On this day in history….11th August 1984

On this day in history : 11th August 1984 – South African-born British athlete Zola Budd is the centre of controversy after an accident involving Mary Decker in the 1984 Olympics 300m final….

Zola Budd

It was during the race that Budd tangled with the American resulting in a trip that put Decker out of the race…. The mainly American crowd reacted with hostility which unnerved 18 year old Budd, who could only manage to finish in seventh place – the gold medal being taken by Romanian Maricia Puica….

Because of its apartheid policy South Africa had been banned from the Games…. Budd was already in the spotlight as the UK government had fast-tracked her application to become a British citizen to allow her to compete in the Olympics for Britain – thus sparking outrage among anti-apartheid campaigners….

Budd was renowned for running barefoot…. The accident with Decker was viewed from every angle on the available film footage to determine what had happened and who was to blame…. At the half way mark Budd and Decker had twice bumped together…. Decker’s running spikes caught Budd’s heel and her leg shot out as she stumbled, which consequently tripped Decker over…. Budd carried on as Decker fell and the crowd jeered and booed….

Zola Budd, Mary Decker and Maricica Puica

After the race Decker accused Budd of trying to cut in without being far enough ahead…. Budd was disqualified – but after officials had viewed the film footage she was reinstated – the incident remained hotly debated….

Budd continued to compete for Great Britain for four more years and broke several British and world records – but she could never shake off the political controversy…. She returned to South Africa in 1988 and now runs for pleasure near to her home in Bloemfontein….

Zola in 2012

On this day in history….10th August 1949

On this day in history : 10th August 1949 – The execution of serial killer John George Haigh – otherwise known as the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’….

John Haigh – Police photograph taken at Horsham Police Station, 1949 – Public domain

Haigh was born into an affluent family in Stamford, Lincolnshire and he was brought up in the village of Oakwood, in the West Riding of Yorkshire…. His parents were members of the Plymouth Brethren, a conservative, non-conformist, evangelical Christian movement….

Academically bright Haigh won several educational scholarships and was fond of classical music…. He often attended concerts and he himself was a talented pianist…. He won a scholarship to Wakefield Cathedral where he became a choirboy…. However, by the time he was 21 things began to manifest as signs of what was to come…. He was dismissed from his job after being accused of stealing from the petty cash box – then in July 1934 he got married….but in the same year was jailed for fraud…. His new wife left him and had their baby daughter adopted; his parents disowned him….

On release from prison in 1936 Haigh moved to London and found employment as a chauffeur to wealthy amusement arcade owner William McSwan…. At the same time he continued to live his fraudulent life, masquerading as William Cato Adamson, a solicitor with offices in London, Guildford and Hastings…. He ‘specialised’ in selling phoney stocks and shares…. However, as academically bright as he may have been, spelling was obviously his Achilles heel…. His scam was uncovered after a schoolboy error was noticed on his ‘official’ solicitor’s letterhead – he had missed the ‘d’ out of Guildford…. He was sentenced to a further four years in prison….

He was released at the beginning of World War Two and immediately resumed his life as a career fraudster – resulting in several more prison sentences…. The problem was that his victims kept reporting him – it eventually dawned on him that they couldn’t if they were dead! He spent the remainder of his latest prison sentence devising the perfect way of getting rid of them….

Haigh became fascinated with the methods used by French murderer Georges-Alexandre Sarret – who dissolved bodies by using sulphuric acid…. Haigh started to experiment using various types of acid on mice…. He discovered it took 30 minutes to dissolve a field mouse – he began to calculate how long it would take and how much acid he would need to dissolve a full grown man….

After being released from prison he took a job in the accounting department of an engineering company…. Then one day he happened to bump into his former employer, William McSwan – who had now become a landlord with tenants in multiple properties, owned by his parents…. He had an extremely lavish lifestyle and Haigh was insanely jealous….

A few months later he arranged to meet McSwan and then lured him to the basement of a warehouse he had rented…. He hit McSwan over the head – and then after putting his body into a 40-gallon drum poured sulphuric acid over him…. When he returned two days later he found the body had turned to a sludge – and so he tipped it down a convenient manhole….

Haigh told McSwan’s parents that their son had gone into hiding to avoid being called up for military service…. He then took over the collecting of rents from the tenants…. When McSwan’s parents became suspicious when their son failed to return at the end of the War Haigh was to lure them to his warehouse basement, where they too met the same fate…. Haigh then sold their possessions for around £8,000 by forging their signatures and moved into Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington…. He kept their car and dog though!

Haigh developed an acute gambling habit and so the money did not last long…. He began to look for his next victims…. He also decided he needed bigger premises, where he could store more drums of acid – and so he rented a larger warehouse on Leopold Road, Crawley, West Sussex….

