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Archive for December, 2011

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The momentous reign of Tsar Boris Godunov, a tragic operatic hero

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Saturday, 31 December 2011

This edited article about Russia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Russian serfs and landowners, picture, image, illustration

Russian landowners were attacked by their oppressed and angry serfs, by Richard Hook

Ivan the Terrible was dead. The pall of fear he had cast over the land lifted slowly.

But still the Russian people could not look ahead with any confidence.

Ivan was succeeded by his son Fyodor, who occupied the Russian throne for 14 years, from 1584 to 1598, but he was tsar in name only. He had neither the intelligence nor the desire to rule, and during this period the reins of government were in the hands of Boris Godunov, a rich landowner who had risen to prominence during the latter part of Ivan the Terrible’s reign.

Boris Godunov was an able and extremely ambitious man. On Fyodor’s death he got himself elected tsar by the Zemsky Sobor, the Russian parliament of the day. But he was an unpopular ruler, chiefly because of the way he had come to power.

His enemies maintained that he had only won the election to the throne by “packing” parliament with men he could rely on to vote for him. A more serious charge, however, was that he had murdered Fyodor’s young half-brother, the rightful heir, to clear the way to the throne for himself. The charge was never proved, but it served to blacken Boris’s name.

Boris Godunov’s unpopularity was unfortunate: he did a great deal for his country, and he was the best ruler Russia had had for a long time. In particular, he had a very clear understanding of what the country needed. Very conscious that Russia was in many ways backward compared with her neighbours, he did everything he could to close the gap.

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Derided as wallpaper, Impressionist paintings have become masterpieces

Posted in Art, Artist, Historical articles, History, Nature, Uncategorized on Saturday, 31 December 2011

This edited article about art originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Renoir, picture, image, illustration

Renoir at the notorious Impressionist Exhibition by Andrew Howat

“This exhibition is the work of lunatics,” howled an art critic. “These pictures are fit only for wallpaper,” cried another. Their scorn was typical of the reaction aroused by the work of a group of young artists, soon to be known as the Impressionists, when it was first put on public view in 1874. Time has proved the critics wrong, for the Impressionists’ paintings are so valuable today that only a billionaire could buy them all.

However, at the time, they aroused a great scandal. The Parisian public expected realistic people in pictures, preferably pictures that told a story. Instead, they found themselves staring at pictures in which artists were obsessed with light and with the colours in shadows.

Some of the names in that exhibition are now immortal – Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley and Renoir. These men saw, like their friend Manet who did not exhibit, things as they were at a fleeting moment. Certain painters before them, such as Constable and Turner, had also done this. If Monet saw hills that in the distance looked blue, he painted the blue. Yet in the 1870s other artists always painted hills green.

The Impressionists worked fast, in the open air, something which was unheard of then. Monet would paint the same scene at various times of the day to catch the different lights which transformed it. Form for him and his friends became less important than atmosphere and light. They found that shadows were not black but were different shades of the substance on which they fell.

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One spark ignited the spectacular Hindenburg conflagration

Posted in Aviation, Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Saturday, 31 December 2011

This edited article about aviation disasters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Hindenburg disaster, picture, image, illustration

The destruction of the Hindenburg

The giant airship Hindenburg cruised gently across the sky over New Jersey, having just completed an Atlantic crossing from Frankfurt, in Germany. It was the latest of many such crossings since her launching a year earlier.

To her commander, Captain Max Pruss, and 96 passengers and crew, it must have seemed one more proof of her stability and efficiency.

From the promenade windows lining her sides, the passengers could glimpse the lights of the Lakehurst landing-field ahead. During the hours of the crossing they had dined at tables laid with spotless linen, relaxed in the lounge to the music of a grand piano, or enjoyed a cigar in the smoking-room.

Four Daimier-Benz diesel engines powered the propellers of this flying luxury hotel, driving her forward against the prevailing westerly winds. For combined speed and comfort, she had no equal in the skies.

Speaking from Lakehurst, Commander Rosendahl informed Captain Pruss by radio that all was ready for a landing. The huge craft turned, aiming her bows at the spot where the ground landing crew waited.

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The urgent mission to save vanishing animals from extinction

Posted in Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 31 December 2011

This edited article about endangered species originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Ivory-billed woodpecker, picture, image, illustration

Ivory-billed woodpecker

An invitation to dinner in North America in the middle of the last century could have meant that on the table would be a much-liked delicacy – passenger pigeon. This bird lived in vast flocks and, at its nesting sites, every tree for many miles was laden with the nests.

