Saturday 18th January 1879 saw the publication of the first edition of ‘The Boy’s Own Paper’. The idea for the publication had been raised in 1878 by the Religious Tract Society as a means of encouraging younger children to read. ‘The Boy’s Own’ began life as a weekly paper of 16 pages, in a buff-brown cover. It cost just one penny, though many copies of the first edition were given away in schools to ensure a good circulation. What really helped its achievement, though, was its immediate success on the railway system of Great Britain – well actually the one thousand or so railway bookstalls of a Mr. W.H. Smith that had become the central distributing agency for all the towns and cities they serviced. As the ‘Boy’s Own Paper’s reputation grew it was, apparently, quite usual to see a crowd of boys waiting for its arrival at the station on publication day. Much of the early content was typical of its time – science, natural history, puzzles, school and adventure stories, essay competitions, and personal reminiscences – all, of course, delivered with a “healthy moral tone”. However, amongst the first scripts submitted for the opening edition of this new magazine was a story entitled “My First Football Match” by “an Old Boy” – and it had pride of place on the front page of that very first edition. That story was set in a public school environment and was accompanied by a serial “From Powder Monkey to Admiral or The Stirring Days of the British Navy”. Also included was Captain Matthew Webb’s contribution – an account of how he swam the English Channel! As time changed the magazine became less and less in tune with modern interests and the magazine ceased publication in 1967.
Wednesday 19th January 1831 saw Charles Greville – considered by many to be the greatest English diarist after Pepys – musing about the King’s state of health. ‘George Lamb said that the King is supposed to be in a bad state of health, and this was confirmed to me by Keate, the surgeon, who gave me to understand that he is going the way of both his brothers [Frederick, Duke of York died 1827 & George IV died 1830]. He will be a great loss in these times, he knows his business, lets his Ministers do as they please, but expects to be informed of everything. He lives a strange life at Brighton with a tag rag and bobtail about him, and always open house. The Queen is a prude and will not let the ladies come décolletées to her parties. George the 4th, who liked ample expanses of that sort, would not let them be covered.’
The concern was a little premature because King William IV hung on until 20th June 1837 – just a little bit beyond Princess Victoria’s 18th birthday, thus ensuring that she could become Queen in her own right – much to the annoyance of her mother!
19th January 1915 was the day Britain suffered the first air raid when German Zeppelins attacked Norfolk. The details of this are in this week’s extended story.
20th January is St Agnes’s Eve. The Rev M.C.F. Morris, in his ‘Yorkshire Folk Talk‘ of 1892, tells its readers that “The proper day for making Dumb Cake was the eve of St. Agnes. What all the ingredients of the cake were I know not, but one principal one was salt. I remember being told some years ago, by an old inhabitant in one of the dales, about the composition of this mystic cake. It was somewhat as follows: In the first place four people had to assist in the making of it, each taking an equal share in the work, adding small portions of its component parts, stirring the pot, and so forth. During the whole time of its manufacture and consumption a strict silence has to be observed. Even when it is being taken out of the oven each of the interested parties must assist in the work. When made it is placed on the table in the middle of the room, and the four persons stand at the four corners of the room. When set on the table the cake is divided into equal portions and put upon four plates or vessels.
The spirit of the future husband of one of the four would then appear and taste from the plate of his future bride, being only visible to her whose husband he was destined to be. As a preliminary to this, every door of the house had to be thrown open. The traditional hour for making the feast was midnight.”
If they didn’t fancy cooking – or they couldm’t get a quorum – there were other rituals ‘available’. For one such option the curious young lady party could/would transfer pins one by one from a pincushion to their sleeve while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t fancy that? They could simply restrict their intake to stale bread and parsley tea and go to bed with a prayer to St Agnes to be shown a future partner.
