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.
July 12th 1543: Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr
On this day in 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and last wife Catherine Parr at Hampton Court Palace. Henry’s previous wife, Catherine Howard, had been executed on 13th February 1542 on charges of adultery. Of his other four previous wives, he divorced two (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), one was executed (Anne Boleyn) and Jane Seymour died of natural causes. Catherine Parr helped reconcile the King with his daughters and assisted in restoring them to the line of succession. Henry died on 28th January 1547, and thus his last wife outlived him.
July 7th 2005: London bombings
On this day in 2005, a series of suicide bombings took place in the British capital city of London. The attacks were co-ordinated in order to achieve the most damage by striking the city’s busy public transport system at the end of the morning rush hour. At around 8.50am three bombs detonated on Underground trains: one near Liverpool Street station, one near Edgware Road and a third travelling between King’s Cross and Russell Square. The fourth explosion targetted one of London’s iconic red double decker buses and occurred at around 9.50am on a bus in Tavistock Square near King’s Cross. The four bombers responsible were Mohammad Sidique Khan (believed to be the ringleader), Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer. Each used homemade bombs they carried in their rucksacks. Along with the four perpetrators, the attacks killed 52 civilians and injured over 700. The attacks came during the Iraq War in which Britain, alongside the United States, took a leading role. The bombers were radical Muslims and considered the war in the Middle East oppression of their people. They also admired the head of terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda Osama bin-Laden, who was subject of an international search effort in order to bring him to justice for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. The London bombings shook the Western world as well as Britain itself, for whom the 7/7 attacks were the country’s first suicide attack (previous terrorist attacks included the 1988 Lockerbie bombing). The incident also raised concerns over domestic terrorism (as all four attackers were British citizens, not foreign agents) and London’s security, especially as they came a day after London won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I don’t know what heaven looks like but I have just seen hell"
- a young policeman at the Russell Square scene
July 5th 1948: NHS launched
On this day in 1948, the National Health Service came into effect in the United Kingdom. Ideas for a nationalised health system had been around for decades before 1948, but it was not until then that they became a reality for British citizens. The Labour government of Clement Attlee, elected in 1945, were committed to the principles of the welfare state. They were greatly influenced by the 1942 Beveridge Report, which recommended social reform to tackle the five ‘Giant Evils’ of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Thinkers around Britain thus came to see healthcare as a fundamental universal right, not a privilege held by a few. Working with these ideas, the government passed the National Health Service Act in 1946, which came into effect on July 5th 1948 and created the NHS in England and Wales (Scotland’s was created separately). The creation of the NHS led to universal health care in the United Kingdom, paid for through central taxation, ending the requirement that patients pay directly for their own healthcare. It radically restructured the British health care system, with the NHS taking control of the almost half a million hospital beds in England and Wales and placing almost all hospitals and staff under its jurisdiction. Despite ongoing debates over the efficiency, cost and structure of the NHS, it remains a central feature of the British welfare state. As seen with its celebration during the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, the NHS is a point of national pride for Britain. Indeed, according to a recent study, thanks to the NHS Britain has the best healthcare system out of eleven of the world’s wealthiest nations, with the United States in last place.
66 years ago today
June 18th 1940: Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’ speech
On this day in 1940, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous 'Finest Hour' speech in the House of Commons. The speech came at the end of the Battle of France during World War Two, after France had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany. In this speech, Churchill called for Britain to prepare for its role in defending the world from the Nazis; he called for people to make this ‘Darkest Hour’, after the fall of a key ally, into a ‘Finest Hour’. After making the speech to the Commons, Churchill recorded it to be broadcast to the British people over the radio.
"the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin…Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
June 8th 793: Viking invasion of England begins
On this day in 793, Vikings raided the abbey at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, thus beginning the Scandinavian invasion of England. The abbey was a famous centre of learning across the continent, and many of the resident monks were killed by the Vikings and the abbey’s treasures were taken. The invasion shocked the Christian West and alerted Europe to the Viking threat; many consider it the beginning of the Viking Age.
“Never before has such an atrocity been seen”
- Alcuin of York, 793
June 1st 1967: Sgt. Pepper released
On this day in the 1967 the British band The Beatles released their iconic album 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. Their eighth album, Sgt. Pepper was an experimental piece as one of the world’s first concept albums, and represented a marked break from the Beatles’ earlier work. The concept of the album came from Paul McCartney and is that the album is being performed by a fictional band - the titular ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Each Beatle took on a new persona in the band, most prominently drummer Ringo Starr as Billy Shears. Having decided to stop touring in 1966, the band were freer to write songs that would be difficult to play live, including the famous ‘A Day In The Life’. Other songs on the album have acquired equally legendary status, including ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. The album cover was designed by artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth based on a sketch by McCartney, and featured cut-outs of famous figures. The figures depicted include Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Peel, Stuart Sutcliffe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and wax versions of the Beatles themselves; John Lennon was denied his request to feature Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. Sgt. Pepper was an instant success, spending 22 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and winning four Grammy Awards; it is still considered one of the band’s best albums and one of the greatest albums of all time.
