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Archive for March, 2012

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Isaac Newton explained the colours of the rainbow

Posted in Science on Friday, 30 March 2012

This edited article about rainbows originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

prism, picture, image, illustration,

A prism showing the refraction of sunlight into the colours of the rainbow

If you ran fast and far enough, could you come to the end of a rainbow? The answer is no. Do you know why?

A rainbow is formed when the sun shines on falling rain. The raindrops refract or bend the light, and then reflect it back, making a rainbow.

When light is refracted it is split up into colours. When it is reflected, it is bounced back from a surface in the direction from which it came, in the same way that a mirror bounces back your image.

The English scientist Sir Isaac Newton was the first man to discover that sunlight is really a mixture of coloured light. In air, the colours all travel at 186,000 miles per second.

But in substances such as glass or water, the colours travel at different speeds. The substance shows up coloured light by different amounts, and refracts it.

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Did the Devil walk the rooftops in a Devon village?

Posted in British Countryside, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery on Friday, 30 March 2012

This edited article about British mysteries and legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

Devil's footsteps, picture, image, illustration

Examining the diabolical footprints in a Devon village by C L Doughty

One evening early in February, 1855, snow fell in Devon. And with the snow came one of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time.

For when the townsfolk and villagers awoke next morning, they noticed in the otherwise untrodden snow thousands of very odd footprints. They were not only on the ground, but also went straight across the rooftops of houses, over haystacks and high walls.

As the day wore on, travellers reported seeing the footprints in many towns. Curious folk followed the trail, and soon it was established that whoever or whatever had made the marks in the snow had travelled a distance of more than 100 miles in one night. Not only that, they had crossed the two-mile wide estuary of the River Exe.

In Topsham, Lympstone, Exmouth, Teignmouth, Dawlish, Kenton, Newton, Withycombe-Raleigh, Woodbury, Bicton and Budleigh, and in many other villages and towns of Devon, curiosity turned to fear.

The prints were in a single track, such as only a two-legged creature could make. They were something like the hoof-marks of a donkey. But many of the impressions in the snow showed clearly that it was a cloven foot.

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The enduring flexibility and ingenuity of manpower and intelligence

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Industry on Friday, 30 March 2012

This edited article about human strength originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

Building Stonehenge, picture, image, illustration

The building of Stonehenge by Arthur Ranson

Today, we take so many of our modern marvels such as machines, factories and speedy means of transport for granted. It must seem to young people that these things have been with us for ever. But to go back a couple of centuries, the day-to-day life of ordinary people appeared to jog-trot along for years in much the same humdrum fashion. Then came the steam engine which gave an added urgency and impetus to the world.

The mighty wheels of the Industrial Revolution had begun to turn, bringing changes in their wake like prisoners harnessed to a chariot. Railroads were built, employing thousands of people. Factories sprang up and cities were erected near the factories.

But “manpower” in the purely physical sense, was still present. For instance, the miners or “colliers” were often called the “aristocrats of labour” not only because of their value in digging coal, but because of their inborn qualities of strength, courage and comradeship.

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Chocolate-box art and commemorative royal souvenirs

Posted in Anniversary, Art, Artist, Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about packaging originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Sweet shop, picture, image, illustration

Attractive packaging for confectionery was important for occasions like Easter, just as specific designer packaging was used to commemorate state occasions like Coronations, producing chocolate boxes, tins and of course, mugs.

If the packets we see in the shops today are a lot smarter though a little less individual than the packs of earlier generations, this could be due to the influence of professional package designers.

Such designers were almost unknown before the late 1920s, when they came into their own in America and in Germany. In England they were unknown until the early 1930s.

The first package design course in any English art school was included in the 1932-3 syllabus of Goldsmith’s College, London, and it was the first of many.

The designer of packs nowadays is concerned with the size and shape of the package, the choice of materials for it, the way it opens and closes, its colours, and its layout and lettering.

At times he has to compromise between his own idea of what is good design, what his client the manufacturer insists on having, and what the market researchers tell him is “what the public wants”. So a degree of similarity in many present-day package designs is only to be expected.