He then went to view the house of Dr Archibald Henderson and his wife Rose, which was on the property market…. He made up some pretext to get the doctor to visit his warehouse and once there, shot him in the head…. Receiving a call from Haigh to say that her husband was unwell Rose rushed to Leopold Road – where she too was shot…. The bodies of the husband and wife were then dissolved in acid….

Haigh was still living at Onslow Court Hotel and was befriended by a wealthy fellow resident, 69 year old widow Olive Durand – who fancied herself as a bit of an entrepreneurial inventor…. On hearing that Haigh worked for an engineering company she sought his advice on an idea she had for artificial fingernails…. On the 18th of February 1949, feigning interest and a desire to help her, Haigh took her to his warehouse – and murdered her….

Now, Haigh had overlooked one important factor when he rented his new warehouse – it had no convenient manhole…. He had to resort to dumping the sludge from his acid drums on a pile of rubble at the back of the building….

It did not take long for this to be discovered…. 28lbs of body fat, part of a foot and gall stones were found, along with a piece of denture, which was identified as belonging to Olive by her dentist…. Haigh was arrested and taken to Horsham Police Station; he confessed to the six murders – and to three more…. He claimed to have also killed a girl from Eastbourne, a woman from Hammersmith and a man called Max – although no evidence could be found….

Peel House, the former Sussex Police Headquarters at Horsham – where Haigh was held

At his trial Haigh pleaded insanity – even saying that he drank the blood of his victims…. His claim was dismissed…. It took the jury just minutes to find him guilty…. Mr Justice Travers Humphreys passed the death sentence and he was taken to the condemned cell at Wandsworth Prison…. Haigh was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on the 10th of August 1949….

Haigh in custody – Image credit : Mitch Hell via Flickr

On this day in history….9th August 1927

On this day in history : 9th August 1927 – The birth of actor, novelist and playwright Robert Shaw – who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Henry VIII in ‘A Man For All Seasons’….

Robert Shaw – Public domain

Shaw was born in Westhoughton, Lancashire and was the son of a former nurse, Doreen Nora and a doctor of Scottish descent, Thomas Archibald Shaw…. He had a brother and three sisters and when he was 7 the family moved to Orkney, Scotland…. Shaw’s father was an alcoholic and a manic depressive – when Shaw was 12 his father committed suicide…. The family relocated to Cornwall….

Shaw was inspired by one of his schoolmasters, who would regularly take his students to see plays in London…. The first play Shaw saw was Hamlet in 1944, with Sir John Gielgud…. After a brief time of working as a teacher himself Shaw used a £1,000 inheritance from his grandmother to join the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art….

He graduated and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company – where he was to be directed by Gielgud…. After making his stage debut in 1949 Shaw was to tour Australia with the Old Vic and then go on to tour Europe and South Africa…. It was whilst performing in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Stratford during 1950 that he was spotted by Sir Alec Guinness – who suggested he ‘come to London to do Hamlet’…. Shaw had been discovered….

His first film role was a small part in the classic ‘Lavender Hill’…. It was also around this time that he married his first wife, actress Jennifer Bourne…. They were to have four daughters…. He went on to have parts in films such as ‘The Dam Busters’, ‘A Hill in Korea’ and a successful role as Dan Tempest in the 1956 film ‘The Buccaneers’…. It was around this time that he was to write his first novel, ‘The Hiding Place’ – which was to sell some 12,000 copies in the UK and around the same in the US and France…. He also began to write for television….

Robert Shaw in ‘The Buccaneers’, 1957 – Public domain

In 1959 Shaw met and began an affair with well-known actress Mary Ure, who was married to playwright and actor John Osbourne (Look Back in Anger)…. The pair were to work together and although both were still married had a child in 1961…. Shaw’s wife also gave birth around the same time…. They were to divorce, as were Ure and Osbourne – and in April 1963 Shaw and Ure married and went on to have three more children…. His film career continued; in 1963 he played the blond assassin Donald ‘Red’ Grant in the Bond film ‘From Russia With Love’….

Shaw had become a very familiar face to the cinema-going public…. He was to appear in ‘The Sting’ in 1973 and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ in 1974…. But the role many will remember him for is as Quint, the Irish shark hunter in the 1975 film ‘Jaws’…. It was part he very nearly did not take on, as he was unimpressed with the script…. The film was to be one of the biggest box-office successes of the time, netting more than $100 million worldwide….

Fair use

However, he was to make little or no money from it, due to taxes he owed in the US, Canada and Ireland…. This was a bleak period for Shaw….his wife had died after taking an accidental overdose of prescription drugs – and he began to suffer from depression….

Despite his depression he continued to work….and he was to find love again, after falling for his secretary, Virginia Dewitt Jansen…. They married in July 1976 – he adopted her son and they were to have another of their own….

