On this day in history….21st November 1953

On this day in history : 21st November 1953 – The Natural History Museum has to face the task of admitting the ‘Piltdown Man’ was a hoax….

Ever since Darwin had published his theory ‘The Origin of Species’ in 1859, the search had been on to find the missing link connecting ape to human…. Neanderthal remains had already been found in France and Germany….but there were those in Britain who wanted to prove we too played a part in the evolution of man…. So, when lawyer and amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson discovered fossil remains in a gravel pit at Barkham Manor, Piltdown, Sussex – it seemed their dreams had come true….

Charles Dawson Public domain – US

Dawson ‘discovered’ the remains between 1910 and 1912; as he did so the fragments of fossil skull, teeth and an unusual ape jaw bone were all sent to the Natural History Museum…. From the fragments a skull was constructed, which seemed to provide the missing link between ape and human….and on the 18th of December 1912 it was presented to the World by the Geological Society in London…. It was officially named Eoanthropus Dawson – or, ‘Dawson’s dawn man’ – after the man who had ‘found’ the fossils…. Thought to be nearly a million years old, Britain could now have claim to the oldest fossil human remains ever found…. Of course, there were experts overseas who were sceptical, as things didn’t quite ‘fit in’ – but as the remains had the endorsement of the Natural History Museum they were generally accepted….

Painting by John Cooke, 1915 – The Piltdown Skull being examined…. Charles Dawson second from right, back row – John Cooke – Public domain

It was in the late 1940s that new technology for fossil dating arrived…. In 1949, Dr. Kenneth Oakley, of the Natural History Museum tested the Piltdown fossils – and it was found they were not nearly as ancient as thought….more like 500 years old…. Further investigation discovered the ‘human’ teeth were in fact the filed down teeth of an orangutan…. The teeth had been an important part of the original conclusion – as they were midway in size between ape and human it was thought they were evidence of evolution…. It was also discovered that the skull fragments, although unusually thick boned, were from a far more recent time….

Replica of Piltdown Man skull : Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) CC BY-SA 4.0

Other finds from the site – stone tools, bones and teeth of extinct British animals, such as rhinoceros, elephant and beaver – were proven genuine…. But all – along with the skull fragments and jaw – had been boiled and then stained to match the environment in which they had been ‘found’….

So, why the hoax? Various reasons have been put forward…. Dawson died in 1916 – no more finds were made at Piltdown after his death…. One theory is that he did it to gain entrance to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge….

On this day in history….20th November 1947

On this day in history : 20th November 1947 – Princess Elizabeth marries Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten….

Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on their wedding day – Fair use

The wedding took place at 10.30am in Westminster Abbey and was officiated by Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury and Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York…. Princess Elizabeth was the tenth member of the Royal Family to marry in Westminster Abbey – 2,000 guests attended the ceremony and it was broadcast by the BBC to 200 million around the World….

Princess Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids (including her sister HRH Princess Margaret) and two pageboys…. Philip, who had been made Duke of Edinburgh on the morning of the wedding, had his first cousin, David Mountbatten, the Marquess of Milford Haven, as his best man…. The wedding ring was made from a nugget of Welsh gold….

The marriage certificate, signed by Philip, Princess Elizabeth, King George VI and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – General Register Office and participants at the wedding – Public domain

Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell and the Princess had to use clothing coupons in order to buy it, as rationing was still in place…. Hundreds of well-wishers sent in coupons to the Palace to help – but although the kind gesture was much appreciated all had to be returned – as it would have been illegal to use them….

The dress itself was made from duchess satin; it had a heart shaped neckline, fitted bodice, with a low v-pointed waist – the panelled skirt fell to the floor…. The dress was completed by a 15-foot silk tulle train…. Upon her feet Princess Elizabeth wore ivory duchesse satin high heeled shoes trimmed with silver and pearl buckles….and were designed by Edward Rayne…. Her jewellery consisted of two pearl necklaces; one of which had belonged to the wife of King George II and the other said to have belonged to Anne, the last Stuart Queen…. They were given to Princess Elizabeth by her father as a wedding gift….

The bridal bouquet was of white orchids, with a sprig of myrtle, a tradition started by Queen Victoria…. Afterwards the bouquet was laid upon the tomb of the Unknown Warrior – another Royal tradition….

After the ceremony a wedding breakfast was held in the Ball-Supper Room at Buckingham Palace…. One of the highlights was the wedding cake, made by McVitie and Price – with its four tiers and standing nine feet high….

On this day in history….19th November 1850

On this day in history : 19th November 1850 – Alfred, Lord Tennyson becomes Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland….

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – George Frederic Watts – Public domain

Tennyson succeeded William Wordsworth after his death and he remained Poet Laureate until his own death in 1892 – the longest tenure ever in the role…. He was the appointed Poet Laureate for much of the Victorian era….and indeed was a great comfort to Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861…. She was quoted as saying “Next to the Bible ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ is my comfort”…. The work by Tennyson she referred to being one of his most popular – a tribute to a dear departed friend….

Tennyson still remains one of our most influential poets today…. Many of us will not realise it but our English language is peppered with quotes and sayings from his poetry….

