Monday 31st August 1936. It was on Thursday 14 May 1936 that the Portsmouth Evening News, among other newspapers, told us, with pictures, that Miss Jasmine Bligh and Miss Elizabeth Cowell were joining the B.B.C. as television hostess-announcers. Today was the day that the Aberdeen Journal advised its readers that: ‘The B.B.C. announces that Miss Elizabeth Cowell, one of the two women telephone announcers, will make her first appearance in the experimental transmission to-day from Alexandra Palace London, by the Baird Process. She will be seen announcing songs by Helen M’Kay and will conduct a television interview with Rita Grant in the Baird spotlight studio. The transmissions begin at 12 and 4.30’. Miss Cowell is the one on the right in the image below, with the flower on her collar.
Monday 1st September 1159 saw the death Pope Adrian IV. Born Nicholas Breakspear, he is the only Englishman to be elected to this exalted position. Born in 1100 in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire he, in his late teens, applied to enter St Alban’s Abbey but was refused on the grounds that he had received too little schooling. Undeterred he left England and ‘worked’ his way through France, studying at Arles in Provence and then joining the St Ruf monastery in Avignon in 1130 where he prospered, becoming their abbot in 1137. Later, travelling to Rome on Abbey business, he was noticed by Pope Eugenius III who kept him there, appointing him Bishop of Albano in what is now the Province of Rome in 1150. Highly regarded by the Pope, Nicholas was given important jobs, including organising the Church in Catalonia after the defeat of the Saracens. He was also sent to Scandinavia as papal legate and, as legate, he reorganised the Swedish church, sent missionaries into Finland and set up a huge bishopric embracing Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and sundry other communities including the Isle of Man, the Faroes, Shetland and the Orkneys. Here is not the place to explore all of this, but when he eventually returned to Rome Eugenius was dead and within a year his successor Anastasius – in his 90s – was also dead. As a result of these deaths it was in November 1154 that Nicholas Breakspear found himself unanimously elected Pope – taking the Papal name of Adrian IV.
2nd September: Staying with the Papacy for a while: up to 1582 the days and months of the year had been based on the Julian calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Realising that the year had fallen 10 days behind the astronomical clock, Pope Gregory XIII corrected the error by instituting his revised ‘Gregorian’ calendar. Four Catholic countries—Spain, Portugal, the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth, and most of Italy — promptly implemented the new calendar with Julian Thursday, 4 October 1582, being followed by Gregorian Friday, 15 October 1582. Because the news took a long while to reach the colonies of Spain and Portugal they adopted the calendar later. Other Catholic countries followed: France made the change with Sunday, 9 December 1582, being followed by Monday, 20 December 1582. Some of the Dutch provinces adopted it on 25 December 1582; the Southern Netherlands (modern Belgium) picked 1 January 1583 as the change day with the province of Holland following on 12 January 1583. Many Protestant countries were slow to change, fearing that the new calendar was part of a plot to return them to the Catholic fold. None, though, were as slow as Britain. It was not until this day – 2nd September 1752 – that Britain finally adopted the calendar – by which time we were 11 days adrift of the communities mentioned above. For Britain ‘catch up day’ – 2nd September 1752 – was followed by 14th September 1752. Many people thought they had been cheated out of 11 days’ pay and the cry went up across the country to: ‘Give us back our eleven days’.
Thursday 2nd September 1666 – this evening saw the beginning of the Great Fire of London which needs no telling here.
Sunday 3rd September 1189 saw the coronation of King Richard the First of England. This is the first coronation for which detailed accounts exist. They are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and describe the ritual and give us the names of those who attended. The chronicler also records how the Duke of Normandy – as Richard was called before he was actually crowned – was led in procession with “triumphal chanting” from the Palace of Westminster to the Abbey followed by a crowd of nobles, clergy and people! After the oath and the anointing Richard himself took the crown from the altar and handed it to the Archbishop of Canterbury who then formally crowned him while two earls actually held up the very heavy crown. After the Mass, the King put on a lighter crown and other vestments for the banquet which followed in Westminster Hall.
The chronicler also records “evil omens” at the service – a bat fluttered around the king’s head during the ceremony and a mysterious peal of bells was heard. Fighting also broke out when a Jewish money lender tried to offer the King a gift while in the Abbey. The money lender was ‘smitten with a man’s fist’ for daring to defile a Christian sanctuary. The anti-Semitic fighting spread, with ‘many persons’ being slaughtered on the streets of London. After his coronation Richard immediately made plans for a crusade to free the Holy Land from the Turks under Saladin. He left England, achieved his aim, received the promise that Christians henceforth would have access to Jerusalem and then headed homeward. On his way home he got himself captured and it took the equivalent of a quarter for every man’s income for a year plus the sale of church plate to clear the ransom and have him set free. When he got home he had a second coronation at Winchester then went off to France to fight and was never seen in England again.
