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Archive for November, 2013

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Chester is a well-preserved Roman city with some fine Tudor architecture

Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, British Cities, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Chester first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Stanley Palace, picture, image, illustration

Stanley Palace, one of the finest half-timbered buildings in Chester

On 23rd September, 1645, King Charles I watched the final stages of the Battle of Rowton Heath from the Phoenix Tower on Chester town walls. Later he moved to the cathedral tower and, while he was talking with a captain, the officer was hit and killed by a bullet. This narrow escape must have been unnerving for the king as he watched his forces getting the worst of the battle. He had hurried to the town when he had learnt that the attack was imminent in the hope of encouraging the troops but he now realised that despite this the Parliamentarians were almost sure to take the town and that he had better escape as quickly as possible. Before he left, he asked the townsfolk to try to hold out for another ten days to delay the advance of the troops surrounding the town. In fact they resisted until the following February by which time the town had suffered many losses and had to sell much of its plate to raise money to pay the troops. As we now know their sacrifices did not lead to victory for the King’s cause. As Charles left the town, he must have thought how the Stuart fortunes had declined since the time when his elder brother Henry had been Earl of Chester – a title which since the 13th century has always been given to the eldest son of the monarch when he is created Prince of Wales.

This title reflects the importance placed on the town in the past, for its holder had very special powers. Owing to the difficulties of stretching their forces across the country, the Normans did not reach Cheshire until four years after the Battle of Hastings. When the area was subdued, William the Conqueror decided that it would be very difficult to maintain an effective control over such a far-distant area from London and he therefore made it a palatinate or sub-kingdom in which the Earl of Chester ruled with powers equal to those of the King. He also had power to capture as much of Wales as he could – the area won in this way later became Flintshire.

The long journey from the Channel coast had been as troublesome for the Roman invaders and they had first consolidated their position at Wroxeter near Shrewsbury before advancing to Chester (or Deva as they called it). Once having taken the position, they used it as the headquarters for one of their three legions in the country. During this time, it became a large and important centre – excavations at present in progress are revealing the amphitheatre, the largest yet discovered in Britain, measuring 314 by 286 ft. When they left, like many other of the sites they chose for purely military reasons, it appears to have been deserted for many years. It was not until 907 that Ethelred and Ethelfleda restored the town, after which it must have grown quickly for, by the end of the century, Chester had its own mint.

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Rising taxes and a wage freeze caused the Peasants’ Revolt

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Politics on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about the Peasant’s Revolt first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Peasants' Revolt, picture, image, illustration

The Peasant's Revolt arrives in London by C L Doughty

If ever the people needed a champion, they needed one in the summer of 1381.

In fact, they had needed one for over 300 years, ever since the Norman Conquest when the freemen of England had had the feudal system imposed upon them by their new masters. The farmer and peasant had become a serf, a Middle English way of saying “slave.” He was, indeed, owned by the lord of the manor and was listed in that lord’s possessions along with cows, pigs, forest, farming and grazing land. He was at his master’s beck and call to sow and reap, to plough and hoe, to hew wood, defend the castle in time of attack and march off to any war that the big man cared to join.

In return the serf was given a miserable hovel for which he had to pay rent from the produce he managed to grow in his spare time on a couple of strips of land allotted to him by his master.

There was no way to break the system. If a serf ran away, he was hunted like a criminal, flogged if caught and branded on the forehead. If he were not caught, he dare not seek work on another manor or in a town. He had to live as an outlaw in the grim, dark forests which in those days were fearful, dank and gloomy places of wild animals and wilder unknown terrors. The outlaw’s life was a miserable existence on nuts and berries, not the rich feasts of the king’s venison and good red wine looted from a wealthy abbot’s pack mules by Robin Hood.

However, the system was severely cracked by one of the worst disasters ever to blight Europe. It was the Great Pestilence or Black Death of 1349. According to various estimates, it killed anything between a quarter and a half of the population of England. Suddenly there were not enough men to till all the land. With no produce coming in, the lords had trouble finding the cash to pay their own rents and taxes to the king, so they sold off some of their acreage for cash, often very cheaply.

Some lords, desperate for labourers, offered wages to serfs of another to come and work for them. Gradually, and by no means easily or suddenly, some of the peasants were able to buy their way out of bondage and become small landowners. It became possible, although strictly illegal, for many more to wander from place to place seeking work at the best wages.

