Which anniversaries were marked in Britain in 2018? The end of public hanging, votes for women, the first traffic light, the Roman invasion and Mick Jagger’s 75th birthday? Have a quick scan through the eclectic list of selected events below: though some may have slipped your mind, each one was on someone’s British calendar for 2018. There’s a lot of information here – either scroll randomly, or click on a year that interests you from the choices below.
The Roman invasion
The Romans under Julius Caesar had attacked the island of Britain in 55 and 54BC, but in 43AD, 1,975 years ago, the Emperor Claudius dispatched General Aulus Plautius to conquer Britain properly. The Romans came in the summer, landing at Richborough, Kent. By about 47AD, the land south east of a line roughly from the mouth of the Severn to the Humber was under Roman control. By 80AD, most of what is now England and Wales had been pacified and, in c84AD, the Caledonian tribes in what would become Scotland were also beaten. However, the Romans eventually settled the border of their northern province at Hadrian’s Wall (built from 122AD) between the Tyne and the Solway. Roman rule lasted the best part of 400 years, and traces of it can be found in most parts of Britain, but their civilisation was swept away and you could argue that their most lasting legacy is the wall that divided the island into two.
668AD – 1,350th anniversary of:
Theodore becoming Archbishop of Canterbury
Theodore of Tarsus (602–690) promoted peace between Mercia and Northumbria, but is best known for the establishment of a centralised English church under the Archbishopric of Canterbury.
843AD – 1,175th anniversary of:
Kenneth MacAlpine uniting Picts and Scots
The origins and achievements of Kenneth MacAlpine (Cináed mac Ailpín) are uncertain, but the popular myth is that he became the first king of Scotland in 843AD. In fact, the idea of Scotland lay in the future. Kenneth MacAlpine was probably a warlord of Gaelic and/or Pictish ancestry who became king of the Picts in 843 and who possibly united the people of Dál Riata (or Dalriada), in the west of modern Scotland, with the people of Pictland in the north and east against a common foe, the Viking Norsemen. Kenneth MacAlpine’s descendents became kings of Scotland.
The Danes, part of a great army commanded by Halfdan and Ivarr the Boneless that had invaded in 865 and defeated Northumbria in 867, invaded the Kingdom of Mercia in 868. They were initially bought off by the payment of Danegeld – essentially, blackmail, or an early form of taxation.
1018AD – 1,000th anniversary of:
The Battle of Carham
Sources for the Battle of Carham are scarce, so facts – including the date – are uncertain. Carham is near Coldstream, on the River Tweed. It is said that the King of Alba/Scotland, Malcolm II Forranach (the Destroyer), combined with Owen the Bald, King of Strathclyde, to defeat the Anglo-Saxon Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria. Though Cnut of England later defeated Malcolm, the Battle of Carham appears to have settled the oft-disputed Lothian/Borders area and placed the English/Scots boundary along the River Tweed.
1543 – 475th anniversary of:
Laws in Wales
The second Laws in Wales Act of 1543 tightened the provisions of the Act of 1536, often incorrectly referred to as the ‘Act of Union’ between England and Wales, which abolished the powerful Marcher Lords, established Welsh administrative areas and MPs and aimed to harmonise Welsh administration and law with English.
The start of the ‘Rough Wooing’
On 1st July 1543, following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542, the English and Scots concluded the Treaty of Greenwich, which made peace and agreed to a union of the crowns by the marriage of the infant Queen Mary of Scotland (born 8th December 1542) and Henry VIII of England’s heir, Prince Edward (born 12th October 1537). The Scottish Parliament repudiated the agreement in December and Henry set about achieving his objectives – which included neutralising Scotland as an ally of France – by force. Scotland was invaded in 1544, but Henry’s extremely violent attempt to force an alliance with Scotland ultimately failed and peace was concluded in 1551. In Scotland, the Rough Wooing is known as the ‘Eight’ or ‘Nine Years’ War’.
Henry and Catherine Parr were married at Hampton Court on 12th July. Catherine was Henry’s sixth, and final, wife and outlived him. He died on 28th January 1547. Catherine was married again, to Thomas Seymour in 1547 and died after giving birth to her only child, Mary, in 1548.
Mary Stuart crowned Queen of Scots
Mary Stuart was crowned the Queen of Scots in the chapel in Stirling Castle on 9th September at just nine months old.
1568 – 450th anniversary of:
Mary, Queen of Scots visiting England
Mary, Queen of Scots escaped from imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle on 2nd May. On 13th May, her forces were defeated at the Battle of Langside in Glasgow by a protestant army commanded by James Stewart, Earl of Moray, her half-brother. On 16th May 1568, Mary sought refuge in England. She never returned to her native Scotland and was executed at Fotheringhay in 1587.
1618 – 400th anniversary of:
Sir Walter Raleigh’s execution
Walter Raleigh, soldier, explorer, scholar, Member of Parliament, one-time favourite of Queen Elizabeth, believer in the legendary land of El Dorado and the man credited for introducing tobacco and potatoes to Britain (though they were almost certainly known before), was executed for treason on 29th October 1618.