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Ignoring the truth in the Thirties – Imperial Britain was broke

Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Politics on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about the Thirties originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Labour Exchange, picture, image, illustration

A Labour Exchange in Britain

You may have heard of Walter Mitty. He was a character in a short story by James Thurber which became a popular film. He became famous because he was like the ostrich which is alleged to bury its head in the sand. He filled his mind with dreams and fantasies about the state of things going on around him – ideas that were always totally unrealistic.

In the nineteen-thirties, of all the people in the world who suffered from the delusions of a Walter Mitty, there were none so numerous as the British. In those halcyon years, for instance, in almost every State school classroom there hung a large map of the world, facing the rows of pupils. One-third of the countries on it were always coloured red.

From time to time a teacher would point to the map and tell the pupils, “One-third of the world is coloured red. All those red parts make up the British Empire.”

No one who went to school in the ‘Thirties was left in any doubt about what that message meant. It meant that Britain was the mightiest, most powerful nation in the world.

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France’s monarchy gives way once more – to the Third Republic

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, War on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about post-Napoleonic France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Bismarck and Napoleon III, picture, image, illustration

Napoleon III surrendered to Bismarck after the Battle of Sedan, by Pat Nicolle

The period that followed the banishment of the Emperor Napoleon to the island of St. Helena after the Battle of Waterloo can be likened in France to the dustcart that follows the Lord Mayor’s Show. After all the glory and the greatness came the dull and the mediocre.

The King, Louis XVIII, who had fled from his throne after Napoleon’s escape from Elba for the period known as the Hundred Days, crept back so quietly, it seemed that he was hoping no-one would notice his return.

In fact, hardly anyone did. Frenchmen, forever fickle, were too busy wringing their hands at the loss of Napoleon, whom they had once praised and reviled in turn, to care for the old and ineffective King. Their despair for the lost days of glory caused the nobles and the royalists to wreak revenge on these Bonapartists, as they were called, by massacres and other atrocities. But that civil strife dissolved after a French army, led by the King’s nephew the Duke of Angouleme, made a successful attack upon Spain. The idea that they might once again be victorious in battle made even the gloomiest Frenchman smile.

Louis XVIII was succeeded by his brother, Charles X. This new King was 67 when he was crowned, but he had little intelligence to couple with all his experience of life. One of the most memorable things he said, which succinctly expressed his viewpoint, was, “I would rather chop wood than be a King like the King of England.”

The King of Britain at this time was George IV. Although there were plenty of unsatisfactory things about that British King’s behaviour, he had no chance to be a national autocrat, for Britain had already established her steady Parliamentary democracy. And that, of course, was what Charles meant when he spoke scornfully of the King of Britain.

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Eli Whitney sowed the cotton seeds of the American Civil War

Posted in America, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Inventions, War on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about America’s cotton industry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Whitney's cotton gin, picture, image, illustration

Intruders examining Eli Whitney’s cotton gin

Those were the days, the old soldiers sighed, when they were fighting the British. But now ten years had passed since the peace treaty finally put an end to the war and confirmed that the United States was a truly independent nation.

They stared out of the windows of a stately home on the Georgia plantation, watching the black slaves at work in the fields. What a crazy world it was, they all told each other, a world full of nations clamouring out for cotton, but here in Georgia, in the heart of the cotton-growing belt, they couldn’t afford to grow it. There was just no way of separating cotton quickly from its seed, and by hand it took ten hours for even the best slave to clean a single pound of cotton.

Their hostess looked around at the officers-turned-planters, who had all served in the War of Independence against Britain under her late husband, General Nathaniel Greene, and who now owned many of the plantations in the neighbourhood. Then she thought of the young man from Yale University who was serving as a tutor in her house and she uttered some historic words.

“Gentlemen,” she said, “tell your troubles to Mr. Whitney. You say you want a quick way to separate cotton from its seed. Ask him. He can make anything.”

The officers knew that young Eli Whitney was good with his hands, but they could not know that, within ten days, he would invent a machine which would not only make their fortunes but change the history of the world.

