Well, 2015 is almost over, which means it’s time to look forward to 2016 and see what anniversaries we will be commemorating. It’s a particularly interesting year for them.
One of the great unsung heroes of medicine will be remembered on 1 January (or if he isn’t, he should be!). On that date in 1916, Oswald Hope Robertson, a British born research scientist from Harvard Medical School, then working in France, carried out the first successful blood transfusion using blood that had been stored and refrigerated.
There had been blood transfusions before (the soon-to-be-more-famous-as-an-architect Christopher Wren experimented on injecting fluids into dogs as early as 1857) but the donor and the recipient had both needed to be present as there was no way of storing the blood for later use. Robertson is usually credited with setting up the first blood bank and thus being instrumental in saving thousands of lives. So think about him if you donate blood or if you are someone who needs a transfusion. And of course, with any reference to blood donation, a mention of Tony Hancock becomes compulsory: “A pint! That’s very nearly an armful!”
February brings with it the 90th anniversary of Black History Month. Yes, we know that this is commemorated in October in Britain but in the USA it’s in February. The first events were in the second week of February (chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and the great abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass) when the historian Carter G Woodson of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History announced the first Negro History Week.
This was taken up by school boards in North Carolina, Delaware and West Virginia and was soon successful enough that other states followed. By the 1970s, the week had become a month and had renamed itself as Black History Month. In Britain it has been celebrated since 1987 and is now a national institution.
There’s no doubt that one of the biggest anniversaries next year will be in July when football fans will be celebrating 50 years since England last won a major tournament. All very tedious for those of us not in thrall to the beautiful game but even non-footie fans will want to remember an associated story from 19 March 1966 when the World Cup was stolen from Westminster Central Hall where it was on display at a stamp exhibition. A £4,500 reward (about £70,00 in today’s money according to the excellent Measuring Worth site) was offered. A ransom note asking for £15,000 was received (the thief probably should have gone for the stamps which were worth £3 million) and the chap who posted it was soon arrested but the real thieves were never found.
However the cup was found, by the hero of the hour – Pickles, a border collie who spotted a newspaper wrapped package next to a car in South Norwood and soon uncovered the missing trophy. Read more about the story in the Guardian:
“Now Pickles began the life of a celebrity. He starred in a feature film, The Spy with the Cold Nose, and appeared on Magpie, Blue Peter and many other TV shows. He was made Dog of the Year, awarded a year’s free supply of food from Spillers and there were offers to visit Chile, Czechoslovakia and Germany.”
Pickles received an appropriate reward and British Pathé was there to capture the moment:
April is going to be Bardtastic as the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare will be remembered on 23 April (Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quixote died on the same day so expect to hear plenty about him). Shakespeare’s Globe will be projecting 23 short films on the South Bank of the Thames, one for each of the plays. They’ll probably being putting on some theatre too.
A more lowbrow commemoration will be on 11 April, 80 years after the first Butlins holiday camp opened in Skegness (which as we all know, is ‘so bracing’) in 1936. The camp was opened by Amy Johnson, the pioneer aviator and was an instant success. A week’s holiday with three meals a day and all the knobbly knees competitions you could eat would have set you back 36 shillings and people flocked there, though three years later the camp was requisitioned for use as a naval training camp. Read about the history of Butlins in Sylvia Endacott’s Butlin’s: 75 years of fun!
Five years later on 9 May 1941, an event took place that got little publicity at the time but which literally changed the course of the war. On that day the German submarine U-110 was captured by the Royal Navy, and with it an Enigma machine complete with code books. Fortunately the Germans didn’t realise that the machine had been retrieved (the submarine commander tried to scuttle it rather than allow it to be captured and he himself drowned) and so it became a vital part of the code breaking activities at Bletchley Park led by Alan Turing.
There are plenty of books about Bletchley available in Westminster Libraries – find out lots more in a previous blog post on the subject – or you could borrow and watch the recent film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Moving back in time, 12 June sees the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Rebecca Rolfe from Virginia with her husband and baby son Thomas. She stayed at the Bell Savage Inn in Ludgate Hill (which itself had a very interesting history, being a former theatre) and soon became the toast of the town, being presented to King James I, attending a masque by Ben Jonson and having her portrait painted by the Dutch artist Simon de Passe. Sadly though, London didn’t suit her health and she planned to return to Virginia the following year, but tragically died at Gravesend without seeing her homeland again.
Why am I telling you all this? Because Rebecca Rolfe, better known by her Algonquian name of Pocahontas was one of the first native born Americans to visit this country. You may have seen the Disney film but the reality is much more interesting. You can read about how Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith and ensured peace between her people and the English settlers in A man most driven: Captain John Smith, Pocahontas and the founding of America.
Readers of cinema trade journals in the 1920s would have noticed adverts for Castleton Knight (a producer and distributor) who claimed he could ‘show a perfect picture through any fog’. This boast seems rather baffling now but anyone who attended the cinema before 1956 would have known exactly what the problem was – smog. This didn’t just affect the streets of London and other cities – it found its way into buildings too.
