On this day in history….22nd February 1797

On this day in history : 22nd February 1797 – The last invasion of Britain unfolds at Fishguard, southwest Wales and lasts for just 2 days – as the invaders get too drunk to continue fighting….

Ask most people when they think the last invasion of Britain was and they will answer 1066….but actually the French had one last pop at us 700 years later….


Napoleon was doing his best to conquer Europe…. Whilst he was busy doing his ‘thing’ the newly formed French revolutionary government – the ‘Directory’ – thought they would have a little foray over to these shores….

Of course there was a little more to it than just a mere ‘whim’ – the idea was to create a diversion and attract the British Navy’s attention whilst a simultaneous attack took place on the southern parts of Ireland…. Only the Irish plans never came to fruition….but since the Directory already had in place an army (of sorts) – the ‘Legion Noire’ – they thought they may as well go ahead and invade anyway….

The Legion Noire – and here is where the problems begin….Napoleon had commandeered all of the best men…. Colonel William Tate, a 70-year-old American-Irish mercenary soldier, had been installed as commander of the invasion of Britain…. The trouble was he had been left with all the riff-raff with which to form an army…. Many of his 1400 strong rag-bag force were ex-cons and those rejected by Napoleon….

The plan was to land at Britain’s second largest city (of the time) – Bristol – and annihilate it….then head over to Wales and do a bit of damage there…. Next would be a march up to Chester and Liverpool, causing mayhem and carnage on the way…. Only things didn’t quite work out that way….

Stormy weather meant the French warships were unable to get anywhere near to Bristol – but ‘ho-hum’, never mind – their thoughts being ‘we’ll skip that part of the plan and carry on around the coast to Wales’…. On Wednesday the 22nd of February they sailed into Fishguard Bay….

Fishguard. Photo credit Nick via Flickr (nicksarebi)

Of course their arrival was not to go unnoticed….they were met with a single cannon shot…. The French panicked and beat a hasty retreat – little did they know the shot was intended to simply alert the townsfolk of an impending attack….

The fleet sailed on and came across a small sandy beach, close to the village of Llanwnda…. Thinking they had found the perfect spot (its beginning to sound like a picnic isn’t it….but bear with – for them it gets much better than that) they started to off-load – men, arms and gun powder….and then the warships pottered off and left them to it…. By 2am on Thursday the 23rd of February the French invasion of Britain was done….but not entirely dusted….

French troops landing at Carregwastad on 22 February 1797. From a lithograph first published in May 1797 and later coloured. Baker, James 18th Century – Public domain

The villagers had recently helped themselves to the cargo of a Portuguese ship that had run aground – and had stashed away a considerable quantity of gourmet food and fine wine…. The invading Frenchmen – many of whom were half-starved after having survived on prison rations for so long – soon sniffed this out…. The temptation was just too much – so off they went on a looting frenzy….and by the time they’d had their fill they were too intoxicated to continue the task at hand…. So pie-eyed were they – they were even incapable of standing up to the wrath of the Welsh womenfolk….

One of these women was Jemima Nicholas – the 47-year-old wife of a Fishguard cobbler…. So cross was she on hearing of the French invasion that she grabbed a pitchfork and marched off to Llanwnda to find herself some Frenchmen…. And find some she did….Jemima rounded up 12 drunken soldiers and herded them back to town – and locked them in the church…. She then headed back to catch some more…. Her bravery earned her the name Jemima Fawr – ‘Jemima the Great’….

Gravestone of Jemima Nicholas outside St. Mary’s Church, Fishguard. Flapdragon – Public domain

William Tate was faced with a mutinous drunken rabble of an army…. At midday on the 24th of February the Legion Noire surrendered to the local militia….

However, the French version of events differs slightly…. British troops had come at them in their thousands – they were completely outnumbered – and they didn’t stand a chance…. That’ll be because they were seeing double then – on account of all the alcohol they’d consumed…. What they had actually seen – with their blurred vision – was a rather large number of womenfolk in their traditional regional dress – of crimson tunic and tall black hat – who had gathered to watch the spectacle…. Let’s be charitable here – anyone in such an inebriated state could easily mistake such a vision for British soldiers….couldn’t they? Ah, those French, they just couldn’t hold their vino….

