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Which anniversaries were marked in Britain in 2019? Here is a selection of noteworthy events and birthdays for you – each one was on someone’s calendar for 2019 – and each one offers a fascinating insight into Britain’s story. A Bit About Britain has only highlighted significant anniversaries – centenaries, half centuries and quarter centuries. We have particularly mentioned British celebrities whose 100th, 75th or 50th birthdays might be celebrated this year. Links to pages or sites with more information have been provided where appropriate. There are also some product links to Amazon; if you buy ANYTHING on Amazon having first clicked one of these links, A Bit About Britain might earn some commission; that would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Either scan through the list below, to spot those events that may have slipped your mind, or click on a year that catches your eye to go straight to it.
|869 AD – 1,150th anniversary||1069 – 950th anniversary||1419 – 600th anniversary|
|1569 – 450th anniversary||1619 – 400th anniversary||1644 – 375th anniversary|
|1669 – 350th anniversary||1694 – 325th anniversary||1719 – 300th anniversary|
|1744 – 275th anniversary||1769 – 250th anniversary||1819 – 200th anniversary|
|1844 – 175th anniversary||1869 – 150th anniversary||1894 – 125th anniversary|
|1919 – 100th anniversary||1944 – 75th anniversary||1969 – 50th anniversary|
|1994 – 25th anniversary|
869 AD – 1,150th anniversary
The martyrdom of King Edmund
The first patron saint of England was not St George, but St Edmund, King of East Anglia, who was killed by the Danes in 869 or 870 AD. The Danish Great Heathen Army, led by Ivar the Boneless and Ubba (or Ubbi), descended on the Kingdom of the East Anglians in 869 AD. It is possible that the king was killed in battle, but legend has it that Edmund, refusing to renounce his Christian faith, was bound to a tree, shot full of arrows and then decapitated. His followers, later seeking to reunite his head with his body, were guided by the dead king’s cranium calling out to them, “hic, hic, hic” (“here, here, here”), and the missing item was found being guarded by a wolf. Presumably, Edmund’s followers would not have understood the Latin for something like, “You will find my head over here, between the paws of a guardian wolf, on your left, inside the wood; don’t worry – he won’t hurt you.” Historian Michael Wood says that Edmund was the last of the Wuffinga dynasty of East Anglia and that the Danes performed the ghastly ‘blood eagle’ on him, a rite in which the living victim had his ribs and lungs spread like an eagle’s wings. But it’s the arrows and beheading version of Edmund’s in any event hideous demise that usually finds favour. It is not known where all this took place, though the village of Hoxne in Suffolk is a popular candidate. Later, Edmund’s remains were interred at Bedricsworth (Bury St Edmunds), which became a place of national pilgrimage. St Edmund’s relics now apparently rest at Arundel Castle in Sussex – and there are some who believe this more English saint should replace George as England’s patron.
1069 – 950th anniversary
The Harrying of the North
Wasta est – it is waste – must surely be the saddest, most pathetic, words in the pages of the Domesday Book, the great economic survey William I ordered to be taken of his conquered kingdom in 1086. The words mostly refer to the deserted settlements brutally devastated by William’s Norman troops in the North of England over the winter of 1069-70. The defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, though decisive, marked the beginning, not the end, of the Norman Conquest of England. There was resistance, as well as foreign invasion, in various parts of the country. In Northumbria, from York to the Tyne, the mixed peoples of the region – Danish, Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celt – united in their defiance of Norman rule; and the Harrying of the North was William’s final solution to eliminating that resistance. The event is barely mentioned in some history books, yet some modern historians describe it as a form of genocide. It was certainly a massacre; William’s armies did not merely seek out armed rebels, but razed villages to the ground, slaughtering the occupants and their livestock and destroying stores of food so that any survivors would starve. A contemporary chronicler, Oderic Vitalis, wrote that 100,000 people perished (the population of England at this time was less than 2 million), and described rotting corpses covered in worms lying along the roadsides with no one to bury them, not a single inhabited village to be seen along the road from York to Durham and the only moving things being packs of wolves and wild dogs feeding on the dead.
1419 – 600th anniversary
The surrender of Rouen
As part of his reconquest of Normandy, Henry V of England laid siege to the city of Rouen, a city of perhaps 20,000 people, in July 1418. It was a brutal siege. The starving garrison finally surrendered on 19 January 1419, paving the way for the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420, which recognised Henry as heir to the French throne.
Joan of Navarre was the second wife and widow of Henry IV. Though she had previously been on excellent terms with her stepson, Henry V, they fell out. Deprived of her lands and revenue, on 15 December 1419 she was accused of witchcraft and imprisoned in Pevensey Castle. When Henry V was on his deathbed in 1422, he ordered that his step-mother should be released and her possessions returned to her. Joan went back to being a wealthy widow, died in 1437 and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral next to her second husband, King Henry IV.
