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On this day in history….6th July 1978

On this day in history : 6th July 1978 – A fire breaks out on the Penzance to Paddington sleeper train…. Twelve people are killed and a further fifteen are injured….

The train had left Penzance at 9.30pm and had arrived at Plymouth at 11.50pm, where it was coupled-up to two sleeper cars…. Around 12.15am the electric train’s heating system was turned on and the journey resumed at 12.30am, making stops at Newton Abbot and Exeter….

Train carriage similar to the one involved in the Taunton sleeper train disaster – Photo credit : Dave Coxon, English Wikipedia – Public domain

On older trains used bed linen would have been transported in the guard’s compartment – but on these newer trains it was carried in plastic bags and placed in the vestibule (the enclosed chamber at the end between two carriages)…. On the Penzance to Paddington train these bags had been stacked against the heater…. The bags began to heat up and as they started to smoulder toxic gases, including carbon monoxide were given off…. As the ventilation system drew its fresh air from the vestibule the now poisonous air was pumped into the sleeping booths….

Before long a major fire had broken out…. The train stopped at Silk Mill signal box, about a mile from Taunton, at 2.41am – after the communications cord had been pulled…. Some passengers were already dead from carbon monoxide poisoning – others awoke and although hampered by smoke and heat managed to escape….

Fire fighters arrived within four minutes and local residents living nearby rushed to help…. Rescuers were hindered further as doors had been locked…. Many passengers chose to lock their doors whilst sleeping – and although against the rules carriage doors were locked as guards wanted to keep intruders out of the carriages…. This certainly made the rescue operation difficult but was not cited as the main cause of death…. Eleven people were killed immediately, through poisoning and smoke inhalation – the victims and injured were taken to nearby Musgrove Park Hospital…. A twelfth, Belgian passenger died in hospital the following month having never regained consciousness….

On this day in history….5th July 1954

On this day in history : 5th July 1954 – The BBC broadcasts its first television news programme…. The twenty minute bullet-in is introduced by Richard Baker….

Richard Baker – Fair use

We are all very familiar with the format of today’s TV news programmes; the presenters, news stories from around the world and closer to home – and the film footage that almost always accompanies them…. But how different things were back then…. Richard Baker narrated the news story whilst a supporting relevant still photograph was broadcast for viewers to look at…. It was really like an illustrated summary of the news…. A customary news reel would be shown, usually with recorded commentary from John Snagge or occasionally Andrew Timothy….

John Snagge reading the news in 1944 – Public domain

The BBC’s new news programme certainly wasn’t popular with all…. Some described it as ‘absolutely ghastly!’ and ‘as visually impressive as the fat stock prices’…. BBC Radio 4 were also doubtful about this newfangled way of delivering news to the nation and insisted on keeping control over the editorial of the headlines and the programme content….

The very first programme to be broadcast included a story on French troop movements in Tunisia and covered the truce talks being held near to Hanoi…. The service was intended to be more up to date, as the previous ‘Television Newsreel’ programme often contained news stories several days old….

In 1955 other news readers were introduced, such as Kenneth Kendall – who was the first news presenter to be visually seen – and Robert Dougall…. Television news time also doubled during this period…. Shortly after this expansion by the BBC, on the 21st of September 1955, ITN launched their news programme….

On this day in history….4th July 1840

On this day in history : 4th July 1840 – The Cunard Shipping Line begins its first Atlantic crossing, when Paddle Steamer Britannia departs Liverpool, bound for Boston, USA….

RMS Britannia – Public domain

Britannia was built by Robert Duncan & Co, Glasgow, for the British & Northern American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co – which was to become the Cunard Line not long after…. She was launched on the 5th of February 1840….

At 1150 tonnes and 270ft long, nearly a quarter of the length of the wooden paddle steamer was taken up by her engines, which were designed by Robert Napier of Glasgow…. She could travel at an average speed of 8.5 knots per hour and consumed some 38 tons of coal per day….