Carregwastad Head, the landing site for Tate’s forces. RATAEDL CC BY-SA 2.0


On this day in history….21st February 1958

On this day in history : 21st February 1958 – Gerald Holtom designs the ND peace symbol adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament…. It is later to become an international peace symbol….


Gerald Herbert Holtom (1914-1985) was a British artist and designer, having studied at the Royal College of Art….

During World War II he had been a conscientious objector and was invited by the Direct Action Committee to design artwork for use on their first Aldermaston march during the Easter of 1958 – the 4th – 7th of April…. The Direct Action Committee (DAC) was a pacifist organisation against nuclear war and existed between 1957 and 1961….

Holtom presented his sketches at a DAC meeting at the Peace News offices in North London on the 21st of February 1958…. The design incorporates the semaphore signals for ‘N’ and ‘D’ (standing for nuclear disarmament)….

  • ‘N’ – Two arms outstretched, pointing 45 degrees downwards
  • ‘D’ – One arm raised over the head

The symbol made its first public appearance on Good Friday in Trafalgar Square – where the march to Aldermaston began…. Several thousand people marched for 4 days to the Atomic Weapons Establishment….

From 1959 an annual Easter march from Aldermaston to London was organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – (CND)….

1959 march…. Photo credit: Carl Guderian via Flickr

CND was founded in November 1957, at the height of the Cold War…. The ND peace logo had not been copyrighted and once adopted by CND became recognised as their symbol – and later as a general-purpose peace symbol throughout the world….


On this day in history….20th February 1757

On this day in history : 20th February 1757 – The birth of John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller – Squire of the hamlet of Brightling, Sussex. An MP, philanthropist and builder of follies….

John Fuller, who was better known as ‘Mad Jack’ preferred to be called ‘Honest John’…. Was he mad? No, just eccentric….

Many associate Fuller with his follies – of which he built several which can be seen around the village of Brightling ~ ‘Folly: foolish and useless but expensive undertaking’….

However, there was so much more to the man…. He was born in Stoneham, Hampshire – but his father, the Reverend Henry Fuller, died when the young Fuller was just 4-years-old…. After he had finished his education at Eton he embarked on a military career – by the age of 22 he was a captain of a light infantry company in the Sussex Militia. In 1776 he was appointed High Sheriff of Sussex – a post lasting a year…. 1798 saw him as a captain in the Sussex Gentlemen and Yeoman Company….

To discover how he came to be Squire of a hamlet in Sussex we need to wind back to when he was 20-years-old…. It was on the death of his uncle that he inherited the Rose Hill Estate (now Brightling Park) – along with a plantation in Jamaica…. Fuller was a staunch supporter of slavery – having slaves on his inherited plantation…. He notoriously once claimed ‘West Indian slaves lived in better conditions than many people in England’….

Fuller was elected to parliament at the age of 23 and served as MP for Southampton until 1784 and then for Sussex from 1801 to 1812 – when he retired from politics. Fuller was rather fond of his drink – leading to a series of incidents in Parliament – one in particular involving the Speaker….

But there was also a very generous and charitable side to him…. In 1822 he endowed to Eastbourne its first lifeboat and in 1828 financed the building of the first Belle Tout Lighthouse, off of Beachy Head (a temporary structure, replaced by a permanent granite building in the 1830s). Also in 1828, on the 18th of September, he purchased Bodiam Castle at auction for 3,000 guineas – to save it from destruction….

Among his other notable projects was the building of the Observatory of Brightling – designed by Robert Smirke….


Perhaps one of his most generous bequests was to the Royal Institution (founded in 1799 and devoted to scientific research and education) of which he was a supporter. Initially given as a loan – but later written off – he donated £1,000 – over £100,000 in today’s terms…. In 1828 he established the Fuller Medal of the Royal Institute and in 1833 founded the Fullerian Professorship of Chemistry and later the Fullerian Professorship of Physiology….

