On this day in history….22nd July 1298

On this day in history : 22nd July 1298 – The Battle of Falkirk takes place; led by King Edward I, the English army defeats the Scots, under William Wallace – who shortly after resigns as Guardian of Scotland…..

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James Grant – Public domain

King Alexander of Scotland had died mysteriously in 1286….leaving his child Margaret of Norway as heir to the throne…. King Edward I made a contract that marriage between his own son and Margaret would take place…. However, before this could happen Margaret died and no immediately obvious heir was beyond her…. Various claimants came forward to make themselves known and King Edward was asked to mediate…. Two of the most obvious candidates were Robert Bruce and John Balliol….Edward chose the latter – but immediately began to influence….he wanted to control….

Balliol rebelled and formed an alliance with France…. A furious Edward marched north, took Balliol prisoner and occupied Scotland…. William Wallace stepped in and raised another Scottish revolt…. This resulted in the humiliating defeat of the English at Stirling Bridge under the Earl of Surrey in 1297….

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Wallace statue by D W Stevenson at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh – Kim Traynor CC BY-SA 3.0

An even more furious Edward was determined to crush the Scots once and for all…. And so he was off back up north again — this time with around 2,500 mounted knights and 12,500 infantry….including English and Welsh longbow archers….

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Self-yew English longbow – Hitchhiker89 at English Wikipedia – Public domain

At first Wallace tried to avoid a pitched battle – he was vastly outnumbered with just some 1,000 mounted knights and 5,000 infantry…. But eventually he was forced into battle….

On the morning of when the two sides were to meet Wallace formed his pikemen into 4 divisions – ‘schiltrons’…. A square (or circle) with the pikemen shoulder to shoulder with their pikes facing outwards – and then another row of men in armour…. The gaps between the divisions were where Wallace placed his archers….

At first the Scots held out against the English…. But the steady fire from Edward’s longbowmen was relentless…. It was the first time longbows had been predominantly used by the English…. The arrows continued to rain down, along with crossbow fire and sling shot – and soon the schiltrons were broken up…. The Scots, including Wallace, fled into the nearby woods…. The longbow was to dominate battles for the next two centuries, helping the English to victory at Crecy and Agincourt….

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A late 15th Century illustration of the Battle of Crecy – Jean Froissart, public domain

On this day in history….21st July 1545

On this day in history : 21st July 1545 – The French invade the Isle of Wight – but their efforts are thwarted by local forces…. It is the last attempt that France makes to capture the island….

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An 1873 illustration of the French landing – James Grant – Public domain

The French had a long history of attacking the Isle of Wight…. This particular last effort took place during the Italian Wars of 1542-1546 – which saw England, France, Spain, Italy and the Low Countries at war with each other….

The French and English had already met in battle twice….once in the Solent and at Bonchurch…. On the 19th of July the English had lost the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s flagship…. The English withdrew, hoping to lure the French into the shallow waters at Spithead….but they didn’t take the bait…. Instead they tried to make the English come to them – by invading the Isle of Wight….

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A French fleet attacks Bembridge in 1545 – Public domain

The plan was that the French would land at Whitecliff Bay, cross Bembridge Down and attack Sandown…. Meanwhile another landing force would arrive at Bonchurch and march to meet the other troops at Sandown…. However, they were intercepted and engaged in battle….

It was mandatory that all men on the Isle of Wight underwent military training in order to defend the island…. The French had hoped to surprise the English with their attack but their arrival had been anticipated….The local forces had managed to reach the high points of the island – St. Boniface and Bonchurch Downs…. Although the French forces, led by Claude d’Annebault, greatly outnumbered the English, they had little knowledge of the local area…. When faced with the steep slopes they found them difficult to climb….and when they did reach the top they were met by a lot of angry Englishmen!

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Bonchurch Down looking over Ventnor

On this day in history….20th July 1837

On this day in history : 20th July 1837 – Euston Station, London’s first intercity railway station is opened – having been built on what was mostly farmland at the edge of an ever expanding city….

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Early print of Euston, showing the wrought iron roof of the original station – Public domain

The site had been chosen in 1831 and the station was named after Euston Hall in Suffolk, the ancestral home of the Duke of Grafton – who was the main landowner in the area….

The original station was designed by classically trained architect Philip Hardwick….and built by William Cubitt, who also constructed Covent Garden and Fishmongers’ Hall…. The station housed a 200ft (61m) long train shed and two 420ft (130m) long platforms – one for arrivals and one for departures…. The main entrance portico – ‘Euston Arch’ – was also designed by Hardwick….it was to symbolise the arrival of a major new transport system – a ‘gateway to the north’…. At 72ft (22m) high, with four 44ft 2in (13.46m) by 8ft 6in (2.59m) columns made from Bradley Fall stone it was the largest of its kind and at a cost of £35K (over £4m today)…. It was described as being “Mightier than the Pyramids of Egypt”….

