Blog

On this day in history….18th January 1882

On this day in history : 18th January 1882 – The birth of Alan Alexander Milne….who brought to us that loveable little bear Winnie the Pooh….

img_2188
Winnie the Pooh Image credit: Paul K via Flickr

A.A. Milne was born in Kilburn, London and attended Westminster School and later Trinity College, Cambridge – graduating with a B.A. in mathematics….

Whilst at University he edited and wrote for a student magazine – and it wasn’t long before he came to the attention of British humour publication ‘Punch’…. A.A. Milne became a contributor to the magazine and went on to become its assistant editor….

img_2191
A.A. Milne in 1922. Public domain

In 1913, just before the First World War, Milne married Dorothy (Daphne) de Selincourt…. As war broke out he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as an officer – but his suffering of a debilitating illness meant a transfer to the Royal Corps of Signals…. After receiving an injury at the Battle of the Somme he was invalided back to England…. Once he had recovered he spent the remainder of the war in military intelligence, writing propaganda for MI7….

In August 1920 a son, Christopher Robin, was born to the Milnes….and in 1925 the family moved to a new country home – Cotchford Farm, Hartfield, East Sussex. The farm lay adjacent to the northern edge of Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest….which became Milne’s inspiration for his Hundred Acre Wood, the home of Winnie the Pooh and his friends….

img_2190
Milne and his son Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear, at Cotchford Farm, their home in Sussex. Photo by Howard Coster, 1926. Fair use.

Christopher Robin owned a teddy bear, purchased in Harrods of London – and given to him as a first birthday present in 1921…. Originally the bear was called ‘Edward’….but he underwent a name change…. The Milnes were frequent visitors to London Zoo – and it was there that Christopher Robin fell in love with a certain Canadian black bear – called Winnie….so named for her previous owner….who came from Winnipeg, Canada….

Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourn had bought the bear as a cub from a hunter for 20 dollars…. Lt. Colebourn was on route to England during WW1….and the bear cub became the unofficial mascot for the Fort Gary Horse Regiment – a Canadian Army Reserve armoured regiment….

img_2189
Harry Colebourne and Winnie, 1914

It was whilst the regiment were away in France that Winnie came to be in London Zoo, as she was left there for safe-keeping. Once the war was over she was officially donated to the zoo and became a much-loved attraction….

The other part of Winnie the Pooh’s name came from a swan called Pooh that the Milnes encountered on a family holiday….

img_2187
Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh Image credit: Thoth God of Knowledge via Flickr

As we know Winnie the Pooh is usually shortened to just ‘Pooh’….and this might be the reason why….

“But his arms are so stiff….they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh”…

Pooh’s friends – Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger are all based on Christopher Robin’s other stuffed toy animals….Owl and Rabbit came from Milne’s imagination…. The original toys, Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and Kanga (unfortunately Roo got lost) can be seen at the New York Public Library – as they were gifted to them by American publisher E.P. Dutton in 1987…. They now receive over 750,000 visitors a year….

img_2186
Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys : Clockwise from bottom left : Tigger, Kanga, Edward Bear (a.k.a. Winnie the Pooh), Eeyore and Piglet

On this day in history….17th January 1912

On this day in history : 17th January 1912 – British explorers, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, reach the South Pole….only to discover a Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen had got there before them….

Scott, a naval officer and explorer, had unsuccessfully tried to reach the South Pole on a previous occasion, in 1902. His party had been forced to turn back because of ill-health and severe sub-zero weather conditions….

It was on the 15th of June 1910 that his converted whaling ship the ‘Terra Nova’ left Cardiff to begin the journey south….carrying on board – dogs, ponies and mechanical sledges – as well as the explorers and all of their supplies. It was Scott’s intention to carry out a series of scientific experiments and studies – he wished to learn more about the biology, geology and meteorology of the Antarctic…. He also wanted to test the newly motorised sledges they were taking with them…. Having a go at being the first to reach the South Pole was to be an added bonus….

img_2183
Captain Robert Falcon Scott, in polar gear 1911 – Public domain

However, Scott had a rival – one that he was initially blissfully unaware of…. Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a respected Norwegian explorer. It had been his original intent to take an expedition to the North Pole….but then two Americans, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary made separate claims as to having reached the North Pole – (claims that were later to be dismissed)…. Amundsen, being a competitive adventurer, kept his plans a well-guarded secret; it wasn’t until his ship ‘Fram’ left Oslo on the 3rd of June 1910 – supposedly bound for the North Pole – that he revealed his true intent to his team…. He knew that in the eyes of many his open challenge to Scott on racing to be the first to the South Pole would not have been entirely acceptable….