May 20th 1806: John Stuart Mill
On this day in 1806, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill was born in London. Mill hailed from a prominent family, and received a stellar education in his youth; he was reading Herodotus and Aesop by the time he was eight years old. This strenuous study later contributed to a nervous breakdown he suffered in his early twenties. Mill spent some time working for the East India Company, all the while developing his Utilitarian philosophy which was inspired by the works of Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism is the philosophy that the moral course of action is the one which would bring about the most total pleasure and minimise suffering; it is essentially the doctrine of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. Mill’s Utilitarianism took a more qualitative approach to pleasure in comparison to the quantitative Bentham. Having published his important work ‘On Liberty’ in 1859, Mill became an MP for Westminster in 1865, and was actively involved in liberal politics. In 1869 he published ‘The Subjection of Women’, a statement of feminism which was considered radical at its time, and was the first MP to call for female suffrage. Along with his wife Harriet, who was a huge influence on Mill’s thinking, he was a prominent advocate of social reform and left behind a great corpus of philosophical writings and social commentary. Mill died in 1873, and was buried alongside his wife who had died in 1858.
"It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"
- John Stuart Mill in ‘Utilitarianism’ (1861)
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.
July 9th 1877: First Wimbledon began
On this day in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament took place for the first time. The competition is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and has been held in London annually since 1877. The first championship only included a men’s singles competition and only saw 22 competitors; in 1877 Spencer Gore became the first Wimbledon champion. It is often considered the most prestigious tennis competition in the world. In 2013, the women’s champion was Marion Bartoli of France and the men’s champion was Andy Murray. Murray was the first male British champion in 77 years. This year’s men’s final winner was Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and the female champion was Czech Petra Kvitova.
July 6th 1483: Richard III crowned
On this day in 1483, Richard III was crowned King of England. He had previously served as protector of the realm for his nephew the 12 year old King Edward V. Supposedly to protect him in the run up to his coronation, Richard had the young king and his brother lodged in the Tower of London. However Richard claimed the throne for himself and soon after his coronation ‘the Princes in the Tower’ disappeared; many believe Richard had them killed in order to consolidate his claim to the throne. Richard’s reign, and indeed much of that of his predecessors, was dominated by the Wars of the Roses. These wars for the throne were fought during the mid to late 15th century between the houses of Lancaster and York, both rival factions of the royal House of Plantagenet. Richard III was a Yorkist and contributed to many of his house’s early victories in the conflict, helping ensure his brother and then his nephew’s reign. However, Richard III was destined to become the last king of both the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty itself. He was defeated by the forces of Lancastrian Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. Richard III was killed in battle, the last English monarch to be so, allowing Henry to become King and begin the rule of the Tudors. The hastily buried remains of Richard III were lost for centuries, until an excavation in 2012 found his skeleton under a car park in the city of Leicester.
June 19th 1937: J.M. Barrie dies
On this day in 1937 the Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie died in London aged 77. Barrie is best known for his creation of Peter Pan. Originally a play entitled Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which later became the novel Peter and Wendy, they told the story of a boy’s adventures in ‘Neverland’ with his friends and their encounters with the villainous Captain Hook. The aspiring writer was inspired to write this most famous work by his relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family. Whilst Barrie wrote other plays and novels, the adventures of Peter Pan remain his most famous, and earned him numerous honours in his lifetime including some bestowed by King George V. Before his death, Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for children.
June 9th 1870: Charles Dickens dies
On this day in 1870, the English writer Charles Dickens passed away aged 58 following a stroke. Dickens wrote some popular and famous works such as Bleak House, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. He died leaving his final novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) unfinished, leaving the identity of the story’s murderer unknown. Due to his status as a literary giant of his age, Dickens was buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey rather than the “unostentatious” service he desired. His work is still celebrated and widely read today.
"He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world."
- Epitaph for Charles Dickens
June 2nd 1840: Thomas Hardy born
On this day in 1840, the British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England. Hardy is best known for his novels ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and ‘Jude the Obscure’ and his poems ‘Convergence of the Twain’, ‘The Darkling Thrush’ and ‘Under the Waterfall’. Hardy and his first wife Emma had an unhappy marriage, as they later rarely talked. However, upon her death in 1912 Hardy was filled with remorse for his treatment of her and wrote many poems about her. When Hardy died in 1928, despite his wishes to be buried next to Emma, the executor of his will wanted him placed in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. As a compromise, Hardy’s ashes were placed in Poets’ Corner, and his heart was buried with Emma.
May 23rd 1701: Captain Kidd executed
On this day in 1701 the Scottish pirate William Kidd was executed in England. Kidd, born in Dundee around 1654, enjoyed a successful career as a seaman before his turn to piracy. In May 1696 Kidd set sail charged with the job of hunting pirates and attacking enemy French ships as a privateer. However whilst on this voyage around the Indian Ocean, Kidd and his crew began plundering treasure ships. During his time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner on his ship, contributing to his fearsome piratical reputation. Their main prize was the Quedagh Merchant which carried a wealth of gold, silk and spices - the haul from this came to around £15,000, a huge amount of money for this period. As news broke in England of Kidd’s activities, his wealthy and powerful patrons at home scrambled to condemn him. He was eventually arrested in New York, where he had gone with hopes of support from his powerful contacts there, insisting he was innocent and had acted only as a privateer. Whilst he gave up some of his buried treasure on Gardiners Island, he claimed he had more buried somewhere else; would-be treasure hunters have been searching for his haul ever since. Kidd was put on trial for piracy in England, in what became a public spectacle due to his prominent connections, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On May 23rd, Kidd was hanged on the River Thames in London and his body encased in an iron cage and left to rot as a warning to other pirates.