October 21st 1956: Dedan Kimathi caputured
On this day in 1956 a primary leader of the Mau Mau rebellion, Dedan Kimathi, was captured, essentially signalling the end of the uprising. The conflict occurred in Kenya as a rebellion against British colonial rule by groups of Kikuyu Kenyans collectively refered to as ‘Mau Mau’. With its origins in 1947, the Mau Mau originally targetted Kenyans who collaborated with the British, then began attacking Europeans. Fullscale war broke out in 1952, with the colonial governor declaring a state of emergency and calling in British reinforcemensts. The British response to the rebellion was brutal, with thousands of suspects (many of whom were innocent) being held in camps, tortured, and killed. War crimes were committed on both sides, with the Mau Mau, as well as the British, regularly torturing captives and brutally killing civilians. The Mau Mau were not the only protestors against British colonialism, with political figures like Jomo Kenyatta consistently pushing for political rights and land reform. However Kenyatta was imprisoned (he is now widely believed to be innocent) as a Mau Mau conspirator in 1953 and was not released until 1961. By the time of Kimathi’s arrest, and subsequent execution, the Mau Mau forces had dwindled. However opposition to British rule continued after the end of the rebellion, and the state of emergency declared due to the Mau Mau was not suspended until 1960. After this, the process of independence for Kenya began, with Kenyatta taking a prominent role. Independence was finally achieved in 1963, and Kenyatta became the leader of the new nation. The legacy of the Mau Mau Rebellion has been a divisive one, with supporters of the British regime portraying it as a story of heroic Europeans defeating bloodthirsty Kenyans. However in Kenya the Mau Mau are remembered as freedom fighters, and more recent accounts have revised the traditional narrative and emphasized the exploitation and oppression of Kenyans under colonial rule.
October 19th 1781: Cornwallis surrenders
On this day in 1781 in Yorktown, Virginia, during the American Revolutionary War, British commander Cornwallis formally surrendered to George Washington. Thus, the Siege of Yorktown was a decisive victory for the American forces and their French allies, and was the last major battle of the war. Cornwallis’s surrender led to the opening of peace negotiations and the Treaty of Paris was reached in 1783, which ended the war between Britain and the United States and preserved American independence.
October 6th 1892: Alfred, Lord Tennyson dies
On this day in 1892, the famous British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson died aged 83. Tennyson was Poet Laureate under Queen Victoria from 1850 until his death. His poems include ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘In Memoriam’. The latter poem coined the famous phrase “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all”. The poet also had the opportunity to record himself reading his poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ on a phonograph cylinder - one of the earliest devices for recording sound - in 1890 (recording found here). Upon his death he was buried in Westminster Abbey in Poets’ Corner alongside notable figures like Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling.
September 27th 1960: Sylvia Pankhurst dies
On this day in 1960 the prominent English suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst died in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia aged 78. Pankhurst was famous for her efforts to achieve female suffrage through peaceful means, unlike the more radical suffragettes. She was also an outspoken champion of left wing communist policies and anti-fascism. Pankhurst was a vocal opponent of British colonialism and it was in this capacity that she spent her final years in Ethiopia after becoming a champion of their cause for liberation. She refused to marry and take a man’s name but did have a long term partner and a son.
September 19th 1970: First Glastonbury
On this day in 1970 the first Glastonbury Festival was held in Michael Eavis’s farm in Glastonbury, England. The festival was inspired by the hippie and free festival movements. Eavis decided to host his own festival after seeing Led Zeppelin at the Bath Blues Festival, hoping the event would help him pay off his mortgage. Tickets to the first Glastonbury cost £1 and 1,500 tickets were sold to the festival which was headlined by T-Rex, who replaced original headliners The Kinks. Glastonbury remains one of the world’s most famous music festivals and has greatly expanded since 1970, making it one of the UK’s biggest festivals.
September 10th 1167: Empress Matilda dies
On this day in 1167 the Empress Matilda of England (also known as Empress Maude) died aged 65 in Rouen, France. Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England and his sole heir, as her younger brother William died in 1120 when the ship he was on sank. Upon her father’s death however, the throne was seized by her cousin Stephen. The two parties battled for the throne, leading to years of unrest and civil war in England known as ‘The Anarchy’. Whilst she did briefly manage to claim the throne in 1141 she was never crowned and did not consolidate her rule and thus many do not consider her a true British monarch. Matilda retired to France towards the end of her life, after her son Henry succeeded King Stephen in 1154. The story of her struggle with Stephen is the basis of the 1989 novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.
