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….17th October 1091

On this day in history : 17th October 1091 – A tornado sweeps through London – it is the earliest reported tornado in Britain…. The wooden London Bridge is demolished along with over 600 houses….

The tornado is thought to have been T8 on the Torro Scale, which is used to measure tornado intensity ranging between T0 and T11…. Or on the Fujita Scale it would have registered at F4, indicating wind speeds between 207-260mph – classified as causing devastating damage….

The tornado twisted in from the south west direction…. Many churches in the area were badly damaged or demolished…. The church at St. Mary-Le-Bow, in the City, was completely levelled – all that survived was the newly completed arched crypt…. Four rafters at 28ft long were driven into the ground with such force that only 4ft showed above the surface…. The church was later rebuilt during the Norman period….

According to William of Malmesbury, in his account of the tornado – “churches and houses, enclosures and walls were left in heaps”…. Not only was it the first tornado recorded in England it has also been the most violent one ever…. Over 600, mostly wooden houses, were destroyed – it is amazing that out of a population of around 18,000 there were only two known fatalities….

After the tornado William Rufus rebuilt London Bridge – only for it to be destroyed by fire forty years later…. Eventually one was built from stone….

On this day in history….7th August 1935

On this day in history : 7th August 1935 : A plague of flying ants descends on London – authorities claim it to be the worst attack of pestilence in a quarter of a century….

Image credit : Ozzy Delaney via Flickr

The insects got into houses, crawled into pantries, heaped up on doorsteps and even stopped a tennis tournament….

‘Flying Ant Day’ is the day when the queen ants emerge from the nest to embark on their nuptial flight…. As the queen flies she emits pheromones to attract males…. They follow her and she flies away forcing them to chase her – meaning only the strongest get to mate with her…. She mates with several during the flight, storing the sperm in her abdomen, enough to last her lifetime and uses it to fertilise millions of eggs…. Once landed she will form a new colony….

This usually happens during July or August…. The weather is a key factor to determine when – heat and high humidity is needed…. Species and habitat are also factors….

The ants are mostly harmless, some have been known to bite but this is a rarity in the UK…. It may be unpleasant but it only lasts for a few hours – and is good for the environment…. The ants help to aerate the ground – and provide food for the birds….

On this day in history….28th April 1923

On this day in history : 28th April 1923 – The opening of the British Empire Exhibition Stadium – later to become known as Wembley Stadium, one of England’s main venues for sporting and entertainment events….

Wembley Stadium with its Twin Towers – Image credit : Merv Payne CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1920 it was decided to hold a major exhibition in London in order to promote trade throughout the whole of the British Empire…. Land was earmarked at Wembley Park pleasure gardens for an exhibition centre and a grand event was planned for 1924…. An organising committee was established with the Prince of Wales as President – who was keen to see a great national sports ground included – the ears of the Football Association pricked up….

£750k was raised, including a £175k contribution from the government and work began in 1922 with the first turf being cut by King George V…. Contractors Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons worked to a design by Sir John Simpson & Maxwell Anton, which was to include the Twin Towers – two domed towers which were to become the Stadium’s trademark landmark…. The construction took just 300 days, being completed by April 1923…. As a safety check 1,000 men sat, stood and marched on the stands, which were designed to accommodate 30,000 seated spectators whilst a further 100,000 could be housed standing….

Three days after the Stadium’s completion, on the 20th of April 1923, the FA Cup Final was held…. The event had received worldwide publicity – bringing fame to the Stadium, long before its main purpose, the planned British Empire Exhibition, had even taken place…. The official spectator capacity for the football match was 127,000 but more than 300,000 descended on the Stadium….

Crowds at the edge of the pitch – Public domain

Crowds spilled on to the pitch and it looked as if the match was going to have to be cancelled…. The day was saved by mounted police constable George Scorey and his trusty white horse, Billy – who between them managed to clear the pitch…. The final score was Bolton 2 West Ham 0 – in a match that became known as ‘The White Horse Final’….

Billy the White Horse and Police Constable George Scorey – Public domain

The official opening by King George V of the Empire Exhibition Stadium took place on the 23rd of April 1924…. It was to be the first time ever the King was heard on the radio…. Over 27 million visitors attended the exhibition over its duration….

In August 1927 the Stadium was bought by Arthur Elvin and it became a successful greyhound racing venue…. He also arranged for it to become the stadium used for the annual F.A. & Rugby League Challenge Cup – and 1928 saw the addition of motorcycle speedway….

The 1930s saw improvements to the terraces and seating facilities….and in 1948 the Stadium was loaned free of charge to allow the London Olympic Games to use it…. In 1963 a glass roof was added – and this was also the first year a European Cup Final was played there, when Milan beat Benfica 2-1…. Since then many large events have been held, from concerts to football matches, including the 1966 World Cup….and that final – England 4 West Germany 2….

The Queen presents the World Cup trophy to Bobby Moore, 1966

In 1996 the spectator capacity was reduced to 76,000 and converted to all seating…. The last football match to be played was an international which saw England beaten by Germany 1-0…. In 2002 demolition began to make way for a new stadium – with the famous Twin Towers coming down in February 2003 – to be replaced by the now iconic arch in May 2004….

On this day in history….17th October 1814

On this day in history : 17th October 1814 – A bizarre accident in a brewery on the Tottenham Court Road causes what was to become known as the London Beer Flood….

The Horse Shoe Brewery of Meux and Company was situated in a densely populated area in the Parish of St. Giles…. It was a run-down slum district, vastly over-crowded and full of poverty….

Horseshoe Brewery C1800 – Public domain

The brewery housed several large vats in which the beer was brewed…. One of the vats, which stood 22 feet high, ruptured, when one of the iron rings encircling it and holding it together snapped – allowing its contents of over 135,000 gallons of hot fermenting Brown Porter Ale (rather like Stout) to gush out…. In a knock on effect other vats around it also ruptured with the force….resulting in over 323,000 gallons of beer being released and causing the rear wall of the brewery to collapse….

The beer now poured on to the streets, destroying two homes and knocking down the wall of the Tavistock Arms Public House, killing Eleanor Cooper, a 15 or 16-year-old employee….

The river of beer soon reached neighbouring George Street and New Street, killing two people and injuring another…. It also surged through the venue of a wake, claiming five more lives…. Out of the eight known confirmed deaths, three of them were children under the age of five years….

Map of the location of the brewery and surrounding area – Image courtesy : Richard Horwood – Public domain

People scooped up the liquid in whatever was to hand – some just resorted to drinking it as it flowed around them…. There were reports a further victim died some days later from alcohol poisoning….

The brewery was sued but the judge ruled it was an ‘Act of God’ and it was put down to being a terrible accident…. The total cost to the brewery was a hefty £23,000 (over £1.25 million in today’s money) – but the company was able to claim back excise duty which saved it from bankruptcy….

The brewery was eventually demolished in 1922…. Part of the site is now occupied by the West End theatre – ‘The Dominion’….

London Beer Flood of 1814
Image courtesy : ap. via Flickr