1643 – 375th anniversary of:
1643 was the height of the so-called English Civil War, which had broken out the previous year, and the year was dominated by fighting between forces either loyal to Parliament or the King. Possibly the most significant engagement was the Battle of Newbury on 20th September, which was a Parliamentary victory.
The Solemn League and Covenant
In August/September, an agreement, known as the Solemn League and Covenant, between the English and Scottish parliaments provided Scottish military aid against the Royalist forces of the King, Charles I, in return for Scottish Presbyterianism being adopted in England.
Birth of Isaac Newton
1718 – 300th anniversary of:
The War of the Quadruple Alliance
Britain, France, the Holy Roman Empire and the United Provinces (Dutch Republic) allied against Spain (seems a bit unfair).
Transportation to the Colonies
The Transportation Act of 1718 created the punishment of penal transportation as an alternative to capital punishment. This allowed the transportation of certain convicted offenders to the American colonies for a period of seven years, a practice which ceased with the outbreak of hostilities between American rebels and the British in 1776. Transportation resumed in 1787, but to a new destination – Australia.
1743 – 275th anniversary of:
The last time a British monarch led his troops into battle
The Battle of Dettingen was fought on 27 June 1743 on the banks of the River Main in Germany. King George II commanded an alliance of 40,000 British, Hanoverian, and Austrian troops against a larger French army, forcing it back across the Main and, finally, across the River Rhine.
1768 – 250th anniversary of:
James Cook’s first voyage of discovery
Lieutenant (as he was at the time) James Cook left Plymouth in command of HMS Endeavour on 26th August 1768, heading for Tahiti where he was to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. From there, he proceeded to New Zealand, mapping the entire coastline; he then proceeded on to the east coast of Australia and Botany Bay, which he named.
“On a winter’s day in 1768, architect Sir William Chambers visited the king, George III. He brought with him a petition signed by 36 artists and architects including himself, all of whom were seeking permission to ‘establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design’. What’s more, they also proposed an annual exhibition and a School of Design. Lucky for us, the King said yes. And so the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy Schools, and what you know today as the Summer Exhibition, were born.” From the Royal Academy’s website. The first president of the Royal Academy was Joshua Reynolds.
The Foundation of the Leeds Library
The Leeds Library is the oldest surviving example of the proprietary subscription library in Britain, a library created, owned and run by its members. Though books were being published in greater numbers, they were expensive and there were no free public libraries. The aim of the Leeds Library and other subscription libraries was to acquire new books that their members wished to read and to collect them perpetually so that their collections would increase in size and value. Most of the books were available for loan.
First publication of Publication of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Now only available online, the Encyclopædia Britannica was first published in Edinburgh edited by William Smellie. It is one of the most enduring legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment.
1818 – 200th anniversary of:
The first human blood transfusion
After experiments with dogs, Dr James Blundell (1790-1878), an obstetrician, performed the first successful transfusion of human blood to a patient (husband to wife) for treatment of a haemorrhage. NB Some sources suggest this did not occur until 1829.
Settling the boundary between Canada and the United States
A convention between the United States and the United Kingdom established the northern boundary between what was then British North America and the USA. The treaty also dealt with fishing rights and the return of slaves to the US, or compensation for them, arising from the War of 1812.
Publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion
Jane Austen’s novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were first published in one volume, posthumously, in December 1817, though the publication date is given as 1818.
Publication of Frankenstein
The first edition of the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was published anonymously in London on 1st January 1818.
Emily Jane Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights (published 1847), was born in Thornton, Bradford, on 30th July 1818. She died in Haworth on 19th December 1848.
Birth of Karl Marx
Marx, one of the most influential political theorists of modern times and author of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, was born in Trier, Prussia (now Germany) on 5th May 1818. He has been included here because he lived in London from 1849, and died there in 1883. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery where his grave is, famously, a communist plot.
1843 – 175th anniversary of:
The world’s first underwater tunnel
The Thames Tunnel, between Rotherhithe and Wapping in London, took 18 years to build and was opened to the public on 25th March 1843. Conceived by Marc Isambard Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, both father and son worked on the tunnel’s innovative construction. It was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but was never used for that purpose and since 2010 has formed part of the London Overground railway network.
William Wordsworth as Poet Laureate
Wordsworth accepted the position following the death of the previous holder, his friend Robert Southey (1774-1843).
The launch of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship
Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, SS Great Britain’s official launch ceremony took place in Bristol on 19th July 1843 and was attended by Prince Albert. SS Great Britain is now a museum ship.
The last woman to be publicly executed in England
Sarah Dazley, the Potton Poisoner, was hanged outside Bedford Prison on 5th August for the murder of her second husband. She almost certainly murdered her first husband and small son too.
First publication of The Economist
Nelson’s Column is the centrepiece for Trafalgar Square and commemorates one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes, Horatio Nelson, victor of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It is said that 25% of the cost was met by the Tsar of Russia.
