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Archive for January, 2014

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A day in the life of Christopher Wren’s promising pupil

Posted in Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about Christopher Wren first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

Christopher Wren at work,  picture, image, illustration

Christopher Wren watches as the young apprentice helps the Master Carpenter, by Peter Jackson

Richard Jennings shivered as he worked, preparing the sockets for the tie-beam. Although it was a hot spring day and the sun was shimmering through the cloud of dust that hovered permanently over the building-site, it was always cold on the roof. Richard had been working up there for two months but still he had not got used to it.

He peered across the crowded streets of the city in the direction of the wharf. Surely the timber must come soon. Most of the carpenters had nothing to do – and this meant trouble. They bickered with the plumbers who were ready to put lead on the roof and who accused the carpenters of holding them up. The rule against swearing on the site was continually broken – it seemed to Richard that, for all the reverence they showed, they might as well be building a warehouse as one of the architectural wonders of Europe – Sir Christopher Wren’s new cathedral of St. Paul in London.

Richard was the son of a bargemaster in Henley. He had been apprenticed as a carpenter in 1689 and in 1695 was sent to spend his last year of service with Master John Longland. In the following year Longland brought him to the cathedral site and set him to work on the transept roof.

Twenty years before, John Longland had been appointed Master Carpenter for the new cathedral. Like the rest of Wren’s team of master-craftsmen, he had been inspired and excited by the plan for the new cathedral; though like many other citizens he regretted the demolition of the old building, which had been so severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666.

The foundation stone was laid in June 1675 and despite delays and deceit, debts and disasters, the new cathedral grew. By 1696 the choir – the main part of the building – was finished and the joiners under Charles Hopson, working to the designs of Grinling Gibbons, were carving its elaborate wooden fittings, while the wrought iron work was being cast by the swarthy French smith, Jean Tijou in his forge in Piccadilly.

Work had then begun on the transepts. It was at this time that Richard had come to work on the site. It was at this time, too, that the supply of roof-beams ran out and the new timber, promised by the Duke of Newcastle, from his estate at Welbeck, had not arrived. Eventually news had come from Welbeck that the beams were ready and Master Longland had been sent to superintend their shipment.

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The Khyber Pass could not save India from Tamerlane

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about India first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

A camel train,  picture, image, illustration

A camel train travels through the Khyber Pass

To Rudyard Kipling, the author and poet, the Khyber Pass meant soldiers and horses and a place so bleak and remote that it was a fitting setting for brave deeds and all that he admired in the British Empire. There was nothing like it in the world – a barren, brown borderland between the great plain formed by India’s River Ganges and the plateau of Afghanistan. A mass of solid rock, it stretched north west, mile after dusty mile, as though at some time a race of giants had thrown up a gigantic wall with which to protect India from the rest of Asia.

Encyclopedias do not see places with a poet’s eye. Usually the Khyber Pass is described by them as “the most important of the passes which lead from Afghanistan into India.” But Kipling’s view is better. Up there in what used to be called the North West Frontier Provinces of India, the legends really were founded on fact. Kamal, in Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West,” really did steal a mare. It really did belong to a colonel, Lumsden by name.

The Khyber was a land of tall stories. Almost all of them true. But the importance of the pass as a strategic gateway died out almost seven hundred years ago.

India is a land that has made up her peoples from ancient invaders. They began to arrive a thousand years before Christ, fierce, slant-eyed men who drove the original Indians south and then in turn had to fight unsuccessful defensive wars in order to keep still more newcomers out. Eventually, some of these forced their way through the Khyber to found Magadha, the land of the Shesh-naga kings.

It is hard to imagine quite how opulent that ancient kingdom must have been. Certainly it was rich enough to offer half a million pounds of tribute to the next arrival through the Khyber, Alexander the Great. What was more, it was a ransom escorted by seven hundred horsemen and thirty magnificently decorated elephants. Taxiles, the king of Magadha, was so anxious to fend off the invasion that he sacrificed three thousand oxen and ten thousand sheep to the gods. But had Taxiles but known it, it needed more than sacrifices to keep out Alexander the Great.

Strangely, Alexander’s Macedonian army stayed only briefly. They swept down and out again, carrying with them thousands of slaves who, many think, were the ancestors of the gipsies we know today. The Khyber was not to know the hoof beats of another significant invasion until more than a thousand years later, when the Mohammedans reached the gateway of India for the first time.

