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Archive for November, 2013

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The electrification of the United Kingdom

Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Science on Friday, 29 November 2013

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

Humphry Davy at home, picture, image, illustration

In 1880 the “Swan Electric Light Company” illuminated Sir William Armstrong’s huge house called “Craigside” with 45 lamps, by Peter Jackson

While great improvements were taking place with gas-lighting, the possibility of harnessing electricity for lighting was being studied, and was soon to become a fact.

It was Sir Humphry Davy of “Miners’ Safety Lamp” fame who discovered the principle of the electric “arc” as early as 1801, and 11 years later he demonstrated his first “arc-lamp.” This was lighting of such power that it was quite impractical for home-lighting.

It took two Frenchmen to light up the streets of Paris between 1841-44 with demonstrations which must have been an astonishing sight for the Parisians who can be said to have had the first street-lighting. Before it came, and by a law of 1524, all householders in Paris were required to keep a light burning in the windows of their houses.

Five years after the demonstrations in Paris of street lighting by electricity, the Paris Opera House was bathed in light from powerful battery-operated arc-lights. Then, after further improvement in the principle, the London area around the Royal Exchange was lit by six lights of 4,000 candlepower each, mounted on 80-foot poles, each with its own dynamo. Smaller lights on shorter poles were also used.

But still the homes both of rich and poor remained cosy, warm – and dim! – with gas and paraffin lighting.

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Admiral Darlan was assassinated for his collaboration with the Germans

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Politics, World War 2 on Friday, 29 November 2013

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

De Gaulle, picture, image, illustration

De Gaulle, who probably ordered Darlan’s assassination, made many famous BBC broadcasts to the Free French, by Pat Nicolle

On Christmas Eve, 1942, Admiral Jean Francois Darlan, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army and Navy, set out to make a radio broadcast from a station in Algiers. It was to be the last act of his long and brilliant life.

His previous broadcasts had stirred up a great deal of controversy among the British, American, and Free French forces in Europe, for Darlan had at one time believed that Germany was bound to win the Second World War and that the wisest thing France could do was to make peace with Hitler.

After the capitulation of France in 1940, Darlan became Foreign Minister in the pro-German Government which was formed under the leadership of Marshal Henri Petain.

Petain had asked Hitler for an armistice. On its being granted, he had abolished the French republican constitution, and proclaimed himself “Chief of the French State.”

The Marshal, however, did not keep his self-elected office for long. He lost his place as Prime Minister, and Darlan – as chief of the armed forces – became the most powerful man in France.

His friendship with the German leaders was notorious and, when British Marines took over the island of Madagascar in May 1942 to forestall a possible Japanese landing there, Darlan called upon the garrison to resist to the last man.

Despite this, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, believed that Darlan was the one person who could help the Allied landings in Morocco and Algiers six months later. At the time, Darlan had assumed the position of High Commissioner for French North Africa, and Churchill later wrote:

“Admiral Darlan had but to sail in any one of his ships to any port outside France to become master of all . . . interests . . . He would have carried with him . . . the fourth navy in the world, whose officers and men were personally devoted to him.”

Thus encouraged, Darlan agreed to support the British and Americans in their operation. His status as Commissioner, however, provoked strong criticism in the New York and London newspapers and he became detested by the supporters of General de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French forces, whose headquarters was in London.

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John of Hus and Jerome of Prague were martyrs to the teaching of John Wyclyff

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion on Thursday, 28 November 2013

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

Jerome of Prague, picture, image, illustration

Jerome of Prague was arrested and taken back to Constance

It was Easter Monday 1415. The man with the thick black beard grimly approached the city gates. This was the final, most dangerous, stage of his journey. No one stopped him as he walked through the gate and into the market place. He was clear. Jerome of Prague had kept his promise and had come to the city of Constance.