The humble English serf was being given a glimpse of freedom.

Sterner laws were hurriedly passed by the nobility to keep the serfs where they belonged, at the bottom of the social pile in their hovels beside the castle walls.

The worst of this bunch of laws was a “wages freeze.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an inspirational figure who resisted Nazi tyranny

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, World War 2 on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, picture, image, illustration

Bonhoeffer was conducting a religious service at Schonburg when they came for him

Twenty-Three men were grouped round the table, peering at the maps which were laid out before them. A briefcase was propped against one of the table’s supports. Suddenly a loud explosion blasted the room, blowing out the walls and the roof. In the smoke and confusion one man was the centre of attention. His trouser leg had been blown off, his hair was scorched and his right arm hung stiff and useless. But he was still alive. It was 12.45 p.m. on 20th July, 1944, and the final attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler had failed. Twelve hours later the Fuhrer was broadcasting to his people and the round-up of the conspirators had begun. Nearly 5,000 people were executed. One of them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was in his twenties when the Nazis seized power. He was already an accomplished theologian and his future as a minister of the Lutheran church and a professor of theology seemed bright. But only a month after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer attacked the Nazi’s “leadership principle” in a radio broadcast. Needless to say, he was cut off before he had finished.

Then, in 1936, Bonhoeffer’s authority to teach was withdrawn and the seminary where he taught students who intended to enter the church was officially closed the following year. But not even the orders of the leader of the S.S., Heinrich Himmler, could stop its work, and the school continued underground.

In 1938 Bonhoeffer’s activities took a new turn. His brother-in-law, Hans, was a member of the German counter-intelligence service – the Abwehr. He was also a leader of the German Resistance Movement which aimed at Hitler’s downfall. Bonhoeffer learned a great deal from him about the efforts of General Beck and others to smash Hitler’s regime before Germany could be plunged into war. Their efforts failed, however, and in 1939, while Bonhoeffer was on a lecture tour in America, it suddenly became obvious to him that war was inevitable.

Friends there pressed him to remain in safety but he refused. He could not settle to work safely in America while his friends conducted the defence of the church and their opposition to Hitler in extreme danger in Germany. He took one of the last ships sailing from America. A month after he arrived home war broke out. Bonhoeffer, together with his lawyer-brother Claus, was soon enrolled by Hans in the Resistance Movement. He was unable to preach or teach, his books were condemned and he had to report to the police regularly; but on passes and papers quietly furnished by Hans and his friends in Counter-Intelligence, he was able to travel all over the country on behalf of the Resistance.

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Charles Lamb was a hard-drinking essayist devoted to his beloved unstable sister

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about English literature first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Charles and Mary Lamb, picture, image, illustration

Charles Lamb and his sister were driven from one lodging to another by local gossip about how Mary Lamb had suffered a brainstorm and stabbed her mother to death

Mary Lamb snapped angrily over her needlework at the young servant girl who was working at the table in the Lamb family’s sitting-room.

The girl had said something to annoy Mary, whose quick temper had always been aggravated by the amount of work she had to do in order to keep her poverty-stricken parents alive.

While Mary’s senile father dozed in a corner and her brother Charles was working, her mother gently chided her. Unfortunately, the servant girl unwisely snapped back at Mary, who picked up a knife from the table and pursued the servant round the room. Mrs. Lamb jumped up and tried to pull the knife from her daughter’s hand. Brimming with uncontrollable rage, Mary swung the knife at her mother and pierced her heart with it.

Then Mary picked up a handful of other knives and hurled them round the room. One of them wounding her father, others embedded themselves in walls. It was left to her brother Charles to overcome her.

Next day, at an inquest, Mary Lamb was adjudged to be insane, and ordered to live in a mental hospital. But her madness was only temporary. And at that time, in the latter half of the 18th century, dangerous people who could return to sanity, even if only temporarily, were allowed to live at home. So Mary Lamb was soon back with her family.

With her mother dead and her father a sick man, there was only Charles to look after her. He surrendered a prospect of marriage and devoted the rest of his life to caring for Mary, whose madness regularly returned.

Hers was hereditary and both Charles and their brother John had been previous victims of it. Mary’s attacks were generally attended by forewarnings, which enabled brother and sister to take the necessary measures. A friend of Lamb’s has related how he met Charles and Mary “walking hand in hand across the fields to the old mental asylum, both bathed in tears.”

