Cereals appeared in the Neolithic Period, a term given by Gordon Childe to describe the age of tilling, herding and farming, an agriculture said to have developed independently in Mesopotamia (wheat) and Mexico (Maize) in c 7000 BCE.(1)
Diversification based on the environment saw rye and oats becoming the main crops displacing wheat in northern Europe.
Cereals made into bread, became a staple of diet, but didn’t stop its rationing, along with flour, post World-War II, so there was a sigh of relief Today in 1948 when it was announced by Food Minister, John Strachey, that rationing would end at the week-end.(2)
It was in June 1946 when it was announced in the Commons that bread and flour were to be rationed for the first time ever, to come in on 21st July, owing to the government over-reacting to a temporary fall in grain supplies.(3)
Not surprisingly there was a roar of applause from the Government benches and according to reports, ‘Mr. Churchill sat up alertly, as he had been against bread rationing‘
All restrictions on bread were also withdrawn in restaurants, where notices advised customers not to ask for extra bread. However it was stressed that bread and flour should not be used to feed animals and poultry, and the purchase of more than 28lb of flour at a time would be discouraged.
However in order to save on wheat, most of which was imported in the early days of the War, the extraction rate of flour was raided to produce the more nutritious, but widely disliked, wholemeal ‘National Loaf’.
‘The Dole’ by James Lobley (1829-88) shows a romantically crumbling Lincolnshire church with the bread ceremoniously dumped on the font, being distributed. Bread dole was to be ‘given out to the poor in perpetuity’, as many church memorials record.
(1) Barley, emmer wheat, corn, rice and sorghum (still account for half the calories we consume) a tiny fraction of the 8,000 species of grass. The other food grasses are bamboo and sugar cane.
(2) Strachey according to Punch Magazine, July 1948, ‘Impressions of Parliament’ feature, entered and ‘the Commons had an air of suppressed excitement’.
(3) 27th June 1946.
Early in the 19th century radical Thomas Paine was imprisoned and fined £1.000 for publicly criticising the flogging of Militiamen which was later outlawed in the 1879 Cardwell Reforms.
Today in 1951 a memo was issued by the Prison Commission of Dean Ryle Street, London, signed by Controller, F.S. Collins, which referred in clinical terms to unused birches and cat-o’-nine tails, ‘which should be returned immediately to Wandsworth Prison if unused’.
It went on, ‘used ones should be destroyed in accordance with SO Appendix 8. All birches and ‘cats’ were only to be used from the national stock which should be tested and would be issued in triplicate’.
One hundred years before in October 1853 saw the introduction of Circular 131 of the Royal Navy which introduced summary flogging with a ‘reduced cat’ on naked posterior, and for the most serious cases, flogging after a Court Martial, and many was the sailor who ‘kissed the gunner’s daughter’, by being spread-eagled over a cannon.(1)
By 1860, the ‘cat’ was abolished for boys, only to be substituted by the birch, and any under 19 found skulking were ‘sharpened-up’ with the ‘stonnacky’ or the ‘Bosun’s Cane’.(2)
Caning on the Junior Training Ship, HMS Ganges was only abolished in 1970, but still in operation until 1967, the only form of punishment remaining in the armed-forces.
The Bill to abolish civil, judicial corporal punishment had been introduced in September 1948.
The army witnessed the notorious case in 1846 of Private John White of Hounslow Barracks who had died after receiving 150 lashes, which helped to spur efforts at reform.
The original coroner’s jury after hearing evidence from a military surgeon found that White had died from natural causes.
However William Wakley, the medical crusader, coroner of Middlesex, managed to get the original verdict over-turned.
The Penny Illustrated Paper reported that in 1860 the punishment had been administered to 180 soldiers with a total of 1976 lashes, the main crimes being ‘desertion, insubordination and something called disgraceful conduct’. (3)
Flogging in the Army was abolished in 1881 and replaced by Field Punishment No 1, which saw the prisoner attached to a fixed object for up to two hours a day, and repeated according to the level of punishment.
Only in 1929 was the death penalty abolished in the army, too late for those executed in WWI for ‘cowardice’.
In 2006 there was a blanket pardon for all soldiers executed in WWI, irrespective of merit, which draws a line under, which to modern eyes, seems a brutal past.
(1) On 7th October 1853.
