On this day in history….20th January 1997

On this day in history : 20th January 1997 – Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia begins her final official voyage – before she is due to be de-commissioned later in the year….

Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia

This last foreign mission was to bring home the Prince of Wales and Chris Patten, who was the last Governor of Hong Kong before the handover to China on the 1st of July 1997….

HMY Britannia was originally commissioned for King George VI – the Queen’s father – but sadly he died even before the keel was laid…. One of the first things Her Majesty did on becoming Monarch was to change the plans for the decor of the Royal apartments of Britannia – she viewed the proposed plans as too formal and ‘stuffy’…. Instead she opted for white-painted walls, mahogany woodwork, brass fittings and chintz covered armchairs and sofas…. She wanted to create the feeling of a ‘country home at sea’…. The only thing she would have liked – but because of regulations was not allowed – was an open fire in the drawing room….instead she had to settle for an electric fire….


The Queen and the Royal Family loved HMY Britannia…. Her Majesty once described the yacht as being the one place she felt she could truly relax…. The Royal apartments were filled with personal photographs and heirlooms….

HMY Britannia was built at Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire and was launched by Queen Elizabeth on the 16th of April 1953…. She first went into service in 1954; her maiden voyage was from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta – departing on the 14th of April and arriving eight days later…. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to meet their parents who had just completed a Commonwealth Tour…. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on the 1st of May 1954 for the very first time….

Ship’s Bridge Image credit: Salicia via Flickr

During her 43 year service HMY Britannia sailed some 1,087,623 nautical miles…. The 412ft long yacht, which weighs nearly 6,000 tons, completed 696 foreign visits and 272 official voyages on British waters….including annual Royal family holidays…. Known as the ‘Western Isles Tour’, each year Britannia would take the Royals on a cruise around the islands off of the west coast of Scotland…. She was also used for four Royal honeymoons…. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones sailed to the West Indies upon her in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips were also carried to the Caribbean in 1973…. In 1981 Prince Charles and Princess Diana enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise for their honeymoon, followed by the Duke and Duchess of York, who sailed to the Azores in 1986…. As recently as 2011 the yacht was used as part of Royal Wedding celebrations when Zara Phillips and Mike Tyndall held a pre-wedding reception onboard…. She has a capacity for 250 guests….


When HMY Britannia was launched she was the largest yacht in the World…. In order for her to sail a crew of 21 Officers and 250 Royal Yachtsmen were required…. When the Royal Family were aboard they would be accompanied by up to 45 household staff, including a hairdresser, surgeon and chauffeur – (yes, a Royal limousine was carried onboard)…. The Royal party would travel with around five tons of luggage….and when she sailed Britannia would always be accompanied by a Royal Navy warship….

The crew, who were accommodated at the front of the yacht away from the Royal apartments, wore plimsolls to keep a tranquil ambience…. Orders were given by hand signals and shouting was forbidden – as was running…. Any work that needed to be done near the apartments had to be done in silence and completed by 8am….


However, HMY Britannia earned her keep…. She was built so she could be converted in to a hospital ship, able to accommodate approximately 200 patients if required during wartime…. Fortunately her services in this capacity were never needed…. In event of a nuclear war the intended plan (with the code name ‘Python System’) was for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh – along with the Home Secretary – to take refuge onboard the yacht off the north-west coast of Scotland….

She was also used to entertain dignitaries…. American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all enjoyed hospitality onboard…. Used by the government to entertain prominent business figures HMY Britannia was an Ambassador for British trade and industry….during the period of 1991-1995 she earned some £3 billion for the Exchequer….

Nowadays she earns her keep as an award-winning visitor attraction…. Berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh she receives 300,000 visitors per year….

In 1997 the Conservatives committed to replacing her if re-elected…. Labour did not divulge their proposed plans…. On winning the election Tony Blair’s Labour Government announced HMY Britannia’s retirement and that there would be no replacement….

A de-commissioning ceremony was held on the 11th of December 1997 at Portsmouth Dockyard…. At 15.01 Her Majesty was piped ashore for the last time and all the clocks onboard HMY Britannia were stopped…. The Queen openly cried as The Band of HM Royal Marines played ‘Highland Cathedral’….

Since the de-commissioning of HMY Britannia the Queen twice chartered MV Hebridean Princess – a private charter cruise ship – for a family holiday in the Scottish islands…. But surely, it was never be the same for Her Majesty, was it….


