When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Great Britain

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

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1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy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

Quiet News Day

1930: The BBC had a narrow view of what was newsworthy and what wasn’t. If an item didn’t come up to the required standard, it wasn’t broadcast. No effort was made to pad out news bulletins to a standard length. On 18 April, a quiet news day, the BBC announcer simply declared, “There is no news tonight.”

Source: Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting, I: 1922–1939, Serving the Nation (1991), p. 118

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Target Practice

1916: When the British attack lost momentum on the first day of the battle of the Somme, Lieutenant R.A. Heptonstall found himself stranded in no man’s land. “From my shell hole I could see a dead man propped up against the German wire in a sitting position.” A German rifleman whiled away the time taking pot shots at the corpse “until his head was completely shot away”.

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (1988), p. 218

“At The Foot Of The Cliffs I Met An Old Man”

1913: “At the foot of the cliffs,” W.N.P. Barbellion wrote in his journal on 27 June, “[I] met an old man gathering sticks. As he ambled along dropping sticks into a long sack he called out casually, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ in the tone of voice in which one would say, ‘I think we shall have some rain before night.’ ‘Aye, aye,’ came the answer without hesitation from a boy lying on his back in the sands a few yards distant, ‘and that He died to save me.’

“Life is full of surprises like this. . . . Your own gardener will one day look over his rake and give you the correct chemical formula for carbonic acid gas. I met a postman once reading Shelley as he walked his rounds.”

Source: W.N.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man and A Last Diary (1984), pp. 91–2

Showing Promise

1912: Writing home on 3 March, 8-year-old Eric Blair regaled his mother with a breathless account of his exploits on the school football field: “I was goalkeeper all the second halh, and they only got past the half-line twise while I was in goal but both of those times it nearly a goal and I had to be jolly quick to pick them up and kick them, because most of the chaps the other side were in aufel rats and they were runing at me like angry dogs”. (Not quite Orwell, not yet, but it was a promising start.)

Source: George Orwell, The Complete Works of George Orwell, X: A Kind of Compulsion 1903–1936, ed. Peter Davison (1998), pp. 13–14

“My Only Happiness”

Hawley Harvey Crippen

1910: “As I face eternity, I say that Ethel LeNeve has loved me as few women love men,” declared “Dr.” Hawley Harvey Crippen in an emotional “farewell letter to the world”. Writing from Pentonville Prison in London, four days before he was hanged for the murder of his wife, Crippen professed that “the love of Ethel LeNeve has been the best thing in my life – my only happiness – and that in return for that great gift I have been inspired with a greater kindness towards my fellow-beings, and with a greater desire to do good.”

Source: Tom Cullen, Crippen: The Mild Murderer (1988), pp. 217–18

Bob’s Your Uncle

Arthur James Balfour

1902: Who’s your uncle? If your name’s Arthur Balfour, Bob’s your uncle. During the late 1880s and 1890s, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd marquess of Salisbury, used his position as prime minister to appoint his nephew to a series of important government posts. And when Salisbury resigned as prime minister in 1902, Balfour stepped effortlessly into his shoes.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 827

Tarnished Glory

1901: Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life lifted the lid on British urban deprivation. It caused Winston Churchill to write, “I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its sewers.”

Source: Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill (1967), vol. II, pp. 31–2

Bee Gone

Short-haired bumble bee, photographed by Martin Andersson

1998: The Daily Telegraph lamented the demise of the short-haired bumble bee, which “is, or was, one of 21 species of bumble bee in Britain”. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, Bombus subterraneus was the 154th species to become extinct in Britain during the 20th century.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1998

Biology Boffin

1962: Elizabeth II formally opened the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge. The scientists had constructed models to illustrate the complexities of biological structures. The queen was very attentive. One of her accompanying ladies remarked: “I had no idea that we had all these little coloured balls inside us.”

Source: New Scientist, 31 January 1980

“Wind Of Change”

1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told South Africa’s white lawmakers. Belgium relinquished control of the Belgian Congo; in West Africa, a swathe of French colonies gained independence; Britain pulled out of Nigeria. In a single year, Macmillan’s “wind of change” gusted through 17 African nations.

Source: www.france24.com/en/
20100214-1960-year-independence

Eccentric Englishman

1950: Lord Berners, who died in April, was a classical composer and the author of several novels, though he’s probably best remembered for his eccentricities: the clavichord in his Rolls-Royce; fake pearl necklaces round his dogs’ necks; blue mayonnaise; the warning, “Trespassers will be prosecuted, dogs shot, cats whipped,” in his garden; pigeons dyed magenta, copper green and ultramarine, “tumbling about like a cloud of confetti in the sky”; the notice at the entrance to his folly at Faringdon, “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

Source: Mark Amory, Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric (1998), pp. 79, 120, 137–8, 150