On this day in history….8th December 1980

On this day in history : 8th December 1980 – John Lennon is shot dead outside his New York apartment…. He was 40-years-old….

John Lennon in 1980, shortly before his death – Jack Mitchell, derivative work CC BY-SA 3.0

Just before 11pm John and his wife Yoko Ono arrived at their luxury apartment building, the Dakota, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – opposite Central Park…. They were returning home after spending several hours at the Record Plant recording studios….

Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City
The Dakota, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City – Ajay Suresh CC BY 2.0

Earlier in the day Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, had asked John for his autograph…. John obliged by signing the copy of the album ‘Double Fantasy’ offered to him…. Chapman then made his way to the former Beatles’ apartment building to wait for him….

As John and Yoko approached the building Chapman fired his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver five times, from a distance of 9 or 10 feet away…. John was hit in the back 4 times…. He staggered up the steps to the building before collapsing…. Jay Hastings, the building’s concierge rushed to help him, yelling at Chapman – “Do you know what you’ve done?” – to which Chapman calmly replied – “Yes, I just shot John Lennon”…. Chapman made no attempt to escape….he removed his hat and coat, having dropped the gun, in preparation for the arrival of the police…. Two police officers arrived within a couple of minutes, having heard shots…. Chapman put up no resistance to his arrest…. Two more police officers arrived and seeing the severity of John’s injuries decided not to wait for an ambulance – but carried him to the squad car and drove him to hospital…. John Lennon was pronounced dead at the Roosevelt Hospital….

Main entrance of the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot – David Shankbone CC BY-SA 3.0
Police artist sketch of the murder – New York City Police Department – Fair use

Chapman claimed he had heard voices in his head telling him to kill John; in 1981 he was imprisoned to a life sentence in Attica Correctional Facility, Buffalo, New York…. He first became eligible for parole in 2000 – since then parole has been denied ten times…. His 11th hearing is scheduled for 2020….

Mug shot of Mark David Chapman – Fair use

On this day in history….7th December 1783

On this day in history : 7th December 1783 – William Pitt (the Younger) becomes Prime Minister, at the age of just 24….

William Pitt the Younger – John Hoppner – Public domain

Pitt was born on the 28th of May 1759, in Hayes, Kent…. He was the son of William Pitt, the Elder, Earl of Chatham – and another powerful politician who had served as Prime Minister…. Pitt the Elder led Britain to great victory in the Seven Years’ War but lost office soon after….and began to prepare his son for a position of future power….

The young Pitt suffered bouts of illness throughout his childhood – possibly as a result of the stress of being pushed by his father…. However, he worked hard at his studies (Pitt was educated at home as his father did not advocate the public school system) and at the age of 14 he entered Cambridge University….

Pitt graduated Cambridge when he was 17, after the death of his father…. He took advantage of the system of the time – being from a wealthy family he did not have to take an examination to graduate…. On leaving university he decided to go into public service….

Pitt was elected to Parliament at the age of 21….in 1782 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Conservative Party…. After the defeat in the House of Lords of the East India Bill, King George III dismissed the then coalition government and asked Pitt to form a new government…. William Pitt the Younger served as Prime Minister until 1801….and then again from 1804 until his death in January 1806…. He held office throughout the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was fundamental in shaping British politics….

Monument to Pitt the Younger by J.G. Bubb – situated in the Guildhall, London…. This huge monument faces one of equal size in tribute to his father, William Pitt the Elder. Photo courtesy : Stephencdickson CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….6th December 1994

On this day in history : 6th December 1994 – The Queen gives the go ahead for exploratory oil drilling underneath Windsor Castle….

Mike McBey via Flickr

Studies had shown that there could be up to £I bn of oil lying beneath the castle….which at the time was still undergoing repairs after the fire that had ripped through it two years previously, in November 1992…. It was proposed that drilling would take place some 500m away from the castle walls, in Home Park – the expectation being that drilling would reach a depth of 300m and would take about 8 weeks…. The prediction was that it was a 1 in 3 chance of oil being found….img_4813

Of course, this announcement was met with outrage by some local councillors, members of the public and conservationists alike…. Quotes such as “turning into a Berkshire version of Dallas” were bandied around….causing the media to conjure up the name “Dallas-on-Thames”….