Jerome was a distinguished Bohemian theologian, who had become deeply influenced by the ideas of the English reformer John Wyclyff. Wyclyff and his followers, called Lollards, held radical beliefs about the authority of the Church and how it should be exercised. They also criticised the corruption and abuses which were to be found in the day-to-day life and work of the clergy. The Church at this time was particularly open to criticism. At its head there was total confusion. There were two Popes, each of whom claimed to be the rightful head of the Church. They touted for support around the rulers of Europe, granting away political and religious concessions to win allegiance.

Jerome did not embrace all the Lollard doctrines. But he brought Wyclyff’s books to Bohemia where others read them and agreed with him that many of the Lollard criticisms could be applied to the state of the Church in their own country. Among those who thought in this way was Jerome’s fellow scholar and great friend, John Hus. John and Jerome made repeated attacks on the condition of the Church. These reached a climax in 1411 when one of the popes proclaimed a crusade against his rival. He granted indulgences – or the forgiveness of sins – to those who would fight for him or contribute money to support his army. In Prague, large iron-bound coffers were placed in the main churches to hold the money amassed in this way. It seemed to John and Jerome that it was wrong for a pope to make war on fellow-Christians and worse that he should simply sell forgiveness in this way. They preached bitter sermons against the pope’s action but to no avail; and soon they were driven from the country.

In 1414 a great council assembled in the city of Constance. It had three objects: to appoint a single pope; to eradicate heresy; and to reform abuses in the church. John Hus was summoned to appear before it. At first he suspected a trap and demurred. But then he was offered a safe-conduct which he understood would allow him to leave Constance freely after the Council’s hearing. Jerome came to see him and urged him to accept the offer. He would, he promised, come to John’s aid in the city, should the need arise. John delayed no longer. But no sooner had he arrived in Constance than the safe-conduct was withdrawn and he was clapped into prison and charged with heresy.

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The East Indiaman ‘Halsewell’ was dashed to pieces at the foot of a cliff

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships on Thursday, 28 November 2013

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

Shipwreck, picture, image, illustration

The Shipwrech by Francis Alexander Lydon

Captain Pierce, Master of the 758-ton East Indiaman Halsewell, could hardly know, let alone suspect, when he set sail from London that this voyage to the Far East was not only to be his last but, tragically, the last for his fine ship herself, and for almost all the 300 persons on board. A veteran servant of the great East India Company, he was taking with him for this very special occasion his two daughters and two nieces.

The Halsewell ran into bad weather in the English Channel on 1st January, 1786. A strong southerly wind caused Captain Pierce to drop anchor to avoid being blown on to a lee shore. The wind changed to east-nor’-east, his anchor dragged and his ship was blown out into mid-Channel. Soon afterwards the carpenter reported that she had sprung a leak; there was more than five foot of water in the hold; the men had manned the pumps but, in spite of all their efforts, could not keep it from rising.

With the gale increasing, and the set of the tide, the Halsewell began to roll so badly that Captain Pierce first had his mizzen-mast cut down and then, as a desperate remedy against rolling, had his main mast cut down too. As it fell, the rigging trapped a number of the crew and swept them overboard to their death. Soon afterwards the gale increased so greatly that the fore-topmast snapped off, and destroyed the foresail as it fell to the deck.

By now, the vessel was off the Dorset coast and Captain Pierce decided to run for the shelter of Swanage Bay. This involved skirting all too closely the cliffs that tower between St. Albans Head and Durlston Head. But the east wind was too much for him, with all but one of his masts gone and only a torn sail with which to maintain steering-way. At two o’clock on the morning of Friday, 6th January, the Halsewell was driven broadside-on into a cove at the foot of a cliff that rose sheer for 200 ft. from the water. There she grounded on a scatter of rocks broken off the cliff by the sea, as terrible a “bed-of-nails” as could be imagined.

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The mutineers in British India overwhelmed and torched complacent Delhi

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion on Thursday, 28 November 2013

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

The seepoys sack Delhi, picture, image, illustration

The mutineers put Delhi to the sword after (inset) an uncomfortable audience with Bahadur Shah, by C L Doughty

For the British who lived in Delhi, the dawn of 11th May, 1857, merely heralded another day in a tedious season when the hot winds from the western deserts blew their keenest over the parched and cracked plains, a season when one kept indoors as much as possible and shut out the heat and wind with special curtains made of fragrant smelling grass. It was a season which everyone assumed would pass as all the other seasons had passed, leaving behind it only the faint memory of another period of aching boredom. In actual fact, the dawn streaking the sky outside the windows of the British in Delhi was heralding a day of horror.