1569 – 450th anniversary
The Rising of the North
The Rising of the North, often called the Revolt of the Northern Earls, was an attempt by Catholic rebels in the north of England to replace Queen Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots, and restore the Catholic faith. The rebellion was a failure. It was led by Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, and Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, who gathered on 9 November 1569, occupied Durham on 15 November and proceeded to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral. By December, confronted by superior forces, the rebels dispersed and the leaders fled to Scotland. The Scots handed Northumberland over to the English and he was beheaded in York in 1572. Westmoreland escaped and died, impoverished, in Flanders.
1619 – 400th anniversary
North American slavery
- The abominable in nocrime of slavery is an ancient practice, but the first recorded slaves in North America arrived in Virginia, at that time an English colony, on or around 20 August 1619. They had been captured in what is now Angola by Portuguese slave-traders and put aboard a ship bound for Mexico. On the way, the slave-ship was attacked by two English privateers, the White Lion and the Treasurer, and 50-60 Africans were taken by the English. The White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, now Fort Monroe, Hampton, where “20 and odd Negroes” were exchanged for supplies. The Treasurer arrived a few days later, when it is possible that a further 7 to 9 slaves were sold. Between 1525 and 1866, it is estimated that some 12.5 million Africans were forcibly transported to the Western Hemisphere, of which around 388,000 arrived in what became the United States of America. Though all European powers were involved in the slave trade, the bulk of it was carried out by Britain. There is an International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.
1644 – 375th anniversary
The Bolton Massacre
The Storming of Bolton, or the Bolton Massacre, took place on 28 May 1644 during the English Civil War. The Lancashire town of Bolton was strongly Parliamentarian in its sympathies and in May 1644 was garrisoned by Parliamentary forces against an approaching Royalist army under the command of Prince Rupert and a major Lancashire Cavalier, James Stanley, 7th Earl Derby. The town was stormed and captured by the Royalists, during and after which it is alleged that many of Bolton’s defenders and inhabitants were slaughtered (some estimates are as high as 1,600 deaths) and the victors were allowed to plunder. There were also reports of rape. The incident became a massive propaganda tool for the Parliamentary cause. As a footnote, the Earl of Derby was captured in 1651, court-martialled, condemned to death and beheaded in Bolton outside the Man and Scythe Inn (reputedly the fourth oldest pub in Britain).
The Battle of Marston Moor, about 7 miles west of York, took place on 2 July 1644 and was the first major Parliamentary victory in the English Civil War. Strengthened with Scottish troops, the Parliamentary forces under Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell inflicted a heavy defeat on King Charles I’s army, which effectively ended Royalist control in the north of England.
1669 – 350th anniversary
Christopher Wren got the job of designing St Paul’s
St Paul’s Cathedral – ‘old St Paul’s’ – was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666, along with 87 other churches and more than 13,000 houses. The job of designing the new, and current, St Paul’s Cathedral was officially assigned to Christopher Wren on 30 July 1669 (he had been hired the year before). The new cathedral was officially declared complete on 25 December 1711, though in fact construction continued into the 1720s.
1694 – 325th anniversary
Bank of England founded
The Bank of England was founded on 27 July 1694 by a group of merchants along the lines proposed by Scotsman William Paterson (1658-1719). It began as a private bank, primarily to fund war against France. The Bank opened for business on 1 August 1694 in the Mercers’ Hall in Cheapside with a staff of seventeen clerks and two gatekeepers. It moved to the Grocers’ Hall on Poultry on 31 December 1694 and remained there until moving to its own premises in Threadneedle Street in 1734. It is free to visit the Bank of England museum.
1719 – 300th anniversary
Publication of Robinson Crusoe
The novel we know as Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (originally plain Daniel Foe – he added the ‘de’ for effect) was first published on 25 April 1719 as ‘The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. With an Account how he was at last as Strangely Deliver’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself.’ You can find Robinson Crusoe on Amazon here. And you’ll find Daniel Defoe commemorated among the bodies at London’s Bunhill Cemetery.
The Battle of Glen Shiel
The Battle of Glen Shiel was the only significant battle of the Little Rising, the often-forgotten hardly-begun Jacobite rebellion of 1719. Britain was at war with Spain and the Spanish proposed to make trouble by assisting the Jacobite cause. Having occupied and largely withdrawn from Eilean Donan Castle, about 300 Spanish troops joined with some 800 Jacobites and met a Government force of similar size, but equipped with mortars, at Glen Shiel on 10 June. The Jacobites were soundly defeated and the surviving Spanish were repatriated.
1744 – 275th anniversary
The first rules of golf
The history of the game of golf has been much debated, but it is particularly associated with Scotland, where it has been played since at least the 15th century. Though the home of golf is in the historic town of St Andrews, the first club was formed by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, near Edinburgh, who drew up the earliest surviving written rules of the game on 7 March 1744.
1769 – 250th anniversary
Wedgwood’s Etruria factory opens in Stoke-on-Trent
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), potter and entrepreneur extraordinaire, built an entire new factory on land conveniently in the path of the proposed Trent and Mersey Canal. He called the development Etruria after an area of central Italy once inhabited by the Etruscans – whose art was much admired at the time. The development included superior housing for his workers and a mansion for himself. The housing was kept as separate as possible from the factory for health reasons. The factory opened on 13 June 1769 and was operational until the mid-20th century.
