It was 135 years ago this month that the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC, declared the Greenwich meridian to be the prime meridian of the world.

The conference had been held at the request US President Chester A Arthur with the aim of finding a “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world”.

Pressure to designate such a prime meridian had been building thanks to the need for navigation purposes as well as the need to create uniform train timetables.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the 1884 conference including Great Britain and the US as well as France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution, fixing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian, was passed on 22nd October. The delegations voted 22 in favour to one against. San Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic, voted against while France and Brazil abstained.

As a result of the decision, the International Date Line was drawn up and the world’s 24 time zones were created.

North America and most European nations had aligned their clocks with Greenwich with 10 years.

The official mean time clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is known as the Shepherd Gate Clock.

PICTURE: The Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory (Alvesgaspar/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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It’s 50 years this month – it was last Thursday, 8th August, in fact – when an iconic photograph featuring the Fab Four on a zebra crossing was taken for cover of the Abbey Road album.

The photograph – which featured (in order) George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon striding across the pedestrian walk in St John’s Wood – was taken by the late Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan.

He apparently climbed onto a ladder in the middle of the street while a policeman held back traffic briefly (there are vehicles driving down the road in the distance in the image).

The entire shoot – which was apparently McCartney’s idea – reportedly took just 10 minutes and saw the band walk across the road six times (the chosen image – said to have been taken at 11:38am – was number five; the only one in which all their legs were in a perfect V shape).

The image carries a particular poignancy for Beatles fans because of the fact that they “officially” broke up less than a year later (the album it featured on, Abbey Road, was released on 26th September, 1969, and was the last recorded by the group even though it was released prior to Let It Be).

As well as being recreated by tourists at the site itself, the image has been reproduced and adapted countless times – including its reproduction on a 64p Royal Mail stamp in 2007 and an adaption involving the Simpsons for a Rolling Stone cover in 2002.

Abbey Road Studios – where the Abbey Road album was recorded – is located just a hop, skip and jump away and has operated a live webcam of the crossing since 2002. (For more on Abbey Road and the origins of its name, see our previous post here).

PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

This year marks 350 years since London’s now famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote the final entry in what was his private diary.

The final entry was written on 31st May, 1669, and mentions a liaison with one Betty Mitchell, a trip on the Thames to Whitehall where he met with the Duke of York, and an outing with his wife Elizabeth and friends to the The World’s End, a drinking house at the western end of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.

Pepys had started writing the diary on 1st January, 1660, at the age of just 26, and over the next nine years, its more than a million words covered some of the critical events including the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 and The Great Fire of 1666.

Many believe that the diary was never intended for a mass readership (although some scholars disagree with this opinion), but, if that was the case, Pepys did take some precautions just in case, using codes for the mistresses he met, for example.

He stopped writing the diary because he assumed he was going blind – he asks in the final sentence for God to help him “prepare all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind”.

You can read Pepys’ final entry and the the complete diary of Pepys online at www.pepysdiary.com.

PICTURE: Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

This month (we’ve just managed to sneak it in) marks the 330th anniversary of the coronation of joint sovereigns, King William III and Queen Mary II – the first and only time such a coronation has ever happened in England.

The two were crowned in a joint – and glittering – ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 11th April, 1689, following what was known as the “Glorious Revolution” in which they assumed the monarchy after Mary’s father, King James, II fled to the continent following William’s invasion in late 1688.

At the coronation, King William took the abbey’s famous Coronation Chair while a second seat was brought in for the Queen.

William also used the coronation regalia which had been created for King Charles II in 1661 but Mary, a monarch in her own right, needed a new set. Given the time constraints (the ceremony was to take place as soon as possible given the uncertain political climate), she ended up using the repurposed regalia created for her step-mother, second wife and consort of King James II, Mary of Modena, as well as some newly created pieces.

