On this day in history : 25th January 1905 – The birth of Margery Sharp – the English author who brought us many novels, including the children’s series ‘The Rescuers’….
Sharp was born near to Salisbury in Wiltshire, although her family originally came from Yorkshire…. She then spent part of her childhood in Malta before returning to England in 1914 to study at Streatham High School and then Bedford College, part of the University of London…. She then spent a further year at Westminster Art College….
When she was 21 the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ began to publish her short stories…. She went on to write for several other magazines including ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘ The Ladies’ Home Journal’…. Her first novel, ‘Rhododendron Pie’, was published in 1930 – after only taking her a month to write….
In 1938 she married Major Geoffrey Castle, an aeronautical engineer – and during WW2 she worked as an Army Education Lecturer…. All the while she continued with her writing – producing in her writing career 25 novels for adults, 14 for children, numerous short stories and 4 plays….
However the work we undoubtedly know her for best is her series of children’s books telling the stories of a socialite mouse by the name of Miss Bianca – who helped people and animals who found themselves in danger…. The first edition of ‘The Rescuers’ was published in 1959…. The books were illustrated by Gareth Williams, who also illustrated other children’s classics such as ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’….
In 1977 Walt Disney released the animated film ‘The Rescuers’, based mainly on the second novel of Sharp’s series – it was an outstanding success…. A sequel ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, set in the Australian Outback, was released in 1990….
On this day in history : 24th January 1901 – The birth of Edward Turner, the engineer and designer of Triumph motorcycles and the Ariel Square Four and the Daimler V8 engines….
Turner, who as born in Southwark, South London – the third of seven children – had his first ride on a motorcycle in 1915, on a Light Tourist New Imperial…. By 1916 he was serving in the Merchant Navy, under contract from Marconi, as a radio telegraphy officer….
In the early 1920s he bought Chepstow Motors in Peckham Road, South East London and by 1925 had designed his first motorcycle engine…. Within two years he had completed the motorcycle that became known as the ‘Turner Special’….
In 1928 Turner conceived an idea for an engine that would go on to become the ‘Square Four’…. It was a brand new concept – a 500cc unit with a one piece cylinder block and twin geared crankshafts….
BSA were not interested in either the design of the Turner Special or his new engine – but Ariel saw the potential and offered Turner a job…. The Ariel Square Four was first shown at Olympia in 1930….
In 1936 Triumph was bought by Ariel owner Jack Sangster – and its name was changed to Triumph Engineering Co…. Edward Turner, now 35-years-old, was made General Manager and Chief Designer…. Under Turner Triumph’s existing range of motorcycles were redesigned to be more sporty in style…. In 1949 the Triumph Thunderbird was launched and a decade later the Triumph Bonneville….
In 1959 Turner designed the Daimler 2.5 and 4.5 litre V8 engines for the Daimler SP250 sports car and Daimler Majestic Major….
It was in 1960 that Turner went to Japan for a tour of the Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha motorcycle plants…. He was somewhat shocked to see the extent of production in progress, it was obvious the Japanese were gearing up to take over the Western market…. British motorcycle manufacturers, including BSA (which by now owned Triumph) were totally ill-prepared…. It was inevitable what was to happen – Japanese machines flooded the market….
Turner resigned as Chief Executive of BSA-Triumph in 1963 but kept a directorship…. Although apparently none too happy with the direction the company was taking at the time of his resignation he kept close ties with it until his death in 1973….
On this day in history : 23rd January 1570 – The murder of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray – in what is thought to be the first assassination carried out using a firearm….
Moray was the illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland – who had many illegitimate children but Moray was perhaps the most prominent…. He was born around 1531 – his mother, Lady Margaret Erskine, was the favourite mistress of the King….
At the time it was not unusual for Peerage titles to be granted to the illegitimate offspring of Royalty…. However, Moray’s title was not bestowed upon him by his father – but rather by his half-sister, Mary Queen of Scots…. When Mary came to the throne in 1561 Moray became her advisor and she made him Earl of Moray….
At first the two got on well – but then tension began to grow between them…. Mary was a devout Catholic, whereas Moray supported the Scottish Reformation…. Things became even more strained when Mary remarried….