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G.B.S. – Irish and British literature’s most famous initials

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Language, Literature, Theatre on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about George Bernard Shaw originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Pygmalion, picture, imge, illustration

Professor Higgins meets Eliza Dolittle in ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. Picture by Ralph Bruce

The man who was to become the most famous British playwright of this century, was born in Dublin on July 26th, 1856. At the age of twenty, George Bernard Shaw went to London to seek his fortune. He spent four years writing five novels and each of them was sent to every publisher in London, and returned with a rejection slip.

In 1884 Shaw joined the Fabian Society, which had been set up to make the ideas of socialism better understood and more widely known. He soon won fame as a public speaker and for his pamphlets on politics and socialism.

In 1885 he started to make a living as a book critic and art critic. It was his reviews of music, however, which established his reputation. Many people believe that Shaw was the most original and amusing critic in the English language.

Meanwhile he had begun to write plays. The first was performed in 1892 and was given a mixed reception by the critics. He followed this by The Philanderer and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. In his plays, Shaw attacked many of the firmly-held moral, social and political beliefs of his time and because of this, many people were shocked and upset by his plays. Eventually, though, many of them became great successes on the stage in Europe and America as well as in Britain. They include Arms and The Man, Candida, The Devil’s Disciple, Man and Superman, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Heartbreak House, Back To Methuselah, Pygmalion and Saint Joan.

In 1925 Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lived to the grand old age of 94 and went on writing almost to the time of his death in November, 1950.

Vivian Fuchs makes the great Antarctic trek

Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about Antarctic exploration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

Vivian Fuchs, picture, image, illustration

The trans-continental conquest of Antarctica by land was made by Vivian Fuchs, by Severino Baraldi

It was the first attempt to cross by land from one side of the ice-sheathed Antarctic continent to the other, and so far everything had gone well. The expedition, led by Dr. Vivian Fuchs, was part of the British Commonwealth’s contribution to the 1958 International Geophysical Year, and to support it, 12 nations had set up 50 different bases in the Antarctic.

Unlike explorers in the Antarctic, who had used only dogs, this expedition had set off with three Sno-Cats, whose tank-like tracks were considered ideal for gripping the snow. Supported also by two tracked cargo carriers and a Muskeg tractor, hauling between them all some 20 tons of food, fuel and equipment, Fuchs was reasonably confident that the expedition would not be faced with any real difficulties beyond those created by the harsh conditions.

Changing weather conditions, however, made the use of heavy machinery a liability, rather than an asset. Although part of the route had already been explored, the weather had so weakened the snow that every yard the expedition covered was now a hazard.

Disaster now seemed inevitable.

It came finally when Fuchs and his companion, David Stratton, riding in one of the Sno-Cats, suddenly found the snow collapsing beneath them. The next moment they found themselves dropping in the dark blue depths of a crevasse.

The Sno-Cat mercifully stopped its plunge. It was now perched across a yawning chasm, with its rear caterpillar gripping the edge behind it. One of its front treads was swinging vertically in the air, leaving the other to take the whole front of the vehicle on a slender ‘toe-hold’.

But miraculously, Fuchs and his companion and the machine were hauled to safety and on January 19th, 1958 they arrived at the South Pole.

The “fighting heart of Britain” lies in Hampshire’s famous ports

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, War on Thursday, 29 March 2012

This edited article about Hampshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

HMS Victory, picture, image, illustration

A picture history of HMS Victory by C L Doughty

As a flotilla of Nelson’s fighting ships sailed out of Portsmouth Harbour one morning in 1803 to search for the French fleet, a gunnery officer named Warby turned to a young cadet and said: “That’s the fighting heart of Britain.”

He meant Portsmouth but he could just as accurately have meant the whole of the county Portsmouth stands in – Hampshire. Even today, 170 years after Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar, Hampshire is still the centre of our fighting services.

With its many fine harbours and easily defended countryside, Hampshire has been chosen by military leaders for nearly 2,000 years as a natural base.

Two perfect natural harbours – at Portsmouth and Southampton – dictated the role Hampshire was to play. Being easily defendable and near the Continent, it is not surprising the Romans used them as bases for their invasion.

When the Romans set up their first military camps in the county, it is unlikely that even they realized how long the tradition they had started would last.

Faced with the savage attacks of the Danes in the ninth century it was from Winchester that King Alfred the Great chose to organize his defence. Apart from raising an army he built the first English navy and stationed it at Portsmouth.

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