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…..

On this day in history….10th December 1868

On this day in history : 10th December 1868 – The world’s first traffic lights come into service outside of the Palace of Westminster, London…. They were not quite like those that we are used to today….

Image credit : Leonard Bentley via Flickr

The lights were placed at a busy and notoriously dangerous junction at the north-east corner of Parliament Square…. A traffic policeman had recently been killed – and two Members of Parliament had been badly injured….

Installation had been completed the previous day and there were high hopes that the new lights would alleviate the traffic problems…. They had been designed by railway engineer J.P.Knight from Nottingham, who had adapted his design for a railway signal…. The 22ft high contraption had three semaphore arms on a pillar, that had to be operated by a police constable using a lever at the base…. The arms would extend horizontally to tell drivers to stop; arms lowered to 45 degrees meant proceed with caution…. At night gas lamps on the arms were lit – red for stop, green for proceed with caution….

John Peake Knight – Public domain

Initially it was a partial success – but there were those who were sceptical…. Punch Magazine described it as a ‘Scary Apparition, beaming through the fog’…. Many drivers found the semaphore arms too confusing….

Image : Punch, March 20th 1869

Then on the 2nd of January 1869 leaking gas from one of the supply cables under the pavement exploded – and the contraption blew up, seriously injuring the policeman who was operating it at the time…. The lights were repaired and were used for a few more months – but they kept on going wrong and so were removed by the end of the year…. Electric lights were eventually installed in 1926 with the first at Piccadilly, London….

On this day in history….28th November 1990

On this day in history : 28th November 1990 – A tearful Margaret Thatcher makes her last speech as Prime Minister outside No.10 Downing Street….

Mrs Thatcher had formally tended her resignation to the Queen earlier that morning…. John Major had been elected as her successor by the Conservative party the previous day – after a leadership challenge had been mounted by Michael Heseltine on the 14th of November…. Mrs Thatcher reportedly regarded her ousting as a betrayal….

As she appeared outside No.10 it was to applause from the gathered Press…. She addressed the reporters : “Ladies and Gentlemen”….her voice cracking on the ‘Gentlemen’….”We’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after eleven-and-a-half wonderful years, and we’re very happy that we leave the United Kingdom in a very, very much better state than when we came here eleven-and-a-half years ago”….

Mrs Thatcher went on to thank the staff who had supported her and to say what a privilege it had been to serve the country…. She finished by wishing John Major all the luck in the world – adding “He’ll be splendidly served and he has the makings of a great Prime Minister”….

After her speech she and husband Denis were driven to Buckingham Palace where they had a half hour meeting with the Queen – and then returned to their home in Dulwich, South London…. Margaret Thatcher remained MP for Finchley until 1992….