Mary’s first husband, Francis II of France, whom she had married in 1558 at the age of 15, had died in 1560…. Five years later Mary was to meet, for the first time, her cousin Henry Stuart – Lord Darnley…. It was love at first sight – and after a whirlwind romance the couple were married at Hollywood Palace – she was 23 and he was 19…. Being first cousins meant the marriage strengthened their claims on both the English and Scottish thrones…. However, not everyone was happy about the union…. Darnley’s mother, Queen Elizabeth I of England was furious, both English and Scottish Protestants were angered and of course Moray was none too pleased either….
Moray had tried to prevent the marriage – he had gathered some 1,200 supporters together and marched on Edinburgh with a view to staging an armed rebellion – ‘The Chaseabout Raid’…. Unfortunately for Moray the people of Edinburgh refused to support him and it soon became obvious Moray and his men would be defeated – so they fled to England…. Only Queen Elizabeth I refused to help them and so for a while Moray became an outlaw….
Meanwhile the honeymoon period for Mary and Darnley was soon over…. Mary was pregnant within the first two months with the future King James VI and quickly discovered her new husband was not the man she thought he was…. He may have had the looks but Darnley was not of pleasant character…. He liked the good life – drank too much and was a womaniser…. He was arrogant, vain, jealous and quick-tempered…. He soon became a hated man in Scotland….
On the 9th of February 1567 Darnley was found dead outside a lodging house near the Kirk O’Field…. A large quantity of gun powder had been used to cause a massive explosion which had torn the building apart…. Darnley was discovered outside in his nightgown – it looked like he had been strangled…. Nearby two servants also lay dead….there was a chair and a length of rope present….
Some believed Mary to be involved; she had certainly visited Darnley the night before…. Trapped in an unhappy marriage – but being Catholic unable to divorce – she had a motive…. Also suspected was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – who was arrested and tried for the murder, only to be acquitted due to lack of evidence…. Mary married Bothwell just over three months later, on the 15th of May 1567….
Moray returned to Scotland and was pardoned by Mary; although no suspicion could be placed upon him for Darnley’s murder he would no doubt have been pleased…. When Mary married Bothwell to keep his head low Moray disappeared to France….
After Mary’s abdication from the throne in 1567 and her imprisonment, Moray returned to Edinburgh…. He was appointed Regent of Scotland, to take care of affairs until Mary’s infant son was old enough to take over….
Mary managed to escape from her prison and mounted an attempt to regain the Scottish throne…. Moray was determined to prevent this from happening…. A series of battles were to happen – at the Battle of Langside Mary’s supporters were defeated by Moray’s men – earning him the name of ‘The Good Regent’…. Moray continued to defend the throne, leading a military campaign – ‘The Raid of Dumfries’ – where he seized control of establishments belonging to the supporters of Mary….and many more surrendered to his forces….
But Moray had made many enemies….among them the Hamilton family, long-standing supporters of Mary…. He was at Edinburgh Castle, making plans for an attack on Dumbarton Castle, a stronghold controlled by Mary’s supporters…. Near to Edinburgh Castle lived Archbishop Hamilton, in the town of Linlithgow…. The Archbishop’s house offered excellent views of the streets of the town….
On the 23rd of January 1570 James Hamilton, the Archbishop’s nephew, visited the house – he was waiting for somebody…. Moray had been warned that he was in danger and that the streets of Linlithgow were unsafe for him – but the warnings went unheeded…. As Moray walked past the Archbishop’s house Hamilton shot him in the stomach – he died the following day…. Firearms had not been around that long and were still a rarity…. It is quite likely Moray’s assassination was the very first of its kind….
Hamilton had an escape plan and managed to get away – he fled the country and was never caught…. His uncle, the Archbishop, however – was hanged for his part in the murder….
On this day in history : 22nd January 1901 – The death, at the age of 81, of Queen Victoria – who had reigned for 63 years and 7 months….
When the announcement came from Osbourne House ~ that at 6.30pm, surrounded by her family, Queen Victoria had drawn her last breath ~ it somewhat took the nation by surprise…. The Queen had been on the throne for nearly 64 years, for most people all of their living memory…. An imperative question arose…. ‘Just how exactly does one bury a monarch?’ Nobody could actually remember ever having to do so….
It had been kept from the public just how quickly the Queen was fading away….and even her family were in denial…. She had lost so much weight that she was but a shadow of her former self…. She was confined to a wheelchair, had all but lost her eyesight and suffered bouts of memory loss….