The world’s first Christmas cards
Commissioned by Sir Henry Cole from the designer John Callcott Horsley.
A Christmas Carol was published
Charles Dickens’s classic tale of Scrooge was published in December 1843. His novel Martin Chuzzlewit was also published earlier in the year.
1868 – 150th anniversary of:
The last penal transportation from Britain to Australia
Convict ship Hougoumont left Portsmouth on 12th October 1867 with 280 convicts and 108 passengers on board, and arrived at Freemantle, Western Australia, on 9th January 1868.
Fenian (Irish Republican) bomber Michael Barrett was hanged on 26th May outside Newgate Prison in London for his part in the Clerkenwell explosion of 1867, which killed 12 people and injured many more.
On 29th May, the Capital Punishment Amendment Act abolished public hanging in Britain (these days, we have reality TV). On 13th August, 18-year old Thomas Welles was the first person to be hanged away from public gaze, in Maidstone Prison, Kent. Welles had shot his boss, Station master Edward Walsh, in the head.
The first Trades Union Congress
The first TUC meeting was held in Manchester on 2nd June. Among other things, it resolved “that it is highly desirable that the trades of the United Kingdom should hold an annual congress, for the purpose of bringing the trades into closer alliance, and to take action in all Parliamentary matters pertaining to the general interests of the working classes”.
The Press Association was founded in London
Whitaker’s Almanack was first published
The world’s first traffic lights
The world’s first traffic lights were installed on 9th December 1868 at Parliament Square in London, to control traffic on Great George Street, Bridge Street and Parliament Street. They were operated by a police officer, with semaphore-type flags for daylight hours and red and green gas lamps at night. Apparently, they did the job; but they exploded on 2nd January 1869. Modern traffic lights were an American innovation and did not appear in Britain until 1925, in London at the junction between St James’s Street and Piccadilly. They too were operated manually by policemen. Automatic signals, working on a time interval, were installed in Wolverhampton in 1926.
Birth of Scott of the Antarctic
Birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, influential designer and more, was born in Townhead, Glasgow, on 7th June 1868. He died in London in 1928.
1918 – Centenaries, 2018
1918 was the fourth and final year of the First World War. Inevitably, many of the anniversaries that will be remembered in Britain in 2018 involve that conflict. For an overview of WW1 and Britain’s part in it, see Britain and the First World War.
The world’s first purpose-designed aircraft carrier
The keel of the world’s first purpose-designed aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes, was laid down on 15th January at Armstrong Whitworth’s works on Tyneside. However, due to design changes and other delays, Hermes was not the first aircraft carrier to go into service – that was the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Hōshō, in 1922.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 on 6th February gave women over 30 the vote provided they were, or were married to, a local government elector, or were a property owner. The franchise was also extended to all male resident householders over the age of 21 and restricted elections to a single day.
Last German offensive of WW1
On 3rd March, a Russo-German peace treaty was concluded at Brest-Litovsk (in modern Belarus). In the early hours of 21st March, the Germans launched a massive offensive on the Western Front. Using new storm trooper tactics and with numbers swelled by soldiers switched from the Eastern Front, they broke the British and French lines and drove the Allies back. The Germans gambled on victory before the huge material resources of the United States, whose inexperienced troops had yet to be seriously deployed following America’s entry into the war the previous year, would make German defeat inevitable. By the summer, the offensive ran out of steam and came up against more organised opposition. The Allies and US forces counter-attacked, forcing the Germans to retreat beyond their original starting point.
Formation of the Royal Air Force
The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged on 1st April, to create the Royal Air Force.
The flu pandemic
The influenza pandemic of 1918-20 killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. About 228,000 died in Britain. The virus is said to have originated in China, but it emerged in different places across the globe in the spring of 1918. Soldiers on the Western Front called it ‘la grippe’. The first case in Britain appears to have been in Glasgow in May, but it was highly contagious and spread rapidly across the whole country. Death could occur within hours of the symptoms appearing, there was no treatment – you either survived, or you didn’t – and medical services were overwhelmed. It is sometimes known as ‘the Spanish flu’ in Britain, allegedly because Spain was particularly badly affected with an estimated 8 million deaths. Children chanted a rhyme:
I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window,
End of the Penny Post
On 3rd June, the General Post Office ended the Penny Post which had existed since 1840. The universal postal rate for an ordinary letter rose to 1½d (less than 1p).
Disaster at Nottinghamshire munitions factory
Eight tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) exploded at the National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, a village just outside Nottingham, on 1st July. Of the 134 people killed, only 32 could be positively identified.
Sinking of the Carpathia
On 17th July, RMS Carpathia, the ship famous for rescuing the survivors of the Titanic in 1912, was torpedoed and sunk about 120 miles off the south east coast of Ireland by Imperial German Navy U-boat SM U-55. 5 crew members died, 218 people, including 57 passengers, were rescued.
The school leaving age increased
In August, the school leaving age in England and Wales was increased to 14.
