On this day in history….17th January 1912

On this day in history : 17th January 1912 – British explorers, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, reach the South Pole….only to discover a Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen had got there before them….

Scott, a naval officer and explorer, had unsuccessfully tried to reach the South Pole on a previous occasion, in 1902. His party had been forced to turn back because of ill-health and severe sub-zero weather conditions….

It was on the 15th of June 1910 that his converted whaling ship the ‘Terra Nova’ left Cardiff to begin the journey south….carrying on board – dogs, ponies and mechanical sledges – as well as the explorers and all of their supplies. It was Scott’s intention to carry out a series of scientific experiments and studies – he wished to learn more about the biology, geology and meteorology of the Antarctic…. He also wanted to test the newly motorised sledges they were taking with them…. Having a go at being the first to reach the South Pole was to be an added bonus….

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, in polar gear 1911 – Public domain

However, Scott had a rival – one that he was initially blissfully unaware of…. Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a respected Norwegian explorer. It had been his original intent to take an expedition to the North Pole….but then two Americans, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary made separate claims as to having reached the North Pole – (claims that were later to be dismissed)…. Amundsen, being a competitive adventurer, kept his plans a well-guarded secret; it wasn’t until his ship ‘Fram’ left Oslo on the 3rd of June 1910 – supposedly bound for the North Pole – that he revealed his true intent to his team…. He knew that in the eyes of many his open challenge to Scott on racing to be the first to the South Pole would not have been entirely acceptable….

The first Scott knew of this rival expedition was when he reached Melbourne and found a telegram waiting for him…. It simply read – “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen”…. Scott was understandably shocked – but was determined to stick to the original plan – he had experiments and studies to conduct… Amundsen would have had little time for such matters as science and technical trials; as far as he was concerned it was all about the race to the South Pole…. Amundsen and his team reached the Pole on the 14th of December 1911….

Taking an Observation at the Pole (1911) Expedition of Norwegian team by Roald Amundsen – Image credit: Euclid vanderKroew via Flickr

Scott and his team set out 11 days after Amundsen – on the 1st of November 1911…. It was not long before it became evident the mechanical sledges and ponies could not cope – so the expedition continued without them…. In mid-December the dog teams turned back….leaving just Scott and four of his companions to journey onwards:- Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates….

The team arrived at the South Pole on the 17th of January 1912….thirty-four days after Amundsen’s expedition had arrived there…. It was a day of bitter disappointment for Scott and his men….

“Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority”….the words of Scott….

Last expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. The image shows Wilson, Scott and Oates (standing); and Bowers and Evans (sitting)

It would have been with heavy hearts that the five men would have begun the eight hundred mile journey back to base camp….the journey that was to be their last and one so full of tragedy….

As the men dragged their equipment over ice fields and glaciers their exhaustion increased by the hour…. Evans was the first to succumb…. Scott had noticed on the 7th of February and recorded in his journal that his colleague was repeatedly falling behind the rest of the group. Ten days later Scott found him on his knees….Evans died later that night – as a complete group they had made it as far as the base of the Beardmore Glacier. The cause of death was possibly a brain injury – which Evans may have sustained during a fall, which the others had not witnessed….

The weather took a turn for the worse….and the team were still hundreds of miles from base camp. The men were forced to spend much of their time huddled against the elements in their tent….with their food supplies rapidly dwindling away….

By mid-March Oates was suffering from severe frost bite and was barely able to walk – he would have been acutely aware that he was a hindrance to the others…. It was reputedly with the words “I am just going outside and may be some time” that Oates walked out into the blizzard…. The others tried to dissuade him – but in the words that Scott recorded “the act of a brave man and an English gentleman”….

Three weeks later the remaining team members – Scott, Bowers and Wilson – were caught in yet another raging blizzard; they were just 11 miles (3 days of walking) from the next supply depot…. But the three never made it out of their tent again….having been claimed by exhaustion, starvation and exposure….

