On this day in history….18th January 1996

On this day in history : 18th January 1996 – Six major environmental groups add their support to the growing campaign against the controversial Newbury bypass….


The first Newbury bypass had been built in 1963 but by the 1980s it was unable to cope with the sheer volume of traffic…. A new route was proposed following the disused Didcot, Newbury and Southampton railway line – controversially running through three sites of special scientific interest…. A part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – an English Heritage site registered as being the location of the battlefield for the first Battle of Newbury during the English Civil War – and a National Trust nature reserve…. Also along the route, areas had been identified as being the habitat of an endangered snail, the Desmoulin’s Whorl snail….particular to the local area….

Supporters of the proposed scheme insisted the new bypass would provide relief to the congested town centre of Newbury…. Those who opposed it claimed that within 10 years traffic would be back to intolerable levels – whilst they agreed there was a problem that needed to be addressed a bypass was not the answer…. The people of Newbury were divided, as many were against the scheme as were for it….

Nevertheless clearance work began on the 2nd of August 1995 with the demolition of six buildings in the way of the route…. The previous month had seen the first of the protest camps appear…. Well organised disruptions by activists caused major setbacks for the contractors….tunnels and treehouses were built and protesters used themselves as human shields to prevent plant equipment from being moved in….

Eviction of the Tot Hill Camp, February 1996 – Nick Woolley CC BY-SA 2.5

Finally work began in earnest the week prior to the 18th of January 1996 – on the 17th some 350 trees were felled and 35 protesters arrested…. On the 18th Friends of the Earth, the Council for British Archeology, Greenpeace UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildlife Trusts and the Worldwide Fund for Nature added their support for the campaign against the scheme….

On the 15th of February 5,000 protesters from across the UK joined together to peacefully march two miles along the route – no arrests were made…. It was claimed to be the largest ever single demonstration against road building in Britain…. Among the marchers were TV presenters and local residents Maggie Philbin and Johnny Morris….

Between January and April 1996 an area of approximately 360 acres of land was cleared – including 120 acres of woodland…. Nearly 10,000 mature trees, including oak, ash and beech, were felled….

Thames Valley Police feared the policing operation could cost as much as £12m and asked the government to help meet the cost…. By December 1996 the expense had reached £5m – and a further £30m was spent by the contractors on private security….

The protest camps remained on the route until 1997…. The road took 34 months to complete, at a cost of £100m – it opened in November 1998…. Over 1,000 people were arrested during the campaign….

On this day in history….17th January 1928

On this day in history : 17th January 1928 – The birth of British hairstylist and entrepreneur Vidal Sassoon, who revolutionised women’s hairdressing in the 1950s/60s….

Vidal Sassoon in 2006 – en.User:DierkA / de.Benutzer : The weaver

Vidal was born in Hammersmith, West London to Jewish parents and the family lived in Shepherd’s Bush…. His mother, born in the East End, came from a Ukrainian family who had emigrated to England during the 1880s…. His father was born in Thessaloniki, now part of northern Greece…. When Vidal was 3-years-old his father left for another woman…. Falling into poverty Vidal’s mother was unable to keep up the rent payments on their home and so the family were evicted…. She took Vidal and his younger brother to her sister’s flat – seven of them squeezed into the tiny space with no bathroom or inside toilet….

Vidal’s mother had no choice but to place her boys in the care of a Jewish orphanage….and here they stayed for seven years…. Their mother was only permitted to visit them once a month – and it wasn’t until Vidal was 11 and his mother had remarried that the family were to be reunited…. But even this was short-lived, as both Vidal and his brother were evacuated to Wiltshire at the beginning of World War 2….

Vidal returned to London and left school at the age of 14…. He was good at football and dreamed of being a professional player – but his mother had other ideas…. She had always wanted him to become a hairdresser and so she took him to the school of well-known stylist Adolph Cohen…. However, it was obvious there was no way the family could afford the cost of the expensive two-year course – but luck was on their side – Cohen, taking a shine to Vidal, waived the fees….

Vidal went on to train under Raymond Bessone in his Mayfair salon – and then in 1954 opened his own…. His interest in architecture gave him the inspiration to create the precisely angled geometric scissor cut and bob cut hairstyles which were to become his trademark…. Short, simple to maintain cuts that a woman could style herself at home….

It was not long before Vidal’s trendy Bond Street salon had celebrity clients, such as fashion designer Mary Quant and actress Nancy Kwan….

Mary having her cut by Vidal, 1964 – Kristine via Flickr

Vidal expanded his business to the States…. He famously created the ultra-short pixie cut of Mia Farrow for the film Rosemary’s Baby….

Mia Farrow’s Pixie hair cut – Fair use

His business grew and grew, he established salons and hairdressing schools across Europe and North America…. A range of beauty and haircare products was launched – Vidal would appear in the TV commercials in person…. His catchphrase – “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good”….

In Memoriam Day via Flickr

On this day in history….16th January 1862

On this day in history: 16th January 1862 – Two-hundred and four men and boys are killed in the Hartley Colliery disaster, Northumberland…. A mining disaster which prompts change in UK law….

Hartley Colliery Disaster : the dead are brought up to their families – L’illustration 1862

At the time it was common practice for coal mines to have just one mineshaft – Hester Pit at the Hartley Colliery was one such mine….