Intervention in Russia’s civil war
With civil war raging in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution, the Allies dispatched forces to Russia to prevent supplies reaching Germany, in support of Czechoslovak troops fighting the Central Powers and to support the anti-Bolshevik White Armies. Troops were sent by Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, France, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, in August 1918, British forces occupied the vital port of Archangel, in northern Russia and, with units moved from Persia (Iran), also occupied Baku on the Caspian Sea, challenging both Bolshevik and German troops in the Caucasus. Apart from the Japanese, Allied troops withdrew in 1919.
First performance of Holst’s Planets
The first performance of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, conducted by Adrian Boult, took place before an invited audience on 29th September at the Queen’s Hall in London.
Stonehenge donated to the nation
Sir Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb (1876-1934) donated Stonehenge to the Government on 26th October, subject to the public having free access to every part, on the payment of a reasonable sum per head not exceeding one shilling (5p) per visit.
The end of the First World War
Broken economically, militarily, and facing revolution, the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) sought an armistice. An armistice was concluded with Austro-Hungary on 3rd November. After protracted negotiation, the German Government accepted armistice terms too and the agreement was signed by their delegates at ten past five in the morning of 11th November in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, north of Paris. The guns finally fell silent on the Western Front at 1100 hours that day – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. In the last major naval engagement of the war on 9th November, HMS Britannia was sunk by the German submarine UB-50 off Cape Trafalgar with the loss of forty crew. American forces were ordered to keep fighting until eleven on the day of the Armistice. East of Verdun, future President Harry Truman’s gun battery fired its last shot at 1045 hours. At 0930 hours that morning, a British brigade was ordered to capture a bridge before eleven o’ clock and before the Germans could blow it. The last British soldier to be killed in action was George Edwin Ellison, who was born in Leeds in 1878; he died at 0930 hours on 11th November while on a patrol on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium. In Shrewsbury, as the cathedral bells rang out in celebration of the Armistice, 25-year old 2nd Lieutenant Wilfred Owen’s parents received a telegram telling of their son’s death a week before, on 4th November.
The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 of 21st November gave women over 21 the right to stand as a Member of Parliament. But they still couldn’t vote in an election until they were 30.
Carols at King’s
Happy birthday to those born in 1918. Well-known Brits born 100 years ago include:
28 January – Harry Corbett, puppeteer, best known as the creator of the glove puppet, Sooty, was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Harry Corbett died in Weymouth, Dorset, in 1989. Bye-bye, Harry, bye-bye.
1 February – Muriel Spark, author, possibly best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, was born in Edinburgh. She died in Florence, Italy, in 2006.
16 April – Spike Milligan – Terence Alan Milligan – comedian, writer (his books include Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall) and musician, zany creator of The Goons, was born in Ahmednagar, India, and died in Rye, East Sussex, in 2002. I told you I was ill.
6 June – Kenneth Connor, actor, best known for his appearances in the Carry On comedy film series, was born in Islington, London, and died in South Harrow, London, in 1993.
25 July – Alexander McKee, journalist, military historian, diver and discoverer of the Tudor warship Mary Rose in 1971, was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, and died in Portsmouth in 1992.
8 August – Brian Stonehouse, painter and SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent, was born in Torquay, Devon and died in London in 1998.
13 August – Frederick Sanger, biochemist and double Nobel Prize winner, was born in Rendcomb, Gloucestershire, and died in Cambridge in 2013. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is named after him.
8 September – Derek Barton, organic chemist and Nobel Prize winner, was born in Gravesend, Kent and died in 1998 in College Station, Texas, USA.
27 September – Martin Ryle, radio astronomer and Nobel Prize winner, was born in Brighton and died in Cambridge in 1984.
21 December – Frank Hampson, illustrator, best known for his work with Ladybird books and the Eagle boys’ comic (Hampson created the character Dan Dare), was born in Audenshaw, Manchester, and died in Epsom, Surrey in 1985.
1943 was the fourth year of the Second World War. Inevitably, many of the anniversaries that will be remembered in Britain in 2018 involve that conflict. For an overview of WW2 and Britain’s part in it, see Britain and the Second World War.
Sandhurst Road School Disaster
During a bombing raid on 20th January 1943, a German fighter-bomber dropped a 500kg (1,100lb) bomb on Sandhurst Road School in Catford, south-east London. 38 children and 6 staff were killed and a further 60 people injured. It is not known whether the school was purposely targeted.
Capture of Tripoli
As part of the North African campaign, the Eighth Army captured Tripoli on 23rd January. First to enter were troops of the 51st Highland Division, some riding on tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment.
The Nuffield Foundation
The Nuffield Foundation was established on 13th February by William Morris, Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motors Ltd.
