On this day in history : 17th February 1883 – Mr. A Ashwell of Herne Hill, South London patents the ‘Vacant – Engaged’ lock for lavatory doors….
The story goes that Mr. Ashwell got the inspiration for his ‘Ashwell’s Patent Toilet Lock’ whilst travelling on a train between Herne Hill and London…. What was needed was a bolt that drives a cog-wheel and then turns a disc indicating whether the lavatory is occupied or not…. Come on, admit it ~ far better than having to sing in the loo….
It was in 1892 that John Nevil Maskelyne patented the coin-operated lock for public conveniences…. Maskelyne was actually an English stage magician as well as an inventor…. You could say he ‘coined’ the phrase ‘to spend a penny’….
On this day in history : 16th February 1927 – The birth of actress June Muriel Brown MBE – best known to us as the gossiping, chain-smoking busy-body Dot Cotton in EastEnders….
June was born in Needham Market, Suffolk to Louisa Ann and Henry William Melton Brown. She was one of five children but her baby brother died at just 15 days old and she also lost an elder sister….
After attending school in Ipswich June then won a scholarship to Ipswich High School…. She was evacuated to the Welsh village of Pontyates during World War 2 but spent the latter part of it in the Wrens (Royal Navy)….
June was classically trained as an actress at The Old Vic Theatre School in Lambeth…. When she was 23 she married actor John Garley – but tragically he died in 1957 having taken his own life after suffering from depression….
In 1958 June remarried, another actor named Robert Arnold and they had six children (one of whom died in infancy) in their 45-year marriage, before Robert sadly passed away in 2003…. June continues to live in their Surrey home….
In her varied and extensive career June has been seen in many TV shows:- Coronation Street, Angels, Minder, The Bill….the list is endless. She has had parts in costume dramas such as The Duchess of Duke Street and Oliver Twist…. She has also had roles in several big screen films and has been active in British Theatre….
But the role we know June for most of all is that of Dorothy Branning in EastEnders – or as most of us call her….’Dot Cotton’…. The first ever episode of EastEnders was shown on the 19th of February 1985 and June joined the cast in July of the same year – her first screen appearance as Dot being on the 4th of July…. She was recommended to the producers of the show by Leslie Grantham, who played ‘Dirty’ Den Watts….
June has won several awards for her role in the soap, among them Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2005 British Soap Awards…. June was awarded an MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services to drama….
Dot Cotton – “You know me, I’m not one to gossip” – with her sometimes tragic storylines but often comical character is one of our TV favourites….. She is a national treasure, just like the real-life woman who plays her….
On this day in history….15th February 1971 – Britain wakes up to ‘D-Day’ and a new currency – over the next 18 months the old pounds, shillings and pennies are to be phased out….
Known as Decimal Day it was the time to say goodbye to the currency system that had been with us for over 1,000 years…. the old system dated back to Roman times when a pound of silver was divided into 240 denarius – which is where we got the old ‘d’ for a penny….
12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound was to be replaced by 100 pennies to a pound instead of the 240 pennies people were used to…. It was to be out with the guineas, crowns, half crowns and threepenny bits….to be superseded by a system inspired by Napoleonic France….
The USA and France had gone decimal in the 1790s…. Britain had considered doing so during the 1820s but had not proceeded…. The closest we got was when a florin worth 2 shillings was introduced in 1849 – 24d or 10 new pence…. It was followed by a double florin in 1887….
In the 1960s a number of commonwealth countries had gone decimal including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although previous British governments had shied away from taking the plunge – because of the amount of disruption it would cause – in the end it took a conversation lasting just 20 seconds, between the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jim Callaghan, to start the ball rolling….
The decision was announced in Parliament in 1966 and a Decimal Currency Board was set up to manage the transition…. The DCB ran a public information campaign – and currency converters were made available to everybody….
The first coins were introduced in 1968 with the new 5p and 10p pieces, which were the same size and value as the old shilling and two-shilling coins…. As it was engineered to be a gradual change-over a further coin was introduced in 1969 – the 50p – to replace the ten bob (shilling) note….
People referred to it as the ‘ten shilling coin’…. Then on Decimal Day itself, 15th February 1971, the last of the new coins were brought in – the 0.5p, 1p and 2p….