The first Scott knew of this rival expedition was when he reached Melbourne and found a telegram waiting for him…. It simply read – “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen”…. Scott was understandably shocked – but was determined to stick to the original plan – he had experiments and studies to conduct… Amundsen would have had little time for such matters as science and technical trials; as far as he was concerned it was all about the race to the South Pole…. Amundsen and his team reached the Pole on the 14th of December 1911….

img_2184
Taking an Observation at the Pole (1911) Expedition of Norwegian team by Roald Amundsen – Image credit: Euclid vanderKroew via Flickr

Scott and his team set out 11 days after Amundsen – on the 1st of November 1911…. It was not long before it became evident the mechanical sledges and ponies could not cope – so the expedition continued without them…. In mid-December the dog teams turned back….leaving just Scott and four of his companions to journey onwards:- Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates….

The team arrived at the South Pole on the 17th of January 1912….thirty-four days after Amundsen’s expedition had arrived there…. It was a day of bitter disappointment for Scott and his men….

“Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority”….the words of Scott….

img_2182
Last expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. The image shows Wilson, Scott and Oates (standing); and Bowers and Evans (sitting)

It would have been with heavy hearts that the five men would have begun the eight hundred mile journey back to base camp….the journey that was to be their last and one so full of tragedy….

As the men dragged their equipment over ice fields and glaciers their exhaustion increased by the hour…. Evans was the first to succumb…. Scott had noticed on the 7th of February and recorded in his journal that his colleague was repeatedly falling behind the rest of the group. Ten days later Scott found him on his knees….Evans died later that night – as a complete group they had made it as far as the base of the Beardmore Glacier. The cause of death was possibly a brain injury – which Evans may have sustained during a fall, which the others had not witnessed….

The weather took a turn for the worse….and the team were still hundreds of miles from base camp. The men were forced to spend much of their time huddled against the elements in their tent….with their food supplies rapidly dwindling away….

By mid-March Oates was suffering from severe frost bite and was barely able to walk – he would have been acutely aware that he was a hindrance to the others…. It was reputedly with the words “I am just going outside and may be some time” that Oates walked out into the blizzard…. The others tried to dissuade him – but in the words that Scott recorded “the act of a brave man and an English gentleman”….

Three weeks later the remaining team members – Scott, Bowers and Wilson – were caught in yet another raging blizzard; they were just 11 miles (3 days of walking) from the next supply depot…. But the three never made it out of their tent again….having been claimed by exhaustion, starvation and exposure….

Eight months later a party of explorers from base camp came across the bodies of the three men still within the tent…. Scott was lay in the middle, his colleagues on either side of him…. The tent was removed and a cairn of ice built over them – forming an icy tomb….

img_2181
Image credit : Australian National Maritime Museum via Flickr

All three had written letters in their final hours – to family and friends. Scott’s last words written on the 29th of March….“It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more….R. Scott”….”For God’s sake look after our people”….

It wasn’t until February 1913 that word of the tragic events reached back to Britain. A memorial service at St. Paul’s was held soon afterwards…. King George V and the Archbishop of Canterbury were amongst the many dignitaries who attended…. Britain was in mourning – 10,000 people gathered outside the Cathedral….

Amundsen’s success was celebrated worldwide – he received personal telegrams from King George and President Theodore Roosevelt…. Scott was also recognised for his achievements – and was posthumously made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath….

On this day in history….16th January 1749

On this day in history : 16th January 1749 – Riots break out at the Haymarket Theatre, London – after crowds flock to the theatre for a sell-out performance by a conjurer….who fails to materialise….

img_2179

An advertisement had appeared in London newspapers during the first week of January…. It read….

At the New Theatre in the Haymarket, on Monday next, the 16th instant, is to be seen a Person who performs the several most surprising things following –viz.., 1st. He takes a common walking cane from any of the spectators, and thereupon plays the music of every instrument now in use, and likewise sings to surprising perfection. 2dly. He presents you with a common Wine Bottle, which any of the spectators may first examine; this Bottle is placed on a Table in the middle of the Stage, and he (without any equivocation) goes into it, in the sight of all the spectators, and sings in it; during his stay in the bottle, any Person may handle it, and see plainly that it does not exceed a common Tavern Bottle. Those on the Stage, or in the Boxes, may come in masked habits (if agreeable to them); and the performer, if desired, will inform them who they are. Stage, 7s.6d. Boxes, 5s. Pit, 3s. Gallery, 2s. Tickets to be had at the Theatre. To begin a half hour after 6 o’clock. The performance continues about two hours and a half.

