On this day in history….4th December 1961

On this day in history : 4th December 1961 – Health Minister Enoch Powell announces in the House of Commons the decision to make the oral contraceptive pill available to British women on the National Health Service – at a subsidised cost of 2 shillings per month….

Enoch Powell – Allan Warren CC BY-SA 3.0

Life for women in the early ’60s was very different to how we know it today…. The Victorian attitude towards sex was still prevalent…. There was a fear of pregnancy out of wedlock, as unmarried mothers were shunned by society – often being forced to give up their babies for adoption (abortion not being an option)…. Women tended to marry earlier and were usually expected to stay at home and raise a family….

Robert Wade ‘The Modern Housewife’ via Flickr

The arrival of the pill was to change all that….it was to give women freedom…. A reliable, convenient oral contraceptive – meaning women had control of their own bodies and the choice of when to have a baby…. It was to become a real liberation….

However, GPs were slow on the uptake….and the Government of the time were reluctant to be seen promoting promiscuity…. The pill could only be prescribed to married women – and mainly to those who were older, already had children and did not want any more…. It was to remain this way until 1967, when finally attitudes slowly began to change….

By 1964 half a million British women were taking the pill….the birth rate began to fall – and fewer children were being put up for adoption…. In 1974 family planning clinics were given the go ahead to prescribe single women with the pill – this caused considerable controversy at the time….

Couples no longer felt the pressure to marry in order to live together…. In the early ’60s it is estimated fewer than 1 in 100 adults under the age of 50 had ever cohabited – nowadays it is 1 in 6…. Nobody bats an eye at a couple who have not ‘tied the knot’ – and the same goes for children born outside of marriage….

It is estimated 70% of women in Britain have used the pill at some stage in their lives…. Currently some 3.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 49 do so today….

Tristanb at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….3rd December 1988

On this day in history : 3rd December 1988 – Junior Health Minister Edwina Currie provokes outrage in the egg industry by saying ‘most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella’….

img_4722Later Mrs Currie claimed it was a slip of the tongue and that she had meant to say ‘much’ rather than ‘most’…. But egg producers, farmers and politicians were furious at the remarks made by Mrs Currie during a television interview – some called for her resignation…. The British Egg Industry Council stated her words to be ‘factually incorrect and highly irresponsible’….

Initially it appeared Edwina Currie had the support of the Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher and the Health Secretary – Kenneth Clarke (years later Edwina admitted they had not backed her) but there were many in the Government who were extremely angry….

Edwina Currie (in 2009) – Brian Minkoff CC BY-SA 3.0

Edwina (who had by now become known a ‘Eggwina’) managed to ride the storm and hold on to her job for a further two weeks – but on the 16th of December amidst the threats of writs being brought against the Government – she was forced to resign…. The aftermath of the storm saw egg sales plummet by 60%….as a result some 4,000,000 hens were slaughtered….

It was in 2001 that a Whitehall report proved that she had been chiefly right…. In 1988 Britain had been facing a salmonella epidemic – but the risks had been played down….

With the British Lion food Safety Scheme we can now be assured all eggs carrying the lion stamp are free from contamination…. Launched in 1998 the British Lion Code of Practice ensures the highest standards of food safety…. All hens are vaccinated against salmonella and a ‘passport’ system enables all eggs, hens and feed to be fully traceable…. In 2013 Edwina Currie herself helped launch a new version of the Lion Code of Practice – salmonella in British eggs has been effectively eradicated….

Borb CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….2nd December 1966

On this day in history : 2nd December 1966 – The miniskirt is banned from the Houses of Parliament….

Jersey minidress by Mary Quant, late 1960s – Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation CC BY-SA 4.0

The short skirt, regarded as a symbol of the Swinging Sixties, had taken London by storm…. For some, wearing it was a form of rebellion against the oppression of women…. To wear a miniskirt was often not just to follow a fashion trend but as a statement of female empowerment…. Women were seeing liberation in many different areas of their lives; the availability of the contraceptive pill was seeing young women express their femininity as never before….

Mary Quant, often credited for bringing us the miniskirt, had started experimenting with shorter skirts in the 1950s – when designing for her King’s Road boutique…. Her inspiration came from the memory of seeing a young tap dancer in a tiny skirt over thick black tights….

Mary Quant wearing a minidress of her own design, 16 December 1966 – Jac. de Nijs / Anefo CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Quant had a love for the Mini Cooper car – and so named the skirt after it…. She claimed car and skirt complimented each other – both being ‘optimistic, exuberant, young, flirty’….

At the time of the skirt’s ban from Parliament n 1966 there were just 26 female MPs….

On this day in history….1st December 1990

On this day in history : 1st December 1990 – Construction workers drill through the final half metre thick section of rock separating the two halves of the Channel Tunnel….

Overlooking Channel Tunnel entrance – Mutzy CCO

For the first time since the Ice-Age Britain and France are joined…. It was a feat of engineering that had taken two years….involving 13,000 workers and the construction of 95 miles of tunnels – averaging 150 feet below sea level…. 8,000,000 cubic metres of soil were removed; this equates to 2,400 per hour….

On the morning that the break through was made drilling started at 11am…. As soon as there was a hole big enough, construction workers Phillippe Cozette of France and Brit Graham Fagg shook hands and exchanged the flags of their respective nations….

Image via Pinterest (originally via Twitter)

Later a party of French delegates drove to Folkestone to get their passports stamped; a British group did likewise, by walking to Calais….

The Channel Tunnel was officially opened on the 6th of May 1994….

On this day in history….30th November 1934

On this day in history : 30th November 1934 – The steam locomotive ‘The Flying Scotsman’ becomes the first steam train to officially exceed 100 mph….

Geof Sheppard CCO

The LNER class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman – a Pacific steam locomotive – was built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER)…. It’s most famous driver, Bill Sparshatt, had begun his career as a locomotive cleaner in 1890….but by 1931 had become the most senior driver at the Kings Cross shed…. Sparshatt had a reputation for speed and outstanding time keeping and between 1931 and 1936 he became the public face of LNER…. Used for promotional work he was often photographed posing with celebrities on the Flying Scotsman – including land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell….

Bill Sparshatt (left) & his fireman R Webster, on the day of the record breaking 100 mph run – Image via flyingscotsman.org.uk – Fair use

On the 30th of November 1934 Sparshatt was assisting in speed trials between Leeds and Kings Cross – as part of experiments for future high speed train services…. It was during these tests that the Flying Scotsman reached the record breaking speed….

However, it wasn’t the only record this locomotive was to break…. In 1988, during a tour of Australia, the Flying Scotsman breaks the world record for the longest non-stop run by a locomotive – a run of 422 miles….

The Flying Scotsman in Australia – Zzrbiker at en.wikipedia – Public domain