The journey to Boston took 2 weeks, after departing Liverpool on the 4th of July she arrived on the 19th…. She was contracted to carry mail between England and America but was also designed as a troop ship should the need arise…. She had been built strong enough to carry an armament of guns for her own protection and to protect other merchant ships…. She was followed into service by her three sister ships….

Britannia took part in the first transatlantic race between British and American steamships…. In 1847 she competed against the newer and more powerful American steamer ‘Washington’…. Both ships departed New York on the same day, Britannia bound for Liverpool and Washington for Southampton…. Britannia arrived at her destination two days ahead of Washington reaching Southampton….

RMS Britannia – Public domain

The steamships were soon competing with conventional sailing ships – and not just for cargo, they also carried passengers…. In January 1842 Charles Dickens and his wife sailed onboard Britannia to Nova Scotia, Halifax – and he kept a diary of the voyage…. Provisions would have been made wherever possible for fresh food supplies onboard ship…. Britannia, for example, carried poultry in coops on her deck for eggs and meat and there was even a ship’s cow for daily milk….

Britannia served with Cunard for nine years before being sold to the North German Federation, to be converted into a warship…. She was renamed ‘Barbarossa’….

On this day in history….3rd July 1966

On this day in history : 3rd July 1966 – Over 30 protesters are arrested outside the US Embassy in London as a demonstration against the Vietnam War turns violent….

The US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London

Throughout the Vietnam War protest marches, often led by students, were organised in cities across America and Europe…. Eventually, as public opinion increased more and more against the war, the US government was forced to reconsider its intervention in Southeast Asia….

One such demonstration was held outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, by a crowd of some 4,000 protesters – 2,000 of which were members of the newly formed ‘Youth for Peace in Vietnam Movement’…. The YPVM had earlier marched to Downing Street, chanting….“Victory to the Vietcong”…. before handing in a letter for Prime Minister Harold Wilson demanding that the United Kingdom disassociate itself from the US policy in Vietnam…. The YPVM then joined the rest of the demonstrators at Trafalgar Square ready for the march to the US Embassy….

When the protesters arrived at Grosvenor Square 200 police officers had already cordoned it off…. Things became ugly when John Gollan, General Secretary of the Communist Party, urged them to disperse…. At one point a policeman was knocked from his motorcycle and as fuel leaked from it a lit match was thrown upon it….

Accompanied by chants of….“hands off Vietnam”….a delegation of 5 handed over a resolution to Embassy officials, calling for an end to the US bombings and a withdrawal of its troops….

Protests across the world intensified towards the end of the 1960s as casualties in Vietnam continued to rise…. The demonstrations eventually declined when President Nixon began to withdraw US troops in 1971….

Image credit : Manhhai via Flickr

On this day in history….2nd July 1819

On this day in history : 2nd July 1819 – A Cotton Mills & Factories Act is passed in Britain, prohibiting children under 9 from working in textile mills and older children from working more than 12 hours a day….

Image : The Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

Children as young as 5 or 6 were often forced to work day and night, with little or no education and very few meal breaks….

Prompted by previous social reform work, undertaken by Welsh textile manufacturer Robert Owen, investigations into child labour were carried out by the committees of Robert Peel and of the House of Lords…. This resulted in the Factory Act of 1819, which was to be the first in a set of laws to improve working hours and conditions in the cotton mills…. However, there were no inspectors to enforce the laws and local magistrates had to be relied upon…. Mill owners argued that parents wanted their children to work – and many a child’s age was lied about….

A further Act was passed in 1833 which forbade night work for the under 18s…. The government also pressed for two hours a day schooling…. Four paid inspectors were appointed to enforce the regulations…. In 1844 schooling was increased to three hours and these children became known as ‘part-timers’, as between the ages of 8-13 the working day was restricted to 6.5 hours so they could attend lessons…. It was also in 1844 that the working day was reduced to 10.5 hours for women and 13-18 year olds….

Child labour finally stopped in the cotton mills around 1918 when the education system was reformed and half-time schooling was phased out….

Public domain