Queen Victoria had seen in the New Year with a sense of trepidation ~ “Another year begun, I am feeling so weak and unwell, that I enter upon it sadly”…. 1900 had been one hell of a year for the Queen…. Her daughter Vicky, Dowager Empress of Germany, had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer; her son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, had died from throat cancer…. Her much loved grandson, Prince Christian Victor, had been lost to fever whilst serving with the British Army in South Africa…. And only just a few days before, Queen Victoria’s dear friend, Lady Churchill, had died in her bed whilst staying with the Queen at Osbourne House…. Then to top it all, there was the continual worry of the ongoing Boer War….
The government was totally unprepared for what was to come…. Queen Victoria had expressed her wish for a full state military funeral, “befitting for a soldier’s daughter”…. There was to be no lying-in-state, no embalming and ~ even though she herself had worn widow’s weeds since the death of her beloved Albert ~ no mourning black…. She wanted a white funeral with purple trimmings, with a gun carriage and white ponies….
With only a few days to organise such a grand funeral chaos reigned…. The family argued amongst themselves and officials panicked….
The preparation of Queen Victoria for her coffin was a closed affair, with only her doctor and a long-trusted woman servant in attendance…. The Queen was dressed in a white silk gown and her wedding veil placed over her face…. Unbeknown to the family there were some items Queen Victoria had instructed that she wished to take with her…. Secreted inside the coffin was a lock of hair, photographs and the pocket handkerchief of one John Brown…. Upon her finger she wore the wedding ring that had belonged to Brown’s mother – and which Queen Victoria had worn since his death in 1883…. John Brown was Queen Victoria’s devoted Scottish Highland servant – the two of them had been very close….
On the 1st of February the funeral cortège began its long journey…. The coffin was carried onboard the Royal Yacht ‘Alberta’ across the Solent from the Isle of Wight to the mainland…. An eleven mile procession of battleships and cruisers lined the way….each firing a gun salute as the little yacht passed by…. The cortège stayed in harbour overnight before continuing by train to London’s Victoria early the next morning….
What was to follow was the largest procession since 1852 and the state funeral of the Duke of Wellington…. Through Hyde Park and on to Paddington, the Queen’s coffin high on a gun carriage was drawn by eight white ponies…. The streets, lined with mourners, remained silent….
From Paddington the coffin was taken by train to Windsor – and then to the waiting gun carriage…. It was here that disaster almost struck…. The horses, which had been kept standing in the freezing conditions for perhaps too long, broke away – nearly causing the coffin to topple…. Unable to re-harness the horses 183 bluejackets from the naval guard of honour attached ropes to the gun carriage – they then proceeded to drag it to St. George’s Chapel….
After the official funeral service a further ceremony was held on the 4th of February just for the family…. It was then that Queen Victoria’s coffin was lowered into the mausoleum that she’d had built for her Albert ~ they were together again….
On this day in history : 24th January 1924 – The birth of Alfred Hawthorne Hill – better known to us as the slapstick comedian and actor Benny Hill….
Hill was born in Southampton – both his father and grandfather before him had been circus clowns…. Hill had a variety of jobs after leaving school…. He worked in Woolworth’s, did a spell as a milkman, was a driver, a bridge operator and even a drummer – before finally becoming assistant stage manager for a touring theatre company….
In 1942 he was called up – and served as a truck driver, mechanic and search light operator in Normandy, France…. However, his talent to entertain did not go unnoticed and he was eventually transferred to Combined Services Entertainment – the division which provided entertainment to the British Armed Forces…. It was at this time he changed his name to Benny – after his favourite comedian Jack Benny….
After the War he performed on radio – and made his TV debut in 1950…. He pursued a film career, with credits including ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines’, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Italian Job’ – amongst others….
But his real glory came from his long running TV series ‘The Benny Hill Show’…. With its sketches of slapstick, parody, mime and double entendre the show ran in one form or another from January 1955 to May 1989 – and aired in over 140 countries…. In 1971 audience in the UK peaked at more than 21 million viewers…. However, declining numbers meant that in 1989 the show was axed….
Hill never married, although he proposed to at least two women – he had no children…. By the late 1980s his health had begun to decline – and in February 1992 he was advised to have a heart bypass after a mild heart attack…. He declined….a week later he was also diagnosed with kidney failure…. Benny Hill died alone, in his armchair in front of the TV, in April 1992….