Westminster Bridge; Mrs Thatcher & colleagues; Wm Caxtion: Treaty with US; WW1; House of Commons on TV; The Cutty Sark plus JFK

Monday 16th November 1750 saw the formal opening of Westminster Bridge across the river Thames in London. For over 600 years, the nearest bridge to London Bridge had been at Kingston – some 15 miles distance. A bridge at Westminster had been proposed in 1664, but was opposed by the Corporation of London and the Watermen and nothing happened. Another proposal failed in 1722 but, after a new timber bridge was built at Putney in 1729, the Westminster Bridge scheme received parliamentary approval. That was in 1736. It was to be financed by private capital, lotteries and grants, and designed by the Swiss architect Charles Labelve. The construction began in 1739 and was complete in 1750. The old objections remained, though, and the proprietors of the bridge had to pay compensation to the operators of the earlier ‘Horseferry’ – a boat pulled across the river by a rope connected to a capstan rotated by a horse or horses – and to the local watermen.
A bridge-building ‘explosion’ in London across the river Thames was detonated by this. Next to be built was Kew Bridge – constructed in 1759 by Robert Tunstall who had previously owned the ferry on the site. This bridge was inaugurated on 1 June 1759 by the Prince of Wales driving over it with his mother and a number of other royals. It opened to the public, as a toll bridge, 3 days later. The Tolls ranged from 1 penny for each pedestrian to 1 shilling and six pence (1/6) for a coach and four horses.
Between 1760 & 1763 the City of London removed the buildings on London Bridge and widened it. They also began work on the Blackfriars Bridge in 1760 which opened as a ‘Toll Bridge’ in 1769.

The newspapers of Saturday 17th November 1990 reported on the continuing challenges to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s position:
Sir Geoffrey Howe said ‘The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long’
Mrs Thatcher’s responded with a cricket metaphor: ‘I am still at the crease, though the bowling has been pretty hostile of late. I assure you there will be no ducking the bouncers, no stone walling, no playing for time. The bowling’s going to get hit all round the ground. That’s my style.’
Sir Geoffrey came back with: ‘It’s rather like sending your opening batsman to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain’.
Keen cricketer John Major showed his support for Mrs Thatcher with the comment: ‘As far as I am concerned, the opening is well played in and will stay there for some years to come’.
Eleven days later – on 28 November 1990 – John Major became the leader of the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Tuesday 18th November 1477 saw the first printing of ‘Dictes’ or ‘Sayengis of the Philosophres’ (Sayings of the Philosophers), the first dateable printing in England by William Caxton. He had settled in Bruges by 1453 and travelled widely across Europe. It was in Cologne that he is believed to have first seen the new printing industry at work. Back in Bruges, he appears to have wasted no time in setting up a printing press in collaboration with a Fleming, Colard Mansion. His first book to be printed in English was produced in 1473: Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye – a translation by Caxton himself. His translation became popular in the Burgundian court and requests for copies of it were the stimulus for him to set up a press of his own. He came back to England and used his knowledge to set up a press at Westminster in 1476. It is possible that the first book to have been produced there was an edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – but there is no dateable proof. However – whatever came first – William Caxton has left us one heck of a legacy.

Sunday 19 November 1794 saw the signing in London of the Jay Treaty – a treaty devised to relieve the post-war tension between Britain and the United States. The treaty would finally become effective on February 29th 1796. The first page of the Jay Treaty, as published, was:-
Amity, Commerce, and Navigation
His Britannic Majesty
and the United States of America,
by their President,
with the advice
and consent of their
on the part of the
at Philadelphia June 24 1795.
To which is annexed
‘A Letter from Mr Jefferson to Mr Hammond,
alluded to in the Seventh Article of said
printed by NEALE and KAMMERER:
Sold No. 24 North Third Street

The story as recorded by the ‘US Department of State – Office of the Historian’ tells us that:
‘On November 19, 1794 representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed Jay’s Treaty, which sought to settle outstanding issues between the two countries that had been left unresolved since American independence. The treaty proved unpopular with the American public but did accomplish the goal of maintaining peace between the two nations and preserving U.S. neutrality. Tensions between the United States and Britain (had) remained high after the Revolutionary War as a result of three key issues:-

  • British exports flooded U.S. markets, while American exports were blocked by British trade restrictions and tariffs.
  • The British occupation of northern forts that the British Government had (previously) agreed to vacate in the Treaty of Paris (1783) as well as recurrent Native American attacks in these areas also frustrated Americans.
  • Finally, Britain’s impressments of American sailors and seizure of naval and military supplies bound to enemy ports on neutral ships brought the two nations to the brink of war in the late 1700s.

Though immensely unpopular with the American public, the Treaty passed through the Senate on a 20 to 10 vote on June 24, 1795. President Washington implemented it in the face of that popular disapproval, realizing that it was the price of peace with Great Britain and that it gave the United States valuable time to consolidate and rearm in the event of future conflict.