We know exactly when it was: the 27th of November, in the year 1,001 A.D. Mahmud, King of Ghuzni, led the onslaught and defeated King Jaipal of Lahore in a great battle near Peshawar, eleven miles from the southern end of the Pass.

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Pizarro – genocidal conqueror of the Inca empire

Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about Francisco Pizarro first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

Pizarro meets Atahualpa, picture, image, illustration

Pizarro meets Atahualpa by James E McConnell

Francisco Pizarro, a citizen of Spain, was courageous and bold, and he had risked his life many times for his government which had always treated him badly. Such a man could only be worthy of respect and sympathy one would think, but there was another side to his character which cancelled out his virtues. Pizarro was also a greedy, treacherous and cruel man, whose barbaric behaviour towards a conquered race matched the excesses of most of the infamous tyrants in history.

The story of how Francisco Pizarro rose to a position in which he could indulge all the worst aspects of his character, illustrates how the tide of fortune can turn suddenly for a man, even late in life. For years Pizarro had served the king of Spain faithfully, roaming the New World with expedition after expedition until at the age of 50, he finally settled in Panama. As a reward for his years of hardship spent in the service of Spain he was granted a tract of swampland.

But Pizarro was a born soldier of fortune who was also convinced even at this stage in his life that he could make his fortune, if only he could find someone to equip an expedition into the unexplored west coast of South America, the land we now know as Peru, where he was sure untold wealth awaited a brave man ready to risk his life for plunder. It was at this point in his life that he met the two men who helped him realise his ambition. The two men were Diego de Almagro, an adventurer like himself, and a rich priest named Fernando de Luque. Financed by these two men, Pizarro set off in 1524 with a party of 100 men. It was an expedition which was a disaster from the start. After struggling through interminable swamps and forests, Pizarro returned to Panama with a certain amount of booty which he had managed to wrest from a number of Indian villages whose hospitality he had repaid by robbing them of whatever gold and silver they owned. It was, however, a small reward for what the expedition had suffered.

Pizarro set off again in 1526 with another 100 men, and once again the expedition was a disaster. This time he returned with only 13 men. He had seen enough, however, to convince him that Peru was a land of wealth. But to conquer it he would have to mount an expedition far bigger than the previous ones. But who could supply that sort of money?

There was only one answer. The King of Spain himself.

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Gautama abandoned wealth and found Four Noble Truths

Posted in Historical articles, History, Philosophy, Religion on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about Buddha first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

Prince Gautama,  picture, image, illustration

Prince Gautama (later called Buddha) went for a coach ride in the company of a servant and witnessed many puzzling things

When Siddharta Gautama was born he was no ordinary boy. Hundreds of people filed by his crib just to get a look at him and scores of prayers were offered up to the Hindu gods of his native land of Nepal, near the border of India, offering thanks for his safe arrival in the world.

And what a world it was for him! For Gautama was the son of a rich maharajah, and every luxury was his to command.

He was only a few years old when the local Hindu priests warned his father that if ever the boy were allowed to see poverty or disease or old age with his own eyes he would want to renounce his birthright and change his way of life.

The maharajah was aghast. Henceforth he decreed that Gautama was always to remain within the palace grounds. When he was 19, the handsome prince married, and his father built for him three palaces, ‘one for the cold season, one for the hot, and one for the rainy season.’

Ten years after his marriage Gautama went for a coach ride in the company of a servant. During the ride he saw several things which disturbed him; an old man bowed by poverty, a young man disfigured by disease, a dead man, and a holy man made thin and haggard with long fasting and contemplation of the sins of this world.

Gautama thought hard about what he had seen. The one memory that stayed in his mind was that of the holy man. He became convinced that he should renounce his life of luxury and all his splendid worldly things and go out to search for a solution to the mystery of life.

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Personal hand-guns signalled the waning of the Mediaeval world

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Scotland, War, Weapons on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about guns first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

The Fall of Constantinople,  picture, image, illustration

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 saw the Turks using their great cannon Basilica II (seen bottom left), by Angus McBride

Europe found little peace, even after the end of the 100 Years’ War between England and France. Guns and cannon went on blasting the proud knights of medieval chivalry into oblivion. But in the east there was more than military change – there was military revolution!

It was high-noon on 1st May, 1453 and the merciless Mediterranean sun beat down on the men manning the crumbled walls of Constantinople. Only a quarter of a mile away were the Ottoman Turks with their great guns that blew holes in the city walls every time they hit.

