On this day in history….17th January 1928

On this day in history : 17th January 1928 – The birth of British hairstylist and entrepreneur Vidal Sassoon, who revolutionised women’s hairdressing in the 1950s/60s….

Vidal Sassoon in 2006 – en.User:DierkA / de.Benutzer : The weaver

Vidal was born in Hammersmith, West London to Jewish parents and the family lived in Shepherd’s Bush…. His mother, born in the East End, came from a Ukrainian family who had emigrated to England during the 1880s…. His father was born in Thessaloniki, now part of northern Greece…. When Vidal was 3-years-old his father left for another woman…. Falling into poverty Vidal’s mother was unable to keep up the rent payments on their home and so the family were evicted…. She took Vidal and his younger brother to her sister’s flat – seven of them squeezed into the tiny space with no bathroom or inside toilet….

Vidal’s mother had no choice but to place her boys in the care of a Jewish orphanage….and here they stayed for seven years…. Their mother was only permitted to visit them once a month – and it wasn’t until Vidal was 11 and his mother had remarried that the family were to be reunited…. But even this was short-lived, as both Vidal and his brother were evacuated to Wiltshire at the beginning of World War 2….

Vidal returned to London and left school at the age of 14…. He was good at football and dreamed of being a professional player – but his mother had other ideas…. She had always wanted him to become a hairdresser and so she took him to the school of well-known stylist Adolph Cohen…. However, it was obvious there was no way the family could afford the cost of the expensive two-year course – but luck was on their side – Cohen, taking a shine to Vidal, waived the fees….

Vidal went on to train under Raymond Bessone in his Mayfair salon – and then in 1954 opened his own…. His interest in architecture gave him the inspiration to create the precisely angled geometric scissor cut and bob cut hairstyles which were to become his trademark…. Short, simple to maintain cuts that a woman could style herself at home….

It was not long before Vidal’s trendy Bond Street salon had celebrity clients, such as fashion designer Mary Quant and actress Nancy Kwan….

Mary having her cut by Vidal, 1964 – Kristine via Flickr

Vidal expanded his business to the States…. He famously created the ultra-short pixie cut of Mia Farrow for the film Rosemary’s Baby….

Mia Farrow’s Pixie hair cut – Fair use

His business grew and grew, he established salons and hairdressing schools across Europe and North America…. A range of beauty and haircare products was launched – Vidal would appear in the TV commercials in person…. His catchphrase – “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good”….

In Memoriam Day via Flickr

On this day in history….16th January 1862

On this day in history: 16th January 1862 – Two-hundred and four men and boys are killed in the Hartley Colliery disaster, Northumberland…. A mining disaster which prompts change in UK law….

Hartley Colliery Disaster : the dead are brought up to their families – L’illustration 1862

At the time it was common practice for coal mines to have just one mineshaft – Hester Pit at the Hartley Colliery was one such mine….

The problem began when a support beam, for the steam engine being used to pump sea water from the pit, broke…. The pump was the largest in use in Northern England – it pumped 1,250 gallons of water per minute…. Its 20 ton section of support beam crashed down blocking the mineshaft…. Out of the 8 men coming up in the lift at the end of their shift, 5 were killed instantly…. A further 199 men and boys were trapped underground….

Drawing of the mechanical failure which caused the Hartley Colliery disaster – Illustrated London News 1862 – Public domain

A massive rescue operation was immediately launched; workers rushed from neighbouring mines to help…. With the pump out of action the pit soon began to fill with poisonous gases and water….hampering the rescue attempt….

It took 6 days to eventually clear the debris and gain access to the mine…. For the first few days there were high hopes of a successful rescue but when the would-be rescuers finally got to the trapped men – all were dead…. Some had died from their injuries but most had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning…. The youngest was just 10-years-old, the oldest 71; sons lay in the arms of fathers and brothers in the arms of brothers…. One family alone lost nine of their menfolk….

Most of the victims were buried in the local cemetery at Earsdon…. The Duke of Northumberland gave up some of his adjoining land, as the churchyard was not big enough….

Monument to the Hartley Pit Disaster in St. Alban’s Churchyard, Earsdon – Dposte46 own work – Public domain

Had the Hester Pit had two mineshaft no doubt many lives would have been saved…. An Act of Parliament was passed in August 1862, after a successful campaign to make two shafts compulsory – this was despite opposition from some greedy mine owners….

On this day in history….15th January 1867

On this day in history : 15th January 1867 – Ice covering the boating lake at Regent’s Park gives way…. Hundreds of skaters are plunged into the icy water – 40 people lose their lives….

Illustrated Police News – 19 January 1867

Ice skating was an extremely popular leisure activity during Victorian times – frozen ponds and lakes were often advertised in newspapers…. Up to 300 people were enjoying themselves on the ice in Regent’s Park this particular afternoon – skating, sliding, playing games of ice-hockey….img_5597

At around 4.15 the ice suddenly gave way with no warning – breaking into thousands of pieces…. Between 100-200 people were plunged into 12 foot of icy water – the weight of their heavy Victorian clothing dragging them down…. Boats were hurriedly launched to try and rescue those floundering in the water….passers-by reached out with branches broken from trees….

Illustrated London News – 26 January 1867

Those who lost their lives came from all walks of life, from gentry to the very poor…. Most were young men but there were also women and children among them…. 29-year-old James Griffin was on the ice selling oranges to the skaters – and another, John Bryon, was selling hot roasted chestnuts…. It took over a week to recover all of the bodies, fishermen from Kew were used to drag their nets along the bottom of the lake….

