An airship failure and railway workers; Carbon paper, women’s hour and collecting for the lifeboats; a sinking ship, a smashing wave and an unusual chart topper

Sunday 5th October 1930 was the day that England’s airship R101 crashed in France killing all but 6 of the passengers and crew. This brought an abrupt end to Britain’s attempts to create lighter-than-air aircraft. Thos. W. Ward Ltd of Sheffield salvaged what they could of the wreckage and, although it was stipulated that none of the wreckage should be kept for souvenirs, made small dishes impressed with the words “Metal from R101”. It is recorded that the Zeppelin Company purchased five tons of duralumin from the wreck! So where had it all gone wrong?
At some time previous a schedule had been drawn up by the Air Ministry for R101 to undertake a flight to India in early October 1930 during the Imperial Conference which was to be held in London. The programme was intended to improve communication with the Empire, and it was hoped that the flight would generate favourable publicity for the airship programme. In reality, the whole production programme was a shambles, so much so that the final trial flight did not take place until 1st October. It lasted 16 hours 51 minutes and R101 was tested under near perfect weather conditions. Because of the failure in one engine it did not carry out full speed trials, and the test flight itself was curtailed because of the need to prepare the airship for the flight to India. Despite this a Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 2nd October, the Inspectorate expressing their complete satisfaction with the condition of the airship and the standards to which remedial work had been carried out. The actual certificate was not handed over to the ship’s Captain until the day of her flight to India! R101’s intended destination was Karachi via a refuelling stop in Egypt.
The weather forecast on the morning of 4th October was generally favourable, with conditions reported as improving over southern France and the Mediterranean. By mid-day, though, the forecast indicated some weather deterioration and a fine rain was beginning to fall when, with all passengers and crew aboard, the R101 cast off from the Cardington mast at 18.36 GMT to a cheer from the crowd that had gathered to witness the event. From that time forward things began to go wrong. An oil pressure defect prompted a 4 hour shut down of one engine. Deteriorating weather with low cloud, heavy rain and south-westerly winds of up to 50 mph did not help. It was close to midnight when R101 crossed the French coast. At just after 2.00am the weather, and intrinsic engineering failures, caused R101 to go into a shallow dive, slowly recover and then go into a second, fatal, dive. It hit the ground at the edge of a wood southwest of Beauvais and immediately caught fire. The subsequent enquiry estimated the impact speed was around 13 mph with the airship between 15° and 25° nose down.
A total of 46 of the 54 passengers and crew were killed immediately. Two others survived the crash but later died in hospital in Beauvais. The bodies were returned to England and on Friday 10th October a memorial service took place at St Paul’s Cathedral while the bodies lay in state in Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminster. Nearly 90,000 people queued to pay their respects. At one time the queue was half a mile long, and the hall was kept open until after midnight to admit them all. The following day a funeral procession transferred the bodies to Euston station through streets crowded with mourners. The bodies were then taken to Cardington village for burial in a common grave in the cemetery of St Mary’s church.

Tuesday 6th October 1846 saw Lord Stanley [14th Earl of Derby & 3 times Prime Minister] writing to John Croker [ex politician] ‘I was assured the other day that the railway navigators (of whom there are employed above 200,000) consume on an average two pounds of meat daily, of which they require that one-fourth part shall be fat! I should think the actual rate of wages now in course of payments to railway labourers and those connected with them does not fall short of a million a week! I heard of ironworkers earning 15/- a day, almost the whole of which is consumed in meat and drink – the practice being for gangs to have constantly by them a pail of ale, with a bottle of gin in it, from which every man takes a swill at the completion of a certain number of bars of iron; and one case was named to me in which a lad of sixteen, receiving 13s a day, struck for 15s and the employers were obliged to give it to him. This is not a wholesome state of things, far from it, but for the present it must have a powerful effect in keeping up the prices of agricultural produce, and blinding the farmers to the ultimate effect of the late measures’.
Those late measures were the Repeal of the Corn Laws which would be a heavy – and negative – blow to farming as it allowed cheap grain to be brought in from abroad. The ‘Corn Law Rhymes’ poem of 1839 by William Harrison that I Blogged on 11th June provides the view of the Fenland farmers on this.

On Tuesday 7th October 1806 Ralph Wedgwood – a relative of Josiah Wedgwood of pottery fame – secured a patent for a machine that made the first documented use of carbon paper – something that would change many people’s lives. His ‘carbonated paper’ was impregnated with ink on both sides and was, initially intended to produce a single copy by placing it between two sheets of paper and writing on the top sheet with a metal stylus. Funded to some degree by the ‘family firm’, Ralph was trying to help blind people write – Braille writing was still 15+ years away. It soon became apparent to Wedgwood that his “carbonated paper” could be used as an “apparatus for producing duplicates of writings”. Scottish engineer James Watt, of steam-engine fame, had invented a tissue-copying process for business correspondence in 1779 but that required special inks and fluids and was a wet process for the user. It didn’t catch on. Wedgwood marketed carbon paper, but that wasn’t really viable for most businesses. That required two further developments. One was the creation around 1820 of single-sided carbon paper that didn’t require any special writing board. The other was the invention of the typewriter as we know it – patented by Christopher Sholes in 1868. It was then that the brainchild of Wedgwood and, by then others, had a good hundred-year run as an easy, economical way to make multiple copies at the time of a document’s creation

