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Archive for October, 2012

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Old London Bridge – a miracle of asymmetry

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about old London Bridge originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Old London Bridge, picture, image, illustration

One of the finest views in the capital in the 13th century was enjoyed by those who were fortunate enough to live on the bridge of tightly packed houses that spanned the river – old London Bridge. Picture by Peter Jackson

Wonderful! Amazing! These words sum up in a nutshell the most famous of the bridges that have stood on the well-known London site.

Unhesitatingly acknowledged by many historians as one of the wonders of the world, old London Bridge was commenced in 1176.

The existence of a wooden bridge in the area during Roman times is virtually certain, and it must have been repaired and replaced by later structures. But the first recorded bridge was built in the 10th century.

This was constructed from wood, and the frequent fires that ravaged London during this period caused it to be constantly repaired.

By 1176, it had been decided to replace it by a stone one, during which year the foundations were laid by Peter, the rector of St. Mary’s Colechurch. It was 900 ft. (nearly 300 metres) long and consisted of 19 arches of irregular size, shape and spacing. It also had a drawbridge to allow ships to pass.

The piers of the strong arches were mounted on starlings. These were piles of timber and stone which protected the piers from the erosive effects of the water.

These starlings narrowed the waterways to such an extent that there was a build-up of water when the tide was running fast. This resulted in a difference of a man’s height in the depth of water on either side of the bridge. They also caused rapids.

Peter of Colechurch died in 1205 before the bridge was finished and was buried in the chapel of St. Thomas, which was erected over the centre-pier.

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The naval cadet who inspired Rattigan’s ‘The Winslow Boy’

Posted in Cinema, English Literature, Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law, Theatre on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about George Archer-Shee (The Winslow Boy) originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Sir Edward Carson, picture, image, illustration

Sir Edward Carson K.C.

The postal order for five shillings (25p) that Cadet Terence Back of Osborne Naval College in the Isle of Wight received from his parents was, needless to say, just what he wanted. Carefully Terence put it into his locker. Two hours later he went back to get it – and discovered it had gone.

Terence didn’t know it at that moment, but his postal order was about to make history. Solemnly he reported its loss to his housemaster, and the search began at once for what at Osborne College seemed completely impossible: a thief.

It was not long before Miss Anna Tucker, the clerk at Osborne Post Office, was asked if she could provide any clues about cadets who had taken postal orders to her post office on the day of the theft.

Miss Tucker was extremely hazy. She remembered one boy had come in to buy a postal order for 14 shillings and sixpence (about 78p) and handed her 16 shillings with which to buy it.

“That’s quite a lot of money for you to have,” she said chattily.

“I know it is,” the cadet replied. “I drew it from my savings at the College. The Chief Petty Officer let me have it.”

At this moment another customer came into the shop and Miss Tucker turned away to serve him. Later that day she sold a second postal order, this time for 14 shillings and nine-pence to a second cadet from Osborne – a boy who, in his uniform, looked very much like the first boy.

“Yes,” Miss Tucker said, desperately trying to recall the events of that day. “I did cash a five-shilling postal order for one of the two College boys who came into the post office. I can’t remember what the boy looked like – except that he also bought a postal order for 15 shillings and sixpence.”

Although she admitted that all this was not now distinct in her mind, the College authorities decided they had something to go on. They already knew which boy bought the fifteen shillings and sixpence postal order, so they put him with five others on an identity parade.

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Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics, Royalty on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about Guy Fawkes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Guy Fawkes, picture, image, illustration

Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in the vaults, by Ron Embleton

No Englishman could ever forget 5th November, for on that day in 1605 Guy Fawkes made his abortive attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Fawkes was born of a good Yorkshire family and brought up in the Protestant faith. But when his mother married again, a man with many friends in the Roman Catholic faith, he became a Catholic, too.

He also became involved in a plot being hatched by a group of fanatical Catholics who realised that they would gain nothing from the recent accession of the Protestant King James I to the English throne. While Fawkes was fighting in Flanders, one of the conspirators, Thomas Winter, persuaded him to join the plotters.

The plan which gradually took shape was to blow up the King and his ministers in Parliament, and, in the turmoil which would follow, to grasp the reins of government.