Note,– If any Gentlemen or Ladies (after the above Performance), either single or in company, in or out of mask, is desirous of seeing a representation of any deceased Person, such as Husband or Wife, Sister or Brother, or any intimate Friend of either sex, upon making a gratuity to the Performer, shall be gratified by seeing and conversing with them for some minutes, as if alive; likewise, if desired, he will tell you your most secret thoughts in your Past life, and give you a full view of persons who have injured you, whether dead or alive. For those Gentlemen and Ladies who are desirous of seeing this last part, there is a private room provided.

These performances have been seen by most of the Crowned Heads of Asia, Africa and Europe, and never appeared public anywhere but once; but will wait on any at their Houses, and perform as above for five Pounds each time. A proper guard is appointed to prevent disorder.

Yes, it all sounds ridiculously far-fetched….surely nobody would fall for it? But for days Londoners could talk of little else – and they rushed to buy tickets….

img_2176
English wine bottle 17th/18th Century – The Higgins Museum & Gallery, Bedford

On the evening of the performance the theatre was packed to the rafters; every box, every seat in the gallery and in the pits taken…. Standing room was at a premium….and the anticipation was at fever pitch….

The audience waited….and waited….and waited….but nothing happened – no performer showed – and not even a fiddle to keep the crowd amused…. People began to get restless; it started with sighs and groans – escalating to catcalls….and then came the stamping of feet and banging of canes….

Eventually, somebody from the theatre timidly ventured on to the stage….bowing and apologising profusely…. He said that if the conjurer didn’t make an appearance in 15 minutes everyone would be refunded their money at the door on the way out….

But the crowd were not to be placated…. Someone shouted from the pits that everybody would willingly pay double if he (the theatre employee) climbed into the bottle…. It was just after then that somebody from one of the boxes threw a lit candle on to the stage….and all hell and mayhem broke out….

Seats were ripped apart, benches smashed….the crowd demolished everything they could lay their hands on…. The theatre was gutted….and the riotous mob spilled out on to the street, carrying with them many of the interior fittings….with which they made a huge bonfire…. Even the stage curtain was ripped from its hangings and hoisted on to a pole – to be waved around like a giant flag…. As to the audience getting its money back – well, no chance of that – as in the pandemonium somebody stole the box-office takings….

The whole farcical event became the target of just about every newspaper and publication….satire went crazy…. It became known as ‘The Great Bottle Hoax”….

img_2169
Image of William Phillips as Harlequin in a representation of the Bottle Conjurer – English broadside dated 1748/9 B.Dickson – Public domain

So, who was behind the hoax? Initially the blame was laid on the theatre manager, Samuel Foote, a notorious prankster of the time – but he vehemently denied any involvement…. The finger was then pointed at the owner of the theatre, John Potter – but it was highly unlikely to be his doing….

It is now widely believed – (although never proven)that the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield may have been behind it…. The pair had been amongst a group of English noblemen, discussing human gullibility – when the Duke announced (most likely after consuming one too many alcoholic beverages)…. “I will wager, that let a man advertise the most impossible thing in the world, he will find fools enough in London to fill a play house and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there”…. To which the Earl replied…. “Surely, if a man should say that he would jump into a quart bottle, nobody would believe that”….

Not surprisingly, the Duke and Earl lay low after the events of the 16th of January 1749….their secret didn’t come out until many years later….

 

On this day in history….15th January 1797

On this day in history : 15th January 1797 – John Hetherington, a London haberdasher wears his new top hat for the first time….and causes a riot….

As he stepped out onto the streets of London, wearing his hat in the shape of a stove-pipe, a large crowd gathered around him…. Soon such chaos broke out in the jostling mass that an officer of the law had to intervene…. He grabbed Hetherington by the collar and hauled him off to appear before the Court – on a charge of ‘breach of the peace’ and ‘inciting a riot’….

img_2168

Hetherington had reportedly “appeared on the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people)”…. The Court was told that several ladies had fainted, children screamed and dogs yelped…. The young son of Cordwainer Thomas had even been pushed to the ground by the crowd and his right arm broken….

The haberdasher used in his defence that it was the right of every Englishman to wear whatever he chose upon his head…. He was fined the hefty sum of £500….(over £60,000 in today’s terms)….

