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Archive for August, 2012

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America conquered the North Pole from beneath the ice

Posted in America, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Sea, Technology on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about the North Pole originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 762 published on 21st August 1976.

The Skate at the North Pole, picture, image, illustration

The Skate finally broke through the ice at the North Pole proper on 17th March, 1959, by Wilf Hardy

Experts argue as to who was really the first man to reach the North Pole, there is no doubt who were the first to get there under the ice – the crew of the US nuclear submarine Nautilus, commanded by William R. Anderson.

Novelist Jules Verne had given birth to the idea of taking a submarine under the polar ice 90 years earlier, in his book “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea”. In 1931, Australian-born Sir Hubert Wilkins had made an unsuccessful attempt in an old American submarine to turn fiction into fact.

The coming of nuclear power revived interest in the project. Traditionally equipped subs travel by diesel propulsion on the surface, and use electric motors when submerged. But they have to surface to recharge their batteries.

A nuclear power unit needs no air. Submarines powered by this means can stay under water as long as there is air for their crews to breathe.

It was America’s Admiral Hyman G. Rickover who persuaded his government to build nuclear submarines, and it was his drive and forceful leadership which launched Nautilus on her historic voyage. As a naval man, he saw the growing importance of the route across the pole as a short cut between northern Europe and North America. But the project was obviously of great interest to scientists as well.

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Lawrence of Arabia became disillusioned and spurned contemporary acclaim

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about T E Lawrence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 762 published on 21st August 1976.

T E Lawrence, picture, image, illustration

Lawrence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence, now popularly known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, was born on August 15th, 1888.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Turkey joined forces with Germany against Britain and her allies. The Arab people, long under the domination of occupying Turkish armies, rose in revolt. It was Lawrence who led and inspired that revolt. He lived among the Arabs, dressed as one of them and rapidly gained their trust.

The Arabs wanted complete independence from Turkey, and Lawrence assured them that, if they rose in rebellion to aid Britain and her allies, they would achieve their aim.

The success of the war in Arabia was due largely to Lawrence’s efforts. But when it was over and Arabia did not gain full independence, Lawrence felt he had betrayed their trust in him. He retreated from the publicity and honours which surrounded the legend of “Lawrence of Arabia,” changed his name to Shaw and joined the Royal Air Force.

Pall Mall was the first street in London to be gas-lit

Posted in Historical articles, Inventions, London on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about street gaslighting originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 762 published on 21st August 1976.

Street-lighting, picture, image, illustration

The first street-lighting by Peter Jackson

At ten o’clock on the evening of 17th August, 1807, crowds of Londoners were gazing in awe at a line of flickering gas-lights in Pall Mall. It was the first time that a street had been lit by gas.

The story of gas-lighting began in Cornwall, in 1792. William Murdock, a Scottish engineer, noticed that, as the coal on his fire burned, little puffs of smoke would appear and burst into flame.

After many experiments, he managed to produce enough gas to light his room.

In 1804, Murdock went to London, but it took him a long time to persuade the authorities to use gas-lighting for the streets. Luckily, he had some supporters and a gas-lit Pall Mall was the result.

The Peterloo Massacre outraged a nation but stifled reform

Posted in British Cities, Famous battles, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about Peterloo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 762 published on 21st August 1976.

Peterloo, picture, image, illustration

The Peterloo massacre

When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, people in England looked forward to a time of peace and prosperity. Many were disappointed. The increased use of machinery put many working-class people out of work.

The upper- and middle-classes were frightened by a group of agitators known as Radicals who, it was feared, might stir up the working-classes and bring the horrors of the French Revolution to England. The Radicals were campaigning to get working people the right to vote in elections.

The meeting held at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August, 1819, was the most significant of the great radical meetings. It was intended to “take into consideration the most speedy and effectual mode of obtaining Radical Reform in the House of Commons.”

From early morning, working-class people swarmed to the field in their thousands to hear “orator” Henry Hunt, their hero. He had hardly begun to speak when yeomanry arrived with a warrant for his arrest.

When Hunt and his associates had been taken away, the crowd tried to disperse, but Hussars and other troops barred their exit. The people panicked and the troops grew violent. The Field was cleared of more than 60,000 people in about ten minutes. In the stampede, 11 people were killed and more than 500 injured. England was shocked, and the “Peterloo Massacre” became notorious.

Superstitious and paranoid, Domitian enjoyed sport and killing people

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about Domitian originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 762 published on 21st August 1976.

Domitian, picture, image, illustration

Domitian had a novel approach to archery by Clive Uptton

When we think of the assassination of a Roman leader, we think at once of the conspirators who plunged their daggers into Julius Caesar in the Senate House on the fatal Ides of March. But a hundred years later the Roman Emperor, Domitian, was also stabbed to death, the victim of a plot hatched because of his unpopularity.