Controversially, the ceremony was presided over by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, after William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury – his title meant he would usually undertake such a task, refused to be involved thanks to his support of the now deposed King James II.

Earlier that day, the King and Queen had travelled separately from Whitehall to Westminster – him by barge and she by chair – and after being taken into Westminster Hall, processed, surrounded by dignitaries and to the sound of trumpets, to Westminster Abbey where the ceremony took place.

After the coronation, the newly crowned Sovereigns returned to Westminster Hall where a lavish banquet was held.

PICTURE: William III and Mary II  in part of an image by Dutch printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe (c1690) (via Wikipedia)

It’s 53 years ago this month that the World Cup trophy – offiicially known as the Jules Rimet Trophy – was stolen from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster (OK, it’s not a very round figure, but it’s a fascinating story).

The trophy had arrived in the UK in January for the tournament to be held later that year and was mostly kept at FA headquarters at Wembley. But in March, it went on show at a stamp exhibition being held at the hall (pictured).

Despite being kept under (relatively) constant guard in a glass cabinet, the trophy was discovered missing just after 12pm on 20th March (the crime had apparently occurred while the guards were on a break). Scotland Yard immediately set about investigating the theft but to no avail (the FA, meanwhile, secretly commissioned a replica to be made, just in case the trophy couldn’t be recovered).

A couple of days later Joe Mears, chairman of the FA, received an anonymous package. It contained the removable top lining of the trophy and a demand for £15,000 in return for the trophy. An exchange was to be set up involving codes placed in newspaper personal ads.

The FA chairman then worked with Scotland Yard to set up a false exchange. On 24th March, Flying Squad Detective Inspector Leonard Buggy, posing as Mears, met a former soldier who turned out to be Edward Betchley in Battersea Park, showing him a briefcase filled with newspapers covered with a layer of £5 notes. Betchley then accompanied Buggy in a car, ostensibly driving to pick up the trophy, but he got spooked along the way and jumped out.

Betchley was arrested minutes later but refused to reveal the trophy’s whereabouts, claiming he was just the middleman come to collect the ransom (he was later convicted of demanding money with menaces with the intent to steal).

The trophy was actually discovered a week after it was stolen by a collie-cross named Pickles who found it lying near a neighbour’s car outside the Norwood home of his owner, Thames lighterman David Corbett. Pickles – who went on to become something of a celebrity in his own right appearing in TV shows and even a film, The Spy with a Cold Nose – has, of course, since died (his collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester).

The crime has never been officially solved although there were claims last year that late London gangster Sidney Cugullere and his brother Reg were behind it.

England, meanwhile, did go on to beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final that year. Life, meanwhile, didn’t turn out so well for the trophy. It was stolen again in 1983 in Brazil and this time was not recovered.

PICTURE: David Adams

A small air raid shelter designed for people to erect on their properties in preparation for the expected bombing campaigns of World War II, the first of London’s ‘Anderson’ shelters were rolled out 80 years ago in a backyard garden of a house in Islington on 25th February, 1939.

The shelter’s name comes from Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal and the man tasked with the job of overseeing air-raid preparations across the country. As part of that job, he commissioned engineers to come up with an easy-to-construct, affordable shelter that could be used by the population at large.

The resulting arched-roofed structures, designed to be flexible and absorb the impact when bombs hit, were made from six curved sheets of corrugated steel or iron and, at six feet tall, 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide, could house a family of six. They were designed to be buried under four feet of earth in backyards and the roof covered with a minimum of 15 inches of soil.

The shelters were given out for free to lower income families but those with the means had to buy them for £7. Some chose to incorporate them into their gardens and grew vegetables and plants on top and some decorated them – there were even competitions held for the best looking.

By the time bombs started hitting London in the Blitz, more than 1.5 million of the shelters had been built (and a further 2.1 million were erected as the war raged).

It was expected that families would use them every night but the shelters were found to be cold and damp and often flooded which meant many people only used them when air raid sirens sounded (and some not even then – one 1940 survey apparently found only 27 per cent of Londoners used them).