Eight months later a party of explorers from base camp came across the bodies of the three men still within the tent…. Scott was lay in the middle, his colleagues on either side of him…. The tent was removed and a cairn of ice built over them – forming an icy tomb….

Image credit : Australian National Maritime Museum via Flickr

All three had written letters in their final hours – to family and friends. Scott’s last words written on the 29th of March….“It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more….R. Scott”….”For God’s sake look after our people”….

It wasn’t until February 1913 that word of the tragic events reached back to Britain. A memorial service at St. Paul’s was held soon afterwards…. King George V and the Archbishop of Canterbury were amongst the many dignitaries who attended…. Britain was in mourning – 10,000 people gathered outside the Cathedral….

Amundsen’s success was celebrated worldwide – he received personal telegrams from King George and President Theodore Roosevelt…. Scott was also recognised for his achievements – and was posthumously made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath….

On this day in history….13th January 1547

On this day in history : 13th January 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – courtier, soldier and poet – is found guilty of treason and is sentenced to death….

Born around 1517 in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, Surrey was the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard….and was descended from Royalty on both sides of his family…. It was upon the death of his grandfather, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk in 1524, that he gained the title of Earl of Surrey….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – Artist : Hans Holbein the Younger

Surrey was a bright child; at the age of 12 he could translate Latin, Italian, French and Spanish – his father made sure he had the best education…. It was around this time he became companion to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond – who was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII…. The two boys spent their time at Windsor and became close friends….Surrey was even considered as a potential husband for the King’s daughter, Mary (later to become Queen Mary I) ~ a suggestion put forward by Surrey’s first cousin, Anne Boleyn….

In 1532 Surrey and Richmond accompanied King Henry to the court of King Francis I of France – and the pair of young men ended up staying in the French court for almost a year…. Here they gained cultural graces – and it is possible that it was when Surrey developed his passion for poetry….as he became acquainted with the work of Luigi Alamanni – Italian poet and statesman….

Surrey and Richmond returned to England in 1533 – and within a short time both were to be married – Richmond to Surrey’s sister, Mary – and Surrey himself to Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford…. However, Surrey and his new bride did not actually live together as man and wife until 1535 – on account of their young age…. They went on to have five children, two sons and three daughters….

Frances de Vere by Hans Holbein the Younger C.1535 – public domain

1536 proved to be a turbulent year for Surrey; it was the year his first child was born, a son – but other events were not nearly as happy…. His cousin Anne Boleyn was executed – and his beloved friend Henry Fitzroy died, aged just 17…. In October 1536 Surrey served alongside his father to quash the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ – a rebellion protesting against King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries…. Surrey was a good soldier – and his family had a long history of loyalty to the Tudors….

By all accounts Surrey was an arrogant, vain, boorish, reckless, rash and ambitious man….with a contempt for the lower class of nobility – the ‘new men’ of the court – the likes of Thomas Cromwell and the Seymours, a family who were old rivals of the Howards’…. Surrey was a dashing and formidable character and although he had his enemies within the court, he also had plenty of friends….but his vanity and reckless ways were to eventually contribute to his downfall….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – 1546 Painting attributed to William Scrots

His troubles really began when Jane Seymour became King Henry’s Queen…. Surrey had always been popular with the King in the past – but his popularity declined as the Seymours rose is favour after the marriage…. The Seymour family began to scheme….in 1537 they accused the Howards of sympathising with the Pilgrimage of Grace…. An unwitting courtier happened to repeat the slander in court – Surrey reacted in his typical hot-headed way – by striking his fellow courtier….an action that landed him in imprisonment…. It was whilst confined in Windsor, by order of the privy council, that he penned one of his most well-known poems – ‘Prisoned in Windsor’ – in which he recounts his childhood days….