Tuesday 20th November 1917 saw the beginning of First World War Battle of Cambrai, south of Arras. It would continue through to 7th December. It is probable that the underlying reason for the battle was to test the effect of a mass tank attack as General Haig had over 300 tanks at his disposal by this time. The tanks had been massed in the woods and, as the artillery fire began on this day, the tanks rolled forward. There had been no long bombardment and no infantry attack as normally had been the case. This time the armour came first – rumbling over trenches and flattening wire as they advanced. It is recorded that they advanced some seven miles across the Hindenburg line with the infantry following some 100 yards behind them. As the infantry dealt with any remaining pockets of resistance, the term ‘mopping up’ was added to the military dictionary.
It wasn’t all ‘plain sailing’ though as Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood-Kelly’s Victoria Cross testifies. Born in Queenstown, South Africa he had already fought in the Anglo-Boer War and during the ‘present’ conflict had been both gassed and wounded more than once. He had earned a DSO at Gallipoli and had been appointed CMG (Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George) earlier in 1917. Now he was involved in the Battle of Cambria. He earned his VC when his men were held up by heavy enemy fire at the bank of a canal. He is said to have ‘led his leading company across the canal and then, under continued fire, reconnoitred the enemy’s position and, manning a Lewis gun, covered their capture by his battalion.’ Subsequence to this he ‘led a charge against further enemy positions and captured five machine guns and 46 prisoners.’

Tuesday 21st November 1989: The House of Commons had discussed the possible televising of the proceedings in the House eight times since 1964. In 1988 the MPs had backed an experiment with cameras in the chamber and, on this day in 1989, Commons proceedings were finally televised. Despite his opposition to the project, the Conservative MP Ian Gow was to deliver the first televised speech. However, before he began, Bob Cryer, the Labour MP for Bradford South, made a brief point of order on the subject of access to the House, thus denying Mr Gow the accolade of being the first MP (aside from the Speaker) to speak in the Commons on TV.
Ian Gow’s speech was self-deprecating and raised a few laughs when he recalled a letter he and other members had received, offering ‘image consultancy sessions and advice on how to improve their image for television.’
The speech itself was light and began: ‘I beg to move that a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:-
“Most Gracious Sovereign: We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
“I am mindful of the honour done by my constituents through my being invited to make this speech. A year ago, the Leader of the Opposition, quoting the admirable Mr. Colin Welch of the Daily Mail, described my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw)—who had just moved the motion—as a “roly-poly version of Dr. Bodkin Adams.” The House, and certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), may think that that description applies rather better to me. I am sad to have to confirm that the good doctor is no longer with us—sad because, at each dissolution of Parliament, he used to send (mr) a £5 note for my fighting fund.
“I have always voted against the televising of the proceedings of this House, and I expect that I always will. The brief intervention earlier of the Hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) did nothing to alter my view. Despite my strongly held opinions, a letter that I received three weeks ago – I believe that a copy was sent to each of us and possibly even to you, Mr. Speaker – made the following preposterous assertion: “The impression you make on television depends mainly on your image – 55 per cent – with your voice and body language accounting for 38 per cent of your impact. Only 7 percent depends on what you are actually saying.”              [The speech continues and can be found on http://www.parliament.uk]

Monday 22nd November 1869: Shipping magnate John Willis operated a shipping company founded by his father John Jock Willis in London. The company had a fleet of clippers and regularly took part in the tea trade from China to Britain. Speed was a clear advantage to a merchant ship, but it also created prestige for the owners. The ‘Tea Race’ was widely reported in contemporary newspapers and had become something of a national sporting event, with money being gambled against a winning ship. In his earlier years, John had commanded his father’s ships at a time when American-designed vessels were the fastest in the tea trade. He then had owned British-designed ships, which were amongst the best available in the world but had never won the ‘Tea Race’. In 1868 the brand new Aberdeen-built clipper ‘Thermopylae’ had set a record time of 61 days port to port on her maiden voyage from London to Melbourne in Australia. John Willis set out to beat this and a contract for the construction of a vessel to be called the ‘Cutty Sark’ was signed on 1st February 1869 with the recently formed firm of Scott & Linton. The contract required the ship to be completed within six months at a contracted price of £17 per ton and maximum weight of 950 tons. This was a highly competitive price for an experimental, state-of-the-art vessel, and for a customer requiring the highest standards. Payment would be made in seven instalments as the ship progressed, but with a penalty of £5 for every day the ship was late.
There were construction delays: Lloyd’s inspectors required additional strengthening in the ship – and work stopped altogether when Scott & Linton ran out of money! William Denny & Brothers – who had previously occupied the site – took over the contract to complete the ship.
It was launched on this day – 22nd November 1869; moved on to have her masts fitted and, on 20th December 1869, was towed downriver to Greenock for final completion. The ‘Cutty Sark’ began active service on 16th February 1870 – sailing out of the Port of London.
On 22 July 1895 she was sold to a Portuguese owner, renamed ‘Ferreiro’ and sailed out of Lisbon until being sold again in 1922 – twice. The second of these sales was to Wilfred Dowman based at Falmouth in Cornwall who renamed it ‘Cutty Sark’. In 1938 he sold the vessel to the Thames Nautical Training College based at Greenhithe in Kent before its last change of ownership to the ‘Cutty Sark Preservation Society’ in 1953. It was taken out of service in December 1954 and became a ‘Museum Ship’.

One last entry for this week:
On Friday 22nd November 1963 John F Kennedy was assassinated. I was playing a league table tennis match at the Garden City Press, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, when we heard the news.
Where you around at the time? If you were, what were you doing when you heard the news?
I’d love to know. ‘talkinghistory@msn.com’ will find me.


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