Lamb bore his self-imposed task with incredible fortitude. Shunned and sometimes driven from lodging to lodging, the brother and sister never lost their faith and trust in each other.

Every morning Charles Lamb would set out for his office at the East India Company, where he was employed in the accounting department. There he would sit, dressed in clerk-like black, a light, thin frame surmounted by a head crowned with curly black hair; “a most noble and sweet face,” we are told. His salary when he started was £70 a year, with one week’s paid holiday annually; the monotony was only broken by an occasional visit to the theatre.

When life seemed too burdensome, Lamb resorted to alcohol. Many times he tried to break the habit, but he remained a hard drinker until he died. Yet out of all this, Charles Lamb fashioned an immortal name for himself in the literature of Britain.

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Children were often sold into slavery by poorer Anglo-Saxon parents

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about home life first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Pope Gregory and slave market, picture, image, illustration

Told that the fair-headed slaves were Angles, Pope Gregory is said to have remarked, "Not Angles, but Angels." Picture by Pat Nicolle

“I Thank the Goodness and the Grace
That on my birth have smiled,
And made me in these Christian days
A happy English child.”

Well, are you a “Happy” English child – or Scots, Irish, Welsh or any other nationality? And do you believe that anything in particular “smiled” upon your birth? It probably took place in a practical and businesslike way in the maternity ward of a hospital. You were promptly “tagged” with an identity label in a row of other infants, handed over to your mother at feeding time, and, as soon as possible, “discharged,” the pair of you, to go home and get on with the business of being a kid on your side, and a mum on hers. Dad, of course, would be there, and perhaps a brother and sister or two.

The authors of the four-line-poem above – yes, there were two of them! – were named Jane and Ann Taylor, a pair of pious Victorian sisters who are best remembered for that stirring poem which begins:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star”!

The Taylor sisters also wrote “Hymns for Infant Minds,” one of which began:

“For God who lives above the skies
Would look with vengeance in His eyes,
If I should ever dare despise My Mother.”

Through the eyes of the Taylor sisters we look, ever so lightly, at the Victorian home where children were born to be seen and not heard. In well-to-do homes their place was the nursery, their keeper was Nanny and their parents rather remote figures who would sometimes come and kiss them “goodnight,” or require Nanny to “Bring the children down” when guests were being entertained. The children, dressed in their very best, would be brought down for brief inspection by the visiting elders. “What pretty little creatures, to be sure.” They were probably given some dainty – some crystallised fruit, or maybe a date each. And then, having made themselves winsome and well-mannered, and maybe done a “party piece,” they would be packed off to the informal cosiness of the nursery, and Nanny.

With Victorian children at the bottom of the “social scale” things were somewhat different. While their pampered “betters” were being bathed with carbolic soap by Nanny, at least some of them were probably shivering in tatters outside the gin-shop, while Pa and Ma were imbibing within.

But more of these Victorian Mums, Dads and kids later on.

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Delhi was retaken after six days of street fighting and vengeful slaughter

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about India first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Delhi retaken, pcture, image, illustration

Delhi is retaken by C L Doughty

‘The Mutineers of Meerut are masters of Delhi. The office must be closed.’

This was the last message which the telegraph clerk was able to send from Delhi before he was murdered at his post. In due course, the message was brought to the Commander-in-Chief, General George Anson, who was staying at the summer headquarters of the army at the pleasant hill station of Simla. Taking stock of the situation, Anson realised that it was desperate. Delhi, the ancient and magnificent capital of the Grand Moguls, who had once been the Mohammedan rulers of India, was now in the hands of a horde of bloodthirsty mutineers who had massacred hundreds of innocent people, and even more important than that, perhaps, they had trampled underfoot, the might of the British Raj, or rule. British prestige had suffered a shattering blow, and every day which passed without that prestige being restored, could only strengthen the resolve of other potential mutineers. Prompt action was vital.

But it was not as simple as that, as Anson fully realised. Thanks to the money-saving economic policy of the British, he was short of men, tents, transport, and even ammunition. In short, he was in no position to re-take Delhi. It was a realistic appraisal of the situation, but it was not one which commended itself to his superior, Sir John Lawrence, Chief Commissioner of the Punjab, who was convinced that the mutineers would surrender as soon as they saw a British force approaching the city.