Wednesday 4th September 1588. At 10 o’clock on this morning Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died peacefully near Oxford aged 55. In many ways he had lived a charmed life. He was the fifth son of the Duke of Northumberland and, aged 22, had been locked up in the Tower of London when his father was executed for his role in the attempt to place his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Robert’s grandfather had also been executed – for treason! In his ‘post-Tower’ life it could have done him no harm that, at the same time as his incarceration, one Princess Elizabeth – later Queen – was also held there. After Elizabeth’s ascension in 1558 Robert became a court favourite. Elizabeth made him Master of Horse and later a Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter and the Constable of Windsor Castle. His ‘home’ was Kenilworth Castle which he substantially transformed through comprehensive alterations – adding a 15th-century style gatehouse to the castle’s medieval structures, as well as a formal garden and a residential wing which featured the “brittle, thin walls and grids of windows” that became a hallmark of Elizabethan architecture. In July 1575, when the work was complete he staged a spectacular 19-day-festival as, many feel, a final bid for the Queen’s hand. The whole scenery of landscape, artificial lake, castle and Renaissance gardens impressed, with entertainments including a ‘Lady of the Lake’, a swimming papier-mâché dolphin with a little orchestra in its belly, fireworks, masques, hunts, and other popular entertainments such as bear baiting. If he was seeking Elizabeth’s hand the whole event was a failure – but he and Elizabeth remained close friends to his death. Somehow, however, the Tower never left the ‘scene’. Robert’s stepson Robert Devereaux became a ‘friend’ of the Queen. Politically ambitious, and a committed general, he was placed under house arrest following a poor campaign in Ireland in 1599. In 1601, he led an abortive coup d’état against the government and was executed for treason – just as Leicester’s father and grandfather had been!
Wednesday 5th September 1781 saw a French fleet, led by Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul and the English led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves fighting the Battle of Chesapeake Bay off the east coast of America, a crucial naval battle in the American War of Independence. The battle itself was tactically inconclusive but strategically it was a major defeat for the British, since it prevented the Royal Navy from reinforcing or evacuating the blockaded forces of Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The French were able to achieve temporary control of the sea lanes with the result that they could reinforce the Continental Army with siege artillery and French troops—all of which later proved decisive in the Siege of Yorktown, effectively securing independence for the Thirteen Colonies.
Wednesday 5th September 1917: Zoologist Bruce Cummings was a highly intelligent man with a passion for life that was severely restricted by MS. On this September day, aged 28, he provides us with a sense of his grief at being robbed of his physical abilities as he writes: ‘Some girls up the road spend a very wet Sunday morning playing leap-frog in their pyjamas around the tennis lawn. It makes me envious. To think I never thought of doing that – and now it is too late. They wore purple pyjamas too. I once hugged myself with pride for undressing in a cave by the sea and bathing in the pouring rain, but that seems tame in comparison.’ Bruce died in 1919 and his journal, under the pseudonym W.N.P. Barbellion, and titled ‘The Journal of a Disappointed Man’, was published very soon after. At the time of writing copies of the book are available on both eBay and ABEbooks.
Monday 6th September 1852 saw the opening, in Manchester, of the United Kingdom’s first free lending library. The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser of Wednesday 8th reports that: ‘The opening of the Manchester Free Public Library has been looked forward to with a good deal of interest, and it will not be a matter of surprise that great anxiety was manifested by the public to be present on the occasion. The ceremony took place in the spacious room in which are stored the volumes designed as a library for reference, whilst the distinguish visitors intending to take part in the proceedings were received in a room of corresponding proportions on the first floor, containing the books which form the public lending library. At twenty minutes past eleven o’clock, when the noblemen and gentlemen invited to take part in the proceedings had taken their seats in the upper room, there were nearly a thousand persons present, a great portion of who were ladies. Sir John Potter presided, and the following noblemen and gentlemen took their seats on either side of the chair’. Here is not the place to list them all but a Mr Thackery and a Mr Charles Dickens were amongst the gathering. The latter was –‘received with the most cordial cheering and gave an introductory speech which provoked laughs and cheers’.
The York Herald later told us that ‘the total cost of the building, in its present state, with its fittings and furniture, was £6,963 6s 2d. The extent of shelving already provided would accommodate from 6,000 to 7,000 additional volumes. The number of volumes purchased to date is 18,028 and their aggregate cost was £4,156 – or about 4 shillings 7 pence per volume on the average. In addition to the books thus acquired, 3,292 volumes have been presented to the library. The number of volumes at present contained in the library of reference is 16,103’. I just love the specific publishing of data in the newspapers of the time.