August 29th 1842: Treaty of Nanking signed
On this day in 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed by the United Kingdom and China. The treaty ended the First Opium War which began in 1839 and resulted in the defeat of Qing China by the British. The war was fought over the smuggling of European opium into China, and was sparked when Chinese officials confiscated around 20,000 chests of the drug from British traders. With China defeated, the two sides met aboard the HMS Cornwallis moored at Nanking and their representatives signed the treaty. The agreement, considered unequal by the Chinese as they received no concessions, mostly concerned trade and gave the British more control over Chinese trade. It also provided for the Qing government to pay reparations for the confiscated opium and the cost of the war. Very importantly, the treaty also saw the Chinese cede the territory of Hong Kong to the British, which only returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
August 23rd 1305: William Wallace executed
On this day in 1305 William Wallace was executed for high treason in London. Wallace was one of the major leaders of the Wars of Scottish Independence that took place throughout the late 13th and early 14th centuries. He led Scottish forces against the English with great success, such as at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, for which he was knighted. However he was later defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and eventually captured in 1305, at which point he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered by King Edward I of England. After his grisly execution, Wallace’s preserved head was set on a pike atop London Bridge. The Wars for Independence that Wallace had fought so valiantly for were successful, and Scotland remained an independent nation until it joined with England in 1707 to form Great Britain. Wallace has since become a Scottish icon and a symbol of the nation’s continuing campaign for independence. He remains a popular figure in literature and film, most famously portrayed by Mel Gibson as the protagonist of the 1995 film Braveheart.
"I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject"
- Wallace on his treason charge
October 20th 1632: Christopher Wren born
On this day in 1632, famous British architect Christopher Wren was born in East Knoyle, Wiltshire. The son of a rector, Wren received a top education at Westminster School and then the prestigious Oxford University. Wren’s initial intellectual interest was in astronomy and physics but this eventually developed into architecture during the 1660s. When the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed a large portion of the city, Wren seized the opportunity and became a chief architect of the rebuilt capital. He designed fifty-two new churches for London, most famously St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s was London’s tallest building until 1962, having survived the Blitz during World War Two. The cathedral remains a major British landmark and is used for state services including the funeral of Winston Churchill (and more recently Margaret Thatcher), monarch’s jubilee celebrations, and the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. Wren’s work in London caught the attention of the crown and he received multiple royal commissions including designing the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the front facade of Hampton Court Palace and several hospitals. Christopher Wren died on February 25th 1723 aged 91 after having caught a bad chill. His gravestone in St Paul’s Cathedral features the Latin inscription "Reader, if you seek his memorial - look around you."
October 8th 1967: Clement Attlee dies
On this day in 1967, former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee passed away aged 84. He was Deputy Prime Minister under Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the wartime coalition government. Attlee’s Labour Party then defeated the Conservative Party in the 1945 election. He led the country in post-war recovery, with a focus on promoting social services, most famously creating the National Health Service (NHS), for which he is still celebrated today. The Attlee government also undertook massive nationalisation and oversaw decolonisation and the breakup of the British Empire. Attlee left office in 1951 after narrowly losing to Churchill and the Conservatives. The former Prime Minister died of pneumonia at Westminster Hospital in 1967; he remains one of the most popular British political leaders in the nation’s history.
September 29th 1829: Metropolitan Police founded
On this day in 1829 the Metropolitan Police of London was founded as part of the Metropolitan Police Act. The institution was pushed for by Home Secretary Robert Peel who wanted an official and accountable police force, as opposed to the shambolic and ineffective law enforcement of the day. His involvement gave police officers the nicknames ‘peelers’ and ‘bobbies’. The police took some time to come into its own, as it was initially regarded with suspicion by many Londoners as an intrusive and aggressive force. However it has since become a respected and effective British institution which is highly valued by Londoners.
September 25th 1066: Battle of Stamford Bridge
On this day in 1066 the Battle of Stamford Bridge occurred between the English, led by King Harold Godwinson, and the invading Norwegian forces led by King Harald Hardrada and Godwinson’s brother Tostig. The battle was a decisive English victory, seeing the deaths of thousands of Norwegians including Hardrada himself. However in mid-October that same year Godwinson was defeated by the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings. Stamford Bridge is often considered the last battle of the Viking age.
September 16th 1620: Mayflower sets sail
On this day in 1620, the Mayflower started her voyage from Great Britain to North America. She carried 102 passengers, many of whom were pilgrims who later settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. By November they sighted land and landed at Cape Cod and proceeded the settle there, though around half died during the first harsh winter in the New World. The site where the Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth is marked today by ‘Plymouth Rock’. The Mayflower left for England the next April. The journey of the Mayflower is considered a major and symbolic event in American history as the ship carried the some of the first European settlers to America’s shores.
September 7th 1978: Keith Moon dies
On this day in 1978, Keith Moon, the drummer for the English rock band The Who died aged 32. He joined The Who in 1964 when they were just starting up and was integral to their rise to fame. Their most famous songs include ‘My Generation’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Moon remained in the band until his death. He was well known for his self-destructive behaviour and after a number of personal tragedies became an alcoholic. He died in London from an overdose of a drug designed to curb alcohol abuse. In 2011 Rolling Stone readers voted him the second greatest drummer of all time.
August 27th 1896: Anglo-Zanzibar War
On this day in 1896, the shortest war in history was fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate. The war lasted only 40 minutes. The conflict was caused by the death of pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini the day before. The British wanted the successor to be another sultan who would support Britain. The new sultan Khalid bin Barghash refused to stand down and barricaded himself inside his palace. British forces bombarded the sultan’s palace between 09.02 and 09.40, when the attack and thus the war ended. The sultan’s forces suffered 500 casualties, whilst the British only had one soldier wounded. The British were then able to put their preferred sultan in power in Zanzibar.