When the dawn rose, the city’s Moslems were already up, snatching a hasty meal before the sun rose on the 16th day of Ramadan, when every true Moslem might not drink or eat until the day had passed. On the river bank, the Hindus were busy performing their religious ablutions, bracing themselves against the chill waters that seemed to cut through to the very bone. The British, for the most part, were still in their beds.

The horror to come was signalled shortly after dawn by a dust cloud enveloping 2,000 horsemen riding steadily towards the walls of the city. The horsemen were the mutineers from Meerut who had slain every British soldier and civilian they could lay their hands on, as a reprisal against the prison sentences inflicted on a group of sepoys who had refused to handle an issue of cartridges smeared with pork fat, regarded as unclean by Moslems. Now, secretly apprehensive and unsure of themselves, they were riding towards Delhi to seek out the one man who might give them the moral support they needed if the revolt was not to lose its impetus. The man they sought was Bahadur Shah, the last representative of the Great Moguls, who had once ruled India, a decrepit, opium-sodden old man of 82, who lived on a pension supplied by the East India Company. He was, however, the nominal leader of his people, and as such could provide a rallying point for the mutineers.

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The grand old Duke of Wellington was reviled by the country he had saved

Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics, War on Thursday, 28 November 2013

This edited article about the Duke of Wellington first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 468 published on 2 January 1971.

Old Duke of Wellington

The elderly Duke of Wellington by Alfred d' Orsay

“Up, Guards! And at ’em!” said the bold Duke of Wellington. At this command the red coated British guardsmen began to rise to their feet and advance towards the French. At that moment the entire British Army advanced along its entire line.

Dismayed at this formidable sight after a day-long, slogging battle with devastating casualties on both sides, Napoleon’s army fled. It was a scramble for safety for Emperor and drummer boy alike.

Although the Duke later denied using those exact words, claiming that he most probably said: “Stand up, Guards!” then gave the order to attack, there was no denying that he was the hero of the day. Even though in his own admission the battle was a close run thing, and even though it was in fact going against him until the arrival of Blucher and his Prussians, Wellington became not only the national hero of Britain, but also the most respected man in Europe.

Waterloo was his hour of glory. It was also the climax of his life’s work.

He was to live another 37 years, years in which his glory faded and for a time he became the most disliked man in the kingdom.

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Joseph Gerrald – the forgotten champion of universal suffrage and human rights

Posted in Australia, Historical articles, History, Law, Politics on Thursday, 28 November 2013

This edited article about politics first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 467 published on 26 December 1970.

Botany Bay, picture, image, illustration

Gerrald, like many other prisoners, was brought ashore in Botany Bay by Graham Coton

It was 5th December, 1793. The wind howled down the dark Edinburgh street, sending flurries of snow against the windows and freezing draughts under the doors. But inside the hall it was hot and stuffy and the air was thick with the reek of sweat, tobacco and whisky. Above the rumble of argument and abuse a hoarse voice sought vainly for a hearing until its owner, a pale, wild-eyed man on the platform, was seized with a convulsive fit of coughing. Joseph Gerrald, lawyer turned political reformer, was trying to address the British Convention of the Friends of the People.

Suddenly the hall doors were flung open and the icy wind froze the meeting into silence. A file of redcoats entered and marched to the platform. The officer in charge read his warrant in an accent so thick that English delegates like Gerrald could barely understand him. But his gestures made his meaning clear. Gerrald, together with three of his companions, was under arrest. The Convention was dissolved. Three months later Gerrald was brought to trial in Edinburgh.

