On this day in history….18th June 1583

On this day in history : 18th June 1583 – The first recorded life insurance policy is taken out in London – but when a claim is made, just under a year later, it is disputed….img_3394

Richard Martin, an Alderman, took out the policy on William Gybbons, a salter of meat and fish – it is not known what the relationship between the two was…. The term of the policy was for 12 months and cost Martin £383…. This was a considerable amount of money in the 1500s….the average daily wage was just 10 pennies a day – bearing in mind at the time there were 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a £1…. At a premium of 8% if Gybbons were to die Martin could expect to receive around £4,800….

And indeed he did die – on the 29th of May 1584 – although it is unclear what from…. Equally it is unknown who the underwriters of the policy were – but they appear to have been a shady lot…. To try and wriggle out of paying up they argued that the year was not based on calendar months, as would be expected – but rather on lunar months….i.e. a month being a period of 28 days…. Therefore, as far as they were concerned the policy had expired….

Not surprisingly Martin disputed this and took his case to the courts…. Richard Chandler, whom Queen Elizabeth I had appointed to oversee insurers, agreed with Martin…. But it took until 1587 for the case to be resolved when the Admiralty Court (nobody knows how they got involved) finally settled the argument in Martin’s favour….


On this day in history….17th June 1823

On this day in history : 17th June 1823 – Charles Macintosh patents the fabric used to make waterproof raincoats – which he created by experimenting with the by-products of Glasgow’s new gas industry….

Charles Macintosh – (John Graham Gilbert) – Public domain

Charles was born in Glasgow on the 29th of December 1766 to parents George Macintosh and Mary Moore…. His father owned a factory which made dye from lichen…. Charles was to study chemistry at Edinburgh University – however his first employment was that of a clerk…. But he still liked to experiment with science in his spare time, especially chemistry – and before reaching 20 he had given up his regular employment to concentrate on the manufacture of chemicals….

By the age of 23 Charles had established Scotland’s first alum works, using waste shale as a raw material, from the oil shale mines…. He also went into partnership with Charles Tennant and together they produced bleaching powder at a chemical works near to Glasgow….

Charles went on to develop many other processes using the by-products of Glasgow’s newly established gas industry…. One successful example being his use of ammonia to produce a wide range of coloured dyes…. But what we really remember him for is the ‘Mackintosh’ coat….

Image via Pinterest

It was his experiments with naphtha, which is produced by distilling tar, that led to his invention of a waterproof fabric…. He discovered it is possible to dissolve India rubber in naphtha – and by cementing two pieces of cloth together with natural rubber a material was produced resistant to water but still flexible enough to be suitable for clothing…. With its ability to protect against wind and rain it was an ideal fabric with which to make coats….

Image via Pinterest

Macintosh patented the process in 1823…. Early Mackintoshes had a tendency to melt in hot weather and were a tad on the smelly side – but over time the design improved…. At some point a ‘k’ was added to the name, giving us the ‘Mackintosh’ – which is frequently known as the ‘Mac’….

Bonded cotton is still used but is now produced in Japan – and is then shipped to the Mackintosh factory in Cumbernauld, Scotland…. Techniques used today are little changed since the Mac’s debut nearly 200 years ago…. Classic British style….

A gentleman’s Mackintosh from an 1893 catalogue – Public domain

On this day in history….16th June 1883

On this day in history : 16th June 1883 – One hundred and eighty-three children are killed in the Victoria Hall stampede in Sunderland, after rushing to claim a prize at the end of a variety show….

The children’s variety show had been put on by the travelling entertainers Mr and Mrs Fay…. At the end of the performance it was announced that children with certain ticket numbers would receive a prize on exit…. At the same time gifts were distributed from the stage to the children in the stalls…. Some 1,100 children in the upper gallery, not wanting to miss out, stampeded for the stairway leading downstairs….

Public domain

However, the door at the bottom of the stairs opened inwards….and had been bolted in such a way as to only open far enough to let one child at a time through….possibly to ensure orderly checking of tickets…. Those children at the front became trapped – and were crushed to death by the weight of the crowd behind them….

Once the adults realised what was happening they hurried to try and open the door – but were unable to…. Caretaker Frederick Graham rushed up another staircase and managed to lead some 600 children to safety….whilst the adults downstairs continued to pull the ones at the front out one-by-one…. Eventually a man tore the door from its hinges….

This remains the worst disaster of its kind in British history; all of the children were aged between 3 and 14 years old…. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to each family who had lost a child…. Donations were sent from all over the Country and were used to pay for the funerals and to erect a memorial in Mowbray Park – a statue of a grieving mother holding her dead child….

Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial in Mowbray Park – Photo credit: Barliner CC BY 2.5

Following an inquiry legislation was passed that every public entertainment venue had to have a specified number of outward opening emergency exits…. This resulted in the ‘push-bar’ emergency doors we are all familiar with today….

As for the Victoria Hall itself….it continued to be an entertainment venue but was destroyed by a World War 2 parachute bomb in 1941….