Thursday 21st January 1847 – This day’s diary entry of Augustus John Cuthbert Hare, then a 12 year old schoolboy at Harrow, gives us a first-hand example of the life at schools such as Harrow in times past:-
‘Before prayers I was desired to go into the fifth-form room as they were having some game there. A boy met me at the door and told me to make my salaam to the Emperor of Morocco, who was seated cross-legged in the middle of a large counterpane, surrounded by twenty or more boys as his serving men. I was directed to sit down by the Emperor, and in the same way. He made me sing, and then jumped off the counterpane, as he said, ‘to get me some cake’. Instantly all the boys seized the counterpane and tossed away. Up to the ceiling I went and down again, but they had no mercy, and it was up and down head over heels, topsy-turvy, till someone called out ‘Satis’ – and I was let out, very sick and giddy at first, but soon all right again.’
As things turned out he spent just one year at Harrow before leaving due to ill health. In 1853, he matriculated at University College, Oxford, graduating in 1857 with a BA. Described as a writer and raconteur he was the author of a large number of books – primarily biographies of members and connections of his family, and descriptive and historical accounts of various countries and cities.
On Tuesday 22nd January 1924 Ramsey McDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister of Britain. In 1911 he had become the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party – a party described as largely an unimaginative grouping of ageing trade-unionists. He set about trying to give the party a distinct ideology, and wrote on many elements of the relationship between socialism and parliamentary democracy. He also developed the arguments between labourism and the Liberal tradition. In 1914 he opposed Britain’s participation in the War and resigned his role as leader of the Labour Party. In 1922 he again became the official leader of the Party as they replaced the Liberals as the main anti-Conservative force in Parliament. On this day, Tuesday 22nd January 1924, and with the support of the Liberals, the Labour became the formal party of government. It lasted just 10 months but he, and the Party, would return to powere at the beginning of the next decade.
Thursday 23rd January 1980: For the last five years of his life, Philip Toynbee – poet, novelist and reviewer – kept a journal of his thoughts and feelings, ranging from sometimes calm, sometimes passionate meditations about his relationship with God to piquant and poignant observations about the world around him. The son of the historian Arnold Toynbee, his experience of the bohemian life of the 1930s & 1940s played a vital role in his views of the bogus and absurd. That manifested itself in his independence of judgement which, in turn, did him no harm as the leading reviewer of the “Observer” for more than 20 years.
During the last decade of his life his thoughts turned increasingly to “those holy mysteries which surround us all” – his journal rising to a higher and more urgent note by the knowledge that he was suffering from a terminal illness. He continued to record his thoughts and feelings and on this 23rd January he wrote in his diary:
’When have I experienced joy? I think, always, of a certain moment in Paris in 1946, sitting in a sunny café over a Pernod, waiting for a girl to join me and knowing that we should be going to Fontaine-bleau to spend the night there together. A secular, and worse than secular, occasion. Present euphoria of booze; ecstatic prospect of future adultery. So this can hardly be what they mean – yet how well I remember saying to myself, as I sat there looking at the Luxembourg Gardens across the street; “This is happiness. Now I am happy. Remember it all for the rest of your life!’ He died on Monday 15th June 1981
Thursday 24th January 1760 – Thomas Turner was an important figure in the community of East Hoathly in East Sussex. As well as keeping a shop, he served as an undertaker, schoolmaster, surveyor and overseer of the poor. He helped people write wills, manage accounts and collect taxes. He was a regular participant at vestry meetings and was an occasional visitor to the Duke of Newcastle’s ‘Halland House’.
A different side of him comes to light as, for this day, he writes in his diary: ‘Went to Mr French’s where I plaid (sic) at brag till supper; I and my wife lost 3s 7d. Thank GOD, very sober, as well as all the company (except Dame Durrant). We plaid at brag in the evening and staid (the usual party) till twenty minutes to two, and not a person in the company sober; and I am sure, to my own shame, I was as bad as anyone … the company seeming to be wonderfully pleased with their entertainment, exhilarated my spirits, so that I was transported beyond the natural bounds of my temper, and by that means I was left destitute of reflection and caution.’
Sunday 24th January 1965 was the day Sir Winston Churchill died. It was exactly 70 years to the day of the death of his father, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill. Many words could be, and have been, written about both men. Trying to add to them here would be pointless.