Richard Arkwright patents his spinning frame
Richard Arkwright (1732-92), a wig-maker with no formal education, patented his spinning frame on 3 July 1769. The invention was collaboration with, among others, clockmaker John Kay, and produced a stronger thread than the spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves in 1764. It was too large to be operated by hand and Arkwright installed it at his Cromford Mill factory in Derbyshire in 1771, running it on the power of water – thus it became known as the water-frame. The machine enabled the mass production of strong yarn without the need for skilled workers and was one of the innovations that paved the way for the factory system. Arkwright is sometimes referred to as the father of the factory system and died a very wealthy man.
Captain Cook reaches New Zealand
The Royal Naval explorer James Cook (1728-79) had instructions to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti in June 1769, and then proceed in search of a continent, terra australis incognita (unknown southern land). believed to exist in the south central Pacific. On 6 October 1769, Cook and his crew sighted New Zealand and, two days later, landed at Poverty Bay. They were the second Europeans to visit, following the Dutch expedition led by Abel Tasman in 1642. Cook drew detailed and accurate maps of the country and wrote about the native Maoris. The naturalists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, sailing with Cook, gathered information about the country’s flora and fauna.
Foundation of Dartmouth College
The American reader might like to note that Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, was founded on 13 December 1769 by the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, with a Royal Charter from King George III, on land donated by Royal Governor John Wentworth. Notable alumni include Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr Seuss.
Wellington and Napoleon share a birth-year
Both the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, died 1852) and his French adversary, Napoleon Bonaparte (died 1821), were born in 1769, on 1 May and 15 August, respectively. You can visit the Duke of Wellington’s London home, Apsley House.
1819 – 200th anniversary
Foundation of Singapore
Singapore was founded in 1819 by Stamford Raffles (1781-1826). Raffles, Lieutenant Governor of Bencoolen (Bengkulu, Sumatra, founded by the British) was looking to establish a British trading post and settlement south of Malacca to protect the trade route to the east and to thwart Dutch influence in the region. Raffles landed with a small party on the Malay peninsula on 28 January 1819 and, on 6 February 1819, signed a treaty with the Sultanate of Johor that gave the British East India Company the right to set up a trading post in Singapore. The British flag was hoisted and Singapore became a British settlement. It became part of Malaysia in 1963, but has been an independent republic since 9 August 1965.
William Smith discovers the South Shetland Islands
Mariner William Smith (c1790-1847) discovered the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago off the Graham Land in Antarctica, on 19 February 1819 and claimed them in the name of King George III. His discovery was not initially believed, so he returned and landed on the largest of the islands, King George Island, on 16 October. Today, the South Shetland Islands form part of the British Antarctic Territory and are also claimed by Chile and Argentina.
The Peterloo Massacre
The period after the Napoleonic Wars was a time of unrest and repression in Britain. It was a time of recession, high prices and demands for Parliamentary reform. A peaceful demonstration held on 16 August 1819 in Manchester on St Peter’s Fields resulted in carnage when frightened magistrates ordered mounted troops to clear the area, which they did using sabres. Exact figures are unknown, but 11 people were murdered and some 500 injured.
Born in 1819…
Queen Victoria (Princess Alexandrina Victoria) and Prince Albert (Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) were both born this year, on 24 May and 26 August, respectively. Albert died in 1861, Victoria, after giving her name to an entire era, in 1901. Pay a visit to the home Victoria and Albert made on the Isle of Wight.
John Ruskin, a true polymath – artist, art critic, amateur geologist, a teacher, writer, social critic, philosopher – was born in London on 8 February 1819 and died at his home, Brantwood, in the English Lake District, in 1900. Brantwood is open to the public.
Joseph Bazalgette, civil engineer, creator of London‘s sewage system (and, incidentally, the Victoria, Albert and Chelsea Embankments) was born in Enfield on 28 March 1819. Prior to Bazalgette’s inspired work, the River Thames in London was largely an open sewer; without him, it would have been in a nasty waterway without any means of propulsion. Bazalgette died in Wimbledon in 1891.
Charles Kingsley, clergyman and novelist, was born in Holne, Devon, on 12 June 1819. He is chiefly remembered now as the author of The Water-Babies and Westward Ho! – which in turn inspired the name of the village of Westward Ho! in Devon, the only place name in the United Kingdom that contains an exclamation mark (or, as the writer Bill Bryson put it, an ejaculation). Kingsley died in Eversley, Hampshire, in 1875. You’ll find The Water Babies and other works on Amazon here.
George Eliot, the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans, novelist, was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, on 22 November 1819. She is best remembered for four of her novels, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Middlemarch, but Evans also had a bravely unconventional personal life for the time, living openly with a married man. She died in Chelsea in 1880. You’ll find her novels on Amazon here.
1844 – 175th anniversary
Birth of the Cooperative Movement
Although cooperatives have a long history (one of the earliest claimants, the Shore Porters Society in Aberdeen, dates back to 1498), the modern cooperative movement began in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1844. In that year, a group of tradesmen formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers with a view to opening their own store selling goods at affordable prices. The store opened on 21 December 1844 and is now the site of a museum, the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum. Central to the success of the movement was the Rochdale Principles, a set of values that have informed cooperative ventures all over the world.
