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Archive for June, 2013

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The magical properties of mirrors

Posted in Historical articles, Magic, Superstition on Friday, 28 June 2013

This edited article about popular superstitions originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 307 published on 2 December 1967.

Snow White, picture, image, illustration

Snow White's stepmother has a magic mirror which tells the Queen something she does not want to hear, by Ron Embleton

Primitive people believe that their souls can be harmlessly separated from their living bodies and seen as shadows, or reflections in a still pool – but that if anything disturbs that reflection, they will die. Some African people still believe that crocodiles can kill a man by snapping at his reflection in the water, and that it is dangerous to gaze into a dark pool in case the spirit of the pool should seize the reflection and so bear the man’s soul away.

Long after civilised man ceased to believe that his soul was ‘detachable’, the same fears lingered on in other forms – such as the belief that to shatter a mirror (and therefore the reflection), was unlucky. The seven-year limit to the ill-luck probably derived from the fact that the number seven possesses its own magic.

Mothers will sometimes not allow a baby – whose soul is supposed not yet to be ‘secure’ in its body – to see itself in a looking-glass. (The truth is probably that they just don’t trust tiny fingers with glass!)

Mirrors are often still veiled after a death, to prevent other people seeing their reflections. To the superstitious, anyone who does so will die soon, or bring death to someone near.

Before a wedding ceremony, a bride avoids seeing herself in a mirror wearing her wedding-dress for fear that something may happen to prevent the marriage; but after the ceremony it is thought to be lucky for the newlyweds to catch sight of themselves, side-by-side, in a mirror.

Actors, who are notoriously superstitious people, avoid looking into a dressing-room mirror over someone-else’s shoulder, as this is supposed to bring bad luck to the one ‘overlooked’.

The worst mirror-omen is for someone to look into one and see – no reflection at all! This means that the soul has already left his body, and that death is very near . . .

The first famous car models in America and Great Britain

Posted in America, Cars, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Industry, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about cars originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Ford Model T, picture, image, illustration

Ford Model T

Of all the cars which the great Henry Ford made, perhaps the most famous is the Model-T Ford. After the Ford Motor Company was formed in 1903, they began making cars, giving each of them consecutive letters of the alphabet. They reached the letter ‘T’ in 1907, and this model has been called the prototype of the popular car.

The Model-T was the first truly mass-produced car, and everything was aimed at reducing the final cost to the motoring public. The car sold for $500 (about £150) and was an immediate success. The company sold 8,000 of them in the first year and in 1914 they sold the amazing total of 250,000.

But Britain, too, had its famous names, and they are names which live on today. The future Lord Austin was born in 1866, and he was destined to give this country one of its most popular cars. The 7 h.p. Austin tourer was Britain’s first real attempt to build a car which would be within reach of a large section of the public. His most successful car, however, was to come in 1922 when his company produced the world-famous Austin Seven.

William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) was another of Britain’s famous car makers. He started the Morris Works in Oxford in 1893. The first Morris car was built in 1912 and was called a Morris Oxford, but the best-remembered of William Morris’s early models is the Morris Cowley, often called the ‘bull-nosed’ Morris.

Now we come to two names which, above all others, have come to mean the world’s best in motor cars – Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce. These two men met in 1903, and by the Christmas of the following year the firm of Rolls-Royce was born. Both men were perfectionists, and aimed at building for quality rather than quantity – a tradition which continues to this day.

Chaplains in the Armed Forces are dedicated to service, self-sacrifice and God

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, War, World War 1, World War 2 on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about Christianity and the armed forces originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Army Chaplain, picture, image, illustration

A British Army chaplain writing a letter home for a wounded soldier during World War One

Sometimes you may see a man in the uniform of one of the three Armed Services who is wearing what we call a ‘clerical collar’ instead of the regulation collar and tie. You may also notice a purple ‘flash’ and the letters ‘R.A.Ch.D.’, which stand for ‘Royal Army Chaplains’ Department’ on the khaki uniform of the Army, and similar identification badges on Naval and Air Force uniforms.

Wherever the Forces of the Crown go, a chaplain goes with them. Normally one chaplain is appointed for every 1,000 men. His job is to provide religious services every Sunday, and also to be available to men in trouble, to visit them in hospital, and to help with any other personal problems they may have.