Bethnal Green tube disaster
173 people, mostly women and children, were killed when a crush occurred on the stairs leading down to London’s Bethnal Green tube station as people sought shelter from an air raid. The victims were crushed or asphyxiated. The cause is not clear: some say there was panic resulting from the firing of anti-aircraft rockets from nearby Victoria Park; others that a woman carrying a baby lost her footing and people tumbled over them. Either way, it seems the stairs were unsafe, with insufficient lighting, markings and safety barriers. The results of the subsequent enquiry were withheld until after the war.
A number of exercises were staged across Britain in preparation for D-Day, the invasion of Europe. Amongst these was Exercise Spartan, a major military rehearsal that took place across southern England in March 1943. In November, an area near the village of Portmahomack in Easter Ross was evacuated so that landings could be practised, the village of Imber on Salisbury Plain was totally evacuated to enable US troops to train (Imber has still not been returned to civilian use) and large parts of the coast of the South Hams district of Devon was similarly used, due to its apparent similarity to the Normandy beaches.
The first operational jet
Britain’s (and the Allies’) first operational military jet aircraft was the Gloster Meteor, which had its first test flight at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire on 5th March 1943. It went into service for the end of the war, in 1945, but was so secret that it was not permitted to fly over German (or Soviet) territory, in case it was captured.
The end of Derwent
On 17th March, the last church service was held in the Derbyshire village of Derwent, before it was demolished, together with neighbouring Ashopton, for the construction of Ladybower Reservoir.
Loss of the Dasher
An explosion, cause unknown, aboard Royal Navy escort carrier HMS Dasher in the Firth of Clyde on 27th March destroyed the ship, killing 379 of her 528 crew.
The capture of Tunis by British, Commonwealth, French and US forces on 12th May ends the North African campaign. 238,243 unwounded Germans and Italians were taken prisoner.
The Dambuster Raid
On the night of 16-17th May, 19 Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron RAF launched Operation Chastise, an attack on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany, which controlled the supply of water to the Ruhr industrial area. Special ‘bouncing’ bombs, developed by Dr Barnes Wallis, were used and the raid necessitated flying at extremely low level. The Möhne and Eder dams were breached, causing catastrophic flooding, destroying and/or damaging villages, factories, mines and hydroelectric power stations. The raid, though heroic, is still controversial. An estimated 1,600 civilians were killed, including up to 1,000 mainly Russian slave labourers. The Germans diverted 50,000 workers from other projects (including the Atlantic Wall) to help repair the damage, anti-aircraft guns were brought in to protect dams throughout Germany and it took about four months for production to return to normal. Of the 133 RAF crew members that took part, 56 were lost, 53 of them killed. “If only I’d known,” said Barnes Wallis afterwards, “I’d never had started this.”
Winston Churchill addresses Congress
Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed a joint session of the United States Congress on 19th May.
Battle of Bamber Bridge
Bamber Bridge is a large village near Preston, Lancashire. The ‘battle’ was a running fight over 24-25th June between black US soldiers and their white military police stationed in the village, during which shots were actually exchanged, several soldiers injured and one killed. The incident appears to have arisen due to a combination of intoxicated soldiers trying to drink after time in Ye Old Hob Inn on the one hand, and subsequent incompetent and possibly racist policing on the other. There are several references to the Americans attempting to pursue a policy of racial segregation in Britain and a couple of accounts suggest that in response to this, all three pubs in Bamber Bridge put up signs saying “Black Troops Only”. If true, good for them!
Invasion of Sicily
Operation Husky, the Allied (British, Canadian and American) invasion of Sicily, began on 9-10th July 1943 with amphibious and airborne landings and ended on 17th August with the Axis (German and Italian) forces being driven from the island – or escaping, depending on your point of view. The invasion of Sicily proved to be a prelude to the invasion of Italy and precipitated the fall of the Italian dictator, Mussolini.
The night of 24th July was the first of a week of air raids undertaken by the RAF at night and the USAAF by day on the German city and port of Hamburg. The first raid involved 790 British bombers and killed about 1,500 people. However, the worst raid was on the night of 28th July when the heat from incendiaries, a warm night and a struggling fire service resulted in a new phenomenon – a firestorm with a hurricane style wind at its centre which consumed everything within it. Ultimately, more than 40,000 people in Hamburg perished and a third of its residential buildings were destroyed. The British used a new secret radar jamming device, ‘window’, bales of strips of aluminium foil tossed out of bombers as they flew to and from target, which created a confusing snowstorm display on German radar screens, dramatically reducing bomber losses.
Invasion of Italy
The Allied invasion of mainland Italy began on 3rd September 1943 when parts of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army landed on the ‘toe’ of Italy. On the same day, the Italian government agreed to an armistice, which was publicly announced on 8th September.
From December 1943, 10% of all male conscripts in Britain were selected to become Bevin Boys – named for the Minister of Labour and National Service, Ernest Bevin – to work in the coal mines. Eventually, there were almost 48,000 Bevin Boys, whose contribution to the war was not generally recognised until 1995 and who often had to endure taunts from people believing they had somehow shirked military service.
