On this day in history….12th May 1937

On this day in history : 12th May 1937 – The birth of English cyclist Beryl Burton – who was to dominate women’s cycle racing in the United Kingdom, winning more than 90 titles….

Beryl Burton – Dutch National Archives CC0

Born Beryl Charnock in the Halton area of Leeds, West Yorkshire, Beryl was to spend the duration of her life in Morley…. As a child she suffered with rheumatic fever resulting in a hospital stay and then fifteen months in a convalescence home….

She married her husband, Charlie Burton, in 1955 and it was he who introduced her to cycling…. In 1957 she won her first national medal – a silver in the National 100-mile Individual Time Trial Championship….

During her international career she won the Women’s World Road Race Championship in 1960 and again in 1967…. She won world championship medals 5 times, was a silver medalist 3 times and won bronze 4 times….

Competing on the track, 1967 – Dutch National Archives – CC BY-SA 3.0nl

But it was at home that she was to really dominate…. For 25 consecutive years, from 1959-1983 she was the Road Time Trials Council’s ‘British Best All-Rounder’…. She won a total of 72 national time trial titles and a further 24 national titles in road racing and on the track….

She was to set 50 new national records…. In 1963 she became the first woman to break the hour barrier for a 25 mile time trial…. And in 1967 she set a 12-hour time trial of 277.25 miles – surpassing even the men’s record by .73 miles…. Beryl’s motto was “Anything lads can do ~ I can do”…. It appears she wasn’t wrong there…. It was 1967 and 99 men started off on an Otley Cycle Club 12-hour time trial…. Beryl waited for a couple of minutes after their departure and then set off after them…. One by one she overtook the lot – including the famous Mike McNamara…. The story goes that as she passed him she handed him a liquorice allsort – to which he said “Ta, love” – popped it in his mouth and ate it….

Even in her mid 40s she was still setting records – when in 1982 she set the British 10-mile record for women’s tandem bicycle, with her 26-year-old daughter, Denise….

Beryl remained an amateur throughout her cycling career – even though she was offered plenty of lucrative sponsorships ~ as a day job she worked on a rhubarb farm…. In 1968 she was awarded an OBE….

On the 5th of May 1996 Beryl was out on her bicycle delivering invitations for her upcoming 59th birthday party – when she suffered sudden heart failure and died…. There has to be an element of irony in there somewhere….

On this day in history….11th May 1685

On this day in history : 11th May 1685 – The execution by drowning of 18-year-old Scottish martyr Margaret Wilson – for refusing to swear an oath declaring James II of England (James VII of Scotland) as head of the Church….

‘The Martyr of Solway’ – painting of Margaret Wilson by John Everett Millais, 1871 – Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool – Public domain

Margaret was the daughter of wealthy farmer Gilbert Wilson, of Glevernoch, near Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire…. Her parents were loyal Episcopalians – whereas Margaret followed her older brothers’ example of worshipping the Covenanters – a movement to maintain the reforms of the Scottish Reformation…. After the Restoration of the Monarchy the Covenanters were declared treasonable….

Many Covenant ministers refused to give up their beliefs and submit, instead they took to holding illegal open-air conventicles which were often broken up using military force…. By 1684 many Covenanters had gone into hiding in the hills to escape the authorities, as by now refusing to swear an allegiance to King James and renouncing the Covenant carried a death sentence….

Despite this Margaret began attending conventicles with her younger brother, Thomas…. However, in February 1685 he too had fled to the hills….

Margaret and her younger sister, Agnes, went into Wigtown to visit a friend, elderly widow Margaret McLachlan…. It was during this visit that the two sisters were seized by the authorities and imprisoned in the ‘thieves hole’…. Here they refused to take the oath renouncing the Covenant…. A few days later Margaret McLachlan and her servant woman were also arrested and imprisoned with the sisters….

The women appeared before the local assizes on the 13th of April 1685 and were found guilty of attending illegal conventicle meetings…. The two sisters and McLachlan were sentenced to be ‘tied to palisades fixed in the sand, within the flood mark of the sea, and there to stand till the flood o’erflowed them’….

Gilbert Wilson travelled to Edinburgh to plead clemency for his daughters and McLachlan…. Agnes was granted freedom on a bond of £100 and reprieves were granted for the two Margarets, dated the 30th of April 1685…. The authorities of Wigtown were urged to respect the reprieves….

However, on the 11th of May 1685 Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan were chained to stakes on the Solway Firth…. As the salt water began to choke her Margaret Wilson was given a last chance to offer a prayer to the King – which she did but she still refused to renounce the Covenant…. She was then forcibly pushed beneath the waves to her death….

Illustration of Margaret Wilson’s martyrdom, published in Once A Week, July 1862 – Public domain

She and McLachlan were buried in the churchyard of Wigtown…. The two Margarets became known as the ‘Wigtown Martyrs’….

On this day in history….10th May 1940

On this day in history : 10th May 1940 – Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain – after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons….

Winston Churchill – Public domain

In 1938 Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler, handing over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany…. In doing so Chamberlain claimed it would bring “peace in our time”…. However, in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and in return Chamberlain declared war on Germany….

Under the direction of Chamberlain Britain proved ineffective at stopping Hitler – and when British forces were unable to prevent the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, with the loss of some 4,000 British troops, Chamberlain was to face the withdrawal of support from many members of his own Conservative party…. On the 10th of May Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – and Chamberlain completely lost the confidence of the House of Commons….