In the Army and Air Force, chaplains hold an honorary rank, not below that of captain or squadron-leader; in the Navy, they have a special position, with no fixed rank. Chaplains do not carry weapons and, though they may be in the heaviest part of a battle, they take no part in the fighting, but give all their attention to the wounded.

Chaplains have accompanied troops into battle for many centuries. The earliest of them were the private chaplains of kings and nobles. Their title ‘chaplain’ is from a Latin word ‘capellari’ meaning ‘cloak-bearer’. From the 4th century onwards, it was the custom for them to wear a half-cloak, in memory of St. Martin, who, on seeing a shivering beggar, cut his cloak, or ‘capella’ in two, and gave him half. He thus became an example of sacrifice and service for chaplains to follow.

It is in times of war that chaplains are most needed, because the armed forces are greatly increased then, and many thousands of men may be engaged in fighting far from home. Among them will be found clergymen who have enlisted as chaplains, leaving their churches in the care of others in order to be with their fellow-countrymen in every kind of danger. They are true pioneers on land, sea, and in the air.

In the Second World War, many chaplains spent long years as prisoners of war in Germany and Japan; others were wounded, while many a country clergyman today wears the ribbon of the Military Cross or Distinguished Service Order, earned on the battlefield during his days as a temporary Chaplain to the Forces.

The Aloha Week Festival in Hawaii celebrates the islands’ Royal heritage

Posted in Customs, Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Royalty on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about Hawaii originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Hawaiian dancing giel, picture, image, illustration

Hawaiian dancing girl

The ancient culture of Hawaii is symbolised by the stately grandeur of the Aloha Week Royal Court. Traditional garments and ornaments indicate noble rank.

Imagine a palm-fringed tropical island. Add a luxurious palace, a king who likes wearing uniforms glittering with medals, ribbons and foreign honours. Add, as background, a dazzling and colourful Court.

The result would be the royal kingdom of Hawaii during the reign of King David Laamea Kalakaua (1874-1891) and his delightful Queen, Kapiolani.

King David’s reign was known throughout the world as the ‘Bohemian Court of the Sandwich Isles’. The name ‘Sandwich’ was bestowed on the islands by their discoverer, Captain Cook, in honour of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich.

David’s was a star role, which he played to perfection, and many receptions for visiting royalty were held in his sumptuous palace. This building was often referred to as ‘American Florentine’ in style, because of its resemblance to the architecture of that famous city.

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Thomas Henry Tibbles, the heroic sixteen-year-old Abolitionist

Posted in America, Law, Politics on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about Thomas Henry Tibbles originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Thomas Tibbles is arrested, picture, image, illustration

Thomas Henry Tibbles, aged 16, was sentenced to hang for his anti-slavery activities

Thomas Henry Tibbles was ten years old when his father died, and he became the ‘man’ of the family. He proceeded to run a 40-acre farm, planted wheat, corn and potatoes, and undertook to maintain his mother and two younger brothers.

It was hard but rewarding work, but it came to an end when Thomas was judged, by the laws of the state of Iowa, USA, to be too young to run his own farm. The local sheriff separated him from his family and he was apprenticed to a farmer who had six daughters but no son.

From his very first day he was forced to work “just like a slave”.

“I rose at four,” Thomas wrote later, “made the fires, fed the horses, cattle and hogs, and milked the cows before breakfast. Then my day’s toil of a man’s work began.”

Despite his repeated requests to spend some time with his mother, Thomas was not allowed to leave the farm.

A whole year passed, and then the sturdy, well-built youngster decided to run away. One morning in 1851 he awoke as usual at four, took one of the horses, and rode off to where his mother was living.

This taste of freedom made him decide to stay at liberty. He took the steamboat to the city of Quincy, on the Mississippi River.

But gradually town life began to bore him, and he felt a growing longing for the woods, the prairies, and great open spaces. Finally he set off and did not stop until he had reached the westernmost settlement in Iowa.

It was in the town of Winterset, in 1856, that the 16-year-old Thomas took up the cause of abolishing slavery. His own boyhood had taught him the horrors of being a slave, and when a caravan of abolitionists passed through the town, he begged to join them.

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Chatterton was a boy-genius whose suicide became a Romantic myth

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about Thomas Chatterton originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Thomas Catterton, picture, image, illustration

The Death of Chatterton

One of the most tragic figures in the history of English poetry is Thomas Chatterton. A boy genius who wrote some remarkable poetry. He committed suicide out of despair at the age of 18.

