Talking History that happened 20th to 26th July in years gone by

20 July 1956 saw an age old question at number one in the UK popular music charts. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were asking the question ‘Why do fools fall in love?’ Frankie – then aged 12 – had written the song with a friend 12 months earlier. They were two of a group who sang gospel songs on New York street corners. Now they had the world at their feet. In the following year – 1957 – aged 14, Frankie was top of the bill at the London Palladium. I remember watching that on television and being very disappointed at their performance. To me it was more like a rehearsal – and I wasn’t too far from the truth. Because of their age they were banned from performing live on a television show, so what we saw was the group singing to an empty theatre on the Palladium stage with the curtains drawn behind them. It didn’t do them too much harm though because they had three more hits in that year. In 1968 Frankie died of a drug overdose – one of the first rock ‘n’ roll drug casualties.

21 July 1890 – Katherine Bradley – who withher niece Edith Cooper collaborated under the pseudonym “Michael Field” on a number of poetic dramas – records a conversation with Oscar Wilde: “We agreed – the whole problem of life turns on pleasure – (Walter) Pater shows that the hedonist – the perfect hedonist – is the saint. ‘One is not always happy when one is good; but one is always good when one is happy.’ He is writing two articles at present in the Nineteenth Century (a British monthly literary magazine founded in 1877 and was intended to publish debate by leading intellectuals; many of the early contributors being members of the Metaphysical Society) on the Art of Doing Nothing. He is at his best when he is lying on a sofa, thinking. He does not want to do anything; overcome by the ‘maladie du style’ – the effort to bring in delicate cadences to express exactly what he wants to express – he is prostrate.” Perhaps this is where I am going wrong! I shall have to lay about on the sofa more in thinking about these blogs!.

22 July 1946 was the first day after the introduction of bread rationing in Britain. The country was told that the ration would be on a varying scale for differing types of workers and children of different ages. For the ordinary adult it would be nine ounces of bread per day, part of which may be taken in flour or cakes. The Food Minister’s announcement was described as “one of the gravest I have ever heard in time of peace” by Winston Churchill, who demanded that figures of stocks and movements of cereals should be produced by the Government to justify “this extreme measure.” The bread and flour rationing scheme provided for seven different categories of consumers, and their bread unit coupons would cover bread, flour, cakes, buns, and scones – in fact all flour products that were not already covered by the points system. Allowances to catering establishments were to be restricted, but there was special provision for industrial canteens and for the packed-meal schemes for workers on heavy manual jobs. Agricultural workers getting the extra cheese ration would be able to get extra coupons. The ration entitlement was to be measured in bread units in the most complicated system the rationing schemes had ever imposed. The ‘simplified’ system said that the ‘ordinary adult’ – all the descriptions use the word ‘he/his’, females are ignored in the document – could have nine ounces of bread a day and his bread units per week were also nine, which he spends by the use of coupons of varying values from the ordinary ration book. The essence of the plan, it was said, was to make the supplies go round until, in a few months, the country would get the advantage of the next harvest which, everyone was told, would be good. The reality, though, was that Bread rationing did not end until July 1948.

23 July 1690 was the day Richard Gibson – a very competent painter of miniatures – died, aged 75. His wife Ann lived on for a further 19 years before dying – aged 89. Two very long lives for the time – but that is just one part of their whole story. Both were short – very short; their combined heights being no more than seven feet according to John Evelyn. As well as his competence as an artist Richard was Court Dwarf to King Charles 1st; while his wife Ann – known as Ann Shepherd – was court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria. The couple also found time to have nine children – five living into maturity, and all being of ‘ordinary stature’.

24 July 1765 Denis Diderot – a French philosopher, art critic and writer – wrote: “Do not over-educate is a maxim particularly suited to boys. You should abandon them a little to their natural impulses. I prefer them to be rough, thoughtless, and wilful. Let them have the sort of appearance that suits them. If in their foolish behaviour I see some sign of originality, I am satisfied. To my mind one of our unlicked provincial bear-cubs is worth a hundred of your little well-trained spaniels. When I see a boy who listens to himself talking and holds his head up properly and walks correctly and is afraid of getting a hair out of place or a crease in his clothes, the parents may be in raptures and say, ‘What a dear little boy we have’. But I say, ‘He will never be anything but a fool’.”

