9th August 1941. Phoney War and After.

The ‘Phoney War’ was that period until the fall of Norway in May 1940. Other names were Chamberlain’s ‘Twilight War’ and generally ‘the ‘Bore War’, before things began to get serious.

In 2001 a memorial was erected at Goodwood airfield (once Westhampnett) on the anniversary of Douglas Bader’s last flight Today on August 9th 1941 before his capture over France. (1)

After the ‘Phoney War’ ended later came the Battle of Britain which inspired Churchill to one of his memorable speeches, as quoted in Hansard 18th June 1940: ‘I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin and upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation’.

It began with raids on shipping in the Channel on 10th July 1940 and coastal ports, followed from August 8th onwards by an all out attempt to destroy Fighter Command in the air and far more successfully on the ground as on the 12th when airfields were attacked creating much damage and loss of life. It continued until the 19th when there was a lull with attacks on aerodromes when dockyards and munitions works were attacked.

Hitler’s tactics were to lure Fighter Command into the air over the Channel where he counted on his Messerschmitt 109s operating at short-range winning dogfights; the Air Ministry reckoning that 1,000 planes were being sent over Britain daily.

The Spitfire and Hurricane bore the brunt of combat in the Battle of Britain though the Me 109 was said to be superior, at higher altitudes.

Churchill paid tribute in the Commons on August 20th: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’. In fact in this memorable speech only six lines were devoted to the Few and it was a speech his private secretary thought ‘seemed to drag’, because it contained ‘less oratory then usual’.

Worse came on the 24th August when the Luftwaffe attacked the sector airfields vital to Fighter Commands organisation and to the whole strategy against invasion.

At this time Fighter Command lost over 20% of its front line pilots and six out of seven of the important sector fields became inoperable. Things had become so desperate that when Churchill asked what reserves we had, Air-Vice Marshal Park replied they were all in the air.

On Wednesday 28th August 1940 the Daily Telegraph reported night raiders over 21 towns which weren’t identified the previous evening; London had two raids with many ‘jocular comments on German punctuality’.

However Goering made a fatal mistake by changing his tactics to attacks on London on September 7th, which took pressure off the airfields which was ostensibly undertaken in retaliation for the Bomber Command ‘tit for tat’ raid on Berlin on the 25th, after bombs had supposedly ‘accidentally’ fallen on London.

Lest it be thought we were entirely on our own it must be remembered that 600 Poles and Czechs fought in the Battle of Britain. The forgotten Polish 303 Squadron comprising 150 pilots and ground staff and proved to be one of the most effective squadrons.

They had made it here via Romania and France to fight here, but were ill-served later when they weren’t invited to the Victory Parade for fear of upsetting Stalin and many met a tragic end back in Communist Poland. A Polish Memorial stands at RAF Northolt.

(1) Having lost his legs in December 1931 in an aircraft crash, Bader’s story was told in the 1950s film Reach for the Sky.

(2) According to Richard Overy’s ‘The Few’, in reality we had a narrow advantage over the Germans, for on August 9th 1940, before the Germans launched their offensive the RAF had 1,032 fighters, the opposition had 1,011. Moreover the RAF had 1,400 pilots, several hundred more than the Luftwaffe.


Much general work in public domain.





8th August 1996. Amorphous or Crystalline.

Sir Nevill Mott who died Today, shared the Physics Nobel Prize for his work on electrical structures of magnetic and disordered systems especially relating to semi-conductors. (1)

Solar Calculator with amorphous solar-cell (upper right corner). LCD or Liquid Crystalline Display.

Mott recognised the potential of exploring electronic conductivity of Amorphous (irregular) materials which might be used in electronics in the same way as Crystalline semi-conductors. He worked on solid-state physics before zooming in on Amorphous semi-conductors which are electronic switching and memory devices made of cheap, glassy materials instead of expensive crystals.

Amorphous Silicon is the non-crystalline form of Silicon used for solar panels being deposited in thin films on to a variety of flexible substrates such as glass, plastic and metal. However Amorphous Silicon Cells have proved to be generally of low efficiency.

So as a second generation thin film solar-cell technology Amorphous Silicon was expected to be a major contributor in the fast growing photovoltaic market, but lost significance due to competition from conventional Crystalline Silicon Cells and other thin-film technology.

Three different schematic, allotropes different (configurations), of Silicon (S): Crystalline; Amorphous; Amorphous Hydrogenated.