Despite the controversy, one month later Berkshire County Council approved the plans – by nine votes to three…. Canuk Explorations, the Canadian company behind the scheme, was granted a six year licence…. Plans were that the first exploration well was to be sunk in the summer of 1996…. If oil were to be found it could be extracted laterally, by drilling up to four miles away…. But in order for this to happen further permission needed to be sought….

As it was the initial exploratory drilling plans were delayed by Canuk….investors and backers were showing signs of cold feet…. When the six year licence expiry date came near the Department of Trade and Industry did not renew it – giving no reason as to why this decision….

Diliff via Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

On this day in history….5th December 1952

On this day in history : 5th December 1952 – ‘The Great Smog’…. A terrible killer fog descends on London and causes the death of thousands of Londoners….

A high pressure weather system had stalled over the South of England, causing a ‘temperature inversion’ – meaning the cold air at ground level becomes trapped by a layer of warmer air at a higher level…. A thick fog had formed – and with no breeze to disperse it – was unable to escape…. It was soon to turn a sickly yellowy-brown colour, as it filled with sulphur pollutants and soot, mainly from the many coal fires as people tried to keep their houses warm in the cold snap…. Smoke from factories and fumes from vehicles also contributed….

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog – N T Stobbs CC BY-SA 2.0

Londoners were used to ‘pea-soupers’ – but this was like nothing before…. Visibility was so poor that the transport system (other than the underground) ground to a halt…. Even the ambulance service stopped…. School children were kept home, sporting events called-off…. The smog seeped into buildings….theatre performances were cancelled and cinemas closed as people were unable to see the screens…. Criminals had a field day, as looting, bag snatches and burglaries became epidemic….

But by far the worse impact the fog was to have was on people’s health…. Most at risk were the young, elderly and those with respiratory problems – heavy smokers were particularly vulnerable…. It is estimated 4,000 died during the period and immediate aftermath – although experts claim the number to be more like 8,000 lives lost due to the smog – the most common causes of death being pneumonia and bronchitis…. Well into the summer of 1953 the death rate remained well above normal levels…. With that taken into consideration the final smog-related death toll could amount to as high as 12,000…. A further 100,000 are estimated to have been made ill….25,000 Londoners claimed sickness benefit during the period….

The smog finally lifted on Tuesday the 9th of December, the sulphurous cloud drifting out over the North Sea…. A government investigation resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956 being passed by Parliament – authorising authorities to set up smoke-free zones and the restriction of burning coal in urban areas….

The Great Smog of 1952 is recorded as the tenth deadliest disaster ever to have hit Britain….


On this day in history….4th December 1961

On this day in history : 4th December 1961 – Health Minister Enoch Powell announces in the House of Commons the decision to make the oral contraceptive pill available to British women on the National Health Service – at a subsidised cost of 2 shillings per month….

Enoch Powell – Allan Warren CC BY-SA 3.0

Life for women in the early ’60s was very different to how we know it today…. The Victorian attitude towards sex was still prevalent…. There was a fear of pregnancy out of wedlock, as unmarried mothers were shunned by society – often being forced to give up their babies for adoption (abortion not being an option)…. Women tended to marry earlier and were usually expected to stay at home and raise a family….

Robert Wade ‘The Modern Housewife’ via Flickr

The arrival of the pill was to change all that….it was to give women freedom…. A reliable, convenient oral contraceptive – meaning women had control of their own bodies and the choice of when to have a baby…. It was to become a real liberation….

However, GPs were slow on the uptake….and the Government of the time were reluctant to be seen promoting promiscuity…. The pill could only be prescribed to married women – and mainly to those who were older, already had children and did not want any more…. It was to remain this way until 1967, when finally attitudes slowly began to change….

By 1964 half a million British women were taking the pill….the birth rate began to fall – and fewer children were being put up for adoption…. In 1974 family planning clinics were given the go ahead to prescribe single women with the pill – this caused considerable controversy at the time….

Couples no longer felt the pressure to marry in order to live together…. In the early ’60s it is estimated fewer than 1 in 100 adults under the age of 50 had ever cohabited – nowadays it is 1 in 6…. Nobody bats an eye at a couple who have not ‘tied the knot’ – and the same goes for children born outside of marriage….

It is estimated 70% of women in Britain have used the pill at some stage in their lives…. Currently some 3.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 49 do so today….

Tristanb at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0