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

On this day in history….31st December 1892

On this day in history : 31st December 1892 – The first hostel for homeless men, Rowton House in Vauxhall, London opens….

It was the brainchild of Tory Peer and philanthropist Montagu William Lowry-Corry (1838-1903) – otherwise known as Lord Rowton – who put £30,000 of his own money into the venture….a considerable amount in the day – equating to over £3.5 million in today’s terms….

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Montagu William Lowry-Corry – Public domain

Lord Rowton had been Private Secretary to Disraeli and had helped to set up the Guinness Trust in 1890 – helping homeless people in London and Dublin…. He had inspected common lodging houses in the East End of London on behalf of the Trust and was appalled by what he saw…. It was then he made the decision to open the hostel on Bond Street (now Bondway) in Vauxhall….

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Lord Rowton (pictured right) with Benjamin Disraeli – Leslie Ward – Public domain

His was a completely new concept in helping down-and-out or low paid working men…. The aim was to provide decent, cheap accommodation, that was far superior to the squalid lodging houses which were the only alternative at the time….

“Lord Rowton’s Lodging House” ~ the Poor Man’s Club, where he finds a Comfortable Home, Good Food and Wholesome Recreation ~

The accommodation comprised of 470 bedded cubicles; each man would be supplied with clean sheets and had the use of facilities to wash and dry his clothes…. In the bathrooms there was an ample supply of hot water….and each wash basin had above it a hook for him to hang his hat and coat – so he could keep an eye on them…. There was a large dining room and a library….all for the price of 6d (sixpence) a night….

Rowton affectionately referred to his venture as ‘the Beehive’…. He even had one of the beds installed in his own home – so he could try it out….

On the first night of opening only 77 out of the 470 cubicles was occupied…. However, news spread quickly – in the first year 140,105 beds were let – and the hostel returned a profit…. Such was its success that Vauxhall became the first of six such establishments across London….

It wasn’t all plain sailing from the start though…. In the early days there was a high turn over of staff – and it was hard to maintain a constant, smooth running establishment…. In the first few weeks every book in the library had disappeared – so lockable bookcases had to be introduced and a paid librarian employed…. During the first fire drill it emerged all of the copper fittings on the hosepipes had been stolen…. It was also decided that soap was going to have to be charged for as such huge quantities were being ‘used’…. Eventually a superintendent was employed – a former sergeant major – who soon had things in order….

Nowadays Rowton House is occupied by the Centrepoint Vauxhall Hostel…. The Centrepoint Charity provides accommodation and support for homeless people aged between 16 and 25 years-of-age…. Before she died Princess Diana was its patron – her son Prince William has been patron since 2005….it was his first patronage….

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Rowton House, Bondway, Vauxhall

On this day in history….17th December 1983

On this day in history: 17th December 1983 – An IRA terrorist car bomb explodes outside Harrods Department Store, in Knightsbridge, Central London – killing 6 people and injuring a further 92….

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Elliott Brown via Flickr

At 12.44pm a call, using a code word, was made to the Central London branch of the Samaritans…. The caller said there was a car bomb outside Harrods and a further two bombs inside the store…. The car registration number was given but not a description of the car…. It was also claimed that further bombs had been placed on Oxford Street and in the Littlewoods store on Oxford Street…. Much of the message proved to be false information – and the police had already received 22 similar calls about suspicious devices that day – all of which were false alarms…. However, following receipt of the warning, the police immediately started to search – but did not evacuate the area….

At just before 1.30pm, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, a Saturday just before Christmas, a car bomb containing 25-30lb of explosives and detonated by a timer, exploded…. It had been placed inside a 1972 blue Austin 1300 GT 4-door saloon car, parked close to the side entrance of Harrods, in Hans Crescent…. Five people died at the scene and another later in hospital…. Of these six, three were police officers and three were members of the public; a reporter, an American citizen and a young mother…. Another 92 people were injured, including 14 police officers….

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Image via Pinterest

Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, expressed his revulsion at such a cold-blooded and cowardly attack…. The day following the bombing the IRA admitted responsibility….

As a result Scotland Yard increased security in Central London – hundreds of extra police and mobile bomb squads were drafted in…. Harrods, despite the damage, reopened three days later….the owners said they would not be defeated by acts of terrorism….

On this day in history….5th December 1952

On this day in history : 5th December 1952 – ‘The Great Smog’…. A terrible killer fog descends on London and causes the death of thousands of Londoners….

A high pressure weather system had stalled over the South of England, causing a ‘temperature inversion’ – meaning the cold air at ground level becomes trapped by a layer of warmer air at a higher level…. A thick fog had formed – and with no breeze to disperse it – was unable to escape…. It was soon to turn a sickly yellowy-brown colour, as it filled with sulphur pollutants and soot, mainly from the many coal fires as people tried to keep their houses warm in the cold snap…. Smoke from factories and fumes from vehicles also contributed….

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Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog – N T Stobbs CC BY-SA 2.0

Londoners were used to ‘pea-soupers’ – but this was like nothing before…. Visibility was so poor that the transport system (other than the underground) ground to a halt…. Even the ambulance service stopped…. School children were kept home, sporting events called-off…. The smog seeped into buildings….theatre performances were cancelled and cinemas closed as people were unable to see the screens…. Criminals had a field day, as looting, bag snatches and burglaries became epidemic….

But by far the worse impact the fog was to have was on people’s health…. Most at risk were the young, elderly and those with respiratory problems – heavy smokers were particularly vulnerable…. It is estimated 4,000 died during the period and immediate aftermath – although experts claim the number to be more like 8,000 lives lost due to the smog – the most common causes of death being pneumonia and bronchitis…. Well into the summer of 1953 the death rate remained well above normal levels…. With that taken into consideration the final smog-related death toll could amount to as high as 12,000…. A further 100,000 are estimated to have been made ill….25,000 Londoners claimed sickness benefit during the period….

The smog finally lifted on Tuesday the 9th of December, the sulphurous cloud drifting out over the North Sea…. A government investigation resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956 being passed by Parliament – authorising authorities to set up smoke-free zones and the restriction of burning coal in urban areas….

The Great Smog of 1952 is recorded as the tenth deadliest disaster ever to have hit Britain….