Surrey – (along with fellow poet and friend, Thomas Wyatt) – was responsible for the introduction of the sonnet to English poetry…. He has to be noted as one of the founders of English Renaissance Poetry and for his contribution to English literature…. Without his input the works of the likes of William Shakespeare would have undoubtedly been very different to how we know them – for it was Surrey who gave the rhyming meter and division into quatrains that gives us the Shakespearean sonnet…. Surrey was also the first poet to publish blank verse – regular metrical but un-rhyming lines…. Much of Surrey’s poetry would likely have been written during the two years he was held at Windsor….

By the 1540s he was back in favour at court….and was made a Knight of the Garter in May 1541 – and received the honour of Steward of the University of Cambridge…. But he was not to mellow – he still had his hot-headed moments and outbursts…. In 1542 he was imprisoned after quarrelling with another courtier….and again in 1543 after going on a drunken rampage – smashing windows in a London street…. It was during this particular stay in prison that he composed his ‘Satire against the Citizens of London:London, hast thou accused me’….

King Henry’s health was failing – and he began to view Surrey – with his powerful family connections – as a real threat, some would say to the point of paranoia…. He became convinced Surrey was going to attempt to usurp the crown from Prince Edward, his son and heir…. Things came to a head when Surrey foolishly incorporated Royal arms and insignia into his own heraldry – to prove a point as to his own Royal descent….

The arms for which Surrey was attainted (Edward the Confessor’s arms are in the fifth quarter with a label of three points plain…. Silver&Gold CC BY SA 4.0

Surrey – and his father – were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, on the charge of treason…. On the 13th of January 1547 they were found guilty and sentenced to death…. Surrey put up a spirited defence at his trial (which lasted a day) – but to no avail…. Several other claims were brought against him, such as being a secret papist….there was no real evidence to any of the charges – but he was still condemned….

Surrey was beheaded on the 19th of January – on Tower Hill…. His father was more fortunate; King Henry VIII died before the scheduled execution and the Duke of Norfolk was pardoned and released by Queen Mary I….

Surrey was buried at All Hallows’ Church in Barking…. However, in 1614 his second son, Henry, Earl of Northampton had his father’s remains moved to St. Michael’s at Framlingham, Suffolk – the family church…. Surrey was laid to his final rest in a magnificent tomb….

Image credit : Steve Parker via Flickr

His poetry, although circulated at court, only became really known 10 years after his death…. Printer Richard Tottel published ‘Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honourable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other’ – (now generally known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’) – a collection of 271 poems – 40 of which are by Surrey and 96 by Thomas Wyatt….

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace,Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing.
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The nightes car the stars about doth bring.
Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less:
So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing
In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease.
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,
But by and by the cause of my disease
Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting,
When that I think what grief it is again
To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.
                               - Henry Howard
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey National Portrait Gallery

On this day in history….12th January 1950

On this day in history : 12th January 1950 – A British submarine and Swedish oil tanker collide in the Thames Estuary – resulting in the sinking of the submarine – and 64 deaths….

HMS Truculent was returning to Sheerness having undergone trials at Chatham following a refit…. As well as her usual crew the submarine was carrying an additional 18 workers from the dock yard….

HMS Truculent 1942 – Image from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

It was 7pm and Truculent was making her way along the surface of the Estuary – when a ship showing 3 lights appeared ahead in the Channel…. Crew on board the submarine believed the vessel to be stationary – and aware they could not pass on the starboard side, for fear of running aground – the order was given to turn to port…. Too late it became obvious the ship was not anchored and was in fact moving – and the extra light was to indicate she was carrying explosive material….

The two vessels collided; the bow of the 643 ton Swedish oil tanker – the ‘Divina’ – striking HMS Truculent – and the two remained locked together for several seconds before the submarine sank to the bottom of the Estuary…. The crew of the Divina – which was on route to Ipswich from Purfleet with a cargo of Paraffin – immediately went into action…. Ropes and life belts were thrown to the men thrashing in the water…. Divina’s lifeboat was launched and 15 men were picked up – a further 5 were rescued by the Dutch ship ‘Almdijk’….