The Turks were due to fire a monstrous weapon named Basilica II at any moment. Everyone on that wall knew just how long it took the enemy to clean, re-sight, re-load and fire their huge guns. But the Greeks and Italian volunteers manning Constantinople’s defences also had cannon. They were few and small, yet at least the defenders could fight back. Giovani Justiniani, an Italian mercenary, commanded this stretch of the wall in the name of Constantine XI, last and most tragic of Constantinople’s emperors. Perhaps others panicked as they saw the Turks make final preparations but Justiniani coolly aimed his own small gun at Basilica II – and fired.

The effect surprised everyone for Justiniani’s bullet slightly dismounted the mighty Turkish cannon, and Basilica II was so big and heavy that it took hours to line up again. Justiniani is said to have fired a culverin on that famous occasion. Some culverins were muzzle loaders, others breech loaders. The breech loading variety must have had a faster rate of fire, for the gunner only had to wedge a ready-loaded spare breech canister into the breech to reload his gun.

While giant guns almost always fired giant bullets, the smaller cannon could hurl a variety of death-dealing missiles. Wall-guns like Justiniani’s culverin were basically designed to break up an enemy assault, so the more bullets that were fired the better. One of the earliest ideas was to pour a nasty mixture called Langridge – old iron, nails, bolts, even flints and gravel – down the barrel of a gun, then blast away in the general direction of the foe.

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The Georgian Viceroys built an elegant new Dublin for Ireland

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Religion, Trade on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about Ireland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

Trinity College Dublin,  picture, image, illustration

Magnificent public buildings in Dublin include Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland

Before the Anglo-Normans swept across the Irish Sea from England in 1170, Dublin was a city of Danes, founded on the site of an earlier Celtic river-settlement soon after 845 A.D. Its name Ath Cliath Duibhlinne meant “the Ford of the Hurdles on Darkriverpool.”

It had long been a trading post, and a target for raiding and looting expeditions seeking, among other things, gold. Its but dimly remembered kings were among the great heroes of the Nordic sagas.

Of all the battles, the most epic was the victory of King Brian Boru over the Viking King Sigtryggr of the Silken Beard, on Palm Sunday, 1014, on the spot close to the present Mountjoy Square. But in spite of this, Sigtryggr reigned on in Dublin, for King Brian died before the day was over.

In the end, though, it was Dublin herself who conquered the Norsemen. After a time, they forsook their heathen gods and ravaging ways becoming, instead of pirates and pagans, traders and Christians. They set up mercantile links with English ports and founded Christ Church Cathedral on a ridge beside the River Liffey. The bishop they appointed was consecrated at Canterbury, and the old Irish prayer: “From the fury of the Northmen, Good Lord Deliver Us” was heard less and less. Craftsmanship improved during the Norse period, in architecture, stonework, bronze and gold.

Ireland was a very rural country at this time. Towns were known only to those living in or very close to one. It was this which made the Anglo-Norman conquest, when it came, as easy as the Danish one had been, even though the Danes were by now supported by the Irish, as well as their Norwegian cousins. Dublin fell to a force of troops led by the Earl of Pembroke (nicknamed “Strongbow”) within a few weeks of their arrival in 1170, though she remained under siege for three more years.

On the day the Norman conquerors led their storming parties triumphantly into the city a “miracle” happened. The Danes found themselves unable to move a special crucifix, believed to have miraculous powers. Thinking that their luck had left them, they deserted Dublin.

To the Norman knights, Ireland was a new world, peopled by savages. Dublin was merely a bridgehead and trading depot with a large hinterland full of valuable products, controlled by hostile natives. They set briskly about civilising it.

Within a year, Strongbow had given the city fits first charter. Under this charter of 1171-2, Dublin was to be inhabited by men from Bristol, with whom there were already many commercial contacts.

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William Scoresby – the legendary Arctic whaler from Yorkshire

Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about William Scoresby first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

William Scoresby,  picture, image, illustration

William and his shipmates bided their time until the guards dozed in the sun, then overpowered them and fled to the safety of Gibraltar by James E McConnell

William Scoresby stopped packing his bag, leaned across the kitchen table and spoke slowly and firmly. “Father” he said “I am 20 years old now and I mean to see the world. There’s more to life than farming, and Yorkshire and . . . I want adventure!” For once the old man did not argue. His son’s face was set and resolute but the excitement showed in his eyes. He was a boy no longer and now he must go his own way. “Excitement” he murmured. “Aye, you’ll get that right enough, I dare say.”