(2) Flogging was suspended in the Navy in peacetime in 1871 and in 1879 in wartime.
(3) London, Saturday March 1st 1862 p.139 Issue 21.
A rare record of transvestism and homosexuality from late Medieval England is revealed in 1395, when in the presence of John Fresh, Mayor and the Aldermen of the City of London that, ‘John Britby of the County of York and John Rykener calling himself Eleanor having been detected in woman’s clothes….[having] committed that unmentionable and ignoble vice’. (sic)
500 years later immorality was still in vogue as Today a Friday in 1822, Percy Jocelyn, the Anglican Bishop of Clogher, whose stipend was the then princely sum of £20,000, and guardsman John Moverley, went to the White Lion Public House St Alban’s Place in the Haymarket, London, and there in a back room were found flagrante delicti.
The good bishop originally a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, had also revived an earlier society for the reformation of manners, was eventually deposed.
He spent the rest of his days abroad avoiding justice, and living as a menial in Edinburgh, ending his days in Ireland, with the dubious accreditation of being the most senior churchman in the 19thc to be so convicted.
Acts of immorality were dealt with by Ecclesiastical Courts until Henry VIII’s 1533 ‘Acte for the Punishment of Buggerie’. The Act was replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1828, but continued to be a capital offence. (1)
The later 1885 Act was called the ‘Blackmailers’ Charter’; ten years later Oscar Wilde brought an action for criminal libel against Lord Queensbury (Sholto-Douglas), who had publicly accused the writer of ‘posing [as a] somdomite’. (sic).
It arose because Queensbury was angered by Wilde’s relations with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. As witnesses showed that Wilde had been involved in such activities, he lost his case was bankrupted and died penniless in Paris.
Queensbury who planned to disrupt the performance of Wilde’s, ‘Importance of Being Ernest’, by throwing a bouquet of rotten vegetables on the opening night at the St James’ Theatre in February 1895, continued to harass Wilde, who launched a private prosecution for criminal libel. However the trials and notoriety saw the play end a year later.(2)
Even as late as the early 1950.s homosexuals were persecuted: the scientist, Alan Turing was chemically castrated, later to commit suicide, whilst Lord Montague suffered imprisonment.
The 1885 Act was repealed in part by the Sexual Offences Act 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised.
History repeated itself in the second decade of the new Millennium when the Bishop of Gloucester was jailed for historic offences against juveniles, whilst the Catholic Church was embroiled in multiple cases concerning senior clerics.
(1) 25 Henry 8c 6.
(2) Opening night on 14th February 1895.
The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogen Hotel was made into a poem by John Betjeman. Wilde was convicted for two years with hard-labour in Reading Gaol.
A.H. Thomas’ Calendar of Common Pleas in 3 volumes of London 1381-1412. CUP. 1924-32 is the standard reference with a massive amount of information.
For the Rykener case he recorded the minimal example of 2 men charged with immorality one of which implicated several persons male and female of religious orders (p228).
The above to avoid copyright law, the authors had to transcribe from the original document and then translate into modern English from the Latin.
No authenticated portrait survives of the scientist Robert Hooke, though John Aubrey left a verbal description: ‘he was of middling stature, something crooked, pale-faced…but his head is large, his eye full and popping, and not quick…and a delicate head of hair…’
However what he lacked in looks he made up for in intellect as he was a true Renaissance Man: biologist, physicist, chemist, astronomer and designer and constructor of scientific instruments; irascible he had constant battles with Isaac Newton whom he said had claimed his ideas.
Today saw the birth at Freshwater, Isle of Wight of Robert Hooke in 1635 and when 30 years later his Micrographia was published, Samuel Pepys called it the ‘most ingenious book that I ever read in my life’.
It featured drawings of his observations under a microscope alongside verbal descriptions. ‘By the means of telescopes there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of microscopes there is nothing so small, as to escape our enquiry’.
The book was published by the recently formed Royal Society where Hooke served as the Curator of Experiments, but much of the knowledge of his life comes from his friend John Aubrey, a fellow founder of the Society.
He recorded that when Hooke was a schoolboy he had invented 30 different ways of flying, with Hooke remarking that,’contemplation must be postponed for a more convenient time’.
Hooke did much work on colour and put pigments and compounds under the microscope trying to understand the relationship between colours we see, and the external world; work which was to conflict with Newton’s work.