Many of the emperors seemed to vie with each other in their despotism and cruelty, and Domitian was anxious to excel them. Once, when he read a history book he didn’t like, he had the author put to death, and the slaves who acted as the author’s copyists were crucified.

A chance remark by a Thracian watching a gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum was enough to have the man dragged from his seat at the Emperor’s command and, with a placard tied around his neck reading, “A Thracian supporter who spoke evil of his Emperor,” attacked by dogs in the arena.

Domitian put senators to death on the most trivial of charges. The Emperor stole one senator’s wife, and the senator, after he had made a flippant remark about it, was executed. Another died because he gave two of his slaves the names of Carthaginian leaders – the Carthaginians were Rome’s traditional enemies. When Sallustius Lucullus, who was Governor-General of Britain, allowed a new type of lance to be called “the Lucullan”, he, too, was executed for being so presumptuous.

Domitian was the son of the tenth Caesar, Vespasian, and the young brother of the eleventh, Titus, who had died in A.D. 81 after reigning for only two years. He had been a good Emperor, and the Romans mourned him as though they had suffered a personal loss. They were soon to grieve still more when Domitian was making his cruelty felt across the Empire.

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Restoring Verulamium and remembering Britain’s first Christian martyr, St Alban

Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, British Towns, Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Religion, Saints on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about St Albans originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 760 published on 7th August 1976.

Battle of St Albans, picture, image, illustration

Boadicea at the Battle of St Albans by C L Doughty

By the beginning of the 4th century, the British city of Verulamium had already seen a lot of changes. Before the arrival of the Romans it had been the capital of a local chieftain, who lost it to the invaders after months of fierce fighting. In 61 A.D., the formidable Queen Boadicea burned the place to the ground after a revolt that for a while looked as though it might drive the Romans into the sea. But, in a remarkably short time, the legions had returned in triumph and Verulamium was rebuilt on a far more lavish scale than before. By 303 A.D., it was one of the finest business and cultural centres of the Roman Empire, complete with substantial walls and gates, triumphal arches, palatial temples, a theatre and even a racecourse. It was also the home of a man named Alban, destined to become reversed as the first British martyr.

The lives of many of the early Christian saints are so obscure that it is difficult to tell where legend ends and historical fact begins, but what little we do know about Saint Alban has a ring of truth about it. Undoubtedly he was born in Verulamium, and as Alban was a Roman name it seems likely that he belonged to a Roman family that had made a permanent home in Britain.

By all accounts he was a man of some consequence and well respected, who disapproved of the harsh anti-Christian measures that had recently been introduced on orders from Rome. Perhaps his sympathies were well known, because it was to his home that someone directed a fugitive Christian priest, and Alban agreed to give the man shelter.

The priest, whose name is recorded as being Amphibalus, stayed only a few days, but during that time he managed to convert his protector to the new religion. Consequently, when it became known that the authorities were making a house-to-house search, Alban made the decision that was to cost him his life, and not only exchanged clothes with his guest but arranged for his escape. He himself stayed where he was and took the consequences.

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Carnage in the Crimean War culminated in the Siege of Sebastopol

Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about Sebastopol originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 760 published on 7th August 1976.

Siege of Sebastopol, picture, image, illustration

The Siege of Sebastopol by Richard Hook

The Crimean War had now been going on for eight months. The Russians had lost the Battle of Inkerman, but they still continued to hold Sebastopol, which the Allied Commanders had confidently assumed would fall before the winter had set in. But Sebastopol had not fallen, and now the winter had come upon them, bringing with it biting winds, rains and snow. Given the minimum support in the way of clothing and food, the British troops could have sat out the winter without too much discomfort. As it was, the inefficiency of everyone concerned in running the war had left them stranded on the heights above Sebastopol, with no new clothes to replace their tattered rags, and very little in the way of provisions.

Thanks to the war correspondents, this sorry state of affairs was well enough known in Britain for the magazine Punch to carry a cartoon which showed a half-naked guardsman telling a comrade the good news that they were about to receive a Crimean medal. “Very good,” replied the other. “Maybe one of these days we’ll have a coat to stick it on.”

Cartoons such as these and the blistering reports from William Howard Russell of The Times, made it all too clear that someone had blundered badly. Much of the blame was eventually put on the shoulders of Lord Raglan, the Commander-in-Chief who had conducted most of the war from a snug farmhouse behind the lines, but in fact the real culprits were the members of his General Staff, who seemed incapable of organising anything. Earlier in the year, for an instance, ample stores and provisions had been landed at Balaclava, but through lack of storage space, the food had been allowed to rot in the open. Even worse, innumerable bales of warm clothing and trusses of hay had not been sent forward for the use of the troops, but had been used instead to provide additional landing stages at Balaclava. This appalling situation had been made doubly bad by a great gale which had sent to the bottom of the Black Sea the Prince, a large steamer laden with boots, clothing and medicine.