On this day in history….11th January 1569

On this day in history : 11th January 1569 – England’s first state lottery takes place….outside the doors of the west wing of the Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral….

Queen Elizabeth I had been on the throne for just over a decade and had so far enjoyed a relatively smooth reign….whereas in Europe things were a ‘little’ more unsettled…. France and Holland particularly had suffered severe conflict and revolts…. But – now Anglo-Spanish relations were breaking down….and England’s harbours and coastal defences were in a sorry state – and in desperate need of repair….


It was also a time of expansion in England’s export market – although trade was being compromised in Europe because of recent events – there was still plenty of potential for trade in other parts of the World…. More ships were needed to transport goods – and more ports needed to be built to accommodate them….

The Queen had a dilemma…. In order to fund all the necessary work she had to either raise taxes – or come up with another way of finding money….


Lotteries had been common practice on the Continent for at least the last 100 years – merchants would often use them to shift expensive stock that was not selling…. So, Queen Elizabeth I and her advisors came up with the idea of a state lottery – far more palatable than raising taxes….

The lottery was advertised as…. “A very rich Lotterie generall, without any Blanckes, contayning a great number of good prizes”…

The first prize was a jackpot of £5,000….£3,000 of which was in “ready money” – £700 in “plate gilte and white” and the rest in good “Tapillarie meete for hangings and other couertures and certaine lottes of good linnen cloth”….

Every ticket was guaranteed a prize – and these ranged from money, to silver plate, tapestries and good linen cloth…. To help with the promotion all ticket holders were promised freedom from arrest for any crimes they may have committed – other than murder, treason or piracy….

So, on the 11th of January 1569 people gathered outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral to see what they had won – in England’s first state lottery draw….

Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral

The ‘ticket’ would have been a blank piece of paper on which the holder would write their name – along with some unique words….maybe a couple of lines of poetry….or a prayer…. A named ticket would then be drawn from an urn – to be ‘married-up’ with a prize ticket drawn from another urn…. This process would then be repeated until all tickets and prizes had been allocated….

England’s first national lottery was not overly successful….out of the 400,000 tickets available only 10% sold…. At 10 shillings each they were remarkably expensive – although it was possible to buy a share in a ticket ~ the first ‘lottery syndicates’….

But – what was even more off-putting for would be punters – the odds in winning the jackpot – or a high prize….1 in 16,000 – so they didn’t even bother to try…. If you play today’s National Lottery your chance is 1 in 14 million….or 1 in over 45 million if you’re going for the Jackpot….


Our very own Saint George….

I have always assumed a country’s patron saint would be native to that land – or at the very least would have spent part of their life living there…. However, this is not necessarily true; indeed our very own Saint George never even set foot on English soil…. In fact, I say ‘our own’ – but to be correct it has to be pointed out that we actually share him with many other countries, cities and organisations…. George is also patron saint of lands and places such as Beirut, Malta, Portugal, Ethiopia, Georgia, Catalonia, Serbia, Lithuania, Venice, Palestine and the City of Moscow. He is the patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry….farmers, riders and more recently scouts. He is believed to help those suffering from plague, leprosy and syphilis….

Carlo Crivelli : Saint George – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It is thought George was born in Cappadocia – (now part of modern-day Turkey) – around 280 AD, in to a wealthy Christian family. His father was a soldier and it was after his death that George’s mother moved the family back to her native Palestine…. George grew up and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier, serving as an officer in the Guard of Roman Emperor Diocletian….

In 303 AD Diocletian ordered the systematic persecution of Christians; George refused to take part and also refused to renounce his own Christianity…. Some believe that initially Diocletian tried to persuade George to convert by offering him land and wealth – when this method failed he gave orders for George to be tortured. It is said he was forced to swallow poison, was crushed between spiked wheels and boiled in molten lead…. each time his wounds healed overnight – the work of God…. George was told if he offered a sacrifice to the Roman gods his life would be spared. A crowd gathered to witness him doing so – but in front of all the onlookers he prayed to the Lord instead…. A great flash of fire came from Heaven, an earthquake shook the ground, buildings and temples collapsed…. The sign was taken that God wished George to die for his faith….and so he was beheaded at Lydda, Palestine on 23rd April 303 AD; he died the death of a Christian martyr. Some say Diocletian’s own wife was so impressed by the resolve of George that she converted to Christianity….only to be beheaded herself….