The deed was planned for the day that Parliament reassembled for its next session, which after several changes, was fixed for 5th November, 1605. A building next door was rented, and here the gunpowder lay hidden beneath a woodpile, awaiting the fatal match.

Guy Fawkes was a brave man. That was why he was chosen to carry out the terrifying crime.

But warning of what was to befall was sent to a member of the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in the vaults, surrounded by the evidence of his treasonable intentions. He and the other conspirators were executed in January 1606.

The US airforce student-pilot lost in the High Sierras

Posted in America, Disasters, Historical articles on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about disaster and survival originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Lieutenant David Steeves grinned confidently. Giving a cheery wave to his fellow flyers on the tarmac at Hamilton Air Force Base in California, he walked with brisk steps to a Lockheed T-33 jet training plane waiting on the runway.

The sun, beating down from a brilliantly clear sky, glinted on the fuselage as Steeves climbed into the cockpit and closed the transparent canopy above his head.

Before him was a mass of switches and dials controlling the plane’s powerful jet engine, with its thrust of over five thousand pounds. Meticulously, Steeves went through the take-off procedure. Over his headphones, he heard the base flight controller giving him clearance for take off. Taxi-ing into the wind, Steeves began his trip along the runway and eased the Lockheed into the air.

Swiftly, the ground fell away as Steeves climbed to 38,000 ft. (over 11,000 metres) and levelled off. Twenty-three year old Steeves’ was one of the base’s most promising pupils, and on this May day in 1957, he prepared to enjoy this training flight in his two-seater Lockheed.

Below him, the Californian countryside whirled and rose and fell as he went through his training programme of turns, dives and climbs. Soon, he was over the High Sierras, a vast range of mountains which extends over hundreds of miles. Among them is America’s highest peak, Mount Whitney. Even in the springs of California, it was winter in the mountains . . . a wilderness of ice and snow.

Everything was going swimmingly. Then, without warning, it happened!

An explosion suddenly tore the little jet training plane apart. Steeves slumped forward in his seat, knocked into unconsciousness by the powerful blast. With the limp pilot supported by his straps, the plane began to spin helplessly towards the treacherous mountain peaks a long way below.

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Some Malayasian tree-dwellers prefer the night

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about Malaysia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Tarsiers, picture, image, illustration

Tarsiers by David Nockels

Malaysia forms a great crescent more than 1,600 kilometres long, the tips of the crescent being separated by 650 kilometres of the South China Sea. The crescent lies within the tropics and has one of the highest rainfalls of any place in the world. The rain does not fall all the year round but is generally limited to two seasons: the north-east and south-west monsoons.

As a result of the tropical temperatures and the plentiful rain, much of Malaysia consists of warm and humid and very dense forests, jungles and swamps. These areas are a veritable paradise for animal life of a variety and habits found in few other places.

Because the climate of Malaysia varies very little, apart from the regular changes brought about by the monsoons, the tropical forests and jungles provide the animals with an abundance of food all the year round. There are always some trees and shrubs bearing fruit or nuts throughout the year, so that there is always something for the vegetable-eating animals: and plenty of vegetable-eaters mean that there is enough food for the carnivores or meat-eaters.

Even the breeding habits of many Malaysian animals are different from similar creatures in other parts of the world. In cooler climates most species of wild animals breed only when there is plenty of food, or there will be plenty of food for the young animals when they are born. But in the Malaysian forests and jungles there are few food problems and breeding goes on all the year.

The high degree of humidity in Malaysian jungles results in some species of frogs laying their eggs on the ground instead of in pools. Consequently, the eggs hatch into frogs and do not go through a tadpole stage.

Many Malaysian animals are vegetarian and the fruit and nuts on which they feed grow high up in the trees. This has made many species comparatively small and exceptionally agile.

Malaysian tree-dwellers are specially adapted for leaping from tree to tree and clinging to twigs and branches. Some have suction pads on the feet to prevent them from slipping off the branches on which they land.

