Archive for October, 2012

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From monastic tutors to comprehensive education – Britain’s education system

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Religion on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This edited article about education originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Monk and boy, picture, image, illustration

A boy is taught Latin by a monk in Norman times by Peter Jackson

Education today is free to all, but once it was the prerogative of the privileged few.

A monk, a Latin scholar, a priest or a patient “dame” could have been your teacher, had you been born at an earlier stage in Britain’s history.

The first teachers were monks who taught boys Latin and simple counting so that they could become priests or clerks.

Scholars taught at the universities, which began appearing in the 12th century. And when the grammar schools came along in Tudor times some of the masters were dedicated men of learning.

Poor children, however, had to go to a village school where they received their lessons from a schoolmistress or a priest.

Tutors taught the children of the aristocracy in their own homes from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Although charities had established schools for poor children, the State did not come into the picture until 1870 when education became compulsory and elementary schools were run by government-appointed boards.

Today, there is a movement towards a comprehensive system which is designed to give every child the education for which he or she is best suited – a far cry from the days when education was for the privileged few.

An island of boiling springs, ancient glaciers and sheep farms

Posted in Geography, Geology, Historical articles, History, Nature on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This edited article about Iceland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Whaling industry, picture, image, illustration

The whaling indusrry in Iceland

To expect the unexpected is a way of life in Iceland. A land of contrasts, its rugged surface reveals but a fraction of the awesome powers which exist below.

Indeed, few can have had experiences such as that of Hannes Jensson in 1934. In his capacity as district postman (he was also a farmer) in the south-east of the island, he was forced to endure an eight-hour trek across a lurching glacier which was floating on the flood-waters caused by a volcano erupting under the ice behind him.

Yet, despite the eccentricities of their own country, the Icelanders have carved out a land still in the throes of creation, a land to be proud of.

The name Iceland is misleading. Although nearly twelve per cent of its surface is covered by glaciers, the island’s position at the junction of two oceanic ridges – one running between Greenland and the British Isles, the other extending 80,000 kilometres around the Earth’s surface – has earned it the title of a geological hot-spot: an area of tremendous thermal activity where hot-springs are commonplace and volcanic activity frequent.

Indeed, during recent decades. Icelanders have come to expect a serious eruption at least once every five years. Mount Hekla, the most famous – or infamous? – volcano of all has erupted fourteen times since records began in 1104, transforming it from a mere hillock into a mountain 1,491 metres high! The year 1783 saw the outpouring of the largest lava stream in historic times due to a single eruption, when the fissure Lakagir spewed out enough material to cover England to a depth of nearly four inches! The resulting devastation was colossal. Showers of ash affected crops as far as the islands off the Scottish coast, and in Iceland caused the death of 11,500 cattle, 28,000 ponies and 190,500 sheep. The following year one-fifth of the population perished through starvation.

Today, the remains of these disasters invoke amazement and awe among visitors as they gaze upon an eerie landscape of cinder desert, broken by the contorted shapes of hardened lava, stretching out to a backdrop of glistening ice-topped mountains in the distance. So unique is this lunar type of surface, that the American Apollo astronauts were trained for their missions in parts of Iceland.

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William Hogarth was a curmudgeonly satirical genius

Posted in Art, Artist, Historical articles, History, London on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This edited article about William Hogarth originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Hogarth self-portrait, picture, image, illustration

Self-portrait by William Hogarth (after)

The people who were crowded into the room had faces more like gargoyles than human beings. They were not, as might be imagined, inmates of a madhouse or a prison, but subjects for the brush of Mr. William Hogarth, who had brought them to his studio after wandering through the sinks of London in search of suitable sitters for one of his satirical paintings of London low life, for which he was justifiably famous.

William Hogarth began his career as a silver plate engraver, designing coats of arms and scenes, often of a humorous nature, on silver tankards and heavy furniture. We know his flair for casting a satirical eye on his fellow men was in evidence even when he was serving as an apprentice, for we have a story handed down by one of his fellow workmen, illustrating his very first attempt in this field. On a Sunday afternoon during his apprenticeship, he went off with three of his companions to a tavern in Highgate. While he was there, quietly drinking his beer, a quarrel ensued between two men, culminating in one hitting the other on the head with the bottom of a quart pot. The injured party’s facial reaction to this was so humorously rueful, that Hogarth was impelled to snatch out a pencil and sketch him as he stood.

By turning his hand to etching little scenes of town life for numerous booksellers, Hogarth gradually succeeded in withdrawing himself from the drudgery of his original profession, and rapidly established a name for himself for his satiric skill.

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Charley Crocker’s Chinese workers died building the Central Pacific Railroad

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This edited article about the Central Pacific Railroad originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Chinese railroad workers, picture, image, illustration

Many Chinese workers were killed by avalanches during the railroad’s construction by Peter Jackson

He was hardly a modest man, for he claimed to have grown up as “a sort of leader” and later boasted that he had built the Central Pacific Railroad. As for Charley Crocker’s No. 2, Harvey Strobridge, six-foot-plus and a born slave driver, he used to state truthfully but ominously: “Men generally earn their money when they work for me.”