In 1977 Shaw began work on his next film ‘The Deep’ and also in the same year he starred in ‘Force 10 from Navarone’ – a sequel to ‘The Guns of Navarone’…. It was whilst making ‘Avalanche Express’ in 1979 that the film’s Director, Mark Robson, died….and production stopped…. As it turned out this film was also to be Shaw’s last – as by now his health was beginning to suffer on account of his alcoholism….

Shaw returned to Ireland whilst he waited for filming to resume…. It was while driving home to Tourmakeady, with his wife and son in the car, that he was taken ill…. The day had been spent playing golf with friends in Castlebar and shopping with his family…. As they neared home he began to experience chest pains – he pulled the car over and got out…. Shaw collapsed by the side of the road – an ambulance arrived 15 minutes later and he was taken to Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, where he was pronounced dead…. Robert Shaw had died from a heart attack at the age of 51…. A memorial stone marks the location where he died….

Image credit : ClintMalpaso – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….8th August 1834

On this day in history : 8th August 1834 – The Poor Law Amendment Act is passed in Britain…. With the introduction of the Workhouse parishes are no longer responsible for the care of their poor….

Southwell Workhouse

Poverty relief was in the hands of individual parishes prior to 1834…. The belief was that the badly organised system encouraged the poor to be lazy and take advantage…. This unfortunate attitude came from the more privileged classes – in truth nearly everybody in the working classes found themselves in poverty at some time in their lives – whether through unemployment, sickness or old age…. There was no welfare system such as we know today….

The Victorian Workhouse was a place of misery…. No able bodied person could now get poor relief unless they entered the Workhouse…. Where they had to work in slave labour conditions for their food and accommodation…. Families were separated; men, women and children were split into separate accommodation and punishments were harsh if they were caught talking to each other…. Inmates were made to wear a uniform, so that everyone looked the same; the working hours were long and the inadequate food provided in starvation rations….

Men at Crumpsall Workhouse c.1897 – Image credit : Manchester Archives via Flickr

The Workhouse was self sufficient; usually with its own bakery, laundry, vegetable gardens and dairy…. It had workrooms for making clothes and shoes, communal dining rooms, a sick ward, nursery, chapel and even a mortuary…. As well as providing accommodation, what passed as food, clothes, medical care and a place of work, it also provided education for the children and training for a future job…. However, many children found themselves being hired out – or even sold – to factories and mines….

A Basketful of Babies….at Crumpsall Workhouse – Image credit : Manchester Archives via Flickr

Each Workhouse was run by a master and matron, a chaplain, school teacher, medical officer and porter…. There was little compassion and cruelty often arose…. The neglect was more than apparent and beatings frequent…. The mortality rate was high; diseases such as tuberculosis and small pox were rife…. It was a harsh system and was intended to put the fear of God into people – to make them do their utmost to keep out of the prison like conditions….

Women at mealtime, St Pancras Workhouse, London – Public domain

The Workhouse was focused on profit rather than solving the issues of the poor…. Many of the inmates were unskilled and were used as a labour force for hard manual tasks, such as crushing bones for making fertiliser or picking oakum from old ropes…. Workhouses were overseen by ‘Guardians’ – usually ruthless local businessmen seeking a profit….

Over time the Workhouse evolved and became a refuge for the sick and the elderly…. Attitudes changed towards the end of the 19th century, people expressed anger at the cruelty within them…. By 1929 new legislation had been introduced allowing local authorities to take over the running of workhouses as hospitals…. In 1930 the workhouses officially closed, although it was several years before the system totally stopped as so many people needed help…. In 1948, with the introduction of the National Assistance Act, the last of the Poor Laws were eradicated….

People queuing at South Marylebone Workhouse circa 1900 – Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

On this day in history….7th August 1935

On this day in history : 7th August 1935 : A plague of flying ants descends on London – authorities claim it to be the worst attack of pestilence in a quarter of a century….

Image credit : Ozzy Delaney via Flickr

The insects got into houses, crawled into pantries, heaped up on doorsteps and even stopped a tennis tournament….

‘Flying Ant Day’ is the day when the queen ants emerge from the nest to embark on their nuptial flight…. As the queen flies she emits pheromones to attract males…. They follow her and she flies away forcing them to chase her – meaning only the strongest get to mate with her…. She mates with several during the flight, storing the sperm in her abdomen, enough to last her lifetime and uses it to fertilise millions of eggs…. Once landed she will form a new colony….

This usually happens during July or August…. The weather is a key factor to determine when – heat and high humidity is needed…. Species and habitat are also factors….

The ants are mostly harmless, some have been known to bite but this is a rarity in the UK…. It may be unpleasant but it only lasts for a few hours – and is good for the environment…. The ants help to aerate the ground – and provide food for the birds….