On 8th December 1943, the world’s first totally electronic programmable computing device was unveiled at the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill in north west London. It was designed by General Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers (1905-98) and employed to break the codes of the German Lorenz SZ-40 cipher machine used by the German High Command. Colossus was later moved to Bletchley Park.
Happy birthday to those born in 1943. Well-known Brits born 75 years ago include:
6 January – Terry Venables, footballer (including with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers) and football manager (including of England from 1994-96), was born in Dagenham, Essex.
9 January – Freddie Starr, alleged comedian and singer, was born in Huyton, Liverpool.
29 January – Tony Blackburn – Antony Kenneth Blackburn – radio disc jockey, was born in Guildford, Surrey. Tony Blackburn was a DJ on the offshore pirate stations Radio Caroline and Radio London before moving to the BBC in 1967. Famously, Blackburn was the DJ who opened for the new Radio 1 when it was launched on 30th September 1967; the first record he played was Flowers in the Rain by the Move (a favourite factoid for the pub quiz).
7 February – Gareth Hunt, actor possibly best known for appearing in TV’s Upstairs, Downstairs, and as Mike Gambit in The New Avengers with Joanna Lumley and Patrick Macnee. Hunt was born in Battersea, London, and died in Redhill, Surrey, in 2007.
18 February – Graeme Garden, comedian, writer and qualified non-practising doctor of medicine, was born in Aberdeen and probably best known as one of the three Goodies (with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie) and for being a cast member on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.
19 February – Tim Hunt – biochemist and Nobel Prize winner, was born in Neston, Cheshire.
20 February – Mike Leigh, theatre and film director, whose credits include Secrets & Lies (1996) and Vera Drake (2004), was born at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire – which at that time being used as a maternity home.
24 February – George Harrison, musician and Beatle, was born in Liverpool and died, far too soon, in 2001 in Los Angeles, California, USA.
2 March – Tony Meehan, drummer with influential late ‘50s/early ‘60s group The Shadows, was born in Hampstead, London, and died in Paddington, London, in 2005.
21 March – Vivian Stanshall – Victor Anthony Stanshall – musician, songwriter, comedian and more, was born in Oxford and died in Muswell Hill, London, in 1995. He is best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
22 March – Keith Relf – William Keith Relf was a musician, best known as lead singer with the 1960s group The Yardbirds, whose lead guitarists included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Relf was born in Richmond, Surrey, and died at home in London in 1976 after electrocuting himself with his guitar.
29 March – Eric Idle, actor, writer, and composer best known as one of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was born in South Shields, County Durham.
29 March – John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997, was born in Sutton, Surrey. He served as Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Thatcher Government from 1989 to 1990, and was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon from 1979 until his retirement in 2001.
6 April – controversial publicist and convicted sex offender Max Clifford was born in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, and died in 2017 in Perry, Cambridge.
25 April – Tony Christie, singer, best known for his big voice and the hit “Is This the Way to Amarillo”, was born in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire.
5 May – Michael Palin, writer, comedian, presenter and one of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was born in Ranmoor, Sheffield.
8 May – Pat Barker, novelist, possibly best known for her Regeneration trilogy, was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire.
14 May – Jack Bruce – John Symon Asher Bruce – musician and songwriter, was born in Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire. He died in Suffolk in 2014. Though a musician all his working life, Bruce is still possibly best remembered as the bass player and lead vocalist with the ‘60s supergroup, Cream, with Eric Clapton on guitar and Ginger Baker on drums.
27 May – Cilla Black – Priscilla Maria Veronica White – singer (famously championed by the Beatles) and, later, television personality, was born in Liverpool and died in 2015 in Estepona, Málaga, Spain.
8 June – Colin Baker, actor, possibly best known as the sixth Doctor in the Dr Who TV series from 1984-86, was born in Waterloo, London.
13 June – Malcolm McDowell – Malcolm John Taylor – actor whose early film credits included A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man and Aces High, was born in Horsforth, West Yorkshire.
12 July – Christine McVie – Christine Anne Perfect – musician and songwriter, best known for her vocal and keyboard work with Fleetwood Mac, was born in Bouth, Lancashire (now Cumbria).
20 July – Wendy Richard – Wendy Emerton – actress, was born in Middlesbrough but primarily brought up in London. Among her many TV credits are the part of Shirley Brahms in the sitcom Are You Being Served? and Pauline Fowler in the soap, EastEnders. Richard’s distinctive cockney tones are also heard on the 1962 No 1 single “Come Outside” by Mike Sarne. Wendy Richard died in Harley Street, London, in 2009.
26 July – Mick Jagger, singer and songwriter, mainly with the Rolling Stones since 1962, was born in Dartford, Kent.
28 July – Richard Wright, musician, mostly known as the keyboard player and one of the founders of Pink Floyd, was born in Hatch End, Pinner, Middlesex. He died at home in London in 2008.
2 August – Rose Tremain, writer and academic, was born in London.
20 August – Sylvester McCoy – Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith, actor best known for playing the 7th Doctor in the Dr Who TV series from 1987-89, was born in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute.