In 1952 an opera at Sadlers Wells had to be cancelled and the leading lady was treated for smoke damage. It has been calculated that 4000 people died in just a few days in 1952 as a direct consequence of the London smog.
On 5 July 1956 the Clean Air Act was passed, which introduced smoke control areas in which only smokeless fuels could be used and which ensured the removal of power stations from cities among other measures. Smog, in Britain at least, is a thing of the past though other countries certainly have a way to go to reduce air pollution.
You can read about the smog in The Big Smoke: a history of air pollution in London since medieval times, by Peter Brimblecombe. Or you could check out some contemporary newspaper reports – a picture in the Illustrated London News shows the Christmas Tree being erected in Trafalgar Square four days late because of the smog.
(And no, we don’t know what Castleton Knight’s invention actually was).
If this article had been published by Westminster Libraries 25 years ago, it would have been typed on an electric typewriter or perhaps a PC with a basic word processing programme and then sent out in a paper newsletter rather than being researched and published online. Not that many of us would have known what the word online meant. There were online databases but it was a laborious process logging on to each one individually and then printing out search results and few but academics had access to the right computers and modems anyway.
However all this changed thanks to Tim Berners Lee, the father of the World Wide Web. While the first website went live in December 1990, it was on 6 August 1991 that Berners-Lee posted a summary of the World Wide Web project on several internet newsgroups, which marked the debut of the web as a publicly available service on the internet.
You can still read Berners-Lee’s post here. Subsequently he has been knighted, awarded the Order of Merit, named by Time Magazine as one the Hundred most important people of the twentieth century and even took part in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.
The World Wide Web has certainly changed all our lives. A smaller, but no less important event – for the people of London anyway – took place on 2 September 1666, 350 years ago when a fire broke out in Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane and raged for 5 days. Over 400 acres of London were destroyed including approximately 13,000 houses and 67 of the 109 city churches as well as St Pauls Cathedral. A witness to the Great Fire of London was the diarist Samuel Pepys, who ‘saw a lamentable fire’ with
“Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the River or bringing them into lighters that lay off. Poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons I perceive were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.”
For a first hand account of the city before the Fire, have a look at John Stow’s Survey of London, published in 1603, which describes in detail many of the churches and other buildings that were destroyed in 1666. For more on the Fire itself, you could listen to the podcast on the subject from Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time or you could read Adrian Tinniswood’s By Permission of Heaven: the story of the Great Fire of London.
In October 1941, 75 years ago, a magazine called Liliput published a cartoon of a group of schoolgirls reading a notice with the caption “Owing to the international situation, the match with St Trinian’s has been postponed.” The cartoonist, Ronald Searle, was to spend most of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese, though he continued drawing even in the terrible conditions of Changi. On his return home he began to submit cartoons to Punch, The Strand, Radio Times and other magazines and his first book, Hurrah for St Trinian’s and other lapses was published in 1948.
The ghastly schoolgirls were soon followed by their schoolboy equivalent, eternal prep school cynic Nigel Molesworth but it was St Trinians which remained Searle’s greatest success. The school, with its pupils more interested in the racing results than their education and disreputable staff soon inspired a series of successful films along with several more books, and the cartoons were collected together as St Trinian’s : the entire appalling business.
St Trinians was even revived in the twenty first century with two more films starring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth and no doubt will continue to entertain and horrify for many years to come.
One anniversary that will definitely not go unmarked, by the BBC at least, falls on 2 November 1936 when the television service officially opened (though there had been experimental transmissions since 1932). Until the war put an end to television (the engineers were need for more important work), programmes were only broadcast within a 40 mile radius of Alexandra Palace and by 1939, 23,000 licences had been sold. The Times was impressed with the first day’s transmission
“As seen on the small screen of a receiver in Broadcasting House, the inaugural ceremony was more successful than those previously unacquainted with the achievements of television had expected… the very successful transmissions of the male television announcer suggested that there is a technique to be learned by those who wish to be well-televised.”
The final anniversary of the year is, appropriately enough, a festive one. For Christmas 1616 King James I requested a masque (a courtly entertainment involving singing, dancing and general razzamatazz) from the poet Ben Jonson. Christmas, his masque begins
Enter Christmas, with two or three of the Guard.
He is attir’d in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white Shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse, and his Drum beaten before him.
While he’s not actually *called* Father Christmas, he is soon followed by his 10 children – Carol, Misrule, Gambol, Offering, Wassail, Mumming, New-Year’s-Gift, Post and Pair, Minced-Pie and Baby-Cake, each followed by a torch-bearer carrying marchpane, cakes and wine. It seems that this was the first time Christmas had been personified so 2016 can really be considered his 400th birthday. Find out more about the history of Father Christmas.
We’ve mentioned lots of books and online resources above, but if you want to find out more about these or any other anniversaries throughout the year, there’s much more to be found using both the 24/7 Library and of course the libraries themselves – search the catalogue and see where it takes you!