On this day in history….12th August 1949

On this day in history : 12th August 1949 – A flock of starlings take roost on the minute hand on one of the clock faces of Big Ben, slowing it down by four and a half minutes….

Photo credit : Pierre Selim CC BY-SA 3.0

Listeners to the BBC’s 9 O’Clock News were surprised to hear the bullet-in start without the customary chimes of Big Ben…. Later in the broadcast the BBC announced that “swarms of starlings are sitting on the hands holding them back”….

That evening the flock had decided the clock hand would make a good perch for the night and their combined weight had slowed the clock down so it was unable to chime at the correct time…. However, by midnight everything was ‘back to normal’….

There was a time when the Capital was home to many flocks of starlings – who gave an impressive show with their murmurations…. To see starlings take to the sky in this way is one of nature’s most spectacular wonders…. The numbers were at their largest in the winter months when the birds joined forces to keep warm at night….

Starling murmuration

Sadly the starlings left London and in fact numbers across the whole of the UK are down by 70%…. Once such a common bird they are now on the critical red list…. Loss of permanent pasture, an increase in the use of chemicals, a shortage of food and nesting sites are all contributing factors…. The expansion of London itself pushes the birds further and further afield….

Incidentally, Big Ben was to run slow once again on New Year’s Eve 1962…. Snow jammed the north face clock and ice coated the minute hand….causing New Year to be rung in 10 minutes late…. To think Big Ben survived the Blitz – yet can be hampered by a bit of snow or a flock of birds….

On this day in history….20th July 1837

On this day in history : 20th July 1837 – Euston Station, London’s first intercity railway station is opened – having been built on what was mostly farmland at the edge of an ever expanding city….

Early print of Euston, showing the wrought iron roof of the original station – Public domain

The site had been chosen in 1831 and the station was named after Euston Hall in Suffolk, the ancestral home of the Duke of Grafton – who was the main landowner in the area….

The original station was designed by classically trained architect Philip Hardwick….and built by William Cubitt, who also constructed Covent Garden and Fishmongers’ Hall…. The station housed a 200ft (61m) long train shed and two 420ft (130m) long platforms – one for arrivals and one for departures…. The main entrance portico – ‘Euston Arch’ – was also designed by Hardwick….it was to symbolise the arrival of a major new transport system – a ‘gateway to the north’…. At 72ft (22m) high, with four 44ft 2in (13.46m) by 8ft 6in (2.59m) columns made from Bradley Fall stone it was the largest of its kind and at a cost of £35K (over £4m today)…. It was described as being “Mightier than the Pyramids of Egypt”….

Euston Arch, 1896 – Public domain

In 1839 two hotels were added, again designed by Hardwick…. One stood at either side of the Arch – The Victoria with basic facilities and The Euston to cater for first class passengers….

The station expanded rapidly…. In 1838 it was handling some 2,700 parcels a month but by 1841 this had increased to over 52,000…. More and more staff had to be employed and more lines and platforms were added….

Plan of Euston Station from 1888 – Public domain

By the 1950s the station was considered ‘tired’ – it was old-fashioned and dirty from soot…. In 1953 a full redecoration and restoration program took place and modernised ticket machines were installed…. Then in 1959 British Rail announced a complete rebuild….to accommodate a fully electrified West Coast main line….

The Great Hall – L&NWR – Public domain

However, this was not without controversy…. In July 1961 it was announced that the Euston Arch and Great Hall were to be demolished…. On the 16th of October a demonstration including students and 75 architects took place in protest…. But to no avail – in the summer of 1962 work on the new station began….

The Euston Arch being demolished, February 1962 – Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….11th July 1859

On this day in history : 11th July 1859 – Big Ben chimes for the first time….but just two months later it is to crack and is taken out of commission for nearly four years….

Big Ben – Image credit : D S Pugh CC BY-SA 2.0

Most people refer to the clock tower – (which was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee) – as ‘Big Ben’ ~ but it is actually the name given to the bell housed inside…. It is believed to have been named after Sir Benjamin, First Commissioner for Works – and indeed his name is inscribed upon it….

Image credit : Diliff CC BY 2.5

However, the current bell is not the original one…. In August 1856 a bell was cast by Warners of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees….and it was originally to be called the ‘Royal Victoria’…. Unfortunately this first bell cracked during testing in October 1857 and a second bell had to be cast…. This time the honour went to George Mears at his Whitechapel Foundry in April 1858…. However, this bell cracked too – but the problem was solved by turning it a quarter clockwise and chiming it with a lighter hammer….

Big Ben finally went into service in July 1859 – but disaster struck with yet another crack in the following September…. According to the foundry manager, a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified had been used….

