When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Great Britain

Dunkirk Spirit

1940: In Britain’s hour of need, “heroes in jerseys and sweaters and old rubber boots” stepped forward to man an armada of “fishing boats, steamships, barges and pleasure steamers” that crossed the Channel, braving shellfire and Stuka attacks, to pluck the British Expeditionary Force off the beaches of Dunkirk. That’s the way British propaganda portrayed it, but it wasn’t all like that. The Royal Navy had to requisition small craft in Devon whose owners declined to volunteer and the fishing fleet of Rye in Sussex collectively refused to go.

Source: Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991), pp. 96–8

Precise Number

1938: The British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had calculated the precise number of protons in the universe:
15,747,724,136,275,002,577,605,653,961,
181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,
366,231,425,076,185,631,031,296.

Source: Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939), p. 170

Noisy Send-Off

1931: As Arnold Bennett lay dying from typhoid in his flat near Marylebone Road, the local council gave permission for straw to be spread in the busy street to muffle the noise of traffic, possibly the last time this was allowed in central London. Bennett died at nine in the evening of 27 March. “It was a night of rain. The straw became sodden and slippery. Just after midnight a milk dray skidded and overturned, sending its load of churns crashing along the pavement below the flat in a thunderous din.”

Source: Reginald Pound, Arnold Bennett: A Biography (1971), p. 367

Hint Of Glamour

1928: Picture palaces lured film-goers with their aura of glamour. According to Denis Norden, at the Empire Leicester Square in London, ushers lined up before opening time, lit Havana cigars and puffed smoke around the foyer.

Source: Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties, ed. Margaret O’Brien and Allen Eyles (1993), p. 39

Gunned Down

1927: On 27 September, Police Constable George Gutteridge was murdered on a country road in Essex. In the small hours, Gutteridge flagged down a Morris Cowley, unaware that it had been stolen earlier that night. While he questioned the two men in the car, Frederick Browne and William Kennedy, one of them pulled a revolver and shot him in the side of the face. (Kennedy subsequently blamed Browne; Browne denied he was even there.) As the policeman lay badly injured in the road, the gunman approached and finished him off with two shots at close range – one in either eye.

Source: Christopher Berry-Dee and Robin Odell, The Long Drop: Two Were Hanged – One Was Innocent (1993)

Borrowed Verse

1923: In January 1927, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Swansea named Dylan Thomas made his first money from poetry. The Western Mail, which published “His Requiem”, paid 10 shillings for the work. Nobody else realised it at the time, but Thomas had plagiarised, more or less word for word, a poem by Lillian Gard that had appeared in the November 1923 issue of The Boy’s Own Paper.

Source: Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas (1978), pp. 7, 41

Improving On Dickens

1921: T.S. Eliot wrote in May that he had “a long poem in mind and partly on paper”. This was “He Do the Police in Different Voices”. Eliot juggled the words, enriched the meaning, shaped the rhythm. And replaced the original title – a quote from Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend – with another, better, title: “The Waste Land”.

Source: Marianne Thormählen, The Waste Land: A Fragmentary Wholeness (1978), pp. 28–31

Cordite And Conkers

1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

“In present circumstances it is felt that school children could give most valuable assistance in collecting the [horse] chestnuts . . .”

What could possibly link the Balfour Declaration with a Board of Education circular urging British youngsters to gather conkers? The answer: cordite, acetone, the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum and the chemist (and ardent Zionist) Chaim Weizmann.

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Making Mischief

1912: Eight-year-old Cecil Day-Lewis entered Wilkinson’s prep school in central London. The future poet laureate got to know Nicholas Llewelyn Davies, one of J.M. Barrie’s adopted boys. When Llewelyn Davies took his friend to the playwright’s house in Campden Hill Square, the two youngsters went up to the attic and fired an air gun at pedestrians in the square.

Source: C. Day Lewis, The Buried Day (1960), pp. 72–4

God’s Too Busy

1910: Among those taken to see the funeral of Edward VII was Lord Kinnoull’s young daughter. That evening, at bedtime, the girl’s mother asked her whether she had said her prayers. She hadn’t.

“Why not?”

“I don’t mean to say them to-night.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because it won’t be any use, as God will be too busy unpacking King Edward.”

Source: Lord Riddell, More Pages from My Diary 1908–1914 (1934), p. 149

Green Girls

André Derain, photographed in about 1903

1906: The young girls of London, André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse, have faces “made to stand out in the misty streets or in the cold calm of English interiors”: “very blond hair, untidily wound up, with plaits tight around a matt-ivory coloured face, with their lips and cheeks lightly tinted pink, which makes the skin green”.

Source: Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen et al., André Derain: The London Paintings (2005), p. 133

Chance Discovery

1905: Edgar Purnell Hooley patented Tarmac in 1902. The story goes that Hooley, a county surveyor, came upon a hard-wearing and dust-free stretch of road. Tar had been spilled on the surface and slag from a nearby ironworks used to cover it. Hooley set up a company to exploit his discovery – The Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Ltd., which in 1905 was renamed Tarmac Ltd.

Source: J.B.F. Earle, A Century of Road Materials: The History of the Roadstone Division of Tarmac Ltd (1971), pp. 16–17

One Man’s Poison

1902: One man’s poison is another man’s meat. The abrupt postponement of Edward VII’s coronation (caused by the king’s appendicitis) meant that delicacies destined for coronation banquets were distributed instead to London’s poor. Soup kitchen menus briefly included prawns, oysters and Dover sole poached in Chablis, as well as quail, snipe and consommé de faisan aux quenelles.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 823

Crammed Coffin

1901: Victoria’s coffin was crammed with her favourite shawls and embroidered handkerchiefs, her wedding veil, Prince Albert’s dressing gown, a model of Albert’s hand, numerous lockets and bracelets, family photographs, a photograph of John Brown and a lock of his hair. There were so many mementos that there was barely room for the queen herself. Luckily she was a short woman.

Source: Jerrold M. Packard, Farewell in Splendour: The Death of Queen Victoria and Her Age (2000), pp. 199–201

Dahl Finds Solace

Roald Dahl, photographed in 1982 by Hans van Dijk

1990: In 1962, Roald Dahl’s 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, caught measles. The virus can lead in rare cases to measles encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that is sometimes fatal. Olivia was one of those rare cases, and the disease was fatal.

Thirty years later, as his own life drew to a close, the children’s author tenderly remembered his dead daughter and drew inspiration from her. “I am not frightened of falling off my perch,” he said. “If Olivia can do it, so can I.”

Source: Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010), pp. 383–8, 560

Global Cooling

1975: “There are ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production,” warned a science story in Newsweek. “The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” What evidence? A shorter growing season in Britain, drought near the equator, lots of tornadoes in the United States. “The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.”

Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975

“Black Wave Of Muck”

1966: Just after nine on the morning of Friday, 21 October, one of the colliery waste tips that loomed over the Welsh mining village of Aberfan collapsed. A wave of mining slag and loose rock slipped down the mountainside, burying Pantglas Junior School and 20 houses in the village. Altogether, 144 people died; 116 of them were children.

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Clever Housewife

1964: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, notably penicillin and vitamin B12. The Daily Mail’s headline: “Nobel prize for British wife”.

Source: Daily Mail, 30 October 1964

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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