But these men and their construction crews got the job done, the job being building the Central Pacific eastwards from California across the Sierra Nevada mountains to link up with the Union Pacific, heading across the endless plains and the rockies. Everyone knew that the C.P.’s task would be the tougher one. A mere 125 kilometres separated Sacramento, capital of California, from the high crest of the Sierra through which surveyors had decided the railroad must go, and only 50 kilometres out a 240 metre cutting had had to be blasted out with black powder. But already, early in 1865, most of the white workers had had enough. They had only signed up for a working trip to the gold and silver mines up in the mountains, and instead found themselves slaving as they never had before.

Crocker, against Strobridge’s wishes, decided to replace them with Chinese, the most hated people in California. They had come to seek their fortunes in the gold rush which had started in 1848 and continued through the early ’50s, but had been savagely persecuted because they were “different”, worked for less money than whites, and worked harder.

As for building railroads, Strobridge could hardly believe it. He liked tough Irishmen (most of whom had just deserted him), not straw-hatted little men in baggy blue pyjamas who ate bamboo shoots and rice, washed down by tea. But to his astonishment, his chief had been right, which was just as well as Crocker hired thousands of Chinese, even shipping them direct from China. They were formed into gangs of 20, with a cook and a headman who also acted as interpreter and paymaster, and soon the gangs, averaging under five feet, were surprising even Strobridge. “Crocker’s pets”, as they were called, were brave, tough, reliable and – marvel of marvels in the Wild West – sober.

They performed all the jobs except surveying, which had already been done by experts. To cut through the rock walls and granite of the Sierra they used picks and shovels, black blasting powder and, later, nitroglycerin, axes, ladders, and dumpcarts and wheelbarrows, and behind them other Chinese were hard at work laying the track itself.

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Animals need special skills to live in the rainforest

Posted in Animals, Birds, Geography, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This edited article about the Amazon rainforest originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Amazon wildlife, picture, image, illustration

Some animals found in the Amazon rainforest

The dense forests that sweep for hundreds of kilometres from the banks of the mighty Amazon provide food and shelter for a vast variety of animals. Many of these creatures that run, climb, creep and fly among the fantastic tangle of trees and undergrowth are to be found nowhere else in the world.

With the exception of the larger land animals, such as tapirs and jaguars, most Amazonian species live, feed and breed in the trees. Even the jaguar spends quite a lot of its time prowling about the lower branches of trees as it hunts the smaller animals on which it feeds.

The towering trees of an Amazon forest are rather like a high-rise block of flats. On the “ground floor” live the larger animals including jaguars, tapirs, agoutis, some species of snakes and various kinds of antelope. Most of them feed by browsing on herbs and shrubs they find growing at ground level.

The animals living on the ground tend to be smaller and more compact than their relatives in other and less-wooded parts of the world. The deer and antelopes are without horns or antlers as these would hinder their progress as they run through the undergrowth.

Many of the ground-floor dwelling animals frequently move to the first floor or shrub layer of the forest in search of food. There they join a variety of birds and insects. Among the latter is the haliconius butterfly and the leaf-cutting ant.

Next comes the second floor or middle layer. This is the home of a variety of species, including the cat-like ocelot, the woolly opossum and various kinds of insect-eating birds.

Above the middle layer is the canopy layer. This is the most densely-populated of all the layers. It is the home of the three-toed sloth, the tree boa, the toucan and other exotic and brilliantly-plumaged birds.

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The Tay Bridge Disaster inspired McGonagall’s famous poem

Posted in Disasters, Engineering, Famous landmarks, Famous news stories, Railways, Scotland on Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This edited article about the Tay Bridge disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Tay Bridge disaster, picture, image, illustration

The Tay Bridge Disaster by Andrew Howat

It was war to the death between two Scottish railways, the Caledonian and the North British, with the former slowly strangling the latter. The directors of the North British listened hopefully to a scheme which might give them a dramatic advantage over their rivals.

Two estuaries, those of the Forth and the Tay, cut far into the coastline between Edinburgh and north-east Scotland, and passengers and freight had to be shipped on ferries across the two rivers.

The 46-mile (74 km) journey from Edinburgh to Dundee thus took 3¼ hours Рand storms could cause long delays. If the North British Railway could bridge the two firths, it would have stolen a big march on the Caledonian.

The directors decided to bridge the Tay first. Their Chief Engineer, Thomas Bouch, a thoroughly experienced bridge-builder, was given the task.

The Tay, wide but shallow, did not need a lengthy span, but a number of short ones. The distance between the shores was a little over a mile, but because of the way in which the line approached the southern side along the shore, the bridge had to describe a great sweeping curve, giving a total length of almost two miles (about 3 km).

Bouch designed a viaduct of 85 spans, varying in length, the longest being 285 feet (86 m). The trusses were 27 feet (8 m) in depth. In the middle of the channel 13 of the longer spans were given a distinctive character. While most of the single track was carried on top of the trusses, there, over the deepest water, it was laid inside the trusses.

