On this day in history….7th September 1838

On this day in history : 7th September 1838 – Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, assists her father in a daring rescue mission off the coast of Northumberland – which makes her a heroine….

Grace Darling – Portrait by Thomas Musgrave Joy – Public domain

During the evening of the 7th of September a terrible storm raged and 22-year-old Grace was watching it from an upper window of the Longstone Lighthouse…. Suddenly she spotted the wreck of the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer travelling from Hull to Dundee, which had struck rocks and had completely split into two….

Grace was one of nine children but on this particular fateful night all of her siblings were away and only she and her parents were home…. Deciding it would be too dangerous for the lifeboat from the nearby village of Seahouses to attempt the rescue Grace and her father headed out in their own small boat to help the survivors…. With the weather so rough they were forced to keep to the more sheltered side of the islands, meaning they had a further distance of nearly a mile to row….

Grace Darling rowing out to sea in a furious storm. Colour wood engraving by E.Evans after C.J.Staniland. Credit : The Wellcome Collection CC BY

The Forfarshire had been carrying around 40 passengers and with the crew there was a total of 63 on board…. As the ship split in two the stern half sank, drowning all but 12 and a further few who managed to make it into a lifeboat…. The front end of the vessel remained stuck on the rocks; 5 crew members and 7 passengers clung to the wreckage….but managed to climb on to the slippery rocks as the tide went down…. Three of the passengers, the Reverend John Robbery and two children, died of exposure….their mother, Sarah Dawson, was clinging to her dead children when Grace and her father arrived….

Grace Darling at the Forfarshire – by Thomas Musgrave Joy – Public domain

Grace held the small boat steady as her father helped Sarah Dawson and four men on board – they then rowed back to the lighthouse…. Grace’s father and three other men then returned to the wreck to rescue the four remaining survivors…. Those who had managed to make it to the lifeboat were picked up by a passing ship the following morning….

Grace was honoured with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Silver Medal for Gallantry and the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society….and she also received a £50 reward from Queen Victoria….

On this day in history….4th August 1865

On this day in history : 4th August 1865 – The birth of Edith Cavell, the English nurse who helped hundreds of British, French and Belgian soldiers escape occupied Belgium during World War I….

Edith Cavell – Public domain

Edith Louisa Cavell, the daughter of a rector and the eldest of four children was born in Swardeston, Norfolk…. She worked as a governess in Belgium before training as a nurse in London…. She was employed in hospitals in Shoreditch, King’s Cross and Manchester and then took the position of Matron in Brussels – in what was Belgium’s first training hospital and school for nurses…. Her work involved training nurses during Belgium’s modernisation if its medical care system….

Edith (seated centre) with a group of the student nurses whom she trained in Brussels – Public domain

Edith was back in Norfolk visiting her family when WWI broke out…. On hearing that German troops were advancing on Belgium she returned to Brussels immediately…. By the 20th of August 1914 Brussels was occupied and the nursing school became a Red Cross Hospital – treating casualties on both sides, as well as continuing to treat civilians….

Edith with her two dogs in a garden in Brussels before the outbreak of WW1 – Public domain

On September the 14th Edith was asked to help two wounded British soldiers, who after the Battle of Mons had become trapped behind enemy lines…. She treated them at the hospital and then arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium into neutral Holland….

Becoming part of the network who helped Allied troops, over the next 11 months Edith helped over 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers escape…. She would first treat them at the hospital and then arrange for guides to take them across the border….

On the 5th of August 1915 Edith was arrested and placed in solitary confinement at St. Gilles Prison, Brussels…. She was one of 34 members of the network to be arrested….

Edith’s court martial took place on the 7th of October 1915…. She was found guilty….and sentenced to death…. Before her execution she was granted one final communion with an Anglican Priest…. She wished her friends to know that she willingly gave her life for her country….“I have no fear nor shrinking, I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful for me’….

Portrait of Edith Cavell before WW1 – from the Collections of the Imperial War Museums

Edith was shot by firing squad at the Tir National, the Brussels firing range, on the 12th of October 1915 – she was executed along with 4 Belgian men…. Her death caused outrage in Britain and many neutral countries – including the United States…. It prompted the US First Secretary, Hugh Gibson, to put intense diplomatic pressure on Germany….

Edith had been betrayed by a Frenchman, Gaston Quien….who after the war was put on trial by the French for his collaboration with the Germans…. He was sentenced to death for his treasonous acts, including Edith’s death – but this was commuted to twenty years imprisonment and he was released in 1936….

