Changing laws, rain and a sinking ship – things that happened in days gone by from 13th to 19th July inclusive

13 July 1988 was day Josephine Douglas died. ‘Who’s she?’ many may ask. But others of a certain age will remember her as the deviser, producer and co-presenter of ‘Six-Five Special’ on Saturday evening BBC TV. Without the aid of synthesisers, strobe lights, multi-track tapes, mime, colour and all the dressings of modern pop music ‘Jo’, as she was known, planted rock’n’roll firmly in the laps of people like me. With co-presenter Pete Murray she made the BBC very much aware of the fact that teenagers did exist – and could become avid watchers of programmes for them. The BBC may have been aware but it appears not to have listened. Despite its success the ‘Six-Five Special’ only ran from 16 February 1957 to 27 December 1958.
However – for those of that certain age:
On 13 July 1957
Elvis Presley had just started a seven week stay at number one with ‘All Shook Up’
On 13 July 1958 the Everly Brothers were in the second week of a seven week stay with ‘All I have to do is Dream/Claudette’ double sider.

14 July 1990 – In amongst the bits and pieces I have gathered and horded over the years, I’ve discovered this fascinating sequence of comments that were published on this day. The comments quoted are obviously made on previous days, but this was the day a newspaper – probably The Independent – put them all together: ‘I am not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot. You might just as well give it to Adolph Hitler, frankly.’ [Nicholas Ridley – the then Trade & Industry Secretary on German influence on the European Commission]. ‘This time I’ve really gone and done it [Nicholas Ridley when this remark was reported]. ‘My father is not all that important. I mean, he’s not the Prime Minister or anything, is he?’ [Jessica Ridley] ‘It’s the whisky and the loaded revolver for him.’ [A senior Conservative on Ridley’s comments.]

15 July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.
Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK. St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on the 15th ending a long dry spell and it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. This led to the monks taking it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ so they left his body where it was. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that St. Swithin’s remains were, in fact, moved on or around 15th July 971 and no evidence exists to support 40 days of bad weather. Following the Norman Conquest St. Swithin’s remains were moved to a new shrine and new cathedral in Winchester.
There was a large St. Swithin’s cult in the Middle Ages and this is where the legends and sayings surrounding his day are likely to have developed. During Henry VIII’s reign the shrine was destroyed in an attempt to end the legend and sayings. This probably guaranteed the sayings’ immortality because they have continued to be passed down through the ages. The legend originally only concerned rain, but later related to 40 days of similar weather. There is very little truth behind these sayings. Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days and on those days on which rain fell, it was only light rain. In 1976, 38 of the 40 days after July 15th were dry, but on the late evening of July 15th itself thunderstorms affected parts of southern England, with around 25mm rain falling on Luton in just one hour. So 1976 was either a spectacular failure or a near success depending on how you look at it! As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist and Luton resident Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days. The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read, “St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.

16 July 1932 Edith Oliver notes in her diary: “An expedition with Salisbury Historical Association then dashed home, arriving at a quarter to eight to find Penelope Chetwood and John Betjeman arrived for the weekend. He is … cleaner than I expected. Knows a lot about architecture, loves Georgian churches. He is a Quaker, having become one 2 years ago. This is surprising as his temperament has not the clear simplicity of Quakers, but a most mocking, doubling-back-on-itself kind of humour, writing parodies on hymns and begging to see Harry Newbolt so that he can savour the out-of-date flavour of a literary man of the past. I like him better than I expected. His instincts are all right. He does not jar. If they stick to each other, I don’t think Lady Chetwood need feel Penelope is more likely to be unhappy than in any other marriage. She says her parents want her to have a country place and shooting, but after all, these are less permanent even than marriages nowadays.”

17 July 1917 was the day the British Royal Family formally adopted the name ‘Windsor’ in the place of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’. ‘The Cornishman’ carried a typical statement of the facts with the heading: THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR with a sub heading RENUNCIATION OF SAXE-COBURG. ‘A Proclamation was signed at the Privy Council at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday that the British Royal Family henceforce be styled “The House of Windsor.” There follows the story, briefly told: ‘For nearly 200 years the British monarchs were of the House of Hanover, but on the accession of King Edward VII the name of the Royal House was changed to that of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, this title, of course, being derived from the Consort of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. King Edward, in October 1863 (sic), resigned on behalf of himself and provisionally on behalf of his descendants all right and title to his grandfather’s dukedom of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The reigning Duke is the son of the Duchess of Albany. It will be recalled that he was recently stripped of his British titles. The Duchess is the eldest daughter of the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sondenburg-Glucksburg.’
The Western Gazette carried a similar outline but added: ‘M.P.’s AND ENEMY DUKES: Mr Swift McNeill, on the second reading of the Titles’ Deprivation Bill (Lords), in the House of Commons on Tuesday, said the Bill aimed at the Dukes of Cumberland and Albany, who still retained their high British titles. Why had it taken the Government three years to eliminate traitors and introduce this measure? He hoped German influence would be a thing of the past, and there would be no more presents of fortresses like Heligoland to the German Emperor.’ The Bill was read a second time and duly became law.

