February 22nd 1857: Robert Baden-Powell born
On this day in 1857, the founder of the Scout movement Robert Baden-Powell was born in Paddington, London. Baden-Powell began his career as a lieutenant-general in the British Army; he fought in the Boer War and served in the colonial force in India and Africa. In 1907 he held the first Scout camp on Brownsea Island. After the success of this he published ‘Scouting for Boys’ a year later, which was billed as a ‘Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship’. The Scout Movement grew from there, establishing an equivalent for girls in 1910 and is now a worldwide phenomenon. Scouts and Guides continue to learn outdoors skills and get involved with nature and the community.
February 8th 1855: ‘Devil’s Footprints’ appear
On this day in 1855, heavy snowfall hit southern Devon in the United Kingdom. The next morning locals awoke to find a mysterious set of footprints in the snow. The footprints were in single file in the shape of cloven hooves and supposedly stretched for hundreds of miles, going through walls, houses and over water and rooftops. The single file footprints suggested a creature on two legs rather than four and the cloven shape fitted with contemporary imagery of the Devil. Satan is traditionally pictured with cloven hooves, as it was adapted from a pagan deity, and the wings represent Lucifer’s nature as a fallen angel. There have been numerous theories put forward (beyond the supernatural), from escaped kangaroos, a hot air balloon dangling a rope, to roaming badgers. It is unlikely the footprints were faked, though their appearance did certainly benefit the Devon clergy as the churches were filled with people terrified by the Devil. The mystery remains unsolved to this day, but modern thinkers tend to reject the notion that the Devil traversed across 19th century Devon.
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 15th 1759: British Museum opens
On this day in 1759, the British Museum was first opened to the public in London. The museum was based on the collections left to the nation by physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane who intended for his possessions to be put on public view. Parliament established the British Museum in June 1753. The collection was housed in a 17th century mansion called Montagu House in Bloomsbury. The original items included items from Aztec Mexico, Ancient Egypt and Japan. The most popular items were the Egyptian mummies. The British Museum is still a major attraction in London with its sizeable collection of artefacts from around the world.
255 years ago today
Check out today’s Google Doodle celebrating the Museum!
January 11th 1928: Thomas Hardy dies
On this day in 1928, the British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy died aged 87. 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’. His novels were mostly set in the fictional region of Wessex. Hardy and his first wife Emma had an unhappy marriage, as latterly they 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.
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 28th 1919: Astor elected
On this day in 1919, Nancy Astor was elected as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, making her the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. Lady Astor represented the Conservative Party and was the wife of Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor. She sat in Commons from 28th November 1919 to 5th July 1945. She worked to bring more women into the civil service, the police force, education reform, and the House of Lords.
February 9th 1964: Beatles on Ed Sullivan
On this day in 1964, the British band the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the USA. This performance, watched by a record 73 million (around 40% of the American population), began the so-called ‘British Invasion’. On February 7th the Beatles had arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to a crowd of over 4,000. They were beginning to take off in America, with their hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ having risen to number 1 in the charts. At the Ed Sullivan Show, the band performed hits such as ‘All My Loving’ and ‘She Loves You’. The Beatles were already popular in their native Britain, but their success in America forever established them as an internationally famous band. Thus the performance on the Ed Sullivan Show prompted the spread of ‘Beatlemania’ worldwide.
50 years ago today
February 5th 1788: Robert Peel born
On this day in 1788 the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Robert Peel, was born. Peel was born in Bury, Lancashire and his father was a famous industrialist and Member of Parliament. Peel was educated at Oxford, and entered politics at the young age of 21 in 1809. Peel became Home Secretary in 1822, and served for the duration of the ‘liberal’ government of Lord Liverpool until 1827. As Home Secretary, Peel created the modern police force, leading to officers being known as ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’ after him. Peel became Prime Minister in 1834, and again in 1841. As Prime Minister, Peel repealed the Corn Laws and issued the Tamworth Manifesto which led to the formation of the modern Conservative Party.
January 22nd 1924: MacDonald becomes Prime Minister
On this day in 1924 Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. MacDonald came to power in 1924, having earned public respect for his opposition to the First World War. His first government had a minority in Parliament and thus relied on support of the Liberals. His government lasted nine months, and was defeated in the 1924 General Election. MacDonald returned to power in 1929, and faced the challenges of the Great Depression. His party was divided over the issue, and in 1931 MacDonald formed a National Government, with a majority of Conservative MPs. Therefore MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party for his ‘betrayal’. Since MacDonald, the Labour Party have established themselves as a major party in the UK. Labour Prime Ministers have included Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
January 12th 1895: National Trust founded
On this day in 1895 the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, a conservation society, was founded in the United Kingdom. It operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They own many historic houses and gardens, industrial monuments and social history sites. The Trust was founded on 12th January 1894 by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter, and Hardwicke Rawnsley. They were originally concerned with protecting open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings. The National Trust continues to operate today to preserve Britain’s past, and its sites attract thousands of visitors. Its sites include Sutton Hoo (two 6th and early 7th century burial sites in Suffolk), St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall, and 251 Menlove Avenue & 20 Forthlin Road in Liverpool (childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney respectively).
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.
December 30th 1865: Rudyard Kipling born
On this day in 1865, the English writer Rudyard Kipling was born. Kipling was born in Bombay and in later life wrote frequently about British soldiers in India. However he is best known for his book for children ‘The Jungle Book’. ‘The Jungle Book’ is a collection of short stories and was published in 1894.The book inspired the 1967 Disney film. Kipling was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. Kipling died in 1936 aged 70.
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.