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Archive for May, 2012

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Cheshire gave us cheese and the cat and the fiddle

Posted in British Cities, British Countryside, British Towns, English Literature, Farming, Historical articles, History, Legend on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Cheshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Rostherne Mere legend, picture, image, illustration

The legend of Rostherne Mere in Cheshire

As bread goes with butter, so Cheshire associates itself with cheese and cats. The origins of that grinning feline are shrouded in mystery, but the man who spread the fame of the Cheshire cat all over the world was born in 1832 at Daresbury parsonage in Cheshire.

His name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who will be remembered better as Lewis Carroll, educated at Rugby, and at Christ Church, Oxford.

Ordained a deacon, he did not take priest’s orders but became instead a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford, where he was something of a recluse. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the company of children, and the original “Alice” of “Alice in Wonderland” fame, was, in fact, a real-life Alice, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.

So much for cats. By the way, the rhyme “The Cat and the Fiddle” is also said to originate from Cheshire, but again there is no explanation of this intriguing affinity between an English county and cats. And now for cheese.

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Wooden pagodas are the traditional devotional buildings of Japan

Posted in Architecture, Politics, Religion on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Horyu-ji originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Hayato Ikeda, picture, image, illustration

Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda pictured next to a traditional Japanese pagoda

The vast temple of Horyu-ji is to be found at Nara in Southern Japan. It covers a huge area and is made up of many wooden buildings and one spectacular main pagoda.

With forests covering 60% of Japan, it is understandable that nearly all the older buildings there are of wood. Because Japan is prone to earthquakes, wooden buildings are easy to replace.

Wood has been the basic building material throughout the history of Japan. The grains and textures of the structural members are never covered in paint. Rather, they are polished and varnished to enhance their natural lustre and beauty.

In 538 A.D. Buddhism spread from Asia to Japan and exerted a tremendous influence on arts and architecture. As a result of this, the temple of Horyu-ji was built in 607 A.D. The design of the pagoda with one roof upon another supported by deep eaves, symbolises clouds rising heavenwards.

Whale meat, carrot jam and Woolton Pie disgusted the entire nation

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, World War 2 on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about the British diet during the Second World War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

The banana after WW2, picture, image, illustration

Many people nowadays can still remember the surprise and shock of seeing their first banana after the Second World War when they were children, by Pat Nicolle

Of course, it was not as bad as being bombed. And it was being perpetrated on the public by its own side, or, more exactly, by the Ministry of Food, usually the housewife’s friend. The back-room boys there had even come up with a jolly jingle to soften everyone up:

When fisher-folk are brave enough
To face mines and the foe for you,
You surely can be bold enough
To try fish of a kind that’s new.

So the people of Britain tried it, “it” being whale meat, which was alleged to be as tasty as steak. Not that many people could remember that particular taste by the middle of the Second World War.

Alas, the results were terrible. At a time when Britons would eat nearly anything that was put on their plates, slabs of this stuff were actually refused in countless homes, and in hotels were sent back to the cook, often accompanied by messages reflecting on his personal integrity.

Shuddering cries of “Frightful!”, “Revolting!” and “Tastes like a lump of cod liver oil!” rent the air, along with much ruder expressions. Even dogs and cats are alleged to have turned their noses up at the stuff, though we do not believe that for a moment. Not until just after the war, when food was in even shorter supply for a time, did anyone try and convert the British palate to the whale again, with the same unhappy result.

Not that the Ministry did too badly as a rule. Unlike the First World War, when the rationing system was often chaotic and unfair, in the Second it was so well organised that, despite desperate shortages and the disappearance of nearly all luxuries, many ate better than they did in the Depression days of the “hungry ’30s.”

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The skilful skimmer bird is also called the scissor bill

Posted in Birds, Fish, Nature, Sea, Wildlife on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about the skimmer bird originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

S American wildlife, picture, image, illustration

The Black Skimmer Bird (top, left)

The simple nest contained three chicks. It was nothing more than a hollow in the sand by the edge of a wide river and all around were hundreds of similar nests with the sitting birds all facing the same way. The chicks were well camouflaged with brown and buff coloured down and they were all made even more inconspicous because they had burrowed down into the sand until only their heads and backs were visible.

The beak of each chick was like that of most other young birds with the top and bottom halves of equal length so that it was able to pick up small pieces of food from the ground. As the bird grew, however, a strange development took place: the lower half of the bill grew much faster than the top half. After about six weeks, when the chick was ready to leave the nest, the bottom half was nearly twice as long as the top.