This profusion of food on the wing was an invitation which could not be resisted by the hungry humans. In one year in Michigan and Pennsylvania, 15 million birds were killed for food. No bird could withstand slaughter at such a rate and, by 1888, the passenger pigeon had become almost extinct. The last known survivor died in Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

The passenger pigeon is but one of the many birds which have fallen foul of man. It is a sad fact that 100 species of animals and about 160 varieties of birds have been exterminated by man in recorded history. Most of these have become extinct since the time of Elizabeth I. Now there are over 1,000 animals and 20,000 plants which are in danger of dying out because they are being hunted or collected to extinction or perhaps because their habitats are being systematically destroyed.

Even though their numbers have become so reduced that they may never recover, whales are still being hunted by some countries. Even if whale-hunting were stopped now, whales would still be in danger.

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Shackleton’s heartbreak as he turned back from reaching the Pole

Posted in Exploration, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Ships on Saturday, 31 December 2011

This edited article about polar exploration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

The Nimrod, picture, image, illustration

The Nimrod

“Death lay ahead, food lay behind, so I had to return.” That was how Ernest Shackleton explained the agonising decision he had to take in 1909.

After spending six months in the harshest terrain anywhere in the world, Shackleton was forced to abandon his attempt to reach the South Pole a mere 150 km. short of his target. Two years later, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, using the route that Shackleton had discovered, was to snatch the laurels of victory out of Shackleton’s – and Britain’s – grasp.

In the early years of this century, Antarctica – the massive ice-bound continent at the southern tip of the globe – was still unknown territory. A hundred years after Captain Cook had first bumped into its coast in the 18th century, no one had mapped or explored this huge, forbidding area. More important, no one had actually been to the South Pole.

Then, in the 1890s, the search for the South Pole became an obsession. Belgians, Swedes, Germans, French and British competed with each other for the prestigious achievement of being the first to reach the Pole.

It was the last frontier for heroes. Everywhere there is ice. Ninety per cent of the world’s ice is in Antarctica: in places, it is two kilometres thick.

But none of this deterred Shackleton. In the autumn of 1908, his ship Nimrod had sailed away before it was trapped by the winter ice. Then, with three other men, J. B. Adams, E. Marshall and F. Wild, Shackleton prepared to make his dash for the Pole, estimated to be 2,700 kilometres away.

They had a team of Manchurian ponies to help them pull the sleds, but they – and the supplies – did not last very long. On Christmas Day, 1908, Shackleton’s team dined on pony meat, Oxo cubes, biscuits and medicinal brandy.

On 16th January, 1909, another party from Shackleton’s expedition managed to be the first men ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole, the point where compasses cease to work. This is near, but not the same as the actual South Pole.

For Shackleton, however, the point of no return was looming dangerously near. A mere 150 kilometres short of his destination, Shackleton had to face the fact that they would not have enough food to survive the trip back if they went any farther. It must have been heartbreaking for him to turn back, but it was to his eternal credit that he did so; for he became known as the leader who never lost a man.

John Surtees – champion motorcyclist and Formula One Champion in 1964

Posted in Cars, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes, Technology on Friday, 30 December 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

John Surtees, picture, image, illustration

John Surtees in a Honda V12 at the 1967 Grand Prix at Monza (top) and the 1000 kilometre race at Monza (bottom), driving a V12 for Ferrari, by Graham Coton

Crouched low over the handlebars, John Surtees swung his Norton motor cycle into Druids hairpin bend at Brands Hatch to increase an already impressive lead.

The gigantic crowds that thronged to the European circuits in the mid-fifties knew that John Surtees was a future world champion in the making.

John Surtees was born in 1934, in a Kentish village. His father, Jack, was a keen racing motor-cyclist, and young John was soon encouraged to ride in the “hot seat” as passenger in the sidecar of the bike Mr. Surtees rode in local events.

After leaving school, he joined the Vincent motor cycle firm as an apprentice.

While working with Vincent, Surtees built his own 500 cc short-circuit racing bike and dubbed it the Grey Shadow. On the track and off it, John Surtees continued to work hard, scratching out a living in any way he could and battling it out with any worthy competitor on all the British short circuits.

He gained his first victory at Brands Hatch in 1951, then exchanged his beloved Grey Shadow for a Norton, upon which he developed his crouching riding style. Rarely would a weekend pass without Surtees journeying to one of the major circuits and improving his fast-developing skills.

