On this day in history….3rd July 1966

On this day in history : 3rd July 1966 – Over 30 protesters are arrested outside the US Embassy in London as a demonstration against the Vietnam War turns violent….

The US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London

Throughout the Vietnam War protest marches, often led by students, were organised in cities across America and Europe…. Eventually, as public opinion increased more and more against the war, the US government was forced to reconsider its intervention in Southeast Asia….

One such demonstration was held outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, by a crowd of some 4,000 protesters – 2,000 of which were members of the newly formed ‘Youth for Peace in Vietnam Movement’…. The YPVM had earlier marched to Downing Street, chanting….“Victory to the Vietcong”…. before handing in a letter for Prime Minister Harold Wilson demanding that the United Kingdom disassociate itself from the US policy in Vietnam…. The YPVM then joined the rest of the demonstrators at Trafalgar Square ready for the march to the US Embassy….

When the protesters arrived at Grosvenor Square 200 police officers had already cordoned it off…. Things became ugly when John Gollan, General Secretary of the Communist Party, urged them to disperse…. At one point a policeman was knocked from his motorcycle and as fuel leaked from it a lit match was thrown upon it….

Accompanied by chants of….“hands off Vietnam”….a delegation of 5 handed over a resolution to Embassy officials, calling for an end to the US bombings and a withdrawal of its troops….

Protests across the world intensified towards the end of the 1960s as casualties in Vietnam continued to rise…. The demonstrations eventually declined when President Nixon began to withdraw US troops in 1971….

Image credit : Manhhai via Flickr

On this day in history….22nd June 1959

On this day in history : 22nd June 1959 – Shareholders are urged by the directors of Harrods to vote for a merger with the Debenhams department store chain in a £34m deal….

Harrods was started by Charles Henry Harrod as a grocery business in 1849…. His son, Charles Digby took over in 1861 and started to sell a varied range, including furniture, china, cosmetics and perfumes…. Since the 1920s it has become one of the most famous and prestigious department stores in the world….

Fashion plate, 1909 – Fashionable Londoners walking in front of Harrods – Public domain

Over the years Harrods and Debenhams had become informally linked – an official merger would provide a way of cutting overhead costs, resources could be pooled when purchasing stock…. However, as it was Harrods was in the position that two merger possibilities were available to them – the one with Debenhams and a further unofficial one, as yet, with House of Fraser…. Harrods directors began to hold meetings to discuss the options…. The Debenhams deal included an offer of £34m – and would allow Harrods to continue to operate under its own name, with Sir Richard Burbridge as chairman…. Whereas the House of Fraser offer was for £32.5m and the deal would give Harrods directors far less power in the running of the merged company…. It was thought that a merger between Debenhams and Harrods would provide much improved services for the shopping public – the board urged its shareholders to vote for the Debenhams deal….

A third bid of £36m then came in from United Drapery Stores….but was later withdrawn…. The bidding war raged on with House of Fraser raising its bid to 37m and on the 24th of August 1959 it had acquired enough shares to see off the competition from Debenhams…. The battle was over….

In 1985 House of Fraser was bought by Mohammad al Fayed and his brother for £615m and Harrods returned to private ownership…. In 1994 all House of Fraser stores were floated on the Stock Exchange – with the exception of Harrods….

Image credit : Diliff – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….9th June 1873

On this day in history – 9th June 1873 – Alexandra Palace, often referred to as the ‘Ally Pally’, is burned to the ground – just sixteen days after being opened to the public….

Original Alexandra Palace on fire – Illustrated London News – Public domain

In an idea conceived by architect Owen Jones in 1859, the intention was to build a counterpart to South London’s Crystal Palace…. It was to be North London’s centre of recreation, entertainment and education – ‘The People’s Palace’….

By 1860 The Great Northern Palace Company had been established – however, it was unable to raise the required finances to start work immediately…. The building materials were eventually acquired and recycled from the 1862 International Exhibition which had been demolished in South Kensington….

In 1863 the company managed to secure Tottenham Wood Farm as land on which to build its Park…. The Park opened to the public on the 23rd of July 1863 and was named after Alexandra of Denmark, the Princess of Wales and wife of the future King Edward VII….

The building of the Palace began and in 1871 construction started on the Edgware, Highgate & London Railway – to connect the site with Highgate Station…. The work on the Palace was undertaken by Kelk & Lucas – who also built the Royal Albert Hall around the same time…. Both Palace and railway were completed in 1873…. On the 24th of May 1873, just in time for Queen Victoria’s birthday, the Palace and Park officially opened to the public…. Some 120,000 people gathered for a performance by Victorian operatic singer Sims Reeves, to listen to recitals and watch a spectacular firework display….

