April 16th 1889: Charlie Chaplin born
On this day in 1889 the famous silent film star Charlie Chaplin was born in London. Chaplin came from a musical family, but his family fell on hard times and he spent his childhood on the streets of London. This hardship did nothing to abate the young Chaplin’s aspiration to be an actor. He began to secure roles on stage, securing a reputation as a fine comic actor. Chaplin moved to the United States in 1913 to embark on a promising film career. Soon after arriving he established the character that would make him famous: ‘the Tramp’. The character, a bumbling vagrant, featured in over 10 of Chaplin’s films. This role threw Charlie Chaplin to international prominence, and he soon earned a huge salary of $670,000 a year - a vast amount even now; he had come a long way from his poverty-stricken youth in London. He continued to star in films, notably ‘The Great Dictator’ in 1940 which parodied Adolf Hitler. Chaplin’s popularity waned as he faced controversy in the United States when he was accused of being a communist. However he enjoyed a renewed appreciation by the 1970s, winning an honorary Oscar in 1972. Chaplin died in 1977 aged 88 in Switzerland, where he had moved in the early 1950s after being banned from the States.
April 10th 1998: Good Friday Agreement signed
On this day in 1998 in a major development of the Northern Ireland peace process, British and Irish representatives signed the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast. It was signed by Irish leader Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the talks were led by former US Senator George Mitchell (D-ME). The agreement followed years of historic conflict and negotiation. The agreement included plans for a Northern Ireland Assembly and a pledge by both sides to use peaceful means of conflict resolution. It set out the present constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom but with a devolved government. The agreement was approved by Irish voters in a referendum and came into force in December 1999.
"Today I hope that the burden of history can at long last start to be lifted from our shoulders"
- Tony Blair
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
April 15th 1989: Hillsborough Disaster
On this day in 1989, 25 years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, United Kingdom. A human crush during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium led to the deaths of 96 people. The victims were mostly Liverpool fans, as the two sides were allocated separate sections of the stadium. The Liverpool area was overcrowded, with the police letting in more spectators than the stadium could contain and making exits into additional entries. The game only lasted six minutes, as the mass of people broke the crush barrier. The incident proved very controversial at the time and still today. The authorities initially tried to cover up the police negligence and blamed the fans for the disaster, claiming they were mostly violent drunkards who rushed the field. Stories swirled accusing the spectators of attacking police officers and each other. However, subsequent investigations revealed the level of police culpability. These concluded that: the fans were not responsible for the disaster; the authorities did try to cover-up what happened; many of the deaths could have been avoided if they had received prompt medical treatment (only 14 of the victims went to hospital); and the findings have led to the abolition of standing spaces in British football stadiums. On the 25 year anniversary, we mourn one of the worst stadium disasters in history and the tragically avoidable deaths of the 96.
March 25th 1811: Shelley expelled from Oxford
On this day in 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing a pamphlet entitled ‘The Necessity of Atheism’. Shelley is best known as a famous English poet, who was part of a group of fellow prominent writers including his wife Mary Shelley and Lord Byron. As well as being as being an author, Shelley was a radical political activist who advocated non-violent protest. Having begun study at Oxford in 1810, it is often said that he only attended one lecture during his time there. He published several works whilst at university, but it was his atheistic pamphlet which led to his appearance before the College fellows and his eventual expulsion as he refused to deny authorship. ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ argued that people do not choose their beliefs and thus atheists shouldn’t be persecuted. However it is unclear whether Shelley was personally an atheist; he may have instead been an agnostic or a pantheist. Either way, this document is an interesting insight into Shelley’s views and shows how atheism was stigmatised in the early nineteenth century.
"Truth has always been found to promote the best interests of mankind. Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity"
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.