Sunderland Public Libraries via Flickr

On this day in history….15th June 1911

On this day in history : 15th June 1911 – Anglican cleric, railway enthusiast and children’s author – best known for his creation ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ – the Reverend W. Awdry is born….

The Reverend Wilbert Awdry OBE in 1982 : Image credit – Jamie Spilsbury CC BY-SA 4.0

Wilbert Vere Awdry was born at Ampfield Vicarage near to Romsey in Hampshire – his father was the Anglican Vicar of Ampfield…. The family moved to Box in Wiltshire and lived in a house, ‘Journey’s End’, which was just 200yds from Box Tunnel on the Great Western Railway…. Wilbert would lie in his bed at night and listen to the freight trains; he got to know their whistles and felt each engine had its own personality…. He heard them ‘snorting’ up the steep incline and listened for the conversations they held between themselves….

Wilbert was educated at Marlborough House in Kent, Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire and then attended Oxford…. Afterwards he was to teach for three years before becoming ordained into the Anglican Church…. He became curate for St. Nicholas’ Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham and then Rector at Elmsworth and Knapwell, Cambridgeshire…. After a term as Rural Dean at Bourn he became Vicar of Emneth in Norfolk…. He retired in 1965 and settled in Rodborough, near to Stroud, Gloucestershire….

It was when his son, Christopher, caught measles in 1943 that Wilbert began to make up stories about trains to keep the boy amused…. After he had written ‘The Three Railway Engines’, which was published in 1945, he built Christopher a model of ‘Edward’ out of a broomstick and some scraps of wood…. He also added some trucks and carriages….

Edward – Reverend Wilbert Awdry – Fair use
Gordon – Reverend Wilbert Awdry – Fair use

Christopher was eager to have a model of ‘Gordon’ as well – but this proved difficult because of the size…. So, Wilbert built a smaller model….and ‘Thomas’ came to be…. Christopher wanted more stories about Thomas, which led to ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ being published in 1946…. By the time Wilbert had stopped writing in 1972 there were 26 books in the Railway series….Christopher went on to add to these books….

Thomas the Tank Engine – fair use

Wilbert remained a railway enthusiast; he volunteered as a guard on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales and was involved in railway preservation work…. He was awarded an OBE in 1996 but by now his health was failing and he was unable to make the journey to London to receive it personally…. He died peacefully in Stroud on the 21st of March 1997….

Reverend Awdry in May 1988 on the Talyllyn Railway with ‘Peter Sam’, one of his creations – Photo credit: Voice of Clam CC BY-SA 3.0

Thomas the Tank Engine will bring back memories for so many of us….either from our own childhoods or those of our children…. I, for one, have a son who was absolutely obsessed – we still have many of the books and somewhere in the loft is a huge collection of die-cast models…. In October 1984 a TV series was developed by Britt Allcroft – with the voice of Ringo Starr telling the stories…. Thomas videos seemed to play on a constant loop in our house…. Oh! And that wretched theme tune….I never have quite managed to get it out of my head!

On this day in history….14th June 1961

On this day in history : 14th June 1961 – The Ministry of Transport announces a new type of road crossing…. If trials are successful the panda crossing would replace the zebra crossing….

Promotional illustration – image via Roads.org.uk – fair use

The Government had become concerned by the rise in accidents at zebra crossings – which had been introduced in 1951 when there were just two million cars on Britain’s roads…. By 1961 this number had increased to over 10 million….and in the first six months of 1960 some 533 had been killed or injured at uncontrolled zebra crossings, compared to 447 in the same period of 1959…. Transport minister Ernest Marples hoped by enabling a method of control at pedestrian crossings “some of the dangerous uncertainties of the present system would be eliminated”….

Zebra crossing with Belisha beacons, Abbey Road, London….the one featured on the Beatles album…. Image : Misterweiss at English Wikipedia – Public domain

The new panda crossing consisted a triangular black and white stripes – rather than the rectangular ones of the zebra crossing…. A push button on either side of the road controlled a set of flashing lights; pedestrians would push the button and wait at the flashing light…. Drivers would simultaneously be warned to slow down by an amber flashing light – which then turned red…. At the same time a ‘WALK’ sign would appear to the pedestrian….which after a specified time would start to flash to warn that the lights for the motorist were about to turn green again….

The new system was to be installed on a twelve month experimental trial at between 40 and 50 sites in England and Wales…. The very first panda crossing had been installed on the 2nd of April 1961 outside Waterloo station and it had been decided to test in on a larger scale…. Included in the overall number were thirteen in Guildford and ten in Lincoln….

However, the scheme had to be abandoned in 1967 as pedestrians and motorists complained it was too confusing….and there were also too many mechanical failures…. In 1969 it was replaced with the far more successful pelican crossing – and this was superseded by the puffin crossing in the 1990s – using sensors to detect pedestrian and car flow and thus controlling traffic automatically….

Pelican crossing control panel – Secretlondon CC BY-SA 3.0