The Times newspaper wrote the following day….“Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear, we believe that both the Court and the police made a mistake here”….

This story first appeared in the Hatters’ Gazette during the late 1890s…. Stories can get twisted – John Hetherington is often erroneously credited with inventing the top hat….

This style of hat had actually been worn since the 16th Century – but it was in the 1790s that it was first covered in silk plush…. The first silk hat can be credited to George Dunnage, a hatter from Middlesex…. Who knows, perhaps Mr. Hetherington was a customer of his….

img_2166
Henry Duke of Gloucester in Eton dress in 1914 – Image via Bain News Service, publisher

The Times was right though…. Sooner or later the top hat was accepted….largely because it was championed by famous English ‘dandy’ George ‘Beau’ Brummel…. George was a close friend of the Prince Regent, George IV – and known in Society for his trend-setting style…. Whereas most men of the day were still wearing the flamboyant, decadent fashions of the time, George Brummel chose to wear elegant, simple, tailored attire; beautifully cut jackets and breeches, with spotless, crisp white shirts…. He completed this ensemble with the ‘beaver’ – a new form of the top hat – so-called because its felt was made from the fur of a beaver….

img_2165
George ‘Beau’ Brummell – watercolour by Richard Dighton (1805)

Between 1800-1850 top hats were much taller, with straight sides – and were often called ‘stovepipe hats’…. Some were so tall they could reach 20cm high….

img_2167
Image credit : oakenwood via flickr

Around 1837 through to 1901 the height reduced, to typically between 16cm-17cm ~ and around 1890 the crown enlarged…. It was some thirty or so years later that the height reduced again, to between 12cm-13cm high – and this remains the same today….

img_2164
David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill 1907

On this day in history….14th January 1898

On this day in history : 14th January 1898 – the death of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – who under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll brought us ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and its sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’

img_2153

Charles was born on the 27th of January 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire; the son of a parson, he came from a large family, being the third of eleven children…. The Dodgson family had their roots in Northern England but also had Irish connections….

img_2142
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – 2nd June 1857

Until the age of 12 Charles was educated at home; he was then sent to Richmond Grammar School and then on to Rugby…. In January 1851 he went into residency at Oxford University – where he was to remain in varying capacities all of his life…. A stained-glass window at Christ Church College can be seen that depicts a White Rabbit and Alice holding a flamingo….

 

Charles studied mathematics at Oxford – such was his talent that he won the Christ Church Mathematics Lectureship in 1855, which he held on to for 26 years….

Throughout his life Charles did not enjoy the best of health; he was deaf in one ear after a childhood fever – and whooping-cough had left him with a weak chest…. Later in life he suffered debilitating migraines….he also had a life-long stutter….

Although we always associate Lewis Carroll with ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which was published in 1865 and its sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There’ in 1872 – there was so much more to the man. He wrote twelve works of literary fiction and a further eleven books on mathematics…. He was a poet, philosopher, satirist, inventor and photographer….

img_2143
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – self portrait

Charles had written short stories and poetry from an early age….and had successfully had some published in magazines and national publications…. It was in 1856 that he wrote for the first time under the pen name of ‘Lewis Carroll’ – a poem entitled ‘Solitude’…. The pseudonym came from the anglicised ‘Ludovicus’ (which in turn came from the Latin for ‘Lutwidge’) to give ‘Lewis’ – whereas ‘Carroll’ is an Irish surname – similar to the Latin ‘Carolus’ – from which we get ‘Charles’….

Although Charles always claimed his character of Alice was not based on any one particular child – there are many who believe she was a real person….and with good reason…. Charles became close to the Liddell family, Henry Liddell being Dean of the College. Charles was especially good friends with the Dean’s wife, Lorina and their three daughters, Lorina, Edith and ‘Alice’….and it is perhaps ‘she’ who was his influence…. Indeed the poem at the end of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ ‘A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky’ is an acrostic spelling out ‘Alice Pleasance Liddell’….

img_2145
Alice Liddell – taken by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson circa 1858

 

Even after his success and his increase in wealth and fame (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is translated into over 70 languages) little changed in his life…. He continued to teach at Christ Church and remained in residence until his death ~ although as he got older he did spend more of his time at the house of his six unmarried sisters – ‘The Chestnuts’ in Guildford….

Two weeks before his 66th birthday Charles died from pneumonia after a bout of influenza – at ‘The Chestnuts’…. He is buried at Mount Cemetery, in Guildford….

img_2144
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson taken by Oscar G Rejlander