March 11th 1864: The Great Sheffield Flood
On this day in 1864 the Dale Dyke Dam in Sheffield broke, causing one of the largest floods in English history. 650 million gallons of water swept down Loxley Valley and through areas of Sheffield. The flood destroyed 800 homes and killed around 293 people, thus making it the largest man-made disaster to befall England, and one of the deadliest floods in history. Individual stories from the disaster are particularly tragic. For example Joseph Dawson found the currents too strong and was unable to save both his wife and two day old baby boy - the Dawsons’ unnamed child became the first victim of the floods. The destruction afterwards led one observer to remark that Sheffield was "looking like a battlefield". Today marks the 150th anniversary of this tragedy, which is often forgotten in English history, and many Sheffielders will take this day to remember what once happened to their city.
150 years ago today
January 10th 1645: Laud executed
On this day in 1645 the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud was executed for treason at the Tower of London. He was appointed to the archbishopric in 1633, during the reign of King Charles I. Laud worked closely with the King, and his tenure was marked by conflict with Puritans. The latter felt so threatened that many set sail for the North American colonies to be free from persecution. His focus on ceremony led to rumours that he held ‘popish’ (Catholic) sympathies and his overbearing dominance of religious policy made him a target of popular hostility. Charles had to call Parliament in 1640, and on 18th December Laud was impeached for high treason by the Commons. By the time of his execution in 1645, the English Civil War was in full swing. Laud was buried in a London church, but after the Restoration his remains were moved to the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford.
January 5th 1066: Edward the Confessor dies
On this day in 1066 the English King Edward the Confessor died aged 62. He was childless, and thus his death sparked a succession crisis. He was eventually succeeded by Harold Godwinson. Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England as later that same year the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, invaded Britain and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Edward, called the Confessor because of his piety, was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1161.
December 11th 1936: Edward VIII abdicates
On this day in 1936, Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne of Great Britain became effective. The King abdicated due to his intention to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American socialite. The Church of England did not allow divorced people to remarry and thus Edward could not marry Simpson and keep the throne. He abdicated the throne after only 326 days, making him the only British monarch to have voluntarily renounced the throne since the Anglo-Saxon period. Edward VIII was never officially crowned King. Edward was succeeded by his younger brother Albert, who became King George VI. George VI’s daughter Elizabeth currently rules as Queen Elizabeth II.
November 16th 1272: Henry III dies
On this day in 1272 the King of England, Henry III, died. He took the throne in October 1216, the son and successor of King John (known for signing the Magna Carta in 1215). King Henry III reigned for 56 years from 1216 until his death in 1272. He spent much of his reign fighting the barons over the Magna Carta and the royal rights, and was eventually forced to call the first ‘parliament’ in 1264. He was succeeded by his son King Edward I of England, who ruled from 1272 to July 1307.
October 25th 1760: George III becomes King
On this day in 1760, George III became King of Great Britain upon the death of his grandfather George II. George III’s reign saw the union of Britain and Ireland in 1801 and several military conflicts. These conflicts included the Seven Years’ War (where Britain defeated France), the American War of Independence (which saw Britain lose its colonies in North America) and the Napoleonic Wars against revolutionary France. George III suffered from mental illness towards the end of his life, which led to a regency being established with his son George, Prince of Wales as Prince Regent. Upon George III’s death in 1820, his son succeeded him and became George IV.
"Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain"
- George III in his accession speech to Parliament
October 9th 1940: Lennon born
On this day in 1940, John Lennon was born in Liverpool to parents Julia and Alfred Lennon. His father left when John was very young and his mother left him in the care of his Aunt Mimi. Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle at 251 Menlove Avenue for most of his childhood and adolescence. Lennon’s first band was called the Quarrymen, which soon added Paul McCartney and George Harrison as members. They became The Beatles in 1960 and spent some time playing in Hamburg. At this time the band also included Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. In 1962 Sutcliffe left and Ringo Starr replaced Best, thus creating ‘The Fab Four’. The Beatles shot to fame in the UK, with many successful chart-topping hits. In 1964 they came to the United States and from there became international stars. The Beatles broke up in 1970 and each pursued solo careers. Lennon released several famous songs as a solo artist, such as ‘Imagine’, ‘Instant Karma!’ and ‘Working Class Hero’. He and his second wife Yoko Ono became prominent activists for peace, demonstrated through their ‘bed-ins’. In December 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman, leaving behind his two sons Julian and Sean. The Beatles are still remembered as one of the greatest bands of all time, and Lennon remains a famous icon today.