The reason for this strange phenomenon became apparent when the bird, a skimmer, started to fly and was able to fend for itself. Flying close to the surface of the water the skimmer opened its beak wide so that, although the upper half was clear of the water, the lower half skimmed through it. In this way the bird could scoop up small fish, crustacea and other surface feeding creatures. It was able to grip slippery prey like fish because the upper bill had sharp knife-like edges curved to fit into corresponding grooves in the lower bill. This method of feeding is unique to skimmers, sometimes known as scissorbills.

Another remarkable feature of these unusual birds is that they have eyes like cats with variable, vertical pupils. This is because they do most of their fishing at night so they need to see well in the dark.

Skimmers are found in South-east Asia. Central Africa and around the warm coasts of Central and South America.

A grateful King of Sumatra gave Singapore its name

Posted in Geography, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Legend on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Singapore originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Singapore, picture, image, illustration


How did Singapore get its name?

A long, long time ago the country was known as “Tumasek” or “Sea Town”. According to Malay legend, the first king of Singapore was Sang Nila Utama, who was king of Sumatra in Indonesia.

One day, Sang Nila Utama went with his friends to hunt in one of the Riau islands. These are Indonesian islands just south of Singapore. When he reached the Riau islands he climbed a hill and stood on the top looking out across the water.

He saw far across the sea, the white beach of another island. The king said: “How white is that beach! It looks like a piece of white cloth. Where is it?” His friend replied. “It is on the island of Tumasek.”

The king then decided to visit the island.

As they sailed, a storm broke, and the ship began to sink. The king and his men threw all their goods over the side of the ship, including the king’s crown. At once, the sea became calm and the storm stopped.

They landed safely and then went inland and found themselves in a jungle. They saw a beautiful animal. It was graceful, swift and bold and when the king saw it he said “This must be a fine place if it breeds such beautiful strong animals.” The animal he saw was a lion and so the king decided to name his new kingdom ‘Singapura’. ‘The City of the Lion’.

The stately homes of Britain are a unique architectural heritage

Posted in Architecture, Art, British Countryside, Conservation, Country House, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Britain’s country houses originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Knole, picture, image, illustration

Knole, one of England’s most beautiful country houses

Most of us live in small houses, semi-detached or at best, detached. But for centuries past, there have always been some people who could afford to build and keep up Great Houses, sometimes called Stately Homes. Norman castles may be the most imposing examples of Britain’s architecture, because of the impression they give of having been designed to resist siege and protect their occupants. But our Great Houses represent peace, not war. They were built as homes, not strongholds. They were made beautiful inside and out, set in gardens and parklands, and filled with treasures.

Some of them are vast. Take Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire, for instance. The building itself covers seven acres, (2 hectares) and is set in 2,500 acres (1,010 hectares) of parkland. It took seventeen years to build, and the stone came from no fewer than twenty quarries. It was a gift to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough who was victor over the French at Blenheim. Queen Anne herself was the giver. A descendant of the Duke, Sir Winston Churchill, was born there almost exactly 101 years ago.

Older by a century and a half, is Burghley House in Northamptonshire. It was built in 1552 by Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, and is occupied by his descendants to this day. Its grounds are so large that the wall surrounding them is seven miles (11 kilometres) in length. Its Marquetry Room, Green Damask Room, Purple Satin Bedroom and other rooms are filled with priceless furniture, pictures and objects d’art.

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The gallant pigeon that saved six WW1 airmen lost in the North Sea

Posted in Aviation, Birds, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Carrier pigeons, picture, image, illustration

Carrier pigeons, so vital to the survival chances of the airmen

“H.12. N8666. We have landed to pick up D.H.4 crew about 50 E by N of Yarmouth; Sea too rough to get off; Will you please send for us as soon as possible as boat is leaking; We are taxying W by S.”

Squadron Commander V. Nicholl signed the official Pigeon Service Form, rolled it up, and pushed it into the metal cylinder which he attached to the bird’s leg. “Good luck,” he whispered in the bird’s ear and then threw it into the air. As they watched the pigeon circle before setting course for home, all six men aboard the crippled flying boat gave a silent prayer that the creature would reach England safely.

Six hours earlier, at 10.35 a.m. on 5th September, 1917, the men had taken off from the Royal Naval Air Station at Great Yarmouth, confident that they would be able to shoot down one of the German Zeppelin airships that had been operating near Terschelling Island north of the Netherlands. With Nicholl in the Curtiss H.12 seaplane No. N8666 were pilot Flight Lieutenant Leckie, wireless/telegraph operator Petty Officer Walker, and Flight-Engineer Chief Petty Officer Thompson. Accompanying N8666 on the sortie was a two seater de-Havilland D.H.4 biplane manned by Lieutenant Gilligan and Lieutenant Trewin.

