11th January: Last week we were reacting to the missing 11 days based on Christmas. Today we have, in Scotland, a different reaction to the ‘loss of 11 days’. The Scottish village of Burghead on the Moray Firth now celebrates this day as ‘Old New Year’s Eve’. Their celebration is known as ‘the Burning of the Clavie’ and many claim that the celebration actually dates back to ‘pagan’ times. The ‘clavie’ is a blazing tar barrel that is carried through the streets on a pole carried by the ‘Clavie King’ and his assistants. These assistants have a major role to play in the celebrations – they present smouldering faggots as tokens of good fortune to pre-selected households along the way. This gift ‘ensures’ they will have warmth and good fortune through the coming year – unless, of course, they have an accident with the faggot and burn their house down.
The whole procession ends at the top of Doorie Hill where the Clavie is placed on a stone pillar covered in tar or creosote – plus some more from a can if needed – where it burns until it collapses. At this, the onlookers scramble for the glowing ‘lucky’ embers as these will ‘ensure’ them good fortune until this time next year
Friday 12th January 1866 was the day that the ‘Royal Aeronautical Society’ was inaugurated as the ‘Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’. The objectives of the society were given as “for the advancement of Aerial Navigation and for Observations in Aerology connected therewith”. The founding members were: His Grace the Duke of Argyll, Mr James Glaisher, Dr Hugh W. Diamond, Mr F.H. Wenham, Mr James Wm. Butler and Mr F.W. Brearey. The first public meeting was held in the rooms of the Society of Arts on 27th June 1866, cementing an association which would last for more than 70 years. At this first meeting, a lecture was given by Mr F H Wenham on ‘Aerial locomotion and the laws by which heavy bodies impelled through air are sustained’. The paper introduced the idea of a theory he had tested in 1858 with a multi-wing glider, although that did not actually fly! He first tested a concept of ‘superposed wings’ in 1866 with a model that is said to have resembled a Venetian blind. In that same year he patented the design which, in due time, became the basis for biplanes, triplanes and multiplanes that took to the air as gliders in the 1890s, and as airplanes in the early decades of the 20th century.
One hundred and four years to the day after this inauguration, on Monday 12th January 1970, the first Boeing 747 ‘jumbo jet’ landed at Heathrow at the end of its maiden passenger carrying flight from New York. One wonders how the gentlemen of 1866 would have reacted to that.
Thursday 13th January 1921: Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was a poet, writer, and soldier who was decorated for bravery in the First World War [on 27th July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross – For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all the killed and wounded were brought in.], and became one of the leading poets of that conflict. His poetry vividly both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirised the patriotic pretensions of those who, in his view, were responsible for a jingoism-fuelled war. As such he became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces, which was enhanced when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his “Soldier’s Declaration” of 1917. It all culminated in his admission to a mental hospital. On this day in 1921 his diary entry gives us a sense of the man: ‘Rainy weather. Does the weather matter in a journal? Lunched alone: does that matter? (Grilled turbot and apple-pudding, if you want full details.) Talked to ‘the Judge’ about fox hunting for a few minutes. Then went to Cheyne Walk for tea with Gabriel. Bought yellow narcissi on the way. Buying flowers is refreshing, though I always give them away. Left at five, and played ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ for an hour [on a gramophone]: also refreshing. Dined at Arnold Bennett’s and enjoyed it greatly. B. is always nice. He showed me his manuscripts, which are very beautiful. That of ‘Old Wives’ Tale’ practically free from correction. He had been to see George Moore, who said: ‘Hardy is a villager; Conrad is a sailor; Henry James was a eunuch.’
Saturday 14th January 1604 was the day the Hampton Court Conference finally opened at Richmond-on-Thames. It was originally scheduled for November 1603, but an outbreak of plague meant it was postponed until this day. Some say it was an event that intended to settle differences between leading Anglicans and Puritans; others have said that it was King James versus the Church of England and the Puritans. It certainly came about because of the Puritan’s Millenary Petition – a list of requests given by them to King James in 1603 while he was travelling to London to claim the English throne. That carefully worded document expressed Puritan distaste of the state of the Anglican Church and was backed up by a petition that allegedly had the signatures of 1,000 Puritan ministers. It was also careful to take into consideration King James’ own religious views. They were also aware of the King’s liking for debate.
There were three meetings over the period of these three days and, by the end, King James was pleased with the results. Not only had he eloquently reached agreements on many of the Puritan demands, he had also avoided any major arguments. Ultimately it led to the King commissioning a translation of the Christian Bible into the English vernacular. Because it alone was authorised to be read in Churches it would be known as the Authorised Version. It was published in 1611 and is now commonly described as the ‘King James Bible’.
On Monday 14th January 1878 Queen Victoria made Britain’s first telephone call. At Osborne House on the Isle of Wight she used Alexander Graham Bell’s demonstration machine to speak to her secretary Sir Thomas Biddulph who lived in a cottage in the grounds.
The Queen recorded in her journal that she ‘had been put in communication with Osborne Cottage & we talked with Sir Thomas & Mary Biddulph, also heard some singing quite plainly’, and that she found the whole process ‘most extraordinary’.