6 September – Roger Waters, musician and composer primarily known as the bassist and one of the founders of Pink Floyd, was born in Great Bookham, Surrey, but brought up in Cambridge. Following the departure of Syd Barrett in 1968, Waters largely drove Pink Floyd’s artistic direction, including the production of The Dark Side of the Moon, until leaving the band in 1985.
11 October – John Nettles, actor who became a household name for playing detectives – the title role in the TV series Bergerac and Tom Barnaby Midsomer Murders – was born in St Austell, Cornwall.
23 October – Anita Roddick, activist, campaigner and businesswoman who founded The Body Shop, was born in Littlehampton, West Sussex and died, in 2007, in Chichester, West Sussex.
17 December – Ron Geesin, musician and composer known for his collaborations with Pink Floyd (notably Atom Heart Mother) was born in Stevenston, Ayrshire.
18 December – Keith Richards, musician and songwriter, mainly as lead guitarist with the Rolling Stones since 1962, was born in Dartford, Kent.
27 December – Peter Sinfield, musician, lyricist and producer known for his work with (among others) King Crimson, Roxy Music, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Bucks Fizz, was born in Fulham, London.
1968 – 50th anniversaries
1968 was the year of the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, student protests in France and the Olympic Games in Mexico. Meanwhile in Britain it is the 50th anniversary of:
The first episode of the long-running BBC TV gardening programme, presented by Ken Burras and Percy Thrower, was broadcast on 5th January.
I’m backing Britain
Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, endorses the I’m Backing Britain campaign, encouraging workers to work extra time without pay and to generally boost the economy by buying British. It is said that the campaign’s T-shirts, featuring the Union Flag, were made in Portugal.
Discovery of a pulsar
In February, it was announced that postgraduate Cambridge student astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell, guided by her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, had discovered a pulsar the previous year. Hewish won the Nobel Prize in Physics for this, along with astronomer Martin Ryle; Burnell didn’t. A pulsar, allegedly is: “A celestial object, thought to be a rapidly rotating neutron star that emits regular pulses of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation at rates of up to one thousand pulses per second.” (Oxford Dictionary).
Introduction to musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
The first performance of an Andrew Lloyd Webber–Tim Rice musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was by pupils of Colet Court preparatory school in Hammersmith, London, on 1st March. The school is now known as St Paul’s Juniors and is located in Barnes.
Baggeridge Colliery near Sedgley, Staffordshire, once owned by the Earls of Dudley, closed on 2nd March. It was the last pit in the Black Country, which had a coal mining tradition going back three centuries.
Mauritius became independent on 12th March.
Protest against Vietnam War outside the American Embassy
A demonstration against US involvement in the Vietnam War on 17th March ended with 200 arrests. 86 people were treated for injuries, and 50, including 25 policemen, one with a serious spine injury, were taken to hospital. Demonstrators engaged police – mounted and on foot – in a protracted battle throwing stones, firecrackers, and smoke bombs.
Jim Clark killed at 32
Winner of 25 Grand Prix races and twice Formula One World Champion James Clark died when his car came off the track at 150mph and smashed into trees during a race at Hockenheim, West Germany.
London Bridge was sold
By the 1960s, London Bridge was old and sinking. In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London decided that it needed to be replaced. Rather than simply demolish it, Councillor Ivan Luckin suggested it might be sold, possibly as tourist attraction to a US bidder. It was bought on 18th April 1968 by chainsaw and oil entrepreneur Robert P McCulloch for $2,460,000 (£1,029,000). There is an urban myth, denied by everyone, that McCulloch thought he was buying Tower Bridge; the one he got had been designed by John Rennie and dated from 1832. Anyway, McCulloch had the bridge’s granite blocks numbered and shipped to America at a further cost of $7 million, for reconstruction in Lake Havasu City, a planned community he had established in 1964 on the shore of Lake Havasu, Arizona. The bridge opened in its new home in 1971.
Rivers of Blood
Conservative MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Enoch Powell delivered a speech in Birmingham on 20th April 1968, warning of what he believed would be the consequences of continued unmanaged immigration from the Commonwealth to Britain. A brilliant scholar, the speech got its name from Powell’s reference to the Roman poet, Virgil “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ “ The target of the speech was in fact opposition to the Labour Government’s Race Relations Act 1968, which was passed in November. Powell was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet by the Conservative leader, Edward Heath.
Britain’s first heart transplant
45-year old Frederick West was Britain’s first heart transplant patient on 3rd May 1968. Unfortunately, he died on 18th June.
The Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie, were arrested on 8th May. The Krays were East End gangsters at the head of organised crime in London, which included protection, assault, armed robbery, arson and murder. They were also nightclub owners who mixed with celebrities and politicians of the day. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1969: Ronnie died in 1995 and Reggie in 2000.
Manchester United won the European Cup
Manchester United was the first English football team to win the European Cup after beating Portuguese side Benfica 4-1 at Wembley on 29th May.