At that moment William could not guess how true these words were. Not just the excitement of a sailor’s life, but much more was to come his way. A Spanish castle, command of his own ship and the exploration of the Arctic wastes lay ahead. His memorial was to be the one he wished for, too – his name engraved on the map whose blanks he had helped to fill in.

All this was far beyond his dreams but soon the last goodbyes had to be completed and soon he was striding purposefully over the 20 miles to Whitby, and a new life.

William had been born in 1760 in the small farming community at Cropton in Yorkshire. He soon grew to know the beautiful but sometimes forbidding countryside and when he left the village school at the age of nine there was more than enough to do on his father’s farm. A big strapping lad, he was often hired out to neighbouring farmers who would pay his father well for his hard work. But all this time he was attracted by much wider horizons than the view across the valley to Appleton. He began to use the long winter evenings to study navigation at home and, staring into the fire, would see pounding waves instead of leaping flames as he dreamt of lands he had only been able to read about. Eventually he decided to wait no longer and on a fine May afternoon he walked down into the bustling harbour of Whitby.

The town was an important shipping centre and vessels sailed regularly to trade with London and the Baltic and on the more dangerous journeys north in search of whales. William managed to become bound as apprentice to the master of a ship in the Baltic trade and for the next two years he regularly faced the buffeting of the North Sea as they ploughed across, heavy-laden with cargo. The levenings of study were rewarded when he was able to correct the ship’s mate in a navigation error which would otherwise have meant a watery death among some notorious rocks.

Instead of being thanked, William was astonished at the ill-will this incident provoked. The precocious young apprentice was put firmly back in his place and thereafter William, seething with resentment, decided to jump ship and change as soon as he had the chance. On their next visit to London he did so, and in the forest of masts and jungle of cargo on the wharves there was little difficulty in slipping away unseen.

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St Louis – moral exemplar for princes of the church and state

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Saints, War on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about France first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.

Death of St Louis,  picture, image, illustration

Death of St Louis

Sorrowfully the priests and monks of Paris prepared to toll their bells of mourning. Their young, much loved king – already people were calling him a saint – was dying. Already he had said his last farewells to his friends and had prepared his soul for heaven.

For weeks King Louis the Ninth of France had been racked by fever. Like so many of his soldiers, he had caught it while fighting the English under their King Henry the Third, who had invaded France in the hope of recapturing Normandy, that troubled tract of land that was forever see-sawing between the English and the French.

Henry of England had been confident of success, but no one had told him that the new young king of France was not like all the others who had gone before him. This Louis was a man of resolution, hard as steel and full of courage. Henry had been obliged to make peace and get back to England to count the cost of his foolish adventure.

But the fighting, which had begun in 1242 and lasted a year, had cost Louis dearly, too. Never a very fit man, the fever had reduced him to a shivering skeleton. Now he was ready to die.

The court waited and the people wept, for no king had ever been loved like this one. Hour after hour Louis lay on the bed in his darkened room. At last he whispered feebly, “Bring the Bishop of Paris.”

Kneeling, the Bishop asked for the King’s command. “Place on my shoulder the cross of the crusaders,” whispered the King. “If I live, I shall fight a holy war.”

The King’s wife, Queen Margaret, and his mother, Queen Blanche, stirred uneasily. They knew the rigidity of such a vow. But what did it matter, since there was no hope for the King? Reluctantly, they allowed the Bishop to place a cross on the King.

Hours later, Louis’ health rallied. In a few days he was sitting up in bed; soon he was able to walk again. All France marvelled at the miraculous recovery.

“Now I must prepare myself for the Crusade,” the King said.

The Bishop and the two queens were aghast. They pleaded with Louis that his health would never stand the burning heat of Palestine, that he had taken the vow when he was out of his mind, that France needed a King of his wisdom and sanctity. It was all in vain. The King, quietly determined, sent out the call to his knights.

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A Royal Artillery gun-driver’s work was extremely dangerous

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about the Royal Artillery first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 532 published on 25 March 1972.

Military parade disaster,  picture, image, illustration

A fallen horse caused a disastrous pile-up in the military parade for Lord Napier, by Peter Jackson

When reveille sounded at a quarter to five, Driver Adams woke with the feeling that the day would go badly for him. Artillerymen were superstitious and he had heard of others who had had the same forebodings, rarely without cause. Back at Sebastopol, an old gunner had buried a comrade and had announced that he might as well dig his own grave at the same time. Sure enough, that night he had contacted cholera and before dawn lay in the grave he had dug.