The problem began when a support beam, for the steam engine being used to pump sea water from the pit, broke…. The pump was the largest in use in Northern England – it pumped 1,250 gallons of water per minute…. Its 20 ton section of support beam crashed down blocking the mineshaft…. Out of the 8 men coming up in the lift at the end of their shift, 5 were killed instantly…. A further 199 men and boys were trapped underground….

Drawing of the mechanical failure which caused the Hartley Colliery disaster – Illustrated London News 1862 – Public domain

A massive rescue operation was immediately launched; workers rushed from neighbouring mines to help…. With the pump out of action the pit soon began to fill with poisonous gases and water….hampering the rescue attempt….

It took 6 days to eventually clear the debris and gain access to the mine…. For the first few days there were high hopes of a successful rescue but when the would-be rescuers finally got to the trapped men – all were dead…. Some had died from their injuries but most had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning…. The youngest was just 10-years-old, the oldest 71; sons lay in the arms of fathers and brothers in the arms of brothers…. One family alone lost nine of their menfolk….

Most of the victims were buried in the local cemetery at Earsdon…. The Duke of Northumberland gave up some of his adjoining land, as the churchyard was not big enough….

Monument to the Hartley Pit Disaster in St. Alban’s Churchyard, Earsdon – Dposte46 own work – Public domain

Had the Hester Pit had two mineshaft no doubt many lives would have been saved…. An Act of Parliament was passed in August 1862, after a successful campaign to make two shafts compulsory – this was despite opposition from some greedy mine owners….

On this day in history….15th January 1867

On this day in history : 15th January 1867 – Ice covering the boating lake at Regent’s Park gives way…. Hundreds of skaters are plunged into the icy water – 40 people lose their lives….

Illustrated Police News – 19 January 1867

Ice skating was an extremely popular leisure activity during Victorian times – frozen ponds and lakes were often advertised in newspapers…. Up to 300 people were enjoying themselves on the ice in Regent’s Park this particular afternoon – skating, sliding, playing games of ice-hockey….img_5597

At around 4.15 the ice suddenly gave way with no warning – breaking into thousands of pieces…. Between 100-200 people were plunged into 12 foot of icy water – the weight of their heavy Victorian clothing dragging them down…. Boats were hurriedly launched to try and rescue those floundering in the water….passers-by reached out with branches broken from trees….

Illustrated London News – 26 January 1867

Those who lost their lives came from all walks of life, from gentry to the very poor…. Most were young men but there were also women and children among them…. 29-year-old James Griffin was on the ice selling oranges to the skaters – and another, John Bryon, was selling hot roasted chestnuts…. It took over a week to recover all of the bodies, fishermen from Kew were used to drag their nets along the bottom of the lake….

There was much debate at the later inquest, as to the cause of the accident…. Some blamed Skating Club members acting as stewards (known as ‘Icemen’) for breaking the ice around the edges to prevent access to the island…. They in turn blamed the ice-hockey players, people who had been jumping on the ice and even the sun for melting it…. Park keepers also came under scrutiny – as it was thought they may have broken the ice out of concern for the large collection of exotic water fowl housed on the lake…. But in truth the skaters themselves were chiefly to blame for their own misfortune….

Penny Illustrated Paper – 26 January 1867

The previous day 21 people had fallen through the ice – thankfully all had been rescued…. An overnight dusting of snow had covered the cracks so they were not visible…. Despite prominent signs being displayed, warning of the danger of thin ice, such was the enthusiasm to have fun that the signs were ignored….

As a precaution to prevent such a tragedy from happening again the lake was drained and the depth reduced to 4 or 5 foot with soil and concrete…. However, the public were slow to learn – years later a similar incident was to happen….only this time because of the depth none of the 100 or so who fell in received anything more than a very cold bath….

Regent’s Park Boating Lake – Alan Stanton via Flickr

On this day in history….14th January 1886

On this day in history : 14th January 1886 – The birth, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, of Hugh Lofting – the English author and poet who created Dr. Dolittle….

Hugh Lofting – Fair use

Most of us grew up reading the Dr. Dolittle books – the tales of Dr. John Dolittle, the Victorian doctor who could converse with animals…. Polynesia the parrot, Chee-Chee the monkey, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck, Too-Too the owl, Jip the dog and Whitey the mouse…. Then there is the Pushmi-Pullyu – a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, with a head at each end, so it could talk and eat at the same time without seeming rude….img_5593

Hugh Lofting never set out to be a writer…. He studied civil engineering overseas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning home to enlist in the Irish Guards to serve in World War 1….

From the trenches Lofting wrote letters home to his children…. Not wanting to write about the horrors of war he created characters and stories – which were later to become the foundation of his Dr. Dolittle tales….img_5594

In 1919 Lofting was seriously wounded – it was after this that he moved his family to Connecticut in the United States…. In 1920 his first book was published – ‘The Story of Doctor Dolittle : Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed’…. The sequel – ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’ followed in 1922; there are 10 books in all in the series….img_5596

Other works by Lofting written for children include the ‘Mrs Tubbs’ series of picture books for younger children – ‘Porridge Poetry’ and ‘Noisy Nora’, a story about a little girl who is a very noisy eater…. He also wrote ‘The Twilight of Magic’ for older readers….

‘Victory for the Slain’ was published in 1942 and was Lofting’s only work for an adult audience…. It is a lengthy poem in seven parts, lamenting war and the futility of it…. Victory for the Slain was only ever published in the United Kingdom….img_5595