Chatterton was born at Bristol on 20th November, 1752, and attended Colston’s Bluecoat School. His family were hereditary sextons at the church of St. Mary Redcliffe, and young Thomas spent many hours in the church. What particularly fascinated him was a chest of old parchments he found. He practically taught himself to read from these, and was soon as familiar with the old English style of writing as he was with the modern.

By the time he was ten years old he was writing poetry, and at 12 he was inscribing his own 15th century-style poems on vellum, in imitation of the old parchments in the church. He was so clever at this ‘forgery’ that he showed some of these ‘ancient’ manuscripts to experts, claiming he had found them in St. Mary Redcliffe.

These poems – known as the ‘Rowley poems’ because Chatterton claimed they were the work of a forgotten monk called Rowley – received great acclaim and it was only later that they were recognised as brilliant imitations.

Meanwhile, Chatterton had become a clerk in a solicitor’s office. It was not work he greatly enjoyed, especially as his master would search the drawers of his desk and tear up any poems he found there.

In 1770, Chatterton came to London determined to earn his living by his pen. Though he worked hard at writing, he earned very little money, and was soon reduced to living in a miserable garret. Not wishing to worry his mother and sister, he used precious money to send them presents, so that they would think he was doing well.

On 24th August, completely penniless and in a state of depression over what he felt was his failure as a writer Chatterton retired to his room. Here he tore up all his poems he could lay his hands on, then swallowed a fatal dose of arsenic.

It was only after his death that the true genius of the boy was appreciated. The poets Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats all paid tribute to him.

Grace Darling died of a common killer, consumption

Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about Grace Darling originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Grace Darling, picture, image, illustration

Grace Darling and her father rowing the coble towards survivors on the rock by John Keay

With horror on their faces, the lighthouse-keeper and his daughter gazed through the storm-driven clouds of spume. Across the raging water they could vaguely discern a number of figures clinging perilously to a rock.

“Poor souls,” murmured the man. “There is no chance of us reaching them in such a sea. Even if we could get the coble* to them, we could never row it back against such waves.”

“But we must try, father,” cried the delicate-looking girl beside him. “If we could get to the rock, the sailors could help us to row back.”

And before her father could reply, Grace Darling was running down the steps of the Longstone lighthouse to the boat. Soon the lighthouse-keeper was beside her, and together they pushed the small craft into the terrifying waves.

The date was 7th September, 1838. The steamship Forfarshire, bound from Hull to Dundee with 63 people aboard, had struck the dangerous Hawker Rocks in a gale near the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast. The ship foundered, but nine people managed to find handholds on a rock.

It was towards them that the lighthouse-keeper and his 23-year-old daughter now rowed, with all the skill and strength they could muster. When they neared the survivors, it was a miracle that the boat was not smashed to matchwood against the rock.

Four men and a woman managed to clamber aboard the coble, and the return journey was begun. As Grace had said, the men seized oars and helped to row the boat through the roaring water to where the tower of the lighthouse loomed like a tall ghost through the spray.

When Grace had helped the woman and two of the men ashore, her father and the other two survivors set out again to the rock. Again their luck held, and they were able to return with the remaining four men.

When the news reached the outside world, Grace Darling became a national heroine. The Humane Society immediately presented her with a gold medal, and many people clamoured to meet her. Yet this sudden adulation did not affect her simple way of life and she remained as modest and quiet as she had always been.

Born at Bamborough, Northumberland, on the 15th November, 1815, Grace began to suffer with consumption as she grew up. Though her health did not hinder her famous act of heroism, the disease did bring about her early death, on 20th October, 1842.

* A flat, square-sterned fishing boat with oars.

The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about the Roman Empire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Sack of Rome 410, picture, image, illustration

The sack of Rome in AD 410 by the barbarian Alaric and his horde of Visigoths by Ron Embleton

According to legend, the city of Rome was founded by Romulus in 753 B.C. Around this city was built the greatest Empire the world had known.

The grandeur of Rome was reflected in her conquests which, at their greatest extent (under the Emperor Trajan, A.D. 98-116) included Italy, Gaul, Spain, Britain, Western Germany, Greece, Asia Minor, North Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Mediterranean islands. The greatest of her rulers – Julius Caesar, Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, Constantine – rank among the greatest rulers of all time. Her scholars – Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Livy and Ovid – are still widely read.