After the war, most were scrapped for the metal but some of the Anderson shelters were repurposed as garden sheds. A small number of them survive across London.

PICTURE: An intact Anderson shelter sits amid devastation in Poplar caused after a land mine fell a few yards away in in 1941. The three people inside were not hurt. Via Imperial War Museum (© IWM (D 5949))

This month marks 50 years since The Beatles’ final public performance – a seemingly impromptu concert which took place on a Savile Row rooftop on a freezing day in 1969 (but was actually held to record the final scenes of a film they were making).

The unannounced concert on 30th January was only 42 minutes long and featured five songs – including Get Back, I’ve Got A Feeling, One After 909, Dig A Pony and Don’t Let Me Down, some of which were played more than once (as well as various other song snippets).

As well as band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Billy Preston had been brought in as a keyboardist.

The event, described in RollingStone as the band’s first “truly live” performance in more than two years, took place on the roof of the headquarters Apple Corps, then located at 3 Savile Road, which was the corporation the group had founded as an umbrella organisation for its various business ventures including Apple Records.

The performance, which famously ended with John Lennon saying “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition”, was filmed and recorded and 21 minutes of the footage featured in the 1970 documentary, Let It Be.

The Fab Four’s concert was eventually shut down by the Metropolitan Police – located just up the street at number 27 – over noise and traffic issues but no arrests were made (Ringo later wrote about his regret at not being dragged off by them).

 

This month marks the 187 years since the opening of “new” London Bridge – the first bridge built over the Thames in London for more than 600 years.

Designed by John Rennie (who had won a competition, beating the likes of Thomas Telford for the honour), work on the new granite bridge had began in 1825 and was completed in 1831.

It was constructed alongside the medieval bridge which had been first completed in the 13th century and added to over the years since (and was eventually completely demolished after the opening of the ‘new’ bridge).

The ‘new’ bridge, said to have cost £506,000 to construct, was formally opened by King William IV on 1st August, 1831, in an event described by The Times as “the most splendid spectacle that has been witnessed on the Thames for many years”.

The royal party – which included Queen Adelaide – had approached the bridge, lined with flags for the occasion, after setting off from Somerset House amid cheering described as “almost deafening” (to add to cacophony of sound, church bells were rung and cannon fired throughout the day).

Watched by thousands of onlookers (who were entertained by bands at various locations), the royal party had processed their way downstream on the river to the bridge with the royal bargemen wearing new livery specially designed for the occasion. Two parallel lines of rivercraft – including barges and steamers – had gathered along the river to provide a sort of honour guard and ensure they had clear passage.

The royals arrived at the bridge at 4pm and the royal party made their way up red carpeted stairs to the bridge’s City end. Following a short ceremony in which the King was presented by the Lord Mayor of London with the sword and keys to the City of London as well as a specially made gold medal to mark the occasion, their Majesties then walked across from the across the bridge to the Southwark end where entertainments had included the ascension of a hot air balloon.

The King and the royal party then returned to the City end of the bridge to attend a banquet – guests were said to number 1,500 people – held under a pavilion erected atop the new structure.

The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that food was provided by a coffee house proprietor, a Mr Leech, and was said to include 150 hams and tongues, 370 “dishes of chickens”, and 300 turtles as well as 200 fruit tarts and 300 “ice-creams”.

The King and royal party then returned up the river.

Rennie’s bridge was replaced in the mid-20th century with another bridge which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973 and rather than being demolished, was sold to US oil magnate Robert P McCulloch who had it dismantled and shipped to Arizona where it was reconstructed at Lake Havasu City where it can now be seen.

A couple of sections of the bridge survive in London – two of its pedestrian alcoves, one of which can be found in Victoria Park in London’s east and the other at King’s College London.