1869 – 150th anniversary
Founding of Girton College
Girton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge and was the first residential college for women in England. It was founded (in Hitchin) on 16 October 1869 by Emily Davies (1830-1921) and Barbara Bodichon (1827-91). Alumni include Margrethe II of Denmark, Hisako, Princess Takamado of Japan, Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Sandi Toksvig, comedienne and presenter.
The Suez Canal opens
The Suez Canal, which was largely a French development, opened on 17 November 1869, linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. The British Government was in fact opposed to its construction. However, in 1875, the bankrupt Khedive of Egypt sold his shares to the British government, who thus became the largest shareholder – until it was nationalised by Egyptian President Nasser in 1956, provoking the Suez Crisis.
The Cutty Sark is launched
One of the last surviving great three-masted 19th century tea clippers, Cutty Sark, was launched in Dumbarton on 22 November 1869. She was one of the last clippers ever built, and one of the fastest; before improvements in steam-power, Cutty Sark held the record sailing time between Australia and Britain for a decade. The ship was named for Cutty-sark, nickname of the witch Nannie Dee in Robert Burns’ 1791 poem Tam o’ Shanter. Nannie Dee wore a linen sark – a chemise or undershirt – that was too short – or ‘cutty’. The ship’s figurehead is a magnificent carving of Nannie Dee with long black hair holding a grey horse’s tail.
Henry Wood, conductor and, in 1895, founder of ‘the Proms’, was born on 3 March 1869 in London’s Oxford Street. He died in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, in 1944.
1894 – 125th anniversary
The Manchester Ship Canal
The Manchester Ship Canal opened to traffic on 1 January 1894 – though was officially opened by Queen Victoria on 21 May that year. Construction began in 1887 and the canal stretches 36 miles, connecting Manchester to the Irish Sea and at one time making it one of Britain’s busiest ports. You can take a cruise on the Manchester Canal.
Publication of Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book originally appeared in periodicals in 1893 to 1894, before being published in book form in a print run of 7,000 copies in 1894. Jungle Book is a series of short stories which introduce us to characters such as Mowgli, the ‘man-cub’, Shere Khan the tiger, Baloo the bear and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose. Kipling gave a copy of Jungle Book to his daughter Josephine, born in 1892, in which he wrote “This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father, May 1894.” Tragically, Josephine died in 1899, aged six. Bateman’s, Kipling’s home in Sussex, is definitely worth a visit. You’ll find Jungle Book and other works on Amazon here.
Blackpool Tower opens
Millions of visitors still swarm to Blackpool, on Lancashire’s coast, every year. One of the biggest attractions is Blackpool Tower, which opened on 14 May 1894. It is part of a larger amusement complex, including the world-famous Tower Ballroom, which opened in 1898. The Tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but is somewhat smaller – 518 feet (158 metres) high, compared to 984 feet (300 metres). Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower is not free-standing.
Tower Bridge opens
London’s Tower Bridge was the first bridge to be built downstream from nearby London Bridge, with which it is often confused by visitors. It was designed in Gothic style to harmonise with the Tower of London, which disguises its steel structure, took eight years to build and was officially opened on 30 June 1894 by the then Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and his wife, the Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark). The two bridge towers are tied together by two high-level walkways and the two opening sections of roadway were necessary to allow ships to pass into the Pool of London below London Bridge.
Marks & Spencer is formed
A landmark date in high street history is 28 September 1894, when Michael Marks went into partnership with Thomas Spencer to form Marks & Spencer. Marks (c1859-1907), a Jewish immigrant from Belarus, had set up a haberdashery stall in Kirkgate Market, Leeds in c1882 (“Don’t ask the price – it’s a penny”.). Spencer, from Skipton in Yorkshire, was a cashier with the wholesale company, Dewhirst. The combination of Marks’ merchandising and marketing flair, with Spencer’s accounting and administrative skills, provided the foundation for one of Britain’s most successful retail chains.
Harold Macmillan – Conservative Politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, created Earl of Stockton, was born on 10 February 1894 in Belgravia, London and died in Chelwood Gate, East Sussex, in 1986.
Chesney Allen – entertainer and singer, best known for his partnership with Bud Flanagan (1896-1968), was born in Battersea, London, on 5 April 1894 and died in Midhurst, West Sussex, in 1982.
The Duke of Windsor – Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary, briefly Edward VIII in 1936 before abdicating, was born on 23 June 1894 in Richmond, Surrey, and died in Paris in 1972.
Aldous Huxley – author, probably best known now for Brave New World, was born on 26 July 1894 in Godalming, Surrey, and died in Los Angeles, USA, on 22 November 1963. You can buy Brave New World on Amazon here.
JB Priestly – prolific writer, novelist, playwright (The Good Companions, An Inspector Calls) and broadcaster, was born on 13 September 1894 in Bradford, Yorkshire, and died on 13 August 1984 in Alveston, Gloucestershire. An Inspector Calls and other works are available on Amazon here.