However Amorphous Silicon is the preferred material for thin-film transistors (TFT), elements of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) and X-Ray imaging.

Mott and others was to furnish the underpinning for engineers to create computer memories, copying machines, transister radios and pocket calculators. Even in retirement he was actively pursuing applications of his research into cheap production of solar energy.

Solar Panels displayed on a roof.

(1) Magnetic and Disordered systems relate to the order/disorder phase transition which occurs when on heating for instance melting ice undergoes transition from a sold to a liquid in the process losing its crystalline structure. Iron so treated loses its magnetism.

Semi-Conductors lie between conductors and insulators and control electrical circuits in electrical equipment-electronic chips and solid state device storage (solid components on printed circuit boards).




sunsigns.org/famous peoples’ birthdays.

5th August 1901. Going to the Pictures.

The Mohawke, Islington showed ‘The Rajah: Dream of the Enchanted Forest’, at the time, ‘the finest mystery picture ever placed before the public’. It was Today that the UK’ s first ‘cinema’ opened in 1901 in the Mohawke Hall, Upper Street Islington by the Royal Animated and Singing Picture Company. Admission was 6d and 3 shillings.

Mohawke Minstrels who entertained at the Mohawke Cinema.

In 1908 now called the Palace it became a full-time cinema having alternated with variety. It was later called Blue Hall in 1918 and finally Gaumont in1951.

The oldest cinema is disputed: The Electric in Birmingham opened its doors 27th December 1909 but like Notting Hill and the Ritzy in Brixton hadn’t continually operated as a cinema.

The Duke of York, Brighton opened 22nd September 1910 on a brewery site and Phoenix East Finchley opened 1910 as part of the wave of venues in the wake of the 1909 Cinematograph Act which dealt with fire-risk.

Founded in 1869 the Beaux-Arts style Agricultural Hall, by Frank Peck.

Some would cite March 1896 as the first film showing at the Empire Theatre, LeicesterSquare when the first commercial projected film by the Lumiere Brothers was shown, but this would have been an addition to Variety Acts and not custom built as at Central Hall, Colne Lane, Colne Lancashire in 1907.

The cinema in Colwyn Bay had its license in January 25th 1909 a year which saw in Brighton colour films screened for the first time. In 1910 the first Hollywood film was made called ‘In Old California.’ It was in this year that Swindon’s first cinema was opened on 11th February 1909 called the County Electric Pavilion Cinema, two years later the Arcadia.

The Gaumont-British Film Corporation in a bid to catch up with Hollywood with names like Gracie Fields who signed two-year contract worth £150,000 with Associated Talking Pictures, in 1935. By 1955 the Rank Organisation owned Gaumont. In 1936 England’s answer to Hollywood was the Pinewood studios opened at Ivor in Bucks by Rank.

The Odeon chain, founded by Oscar Deutsch, Odeon being an acronym Oscar Deutsch entertains our Nation. His first cinema was at Brierley Hill in 1925.The first under Odeon was at Perry Barr designed by Harry Weedon in the Maritime art deco style.

Cinema in the 1950s lost audiences to television and battled and gimmicks such as wide screen with names such as Vistavision and Cinerama. Even 3D was tried requiring viewing through special spectacles. Rank was to have closed 150 cinemas in the wake of falling attendance’

In 2009 the Clevedon cinema, near Bristol, the oldest continuously running and purpose-built cinema (though not the original building), was still running with patrons including Aadman animators and Tony Robinson amongst its patrons.

Originally opened by Victor Cox, on April 20th 1912 as the Picture House, then Maxime and Curzon of today. Originally using 35 mm film the first show in 1912 was for the Titanic victims. In 2010 the Phoenix East Finchley re-opened and re-furbished at a cost of £1m.

In the Author’s home town there were at least 5 cinemas in their heyday. Two notable was the art deco Ritz designed by John Fairbrother of Glasgow opened in 1935.

Ritz later Odeon in art-deco style.

Then another popular cinema was the New Picturedrome opened in 1931, later the Odeon.

Previous building was a skating rink.

In 2000 £54,000 was paid for a rare 1942 for a poster advertising Casablanca at Christies. It was in French and produced for use after the war in cinemas outside Paris.

The Burton art-deco cinema, the old Ritz, in 2022 was still awaiting to be developed as a restaurant, whilst the old Odeon went through various stages including a bingo hall, a sad end to these fine cinemas.




1st August 1746. Kilt and Battle-Dress.