Everyone has heard of the tremendous courage of the Roman legions and of the brilliant organisation of the Roman law and civil service. The bold and vigorous work of her artists and architects can still be seen in Rome, in the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the many temples and forums.

Of course, Rome went through hard times, and periods of bad government, but, in general, she remained strong while she was organised for expansion, and while the morale of her people was high. But having reached the fullest extent of her power, she outgrew her strength and her eventual decline was then inevitable.

Rome had internal problems. There was no fixed method of choosing the next ruler. The principle of hereditary monarchy was feared. This sometimes meant that a period of uncertainty and chaos attended the choice of a new Emperor. The imperial throne was within the reach of every ambitious soldier and many tried to win it.

Another growing problem for the Empire was the decline in the population of Italy. This basic pool of manpower for the Empire’s needs had been depleted by war.

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The BBC stages and films a Royal Navy helicopter rescue

Posted in Adventure, Aviation, Communications, Historical articles on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about a BBC outside broadcasting unit originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Sea rescue, picture, image, illustration

Sea rescue

“And now, live outside broadcast cameras go to sea. In a few minutes we shall be joining our mobile unit on board one of Her Majesty’s most modern aircraft carriers – H. M. S. Bulwark – which is at present steaming at speed somewhere in the English Channel . . . ”

BBC Television Service, July 1955

Several hundred yards from HMS Bulwark a tiny, round, yellow, rubber dinghy bobbed up and down. Berkeley Smith, adrift in mid-Channel, sat waiting for the helicopter from the 20,000-ton aircraft-carrier Bulwark to rescue him. And he had plenty of time to wonder why on earth he’d agreed to take a leading part in this ‘live’ television programme. What if things went wrong?

“It was the first time the BBC had put outside broadcast cameras on an aircraft-carrier at sea,” Smith explained to me. Until 1955, the transmission of live pictures from a ship at sea had only been a remote possibility – if it worked, it would be something of a technical marvel.

Viewers at home ‘went aboard’ HMS Bulwark to watch the carrier’s aircraft taking part in operational exercises during a Fleet exercise off St. Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight. They were shown the latest equipment, and were given some idea of what life was like on one of Britain’s most modern warships. They watched, enthralled, the take-off and homing flights of the aircraft.

Now, it was time for the ‘high-spot’ of the evening: the rescue of a man from a floating dinghy.

“While the aircraft were taking off and landing,” Berkeley Smith told me, “a helicopter hovered around – as a kind of guard in case anyone dropped into the drink.” The helicopter (already familiar in the skies over Britain but not, obviously, as technically developed as it is today) was earning a new reputation for its life-saving role at sea.

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Actors and sailors are spooked by whistlers

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, Ships, Superstition on Thursday, 27 June 2013

This edited article about superstition originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Nell Gwynn in dressing room, picture, image, illustration

King Charles II visiting Nell Gwynn in her dressing room at the theatre by Peter Jackson

‘Whistling up the wind’, and so causing a storm to rise, is something sailors have always dreaded. The origin of the fear is not difficult to understand. This is simply ‘imitative magic’: a human whistle sounds like the wind rising, and it was once believed that nature could be made to imitate man in this way.

The only time whistling is permitted at sea, and then only very softly, is when a sailing-ship is becalmed.

Women whistlers were once particularly unpopular, at sea or on land, as witches were once believed to be able to call up the wind at will.

“A whistling woman and a crowing hen,
Are neither fit for God nor men,”

is a very old saying.

Whistling at the bottom of a mine is also considered ill-fated. ‘The Knockers’ – evil spirits who inhabit Cornish tin-mines – don’t like it, and, if too much annoyed, may cause an explosion.

Whistling in the dark can also bring misfortune. In the fenland of East Anglia, sportsmen out shooting at night on the marshes never whistle to their dogs, in case they inadvertently call up ‘the Lantern Man’ – a will-o’-the-wisp who haunts the marshes, and who might lead them astray. Anyone who makes this mistake must immediately throw himself down and bury his mouth in the mud, so that the spirit will pass overhead without noticing him.

Unless it is part of an act, whistling is unlucky in the theatre – especially in a dressing-room, where it means that someone (not necessarily the whistler) will soon be out of a job. The offender is bundled out of the room by his fellow-actors, and before they allow him to return, they force him to turn round three times (three is one of the ‘magic’ numbers). This is supposed to reverse the luck.