There is a famous painting – Clarkson Stanfield’s, The Opening of New London Bridge, 1 August 1831 – which captures the moment of the bridge’s opening and is part of the Royal Collection.

PICTURES: Top – ‘A View of the New London Bridge as It Appeared on the 1st August 1831, When Opened by His Majesty, King William the 4th’, Unknown artist, Lithograph on paper, Photo © Tate (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)); Right – The alcove in Victoria Park (Public Domain).

This month marks 38 years since Alexandra Palace, known to many as the ‘People’s Palace’, in north London burned down – for the second time.

The palace – named for Princess Alexandra, wife of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and subsequently nicknamed ‘Ally Pally’ – was originally opened in 1873 as an entertainment and recreation centre inspired by the success of the Crystal Palace in London’s south.

But just 16 days later – having already attracted some 120,000-plus visitors – Alexandra Palace burned down when a fire started in the dome. A second palace complex was opened on the site two years later, on 1st May, 1875, and this palace, which a 1900 Act of Parliament declared was to remain forever available for public use, stood until 1980.

It served various purposes over the years including, of course, hosting various musical and threatrical events as well as hosting shooting events during the 1908 Olympics, acting as an internment camp during World War I, and being used as the transmitting centre for BBC radio and television – a role which saw it, in 1936, become the home of the world’s first regular public television service.

On 10th July, 1980 – having been transferred into the ownership of Haringey Council from the Greater London Council six months earlier and now in the early stages of a renovation project, it caught fire during a jazz festival.

Starting behind the venue’s historic Willis Organ in the Great Exhibition Hall, the fire spread through the roof and destroyed about a third of the building including the hall, Banqueting Suite, former roller rink and theatre dressing rooms. Only the Palm Court and area occupied by the BBC – including the theatre and transmitting tower – escaped damage (interestingly, the burnt out shell of the Great Hall featured in the film 1984, representing Victory Square).

The building was subsequently redeveloped and restored and reopened again on 17th March, 1988. Offering a range of recreational facilities including performance spaces, an ice rink, boating lake and animal enclosure, it now operates as a charitable trust administered by the London Borough of Haringey.

Grade II-listed since 1996, the palace is currently undergoing a £27 million restoration and development project which will see a new public space created in the East Court and allow visitor access to a range of historical artefacts, including photographs and early film, for the first time, as well as see the Victorian-era theatre restored.

The theatre will reopen in December but before that – on 1st September – will host the Proms with the BBC Concert Orchestra performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (the event is already sold out). For more, see www.alexandrapalace.com.

PICTURE: Alexandra Palace today (Dun.can (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

Celebrations were held last week marking the 100th anniversary of the day on which the Representation of People Act was passed, giving women the vote for the first time (well, that who are aged over 30 and who occupied a house – or were married someone who did).

The bill, passed on 6th February, 1918, also extended voting rights to all men aged over 21 (previously it had been restricted to men who owned property) but it wasn’t until 10 years later than women gained the same right.

A further bill was passed in November, 1918, which gave women the right to stand in elections. So when women first cast their votes in the next general election – held in December of that year – several women stood for seats in the House of Commons.

In the end, only one – the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz – was elected but she choose to sit in the Dáil Éireann in Dublin. This meant that the first woman to sit in the House of Commons didn’t do so until December, 1919, when Nancy Astor, elected as the MP for Plymouth Sutton, did so.

PICTURE: Representation of the People Act 1918/Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives


It’s 40 years ago this month since the Concorde – the ultimate in luxury plane travel – set off for the first flight on what would be – for almost three decades, at least – a regular service between London and New York.

The British Airways service between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airports began on 22nd November, 1977 – the same date as regular services between Paris and New York – after a ban on the Concorde landing in New York was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The flight came almost two years after the first commercial flights of the Concorde anywhere in the world had started in January, 1976, between London and Bahrain, and Paris and Rio via Dakar.