In 1746 the Dress Act part of the Act of Proscription which came into force Today banned the kilt in Scotland but was repealed in 1782. However in 1804 the government contemplated abolishing the kilt again, but came to nothing after an outcry.

4th Regiment of Horse. 1687.

Later the Scottish Regiments were a law unto themselves with the ‘trews’ and various headgear and kilt; Wellington’s first Commission was in the 73rd Foot where he wore the kilt.

An account of Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1645 states: ‘The men are Redcoats all, the whole are distinguished by the several facings of their coats’.

However the vegetable dyes used until the 19th century the colours soon faded to pink or a muddy-brown. In WWI uniforms were stained with the dye from the old fustic tree (Maclura tinctoria), which has a bright yellow wood.

53rd Foot Uniform.

The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own) was formed in 1800 and employed as sharp-shooters, scouts and skirmishers and were distinguished by their green uniform as standard as opposed to red and were the first regular infantry corps in the Army to so equipped.

They wore close-fitting pantaloons not the normal breeches with black facings to the buttons and belts, not white, and wore a green plume on a stove-pipe shako.

Dress in the Navy for the lower-deck ratings was not formalised until until 30th January 1857. Officers wore the traditional ’cocked-hat’ descended from the tricorn, which was worn Napoleon-style athwart until the 1790s when the bicorn became fore-and-aft in the Services c 1800, a change coinciding with the front-peak.

Some form of bicorn was designed to be folded flat; the chapeau-bras. The bicorn was still used to WWI for senior personnel and continues today in ceremonial and HMS Pinafore productions.

On 18th June 1823 the British infantry were ordered to wear trousers instead of breeches, worn with coloured stockings, leggings or gaiters.

Grenadier 40th Foot. 1767.

Soldiers went to the Crimea in red and blue uniforms their cross-belts making handy targets for Russian marksmen. Scarlet was the colour of infantry-the redcoats; the last battle to be fought in this colour was the Ashanti War 1895-6.

The Duke of York as Commander in Chief in the 19thc: ‘His majesty has been pleased to approve of the discontinuance of breeches, leggings and shoes as part of the clothing of the infantry soldier, and of blue-grey cloth trousers and half boots being substituted’.

The Sam Browne belt was invented for the sword and pistol of the officer by Sir Samuel Browne VC., the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry after losing an arm at Scerporah in 1858.

The Sam Browne Belt.

The later Second Boer War was the first major war in which all British forces fought in khaki, being introduced for general service wear in 1902. Khaki had been worn much earlier however in the Punjab in 1857 by the 52nd Regiment (Oxford Light Infantry).

Broderick, Secretary of State for War, took some time to convince the future Edward VII that ‘the hideous Khaki’ would prove more serviceable than the ‘national red’ (red coats) which Cromwell had introduced.

1924 saw the beret adopted by the Tank Corps and in 1933 battle dress and gaiters were worn experimentally by the 2nd Battalion the Queen’s Royal Regiment at Aldershot. It wasn’t until 1939 that these became general service issues replacing the WWI tunic and puttees.

Maroon Berets worn by the Parachute Regiment 1944.





23rd July 2019. The Price of Gold.

The international nature of the mediaeval economy is seen when Edward III appointed George Kirkyn and Lote Nicholyn of Florence as masters of the English mint. The double Florin or double Leopard was one of three denominations of gold coins produced in the 1340s: Double Leopard, Leopard and Helm. The Leopard was half the Florin value; the Helm was a quarter. The Leopard shows an upright leopard wearing a banner, being a month’s salary for a worker.

Two sides of The Leopard Coin. Six have now been discovered. (Jan Starnes/Dix Noonan Webb).

The coins of Edward III were brought to mind when two rare coins, a Leopard and a 1351-2 Noble, were found by detectorist, Andy Carter, in 2019 at Reepham, Norfolk, dating from the time of the Black Death. They were declared Treasure at an inquiry at Norfolk Coroner’s Court Today Wednesday July 23rd. (1)

The Leopard was found bent in half, but otherwise in good condition. Picture by fakenhamtimes.co.uk

The Leopard was an attempt by the King to introduce a standard gold coin into England. Dr. Helen Geake archaeologist and Norfolk Finds Liaison Officer, said, ‘until then if you wanted to buy a cow or horse you needed a a pack of silver pennies but for some reason the leopard wasn’t popular being over-valued as gold versus silver’. The economic problem was the gold as bullion was worth more than the coin value so it was sent abroad and taken out of currency.