1919 – centenaries in 2019
The Anglo-Irish War
Following success in elections in 1918, Sinn Fein, the republican party in Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom) declared independence from Britain on 21 January 1919. Trouble escalated with violence on the part of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) being countered with brutal reprisals, particularly by irregular British troops known as ‘the black and tans’. The conflict reached a peak in 1920 and the war ended with the formation of the Irish Free State in 1921, with the six of the nine counties of Ulster, in the north of the island, remaining part of the UK – henceforth known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Battle of George Square
Growing unemployment in the wake of the First World War resulted in a workers’ strike in Glasgow, which sought to reduce the working week to 40 hours. On Friday 31 January 1919, crowds gathered in George Square while meetings took place between the authorities and strike leaders. The size of the crowd has been estimated at 20-25,000, or upwards of 60,000, depending on the writer’s viewpoint. Violence broke out between the police and demonstrators, apparently after an unprovoked baton charge by the police. Strike leaders tried to restore order, but were arrested. Fighting continued in and around the city centre for hours afterwards. Subsequently, troops, including tanks, were deployed. There were no fatalities, though the Battle of George Square is also known as ‘Bloody Friday’. Two strike leaders were imprisoned, one of whom, Manny Shinwell (1884-1986), subsequently became a government minister. The workers settled on a 47-hour week.
The Amritsar, or Jallianwala Bagh, Massacre occurred on 13 April 1919, when British Indian Army troops opened fire on a mixed group of peaceful protestors, and others enjoying a local festival, inside an enclosed garden at Amritsar, in the Punjab. There had been anti-British demonstrations days earlier, several Europeans had been killed, buildings damaged and Indian protestors had been shot. A Church of England missionary, Marcella Sherwood, was set upon and badly beaten, on 10 April. Most of the Punjab was placed under martial law – though not everyone was aware of that. On 13 April, thousands gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh public garden. Local commander Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to block the entrances and then open fire into the crowd until their ammunition ran out. Officially, 379 people were killed and 1200 wounded, but the true figure was considerably higher. Unsurprisingly, the massacre is seen as a watershed in the history of British India which signalled the start of serious Indian nationalism and provided recruits for Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent independence movement.
First non-stop transatlantic flight
John Alcock (1892-1919) and Arthur Brown (1886-1948) achieved the first nonstop transatlantic flight on 14-15 June 1919. The flight, from St John’s, Newfoundland, to a bog in Derrigimlagh, near Clifden, on the west coast of Ireland took 16 hours 27 minutes in a converted Vickers Vimy twin-engined bomber biplane, and won them £10,000 prize money from the Daily Mail. They also carried some 300 letters, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight too. Alcock died a few months later after a flying accident.
The Treaty of Versailles
The Armistice of 11 November 1918 brought fighting on the First World War’s Western Front to a halt, but it did not technically end the war. The Allies concluded separate treaties with each of the defeated powers, and the most important of these was the Treaty of Versailles signed with Germany on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which had sparked the conflict in the first place. There was much that was controversial about the Treaty of Versailles, which, it has been argued, fed the resentment that helped bring the Nazis to power in the 1930s. One of the most controversial clauses was Article 231, the ‘War Guilt clause’, which required Germany and her allies to accept responsibility for “all the loss and damage” of the war.
The League of Nations
The Paris peace conference that resulted in the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 also established the League of Nations – a forerunner of the United Nations – though the League of Nations was not officially inaugurated until 10 January 1920.
First airship to cross the Atlantic
The R34 airship flew across the Atlantic – and back again – in July 1919. The 643 feet (196 metres) long R34 (her crew called her ‘Tiny’) set off from East Fortune, near Edinburgh, on 2 July 1919 under the command of Major George Scott. Also on board was a stowaway, a member of crew who had been due to stay at home to save weight, and a tabby cat called ‘Whoopsie’. R34 arrived at Long Island, almost out of fuel, on 6 July, after a flight of 108 hours. She set off for her return trip at 1154pm on 10 July 1919, arriving at Pelham, Norfolk, on 13 July.
The first two-minute silence
The first Armistice Day, 11 November 1919, was marked by a two-minute silence. King George V proclaimed the idea (suggested by others), by saying, “It is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice came into force – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities. During that time, except in the rare cases where this may be impracticable, all work, all sound, and all locomotion should cease, so that in perfect stillness the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”.
The first woman Member of Parliament
Lady Nancy Astor (1879-1964) was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Plymouth Sutton in a by-election on 15 November 1919 and took her seat on 1 December 1919. She was not the first woman to be elected as an MP; that was the Countess Constance Markievicz, who won the seat of St Patrick’s Dublin in 1918, but was a member of Sinn Fein and, in line with their policy, she did not take her seat in Westminster. Astor was American by birth and a Conservative.
Born in 1919…
Bob Paisley – Robert Paisley, highly successful footballer and manager with Liverpool, was born on 23 January 1919 in Hetton-le-Hole, Co Durham. He died in Liverpool in 1996 and is buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s, Woolton, just across the road from where Paul McCartney and John Lennon met in 1957. Beatles’ fans may care to note that John’s uncle, George Toogood Smith, is also buried at St Peter’s.
