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….

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….

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….

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….

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….


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….

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”….

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’….


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….

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….

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….

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….

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’


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….

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….

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’….

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….

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson taken by Oscar G Rejlander


On this day in history….13th January 1547

On this day in history : 13th January 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – courtier, soldier and poet – is found guilty of treason and is sentenced to death….

Born around 1517 in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, Surrey was the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard….and was descended from Royalty on both sides of his family…. It was upon the death of his grandfather, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk in 1524, that he gained the title of Earl of Surrey….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – Artist : Hans Holbein the Younger

Surrey was a bright child; at the age of 12 he could translate Latin, Italian, French and Spanish – his father made sure he had the best education…. It was around this time he became companion to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond – who was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII…. The two boys spent their time at Windsor and became close friends….Surrey was even considered as a potential husband for the King’s daughter, Mary (later to become Queen Mary I) ~ a suggestion put forward by Surrey’s first cousin, Anne Boleyn….

In 1532 Surrey and Richmond accompanied King Henry to the court of King Francis I of France – and the pair of young men ended up staying in the French court for almost a year…. Here they gained cultural graces – and it is possible that it was when Surrey developed his passion for poetry….as he became acquainted with the work of Luigi Alamanni – Italian poet and statesman….

Surrey and Richmond returned to England in 1533 – and within a short time both were to be married – Richmond to Surrey’s sister, Mary – and Surrey himself to Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford…. However, Surrey and his new bride did not actually live together as man and wife until 1535 – on account of their young age…. They went on to have five children, two sons and three daughters….

Frances de Vere by Hans Holbein the Younger C.1535 – public domain

1536 proved to be a turbulent year for Surrey; it was the year his first child was born, a son – but other events were not nearly as happy…. His cousin Anne Boleyn was executed – and his beloved friend Henry Fitzroy died, aged just 17…. In October 1536 Surrey served alongside his father to quash the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ – a rebellion protesting against King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries…. Surrey was a good soldier – and his family had a long history of loyalty to the Tudors….

By all accounts Surrey was an arrogant, vain, boorish, reckless, rash and ambitious man….with a contempt for the lower class of nobility – the ‘new men’ of the court – the likes of Thomas Cromwell and the Seymours, a family who were old rivals of the Howards’…. Surrey was a dashing and formidable character and although he had his enemies within the court, he also had plenty of friends….but his vanity and reckless ways were to eventually contribute to his downfall….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – 1546 Painting attributed to William Scrots

His troubles really began when Jane Seymour became King Henry’s Queen…. Surrey had always been popular with the King in the past – but his popularity declined as the Seymours rose is favour after the marriage…. The Seymour family began to scheme….in 1537 they accused the Howards of sympathising with the Pilgrimage of Grace…. An unwitting courtier happened to repeat the slander in court – Surrey reacted in his typical hot-headed way – by striking his fellow courtier….an action that landed him in imprisonment…. It was whilst confined in Windsor, by order of the privy council, that he penned one of his most well-known poems – ‘Prisoned in Windsor’ – in which he recounts his childhood days….

Surrey – (along with fellow poet and friend, Thomas Wyatt) – was responsible for the introduction of the sonnet to English poetry…. He has to be noted as one of the founders of English Renaissance Poetry and for his contribution to English literature…. Without his input the works of the likes of William Shakespeare would have undoubtedly been very different to how we know them – for it was Surrey who gave the rhyming meter and division into quatrains that gives us the Shakespearean sonnet…. Surrey was also the first poet to publish blank verse – regular metrical but un-rhyming lines…. Much of Surrey’s poetry would likely have been written during the two years he was held at Windsor….

By the 1540s he was back in favour at court….and was made a Knight of the Garter in May 1541 – and received the honour of Steward of the University of Cambridge…. But he was not to mellow – he still had his hot-headed moments and outbursts…. In 1542 he was imprisoned after quarrelling with another courtier….and again in 1543 after going on a drunken rampage – smashing windows in a London street…. It was during this particular stay in prison that he composed his ‘Satire against the Citizens of London:London, hast thou accused me’….

King Henry’s health was failing – and he began to view Surrey – with his powerful family connections – as a real threat, some would say to the point of paranoia…. He became convinced Surrey was going to attempt to usurp the crown from Prince Edward, his son and heir…. Things came to a head when Surrey foolishly incorporated Royal arms and insignia into his own heraldry – to prove a point as to his own Royal descent….

The arms for which Surrey was attainted (Edward the Confessor’s arms are in the fifth quarter with a label of three points plain…. Silver&Gold CC BY SA 4.0

Surrey – and his father – were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, on the charge of treason…. On the 13th of January 1547 they were found guilty and sentenced to death…. Surrey put up a spirited defence at his trial (which lasted a day) – but to no avail…. Several other claims were brought against him, such as being a secret papist….there was no real evidence to any of the charges – but he was still condemned….

Surrey was beheaded on the 19th of January – on Tower Hill…. His father was more fortunate; King Henry VIII died before the scheduled execution and the Duke of Norfolk was pardoned and released by Queen Mary I….

Surrey was buried at All Hallows’ Church in Barking…. However, in 1614 his second son, Henry, Earl of Northampton had his father’s remains moved to St. Michael’s at Framlingham, Suffolk – the family church…. Surrey was laid to his final rest in a magnificent tomb….

Image credit : Steve Parker via Flickr

His poetry, although circulated at court, only became really known 10 years after his death…. Printer Richard Tottel published ‘Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honourable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other’ – (now generally known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’) – a collection of 271 poems – 40 of which are by Surrey and 96 by Thomas Wyatt….

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace,
Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing.
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The nightes car the stars about doth bring.
Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less:
So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing
In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease.
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,
But by and by the cause of my disease
Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting,
When that I think what grief it is again
To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.
                               - Henry Howard
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey National Portrait Gallery