This week’s look at events in years gone by – 30th June to 6th July

On Tuesday 30th June 1846 Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett: “How exquisitely absurd, it just strikes me, would be any measure after Miss Marineau’s own heart, which should introduce women to Parliament – how essentially retrograde a measure! Parliament seems no place for originating creative minds – but for second-rate minds influenced by and bent on working out the result of these – and the most efficient qualities for such a purpose are confessedly found oftener with men than with women – physical power having a great deal to do with it beside. So why shuffle the heaps together which, however arbitrarily divided at first, happen luckily to lie pretty much as one would desire – here the great flint stones, here the pebbles … and diamonds too.”  As so often has happened since I began this blog sequence, in telling one story I came across something new to me. Who, I wondered this time, was Miss Marineau? Well I failed to find her – or did I? In the search I found a Miss Harriet Martineau who is described as ‘an English social theorist and Whig writer who was often described as the first female sociologist.’ There is also a statement that ‘She believed a thorough societal analysis was necessary to understand women’s status under men.’ I have a feeling she may appear again in some guise or other.

Thursday 1st July 1858 was the day a paper by Charles Darwin outlining his theory of evolution by natural selection was presented to the British Linnaean Society. He had finished some 250,000 words on the subject by June 18, 1858 when he received a letter from Alfred Wallace, an English specimen collector working in the Malay Archipelago. Wallace was working on a very similar-looking theory to that of Darwin. Fearing a loss of priority on the subject Darwin accepted a solution where extracts from both works would be read alternately to the Society. Neither were present at the reading; Darwin was away grieving for his young son who had recently died from scarlet fever; and Wallace was thousands of miles away. As a result the readings were done by proxy. Wallace’s formulation of the theory had actually predated Darwin’s published contributions but his wide-ranging interests—from socialism to spiritualism, from island biogeography to life on Mars – effectively left the way open for Darwin to develop his view and he took the opportunity. He promptly began an “abstract” of Natural Selection, which grew into an expanded and more accessible book – ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’. The rest, as I have said of other things in these blogs, is History. Most people know the name of Charles Darwin – very few know the name of Alfred Wallace, including your scribe who knew nothing until he started this piece of research. I think we may come back to that gentleman again.  But – having compiled this over the past few days I was told by a colleague on Thursday last that there was a programme recently on this story on television. I didn’t see it – did you? If you did, and there are apparent discrepancies in the above, please take it as a living example of there being multiple facets in any story – from the past or in the present. Comments welcome on talkinghistory@msn.com

Wednesday 2nd July 1947 – Edie Rutherford – a South African housewife and Socialist now living in Sheffield – records in her Mass Observation diary: ‘Chinese laundry near here has a new notice up, ‘A few customers taken in.’  Today for the first time for years I opened the door to ‘Will you buy something from a disabled ex-serviceman?’ and he opened his case with alacrity. He seemed to have nothing I wanted, but, as I have done door-to-door selling, I always buy if I can. So I took two pairs shoelaces and bodkin, 10d the lot. He then offered me elastic but, as I have enough just now, I declined with thanks. He was young and looked fit enough. One had hopes that this kind of thing would not follow the war this time. Husband has sent to Selfridges for sports coat advertised at 48/-. Prices here round £5 for a coat worth buying, and thirteen coupons.

 Wednesday 3rd July 1963 – Cecil Beaton records the filming of My Fair Lady in his journal: ‘I had watched Audrey [Hepburn] during the tests, wearing almost no make-up and being photographed in a somewhat flat light. One took for granted her charm and vitality, but it was only when the result was magnified hundreds of times, that one realised that, as Jack Warner said, ‘She’s one in a million.’ Somehow, the celluloid accentuates her expressions of tenderness, humour, fun, hauteur and plaintive childishness. He nose and jawline do not conform to the golden rule of Praxiteles yet add enormous character to the photographed result. After seeing herself without eye make-up Audrey pleased me by saying that, in the future, she was going to soft-pedal its use. The ‘Flemish look’, without make-up, is going to be a surprise. Suddenly, one realizes what a hard look the black liner gives the eye, and how its effect is to close up, and make smaller, the white of the eye. Audrey’s appearance without it will be quite a revolution and, let’s hope, the end of all those black-eyed zombies of the fashion magazines.     Just in case you wish to know – and are like me and did not know who/what Praxiteles was – he was a 4th century BCE Greek from Athens, the son of Cephisodotus the Elder, and was the most renowned of the Attic sculptors of the time, being the first to sculpt the nude female form in a life-size statue.