Driver Adams would have pondered longer on this gloomy topic but already the men around him were shaving and pulling on their work-shirts and breeches. It was 17th April, 1869 and that morning “C” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery and the rest of the garrison of Lucknow, in India, were to be reviewed by Lord Napier of Magdala, current hero of the British Empire for his exploits in Abyssinia.

The Royal Horse Artillery had been formed late in the eighteenth century. The cumbersome train of guns dragged by men or bullocks and operated by foot-slogging gunners, which had hitherto trailed behind an army on active duty, was replaced by a highly-mobile force of artillery in which each gun, together with its limber carrying ammunition and equipment, was drawn by teams of horses and drivers, like a stagecoach with its postilions, and was serviced by mounted gunners. The force was divided into batteries. A battery comprised three divisions, each with two guns. A single gun with its limber and its teams of horses, drivers and gunners was called a sub-division.

Driver Adams was in Sub-division No. 5 of “C” Battery. Like most young recruits he rode “centre,” between the “lead” and “wheel” drivers. Lead drivers were the most experienced men; in a battle they were responsible for the gun if the gunners themselves were not present. Wheel drivers were the strongest men, with the most powerful horses; on them depended the accurate movement of the gun at speed across rough ground and over unexpected hazards.

All drivers were hand-picked: to them was entrusted a gun, limber and equipment together weighing over 30 cwt. One slip by any of them could destroy gun, horses and men.

Adams gulped down a mug of hot, sweet tea – it was bitterly cold at dawn – and made for the stables. The sense of impending disaster overtook him again on the way, but soon there was so much to do that it slipped once more to the back of his mind. Each driver had two horses and two harnesses to care for; their own safety depended on meticulous attention to detail. The sergeant who commanded the sub-division, called Number One, inspected their works. He was responsible for the performance of the sub-division and any man who failed to meet his exacting standards would quickly find himself posted as a waggoner, the ultimate shame for a gun-driver.

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The Via Appia remains the Roman ancestor of all motorways

Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about Roman roads first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 532 published on 25 March 1972.

Roman Roads,  picture, image, illustration

Roman road builders by Peter Jackson

“The Romans – now they could make roads!”

People have been saying that for two thousand years. First of all in awe at constructions so marvellous as to appear almost supernatural, and today in sheer wonder that, without the aid of modern mechanical equipment, it was possible for those ancient engineers to even attempt such projects.

It is hard to imagine the impression the Roman-built roads made on Europe during the Dark Ages. In a world that had always depended on cart tracks for city to city communication, those straight ribbons of paving were a constant reminder as to what godlike creatures the victorious Romans were. Also, those efficient highways were a worthwhile military advantage when troops had to be moved quickly from place to place.

They were a fantastic achievement. By the time the Empire had run its course, there were enough good roads to stretch ten times round the Equator. And yet hardly anyone thinks to ask what genius of a long dead Roman built the very first one. Or why.

Appius Claudius was never a very famous emperor. Nevertheless, part of his name is immortalised by the highway with which he started it all. The Via Appia, or Appian Way.

The Emperor began his masterpiece in 312 B.C. Starting at Rome, it ran first to Capua and later to Brindisi, a distance of more than 340 miles. It was conceived as a military necessity, but planned with all the personality of the people it was intended to serve.

Almost to a man, the Romans disliked mountains. Not because they were inconvenient, but simply because they couldn’t stand looking at them. Julius Caesar hated mountains so much that if he had to travel through them he would climb into a litter, draw the curtains and devote himself to his accounts. Similarly the Romans were fair weather sailors. Accordingly the Appian Way set a pattern that was to be followed through the years. At whatever inconvenience, mountains were avoided and the coastline followed as closely as possible so that road transport could take over from ships when sailors grew wary of winter storms.

It is easy enough to visualise Appius Claudius as a far sighted man who knew where he wanted a road and why. The great mystery that has never been solved is where his engineers learned their craft. Rome’s neighbours: Carthaginians, Etruscans, Greeks, Egyptians even, all built roads. But their most skilled workmen could never have mustered the expertise that went into the Appian Way. It was an achievement out of its time. As though someone in England had produced the M1 in the days of Good Queen Bess.

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