When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Great Britain

Shabby End To Career

Nina Hamnett, portrayed by Roger Fry in 1917

1956: In the 1920s, Nina Hamnett was a promising artist, but by the 1930s and ’40s she had become a shabby figure who spent too little time in the studio and far too much time in the pubs and clubs of London’s Fitzrovia and Soho. “She was dirty, smelt of stale bar-rooms, and very pathetic.” At the York Minster pub, she made her favourite seat indelibly hers by urinating on it; sometimes she would be sick into her handbag before staggering home at night. On 13 December 1956 she fell from the window of her upstairs flat in Paddington and was impaled on the railings below. She died a few days later.

Source: Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (1986), pp. 184, 242, 250, 258

Slugs And Shaws

George Bernard Shaw, photographed in 1925

1950: The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw died on 2 November. Three weeks later, in accordance with the terms of his will, his ashes were mingled with those of his wife, who had died in 1943, and scattered in the garden of their village home.

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“Animalistic Hopping”

1937: The Lambeth Walk, a jaunty number from the musical Me and My Girl, was a success first on the London stage, and then in dance halls around Britain and on the Continent. Fascist leaders in Europe, however, took a dim view of the craze. In Italy, the dance was condemned for its “ugly, coarse, awkward motions and gesticulations”, and in Germany it was denounced as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”.

Sources: The Times, 19 May 1939; The New York Times, 8 January 1939

Attractive Feature

John Betjeman, phototgraphed in the 1920s

1932: Penelope Chetwode met her future husband, the journalist and promising poet John Betjeman, for the first time. Asked shortly afterwards what it was she liked about him, she replied, “He has green teeth.”

Source: Bevis Hillier, Young Betjeman (1988), p. 373

What If . . . ?

1931: On the afternoon of 22 August, a young British aristocrat named John Scott-Ellis was making his way along Brienner Strasse, in Munich, in a little red Fiat. “Although I was going very slowly, a man walked off the pavement, more or less straight into my car.” The 42-year-old pedestrian was bowled over, but quickly picked himself up, politely shook hands with the driver, and went on his way.

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Fixed Date

1928: After more than a thousand years of putting up with Easter chopping and changing between dates in March and April, Britain decided to pin it down. Parliament passed the Easter Act, under which the festival was fixed for “the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April” – between 9 and 15 April. Straightforward, except that the act included a proviso that “regard shall be had” of the opinions of churches and Christian bodies. Ninety years later, those opinions are still unclear and the law remains in limbo. Easter continues to fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon on or after the March equinox.

Source: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/
1928/35/pdfs/ukpga_19280035_en.pdf

Keeping A Tally

1926: British road accident and casualty data, collected nationally for the first time, showed there were 124,000 accidents and 4,886 deaths during the year. The worst single year for road deaths came in 1941, when 9,196 died. Between 1951 and 1999, 15.6 million people were injured in accidents on Britain’s roads, and 285,752 killed.

Source: Road Casualties Great Britain 2006 (2007)

Risky Childbirth

1924: The women’s rights campaigner Dora Russell produced statistics to show that in Britain, it was four times as dangerous for a woman to give birth as it was for a man to work down a coal mine. The death rate for miners from fatal accidents was 1.1 per thousand miners; the death rate among mothers in childbirth was four or five per thousand births, on average, and as high as nine per thousand in heavily industrialized towns.

Source: Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love (1975), p. 171

Level-Headed

1920: Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England, once confided to a colleague that he could literally walk through walls – just the sort of level-headed individual the country needed to run its central bank.

Source: Andrew Boyle, Montagu Norman: A Biography (1967), p. 87

Eccentric Tastes

1918: Maurice Bowra described his commanding officer as a man of “much fancy and charm”, though he had “certain eccentric tastes, such as pornography”. He was an avid reader, and sometimes read aloud to his men from The New Ladies’ Tickler.

Source: C.M. Bowra, Memories 1898–1939 (1966), p. 87

“Yes. I Remember . . .”

1914: Don’t be overly nostalgic about the summer of 1914, warned Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory. And yet, in almost the same breath, he described it as “the most idyllic for many years”: a time for strolling in the countryside, a time for sipping tea at wicker tables under shady trees, a time when books could be left outdoors all night without fear of rain.

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Cop That!

1913: On Easter Monday, Labour Member of Parliament J.H. “Jimmy” Thomas’s speech at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester was interrupted by a member of the audience. Edith Rigby, a suffragette, stood up, reached into her pockets and pelted Thomas with black puddings.