Four years had passed since the French Revolution had shaken the foundations of Europe. To some it had seemed then that the concepts of liberty, equality and brotherhood among men were at last to be realised. To others, civilisation itself had appeared to be doomed. The progress of the revolution disillusioned many of its supporters and confirmed the worst fears of its critics; but it provoked in every country a searching re-examination of existing forms of government, not just by men of affairs or great learning but by ordinary, thinking people.

The members of the Convention were ordinary enough. Gerrald himself had practised law in America. His interest in political reform had only developed when he returned to England to handle a long-drawn-out lawsuit. Like his fellow-conventionists, he became disgusted with the corruption in public affairs and injustice in the administration of the law. With them he demanded annual elections and “universal suffrage” – that is, the right of every man to vote, not merely a privileged few. This, he announced in a pamphlet, was “the only means of saving us from ruin.”

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Lighting would transform theatres and coalmines in very different ways

Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Theatre on Thursday, 28 November 2013

This edited article about lighting first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 467 published on 26 December 1970.

Dickens gives a public reading, picture, image, illustration

Charles Dickens gives a reading by flickering gaslight on a Victorian stage by Neville Dear

Lighting a home by whatever means had an advantage over outdoor lighting. Roofs and walls excluded the elements, while these were ever-present outside. Lighting in the open-air had to evolve in a different way, for there were always wind and rain to contend with, and, if a light was carried, there was the draught made by movement to be overcome.

Mr. F. A. Winsor, with his showman instinct, and not contented with his lectures of the virtues of gas-lighting at London’s Lyceum Theatre, went on to light up Pall Mall – or, to be truthful, a few yards of it – on the birthday of King George IV on 4th June, 1807. Winsor was clearly the right man at the right time to inspire gas-lighting, for, as far back as 1765 the magistrates of Whitehaven in Cumberland had refused a Mr. Spedding permission to install lights in the streets of the town.

Winsor, lighting even part of a street in 1807, inspired the “Golden Lane Brewery” to feel “what you can do we can do better,” and promptly gaslit not only the street their brewery was in, but an adjoining street, using 11 lights in all.

Street-lighting by gas, of course, required a man to go round lighting each lamp, so that the “lamp-lighter” was called into being. These characters took with them a ladder and a hand-held lantern. At the top of each post or standard they turned on a tap to let the gas flow, then lit it with their hand-lamp – a very arduous business. But by the middle of the 19th century things got better for the lamp-lighters. The ladder was discarded, and in its place came a long pole containing a crude oil-lamp and a “lug.” With the “lug” the gas-tap could be turned on from ground-level, and the jet lit by the oil-lamp which was protected from the wind by a pierced iron shield.

Our old friend the nightwatchman, with his tallow-candle in a horn lantern, had disappeared, for in 1880 the “Hurricane Lamp” arrived. This was a wind-cheating device burning mineral oil which was brighter than candlelight. Tough glass replaced the dim horn.

Previously had come – to the boon and benefit of street traders – the “Naphtha Flare.” This flaming device was invented in 1848 by Messrs. Read and Holliday, designed to burn “Coal Tar Naphtha, a kind of oil.” The burner was wickless, and “Naphtha Flares” have been in use well into the century in which we live. We often see them in fairgrounds.

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When HMS Hampshire struck a German mine Lord Kitchener’s fate was sealed

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 1 on Thursday, 28 November 2013

This edited article about maritime disasters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 467 published on 26 December 1970.

Lord Kitchener, picture, image, illustration

Lord Kitchener

At 5.30 p.m. on Monday, 5th June, 1916, the antisubmarine boom guarding the southern exit from Scapa Flow, Britain’s famous naval base in the Orkneys, was opened to permit H.M.S. Hampshire to steam out into Pentland Firth.

H.M.S. Hampshire was a 4-funnel cruiser of the County class with a displacement of 10,850 tons. She carried nearly 7,000 tons of 6-in. armour-plating; her armament consisted of four 7.5-in. guns, 30 guns of lesser calibre, and two torpedo-tubes. In spite of her heavy armour and armament she had a useful top speed of 23 knots, and she carried a crew of 665 officers and ratings, commanded by Captain Herbert J. Savill, R.N. Only one month before she had taken part in the Battle of Jutland. But now she was on a strictly hush-hush mission – to convey Britain’s most famous soldier, Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, then Secretary of State for War, to a top-secret rendezvous in Petrograd (as Leningrad was then known) with the Emperor of Russia to discuss ways for improving the Russian war effort. It was a mission of vital importance to the Allies in the First World War.