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Euston Arch, 1896 – Public domain

In 1839 two hotels were added, again designed by Hardwick…. One stood at either side of the Arch – The Victoria with basic facilities and The Euston to cater for first class passengers….

The station expanded rapidly…. In 1838 it was handling some 2,700 parcels a month but by 1841 this had increased to over 52,000…. More and more staff had to be employed and more lines and platforms were added….

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Plan of Euston Station from 1888 – Public domain

By the 1950s the station was considered ‘tired’ – it was old-fashioned and dirty from soot…. In 1953 a full redecoration and restoration program took place and modernised ticket machines were installed…. Then in 1959 British Rail announced a complete rebuild….to accommodate a fully electrified West Coast main line….

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The Great Hall – L&NWR – Public domain

However, this was not without controversy…. In July 1961 it was announced that the Euston Arch and Great Hall were to be demolished…. On the 16th of October a demonstration including students and 75 architects took place in protest…. But to no avail – in the summer of 1962 work on the new station began….

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The Euston Arch being demolished, February 1962 – Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….19th July 1941

On this day in history : 19th July 1941 – Winston Churchill adopts the ‘V for Victory’ hand sign – after referring to the Victory campaign, which had spread through Europe, with approval in a speech….

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Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, giving a V sign in 1943 – British Government, public domain

On January the 14th 1941 Victor de Lavelaye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-language broadcasts on the BBC (1940-44) suggested that Belgians adopt a ‘V’ for ‘Victoire’ – in an attempt to raise morale during World War 2…. In a BBC broadcast de Lavelaye claimed “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, would understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly waiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure”…. Within weeks chalked ‘V’ signs were appearing on walls across Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands….

The BBC started a ‘V for Victory’ campaign….with assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie taking on the persona of ‘Colonel Britton’…. Ritchie suggested the BBC should use an audio ‘V’ – using the dot-dot-dot-dash Morse Code for the letter ‘V’…. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has the same rhythm – so this was used by the BBC as a call-sign for its foreign language broadcasts to occupied Europe for the rest of the War….

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American V for Victory campaign – showing the dot-dot-dot-dash of Morse Code – public domain

Churchill – and other allied leaders too – adopted the ‘V’ sign hand signal…. Sometimes Churchill gestured with a cigar between his fingers…. In the beginning he used the sign with his palm facing towards him – and his Aides had to explain to him what this version meant! So, later he used it with his palm facing out…. However, one can’t help thinking that perhaps it was his misuse that made it so popular….

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Churchill, initially unaware of the meaning of this particular gesture! – War Office official photographer, Horton (Capt.) – Public domain

On this day in history….18th July 1817

On this day in history : 18th July 1817 – The death of English novelist Jane Austen, at the age of 41….who brought to us works such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility….

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Jane, born in Steventon, Hampshire on the 16th of December 1775, appears to have been susceptible to infectious diseases throughout her life….she contracted typhus as a child – and as an adult she suffered with conjunctivitis so chronic that at times she was unable to write…. There is evidence that as early as January 1813 she was suffering immune deficiency and fatal lymphoma…. By early 1816 she was beginning to feel really unwell – but ignored the signs – putting it down to ‘a bit of bile – or rheumatism’…. By the middle of the year her health had really deteriorated….

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Jane Austen – Public domain

Despite her illness Jane continued to write…. In January 1817 she had begun ‘The Brothers’….which when published posthumously in 1925 was entitled ‘Sanditon’…. As the illness progressed Jane had difficulty in walking and lacked energy….and by April 1817 she was confined to her bed….

Jane’s sister, Cassandra and brother, Henry took her to Winchester for treatment – by now she was in terrible pain and sadly on Wednesday the 18th of July she passed away…. Henry, with his clerical connections, arranged for her burial in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral….

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House in Winchester where Jane spent her final days and died – Photo credit: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) CC BY-SA 4.0

The cause of Jane’s death has usually been attributed to an illness such as Hodgkin’s disease, Addison’s disease or auto-immune disease Lupus…. However, there has also been speculation that she died from arsenic poisoning…. A sentence written in an old volume of Jane’s letters stated that she was feeling better and was recovering her looks a little, which had been ‘black and white and every wrong colour’…. The comments were discovered by an author who was researching Jane and having previously done extensive research on modern forensic techniques and poisons for crime novels, recognised the symptoms that could be attributed to arsenic poisoning…. Coincidently a lock of Jane’s hair, on display in an American museum, had been tested for arsenic and the result had come back positive…. It is possible the medicine she had been prescribed, possibly for her rheumatism, may have contained arsenic….

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Watercolour of Jane, painted by her sister Cassandra – Public domain