Source: Phoebe Hesketh, My Aunt Edith (1966), p. 70

Suffragette Colours

1909: Mappin & Webb advertised “suffragette jewellery” in purple, white and green: brooches and pendants set with amethysts, pearls and emeralds. Shoemakers Lilley & Skinner introduced “bedroom slippers in velvet and quilted satin specially dyed in the colours”. And a certain Miss Smith, of Barnham, in Sussex, also specialised in the purple, white and green of the suffragettes – in her case, sweet pea seeds sold by mail order.

Source: Diane Atkinson, The Purple, White & Green: Suffragettes in London 1906–14 (1992), pp. 20, 21, 25

Cat Out Of The Bag

1908: Aspiring novelist D.H. Lawrence let the eugenic cat out of the bag:
“If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.”

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: vol. I: September 1901–May 1913, ed. James T. Boulton (1979), pp. 79–81

Royal Disease

King Alfonso XIII of Spain, painted by Román Navarro

1907: The discovery that Leopold, the eighth of Queen Victoria’s nine children, suffered from the hereditary genetic disorder haemophilia, meant that the queen’s daughters might also carry the defective gene. Even if they displayed no signs of the disorder, they could transmit it to their children.

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Smoke + Fog = Smog

1905: During the last two decades of the 19th century, the amount of coal transported annually to London by rail, sea and canal increased from 10 million to 16 million tonnes. Each day, more than 200 tonnes of fine soot were discharged into the city’s atmosphere. In 1905, Dr. Henry Des Voeux of the Coal Abatement Society merged “smoke” and “fog” to coin a new term for the pollution – “smog”.

Source: Turner Whistler Monet, ed. Katharine Lochnan (2004), pp. 52, 236

Friendy Wendy

1904: J.M. Barrie’s circle of young friends included Margaret Henley, daughter of the poet W.E. Henley. She called Barrie her “friendy” – or rather, her “wendy”, since she couldn’t properly pronounce “friendy”. That appealed to Barrie, who used Wendy as the name for a leading character in his play Peter Pan – its first use as a girl’s name.

Source: Lisa Chaney, Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie (2005), p. 217

Margaret Henley, photographed in about 1893

Primogeniture

Kaiser Wilhelm II, photographed by court photographer T.H. Voigt in 1902

1901: Queen Victoria died; Edward VII became king. If, however, the throne had passed to the firstborn child, regardless of sex, Victoria would have been succeeded by her daughter Vicky. And consider this: when Vicky died, as she did just a few months later, her eldest child, Wilhelm, would have become king. Already kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm would have also become William V of Britain.

Source: The Independent, 7 July 2006

Jarman Wows Judges

1975: The third Alternative Miss World contest in London was won by Miss Crêpe Suzette, alias the film-maker Derek Jarman, who wowed the judges with a silver diamanté dress, swimming flippers and a headdress made from a green rubber frog.

Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975

Laws Scrapped

1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (legislation “for vacating seat of member of House of Commons received, &c. as a lunatic into an asylum, &c.”).

Source: The Statutes Revised (1950), vol. XI, pp. 147–8 and vol. XII, pp. 428–9

Beetles Over Britain

Colorado beetle, photographed by Scott Bauer

1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)

Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/
spru/hsp/documents/CWCB33-Garrett.
pdf

Cure For Sleepiness

1939: Straight-talking Winston Churchill went down well with wireless listeners. Two millworkers overheard in conversation in Bolton:
MW1: “Ah bet tha heard Churchill.”
MW2: “Aye – I did.”
MW1: “He doesn’t half give it them. I corn’t go to sleep when he’s on.”

Source: Tom Harrisson and Charles Madge, War Begins at Home (1940), p. 158

Singed Eyebrows

1938: In dense cloud over the south of France, a ball of lightning entered the open cockpit window of a B.O.A.C. flying boat, singed the captain’s eyebrows and hair, burned a hole in his seat belt, and then meandered harmlessly through the forward passenger cabin into the rear cabin, where it burst with a loud explosion.

Source: Nature, 5 April 1952

Young Maggie

1936: Margaret Roberts was a pupil at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School from autumn 1936 until summer 1943. Her nickname – years before “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” and “The Iron Lady” – was “Snobby Roberts”.

Source: Biographical Dictionary of British Prime Ministers, ed. Robert Eccleshall and Graham Walker (1998), p. 361