Today he would have turned 73.
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”. 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.
January 31st 1606: Guy Fawkes executed
On this day in 1606, Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes) was executed for plotting against the British Parliament and King James I. Fawkes and his gang planned to assassinate the King and restore a Catholic monarch by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, attended by the monarch. The group leased a cellar beneath the House of Lords and Fawkes stockpiled gunpowder there. The authorities were alerted by an anonymous letter and arrested Fawkes on 5th November 1605. He was questioned and tortured and finally revealed their plans. Fawkes was hanged on 31st January. His failure has been commemorated in England ever since when every 5th November, people gather to burn his effigy and observe a fireworks display. He is also remembered through the Guy Fawkes masks worn by political protestors, most recently the Occupy movement and the group ‘Anonymous’.
January 7th 1536: Catherine of Aragon dies
On this day in 1536, Catherine of Aragon died aged 50. Catherine was the first wife of King Henry VIII and was Queen of England from 1509 until 1533. A noble in her own right, Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Her marriage to Henry ended in 1533 when it was annulled. Henry was disappointed that Catherine had given him no male heir and wished to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn instead. The Catholic Church would not allow this, and so Henry split England from the Church and established the Church of England. After the end of her marriage to the King, Catherine lived at Kimbolton Castle, where she died in 1536.
December 29th 1170: Thomas Becket killed
On this day in 1170 Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was assassinated. He became Archbishop in 1162 after the death of Archbishop Theobald of Bec. Becket was killed inside Canterbury Cathedral by men loyal to King Henry II, with whom Becket was in a feud over the rights and privileges of the Church. Becket excommunicated various opponents to his church, which angered the King. It appears that some knights believed the King gave them a command to kill Becket, and thus did so. Becket is considered a saint and a martyr by the Catholic Church.
"For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death"
- Becket’s last words, according to eyewitness Edward Grim
November 23rd 1963: Doctor Who debuts
On this day in 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast by the BBC. The original series starred William Hartnell as the protagonist known only as ‘the Doctor’, a Time Lord who travels through time in his blue police telephone box called the TARDIS with his companions. Since Hartnell, there have been 10 other actors who have played the iconic role, the current being Matt Smith. Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction drama in the world. It remains an immensely popular show, and an integral part of British culture. Today at 7.50pm on BBC One a 50th anniversary special will air.
50 years ago today
October 29th 1618: Sir Walter Raleigh executed
On this day in 1618, English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded. Raleigh is best known for his exploration of North America which paved the way for English colonisation. In 1594 he set off to find the fabled ‘City of Gold’ in South America and his writings contributed to the legend of ‘El Dorado’. Despite having been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1585, Raleigh was not liked by James I and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for alleged conspiracy against the King and executed.
October 22nd 1910: Dr. Crippen convicted
On this day in 1910 Dr. Crippen was convicted of poisoning his wife. He was then hanged at Pentonville Prison in London. Crippen was an American doctor who killed his wife in order to be with his mistress. Upon being questioned about her disappearance he fled with his lover to Brussels. The police then searched his house and found human remains under the basement floor. The captain of the ship taking the fugitives to Brussels recognised them and sent a telegram to the police. Crippen was confronted by disguised police officers on the ship and arrested.
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, most famously creating the National Health Service (NHS). He left office in 1951 after losing to Churchill and the Conservatives. Attlee died of pneumonia at Westminster Hospital in 1967.