24 July 1869 – I remember as a younger person at school not too different from the recommended format noted above – being fascinated by the word ‘Antididestablishmentarianism’. Well – the source can now be told! It dates from the opposition to the Disestablishment Act which dissolved the Church of Ireland on this day.

25 July – St James’s Day. John Knill was an articled clerk to a solicitor in Penzance. He became a Collector of Customs at St. Ives from 1762-1782 and also Mayor of the town in 1767. He was a well-respected citizen and travelled a lot in a time of roads little more that cart tracks and where all communication was poor. In his position as Customs Officer both in St. Ives and London his advice was eagerly sought and he inspected Custom Houses as far away as Jamaica. He also became a magistrate, was called to The Bar and was Treasurer to the Bench of the Inn. He appeared to enjoy life to the full and socially he met many eminent people, including John Wesley and the engineer John Smeaton. In 1782 he had a three-sided stone obelisk built high on a hill as a landmark to those at sea. In his will he left money for the upkeep of the obelisk and also £25 for celebrations to take place every five years on St. James’ Day, 25th July although the first ceremony took place in 1801 with him present. This is known as the John Knill Celebrations. The people of St. Ives have been faithful to his wishes and a ceremony has taken place every five years, even during war time. The £25 was to be spent thus:- £10 for a dinner for the Trustees (the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer at the time, and two guests each; the dinner to take place at the George and Dragon Inn in St. Ives); £5 to ten little girls who have to be the daughters of either fishermen, tinners or seamen; £1 to the fiddler; £2 to two widows; £1 for white ribbon for breast knots; £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to enter a Minute of the proceedings and £5 to the man and wife, widower or widow who shall raise the greatest family of legitimate children who have reached the age of ten years. The £25 was more than adequate in days gone by but now income tax has to be paid as it is not a charity and the costs have steadily risen over the years. Somehow or other, with the generosity of interested people, the ceremony goes on to this day. It starts at 10.30am outside the Guildhall in St. Ives where the Knill’s iron chest is opened with three keys into the three locks – one by each of the Trustees. After a few words in explanation the procession made up of the three Trustees, the Master of Ceremonies, the fiddler merrily playing his fiddle, two widows, the 10 little girls and not forgetting many council members proceed to a place where they board transport to take them to the Steeple. In years gone by the procession would have walked, of course or maybe a carriage or two!! Everyone was/is dropped off at the bottom of the hill and then process up the very steep climb to the Steeple. The St. Ives Town band will have been playing to the crowds since 11am. At 12 noon the ceremony takes place around the Steeple. The little girls join hands and dance around the Steeple to old Cornish tunes played on the fiddle. The widows usually find someone to dance with as well! After fifteen minutes everyone stops to sing the Hundredth Psalm “All people that on earth do dwell”. After which many photographs are taken, the Master of Ceremonies says a few words and then the procession leads off back to the waiting transport and this wonderful old ceremony will be at an end. There is usually a house or two along Steeple Lane which opens its doors to sell refreshments to the people descending to the road below.

26 July 1936 – King Edward VIII, in one of his few official duties before he abdicated the throne, officially unveiled the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. Dedicated to the memory of the Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War, it also serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave. The monument is the centrepiece of a 100-hectare (250-acre) preserved battlefield park that includes a portion of the grounds over which the Canadian Corps made their assault during the Battle of Vimy Ridge – the first occasion where all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle as a cohesive formation. The memorial had taken monument designer Walter Allward eleven years to build when King Edward VIII unveiled it in the presence of the French President Albert Lebrun together with 50,000 or more Canadian and French veterans, and their families. Following an extensive multi-year restoration, Queen Elizabeth II rededicated the memorial on 9 April 2007 during a ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle.

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