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 2nd 1982: Argentina invades the Falkland Islands
On this day in 1982, Argentine forces landed on the Falkland Islands and occupied the area, which marked the beginning of the Falklands War. The war was the product of long tensions over who possessed the islands, with Argentina claiming ownership and Britain seeing the islands as British territory. Argentine forces landed on the islands and fought the British Royal Marines at Government House, leading to British surrender and thus Argentina seizing control of the Falklands. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a naval task force to attack the Argentinians. The conflict killed 649 Argentinians, 255 Britons and three Falkland Islanders, even though it only lasted 74 days. The war ended with Argentine surrender on 14th June, thus returning the islands to Britain.
March 29th 1871: Royal Albert Hall opens
On this day in 1871 Queen Victoria officially opened the concert hall in London which was named after her late husband Prince Albert. The hall had been initially planned by Albert after the success of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Scott and built by the Lucas Brothers. Work began on the Royal Albert Hall in 1867, six years after Albert’s death and was completed in 1871. At the official opening on March 29th the Queen was so overcome with emotion at the thought of her beloved late husband, she was unable to speak. It was Edward, Prince of Wales who had to announce: “The Queen declares this Hall is now open”. The Royal Albert Hall remains a London landmark and a popular concert venue.
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"
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!
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.
April 1st 2008: BBC announce discovery of flying penguins
On this day in 2008, British newspapers announced an upcoming BBC short film which would showcase its latest groundbreaking discovery. The film, billed as a ‘miracle of evolution’, was hosted by Monty Python legend Terry Jones and made by the uniquely named Prof. Alid Loyas. The remarkable film shows a colony of Adélie Penguins in Antarctica flying the long distance to the warmer climate of South America. The discovery, appearing on April 1st 2008, rocked the scientific world and has brought into question our very understanding of our planet. If we didn’t know penguins could fly, what else lies undiscovered?
Watch the fascinating footage here and marvel at the wonder of the flying penguins
March 27th 1625: Charles I becomes King
On this day in 1625, Charles I became King of England, Scotland and Ireland. He succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father King James I. Charles and his father believed in the divine right of kings to absolute rule. This caused Charles’s struggle for power with Parliament and resentment among his subjects for his seemingly tyrannical actions like taxing without the consent of Parliament and interfering with churches. The English Civil War broke out in the last years of his reign, which pitted the crown against Parliament. Charles was captured by the Parliamentarians and executed for high treason in 1649. The monarchy was then abolished but returned in 1660 with Charles’s son in power.
March 16th 1912: Lawrence Oates dies
On this day in 1912 Lawrence Oates, a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s British team to the South Pole, left his tent never to be seen again. Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition was his second attempt and aimed to become the first group to reach the South Pole. The group succeeded in reaching the Pole on 17th January 1912, only to discover that they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. Sadly, Scott’s entire party of five men died on the return journey. Oates was one of those who died first. He was suffering from severe frostbite and, in an apparent act of self-sacrifice, simply walked out of his tent into a blizzard. He had asked them to leave him behind as his condition worsened, and it is likely he felt that he was holding his group back and limiting their chances for survival. Thus on March 16th he walked out of the tent saying: "I am just going outside and may be some time." The others died soon after and their bodies were found by a search party in November, along with some of their equipment and personal effects. Oates’s body was never found, but he and his companions are remembered as brave men and national heroes.
"We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.”
- Entry in Scott’s diary about Oates
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.