Goaded by Lawrence into acting, Anson prepared to march on Delhi with a field force consisting of 3,000 Europeans, 1,000 loyal native troops and 22 guns, a poor enough army surely to be sent off to recapture Delhi, with its hordes of highly disciplined and well-armed sepoys lurking behind its cannon-bristling walls. But Anson was not even to see the walls of Delhi. On his way there at the head of his troops he was suddenly stricken down with cholera, and by the next day he was dead.

General Sir Henry Barnard was now in charge. On 8th June, after a series of skirmishes outside Delhi, the tiny British force established itself in front of the walls of the city. The advance through the suburbs had been a harrowing experience for the troops who had found traces of the massacre everywhere in the form of blood on the blackened walls of bungalows, strewn with broken furniture and shreds of clothing. This reminder of the barbarous behaviour of the mutineers filled every soldier with a fierce and overwhelming desire for revenge.

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Louis XVII, the boy king who never was, died in loneliness, misery and squalor

Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about France first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Louis XVII, picture, image, illustration

Louis XVII in the Temple

When first seized by the Revolutionaries, Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, the king’s sister, his son and daughter were imprisoned in the Temple. This was a grim mediaeval keep in Paris, built several centuries previously by the Knights Templar on their return from a Crusade.

The Royal Family of France were shut together in the bleak rooms on the third floor until the king was taken to the guillotine. Two days later his son was dragged by force from the arms of Marie Antoinette and sealed off in solitary confinement on the floor below. He was then about nine years old.

Loyal Royalist supporters, from safe places in exile abroad in foreign lands, proclaimed that the boy was now Louis XVII. They did the lad no favour. The unhappy nine year old was to rule no kingdom except one cold, dingy room with its windows barred and shuttered against the outside world. His throne was a plain wooden chair and his counsel table was of simple wood upon which he played with a few toys allowed him by his first gaoler, an ex-cobbler named Simon. His daily banquet was a dish of the coarsest food thrust in to him through a grimy window leading to an ante room. He saw no sunlight through the shuttered windows, he breathed no fresh air, and was never allowed out to stretch his young limbs on soil that was by destiny his realm.

For him there were no palace receptions, no grand balls. The only people he saw were his gaolers, who were frequently changed, and government inspectors on rare visits. These he glimpsed only vaguely in the half-light through the window in the wall above a smoky stove. Most of these men were ignorant and cruel. They spoke to him only in words of abuse, and they fed him rarely and took little notice when he became ill.

For much of his pathetic reign the king lay weakly on his bed, slowly dying from neglect, poor food and ill-health. There were bolts, bars, chains and four locked doors between him and freedom.

According to official records he died on 8th June, 1795, and with an escort of 25 armed men, two gaolers and three officials he was quietly buried in a nearby cemetery. In fact there is some mystery about his ultimate end, because many years later his body was disinterred and doctors discovered that the bones found in the small coffin were those of a youth aged between 14 and 18 years . . . and Louis was only 11.

After his death and during the reign of his uncle Louis XVIII, who actually sat upon the throne as monarch of the French after Napoleon’s defeat, there were several young men who claimed to be Louis XVII, saying that they had somehow escaped imprisonment and death. None of them proved their case!

Heroic navvies built a 29-mile railway for the Allies in the Crimea

Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Railways, War on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about navvies first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 468 published on 2 January 1971.

Balaclava railway, picture, image, illustration

The railway at Balaclava, looking south by William Crimea Simpson

Everything was set. At Balaclava, Beattie had found a wharf from which the ships could unload. Raglan admitted that the railway was life and death to many of his soldiers, if not indeed to the Army. Through January, and through storms in the Bay of Biscay, the contractors’ fleet sailed out. The navvies rioted in Gibraltar and Malta, demonstrated prizefighting in Valletta, and then, at the beginning of February, began to disembark at Balaclava into the cold of a Russian winter.

They got to work. In ten days they built their own hutted camp and the first five miles of line. Captain Clifford (later to become Major-General Sir Henry Clifford) wrote home that the navvies looked “unutterable things,” and had set to work on the railway, “more because it is their nature to do so than anything else.” He would have preferred a simple road, but later admitted he was astonished at the railway’s progress. He said: “The navvies in spite of the absence of beefsteaks and ‘Barkley and Perkins Entire’ work famously, and as I have before mentioned, do more work in a day than a Regiment of English soldiers do in a week. To be sure the navvies have yet in them the stamina of English living, which has long been worked out of our poor fellows.”