Peter Butterworth – Peter William Shorrocks Butterworth – comic actor most famous for his appearances in the Carry On films, was born on 4 February 1919 in Bramhall, Cheshire. He died in Coventry in 1979, whilst appearing in pantomime. During WW2, Butterworth was an officer in the Fleet Air Arm; he was shot down over Holland and became a POW active in many escape attempts.
Margot Fonteyn – prima ballerina assoluta, was born Margaret Hookham in Reigate, Surrey, on 18 May 1919 and died in Panama City in 1991.
Peter Carington – Peter Alexander Rupert Carington, 6th Baron Carrington, soldier, long-serving distinguished Conservative politician (he famously resigned as Foreign Secretary when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982) and Secretary General of NATO, was born on 6 June 1919 in Chelsea and died in 2018.
Beryl Reid – versatile actress, was born in Hereford on 17 June 1919 and died in Buckinghamshire in 1996.
Jon Pertwee – John Devon Roland Pertwee was born in Chelsea on 7 July 1919. He served in naval intelligence during WW2, before becoming an actor – perhaps most famously playing Dr Who from 1970-74 and Worzel Gummidge from 1979-81. He died in Connecticut, USA, in 1996.
Iris Murdoch – Jean Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher, was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 15 July 1919 and died in Oxford on 8 February 1999.
Edmund Hilary – New Zealander Edmund Hilary was born on 20 July in Auckland, New Zealand. As part of the British Mount Everest expedition Hilary and Tenzing Norgay (1914-86) were the first to climb Mount Everest on 29 May 1953. Edmund Hilary died in Auckland, NZ, in 2008.
Donald Pleasence – actor, was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire on 5 October 1919. His roles included that of ‘the forger’, Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963) – coincidentally, Pleasence had been a POW during the Second World War – and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (with cat) in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). He died in 1995 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France,
Tommy Lawton – accomplished footballer with a variety of clubs, notably Everton and Notts County, as well as playing for England, Lawton was born on 6 October 1919 in Farnworth, near Bolton, and died in Nottingham in 1996.
Doris Lessing – writer, novelist and Nobel prize winner, was born Doris Tayler in Persia (modern Iran) on 22 October 1919 and died in London in 2013.
Cliff Michelmore – Arthur Clifford Michelmore, broadcaster, radio and TV presenter, was born on 11 December 1919 in Cowes, Isle of Wight. During his career, he covered major events such as the Apollo moon landings and general elections. He died in Petersfield, Hampshire in 2016.
1944 – 75th anniversary
The Battle of Monte Cassino
The Battle of Monte Cassino took place from 17 January to 18 May 1944 as part of the Italian Campaign and was an attempt by the Allies to break through the German Gustav Line and reach Rome. It eventually succeeded, but at a very heavy cost. Moreover, during the course of the assaults, the Allies destroyed the abbey of Monte Casino, founded by St Benedict in the 6th century.
The Pay As You Earn system of tax collection was introduced on 10 February 1944.
Battles of Imphal and Kohima
Fought close to the Indian border with Burma between 7 March and 18 July 1944, these engagements were the turning point of one of the most gruelling campaigns of the Second World War, and involved some of the bitterest close-quarter fighting. British, Indian and Nepalese troops halted a Japanese invasion of India, supported by forces of the Indian National Army, and the decisive Japanese defeat became the springboard for the Allies subsequent re-conquest of Burma. The Japanese forces, 85,000-strong, eventually lost 53,000 dead and missing. The British sustained 12,500 casualties at Imphal while the fighting at Kohima cost another 4,000 casualties.
The Great Escape
The Great Escape from German POW camp Stalag Luft III, deep inside occupied Poland during World War Two, took place over the night of 24-25 March 1944 and is the stuff of legend. The reality was somewhat different to the 1963 film; for one thing, there was no motorcycle chase – and no Virgil Hilts. But it was a meticulously planned operation, which involved some 600 men, originally working on three tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry), with a view to 200 prisoners escaping together. In the event, 76 Allied personnel – mainly RAF crew – escaped and all but 3 were recaptured. Of those that didn’t make it home, 50 were executed by the Gestapo. The true story of the Great Escape by Paul Brickhill is available on Amazon here.
Exercise Tiger was a realistic rehearsal for the D-Day landings that took place off the coast of Devon by Slapton Sands on 28 April 1944. It was so realistic that live ammunition was used. Unfortunately, the exercise was a disaster. A combination of friendly fire, the absence of Royal Navy support, poor training and the intervention of German E-boats resulted in the deaths of 749 US servicemen. For security reasons, the survivors were sworn to secrecy – but relatives of the dead did not know what had happened to their men until the truth began to emerge in the 1970s and 80s.