Saint George of Lydda Image credit: Roman Zacharij via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain CC BY-SA 3.0.

Upon canonising St. George in 494 AD Pope Gelasius I apparently remarked of him…. “Whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are only known to God”….

The earliest known reference to St. George was the account by St. Adamnan, Abbott of Iona in the 7th Century. He had heard the story from a French bishop who had travelled to Jerusalem. It was during the Crusades of the 10th and 11th Centuries that returning soldiers brought back with them stories they had learned from the Eastern Orthodox Church – and so St. George’s reputation grew…. But it wasn’t until 1483 that the tale became really well-known, when Caxton printed it in a book called The Golden Legend – a translation of French bishop Jacques de Voragine’s work, telling of the lives of saints….

Stories during the Middle Ages centred very much around the beliefs of the time – tales were embroidered with myth – such as the legend of Saint George and the Dragon….

Saint George Slaying the Dragon. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France. Public domain CC-BY-2.0.

A city in Libya, possibly Silene, had on its outskirts a small lake, inhabited by a plague infected dragon…. The creature was terrorising the city, killing many of the people…. To try to keep the dragon appeased the city dwellers began to feed it with two sheep a day….but it wasn’t long before the supply of livestock ran dry. The King devised a lottery scheme so that local children were chosen and fed to the dragon…..then one day his own daughter’s name was drawn…. At first the King tried to bargain for her life – but the people were having none of it as so many of their own children had already been sacrificed…. It was as she was being led to the lake that George rode by and encountered the fair maiden and he enquired as to what was happening. The maiden begged him to carry on his way as the dragon would surely kill him too…. As they talked the creature suddenly came charging towards them; George leapt upon his horse and drew his sword and smote a cross into the dragon’s flesh – he then speared the beast and threw it to the ground…. He told the maiden to take her garter and fasten it around the creature’s neck and when she had done so it became meek and followed her back to the city…. At first the people panicked but George told them not to be afraid; he promised that if they were to believe in God and become baptised he would slay the dragon. The King was first to do so, followed by all his people….George killed the dragon; it was then dragged from the city to the fields, needing four ox carts in order to do so…. The King built a church at the site where the creature was slain and a fountain sprang up – giving healing water for those who were sick….


The earliest church known in England to be dedicated to St. George is in Fordington, Dorset….and in 1222 the Council of Oxford named April 23rd as St. George’s Day…. But it was King Edward III who really set the ball rolling on the path to him becoming our patron saint….

When in 1327 Edward III came to the throne, after the disastrous reign of his father, he needed to make England strong and powerful once again; with his bravery, honour and gallantry St. George was an ideal image to portray this…. Around 1348 Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, our system of knighthoods and honours; he made it under the patronage of St. George…. Since the 14th Century St. George has been seen as a ‘Protector of the English’; he became adopted by us as one of our own…. Soldiers once wore white tunics with the Red Cross of St. George on the front and back….the flag became incorporated in the Union Jack….



In 1415 Henry V gave a speech at the Battle of Agincourt, citing St. George as England’s patron saint. As a result Archbishop Chicele raised the importance of the saint’s feast day – thus making April 23rd officially St. George’s Day….

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor (the venue of a certain soon upcoming Royal wedding) built by Edward IV and Henry VII as Chapel of the Order has its official badge showing St. George slaying the dragon…. The George Cross inaugurated by King George VI in 1940 and given for acts of heroism and courage in circumstances of extreme danger (mainly to civilians) also has a dragon slaying George depicted upon it….



Although not a national holiday there will be those in England who will be flying the flag of St. George this coming April the 23rd…. As a nation we don’t go overboard with the celebrations on our patron saint’s day….some may choose to wear blue as this was rumoured to be St. George’s favourite colour – or maybe a red rose, which is associated with his death…. Some towns and cities, such as Manchester, have a St. George’s Day festival – but for the rest of us, if we are so inclined, we may enjoy a spot of Shakespeare, sing Jerusalem, partake in a little Morris dancing or eat a hearty traditional English meal, such as a roast dinner, bangers & mash or fish & chips….



Whatever you get up to on Saint George’s Day….have fun….

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