With the jets flying at a cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), the journey from London to New York took an average of three-and-a-half hours (compared with seven to eight hours for a subsonic flight). Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a civil aircraft – a flight from New York to London on 7th February, 1996, which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft – BA had seven in service – seated 100 passengers in two cabins – 40 in the front and 60 in the rear – and a crew of nine. The London to New York service (and the return trip) was particularly popular among celebrities.

The London to New York route hosted the last commercial flight of the Concorde on 24th October, 2003.

The decision to stop flying the Concorde followed a July, 2000, tragedy in which an Air France Concorde had crashed while taking off in Paris, killing 109 people on the plane and four on the ground. Safety concerns had seen the planes grounded for more than a year. And when they did finally take to the skies again in November, 2001, the world had witnessed the September 11 terror attacks – a fact which was said to have led a dramatic drop in passenger numbers.  In the end, it was said to be these declining passenger numbers along with the rising maintenance costs of ageing fleets which led to its demise.

One of the retired British Airways Concordes – it was used for spare parts by BA and never used commercially – and the world’s only surviving Concorde simulator, built in 1974, can be found just outside London at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.

There are apparently several supersonic jet passenger planes in development but when – or indeed if – they end up flying the New York to London route remains to be seen.

PICTURES – NOW AND THEN: Top – A Concorde in retirement (Simon Boddy, licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0); Below – The British Airways official handover ceremony in 1976 (Steve Fitzgerald under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2).

This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia

 

great-tea-raceIt’s 150 years ago this month that the ‘Great Tea Race’  of 1866 ended in London with the clipper ship Taeping taking the honours followed just 28 minutes later by the Ariel.

The race, which had started in China, was part of a tradition for ships carrying cargoes of tea from the east to engage in a race to be the first to dock in London – and quite a lucrative one, for it was common for the first ship to arrive to receive a premium of at least 10 per cent (although 1866 was apparently the last time this was offered).

At least 57 ships apparently sailed in the 1866-67 ‘tea season’, departing for Britain from a range of ports including Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. But it was the fastest which gathered the most attention – these chosen clippers set sail for Britain from the Min River, downriver from Foochow (now Fuzhou), in late May, 1866.

As well as the Taeping, launched in 1863 and captained by Donald MacKinnon, and the Ariel, launched only the previous year and captained by John Keay, other favourites in the 1866 race included Fiery CrossSerica and Taitsing.

The race was followed breathlessly in the London press although details were limited – largely due to the time it took for the news to reach London – as the ships set a course which took them through Indonesia via the Sunda Strait and around the southern tip of Africa and up via the Atlantic to the UK.

The Taeping, the race winner, reached London Docks at 9.47pm on 6th September while Ariel arrived at the East India Dock at 10.15pm. The Serica, meanwhile, reached West India Docks at 11.30pm. (It wasn’t to be too unfortunate for the runner-up – Captains McKinnon and Keay had apparently agreed to split the premium of 10 shillings a ton).

Amazingly, this means the three ships – which had all left China on the same tide – had sailed more than 14,000 miles in a race of 99 days yet had managed to dock with just two hours between them.

PICTURE: The Ariel and Taeping, by Jack Spurling (1926)/Wikimedia Commons

FirefightersIt was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).

Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.

The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.

The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).

Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).

By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.

Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.

Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.

For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.

The-London-Gazette

An official public record of the British Government, The London Gazette, initially known as The Oxford Gazette, was first published on 7th November, 1665. 

But its publication didn’t take place in London – rather it was in Oxford (hence its being initially named – The Oxford Gazette) where King Charles II, having fled London due to the plague, ordered the publication to be printed at the University Press.

There’s several reasons behind its publication – one is that courtiers were apparently so worried about the plaque they didn’t even want to touch newspapers from London for fears of contagion of the plaque. But there was also a need, amid the swirl of rumours, gossip and sensationalism found in other publications, for a reputable publication of record (not the least because the introduction of censorship a few years before had suppressed other publications).