It was on the 18 July 1872 that the royal assent was given to the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections (Ballot) Bill. Put simply: from now on each individual vote will be cast in secret. No longer would those entitled to voter have to identify in public their choice of candidate. This was a fundamental change to an age old process. Now every voter was independent and bribery and enforcement as to who to vote for was no more. The loss of power over the individual voter was a major concern but many other ‘reasons’ were given as to why the ‘powers that be’ were against the Bill. One such reason was cost. The Morning Post felt that ‘it may not be out of place to consider a few points connected with its practical working. One of the first things which will occur to the student of the Ballot Bill will be the heavy responsibility which is cast on the Sherriff and his subordinates. It calculated that for Surrey, for instance, we may estimate that voting booths for 48 districts would cost at £2,000; three deputies to oversee – £450; rooms for nomination, counting &c £150; ballot boxes, marking instruments &c £500; deputy sheriffs £372; poll clerks £312; printing, stationery, travelling expenses and sundries £300; making a total of £4,084 as against £1,420 at the last election under the old system. For this sum, as we have said, the High Sheriff will be liable, and will be able to sue each candidate only for his proportion. If among the candidates there should be any “men of straw”, the Sheriff will be a loser so far as their proportion is concerned. The office of Sheriff, except in the City of London, is rarely much sought after. On the contrary, it is generally undertaken with great unwillingness. Certainly the liabilities and responsibilities which the New Ballot Act will attach to it are not likely to render the office more attractive.’ Oh dear. Welcome to the voting system that remains with us to this day.

19 July 1545 was the day that the Mary Rose, flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, sank off Portsmouth 34 years after coming into service. The wreck was located in 1971, raised and is now a museum that attracts visitors from across the world. The reason why she sank is still a matter for deep discussion. The only confirmed eyewitness account of the sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. Other accounts agree that she was turning, but offer various reasons why she sank during the manoeuvre.
It all happened during what is called the Third French War. Henry’s split with Rome had angered the Pope and Catholic rulers throughout Europe and the result was war – referred to as the Third French War. The French had assembled a large fleet in the Seine estuary. In early July it set sail for England – a fleet of 128 ships entering the Solent unopposed on 16th July. The lack is no real surprise as the English fleet only had around 80 ships – including the flagship Mary Rose – to challenge the raisers. To make things worse they were becalmed and unable to manoeuvre. On the 19th the wind picked up and the English ships were able to go on the offensive. Two of the largest ships, the Henry Grace Dieu and the Mary Rose, led the attack on the French but early in the battle something went wrong. The Mary Rose suddenly heeled over and water rushed in through the open gun ports. The crew scrambled for the safety of the upper deck as equipment, ammunition, supplies and storage containers shifted and came loose. Heavy guns broke free and got in the way of the escape routes and fell on others, crushing them to death. Those below decks were trapped and very few of a crew of at least 400 – some say nearer 700 – escaped. There are four main, and differing, reasons suggested and discussed as to what actually happened.
Human Error is considered by many as the most likely reason for the loss. In the heat of battle perhaps the captain or the crew made a mistake.
A gusty wind had risen so did that hit the sails at a crucial moment, making the ship unstable? Eye-witness accounts described a sudden breeze as the Mary Rose went to make the turn to the north. With the gun ports opened for battle, the ship could have flooded and quickly foundered. If this is the case, though, why had she never foundered before in her 34 years at sea? Perhaps she had simply become too heavy after a recent refit, which had added extra guns to her firepower.
Although there is no archaeological evidence from the wreck to confirm this, a French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would have let water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking. Perhaps this was why the ship turned north so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the ‘Spitbank’ shallows which were only a few hundred metres away?
A fourth suggestion is that she was overloaded with heavy guns and/or with extra soldiers. If this were the case, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea. However, the guns had been put aboard in London so she had managed to get round the Kent coast, and along the English Channel, without mishap so why did she topple in the Solent?
All we know is that we probably never will know why it happened – but that’s the perennial challenge presented by so much of our history!


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