There was much debate at the later inquest, as to the cause of the accident…. Some blamed Skating Club members acting as stewards (known as ‘Icemen’) for breaking the ice around the edges to prevent access to the island…. They in turn blamed the ice-hockey players, people who had been jumping on the ice and even the sun for melting it…. Park keepers also came under scrutiny – as it was thought they may have broken the ice out of concern for the large collection of exotic water fowl housed on the lake…. But in truth the skaters themselves were chiefly to blame for their own misfortune….

Penny Illustrated Paper – 26 January 1867

The previous day 21 people had fallen through the ice – thankfully all had been rescued…. An overnight dusting of snow had covered the cracks so they were not visible…. Despite prominent signs being displayed, warning of the danger of thin ice, such was the enthusiasm to have fun that the signs were ignored….

As a precaution to prevent such a tragedy from happening again the lake was drained and the depth reduced to 4 or 5 foot with soil and concrete…. However, the public were slow to learn – years later a similar incident was to happen….only this time because of the depth none of the 100 or so who fell in received anything more than a very cold bath….

Regent’s Park Boating Lake – Alan Stanton via Flickr

On this day in history….14th January 1886

On this day in history : 14th January 1886 – The birth, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, of Hugh Lofting – the English author and poet who created Dr. Dolittle….

Hugh Lofting – Fair use

Most of us grew up reading the Dr. Dolittle books – the tales of Dr. John Dolittle, the Victorian doctor who could converse with animals…. Polynesia the parrot, Chee-Chee the monkey, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck, Too-Too the owl, Jip the dog and Whitey the mouse…. Then there is the Pushmi-Pullyu – a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, with a head at each end, so it could talk and eat at the same time without seeming rude….img_5593

Hugh Lofting never set out to be a writer…. He studied civil engineering overseas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning home to enlist in the Irish Guards to serve in World War 1….

From the trenches Lofting wrote letters home to his children…. Not wanting to write about the horrors of war he created characters and stories – which were later to become the foundation of his Dr. Dolittle tales….img_5594

In 1919 Lofting was seriously wounded – it was after this that he moved his family to Connecticut in the United States…. In 1920 his first book was published – ‘The Story of Doctor Dolittle : Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed’…. The sequel – ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’ followed in 1922; there are 10 books in all in the series….img_5596

Other works by Lofting written for children include the ‘Mrs Tubbs’ series of picture books for younger children – ‘Porridge Poetry’ and ‘Noisy Nora’, a story about a little girl who is a very noisy eater…. He also wrote ‘The Twilight of Magic’ for older readers….

‘Victory for the Slain’ was published in 1942 and was Lofting’s only work for an adult audience…. It is a lengthy poem in seven parts, lamenting war and the futility of it…. Victory for the Slain was only ever published in the United Kingdom….img_5595

On this day in history….13th January 1915

On this day in history : 13th January 1915 – The death of Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary to Nigeria, who successfully promoted both Christianity and women’s rights….

Mary Slessor – Public domain

Mary was born in Aberdeen on the 2nd of December 1848 into a poor working class family; she was the second of seven children…. When she was aged 11 the family moved to Dundee…. Her father, a shoemaker, was an alcoholic and was unable to keep up his trade – so he took a job as a labourer in a mill…. Mary’s mother, a skilled weaver, also worked in the mills – and at the age of 11 Mary joined them as a ‘half-timer’- meaning she spent half the day working and the other half attending the school provided by her employers…. By the age of 14 she was working full time – from 6am to 6pm…

Tragically Mary’s father and brothers all died from pneumonia – leaving just Mary, her two sisters and her mother…. Being a devout Presbyterian Mary’s mother made sure her daughters continued to attend Church – and Mary developed an interest in religion; she joined a local mission for the poor….

Mary Slessor as a young woman – Public domain

When Mary was 27 she learned of the death of missionary David Livingstone – it became her desire to follow his example…. Soon after she applied to the United Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Mission Board and underwent training in Edinburgh…. On the 5th of August 1876 Mary boarded the SS Ethiopia to sail for West Africa – arriving just over a month later at Calabar in South Eastern Nigeria….

Britain had taken control of Nigeria but was not interested in the welfare of its people – it was more concerned with maintaining trade…. The slave trade was still very fresh in people’s minds…..women had virtually no rights – and infanticide was common practice…. The West African religion had superstitions and one in particular was related to the birth of twins…. They were considered a curse and it was believed that one of them had to be a devil – twins would often be sacrificed, being left in clay pots in the jungle to die….

Source unknown – Public domain

Mary gradually gained the trust of the Ibibio people – for 15 years she lived amongst them…. She became fluent in their language, ‘Efik’ – and learnt their way of life and customs…. She encouraged trade, introduced social changes and Western style education…. She adopted several local children who had been rejected by their families…. To the Nigerians she became known as “Mother of All The People’s” – and she was made a member of the Itu Native Court….

Mary Slessor pictured with adopted children Jean, Alice, Maggie and May – a photograph taken on a trip home to Scotland C1880 Source : Dundee City Library Local Research – Public domain

By the early 1900s Mary was helping to vaccinate the people against smallpox…. Disease was rife in Western Africa, including malaria, which Mary herself was to suffer from the last four decades of her life…. As her health declined so did her strength, until eventually she could no longer walk through the rainforest but had to be pushed in a handcart…. She died on the 13th of January 1915 and was given a state funeral in Nigeria…. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II visited her grave…. In 1977 the Clydesdale Bank issued a Scottish £10 note with the image of Mary Slessor upon it….

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