Ironically very few died as a direct result of the immediate impact….the majority managed to escape. Out of the 64 men who died most lost their lives through drowning or by perishing in the freezing conditions on the mudflats of the Estuary….

The 1,000 ton submarine was salvaged on the 14th of March 1950 – and 10 more bodies were recovered. In May 1950 she was sold as scrap….

An inquiry into the incident put 75% of the blame on to HMS Truculent…. Later the disaster was to lead to the introduction of the ‘Truculent light’ on the bow of British submarines – to make them visible to other ships….

HMS Truculent Memorial Service 2014 – Image credit : Matthew via Flickr

On this day in history….10th January 1863

On this day in history : 10th January 1863 – The World’s first underground railway line – ‘The Metropolitan Railway’ – opens in London….

The line opened between Paddington (then called Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street and served 6 intermediate stations…. Nowadays there are 270 stations on 11 lines….employing over 27,000 people….

London Underground Map (1908) Image credit : Roger W via Flickr

Metropolitan was a private company who financed the venture themselves….the Underground was completely funded by private companies until the 1930s….

Five more underground lines were authorised by Parliament between 1891 and 1893 – but Waterloo & City was the only other line to be built before 1900…. It took 21 years (1863 – 1884) to finally complete the inner circle of lines in central London – and by 1884 over 800 trains were travelling around it every day….

Baker Street & Waterloo Railway in its first week of opening – The Graphic 1906

Much of the network was completed in the first 50 years…. The total length of the network is 400.7km….the longest tunnel, between East Finchley and Morden is 27.7km…. The longest distance between stops is 6.3km – between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer on the Metropolitan line…. The shortest distance is 260m – between Leicester Square and Covent Garden – the journey takes just 20 seconds…. Only 45% of the Underground network is actually in tunnels….

Construction of Tube at Mile End – Circa 1946 Image credit : The National Archives UK via Flickr

Less than 10% of the stations are located south of the River Thames…. The District line has the most stations, with 60 – whilst Waterloo & City line has the fewest…. In central London the deepest station below street level is ‘Bank’, at 41.4m deep….in outer London it is Hampstead, at 58.5m…. Baker Street has the most platforms – with 10 – (4 of which are overground)….


The original trains to operate were steam – the network did not become fully electrified until 1961.. The first deep-level electric line was installed in 1890…. In 1903 the Central line became the first railway in Britain to be entirely worked by multiple-unit trains ~ meaning trains no longer had to be turned around upon reaching the end of the line…. By 1905 all tube lines were operating them….

On the first ever day of service some 40,000 passengers were carried…. In 1918 there were 70% more passengers than there had been in 1914…. Nowadays it is more like 1,107 million per year using the Underground network….

The ‘Tube’ became the affectionate name for the Underground in the early 1900s – when the Central London Railway (Central line) became nicknamed ‘The Twopenny Tube’ – a phrase coined by the Daily Mail….

Postcard for the Central London Railway – via Wikimedia

In Cockney rhyming slang it is known as ‘the Oxo’ (Oxo cube)…. The ‘Underground’ name first appeared in 1908 – and the Tube’s logo is called the ’roundel’…. In the early days the carriages – which were very claustrophobic – became known as ‘padded cells’….


It was in September 1940 that underground stations were first used as air-raid shelters against the bombing attacks of World War 2…. During the War years a section was closed between Holborn – Aldwych and was used to store treasures from the British Museum…. The Central line was converted into a factory to produce fighter aircraft….and was complete with its own railway system…. This remained an official secret right up until the 1980s…. Over 200,000 children were evacuated from the Capital using the Underground….