Once clear of Scapa Flow, H.M.S. Hampshire steered a northerly course up the west coast of the Orkney Islands. Though it was high summer, a vicious nor’-nor’-easterly gale was blowing. To obtain some degree of shelter it was necessary to keep as close to the lee shore as was deemed safe: a risk that had to be taken.

Off the island of Hoy the cruiser’s escort, the destroyers Unity and Victor, took up their positions to starboard and to port. In that formation they passed the giant stack known as the Old Man of Hoy. It is a wild, rugged, sinister, malevolent coastline all the way. In spite of the comparative shelter it afforded, the three vessels were slowed down by the gale into which they headed. Victor and Unity made such heavy weather of it that they had to signal that ten knots was the maximum speed they could hold. At 6.30 p.m. Captain Savill decided that his own best speed in the prevailing conditions, only 15 knots, unescorted, was better than an even slower speed with an escort. He therefore signalled to the two destroyers to turn about and make for their home base.

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Navvies spoke in rhyming slang very similar to the famous Cockney lingo

Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Interesting Words, Language on Thursday, 28 November 2013

This edited article about navvies first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 467 published on 26 December 1970.

Railway navvies on Birmingham line, picture, image, illustration

Railway navvies on the London to Birmingham line by Harry Green

Nicknames had their drawbacks. A scripture reader called Dennis, at Worsthorne, appealed to navvies in June 1887, asking those who gave wrong names at the office to carry their proper names and addresses on a piece of paper in their pockets. Mr. Dennis had had a lot of trouble with a man who had been killed on the works. He had given his name as Charles Fisher, and was also known as Reed. He had in his pocket a ticket for a pair of trousers pawned at Skipton, made out to J. Wilson. Eventually his real name was found to be Peter Lendall, from Askham.

Then there was another navvy, the son of a widow, who left home and found work on a line only 12 miles off. He took a new name, was unknown by his old one, and when he fell ill with fever was nursed and then buried by strangers. After he had been away for some time the widow became alarmed and asked a clergyman to help find her son, and they eventually traced the man. But it was too late, and the only consolation the priest could offer the mother was to show her the grave to which her son had been carried six weeks before. Another navvy lost his inheritance because of his nickname. An old man died leaving a considerable sum to be divided among his nephews and nieces. But one nephew had not been heard of for many years – he had become a navvy and adopted an alias, and so could not be traced. When the man did hear of his uncle’s death many years had gone by, he had been presumed dead, his share had been apportioned among the others, and he had lost a thousand pounds.

But the strangest story is that of a navvy called Warren, who had taken the harmless alias of George Brown. In the autumn of 1882 he was working on the Midland Railway, widening the line near Irchester. On 29th August, he was injured by a fall of earth and taken back to his lodgings, opposite the Dog and Duck at Wellingborough, where he died a few days later. An inquest was held, a verdict of accidental death returned, and two days later the man was buried. Then, as the Northampton Herald put it, “an event took place which proved that truth was stranger than fiction.” Under the headline, “A Strange Occurrence,” the newspaper report read:

“Soon after the funeral a man named George Warren, from Kislingbury, presented himself, and said he believed that, from what he had heard, the deceased was his son. He said he had not seen his son for a number of years, but he should know him by a peculiar scar on the breast, received from a scald during childhood, and he expressed a strong desire to see the body. An application was made to the Coroner, but he said he could not interfere. Other officials were applied to with the same result, and at last the grave-digger at the cemetery re-opened the newly-closed grave between 11 and 12 o’clock on Saturday night. The carpenter who made the coffin took off the lid, and the father by means of a ladder descended into the grave, removed the clothes, and there saw the scar which proclaimed the dead man to be his long-lost son.”

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