24th March 1832 – Henry Crabb Robinson writes in his diary that he ‘.. had a melancholy letter from Wordsworth (poet William). He talks of leaving the country on account of impending ruin to be apprehended from the Reform Bill!’ It’s interesting to see how one man’s diary can cast light on the attitude of another. Demands for voting reform had been made long before 1832, but had continually failed to get passed. As a result of public pressure the bill, which granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution and took away seats from the ‘rotten boroughs’, was finally passed. In doing this the Act increased the number of individuals entitled to vote, increasing the size of the electorate from about 500,000 to 813,000 – allowing around one in six adult males to vote. As we now know, William did not decamp. The friendship between the two was long lasting, and in 1837 we can find William and Henry travelling together on the continent.
25th March is Lady Day and one of the quarter days in Britain. It is also the day when some 1,400 loaves are produced for the Tichborne Dole – a charitable ‘event’ which dates back to the reign of King Henry II. If the 1,400 loaves are insufficient, all the claimants who fail to get a loaf are entitled to ‘tuppence’ in lieu. Over generations of doling, the custom changed to the doling out of flour instead of baked loaves, and today, as long as you live in the villages of either Tichborne or Cheriton, an adult can receive a gallon, and a child ½ a gallon, of finest self-rising flour. If you are married with a couple of children, the three gallons of flour could bake all your bread for the year! For Dardanella Woollard, from the village of Tichborne, the 2003 Dole was the 38th time she has scooped the flour; she recalls happy times: “I have been at the Dole ever since I moved to the village in the ’60s. It’s usually raining for the event, but this year was the best weather for many years. My pillowcase is the best receptacle for the flour as it easily carries the entitlement, and lets the flour breathe too. And, although there are more and more cakes and bread always available on the bakers’ shelves, my sack of flour usually lasts me through to the end of the year.”
The dole is still a family affair, and the present day descendants, Anthony and Catherine Loudon, are adamant that the tradition is kept alive. Anthony explains: “Today, we order the flour in bulk from the local flour mill and have it delivered in a huge box. We hold a family lunch, after which the family priest blesses the flour which is set at the front of Tichborne House. We then offer up a prayer to remember Lady Mabella and start the distribution of the flour to every adult and child in the parish.”
26th March 1827 was the day Ludwig van Beethoven died – aged just 57. It is reputed that his lasts words were ‘I shall hear in Heaven.’
Staying with the subject of death for a moment – this day in 1886 saw the first formal cremation take place. Cremation was not legal in Great Britain until 1885 but a piece of land in Woking had been acquired in 1878 in anticipation of approval for the construction of a crematorium. Although cremation was not legal, work commenced and the first test was carried out in March 1879 – the body of a horse was cremated. In February 1884 Cremation was finally declared legal and the country’s first official cremation was that of Mrs Jeannette Pickersgill which took place, on this day, in Woking.
27th March 1790 is said to be the day when the shoe bootlace was invented as an alternative to the buckle!
On a very different front – and a certain fact – we now have the annual Six Nations’ rugby Union tournament – this year won by Ireland with England second. It was on 27th March 1871 that the very first International rugby union match took place. It was played between teams from Scotland and England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in front of 4,000 spectators. The match was won by Scotland who scored two tries and a goal to England’s single try.
28th March – bearing in mind recent happenings I wondered if I should record that on this day in 1874 Great Britain and France jointly declared war on Russia; effectively starting the Crimean War. On a more cheerful note this day in 1881 saw P T Barnum and James A Bailey cease competing and jointly forming the Barnum and Bailey Circus which they promoted as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
29th March 1461 – In heavy snow at Townton in Yorkshire one of England’s bloodiest battles took place between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. The Yorkists were victorious but both sides suffered heavy casualties.
29th March 1981 saw the very first running of the London Marathon. 6,700 started and over 5,300 finished. The first Men’s Elite Race was a tie between American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who crossed the finishing line holding hands in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 48 seconds. The first Women’s Elite Race was won by Britain’s Joyce Smith in 2 hours 29 minutes 57seconds. The last home took around 7 hours.
30th March 1840 saw the death of George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell. From being the definer of men’s fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, he ended his life, some 30 years later penniless and insane at Le Bon Sauveur Asylum near Caen. Here isn’t the place to dissect his life – suffice to say that he left England for France in 1816 owing many thousands of pounds to a great many significant people in England. In Calais much the same happened. After some ten years there he acquired a post in the Consulate in Caen which lasted just two years. He then rapidly ran out of money and was forced by his Calais creditors into a debtors’ prison. Some English friends ‘bailed’ him out but it was too late and ‘Beau’ died in Le Bon Sauveur Asylum on this day in 1840.
Staying with money, to finish this week’s glance back at history, we can record that on this day in1987 a Japanese buyer at a London sale paid around £25 million (40 million dollars) for Van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers!