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
August 15th 1965: Beatles at Shea Stadium
On this day in 1965 the Beatles played their iconic concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. The gig was part of the band’s 1965 tour of the United States, by which time they were international superstars and ‘Beatlemania’ gripped the world. The band formed in Liverpool in 1960, and came to prominence with their first hit ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962. By the time of the Shea Stadium gig they had a huge following in the US, and at Shea played to around 55,600 fans. As typical of Beatlemania, the crowd was deafening with their screams, which meant that the music could not really be heard, and were often seen crying and fainting. The Beatles did still manage to play a 30 minute set (very short by modern standards) with 12 songs. It was the intensity of these concerts, and the fact they could not hear themselves, that contributed to the band’s decision to stop touring in 1966. Soon after the Shea Stadium gig, which was followed by another huge concert at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, the band recorded their sixth album ‘Rubber Soul’. The Shea Stadium gig was immortalised in a 1966 documentary about the event, which contributed to it becoming one of the band’s most famous concerts. Shea was also an important milestone for the Beatles, and in fact for all musicians, as it ushered in the age of stadium concerts.
"At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain"
- John Lennon in 1970
August 11th 1897: Enid Blyton born
On this day in 1897 the famous British children’s writer was born in East Dulwich, London. Blyton’s books have enjoyed enduring popularity, selling over 600 million copies worldwide. Her most famous works include the character of Noddy, The Famous Five series and the Secret Seven series. Beyond her novels, Blyton was also a prolific writer of non-fiction, writing on topics as diverse as natural history and the Bible. Despite later criticisms of her work as representing outdated ways of thinking, including some arguably racist and sexist content, children around the world still read her books. Blyton died in 1968 aged 71 in Hampstead, England.
August 5th 1862: ‘Elephant Man’ born
On this day in 1862 Joseph Merrick, otherwise known as the ‘Elephant Man’, was born in Leicester. Merrick was an Englishman with severe facial and body deformities which resulted in him being exhibited as an ‘Elephant Man’. Treated poorly by his peers, Merrick eventually ended touring Europe as a ‘human curiosity’ and remained in a London Hospital for the rest of his life. Merrick died in 1890 aged 27 from asphyxiation, supposedly because he decided to sleep lying down (the weight of his head meant he had to sleep sitting up) in order to be like other people. His story became especially famous after the 1980 film about his life starring John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as his good friend Frederick Treves.
July 13th 1985: Live Aid
On this day in 1985, the Live Aid benefit concerts took place at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised the concerts to raise money to provide aid for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Notable artists such as Queen, Phil Collins, David Bowie, U2, The Who, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney performed. The London concert drew 72,000 and the Philadelphia concert was attended by 100,000. The global audience watching the live broadcast is estimated to have been at around 1.9 billion. The event was a great success, ultimately raising around £150m.
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.
August 16th 1819: Peterloo massacre
On this day in 1819 a cavalry charge killed 17 and injured 600 at a public meeting in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, England. The meeting of around 60,000 was held to demand parliamentary reform and was addressed by famous radical Henry Hunt, known as ‘the Orator’. Radical agitation had been on the rise in recent years due to the famine and unemployment that followed the Napoleonic Wars and the introduction of laws that many felt unfair to the working class. Despite the peaceful intentions of the meeting, local magistrates feared it and sent in the cavalry, who violently dispersed the crowd. 15 people died in the ensuing violence, with hundreds more injured. The event was nicknamed ‘Peterloo’ in reference to the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. The massacre caused public outcry which only encouraged the government, led by Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, to crack down on radicalism. This period is sometimes referred to as ‘reactionary toryism’.
August 13th 1910: Florence Nightingale dies
On this day in 1910 the famous English nurse, Florence Nightingale, died in London. Born in 1820, she was named for the Italian city in which she was born where her wealthy parents were visiting at the time. Her parents initially tried to prevent her from training to be a nurse, which she resolved to do after she believed God wanted her to do some work. However Nightingale bucked the tradition of upper class women settling for a good marriage and instead pursued a career as a nurse. She became famous during the Crimean War of 1853 - 1856 when she drew attention to the poor conditions of the troops and nursed wounded soldiers. Other nurses laboured in Crimea alongside Nightingale, including the Jamaican-born Mary Seacole. Upon her return to Britain Nightingale began the movement for professional nursing by establishing a nursing school in 1860, leading many to call her the founder of modern nursing. Florence Nightingale was 90 years old when she died, and passed away in her sleep at her London home.
August 8th 1963: Great Train Robbery
On this day in 1963, the ‘Great Train Robbery’ took place in Buckinghamshire, England. The team of 15 robbers stopped the Royal Mail train by changing a signal from green to red and stole £2.6 million, which is the equivalent of around £40 million today. Only 6 of the 126 bags on the train were not taken by the robbers. Most of the money, which was made up of used banknotes, was never recovered. 12 of the 15 were caught and jailed but some escaped and some were never caught.
July 17th 1790: Adam Smith dies
On this day in 1790 the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith died in Edinburgh aged 67. He is best known for his 1776 work ‘The Wealth of Nations’, a treatise on economics which has earned him the title of father of modern economics. He is also remembered as one of the first thinkers to expound the principles of what is now referred to as ‘capitalism’; an economy based upon rational self-interest and a competitive free market in which the ‘invisible hand’ of the market should be trusted. Having enjoyed an illustrious career as a teacher and famed thinker, Smith died at an Edinburgh hospital after a long illness.