Sixteen days later, at around lunchtime, workmen were working on the roof of the dome – when a burning ember escaped from a brazier they were using…. At first it was thought the fire could be contained – and so there was a delay in calling the fire service…. But the fire was to spread rapidly – staff rushed from room to room, tearing valuable paintings and tapestries from the walls and gathering up books and artefacts….

At 1.30pm the roof collapsed – falling on to the £30,000 organ below which had been designed by Henry Willis…. It is said the crash could be heard six miles away…. Three members of staff were killed and a priceless collection of some 4,700 pieces of historic English pottery and porcelain on loan to the Palace was destroyed….

All that was left of Alexandra Palace were the outer walls…. Never-the- less, in true Victorian form, the Palace was rebuilt and reopened on the 1st of May 1875….

Rebuilt Palace 1875 – Illustrated London News – Public domain

On this day in history….15th January 1867

On this day in history : 15th January 1867 – Ice covering the boating lake at Regent’s Park gives way…. Hundreds of skaters are plunged into the icy water – 40 people lose their lives….

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Illustrated Police News – 19 January 1867

Ice skating was an extremely popular leisure activity during Victorian times – frozen ponds and lakes were often advertised in newspapers…. Up to 300 people were enjoying themselves on the ice in Regent’s Park this particular afternoon – skating, sliding, playing games of ice-hockey….img_5597

At around 4.15 the ice suddenly gave way with no warning – breaking into thousands of pieces…. Between 100-200 people were plunged into 12 foot of icy water – the weight of their heavy Victorian clothing dragging them down…. Boats were hurriedly launched to try and rescue those floundering in the water….passers-by reached out with branches broken from trees….

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Illustrated London News – 26 January 1867

Those who lost their lives came from all walks of life, from gentry to the very poor…. Most were young men but there were also women and children among them…. 29-year-old James Griffin was on the ice selling oranges to the skaters – and another, John Bryon, was selling hot roasted chestnuts…. It took over a week to recover all of the bodies, fishermen from Kew were used to drag their nets along the bottom of the lake….

There was much debate at the later inquest, as to the cause of the accident…. Some blamed Skating Club members acting as stewards (known as ‘Icemen’) for breaking the ice around the edges to prevent access to the island…. They in turn blamed the ice-hockey players, people who had been jumping on the ice and even the sun for melting it…. Park keepers also came under scrutiny – as it was thought they may have broken the ice out of concern for the large collection of exotic water fowl housed on the lake…. But in truth the skaters themselves were chiefly to blame for their own misfortune….

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Penny Illustrated Paper – 26 January 1867

The previous day 21 people had fallen through the ice – thankfully all had been rescued…. An overnight dusting of snow had covered the cracks so they were not visible…. Despite prominent signs being displayed, warning of the danger of thin ice, such was the enthusiasm to have fun that the signs were ignored….

As a precaution to prevent such a tragedy from happening again the lake was drained and the depth reduced to 4 or 5 foot with soil and concrete…. However, the public were slow to learn – years later a similar incident was to happen….only this time because of the depth none of the 100 or so who fell in received anything more than a very cold bath….

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Regent’s Park Boating Lake – Alan Stanton via Flickr

On this day in history….7th January 1965

On this day in history : 7th January 1965 – The Kray twins are remanded in custody after being charged with running a protection racket in London….

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The Kray twins, 1965 – taken by David Bailey (Reggie on the left, Ronnie forefront) – Fair use

The case revolved around a Soho nightclub owned by Hew McGowan, the son of a wealthy baronet, who had bought the club – ‘The Hideaway’, in Gerrard Street, in 1964….

McGowan claimed the 31-year-old identical twins, Ronnie and Reggie, had offered to supply two doormen for the club for a percentage of the takings…. However, it was said that it was in fact McGowan, knowing that the Krays were wanting to increase their influence in the West End, who offered them 20% of the venture…. When McGowan reneged on the deal it did not take much time before the Kray twins began to ‘demand money with menace’…. McGowan went to the police….

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The Hideaway – Fair use

The twins were arrested at the Glenrae Hotel, on the Seven Sisters Road, North London – where they were listed as being company directors…. They were taken into custody and then refused bail, even though they offered sureties of £18,000…. They were remanded at Brixton Prison until their trial date, which was set for March….

The Krays’ defence argued that the twins had only become involved with the club to help secure investment for a future project in Nigeria – it had nothing to do with ‘protection’…. The jury were unable to come to an agreement and a re-trial was ordered…. After three trials the Kray twins were acquitted, along with a third accused man, Edward Smith, a free-lance writer….

Within a month the twins had bought and taken control of the Hideaway, changing its name to ‘El Morocco’…. They threw a huge party at the nightclub to celebrate….

On the 8th of May 1968 Ronnie and Reggie Kray were arrested again, to face numerous charges, including murder…. After being convicted in March 1969 they were sentenced to life imprisonment….

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The Kray twins with their older brother Charlie, 1965 – Image: Kristine via Flickr