Hooke saw his work as collaborative and part of the pioneering generation helping to further the experimental and empirical science set down by Francis Bacon and Lord Verulam (Viscount St. Alban), of the previous century.
However Hooke was aware of the possibility that his work would be appropriated by others and his originality obscured, no doubt having Newton in mind.
Hooke, whose work on gravity mirrored Newton’s, is also known for his Law on Tension and measurement of time, died on 3rd March 1703 in pitiful circumstances. His health had declined and he was found in his room at Gresham College, living miserly in lice-ridden rags: a chest in the room contained coins valued at £1m in today’s value.
historytoday.com.Vol 53.Issue 1. March 2003. Richard Cavendish.
The Forth Road Bridge was opened in 1964; the relevant parliamentary Act was passed in 1947 and in 1955 even a tunnel was considered.
Today in 1981 the Queen opened the Humber Bridge, at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world. As always cost exceeded expectations at (£91 million) and was five years late. (1)
Here again plans had been considered decades before, in the 1930.s, with work begun in 1972.
Less than a 100 years previously, March 1890 saw the opening of the Benjamin Baker and John Fowler designed Forth Railway Bridge, at Queensferry near Edinburgh. (2)
‘The greatest feat of engineering that the world has ever seen’, boasted the Times on the day, but designer William Morris damned it as, ‘the supremist specimen of ugliness’.
The massive cantilevers of the bridge were built to withstand winds of the kind which destroyed the Tay Bridge on the 28th December 1879, then the longest in the world. It resulted in the use of ‘all-steel’ or wrought-iron in place of cast iron used on that bridge.
One of the ironies of history is that the designer of the Tay Bridge, Thomas Bouch was knighted in the same ceremony in 1879 as Henry Bessemer the man who had invented steel making in 1856. Six months after the knighting, Bouch’s bridge collapsed.(3)
The problem was that steel bridges were illegal in Britain at the time being regarded as an experimental metal. Twelve years after the Tay disaster, a collapse on the London-Brighton line brought a Board of Trade Report recommending wrought iron or steel for girders.
None of these bridges would have been constructed but for the skills of the main contractor Sir William Arrol founded in Dunn Street Dalmarnock, Glasgow in 1873, later to expand into cranes by acquiring the Parkhead Crane Works.
However they were acquired by Clarke Chapman, founded in Gateshead in 1864, which moved into crane construction. Dalmarnock closed in 1969. They went on to acquire boiler makers of Wolverhampton, John Thompson in 1970, and International Combustion in 1974, (4)
(1) The Official Handbook of 1974 records ‘A £26 million bridge across the River Humber with a span of 4,626 ft. (1,410 m.) longer than any existing bridge span in the world-is to be completed between 1976 and 1977. The towers are 510.ft.
(2) On 4th March 1890.
(3) Sir George Stokes (Bart), the physicist was involved in investigation of the Tay Bridge disaster and served on the Royal Commission on the uses of cast-iron as well as the Dee Bridge disaster in May 1847.
George Biddell Airy the Astronomer Royal had supplied stress statistics and was to be criticized as a result. Before 1878 there had been no bridge over the Tay. Had the bridge been made of Bessemer’s steel it might have survived the storm.
(4) Clark Chapman merged with Reyrolle Parsons who in turn were acquired by Rolls-Royce in 1989, who in 2000 sold out to Langley Holdings Ltd.
Any notions that Hitler didn’t want to invade these islands is dispelled by his War Directive No. 16, dated Today 16th July 1940.
It read: ‘Since England in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no sign of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation [Operation Sea-Lion] against England, and, of necessity to carry it out’.
‘The aim of the operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for prosecution of war against Germany and of necessity to occupy it completely’. This supports his earlier Directive of November 1939, which said, ‘the defeat of England is essential to final victory’.(1)
Before the outbreak of war invasion seemed highly unlikely, yet after a few weeks of German Naval activity in home waters the possibility of small raids or even a more substantial invasion began to seem less remote.
However in May 1940 the significant respite came when, on the brink of invasion, Hitler’s ‘Halt Order’ was given in support of General von Rundstedt’s request to halt the Panzers, which countermanded the order by the Wehrmacht’s C in-C General von Brauchitsch to stop short of the coast as he wanted to move on Paris.