Dagenham girls strike for equal pay
187 female sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham works, in Essex, went on strike on 7th June 1968 in protest against unequal pay for women. The action led to a meeting with Employment Secretary Barbara Castle, and inspired the Equal Pay Act of 1970 – as well as the 2010 film Made in Dagenham, starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson.
Martin Luther King’s murderer arrested
James Earl Ray, who shot Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, on 4th April, was detained at Heathrow Airport on 8th June and subsequently extradited to the US, where he was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
NHS reintroduces prescription charges
Prescription charges of one shilling (5p) and a flat rate of £1 for ordinary dental treatment were introduced by the National Health Service in 1952. Prescription charges were abolished in 1965 and reintroduced on 10th June 1968.
Alec Rose sails round the world
Alec Rose, who ran a greengrocer’s shop with his wife in Osborne Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, sailed into Portsmouth on 4th July on his boat, Lively Lady, after single-handedly sailing round the world. It took him 354 days. He was knighted on 10th July, made a Freeman of Portsmouth and died in the city in 1991.
First episode of Dad’s Army
The first episode of Dad’s Army, one of the nation’s favourite BBC TV sitcoms, was broadcast on 31st July 1968. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft about the antics and adventures of a fictitious band of Home Guard during the Second World War, Dad’s Army was regular viewing until 1977 – and still is for some. Silly boy.
Fifteen Guinea Special – not the end of steam trains
The last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power on British Rail was a special rail tour excursion on 11th August, the Fifteen Guinea Special, a 314-mile trip from Liverpool to Carlisle and back, via Manchester. It was pulled by four different steam locomotives in turn, three of which have survived. Surprisingly, tickets cost 15 guineas (a guinea was £1 and 1 shilling). Steam services were banned the following day, but the ban was lifted in 1971 and, thanks to enthusiasts and preservation societies, steam trains can steel be seen on the national rail network, as well as on heritage railways.
The first Isle of Wight festival
The first Isle of Wight festival was held on 31st August at Ford Farm, near Godshill. It was compared by John Peel. The headline act was Jefferson Airplane; other acts included Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention, The Move, The Pretty Things and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Ticket price was £1.25.
Swaziland became independent on 6th September.
Virginia Wade won the US Open
Britain’s Virginia Wade won the 1968 US Tennis Open Women’s Singles event on 8th September, beating Billie Jean King 6-4, 6-2.
2nd class post
The Post Office launched a two-tier postal service on 16th September. For standard letters, a first-class stamp cost 5d for delivery the next day; the slower second-class service cost 4d. Both amounts are roughly equivalent to 0.02p. As of early 2018, the cost of posting a standard letter within the UK is 0.65p for first-class or 0.56p for second, equivalent to 13 shillings and 11 shillings 2½d respectively.
End of the theatre censorship
The Theatres Act 1968 ended censorship of the theatre on 26th September. The US musical Hair opened in London the following day.
Mrs Sheila Thorns from Birmingham gave birth to sextuplets, four boys and two girls, on 2nd October, the first recorded instance of live sextuplets in Britain. Sadly, one of the girls and two of the boys died shortly afterwards.
British trio win US Grand Prix
Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and John Surtees came first, second and third, respectively, in the United States Grand Prix on 6th October.
The Race Relations Act
The Race Relations Act of 1968, passed on 26th November, strengthened the Race Relations Act of 1965 and made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.
The White Album
The Beatles release their double ‘white album’ – it is simply called ‘The Beatles’ on 22nd November.
The Trade Descriptions Act
The Trade Descriptions Act came into force on 30th November and made it an offence for a trader to make false or misleading statements about goods or services. So nobody lies anymore.
Happy birthday to those born in 1968. Well-known Brits celebrating their 50th birthdays in 2018 may include:
2 March – Daniel Craig – Daniel Wroughton Craig, actor, was born in Chester. In 2006, he became the sixth official 007 in the James Bond film series with the release of Casino Royale. Other film credits include the Golden Compass (2007) and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). And who will ever forget the creepy Jesuit priest in Elizabeth (1998)?
4 March – Patsy Kensit, actress and model, was born in Hounslow, Middlesex.
23 March – Mike Atherton, cricketer, was born in Failsworth, Lancashire.
23 March – Damon Albarn, musician known as the lead vocalist with Blur and creative force behind Gorillaz, was born in Whitechapel, London, and grew up in Leytonstone and Aldham, Essex.
28 March – Nasser Hussain, cricketer, was born in Chennai (Madras), India.
12 May – Catherine Tate, comedienne and actress, was born in Bloomsbury, London. Is she bovvered?
2 June – Jon Culshaw, Jonathan Peter Culshaw, comedian and impressionist was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire.
4 August – Lee Mack – Lee Gordon McKillop – comedian, game show panellist and actor, was born in Southport, Lancashire.
26 August – Chris Boardman, racing cyclist was born in Hoylake, Cheshire.
21 November – Alex James – Steven Alexander James – Blur bass player and cheese maker was born in Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset.
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