Two letters between Sir Thomas, the ‘Keeper of the Privy Purse’, and Bell, show how much Queen Victoria was impressed by the demonstration. Sir Thomas wrote from Osborne on January 16th 1878:
My dear Sir
I hope you are aware how much gratified & surprized The Queen was at the exhibition of the Telephone here on Monday evening. H.M. desires me to express Her thanks to you & the Ladies & Gentlemen who were associated with you on the occasion. The Queen would like if there is no reason against it, to purchase the 2 Instruments which are still here with the wires &c attached. I think I understood the price would be about £25 each. Perhaps you would be so good as to let me know to whom the sum due should be paid.
With many thanks to you; I am &c. (signed) T. M. Biddulph
Bell’s reply from 57, West Cromwell Rd. Kensington on January 18th 1878 says:
I feel highly honoured by the gratification expressed by Her Majesty, and by her desire to possess a set of Telephones. The instruments at present in Osborne are merely those supplied for ordinary commercial purposes, and it will give me much pleasure to be permitted to offer the Queen a set of Telephones to be made expressly for Her Majesty’s use.
I am, dear Sir, Yours very respectfully Alexander Graham Bell
Sunday 15th January 1797 saw farmer’s wife Anne Hughes note in her diary that ‘Master Peter did go home today, and thereby hangs a tale; for it do seem he did but come for the purpose of asking John’s Mother to wed him, and he getting her to his self in the back yarde did pop the question. At which she did let out at him finely, and threatened to belabour him with the yarde besom, saying he should be ashamed, and her own dear man but lately buried. Whereby she did take him by the neck and did shake him till he did yowl for mercie, and me going out to rescue him, but later he off.’
Tuesday 15th January 1952 was a day some of you reading this may remember – for others this, briefly, is the brief story that made this day special to so many.
As the Second World War developed more and more ‘normal’ food-stuffs went on ration. Milk was one of them. From 1940 the British population had been limited to 3 pints of milk per adult per week. This sometimes fell to just 2 pints per adult per week. Children, in the main, were not limited to any significant extent but woe-betide any adults that were known to deprive children of their milk ration for their own consumption. It was not until this day, some 7 years after the end of the Second World War that Milk rationing in Britain came to an end.
Dad worked on a farm with cattle by this time and I don’t think I noticed anything difference as I ate my breakfast cereal swamped in milk.
Wednesday 16th January 1929 saw the first issue of The Listener, a weekly magazine established by the BBC under the editorship of Richard Lambert. It was developed as ‘a medium of record for the reproduction of broadcast talks’. It also previewed major literary and musical broadcasts, reviewed new books, and printed a selected list of the more intellectual broadcasts for the coming week. Its published aim was to be “a medium for intelligent reception of broadcast programmes by way of amplification and explanation of those features which cannot now be dealt with in the editorial columns of the Radio Times”.
The ‘Newspaper Proprietors’ Association’ considered its launch to be “an illegitimate stretching of official activity” and, after consultation between John Reith and the Prime Minister, a number of compromises were agreed to, including an upper limit of 10% original contributed material not related to broadcasting. Another compromise was a limit to the amount of advertising it could carry. ‘The Listener’ came to be one of a trio of weekly magazines, the other two being ‘The Spectator’ and the ‘New Statesman’, though it was distinguished from them by not being associated with political parties. The management of the other two magazines were also critical of, what they saw as, the privileged financial position of their subsidised rival.
The Listener ceased publication in 1991; The Spectator and the New Statesman continue to this day.
Thursday 17th January 1833: The ‘Morning Chronicle’ of Saturday 19th January reported an event that was all too common at the time:-
‘On the evening of Thursday 17th January an Inquest was held at the Greyhound Tavern, at Dulwich, on the body of a new-born male child, which was found concealed in a water-closet, at the house of Charles Ranken Esq, a gentleman of Independent fortune, at Dulwich. A female, about thirty, named Harriet Webb, who lived in the family of Mr Ranken as cook, had long been suspected by her fellow servants to be ‘enceinte’, but she solemnly denied this. On Saturday last she entered the kitchen and commenced her domestic work apparently as cheerful as usual. The attention of the servants was, however, attracted to a marked alteration in her appearance. In consequence of other circumstances, Mr Webster, the family physician, was sent for, and he declared that the cook must have given birth to a child. She then admitted that she had been ‘enceinte’, but that she had had a miscarriage. The body of a fine healthy child was then found in the water-closet, and it had evidently died from the blows it received in falling. The Jury returned a Verdict – “That Harriet Webb, the mother of the deceased child, was guilty of concealing its birth” – and the Coroner immediately issued his warrant for her committal to Horsemonger Lane Gaol. The woman, since the discovery of her being delivered of a child, has been in a dreadful state of mind, and she has been taken to Camberwell Workhouse, where little hopes are entertained of her recovery. She has since acknowledged that she was delivered of the child in the water-closet.’
‘Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronical’ of 20th January briefly states that: ‘Harriette Webb, who was servant in the family of Mr Rankin, at Dulwich, was on Thursday directed to be committed to Horsemonger Gaol, to take her trial for concealing the birth of an illegitimate child, which was found in a privy ten feet deep. She remains at present in the workhouse, dangerously ill. Before the discovery of the child, she admitted she had been delivered of something, which she had burnt at the back of the kitchen fire.’
‘enceinte’ – is the French word for ‘pregnant’