I’ve tried a little refinement this week by including the actual day that each happening occurred. I’ve used a Perpetual calendar that I received while studying with the Open University. They quote their sources as: Encyclopedia Britannica; 15th edition, Micropedia, vol II p.455
Sunday 14 April 1471 saw the Battle of Barnet – a decisive engagement in the Wars of the Roses, that dynastic conflict of 15th century England that still fascinates both as the conflict and, of course, modern-days Yorkshire v Lancashire sporting meetings. The military action at Barnet, followed by the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, secured the throne for Edward IV. Near Barnet, then a small town north of London, Edward led the House of York in a fight against the House of Lancaster, which backed Henry VI for the throne. Leading the Lancastrian army of some 15,000 troops was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick – the erstwhile backer and friend of Edward. Edward’s army is considered to have been around ten to twelve thousand strong. Early in the morning of the battle there was a thick fog. The armies engaged and one of Warwick’s commanders succeeded in routing one of the flanks of Edward’s army, and pursued them back to Barnet. But while they were away, the push of battle swung the armies around, and, on returning they mistook the badge of another of Warwick’s commanders (a star with streams of light) for the badge of their enemy Edward (a sun with rays). They attacked their own side, which panicked and fled. Historians regard the battle – which lasted little more than four hours – as one of the most important clashes in the Wars of the Roses, not least because it resulted in the death Richard Neville – the King Maker.
Saturday 15 April 1452 saw the birth of an illegitimate son to a Florentine notary and a peasant woman. His given name was Leonardo, his family name da Vinci. Leonardo studied art in Florence before settling in Milan. There, in 1498, he painted one of his most famous works – The Last Supper – on the wall of a convent refectory. Around 1504 he completed the Mona Lisa.
It was on this Wednesday – 15 April 1942 – that King George VI conferred the George Cross for civilian gallantry on the island of Malta in recognition of its bravery in the face of Italian and German attacks.
Wednesday 16 April 1941 – Writing in this day’s diary Harold Nicolson provides us with a wonderful, and frightening, view of what our parents and grandparents had to cope with 73 years ago. He records: ‘I get off to sleep all right, but the blitz gets worse and worse, and the night shrieks and jabbers like an African jungle. I have never heard such a variety of sounds – the whistle of the descending bombs, the crash of anti-aircraft, the dull thud of walls collapsing, the sharp taps of incendiaries falling all around. The British Museum opposite my window turns rose-red in the light of a fire in the University. Every now and then it turns sharp white when a magnesium flare descends; then rose-red again. It goes on all night and I sleep fitfully.’
Tuesday 17 April 1956 was Budget Day – and the day when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Rt. Hon. Harold MacMillan announced a scheme called ‘Premium Bonds’. The aim of the scheme was to control inflation and encourage saving in the post-war era – people would, it was felt, find the chance of winning some prize-money was better than receiving a minimal interest on their savings. Premium Bonds became a reality on 1 November 1956 when they finally went on sale. The first Premium Bond was bought by Alderman Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd (later Lord Mayor of London – but not because of his Premium Bond investment!) and by the end of that first day, £5 million worth of Premium Bonds had been sold.
Thursday 18 April 1968 – It was a financial coup in the best tradition of the City of London when the corporation announced the sale, for one million pounds (£1,000,000), of London Bridge. The increasing traffic flow across the river had become too much for the narrow old bridge to cope with so they had put it up for sale with a price tag of £100,000, and a condition that it must be bought as one piece – and kept as one piece! The buyer was Robert McCulloch, an American oil millionaire. In 1964 McCulloch had founded Lake Havasu City – a community lying in the Arizona desert some 65 miles from the nearest township. His plan was to expand it into a profit making resort city with a 45 mile long lake created from a tributary of the Colorado River. London Bridge was just what he wanted! Over the next 3 years the bridge was dismantled stone by numbered stone; shipped to the US and re-erected. It was re-opened on 10th October 1971 by the Lord Mayor of London – dressed in his full robes of office in a temperature of around 100 degrees F! Was it worth it? By the mid 1970’s Lake Havasu was receiving around three million visitors a year to see, and walk over, a ‘magic’ chunk of English history. What I suspect they did not know was that the bridge was not THAT old – it had been opened by King William IV in 1831!
Wednesday 19 April 1587. There are times when history research can be extremely frustrating. Where a specific date is quoted for Francis Drake’s ‘singeing of the King of Spain’s beard’ there is a 50/50 split between this date and 10 days hence on Saturday 29th April. At least the month and year is consistent across them all! Anyway – I’m sticking with the 19th April 1587 as the day Francis Drake’s English fleet sailed into the Bay of Cadiz. The Spanish ships in the Bay were part of the force being prepared for the attack on England. Many of them sailed out to meet the oncoming English fleet but were forced to retire back into the bay by the more organised and powerful English vessels. Gun positions on the shore began shelling the English fleet but had little overall effect. Again reports vary. Some say the battle lasted into the evening, through the night and the whole of the following day and night before the English withdrew on the morning of the third day. Others say the whole thing was over in 24 hours! Drake claimed that he had sunk, burnt or captured over 30 vessels and destroyed a considerable amount of materials being assembled for the Armada invasion. Whatever the true facts are – there is no doubt that it delayed the Armada invasion and gave us that lovely attributed comment that Drake had ‘Singed the King of Spain’s Beard’. Some regard it as a boastful claim of success; others say it was a joke comment by Drake. Others consider it a ‘made up’ comment quite some time after the eventual return of Drake to England. Either way it’s still a statement we love to remember.
Monday 20 April 1931 saw the Sunday Entertainments Act being passed in the House of Commons – an Act that changed many lives and created quite a kerfuffle in some circles. What did the Bill do? It allowed cinemas to open on Sundays!
Prior to this change the provisions of the Sunday Observance Act of 1780 had made it offence for any premises to which the public paid for admission to be used for public entertainment or amusement on Sundays. But licensing authorities—those authorities which licensed cinemas which were open during the week—did, occasionally, give informal permission for Sunday opening for concerts, et cetera. But this permission was subject to several conditions; for instance, no make-up was allowed; no dancing; and the bulk of the proceeds had to go to charity—which in those days usually meant the voluntary hospitals. This method of Sunday opening was not satisfactory, and it left the proprietors of the cinema or concert hall open to action by common informers under the Sunday Observance Act. The new Act operated a kind of local option. Where the majority of the electorate express the wish for Sunday opening, it was to be allowed, subject to the provisions of the Act, the most important of which is to ensure that those who worked on Sundays should have a day off during the previous week.
Prior to the passing of the Act ‘The Spectator’ newspaper of Saturday 11 April 1931 had carried a letter on the subject of the Sunday Opening of Cinemas. It reads: ‘Sir: Concern for the cinema worker is perhaps the main theme in the controversy on the question of the Sunday opening of the cinemas. Often that concern is quite genuine, and therefore perfectly legitimate, as in the case of Mr Jack Jones, who declares that he believes in Sunday cinemas, provided that the workers are safeguarded. In other cases the cinema worker’s lot is used simply as an excuse by fanatics to exercise their fanaticism. But surely both camps will be satisfied by the Home Secretary’s announcement that the Government have decided to include in their Bill a clause limiting to six days the working week of those who are employed in cinemas. That is as precise and as authoritative as anything could be. If passed, as it certainly will be, The Government Bill will settle once and for all the position of the cinema workers to the satisfaction of the only two groups of individuals whom it affects – namely, the workers themselves and their employers, the cinema exhibitors. I am, Sir, etc., Gordon Craig, New Era Films Ltd., 26 and 27, D’Arblay Street, Wardour Street, W.1.’