Chamberlain as Prime Minister – Public domain

Initially Lord Halifax was offered the position of Prime Minister but was to decline…. So, with his track record of military leadership Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister…. Labour leader Clement Attlee had made it clear his party would not work with a coalition under Chamberlain – but Churchill was to form a successful coalition and quickly won the hearts and support of the nation…. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” ~ Winston Churchill in his first speech as Prime Minister….

Churchill with Lord Halifax 1938 – Public domain

Chamberlain served briefly under Churchill in the War Cabinet as Lord President of the Council, until retiring through ill-health in October 1940…. He died the following month of cancer….

On this day in history….9th May 1935

On this day in history : 9th May 1935 – The birth of author and illustrator of children’s books, Roger Hargreaves – best remembered for his much loved Mr Men and Little Miss series of stories….

Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire and attended Sowerby Bridge Grammar School…. He then spent a year working in the family laundry and dry cleaning business before going to work in advertising….

Roger wrote his first Mr Men story – ‘Mr Tickle’ – in 1971…. It came about when his 8-year-old son asked him what a tickle looked like…. In response he drew a figure with a round orange body and long bendy arms – and so the first Mr Men character was born….

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At the time Roger was the Creative Director of a London advertising company…. He had some difficulty in initially finding a publisher for his books but once he did success came quickly…. In three years more than one million copies had sold…. 1974 saw the BBC animated Mr Men series, narrated by Arthur Lowe – and by 1976 Roger had given up his advertising career to concentrate on his writing…. The Little Miss books were launched in 1981 and they too were made into a TV series in 1983 – this time narrated by husband and wife team John Alderton and Pauline Collins….

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In all there were 46 Mr Men and 33 Little Miss books…. With over 100 million books being sold Roger was to become Britain’s third best selling author of all time…. His other works included the 25 book series ‘Timbuctoo’, ‘The Roundy and Squary’ books, ‘John Mouse’, ‘Hippo Potto and Mouse’ and the ‘Veggie Fruits’ – but it is undoubtedly the Mr Men and Little Miss stories that won so many hearts….

Between 1975 and 1982 Roger and his wife Christine lived on Guernsey with their four children – Adam, Giles and twins Sophie and Amelia – upon whom ‘Little Miss Twins’ was based…. The family then moved to Cowden in Kent…. On the 11th of September 1988 Roger was to die suddenly following a stroke – he was aged just 53…. After his death his son, Adam, continued his work – and in April 2004 Christine sold the rights to the characters to the Chorion entertainment group….

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On this day in history….8th May 1913

On this day in history : 8th May 1913 – The birth, in South Africa, of British character and comic actor Sid James – best known for his roles in the Carry On films and Hancock’s Half Hour….

Sid James – Fair use

Sid was born Solomon Joel Cohen in Johannesburg…. As a young man he had a variety of jobs, including as a diamond polisher, a coal heaver, dance instructor and hairdresser…. It was whilst working in a hairdressing salon in the Orange Free State that he met his first wife, Berthe Sadie Delmont – known as ‘Toots’ – and they were married on the 12th of August 1936…. Her father bought them a hair salon of their own – but a year later Sid decided he wanted to be an actor…. The couple had one daughter, Elizabeth, in 1937 – but they divorced in 1940….

During World War 2 Sid was a Lieutenant in the entertainment division of the South African Army…. In 1943 he married dancer Meg Sergei – and they had a daughter, Reina, in 1948….

In the December of 1946 Sid and Meg emigrated to the UK and Sid made his first credited film appearances in 1947, in the crime dramas ‘Night Beat’ and ‘Black Memory’…. His first comedy role was in ‘The Lavender Mob’ in 1951…. He and Meg divorced on the 17th of August 1952 and four days later he married Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan, an actress using the stage name of Ashton…. They were to have a son, Steve, in 1954, followed later by a daughter, Sue….

Sid began working with Tony Hancock in 1954, first on the radio and later TV…. He played the part of his own namesake ‘Sid’ in Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran for six series, ending in 1960….

Sid James and Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour – Fair use

He was to take a lead role in ‘Carry On Constable’ in 1960 and a further 18 Carry On films were to follow…. In the 1970s he was to become a familiar face on the small screen with his sitcoms ‘Two In Clover’ (1969-70) and ‘Bless This House’ (1971-76)….

Sid was highly regarded by almost everyone who worked with him, despite his uncouth demeanour he was a gentleman…. However, it was reputed that he did not get on with his Carry On co-star Kenneth Williams…. But he did get on very well with another co-star, Barbara Windsor – the pair had a well-publicised ten year affair….

He was a hard drinking workaholic – perhaps in necessity to service his gambling addiction….and this lifestyle was to take its toll, when in 1967 he suffered a heart attack…. He was soon back at work, on the set of ‘Carry on Doctor’, in which he played a patient and spent most of the film in bed – which was appropriate for his health situation…. He gave up the heavy smoking, lost weight and cut down on the alcohol…. However, on the 26th April 1976, whilst appearing on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, in the farce ‘The Mating Season’ by Northern Irish playwright Sam Cree, he suffered a further heart attack…. Sid died on his way to hospital….