The first baby to be born on the Underground was in 1924…. Marie Cordery came into the World on board a train at Elephant & Castle on the Bakerloo line…. Another baby to be born was American talk-show host Jerry Springer – his mother gave birth during a WW2 air-raid at East Finchley Station….

And here are a few more random facts for you :-

The original recording of “Mind the gap” was made in 1968 and features the voice of Peter Lodge – who was a sound recordist…. Many stations still use it today….


Manually operated doors were phased out in 1929 – to be replaced by air operated ones….

Aldgate Station, on the Circle & Metropolitan line, is built on a huge plague pit – containing 1,000 bodies….

The tunnels beneath the City curve because they follow the old Medieval street plan….

Queen Elizabeth II was the first Monarch to travel on the Underground – In May 1939 (when she was 13-years-old) she travelled on the Victoria line from Green Park – along with Princess Margaret and governess Marion Crawford….

The Jubilee line was named to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – but did not actually open until 1979….

The most commonly used film location on the Underground is Aldwych – which is a disused station….

Busking has been licensed since 2003…. It is rumoured that Sting and Paul McCartney have both busked in disguise….

The fictional ‘Walford East’ of the soap Eastenders is supposed to be on the District Line….

Over 47 million litres of water are pumped from the Underground each day….enough to fill an average sized swimming pool every 15 minutes….

Half a million mice live on the Underground….


On this day in history….9th January 1799

On this day in history : 9th January 1799 – Income Tax is introduced to Britain by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger…. It is established to raise money for the Napoleonic Wars and is meant to be a temporary measure….

Believe it or not, it is still a ‘temporary’ measure….expiring each year on the 5th of April and having to be renewed as a provision in the annual Finance Bill….

Image credit : Images Money via Flickr

Income Tax was implemented by Pitt the Younger in his December 1798 budget – to pay for weapons and equipment for the forth-coming war with France…. It was a complicated taxation system, taking into consideration property owned, land, profession and finally income…. It was based on a flat rate but varied depending on whether the Country was at war or not…. On its introduction incomes over £60 per annum were levied at 2 old pence in the pound – whereas incomes over £200 were required to pay 2 shillings in the pound (or 10%)…. The government had hoped to raise £10 million but in fact only realised £6 million….

Image credit : alphastockimages.com

Henry Addington abolished the tax in 1801 – during the ‘Peace of Amiens’ – but it was to be short-lived, as it was reintroduced again in 1803 when hostilities with France flared up once more…. It was also at this time that Addington introduced deduction at source….

Income Tax was repealed in 1816, a year after the Battle of Waterloo – and for a while Britain enjoyed an Income Tax free period…. However, in 1842 Sir Robert Peel, faced with an enormous public deficit of 63% as a result of the Crimea Conflict, reintroduced it…. Admittedly it was only for the wealthy, those earning more than £150 per annum – and was only 3d in the £1 (3%) – and it remained this way for many years….

At the beginning of the 20th Century there were less than a million tax payers in Britain…. In 1907 Herbert Asquith introduced a whole new range of taxes….by 1909 Income Tax had raised to 8% and a new ‘Super Tax’ or ‘Surtax’ was introduced for the wealthy…. (This was to stay in place until 1973 – when it was replaced by the Higher Rate of Income Tax)….

World War 1 saw an increase in the rate to over 50%….but by 1918 it had settled back down to 30% – but more people were having to pay…. By 1930 ten million people had become eligible for Income Tax….and by the start of World War 2 that number had risen to twelve million….

Image credit : alphastockimages.com

In 1944 Pay As You Earn (PAYE) was introduced (previously tax would be paid every 6 months – or even annually)…. Along with PAYE came the P45 – and tax codes, to tell employers what percentage to deduct…. A basic rate of 33% remained in place after the war – and it wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher came to power that we saw a reduction….when it was lowered to 25% – and the Higher Rate from 83% to 40%…. It was lowered again to 22% and Gordon Brown then reduced it even further to 20%…. But of course, they always get us in other ways!