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Sooping the path to the tee: the art of Curling

Posted in Sport on Friday, 30 December 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

Curling, picture, image, illustration


Anyone who attends a curling match will readily appreciate why it is called the “Roaring Game”. The shouts of the spectators and players and the roar of the stones sliding across the ice produce an unforgettable sound.

Curling probably began in Holland, but spread from there to Scotland. It is now established in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and several countries in Northern Europe. But Scotland’s Royal Caledonian Curling Club is recognised as the game’s central authority.

The game, rather like bowls on ice, first reached Scotland about 300 years ago. For a long time any suitable stones lying handy were used for curling. Now the stones are limited to a weight of 44 lb. (20 kg.), and are specially shaped.

On a rink 138 feet long by 14 feet (42×4.3 m), a match is held between two teams of four players. Each player has four stones, which he slides across the ice, aiming for the “tee” at the centre of a target of concentric circles at the far end.

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St Anthony in Roseland was named by Anne Boleyn

Posted in British Countryside, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Royalty on Friday, 30 December 2011

This edited article about place-names originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, picture, image, illustration

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn hunting by James E McConnell

Do you live at St Anthony in Roseland?

This beautiful name belongs to a tiny village by the sea, near Falmouth, Cornwall.

There is a two-part story telling how the village got its unusual name. The “St Anthony” part was due to a tremendous storm that battered the coast hundreds of years ago. Apparently, the owner of a cargo vessel that was in danger of sinking prayed to St Anthony and promised to build him a church if he was delivered from a watery grave.

The merchant’s prayers were answered and he built a church to St Anthony on the peninsula where the ship landed safely.

The “Roseland” of the village’s name is said to have been given to the area by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. On their honeymoon in this remote part of Cornwall, Anne asked the name of the beautiful place where they were staying. Henry did not know; nor did his courtiers. So Anne looked around, picked a rose off a nearby bush and said – “‘Tis Roseland!”

Gradually, the little village that grew up around the church of St Anthony became known as St Anthony in Roseland.

Saint Hugh of Lincoln and Ruskin’s favourite cathedral

Posted in Architecture, Birds, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Religion, Saints on Friday, 30 December 2011

This edited article about Saints originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

Lincoln's West Towers, picture, image, illustration

The West Towers of Lincoln Cathedral, the building of which was largely Saint Hugh’s achievement, by William Wilkins Collins

St Hugh of Lincoln is an English saint but was a Frenchman by birth. He grew up in Burgundy and became a Carthusian monk at the famous abbey of La Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps.

He soon proved himself to be a skilled administrator and this bought him to the notice of King Henry II of England. Henry invited him to England and made him Bishop of Lincoln.

Apparently he was a very holy man, while being determined to resist the power of the king in Church matters. He was also largely responsible for the building of Lincoln Cathedral, which is still standing.

The picture above shows St Hugh with his pet swan. It is said that this was quite tame and followed him everywhere he went. Most mediaeval pictures show him with this remarkable bird.

Drake’s Drum is preserved at his unique country house: Buckland Abbey

Posted in Architecture, Conservation, Country House, English Literature, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 30 December 2011

This edited article about Francis Drake originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

Drake's Drum, picture, image, illustration

Drake dies of fever in the West Indies visited by rousing memories of the Spanish Armada and his famous drum, by John Millar Watt

The most famous man in England, newly-knighted, was on his way home to Devonshire. He and his men had sailed round the world in their tiny ship, the Golden Hind, reaching Plymouth Sound after a three-year voyage in 1580. His name was Francis Drake.

The crew brought home with them the richest haul of treasure ever taken from the Spaniards (or anyone else) by the English. After being knighted by Queen Elizabeth I, Drake set off for home.

Home was called Buckland Abbey. It had been owned by the Grenville family, whose most famous member, Sir Richard Grenville, captained the Revenge against a fleet of 53 Spanish warships off the Azores in 1591 and died after a battle that ensured his fame.

Drake bought the house in 1581. He did not die there, but of fever in the West Indies in 1596. In Drake’s Drum the Victorian poet Sir Henry Newbolt wrote:

Take my drum to England,
hang it by the shore,
Strike it when your
powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon
I’ll quit the port o’
An’ drum them up the
Channel as we drummed
them long ago.

The last line, of course, refers to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, by which time Drake had become second-in-command of the English fleet. When he died, his drum was indeed carried home and is now the most famous of the Drake relics that can be seen by visitors to Buckland Abbey.

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