Published for the first couple of months under its Oxford masthead, it wasn’t until the following year – on 5th February, 1666 – that the gazette was first published in London (issue 24) after the royal court’s return.

The gazette had unparalleled access to government information – including reports from foreign embassies about what was happening abroad (important when news from overseas was limited), and official reports, including those ‘Mentioned in despatches’ from the War Office and Ministry of Defence.

Adopting the same model, official government gazettes followed in the coming years in Edinburgh (1699) and Dublin (1706 – later The Belfast Gazette). All three, from 1889, were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by The Stationary Office (TSO), on behalf of The National Archives (and is now online as well as in print).

Initially published only a couple of days a week, it is now published every weekday except on Bank Holidays.

Notable events published in The London Gazette include the Great Fire of London in 1665 (issue 85), the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 (issue 2982), the burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 (issue 6569), the announcement of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 (issue 11690), the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a “Gazette Extraordinary” in 1815 (issue 17028), and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (Supplement 40020).

You can see The London Gazette today and back issues as well as to order commemorative editions, head to www.thegazette.co.uk.

St-Michael's-CornhillCredited as “the man who invented Christmas”, Victorian author Charles Dickens’ featured Christmas celebrations in many of his works – but none more so than in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.

Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.

The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.

Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.

The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).

Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).

The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).

William-Wallace-big

This year marks the 710th anniversary of the execution of Scottish rebel William Wallace in Smithfield so we thought we’d take a quick look at the circumstances of that event – made famous in recent times through the movie Braveheart.

William-WallaceFor some eight years, Wallace had been a thorn in the side of the King Edward I, promoting active resistance to his rule in Scotland after Edward forced the abdication and usurption of the crown of John Balliol.

Following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22nd July, 1298, however, Wallace went to France where he attempted to gain French support for rebellion in Scotland but the effort proved ultimately futile and Wallace, back in Britain but refusing to submit to English rule, remained on the run.

At least until he was captured on 5th August, 1305, by Sir John Monteith, who had been made Sheriff of Dumbarton by King Edward I, at Robroyston near Glasgow.

Taken to Carlisle, he was bound hand and foot before being taken south to London in chains.

Wallace’s trial took place on 23rd August that year at Westminster Hall and, despite his protestations that he couldn’t be guilty of treason having never sworn loyalty to the English Crown, a guilty verdict was handed down along with the sentence of a traitor’s death – being hung, drawn and quartered.

Taken to the Tower of London, Wallace was stripped naked and then strapped to a wooden hurdle which was dragged by two horses through the streets via Aldgate to The Elms at Smithfield where he was hanged on a gallows.

Cut down while yet living, he was disembowelled and castrated and his entrails burnt. Wallace was then decapitated and his body cut into quarters which were sent to Berwick, Newcastle, Stirling and Perth as a warning against treason. His tarred head, meanwhile, was put on a pike and set above London Bridge.

A memorial to Wallace can now be found on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at West Smithfield (pictured – for more on that, see our earlier post here).

It was on 9th May, 2015, 800 years ago this year that, in the lead-up to the creation of the Magna Carta in June, King John issued a charter granting the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor.

The charter, which was issued at the Temple – King John’s power base to the west of the City (for more on it, see our earlier post here), was a fairly blatant bid to keep the support of the city.

King-John-CharterKnown simply as the King John Charter, it stated that the barons of the city, “may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present”.

In return, the mayor was required to be presented to the monarch to take an oath of loyalty each year – a practice commemorated in the Lord Mayor’s Show each November.

The charter, which has a particularly good impression of the king’s seal, is currently on display in the City of London’s newly opened Heritage Gallery, located at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The event was one of a series leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in June. Only 10 days after King John issued the charter to the City of London, rebel barons, who have previously taken Bedford, marched on the city to demand their rights and arrived their before the Earl of Salisbury (whom John had ordered to occupy the city).