Since that time Big Ben has fallen silent on other occasions…. In 1976 it was taken out of commission for 9 months for repairs….and again for 7 weeks in 2007…. On Monday the 21st of August 2017, after the 12 noon chimes, Big Ben’s bongs temporarily ceased….as extensive repair, conservation and refurbishment work on the clock tower began…. The bell remains silent for the time being – except for on special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Day….img_3526

Big Ben weighs a massive 13.7 tonnes, is 7.2ft (2.2m) tall and 8.9ft (2.7m) in diameter…. Its hammer weighs 200kg…. Elizabeth Tower is 96m tall and has 11 floors…. Each clock Face is 23ft (7m) in diameter and is made of 312 sections of opal glass…. The hour hand is 9.2ft (2.8m) in length and the minute hand is 14ft (4.3m)…. The clock is accurate to one second…. It is expected work will be completed by 2021 – and then we will hear Big Ben’s bongs every day once more….


On this day in history….16th May 1983

On this day in history : 16th May 1983 – The Metropolitan Police Force begin to clamp illegally parked cars – in the ‘Central London Wheel Clamp Experiment’….img_3164

Between its introduction in May and mid-November 1983 – 22,430 vehicles had been clamped, giving a gross revenue of £431,418…. When it was first introduced in the Knightsbridge area of London it proved popular with residents – who were finally able to claim their parking spaces back from those who were using them without authorisation…. There were problems that needed ironing out, such as when tradesmen and service engineers needed to park in order to carry out their work….

From the late 1980s local councils began to introduce stricter rules around parking….as a result drivers began to look for places to leave their cars where the traffic wardens wouldn’t find them…. Residential and private property became a target…. Understandably the owners of such properties were not happy….but the supply and maintenance of prohibitive equipment, such as barriers, proved expensive…. Wheel clamping, being self-funding, was an easy and often lucrative solution….it would effectively cost a landlord nothing to call out a wheel clamping company – and sometimes a commission would be paid to the property owner….img_3165

From 1990 onwards a steady rise of wheel clamp operatives was seen across the whole of the UK – with sometimes questionable practices…. However, the clampers did not always get things their own way….some motorists resorted to using bolt cutters or even angle grinders to remove clamps – meaning the operators lost not only the release fee but their clamp as well….

One of the best known wheel clamps used in the UK is the ‘London Wheel Clamp’…. Its designer, Trevor Whitehouse, filed for its patent in 1991 – originally it was to be named the ‘Preston’ after his hometown…. In the beginning it was used on private land but was introduced on public roads under the ‘Road Traffic Regulations Act of 1991’….and the wheel clamp became notorious…. The first areas to use it were 33 boroughs in London – hence the name change….

tico_24 via flickr

For many, especially those who had experienced having their car clamped, the practice became extremely controversial…. In 2012 the ‘Protection of Freedom Act 2012’, criminalising some wheel clamping on private land, came into force on the 1st of October…. It prohibited clamping in places such as supermarket car parks and effectively made it an offence for a private individual or company to act on its own behalf and have a car clamped…. Scotland had banned clamping and towing away in 1992….

It is still legal in the UK in some instances, such as by the police, DVLA or local authorities….and you are allowed to clamp your own car to prevent it from being stolen….img_3163

On this day in history….3rd May 1951

On this day in history : 3rd May 1951 – King George VI opens the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank and inaugurates the Festival of Britain – promoting the best of British in art, design and industry….

Timed to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 the festival was intended to raise public spirits after the austerity of the years following World War II…. There were those that said it was a waste of money – but the festival attracted 8.5 million visitors in 5 months…. It demonstrated Britain’s achievements in the arts, science, technology and industrial design….

Visitors to the Festival of Britain – Opringle at English Wikipedia CC SA

The day was one of celebration, tradition and prayer…. A large crowd cheered the royal procession on the route from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral – where the King, Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, along with other members of the royal family, attended a special service….

On route to St. Paul’s the procession stopped at Temple Bar where in a traditional ceremony King George received the Pearl Sword of the City…. The Lord Mayor of London has precedence over all other subjects within the boundaries of the City of London…. He surrenders the sword to the Sovereign as a symbol of recognition to the Sovereign’s supremacy…. King George then handed the sword back and the Lord Mayor led the procession on to St. Paul’s….

After the service at St. Paul’s King George, in a broadcast from the steps of the Cathedral, declared the festival open…. Later in the afternoon the royal family attended another service at the Royal Festival Hall….a service of dedication led by the Archbishop of Canterbury….img_3086

A 41-gun salute was fired from Hyde Park and the Tower of London…. Celebrations took place across the country, with art and design exhibitions….and in the evening 2,000 bonfires were lit across Britain….

The Royal Festival Hall was designed by Sir Robert Matthew, Leslie Martin and Sir Hubert Bennet along with a team of architects and designers…. Battersea Park was transformed into Festival Pleasure Gardens with fountains, a grotto and tree walk…. Several other buildings, such as the Skylon and Dome of Discovery were also built on what had been a bomb site near to Waterloo Station…. Now only the Royal Festival Hall remains, although it is surrounded by the National Film Theatre (1952), the Royal National Theatre (1963) and the Hayward Modern Art Gallery (1968)….

Night time view of the Skylon – HeresyOuk CC SA