Banks closed for four days beforehand to prepare – and at first prices were shown in shops in both currencies….Some people had feared shopkeepers might use it as a way to increase prices…. The elderly generation especially found it more difficult to adapt….but generally the change-over went without a hitch….
The old penny, half penny and threepenny bit officially went out of circulation in August 1971….but there was one particular coin that stayed with us right up until 1980…. Such affection did the British public have for the sixpence that they campaigned to keep it….as it was deemed as being part of our heritage….
On this day in history : 14th February 1477 – Margery Brews sends a Valentine’s Day message to John Paston in Norfolk – it is the oldest known such message written in the English language….
The letter was uncovered by the British Library when a collection of 15th century private correspondence was bought from the Paston family in the 1930s…. The family rose from being peasants to aristocracy in just a few generations…. Clement Paston, who died in 1419, was a peasant but who had been able to give his son William a good education – enabling him to study law….
The letter was rediscovered in 1999 when curator Dr. Chris Fletcher was searching for exhibits…. Margery addresses her letter…. “Be my olde Valentine”…. She writes to her fiancé John, that she has asked her mother to try and persuade her father to increase her dowry…. But she then goes on to say that if he loves her he would marry her anyway…. Her letter begins…. “Unto my right well-beloved Valentine, John Paston, Squire be this bill delivered” …. She signed it…. “Be your Voluntyne / Margery Brews”….
Margery was a Norfolk gentlewoman and the letter was written on her behalf by Thomas Kela – a clerk of Sir Thomas Brews…. Margery and John Paston did indeed eventually marry and by all accounts went on to have two children – one of which, William, became a prominent figure at the court of King Henry VIII….
Meanwhile, the oldest printed Valentine card known was published on the 12th of January 1797 by John Fairburn of 146, Minories, London….
The card is part of the collection of York Castle Museum, York. It is a delicate piece, with piercing at the corners to resemble lace and is adorned with flowers, doves and Cupids and is hand-coloured after printing. The verse around the edge reads… “Since on this ever Happy Day, All Nature’s full of Love and Play, Yet harmless still if my design, ‘Tis but to be your Valentine”….
It was sent by Catherine Mossday to Mr. Brown of Dover Place, Kent Road, London. Her handwritten message inside reads:-
As I have repeatedly requested you to come I think you must have some reason for not complying with my request, but as I have something particular to say to you I could wish you make it all agreeable to come on Sunday next without fail and in doing you will oblige your well wisher
Intriguing! I wonder if that story had a happy ending….
On this day in history : 13th February 1987 – At the height of London’s property boom a converted broom cupboard in Knightsbridge is sold for £36,500….
The tiny flatlet, hardly big enough to fit a fully grown adult measures just 5ft 6in x 11ft….(so that made the price over £600 per square foot)…!
Situated on the 6th floor within a luxury apartment building on the Brompton Road, opposite Harrods, Flat H boasts two rooms…. The main, cleverly designed living area and a lavatory/shower room measuring 2.5 sq ft….
Image: Google maps
Image: Google maps
It was bought by a secretary and when it was sold again in 2006 fetched £120K…. In 2010 it was valued at up to £200K….
With London’s house prices more than 10 times the average salary and rents amongst the highest in the world, property developers think micro-flats ~ at almost half the size of the recommended minimum habitable space ~ could be the answer for young professionals….
But is this such a new concept? Compare it to Britain’s smallest house….Quay House in Conwy, Wales…. Built in the 16th century this minuscule end of row terrace is just 10ft high and has a floor space of 10ft x 5.9ft….
Nowadays it is a tourist attraction but was lived in up until May 1900 by – wait for it – 6ft 3in fisherman Robert Jones…. Before that it was home to an elderly couple….
The fisherman was forced to move out by the council as the property was deemed unfit for human habitation….although it is still owned by the family…. The authorities intended to demolish the quaint little cottage as they had done to others like it…. However, local people put up a fight and this particular one was saved….
Recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s smallest house it can fit only four people in at a time…. Inside is an open fire, a settle, a table and water tap…. A ladder type staircase leads to the tiny bedroom, which is just 6ft x 8ft….
But looking on the bright side….think how quickly you could get the house work done….