Hitler was aware of the problems of the logistics of an extended supply chain consequent of the rapid movement of the tanks, so after 250 miles of advance there was a need to regroup.
Also he didn’t want to commit his armour to the Flanders marshes, it thus gave the Allies a 48 hour breathing space.
However by the 20th May the Germans were at the French coast and two days later the entire British fighter force of 300 planes were withdrawn from France, to operate from British bases.
By the 26th of the month, Lord Gort realised he was surrounded; the Belgians capitulated on the same day. ‘Siren voices’ urged Churchill to surrender, but he was convinced a rescue, ‘Operation Dynamo’, would succeed.
Within days the Germans were within 35 miles of Paris, the French government having moved to Tour..
By mid June, before the inevitable French surrender, Churchill proposed that France and Britain should become a single union with common citizenship, but time had run out.
The French finally surrendered on the 22nd in the same railway coach as that when General Foch had handed the Germans the Armistice terms in November 1918.
It was at this point that Churchill appealed to the United States to ‘bring her powerful material aid to the common cause’. Britain braced itself under General Ironside, in charge of Home Defence, to take on the might of Germany.
In 1974 a war game at Sandhurst with both British and German ex military came to the conclusion that if an invasion had happened it might have got as far as the Winston Line in southern England, and no further than the HQ Line further north.(2)
By this time the Navy which had been removed to Scapa Flow would now have been on station in the Channel and North Sea and would have in effect blown German reinforcements from the sea. The effect on the villages in southern England however would have catastrophic.
(1) Directive No 9 of 29.11.39.
(2) On Wednesday August 14th 1940 the Daily Telegraph reported: ‘69 enemy planes down in enormous raids’ and ‘Hitler making test for invasion’. An Air Ministry statement said, ‘that in the afternoon alone 500 were sent across in three waves and the RAF took a heavy toll’.
Also, ‘Enemy airfields on the invasion coast had been raided by the RAF. It appeared that according to authoritative sources that the raids were a test of Britain’s power in the air… without air superiority Hitler realises that invasion is not a practical proposition‘.
In Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) by Oscar Wilde it was said: ‘a cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’.
If cynicism is prevalent in the new millennium in Britain it reflects the many failings and problems experienced in many sectors of society, one of which culminated Today, St Swithan’s Day in 2011, in the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, Chief Officer of News International.
The previous Sunday the News of the World, one of the many papers of the Group, after 168 years, was unceremoniously closed down after the extent of the scandal of phone-hacking became apparent. This had involved journalists and editors of many companies, but also embraced the police, and on the social periphery, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron.
The respected journalist, Max Hastings, in the Daily Mail wrote: ‘Our great institutions are becoming tainted by venality and incompetence, where are the leaders of integrity when we need them‘? He went on:
‘The resignation of Brooks is part of a wider scandal involving senior police and Cameron’s government. It is the latest of blows which have been grumbling for years to explode with the banking crisis in 2008 revealing a catalogue of greed, general nastiness and incompetence’.
Then came the Parliamentary expenses scandal when MP.s were exposed in claiming thousands of pounds in bogus claims which was followed by the resignation of the Commons’ Speaker. The Civil Service no longer taking the cream of the intellects had no ‘Sir Humphreys’ to control the errant Ministers.(1)
The nexus between companies and employees has disappeared as big corporations become distantly owned, whilst the small employer flounders in rules and bureaucracy from the European Union (EU), as well as battling against the home-grown culture of ‘elf and safety’.
Local-Government spends money as though it has gone from fashion with salaries and ‘pay-offs’ for Chief and other Officers, where tenure changes with the wind. Where once local Councillors were public spirited and claimed modest expenses, now they have expanded into expensive ‘Cabinets’.
The National Health Service for many years held up as one of the wonders of post-war social improvement, now staggers from crisis to crisis, whilst the Judiciary have to interpret legislation against a backdrop of EU laws on bogus Human Rights.
Authority figures were once respected because they had, well… Authority; now its a case of top-down interference and it’s all about survival. Drugs, knife-crime and raids on post-offices are a daily occurrence, and that’s just in the Author’s ‘backyard’.
At least we are living longer and as always we make of life what we will and who would like to go back to the ‘Good Old Days’.
(1) Sir Humphrey was the senior civil-servant in BBC’s, ‘Yes Minister’.