Monday 7th October 1946 saw the first broadcast on BBC radio of ‘Woman’s Hour’. The BBC made no great fanfare for the new programme but responses soon came to the fore in the newspapers. One such response was in Wednesday’s Yorkshire Evening Post in its ‘From a Woman’s Point of View’ slot. It had the headline ‘WOMAN’S HOUR’: WHY SO MUCH CROONING? The commenter Kay Boughton was not too impressed as she wrote: ‘Admittedly the BBC is not responsible for its listeners’ tastes – musical or otherwise – but I thought it a pity that its new feature for women – “Women’s Hour” – should be interspersed with quite so much crooning. A little of Vera Lynn and her kind was always too much for me, and the tonsillar contortions of Mr. Bing Crosby leave me equally cold, only less unpleasantly so. Otherwise the feature had variety, but I was mildly surprised at the choice of Stanley Weyman’s “Under the Red Robe” as the serial. It is a rattling good yarn, but hardly the general feminine cup of tea, I should think, judging by the interest shown in the serial broadcast of D. L. Murray’s “Enter Three Witches” and the constant demand for the novels of Frances Parkinson Keyes”.
‘Under the Red Robe’ was an 1894 novel about Cardinal Richelieu. A 1923 silent film had been made of the story with a British/American talkie coming out in 1937.

Thursday 8th October 1891 was Lifeboat Day in Manchester – and was the first of three days that claimed to be Britain’s first ever street collection for charity. The Nottingham Evening Post of Tuesday 13th reported that: ‘On Saturday collections were made in Manchester for the Lifeboat Fund and a sum of about £2,000 was subscribed. Yesterday another £1,000 was forthcoming, and many firms have yet to send in their returns. Amongst the contributions is one of £50 from Mrs Fraser, widow of the late Bishop’.
The Derby Daily Telegraph of the same date tells us a slightly different story – but with the same result. It says ‘On Thursday, Friday and Saturday collections were made in the streets and workshops in Manchester in aid of the funds of the National Lifeboat Institution.’ It quotes the same £2,000 and £1,000 contributions as the Nottingham Evening Post and adds that ‘it is confidentially expected that the aggregate collection will reach £4,000’.

Wednesday 9th October 1799 was the day that the British frigate HMS Lutine – originally built for the French navy as ‘La Lutine’ – sank off the Dutch coast with a significant cargo of gold bullion on board. Its salvaged bell was presented to Lloyds of London where it was rung when news of overdue ships arrived. The ‘Lutine Bell’ is still rung on ceremonial occasions. The captain of HMS Lutine was Lancelot Skynner. He came from Easton-on-the-Hill near Stamford where his father John was the rector for many years. Plaques on the former rectory – now Glebe House but known for a time as Lutine House – and in the church, commemorate this loss of the ship and Captain Skynner.
The Hereford Journal of Wednesday 23 October carried the following report: ‘It is with extreme concern we relate that intelligence was, on Sunday, received at the Admiralty from Capt. Portlock of his Majesty’s ship Arrow and communicated by Admiral Mitchell, relating to the total loss of La Lutine, of 32 guns, on the outer bank of the Fly Island Passage, on the night of the 9th inst. In a heavy gale at N.N.W. La Lutine on the same morning (the 9th) sailed from Yarmouth Roads with several passengers, and 140,000 guineas for Hamburg. The wind being at N.N.W. and a heavy gale, she was driven towards the Vlieland, on the coast of Holland, and a strong lee tide setting in during the night, she went ashore, notwithstanding the exertions of her Officers and crew, and was in pieces before morning. A nephew of Messrs. Goldsmid, who was going over with the specie [money in the form of coins rather than notes] for the relief of the Hamburg Merchants, in consequence of the late failures, is, we are sorry to find, among the number of those who are lost. The only survivor is a Mr. Schabrack, a Notary Public.’
Other reports say £200,000 was lost. The Stamford Mercury of 25th October stated that ‘We learn from good authority that there was £600,000 sterling in specie on board the Lutine, which had been shipped by individual merchants in this country, for the relief of different commercial houses in Hamburg’.
I wonder which of these claims, if any, were right.

Monday 10th October 1903 – The Sea has no favourites – the story of La Lutine tells us that – but you don’t have to go to sea to experience its dangers as Raymond Asquith, eldest son and heir of Prime Minister Asquith – and about 25 at the time of writing – found out. His letter of this day to Lady Manners tells his story:
“We had a storm yesterday and I went out to watch the waves: I ventured too far out onto a rock and was knocked flat on my face against a granite floor by one of the biggest rollers ever seen on this coast: I never felt such a blow; luckily I fell into a crevice and wasn’t washed away; but I was stunned for a few seconds, and when I got up my face and knee were streaming with blood. Margot is always splendid on these occasions; she took me back to the house and covered me with ice and raw beef: but in spite of all I am a most revolting sight today and shall be for a week or more – lame in one leg, blind in one eye, and with a nose like Cyrano … I’m glad you can’t see me: you would never speak to me again.”

Friday 11th October 1969 – Now for something totally different – the record that reached number one today in the British Pop Record charts. It only stayed there for this week but …. The title was ‘Je t’aime … Moi non plus.’ The performers were Jane Birkin (previously seen devoid of clothes with David Hemmings in a photographic studio in the film ‘Blow Up’) and Serge Gainsbourg – a multi-talented French artist. The record was described by more than one individual as ‘grunts and groans sounding remarkably like a gentleman and a lady entwined in mutual passion’ – they were more selective with their words then. The BBC banned it and Fontana Records deleted it from their portfolio. However, the small Major Minor record company bought the master copy and – bingo – they had a number one hit on their hands – the 277th record to reach the number one spot on the British Pop Music charts. What took over as the 278th number one on 18th October, also for just one week? Bobbie Gentry telling us that ‘I’ll never fall in love again’.


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