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The genius of Goya was consumed by an inconsolable grief

Posted in Art, Artist, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about Goya originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Goya and Wellington, picture, image, illustration

Goya met Wellington before the hero’s triumphant entry into Madrid and did a pencil sketch of him

When one examines the life of the great Spanish painter, Francisco Jose de Goya, it seems incredible that he found time to paint at all. A reckless, lawless and quarrelsome adventurer, whose sword was as deadly as his brush could be, there was hardly a period in his life when he was not in some sort of trouble or another. Forever brawling with other swordsmen anxious to pit themselves against him, pursued by irate husbands, under suspicion by the dreaded Spanish Inquisition, and capable even of cheerfully insulting no less a person than the king himself, it is even more incredible that he managed to live to the ripe old age of 82.

Goya was born in 1746, in a small village near Saragossa, the son of over indulgent parents who allowed him to run wild at will, until a monk from a neighbouring monastery came across him drawing a picture of a pig on a wall. The monk, who was something of an artist himself, was so impressed by the cleverness of the sketch that he obtained the consent of Goya’s parents to have him placed as a pupil in the studio of a painter at Saragossa.

Under this master, Goya worked for four or five years, but although he loved art, he applied himself to it only fitfully. Aggressive to a degree which would have marked him out today as a born trouble maker, he was continually involved in affrays which eventually brought him to the attention of the Inquisition. Realising that it was only a matter of time before he fell into their clutches, Goya fled from the city.

We next hear of him in Madrid, seemingly more concerned with enjoying himself than with painting. By day he examined the art treasures of the city, only sketching something occasionally, if it particularly appealed to him. By night all pretence of learning was thrown aside as he roamed the streets of the city, guitar in hand, his sword concealed beneath his cloak, sometimes feasting and carousing with kindred spirits, sometimes fighting duels with those who were not.

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Hadrian’s Aelius Bridge survives as the Ponte Sant’ Angelo

Posted in Ancient History, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about Rome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Castel Sant' Angelo, picture, image, illustration

Castel and Ponte Sant’ Angelo in Rome by Alberto Pisa

Rome is so rich in monuments, ruined or otherwise, that some get less than their fair share of attention. One of the buildings whose outline against the sky spells Rome to Italians and foreigners alike is the Castel Sant’ Angelo – the Castle of St. Angelo – yet the bridge below it is far less famous but equally worthy of attention.

This is the Ponte Sant’ Angelo – the Bridge of St. Angelo – known originally as the Aelius Bridge. It spans that most famous of Italian rivers, the Tiber, and was built by the Emperor Hadrian as long ago as the second century A.D.

Wonderful engineers as the Ancient Romans were, they sometimes drove their piles down less than 4 and a half metres; but the Aelius, which spanned the Tiber where it was narrow and deep, had foundations sunk to a depth of 4.8 metres below the river bed.

Divers were used, armed with air tubes, and there were diving bells also. With comparatively primitive tools and methods, building the bridge must have seemed an almost impossible task, but their efforts were rewarded. The bridge still stands after 1,800 years, with the original piers intact, but with some of the superstructure rebuilt.

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‘Catafighters’ – the falcons of the British Fleet

Posted in Aerospace, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about World War II originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Hawker Hurricane, picture, image, illustration

A Hurricane leaps into action from the rocket-powered cradle that has boosted it into action by Wilf Hardy

Stories of courage and heroism during World War II are legion, but one which is seldom told is that of a small group of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots who earned themselves the nick-name ‘catafighters’. Like the kamikaze suicide fliers of the Japanese Navy Air Force who deliberately dived their bomb-laden planes on to the decks of enemy ships, the ‘catafighters’, too, were each on a one-way mission, but with one difference – with a bit of luck they would live to tell the tale.

During the early days of World War II, British merchant ships were not only under constant attack from German U-Boats, but also from long-range bombers of the Luftwaffe. The bombers used were either Junkers Ju88s, Heinkel He111s, or the much larger Focke-Wulf Kondor 200s.

The four-engined Kondors, with a crew of five or six, were heavily armed with machine-guns and cannon, and also carried a bomb load. Their combat range of 3,500 kilometres enabled them to reach out into the Atlantic, and attack the hard-pressed convoys bringing food and vital war materials to a beleaguered Britain.