Undoubtedly the biggest event of 1944 was Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe, on D-Day 6 June, by American, British, Canadian, French and Polish troops. Airborne troops landed behind five designated Normandy beaches in the early hours of 6 June, followed by assaults from the sea on those beaches, codenamed, from west to east: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, 156,000 men were ashore and bridgeheads had been established. Beforehand, southern Britain had become an armed fortress in preparation for the invasion. Massive secrecy as well as a successful deception plan, codename Fortitude, meant that the Germans were unsure whether landings would take place in Normandy, or the Calais area – which was the shortest route. There is a D-Day museum in Portsmouth and the 1962 film, The Longest Day, is a good portrayal of the day itself and is available on Amazon here.
First V1 attack
The V1 was a pilotless flying bomb – often called ‘the first Cruise missile’. It was first launched against London on 13 June 1944, just a week after D-Day, and that one killed 8 people. ‘V’ stood for Vergeltungswaffen – retaliation weapon. They were also called ‘doodlebugs’, or ‘buzz bombs’, because of the distinctive sound the engine made. When the engine stopped, there would be a momentary silence while the weapon plunged to earth, followed by the explosion when it hit. V1s were totally indiscriminate and ultimately killed thousands of people before the launch sites were overrun. About 8,500 were launched against Britain, and the port of Antwerp, though only about 57% reached their targets.
Butler’s Education Act
The 1944 Education Act, promoted by Rab Butler (1902-82), became law on 3 August 1944. It raised the school-leaving age to 15 and provided universal free schooling in three different types of secondary school – grammar, secondary modern and technical – based on an examination, the 11+. The Act also obliged local education authorities to provide school meals and milk and, further, outlawed marriage bars, which prevented married women working as teachers.
First V2 attack
The first V2 rocket attack took place on 8 September 1944, striking in the Chiswick area of London and killing 3 people. ‘V’ stood for Vergeltungswaffen – retaliation weapon. There was no warning of the V2’s approach – it flew at around 3600 mph and arrived about 5 minutes after being launched – and no defence against it. Initially, the government sought to pass the explosions off as gas-related, to avoid public panic. About 1300 were launched against the UK from September 1944 to March 1945. The V2 was the world’s first ballistic missile and the basis of post-war rocket development in the USA and USSR.
Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden took place from 17 – 25 September 1944 and was a failed attempt to invade Germany before Christmas and shorten the Second World War. The plan was to secure territory and bridges in and around the Dutch towns of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem by means of airborne assault, then link these up with a land attack on a narrow front through Holland and into Germany’s industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Despite conspicuous bravery, several aspects of Market Garden were bungled, resistance was heavier than intelligence suggested and key bridges – including the one over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem – were not captured. It is accurately depicted in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far – which you can buy on Amazon here.
The Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Offensive, was launched by the Germans on 16 December 1944 and was the last major German offensive campaign in the west of the Second World War. The objective was to split the Allied armies, reach the Belgian port of Antwerp – thus preventing its use by the Allies – and force a negotiated peace. Attacking through the hilly, densely forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium, northeast France and Luxembourg, the Germans achieved total surprise, while bad weather kept Allied aircraft out of the skies. American forces bore the brunt of the attacks. After significant initial success, the offensive ground to a halt due to fuel shortages and in the face of determined Allied resistance and counter-attacks in January 1945. The ‘bulge’ refers to the shape that the Germans drove into the Allied lines.
Born in 1944 – happy 75th birthday…
Jimmy Page – James Patrick Page, guitarist, was born in Heston, west London, on 9 January 1944. Jimmy Page had a lucrative career as a session musician, performing on some of the biggest hits of the 1960s, and had a spell with The Yardbirds before forming Led Zeppelin in 1968. Jimmy Page’s website.
Nick Mason – Nicholas Berkeley Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, was born in Birmingham on 27 January 1944. He is also known as a collector, and racer, of classic cars.
Karl Jenkins – Welsh composer and musician Karl William Pamp Jenkins was born on 17 February in the village of Penclawdd, on the Gower peninsular. Karl Jenkins’ website.
Bernard Cornwell – prolific historical novelist probably best known for his Sharpe series based in the Peninsula War and the Saxon series with its hero, Uhtred, both of which have been featured on TV, was born in London on 23 February 1944. Bernard Cornwell’s website.
Roger Daltrey – Roger Harry Daltrey, vocalist, musician, actor and founder member of The Who, was born in Acton, West London, on 1 March 1944. The Who’s website.
Ranulph Fiennes – Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, ex-soldier, explorer, adventurer, author and fund-raiser, was born on 7 March in Windsor, Berkshire. Once described by the Guinness Book of Records as “the world’s greatest living explorer”, he has climbed Everest, was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot. Ranulph Fiennes’ website.
Michael Fish – TV weatherman, was born in Eastbourne, East Sussex on 27 April 1944. He will be forever remembered for saying, on TV, “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”. This was the evening of 15 October 1987, when the worst storm in 300 years hit South East England, causing considerable damage and killing 19 people.
Joe Cocker – John Robert “Joe” Cocker, singer, was born in Sheffield on 20 May 1944. He died in Colorado in 2014.