After the war had ended Edith’s body was exhumed and repatriated – she was buried at Norwich Cathedral and a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey….img_3673

On this day in history….30th December 1983

On this day in history : 30th December 1983 – The death of British racing driver and long distance record breaker Violette Cordery – who was known as ‘The Long Distance Lady’….

Violette Cordery, 1919 – Public domain

Violette was born in London on the 10th of January 1900…. As a young woman she was employed as a driver for Captain Noel Macklin of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve based at Dover…. Macklin was also her brother-in-law as he was married to her elder sister, Lucy….

Macklin had his own automobile manufacturing company, Silver Hawk Motors in Cobham, Surrey…. In 1920 he produced his Silver Hawk car, which Violette drove in the 1500cc ‘light cars’ class of the South Harting Hill Climb…. She was then to go on to compete in other motoring events…. In May 1921 she won the ladies’ race at the Junior Car Club meeting, averaging at a speed of 49.7mph throughout the race….

Her racing career continued and in 1925 she broke records in Macklin’s new Invicta car…. She won the West Kent Motor Club’s mile sprint in the 2.7 litre Invicta at Brooklands…. Then in 1926 she set a long distance record in Italy, where she drove another Invicta for 10,000 miles at an average 56.47mph…. She set another record in July 1926 in Paris, where she drove 5,000 miles averaging at 70.7mph…. This saw her win the Royal Automotive Club’s Dewar Trophy – making her the first woman to do so….

Violette Cordery, July 1927 in a touring Invicta – Image source : National Library of France CCO

In 1931 Violette and her younger sister Evelyn completed a long distance challenge at the Brooklands Circuit in Surrey…. They drove 30,000 miles in 30,000 minutes at an average speed of 61.57mph – this equated to approximately 20 days and 20 hours of driving…. The sisters won a second Dewar Trophy….

Violette married racing driver and aviator John Stuart Hindmarsh on the 15th of September 1931 in Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey…. They went on to have two daughters – but on the 6th of September 1938 she was to become widowed…. John had been test flying a Hawker Hurricane at Brooklands when the aircraft crashed, killing him…. After this Violette retired from public life; she died in December 1983 in Oxshott, Surrey….

On this day in history….20th December 1979

On this day in history : 20th December 1979 – More than five million council tenants in Britain are to be given the right to buy their homes as The Housing Bill is published….

The right-to-buy scheme gave council tenants, who had lived in their homes for up to three years, a 33% discount on the market value of the property…. This discount increased the longer they had lived there, up to 50% for those who had been resident for twenty years or more…. Additional help was offered in the way of a 100% mortgage from the local authority….

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government believed a property owning population would be a more socially responsible one and that the social structure of Britain would change for the better…. Michael Heseltine, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, stated “This Bill lays the foundations for one of the most important social revolutions of this century”….

Semi-detached council homes, Seacroft, Leeds – typical of the many now privately owned – Image credit : Chemical Engineer – Public domain

The scheme was strongly oppose by Labour – but nevertheless The Housing Act came into force on the 3rd of October 1980…. By November 1982 more than 400,000 households had bought their homes and the scheme extended to leasehold property tenants…. By 2003 it is estimated some 1.5 million council homes had been sold….

There is now a shortage of social housing across the UK….

On this day in history….15th December 1982

On this day in history : 15th December 1982 – The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest – reputed to have been Robin Hood’s tree – is fitted with a fire alarm….

The Major Oak, an English oak (Quercus robur), is the largest oak tree in Britain and can be found in the heart of Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, not far from the Nottinghamshire village of Edwinstowe…. It is estimated to be between 800 and 1,000 years old – and has a canopy spread of 92ft (28m) and a girth of 33ft (10m)…. It weighs an estimated 23 tons and can produce some 150,000 acorns in a good year…. In 1908 chains had to be added to help support the tree and in the 1970s support beams were put up to help hold up the sprawling branches…. These beams were reinforced with metal in the 2000s…. It was fenced off in the 1970s as the thousands of footsteps of visitors compounding the surrounding ground were damaging the tree’s roots…. It is estimated around 350,000 visit the oak each year….

Over the centuries the Major Oak has survived storms, wars and deforestation…. Legend has it that it once sheltered Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men…. The trunk has a hollow interior that is big enough to climb inside – it was within here that in 1982 vandals lit a fire – and so as a future precaution a fire alarm was fitted to the tree…. Then, in the July of 2020, whilst the country was in ‘lockdown’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, vandals struck again…. A 3ft chunk of bark was ripped from the trunk by somebody climbing on the ancient oak…. Local people branded the vandalism as sacrilege…..