Between August 1940 and August 1941, the Kondors sank nearly 100 ships, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill called them “the scourge of the Atlantic”. Plainly, something had to be done about them, and as aircraft carriers could not be spared for escort work, some other answer had to be found to the problem – and found quickly.

The result was a brilliant piece of British improvisation – a fighter aircraft that could be launched from a merchant vessel. The snag was, of course, that there was just no way the fighter could return to the vessel that launched it. Once the pilot had either exhausted his ammunition or run out of fuel he had to ‘ditch’ his plane in the inhospitable sea, and hope that one of the escorting destroyers or corvettes could pick him up.

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How post-war London embraced the Swinging Sixties

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, London on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about London originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Festival of Britain, picture, image, illustration

King George VI opens the Festival of Britain in 1951 by Clive Uptton

London was a sad place in 1947. The war had been over for two years. Bomb-sites, only partly grown over with rank weeds, dotted the city, with a singularly grim concentration around St. Paul’s Cathedral. The most dangerous and shattered structures had already been pulled down, but many others stood roofless to the sky. Great timber beams propped up half an office, half a factory or one end of a terrace of houses. In many open spaces, ugly square ponds, filled with water that was once intended for the emergency fire-services, were now growing a sickly green scum.

In a room with peeling paint and worn furniture, a folder of papers lay on a desk. This was the office of the Improvements and Town Planning Committee of the City Corporation. Charles Holden and William Holford had presented their ambitious plan for the reconstruction of the City of London. Now their case had to be argued, its details discussed and decisions taken.

A terrible war had been won. London had suffered, though not as badly as many cities in Europe, and the future had now to be faced – a future that was to see more deep-seated changes than any other comparable period in the city’s history.

Huge problems loomed over the planners, problems concerning the whole nation and not just London. Great Britain was in the grip of post-war austerity. Rationing remained and there was a severe shortage of building materials. Strict control was imposed on all building programmes with priority naturally going to schools and housing. Thousands of Londoners had been made homeless by the war and many who had fled to the country now wanted to return.

One solution was the building of ‘prefabs’. These were simple to erect, austere and ugly single storey houses assembled from factory-made parts. They were intended to have a short life, but, oddly enough, they became very popular and a few can still be seen.

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The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful mausoleum in the world

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 25 October 2012

This edited article about the Taj Mahal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 772 published on 30th October 1975.

Taj Mahal, picture, image, illustration

The Taj Mahal

According to legend, on the day that the Taj Mahal was completed the Emperor Shah Jahan had its architect thrown from the top of its dome in order to make sure that he never designed any other building to rival its perfection.

The legend is not true, because both the Persians who designed it and the Frenchman who masterminded the flawless decoration lived to tell the tale. But certainly neither did anything better, and it is doubtful whether anyone ever managed to produce another building so universally admired.

The Taj Mahal, at Agra, in India, is a tomb that was the most successful undertaking of Shah Jahan, who was the fifth of the Mogul emperors and beyond question the most magnificent.

Other rulers may have won more battles, but it is Shah Jahan that India has to thank for many of the magnificent buildings that have become some of the greatest tourist attractions of the modern world. The very finest of them is this miracle in marble, built as a memorial to the emperor’s wife.

Women were in no way considered the equal of men in 17th century India, so Arjmand Banu, better known as Mumtaz Mahal, “Pride of the Palace”, must have been no ordinary queen. Mother of no less than 13 children she was famous for her open-handed generosity and so shrewd that the emperor would often leave his Hall of Audience to ask her advice. Mumtaz Mahal commanded such devotion that when she died at the age of only 39 her husband spent the next 19 years making sure that his beloved wife had a worthy memorial.

Fortunately, along with almost limitless money, Shah Jahan had good taste and a sound judgment of craftsmen. The secret of he emperor’s seemingly bottomless purse lay in the fact that trade between India and Europe was expanding at an astonishing rate. Since he was an absolute monarch, every penny of the country’s income went directly into the royal coffers.

An ambitious Mogul ruler might spend his country’s wealth on wars of conquest, while a different kind of man might try to improve the lives of his subjects. Shah Jahan invested almost wholly in sheer magnificence.

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