Jeff Beck – like Jimmy Page, one of the all-time great guitarists and ex-Yardbird, Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born on 24 June 1944 in Wallington, Surrey. You’ll be glad to learn he did not write ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’. Jeff Beck’s website.
Jim Capaldi – Nicola James Capaldi was born in Evesham, Worcestershire on 2 August 1944. He was a drummer, singer, songwriter and founder of the 1960s group, Traffic, and died in Westminster on 28 January 2005.
Jacqueline Bisset – film and TV actress Winifred Jacqueline Fraser Bisset was born in Weybridge, Surrey, on 15 September 1944.
Graham Taylor – footballer, football manager (including of the England national team) and TV pundit, Graham Taylor was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, on 15 September 1944 and died on 12 January 2017 in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire.
Anne Robinson – Anne Josephine Robinson, journalist and TV presenter, was born in Crosby, Lancashire, on 26 September 1944. She came to public prominence by presenting the BBC game show The Weakest Link in 2000. Goodbye.
John Entwistle – extraordinary bass player with The Who (he played it almost like a lead guitar) was born John Alec Entwistle in Chiswick, west London, on 9 October 1944. He died in Paradise, Nevada, USA, in 2002.
Tim Rice – lyricist, writer and broadcaster was born Timothy Miles Bindon Rice in Amersham, Buckinghamshire on 10 November 1944. One of the most successful lyricists ever, he is perhaps best known for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber, producing such musicals as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. DVDs of these musicals are available on Amazon here.
Neil Innes – Neil James Innes, musician and comedian best known for his work with members of Monty Python and as a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, was born in Danbury, Essex, on 9 December 1944. He died near Toulouse on 29 December 2019.
1969 – 50th anniversary
Last public performance by the Beatles
The Beatles performed an impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Records at 3 Savile Row, London, on 30 January 1969. It was broken up by the police. Footage from the performance can be seen in the documentary movie, Let It Be (1970).
Concorde’s maiden flight
The Aerospatiale/BAC Concorde was a British-French supersonic passenger airliner that operated from 1976 until 2003. Concorde 001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969 and Concorde 002 flew from Filton, Bristol, to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969. Concordes can be seen, and boarded, at IWM Duxford and The Fleet Air Arm Museum – which has Concorde 002.
Kray twins convicted
The notorious Kray twins, Ronald “Ronnie” Kray (1933-95) and Reginald “Reggie” Kray (1933-2000), London gangland leaders with friends in high places, were both convicted of murder on 4 March 1969: Ronnie of murdering George Cornell; Reggie of murdering Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie. The following day, they were sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum of thirty years.
Victoria line opened
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened London Underground’s Victoria line on 7 March 1969. The Victoria line is the light blue one, running between Brixton in the south and Walthamstow Central in the north-east.
The debut album by Led Zeppelin, called simply, ‘Led Zeppelin’, was released on 31 March 1969 (12 January 1969 in the United States).
Voting age lowered to 18
The Representation of the People Act 1969, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, became law on 17 April 1969, with effect from 1970.
First solo sailing round the world
On 22 April 1969, yachtsman Robin Knox-Johnston (born 17 March 1939) became the first person to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world.
Troops sent to Northern Ireland
Amidst increasing sectarian violence, the Government sent troops into Northern Ireland on 14 August 1969 in what it said was a ‘limited operation’ to restore law and order. Troops stationed in Northern Ireland had been used to guard key installations since April.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus was first broadcast by the BBC on 5 October 1969. It was something completely different and featured Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and the work of graphic genius Terry Gilliam. The final broadcast was in 1974.
Abbey Road – the final Beatles’ album?
On 26 September 1969, The Beatles released Abbey Road, the final album they recorded together. Let It Be was released in 1970, but was recorded before Abbey Road. The album cover famously pictures the Fab Four crossing the road near the legendary recording studios in North London that give the record its name.
Fifty pence coin
The seven-sided 50p coin was introduced as replacement for the 10-shilling note on 14 October 1969. The coin is described by the Royal Mint as “an equilateral curve heptagon”. Yeah…
North Sea Oil
Drilling for North Sea Oil began in December 1969. The first crude oil came ashore in Britain in April 1976.
Born in 1969 – Happy 50th Birthday…
Tess Daly – Helen Elizabeth ‘Tess’ Daly, model and TV presenter, was born on 27 April 1969 in Stockport, Cheshire.
Darcey Bussell – ballerina and dancing judge was born Marnie Mercedes Darcey Pemberton Crittle in London on 27 April 1969.
Catherine Zeta-Jones – actress, was born on 25 September 1969 in Swansea.
Sajid Javid – Conservative politician was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on 5 December 1969.
Richard Hammond – Richard Mark Hammond, TV presenter probably best known for Top Gear (and sometimes called ‘The Hamster’) was born in Solihull, West Midlands on 19 December 1969.
1994 – 25th anniversary
Phew – where does the time go? Briefly, 1994 was the year the Channel Tunnel opened and the Church of England ordained women priests. It was also the year that the leader of the Labour Party, John Smith, died unexpectedly and Tony Blair won the subsequent leadership election. Oh – and the first National Lottery draw took place.