Aldgate was apparently opened to them by some supporters within the city and the forces of the rebel barons went on to attack the home of royalists as well as those of Jews along with a Jewish burial ground in Barbican – the latter because Jewish moneylenders had lent money to the king.

They later besieged the Tower of London and while they couldn’t take the fortress, their seizure of the city was enough to help force the king to open negotiations late in the month, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, on 27th May  to arrange truce (which, while it was apparently not observed terribly well, did help pave the path to the Magna Carta).

The exhibition at the Heritage Gallery runs until 4th June. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/attractions-museums-and-galleries/guildhall-art-gallery-and-roman-amphitheatre/Pages/Heritage-Gallery.aspx.

PICTURE: City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

The annual Crufts dog show has been making headlines around the world recently (sadly not all for good reasons), so we thought it was a good chance to take a look back at where it all began.

While the event is this year being held in Birmingham, the first Cruft’s Show was actually held in London in the late 1800s.

Crufts-catalogueCharles Cruft – the show’s founder – had left college in 1876 and instead of joining the family’s jewellery business, had taken up employment in Holborn with James Spratt’s business selling ‘dog cakes’ (aka dog biscuits).

While he started off as an office boy, he was soon promoted to travelling salesman and he was soon travelling across Europe. So impressed were his customers that in 1878, just two years after leaving school, he was invited to organise the promotion of the canine section of the Paris Exhibition.

Eight years later in 1886, back in England, he took up the role of managing the Allied Terrier Club Show at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster.

The first show bearing the Crufts name – known then as ‘Cruft’s Great Dog Show’ – followed five years later in 1891 (although this was actually called Cruft’s Seventh Great Dog Show thanks to his involvement with the earlier shows).

Held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington (now a Grade II-listed building) on 11th, 12th and 13th February, the show boasted 2,437 entries spanning 36 different dog breeds.

Among the entries in 1891 were six Pomeranians owned by Queen Victoria – one of them, Gena, placed equal first (apparently the judges didn’t want to mark down the monarch’s dogs!)

It’s not the only landmark Crufts event held in London. In 1948, with Charles Cruft having died 10 years earlier his widow Emma handed over control of the show to the Kennel Club. The first show under the club’s auspices was held at Olympia with 84 different breeds entered (there are now around 200 entered annually). In 1979 the show moved to Earl’s Court before eventually, in 1991, moving to Birmingham.

For more on Crufts, see www.crufts.org.uk

It was in 1265, 750 years ago this month, that a parliament convened by English rebel leader Simon de Montfort, took place in Westminster Hall (exterior pictured below).

The French-born De Montfort, who led a group of rebel barons, was riding high after defeating King Henry III at the Battle of Lewes on 14th May, 1264. While he ruled in the king’s name through a council – having captured both the king and his son Prince Edward, the monarch was no more than a figurehead. De Montfort was effectively the man in charge. Westminster-Hall

In a bid to solidify his hold on the country, he summoned not only the barons and clergy but knights representing counties to a parliament along with – for the first time – representatives from major towns and boroughs like York, Lincoln and the Cinque Ports (the representatives were known as burgesses).

It’s this latter move which led this three month-long parliament to be described as the first English parliament and which has led de Montfort to be described by some as the founder of the House of Commons.

Presided over by King Henry III, the parliament was held in Westminster Hall in London – a city loyal to de Montfort’s cause. It dealt with a range of political matters including the enforcement of a series of government reforms known as the Provisions of Westminster which had been aimed at strengthening baronial rights and the role of courts.

Prince Edward (later King Edward I) managed to escape from de Montfort’s clutches later in 1265 and led forces against de Montfort. The rebel leader was killed at the Battle of Evesham on 4th August, 1265.

The UK Parliament is marking the 750th anniversary of De Montfort’s Parliament with a series of events (along with the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta) – check out www.parliament.uk/2015 for more.