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’, comes from In Memoriam A.H.H…. Other sayings that slip into our speech, either as they were originally penned by Tennyson or adapted to suit modern day life: ‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers’, from Locksley Hall ~ ‘Who are wise in love, love most, say least’, from Merlin and Vivienne, a passionate love story ~ ‘A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies’ ~ ‘Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our souls, and let old bygones be’ ~ ‘If I had a flower for every time I thought of you….I could walk through my garden forever’…. (This particular one has featured in many a wedding speech)….

Tennyson with his family, wife Emily and sons Hallam and Lionel – Photograph : Oscar Gustave Rejlander – Public domain

One of Tennyson’s most quoted and inspirational works has to be The Charge of the Light Brigade…. It was used as an influence in the film Saving Private Ryan – and the Iron Maiden song The Trooper was inspired by it…. The poem pays tribute to the brave British cavalrymen who lost their lives at the disastrous, ill-advised charge that took place at the Battle of Balaclava on the 25th of October 1854, during the Crimean War…. The poem from which we get the well known saying ‘Their’s is not to reason why, their’s but to do or die’….

Painting of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ – Richard Caton Woodville, Jr – Public domain

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league
Half a league onward,
All in the Valley of Death
– Rode the six hundred
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said,
Into the Valley of Death
– Rode the six hundred.

” Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the World wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they broke back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the World wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

~Lord, Alfred Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Julia Margaret Cameron – Public domain

On this day in history….18th November 1963

On this day in history : 18th November 1963 – The opening of the Dartford Tunnel, running under the River Thames between Dartford in Kent and Thurrock in Essex….img_4536

Giving drivers a means of avoiding driving through London the crossing was first proposed in 1924 by the Ministry of Transport…. Work began in 1936 but had to be delayed due to World War 2 – it did not resume again until 1959….

The dual lane tunnel had a total project cost of around £13 million (equivalent to approximately £260 million in today’s terms) and was initially used by some 12,000 vehicles per day….paying a toll of 2 shillings and sixpence (12.5p) each time….

Bus designed to transport bicycles through the Dartford Tunnel in 1963 – Ministry of Transport (Life time : Crown Copyright) Public domain

By 1970 it was carrying over 8 million vehicles per year and it was announced that a second tunnel would be built – along with a London orbital road, or the M25 as we know it…. The new tunnel was due to open in 1976 but was set back because of lack of funds – it eventually opened in May 1980…. Each tunnel could now manage one direction of traffic and between them could handle 65,000 vehicles per day…. However, on completion of the M25 in 1986 demand grew to 70,000 per day….

So, in 1988 construction of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge commenced and was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on the 30th of October 1991 – the total cost of the new bridge being £120 million (equivalent today approx. £245 million)….

The Dartford Crossing is one of the busiest road sections in the UK – it is a major bypass of Greater London…. On average more than 130,000 vehicles use the tunnels and bridge each day…. In 2014, in a bid to ease congestion, the toll booths were removed and a cashless payment system introduced, using automatic number plate recognition….

Motorists have to pay on-line or by telephone every time they use the crossing between 6am and 10pm – and have to pay by midnight the day after crossing – or receive a hefty fine (£70 reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days)…. It is possible to have an account if using frequently, which lowers the cost….but typically it costs £2.50 for a car (£2.00 with an account) and £6.00 for a lorry (£5.19 with an account) – motorbikes cross for free…. In 2017 the Government made an eye watering £92 million from Dartford Crossing fines….

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, as viewed from Greenhithe – Diliff CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….17th November 1558

On this day in history : 17th November 1558 – Mary Tudor, England’s first ruling Queen, dies – leaving the Crown to Elizabeth I, her half-sister….

Mary Tudor, 1554 – Antonis Mor – Public domain

Mary’s death was unexpected; she had started to feel unwell in May 1588, after another false pregnancy…. At the time of her death there was an influenza epidemic and it is often thought that she died from this…. But it is more likely the cause of her death was a form of ovarian cancer…. She died at St. James’ Palace – having received her last rites just before midnight on the 16th of November; she passed away at some time between 5am and 6am the following morning…. She was 42-years-old….

Mary was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – she was declared illegitimate after Henry married Anne Boleyn and the birth of their daughter, Elizabeth…. Even though her father had reformed the English Church, Mary – baptised a Catholic at 3-days-old – retained her faith…. When on ascending the the throne in 1553, she immediately set about reversing the English Reformation and returning England to Catholicism- reviving old heresy laws in order to do so…. During her short reign Queen Mary I was responsible for the death of some 300 Protestant men, women and children – many burned at the stake – earning her the title ‘Bloody Mary’….

The burning of of Latimer and Ridley, two of the Oxford Martyrs – From the Book of Martyrs by John Foxe, 1563 – Public domain

She was not a popular Queen – there would have undoubtedly been much jubilation when her half-sister Elizabeth took over the throne…. Something Mary had vehemently tried to prevent by unsuccessfully producing an heir of her own….

Mary is buried in Westminster Abbey – ironically under Elizabeth I – in a shared grave….