Another year has come and (almost) gone, and what a splendid year it was – scarcely a month went by without a major anniversary. If it wasn’t Dickens, it was Captain Scott and if doomed explorers weren’t your scene, there were doomed Titanic passengers to read about. So let’s have a look forward to what we will be commemorating in 2013…
28 January sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. If your knowledge of the book is confined to seeing Colin Firth in a wet shirt, then you’re in for a real treat. It’s much funnier and more knowing about human nature than any novel has any right to be. And if you have read it, why not try one of the many, many spin-offs and sequels, some by very famous writers indeed. You can find all of Jane Austen’s books in Westminster Libraries as well as many biographies and volumes of criticism.
24 February gives us an opportunity to celebrate the 75th birthday of nylon. The first commercial product made with nylon was not, as one might expect, stockings but a toothbrush. Previously, toothbrushes had been made with animal bristles so it’s a cause for celebration for pigs and badgers too. You can find out more about looking after your teeth on our Health page, including finding your nearest dentist via NHS Direct. For everything you could possibly want to know about nylon, have a look at the excellent HowStuffWorks via the Science Gateway page.
19 March brings us the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. You can read about his life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your Westminster Library card). It’s hard not to be impressed by the determination of young David who at the age of 10 worked for 12 hours a day in a Clydeside factory and studied for 2 hours every night at the village school, where he developed a lifelong interest in geology and herbal medicine.
One of the favourite heroes of the Victorians, Livingstone’s achievements in exploration (though he failed to locate the source of the Nile), anti-slavery work and promoting Christianity were considerable and, unlike many Victorian heroes, no scandals have been unearthed posthumously. Check out the Themes section of the ODNB for other Imperial Lives, some rather less attractive than Livingstone.
On 18 April comics fans everywhere will be celebrating the 75th birthday of Superman and waiting patiently for the summer release of the latest movie retelling of the story: Man of Steel. You can find plenty of the graphic novels and films in Westminster libraries but even if cartoons aren’t your scene, you might want to try Michael Chabon’s masterpiece The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a fictional look at the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the original Superman artists.
High culture will be celebrated on 29 May when it is the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Riots at the ballet are, fortunately, quite rare, but the police had to be called, so outraged were the audience at the unusual movements of the dancers and musical harmony (or lack of it). Log into Oxford Music Online to find out more about the piece and listen to it at Naxos Music Online (though if you think you won’t be able to refrain from throwing the furniture about, we’d rather you listened at home!)
More controversy will be commemorated on 8 June, the centenary of the death of Emily Davison, the brave Suffragette who disrupted the Derby in 1913 and was tragically killed. You can read more about her life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and watch the British Pathe newsreel of the event.
Rather more cheerfully, on 30 July, we wish a Happy 75th Birthday to The Beano, greatest of all comics and home of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Rodger the Dodger, Billy Whizz, the Bash Street Kids, Lord Snooty and many another childhood favourite. How many of these can you remember?
8 August sees the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery, not perhaps an event to celebrate but certainly one that looms very large in the British public consciousness. The are no shortage of books on the subject as well as a number of films. You can see how newspapers at time reported the story by logging in to their online archives (The Times initially reported the theft as totalling £500,000 but it is now thought to have been nearer £2.6 million)
12 September brings the centenary of the birth of the great Jesse Owens, the outstanding athlete of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, whose achievement in setting three world records and tying a fourth at an athletics meet in 1935 is unlikely to be bettered any time soon. You can read contemporary newpaper accounts of his winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics and even see the events themselves in archive footage on YouTube.
26 October sees the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Football Association, supposedly formed at a meeting in the Freemason’s Arms in Long Acre, Covent Garden. Prior to that, different clubs, schools and colleges used their own rules which presumably led to some amusing complications when they played each other. Eleven London clubs and schools sent representatives to the meeting though, ironically, many of them now play rugby union. If you want to take up football yourself, why not check out some of the listings on the Sports page of the Gateway to websites. Or maybe you’re more of a pub person – Westminster Archives have published a splendid history of West End pubs called One on Every Corner.
23 November is already marked as the key event in the Treasure Hunt Towers 2013 diary: the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. We don’t know yet what producer Steven Moffat has planned – look at the BBC Dr Who site for the latest info, but also check our newspaper archives to look back at its past history: The Times’ Toyshop Roundabout (22/11/65) suggested that the must-have Christmas toy for boys was the Anti-Dalek Neuron Exterminator, though it reported with some disappointment that another anti-Dalek weapon, the Fluid Neutralizer was just ‘our old friend the water-pistol’.
Everything will be a bit of an anti-climax after that excitement but, on 21 December, cruciverbalists everywhere will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first ever ‘wordcross’ puzzle being published in the New York World, created by a British journalist called Arthur Wynne (you can try it here). The first crossword in a British paper was published in the Sunday Express on 2 November 1924 with cryptic crosswords following soon after (though the Americans didn’t take to them until they were introduced to the New York Magazine by composer Stephen Sondheim in 1968).
Why not have a browse among some of the language resources on the Westminster site? Check the Oxford English Dictionary to find out where the word ‘cruciverbalist’ comes from and check Oxford Dictionaries Pro for help with grammar and punctuation as well as some more word puzzles. And if you go to Naxos Music Library, you can listen to some Sondheim while you solve The Guardian’s latest teaser.
There may be some other anniversaries coming up (we’ll all be very familiar with the works of Benjamin Britten by the end of the year) but I’m sure they won’t be as much fun as these…