earn some extra money. She died in 1888, a modest person who found her “best success in the comfort my family enjoy, also a naughty satisfaction in proving that it was better not to ‘stick to teaching’ as advised, but write.”

Louisa Alcott – or “Louy,” as her family called her – enjoyed the happiest of childhoods. With her sisters Lizzie, May and Anna, she played all the games which little girls revel in, and sometimes thought what a good book their adventures would make.

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St Augustine brought Christianity to Britain

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about St Augustine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 211 published on 29 January 1966.

St Augustine, picture, image, illustration

St Augustine baptising King Ethelbert by Peter Jackson

Any Scotsman will tell you that many of the best things in English life come from across the border! Certainly the first organized Christian mission came that way. But the Christian faith entered Britain by another route also. This part of the story of the coming of Christianity to Britain begins far away, in Rome.

It was in about the year A.D. 590 that the man who later became Pope Gregory noticed a group of fair-haired foreigners in a Roman slave-market. He was struck by their handsome appearance, and asked what country they came from.

“They are Angles” (that is, English), he was told.

In reply, Gregory made a Latin pun which has become famous. “Non Angli sed Angeli,” he said (“Not Angles, but Angels”).

When he became Pope, Gregory remembered the faces of those prisoners. He thought often of their heathen fellow-countrymen, in what was then a distant northern island, and he sent a party of forty missionaries there, under the leadership of a trusted Roman called Augustine. They were told to cross over from Gaul (as France was then called) to the shores of Kent, and to preach Christianity to the people of that land.

Augustine and his followers landed near Sandwich, in the summer of the year A.D. 597. To their surprise, they found that the Christian faith had arrived there before them. Bertha, the queen of this part of Britain, had come from the continent of Europe, and was already a Christian.

Bertha’s husband, King Ethelbert, now accepted the Faith also, and it spread widely among his subjects. A tiny church, already in existence before the Roman missionaries came, was enlarged, and became the first Canterbury Cathedral.

Meanwhile, Augustine was consecrated as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He was also given authority to organize the Church in England under two Provinces, one in the north, centred on York, and one in the south, which, though at first intended to be centred on London, became based on Canterbury instead. These two provinces of the English Church have existed unchanged from Augustine’s time to the present day.

It seems that Augustine never realized that the Celtic Church had a long and honourable history in Britain. Misunderstandings and resentment soon grew up between followers of the two different traditions. The northern monks did not want to be organized by the strangers from the south. And the southerners were impatient with these unworldly Celts, who seemed so vague about things that they even kept the great festivals of the Church on the wrong dates!

Eventually a great Council of the English Church was called. It took place at Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, in the year 664. Its results were a complete victory for the southerners, whose views and methods were reluctantly accepted by the leaders from the north. From that date until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Church in England came under the authority of Rome.