Talking History Blog 28 April – 04 May

Monday 28 April 1772 saw the death at Mile End of a nanny goat. It was not just any old goat though – this one had twice sailed round the world! The first trip was in ‘The Dolphin’, a ‘discovery’ ship in the command of Captain Wallis; the second was on ‘The Discovery’ with Captain Cook. She would have been on board to provide milk for the crew during their long days at sea. Chambers 1864 edition of their Book of Days tells us that the Lords of the Admiralty had, just previous to her death, signed a warrant that admitted her to the privileges of an in-pensioner of Greenwich Hospital. It records, sadly, that ‘it was a boon she did not live to enjoy’.
Tuesday 28 April 1789 – on their way back to their ship after collecting breadfruit from the trees of Tahiti, some of the crew of The Bounty, egged on by Fletcher Christian, mutinied against Captain Bligh. It is said that the sailors were attracted to the “idyllic” life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti! Bligh, together with 18 loyal crew members, was set afloat in a small boat. In an outstanding feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated that open boat on a 47-day voyage to Timor. He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

Tuesday 29 April 1913 was the day that Gideon Sundback submitted his patent application for his design for a ‘separable fastener’ – we call it a zip fastener. A U.S. Patent 1,219,881 for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917. So next time you ‘zip-up’ just give Gideon a ‘nod’ for his invention.
On this Saturday in 1933 Everton played Manchester City in the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Nothing special about that you may say but – this was the first time that numbers on the player’s shirts had been used. Everton wore numbers 1 to 11 while City had numbers 12 to 22. 92,950 people watched the match which ended with a 3-0 win for Everton – the famous Dixie Dean scoring one of the goals.

Saturday 30 April 1870 – Everyone knows about Halloween, and many celebrate it with ghostly stories and tales of witchcraft. But few seem to know about Walpurgis Night. Walpurgis or ‘May Eve’ is the springtime counter to Halloween and once had much the same ‘following’. An entry in the diary of Robert Francis Kilvert – single and curate to the Reverend Richard Lister Venables the Vicar of Clyro in Radnorshire – writes ‘This evening being May Eve I ought to have put some Birch and Witan (another name for Mountain Ash) over the door to keep out the ‘old witch’. But I was too lazy to go out and get it. Let us hope that the old witch will not come during the night. The young witches are welcome’.
It was on Monday 30 April 1900 that Casey Jones – an engineer with the Illinois Central Railroad in the USA – died when his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, collided with a stalled freight train on a foggy and rainy night in Vaughan, Mississippi. His dramatic actions trying to stop his train and save lives made him a hero. He had forfeited his chance to jump to safety, choosing to stay at the controls. He alone was killed, He is immortalized in the Country & Western song ‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ that has been recorded by most US Country & Western artistes including the likes of Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash. 

1 May – May Day in Britain; the day when ladies in years gone by hoped for a good morning dew. The morning dew on this day was viewed as being excellent for the complexion – in particular for the removal of freckles – and some said the effect of one bathing lasted all year. A comment in North East Scotland in 1881 tells ladies that: Washing the face with dew gathered on the morning of the first day of May kept it from being tanned by the sun and becoming freckled. It was still being recommended in the late twentieth century: We were told by other women, ‘Wash your face in the May dew, it’s good for your skin and will bring good luck’ (Lincolnshire 1992). The earliest clear reference for this belief occurs in Samuel Pepys’s Diary entry of 28 May 1667 when he describes how his wife, Elizabeth, had got up early to gather the dew: ‘After dinner, my wife away down with Jane and W Hewer to Woolwich in order to a little ayre, and to lie there tonight and so to gather May dew tomorrow morning, which Mrs. Turner hath taught her as the only thing in the world to wash her face with, and l am contented with it’.

Thursday 2 May 1952 was the day the world’s first passenger carrying jet airliner, a BOAC De Havilland Comet, call sign G-ALYP, with 36 fare-paying passengers aboard, set off on its’ maiden scheduled flight from London to Johannesburg. It was, in fact, a part of BOAC’s route proving trials for the Comet. The total journey of nearly 7,000 miles took just under 24 hours with five stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. Because of the length of the journey, the crew were replaced at Beirut and Khartoum. Each passenger on the flight received a special first flight certificate signed by Captain A M Majendie, the pilot of the first part of the flight. A single, one-way, ticket cost £175 while a return fare was £315. These were the same prices that travellers on the normal BOAC piston-engine aircraft paid – their flight took around 28 hours.

Thursday 3 May 1951 saw the opening of the Festival of Britain by King George VI. It was organised to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was intended to demonstrate Britain’s contribution to civilisation past, present, and future; the arts and science, technology and industrial design. Cheering and flag-waving crowds had lined the route for the King and Queen’s progress from Buckingham Palace to St. Pauls. The procession stopped at Temple Bar where the King was offered the Pearl Sword of the City by the Lord Mayor of London. The Lord Mayor holds precedence “of every subject” within the boundaries of the City of London. However, he traditionally surrenders the sword to the monarch, thus accepting the precedence of the Sovereign over all others. The King returned the sword to the Lord Mayor and followed as the Lord Mayor led the procession on to St Paul’s. After the special service the King declared the festival open from the steps of St Paul’s. Later that afternoon, the Royal couple attended a service of dedication led by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the new, specially built, Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the Thames. Battersea Park had been transformed into the Festival Gardens and was laid out as a pleasure garden with a tree walk, fountains and a grotto. Exhibitions of art and design were being held all over the country and, as night fell, some 2,000 camp fires were lit across Britain.

Thursday 4 May 1780 saw a thoroughbred colt do something that had never been done before, that can only be done once in each year, and can never be done a second time by any winning horse – it won a race called ‘The Derby’. The idea for the race had originated in 1779 at a celebration following the first running of the Oaks Stakes in that year. It was decided that the new race should be named after either the host of the party, the12th Earl of Derby, or one of his guests, Sir Charles Bunbury. The Earl would appear to have won the toss – but perhaps Bunbury, who was the Steward of the Jockey Club, opted out. As it turned out the race was won by ‘Diomed’, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury! He collected prize money of £1,065 15s. The winner in 2014 year will get over £1 million.

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