Though the Army had promised to lend the contractors soldiers to use as temporary navvies, little help was in fact given. At first about 150 men of the 39th Regiment worked for Beattie, and were becoming fair navvies when they were withdrawn. He was then given 200 Croatians who were practically useless, so the entire burden was borne by English navvies.

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A man’s shoes can indicate his personal vanity, wealth and social status

Posted in Historical articles on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about shoes first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 468 published on 2 January 1971.

Shoe-shine boy, picture, image, illustration

"Shine, Sir?"

During the years I’ve been jetting around the world, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot about a man by just looking at his shoes. For instance, the state of a man’s shoes can give a large clue as to the state of his personality. Like the peacock, men have always gone out of their way to attract the opposite sex, and their attitudes to grooming relate to their attitudes in drawing attention to themselves. Experts who have studied the field say that although you can tell a lot about a man by the state of his shoes, it does depend on who is wearing them and where. Different countries, different attitudes. . . .

In Italy for instance, the “Latin Lover” is far from extinct! His appearance is a projection of his personality, and from the top of his well cut suit to the tip of his well polished shoes, which are usually black, shiny and expensive, you can see he makes the most of himself.

The Americans are very shoe-conscious (the United States alone buy nearly one-third of the world’s shoes). There have been many reasons given for the shoe-consciousness of the American male. Who is he trying to impress? American women like their men to look snappy it is true. On the other hand he may be thinking of his boss. In the States many firms insist on “vetting” a man’s wife before he is employed, so he is hardly going to risk turning up for an interview with dirty shoes. Or perhaps it may just be because the American man has unusually large feet and is self-conscious about them! Shoe polishing is still considered a lowly job, and Americans make use of Shoe Shine Parlours and bootblacks who visit the offices. Few American wives clean their husband’s shoes.

Argentinian men wear well polished shoes and like them to be seen as well polished. Labour saving suedes are not for them. They wear light clothes and lightweight shoes, always leather and mostly black and shiny. Some Argentinian men are among the most wealthy in the world, and an expensive, well cared for pair of shoes is a status symbol.

In India shoes are also a status symbol, but for a different reason: a large portion of the population doesn’t have any. Those who do have shoes keep them in a well polished condition.

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The Great Fire of Warwick was the fifth act of destruction suffered by the town

Posted in British Towns, Castles, Disasters, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Warwick first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 468 published on 2 January 1971.

Warwick Castle, picture, image, illustration

Warwick Castle by R P Leitch

On the 5th September, 1694, a man in one of the cottages in a lane off High Street, Warwick, went to a neighbour’s home to light a brand to start his fire. But he had not reckoned with the strong wind that was blowing. Sparks were whisked off his brand and swept upwards, setting light to the thatched roof. In a few minutes, the conflagration spread into Castle Street and before long it had taken a firm hold and was raging across High Street and into other streets.

The primitive fire-fighting equipment could do little and the timber-built houses with their thatched roofs quickly burnt. Panic-stricken folk dragged what furniture and belongings they could save from the buildings. Some took their possessions to St. Mary’s church which they felt would be safe but unfortunately some of the articles were already smouldering so that soon the famous church was itself alight and a large part was burnt down.

At last, the spread of the flames was halted by a sturdy stone house and gradually the blaze died down. When the losses were counted it was found that a great many buildings had been destroyed or badly damaged. The first task was to provide shelter for the homeless and, when this was completed, consideration was given to the rebuilding of the devastated town and a body of Commissioners was set up to supervise this task. Some 19 years previously Northampton had suffered a similar fire and the Commissioners took the benefit of the advice from that town and from the experience gained in rebuilding it afterwards.

In order to avoid a repetition of the disaster, the Commission ruled that the new buildings should be of brick or stone with slate or tile roofs – and they showed their wisdom by taking advantage of the opportunity to re-plan the streets. How well they did this can still be seen for, although Warwick has the air of an old town, it is unlike its neighbours in that it has well laid-out streets of stone buildings in place of the half-timbered houses and awkward streets of many of its contemporaries.

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