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The dazzling legend of Cleopatra and her immortal fame

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 9 August 2012

This edited article about Cleopatra originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 760 published on 7th August 1976.

Cleopatra, picture, image, illustration

Cleopatra waiting for a visit from Mark Antony by Dionisio Baixeras-Verdaguer

Under a hot Egyptian sun, just over two thousand years ago, a beautiful queen took her own life.

Her beloved empire had crumbled beneath her, the man she loved was dead, and there before her lay only misery and humiliation at the hands of her conqueror, who was intent on revenge.

Her story reads like a fairy tale – a legend of romance, of fantasy, of fiction, and, finally, of tragedy. Yet Cleopatra was real, and she has gone down in history as one of the world’s most remarkable women.

She was born in the year 69 BC, the daughter of a weak and ineffectual ruler, Ptolemy XII, nicknamed the Piper. The Ptolemies had ruled Egypt for two-and-a-half centuries, since the days of Alexander the Great when, in his triumphant eastward march, this brilliant leader built up his vast Macedonian Empire. It was one of his generals, Ptolemy, who became king of the Egyptian part of this empire in the year 305 BC.

By the time Cleopatra was born, however, the great days of Egypt’s empire were over. Mighty Rome had long been intruding upon Greece and Asia Minor, and the whole eastern Mediterranean was slowly falling under Roman control.

Only Egypt stood out against the might of Rome. And when Cleopatra ascended the Egyptian throne as joint ruler with her brother in the year 51 BC, she resolved to restore her country’s former glory and to remain, at all costs, independent of Rome.

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Some sensational headlines from the modern Olympic Games

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 7 August 2012

This edited article about the Olympic Games originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 760 published on 7th August 1976.

Spyridon Louis, picture, image, illustration

Two Greek Princes rushed from the Royal Box and helped Spyridon Louis run the last 100 yards by Ron Embleton

When Britain’s major athletics gold medal hope, David Bedford, was beaten so decisively in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the last Olympic Games in Munich, the world was able to follow the drama of his defeats step by step on television or radio.

With 7,000 journalists, TV and radio men geared to cover the Montreal Games, details of any similar dramas will quickly become world-wide news. But, from earlier games, there are many exciting stories which have only recently been unearthed after years of painstaking research.

They never made the headlines because the newspapers (and radio) virtually ignored the Olympic Games until the 1936 event in Berlin. Only the results and very brief descriptions of the major events appeared. The Nazi government turned the 1936 Games into a propaganda exercise, and 40 years after they began, the world was made aware of the dramas behind its biggest sports event.

The most publicised episode of the first Games in Athens in 1896 is the victory of the Greek postman Spiridon Louis, who won the first marathon race of modern times.

But another Greek, named Constantindis, had an even tougher time winning the first Olympic cycle road race, over 51 miles. Twice he crashed, completely ruining two machines and receiving treatment for injuries before he could continue. After the second crash, the intrepid Constantindis borrowed a third cycle from a spectator to finish the race – and remained nearly 20 minutes ahead of the second man.

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Roman London was founded as a bridgehead for the conquest of Britain

Posted in Ancient History, Geography, Historical articles, History, London on Tuesday, 7 August 2012

This edited article about London originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 760 published on 7th August 1976.

Londinium, picture, image, illustration

An aerial view of Roman London or Londinium by Pat Nicolle

“And there are sharp wooden stakes under the water as well,” explained the grizzled old interpreter, a veteran of many Gallic wars. “That’s apart from the line of stakes you can just see along the mud flats on the far bank of the river.”

Here the river Thames was wide and relatively shallow. A large force of Roman cavalry was already making its way across, while on the far bank the British tribal hordes, resplendent in war-paint and golden finery, roared insults and challenges. Their leader, Cassivellaunus of the Catuvellauni tribe, was a respected warrior chieftain; but here on the southern bank, flanked by disciplined ranks of Roman legionaries, was an even more famous military man – Julius Caesar himself.

The year was 54 BC, and Caesar faced a crisis. Those underwater obstacles that a batch of captives now told him about, could be dangerous. The ford was also deep. Could infantry get across? Julius Caesar doesn’t seem to have hesitated. He gave the order to advance, and his soldiers plunged across the river.

Where exactly did Caesar’s legions storm across the Thames? There were no bridges in those days, nor any city of London. Brentford, well to the west, used to be thought a probable spot, but now central London is thought a more likely place for a battle. Julius Caesar’s invasion was a temporary affair. His legionaries didn’t stop for long. Nevertheless that brief and brutal skirmish on the banks of the Thames is the first time this area emerges from the mists of legend into the full light of written history.

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