Less than half of their intended journey had been covered when they suddenly spotted two Zeppelins directly ahead. But the Germans had seen them first. Two bullets seared through the starboard wing of the D.H.4 and the whine of bullets coming from below, confirmed the fact that they had also been spotted by the anti-aircraft gunners on the German support ships. By now the Curtiss, which had been flying lower than the D.H.4, had climbed higher and was joining in the attack on the dirigibles.

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Francis Thompson wrote ‘The Hound of Heaven’ about religious doubt

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Francis Thompson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Owens College, picture, image, illustration

Owens College where Francis Thompson studied medicine

The brilliant poet, Francis Thompson, was born at Preston in Lancashire on December 13th 1859. He had two uncles who were writers and was brought up as a Roman Catholic.

When the family moved to Ashton-under-Lyme, Francis was sent to Ushaw College to study for the priesthood, but was soon found unsuitable because of his neurotic temperament.

He then studied medicine at Owens College for six years but, having failed his final examinations three times, he moved to London in 1885.

There he lived in extreme poverty, selling matches or newspapers, suffering ill-health and misery, and becoming addicted to the laudanum which he had taken for his sickness.

During this time he wrote some poems and sent them to a magazine Merry England, which was edited by another poet, Wilfred Meynell. After putting them aside for a time Meynell finally got in touch with Thompson in 1888, just in time, it seems, to rescue the poet from the depths of misery to which he had sunk. He went to stay at a monastery in Sussex to restore his health and while there wrote several poems, including his most famous work ‘The Hound Of Heaven.’ a magnificent, powerful poem in which he describes his flight from God.

For the rest of his life, Thompson made his home with Wilfred Meynell and his wife, Alice, who was also a poet.

His published poems include Poems (1893) Sister Songs (1895), written for the Meynell’s daughters, and New Poems (1897).

One of Thompson’s favourite hobbies was watching cricket, about which he wrote several odd pieces of verse. He also wrote an Essay on Shelley and other pieces of prose.

He died at the age of 47 on November 13th, 1907.

Edward Elgar – the greatest English composer since Purcell

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Music, Religion, Royalty on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Edward Elgar originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Elgar and his wife, picture, image, illustration

Sir Edward Elgar and his wife, Alice by Roger Payne

One of the greatest of our modern composers was Edward Elgar, a great friend of King Edward VII, from whom he received a knighthood.

Edward Elgar began life in a country town, Worcester. His boyhood was steeped in music, for his father kept a music shop, and was also organist at one of the local churches. In later years Edward Elgar used to say, “A stream of music flowed through our house, and I was all the time bathing in it.” Almost without thinking of it as “practice” (the word so many young musicians so dislike) he experimented with one instrument after another in his father’s shop, and gained a workmanlike knowledge of the violin, the cello, and the double bass, the bassoon, the trombone, and, of course, the piano and the organ. In his boyhood there was no radio, and the gramophone was in its infancy. But there was a great deal of music-making in people’s homes, and young Elgar took a full part in this, both as a performer, and later on as a soloist and teacher of the violin, the instrument which he understood and loved best all his life.

A story from Elgar’s childhood shows his own early interest in music. Determined to write some music of his own, he sat down in a corner of the garden one day and carefully ruled some lines on a sheet of paper. Nearby, a man was at work painting the outside of a neighbour’s house. Breaking off to watch what the boy was doing, he quickly spotted the first mistake. “To write music you need five lines!” he said. “There are only four on your sheet!”

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The fatal quarrel between the early Stuart monarchs and the Commons

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about the Stuarts and their Parliaments originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

The Speaker is restrained, picture, image, illustration

Two MPs held the Speaker down to prevent his calling an Adjournment by James E McConnell

Everyone has heard of the Gunpowder Plot, fixed for the day before the opening of Parliament on 5th November, 1605. Even today the vaults of the Houses of Parliament are searched ceremonially before the annual opening of Parliament, and each year, on 5th November, bonfires are lit and replicas of Guy Fawkes – “guys” – are burnt.

In spite of this, the true purpose of the Gunpowder Plot is still something of a mystery. Some people think it was a Roman Catholic plot to blow up the King and his government, while some think it was a clever conspiracy to discredit the Catholics.

According to the official story at the time, the plan was drawn up by a man named Robert Catesby and a number of other leading Catholics. These men were opposed to James I’s policy of enforcing the existing anti-Catholic laws.

The plan, whatever its purpose, was a complete failure. This was due in the main to one of the conspirators themselves, Francis Tresham, who warned Lord Monteagle to stay away from the House on the day appointed.

As a result, the buildings were searched, and on 4th November, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a cellar where a large quantity of gunpowder was also found.

All the conspirators were eventually arrested. Some were killed and the rest, after being tortured, confessed to the plot.

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