 Saturday 4th July 1829 is the day that, in London, George Shillibeer is credited as being the first person to introduce a regular bus service in England. A large crowd gathered outside of the ‘Yorkshire Stingo’ pub in Paddington, by the New Road (now known as the Marylebone Road) to see the first two horse-drawn omnibuses leave for the Bank Junction in the city of London. The route was along the New Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road, City Road, Moorgate and Princess Street. Shillibeer had first seen this kind operation in Paris in 1825 where a Monsieur Lafitte, besides being a banker, was the proprietor of the ‘World’s first Omnibus’. Shillibeer, a midshipman in the British Navy, left the service to learn coach-building at Hatchett’s in London’s Long Acre. After his training he took premises in Bloomsbury, where he built a new vehicle that he called an ‘Omnibus’, although many people of the time referred to them as ‘Shillibeers’, and later as simply ‘Buses’. There is still a Shillibeer Place in Marylebone – just where the carriages and horses were stabled. The first Buses carried twenty-two passengers, all inside. The first conductors employed were friends of Shillibeer from his navy days and wore ‘blue cloth uniforms, cut to the style of midshipman’s’. Newspapers and magazines were provided free of charge for the passengers during the journey. As trade picked up Shillibeer was taking £100 or more per day, and his buses soon spread all across London. Soon others were competing for passengers so – no doubt to ‘fight’ the opposition – Shillibeer renamed his buses ‘Shillibeer’s Original Omnibuses’. However, in 1835 the railways began being introduced into London and, with competition growing, Shillibeer had some ‘trouble’ with the Stamp and Tax offices and ultimately found himself pushed out of the London transportation network altogether. What did he do next? He began building ‘Shillibeer Funeral Coaches’ and his name connected with buses was soon forgotten.

 Friday 5th July 1865 – We have just been ‘seeing’ the introduction of horse drawn busses. Steam propulsion soon followed, and expanded from railways to the road – and a new set of rules had to be set in place and, as a result. This day saw the world’s first speed limit being imposed on Britain’s roads. It was put in place under the Locomotives and Highways Acts – a series of Acts of Parliament regulating the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on the public highways. The first three – the Locomotives on Highways Act 1861, the Locomotive Act 1865 and the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878 all contained restrictive measures relating to the manning, speed and the operation of road vehicles. These Acts also formalised many important road concepts that still apply today such as vehicle registration, registration plates, speed limits, maximum vehicle weight over structures such as bridges, and the organisation of highway authorities. However, the most draconian restrictions and speed limits were imposed by the 1865 Act. It is widely referred to as the “Red Flag Act” because the Act required that all road locomotives, including automobiles, should not travel at a speed exceeding 4 miles per hour in the country and 2 miles per hour in the city. To control this it was required that a man carrying a red flag should walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons. It was not until 1896 that an Act began to withdraw some restrictions – and it also allowed speeds of up to 14 mph on appropriate highways!

 On Friday 6th July 1919 the first airship to cross the Atlantic – the British R34 – arrived in New York City. A class of Airships – designated R33 – had been in the design stage in 1916 when a German Zeppelin was brought down on English soil. It was captured near intact with engines in good order and for five months was carefully examined to uncover its’ secrets. The existing R33 design was adapted to produce an airship based on those discovered secrets and two examples were ordered. One, called R33, was made by Armstrong-Whitworth and the other – R34 – by William Beardmore & Co. The R34 made her first flight on 14th March 1919 and was delivered some 10 weeks later to her service base. After a 56 hour endurance trip over the Baltic it was decided that R34 should go for the first return Atlantic crossing. However, it had never been intended as a passenger carrier and extra accommodation was arranged by slinging hammocks in the keel walkway. Hot food was to be provided by cooking on a plate welded to an engine exhaust pipe! One of the crew members was scheduled to stay behind to save weight but he, one William Ballantyne, stowed away with the crew’s small tabby kitten mascot called “Whoopsie” and when they emerged a while after take-off it was too late for them to be excluded! R34 left Britain on 2nd July and arrived at Long Island in the United States on this day – 6th July 1919 – after a 108 hour flight and virtually no fuel left. The Long Island landing party had no experience of handling a large rigid airship so Major E M Pritchard jumped by parachute to oversee the R34 landing and, as a result, became the first person to reach American soil by air from Europe! The return journey to Pulham in Norfolk went fine and took ‘just’ 75 hours.

As a postscript – in January 1921 R34 left on what should have been a routine exercise but over the North Sea the weather worsened. A recall signal sent by radio was not received and a navigational error resulted in the R34 hitting a hill on the North Yorkshire Moors in the dark as it tried to return. This caused the loss of two propellers. R34 went back out to sea on the two remaining engines and when morning came they followed the Humber estuary back to their Howden base. Continuing strong winds made it impossible to get R34 back into the shed so it was tied down outside for the night. By morning further damage had occurred and R34 was written off and scrapped. A sad ending to a short but exciting life.

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