Fuller never married, although at the age of 33 he did propose to Susannah Arabella Thrale, the daughter of politician Henry Thrale and authoress Hester Thrale – but his proposal was rejected…. He died on Friday the 11th of April 1834 at his London home – 36, Devonshire Place….and he was buried under one of his own follies…. He had built ‘The Pyramid’ in 1811 in the churchyard of St. Thomas à Becket Church in Brightling as a future mausoleum….


On this day in history….19th February 1968

On this day in history. : 19th February 1968 – The High Court awards 62 children compensation after they are born with deformities after their mothers took the drug thalidomide during pregnancy….

The two enantiomers of thalidomide : Left: (S)-(-)- thalidomide : Right: (R)-(+)-thalidomide

Thalidomide can only be described as a dark chapter in the history of pharmaceutical history…. It was developed in the 1950s, by West German pharmaceutical company the Grünenthal Group. It was licensed in the UK by The Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd….

The drug was marketed as a sedative and mild sleeping pill – safe enough even for pregnant women to take…. It became extremely popular with expectant mothers as it was also found to ease morning sickness…. So safe was it deemed that it could be bought over the counter….

Thalidomide became available in the UK in 1958…. It was in 1961 that Australian doctor, William McBride, wrote to the medical publication, The Lancet, with his observations of an increase in deformed babies born to mothers who had used the drug…. It was removed from the UK market in late 1961 after tests concluded that it impaired foetal development….

Congenital malformation of the feet. Effects of maternal drugs – thalidomide. Image credit: Otis Historical Archives via Flickr

Babies born to mothers who had taken Thalidomide were often born with limbs that had failed to develop properly – but sometimes it affected eyes, ears and internal organs…. The severity of cases varied…. It is unknown how many miscarriages may have been caused by it…. Worldwide it could have been anywhere up to 100,000 women who had used the drug to alleviate their morning sickness symptoms – well over 400 victims were born in the UK….

Terry Wiles (right) who was born with phocomelia due to thalidomide. Public domain

After the High Court ruling in 1968 many other claims were settled out of court. In 1973, after pressure from the press and public, Distillers finally agreed to establish a trust fund and make lump sum payouts to all affected children….

Thalidomide resulted in tougher drug testing and approval procedures – but tragically for so many it was too little too late…. Nowadays Thalidomide is sometimes used as a treatment for certain types of cancer. From 2004 it became available on a named patient basis – meaning doctors can prescribe it but under strict controls….

Pack of Thalidomide tablets circa 2006 or later. Stephencdickson via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….18th February 1969

On this day in history : 18th February 1969 – The marriage of Lulu and Maurice Gibb (of the Bee Gees) in a Buckinghamshire church – thousands of fans flock to see….

Lulu and Maurice had met in a BBC canteen whilst filming for Top of the Pops…. Lulu was 20 and Maurice 19…. In a whirlwind romance they moved in together in Highgate, north London and were married soon after….

The marriage took place at St. James’ Church, Gerrard’s Cross…. It was thought of as the ‘showbiz wedding of the year’….

Lulu had tried to keep the wedding plans quiet – it was to be a small family affair…. She and the three Gibb brothers were the only celebrities present…. However, word got out and thousands of fans, mostly women, clamoured to see the pop stars….


Lulu arrived 20 minutes late in a green Rolls Royce….as she did so the crowd surged forward, some – including children – were hurt…. The police had to form a cordon in order to allow her to reach the church…. She wore a long, white, fur-trimmed coat with a fur hood over a white silk mini-dress….

Inside the church waiting were Maurice and his best man, brother Robin…. Barry was also at the wedding – although he had raised concerns about the marriage as he believed the couple to be too young….

After the service, which was conducted by the Reverend Gordon Harrison, the newly weds found themselves trapped in the church for a further 10 minutes whilst a path could be cleared to their waiting car…. They were then whisked away to a reception in London….


Four years into the marriage Maurice was frequently out night-clubbing, drinking heavily and indulging in mammoth spending sprees…. On one notorious 4-day splurge he bought an Aston Martin, a Bentley and a Rolls Royce…. Lulu could take no more – the couple separated and in 1975 she divorced him – although they remained on good terms…. Maurice died of a heart attack in January 2003….