This was due to a change of design to please the shipping interests of Perth, who insisted that over the main channel there should be greater clearance to enable tall ships to pass.

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Harry S. Truman was a fearless President who revelled in power

Posted in America, Communism, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This edited article about Harry S. Truman originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Hiroshima, picture, image, illustration

Truman took the momentous decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The first thing important visitors to Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, saw when they entered his huge, plush office in the White House in Washington was the simple, four-word motto displayed on the President’s desk. It said: “The buck stops here.”

Having “the buck” passed to him and not being allowed – as chief man in the land – to pass it on to anyone else, involved Truman in one of the most vital decisions ever taken in the history of mankind. It happened only weeks after he became President that his advisers presented him with the task of deciding whether or not to drop the first ever atomic bomb – on Hiroshima, in Japan, as the war in the Far East moved inexorably through the year 1945.

“We faced half a million casualties trying to take Japan by land,” Truman said later. “It was either that or the atom bomb and I didn’t hesitate a minute. And I’ve never lost any sleep over it since.”

That Truman was able to make such a historical decision was in itself something like the great American dream come true. On April 11, 1945, hardly anyone outside America had ever heard of him. Although he was America’s Vice-President, he was firmly implanted deep in the shadows of Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the greatest statesmen of all time.

Then, next day, Roosevelt was dead, and Truman the unknown was President. He was a little man in stature, a former shopkeeper whose business had failed, from Independence, Missouri. The world reeled back in disbelief of such a man shaping nations and their peoples’ way of life after the end of the Second World War.

The doubts they had about Truman were, however, soon to be totally shattered. After authorising the atomic destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and receiving Japan’s surrender in return – Truman sent American troops into Korea to tackle Russian-backed Communist aggression, thereby pitchforking America into the Korean War.

Then, when war hero General MacArthur, renowned for his toughness and uncompromising attitude, tried to extend air warfare into Manchuria, Truman fired him. “He got what was coming to him,” Truman said, without so much as blinking an eyelid, as the General packed his uniforms away.

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William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions on Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This edited article about the Domesday Book originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

The Domesday Book, picture, image, illustration

Norman clerks gathering information from villagers for the Domesday Book by Peter Jackson

On 15th November 1087 work on that unique record, the Domesday Book, was completed. William the Conqueror had the work compiled to give details of every hamlet and village, manor and town in the England of the day. In later centuries the Census would serve much the same purpose for the Government of the day. Such records are an invaluable source of information for people researching their family history.

Disraeli bought Britain’s priceless shares in the Suez Canal

Posted in Engineering, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Sea, Trade, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This edited article about the Suez Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Suez Canal, picture, image, illustration

Building the Suez Canal by T S La Fontaine

For thousands of years men turned over in their minds the possibility of joining the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea by a canal. In ancient times a small waterway was dug and the idea was never forgotten.

During the 19th century, France took the lead in plans for the construction of the present Suez Canal. The driving force behind de scheme was Ferdinand de Lesseps, a man whose determination made headway against overwhelming odds.

The Khedive of Egypt consented to the proposed Canal and to the formation of a company to finance it. But shares in the company were slow to sell, people believing that the enterprise would fail and they would lose their money. Britain, in particular, was not interested in investing in the project, and it was only saved by the Khedive agreeing to buy the remaining shares himself.

Work began in April, 1859, and the 100-mile Canal was opened by the Empress of France on the 16th November, 1869. Only then did the world realise the significance of what had been achieved.

The Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, realised the opportunity Britain had missed.

In November, 1875, Disraeli heard that the Khedive’s shares were to be sold and, against the wishes of his most important ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, he decided that Britain should buy them and have her interests represented in the administration of the Canal.

The Suez Canal has continued to figure prominently in world history. In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt announced that the Canal was to be nationalised. Fearing that this vital link between Europe and the Far East might be severed or made unworkable by he Egyptians, the British and French governments decided to take military action and occupy the Canal zone, and this situation was further complicated by an Israeli attack on Egypt. After a period of international tension, the United Nations stepped in and Britain and France withdrew

Two men in a boat rowed 3,545 miles around the world

Posted in Adventure, Boats, Sea on Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This edited article about circumnavigation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Above the sounds of the wind and the sea, the two men straining in their rowing boat to fight their way across the Atlantic heard the rumble of a ship’s engines.

Out of the evening gloom there loomed a black oil tanker that seemed as big as a mountain to the rowers in their small craft.

Derek King and Peter Bird, two Britons making an attempt to row around the world, had had many adventures since they had set out from Gibraltar in March, 1974. But this particular experience was looking as if it could easily be their last.

Too low in the water to be picked up by the tanker’s radar, they guessed that the men on board knew nothing of their existence.

A gust of wind thrust the rowing boat against the side of the tanker, which was now sliding by.

Peter grabbed a torch and began signalling to the ship. A look-out spotted their light, and floodlights were turned on bathing the boat in brilliant light.

Crawling through the sea at three knots – a slow walking pace – the tanker slid along like a wall of black steel.

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