The Leopard of 1344 was 23 carats and 96% pure gold and minted at the Tower had a face-value of 3 shillings or 36 silver pennies. Two are now in the British Museum and one at the Ashmolean Oxford with two then in private hands. However its purity and softness meant it didn’t wear well in circulation.

After the Conquest coins were silver pennies and though the Treasury might talk of £ s d (pounds, shillings and pence), but in essence sacks of silver coins were the reality.

The Double Florin or Double Leopard.

Edward III’s attempt at gold coinage, thus was the Double Leopard or Double Florin, (regarded as one of the most beautiful gold coins ever produced) and its fractions. However this coinage only lasted 6 months and later withdrawn Today only 3 examples are known. (2)

The Double Leopard’s 14thc value was 6 shillings (72d); Leopard 3 shillings (36d), then Helm at 1 shilling and 6d (18d): ‘d’ being penny in old money.

As no gold coins were struck between Henry III’s 1257 gold penny and 1344, merchants used Italian or French gold coins showing the large international commerce of the time.

(1) Declared Treasure as it was over 300 years old and contained more than 10% of precious metal. Few survive as the coin was recalled after 7 months in 1344.

Nobles were struck after 1343, worth 6/8d (a third of a pound of 240 pennies) The Noble was split into halves and quarters and set to be the primary gold coin to and during reign of Edward IV (1461-70).

They were the first widely used gold coins of British Isles and became an international standard and related to Britain’s economic growth and emergence as a super-power.

(2) Two Double Leopards were found in the Rive Tyne by two boys in 1857, a third by a detectorist in February 2006 and sold later in that year.








North Norfolk News 24.6.2021. Stuart Anderson.

theguardian.com. Harriet Sherwood 2.3.2022.

Bullion By Post 21.6.2021 Mike Pinson

21st July 2010. Wheal Gorland.

Cornwall the source of Licronite and Kernowite.

The Wheal Gorland Mine was a metalifferous Cornish mine in the 18th and 19th centuries and contained a wide variety of uncommon secondary (affected by weathering), copper minerals. However the production of the mine was inconsistent due to the sporadic distribution of rich ore bodies and finally closed in 1909.

Wheal Gorland back in the day when it produced copper, black tin and arsenic.

In 1833 George Abbot reported that it made £300k profit and ranked third regarding profits behind Dolcoath Mine and Consolidated Mine. By 1865 Thomas Spargo was writing: ‘now part of S. Day United: idle’. In 1906 the Sheffield-based steel-maker Edgar Allen & Company re-worked the stopes and dumps for tin and tungsten, but it proved to be the mine’s swan-song.

It was Today in 2010 that a condition summary of the Wheal Gorland Mine decided, ‘that the site was in an unfavourable and declining condition as scrubland and vegetation were encroaching on the waste dump hindering excavation of the minerals for scientific study. This may affect the minerals with the formation of new soil horizons so affecting chemical processes’. In 1988 the site was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Wheal Gorland today.

Wheal Gorland made the news in the new century when it was found that a mineral, Licronite, which had been in the Natural History Museum (NHM), London since 1964 was discovered in 2020 to contain a new mineral named Kernowite after Kernow the name for Cornwall.


The new complex mineral has a formula: Cu2 Fe (AsO4 (OH))4 4H20, and is closely related to Licronite having iron instead of aluminium, making it green rather than blue.

Kernowite was discovered after analysis of rock minerals found in Cornwall c 220 years ago.


The discovery led by Mike Rumsey mineralogist at NHM made the discovery while studying a rock from Wheal Gorland which had always been thought to be variation of Licronite. Blue Licronite is especially highly prized.

The new mineral has finally received the seal of approval by the International Mineralogical Association.





Natural England.


bbc.co.uk/Johnny O’Shea. 23rd December 2020.

20th July 1852. The Demon Drink.

1667 Milton’s, Paradise Lost: ‘And when night darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons of Belial (evil spirit) flown with insolence and wine’.

Temperance was a big campaign in the 19th century with one prime influence being Sir Wilfred Lawson (2nd baronet), who moved for total alcoholic abstinence as President of the National League UK Alliance founded Today in 1852 and based in Manchester.(1)

However as the 19thc progressed beer consumption increased leading to the Temperance Movement started in Preston by Joseph Livesey and the ‘teetotalism’ speech of a follower John Turner. Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover) wife of Benjamin Hall designer of Big Ben who promoted all things Welsh including the language and national dress, was a a staunch Temperance Movement supporter and closed all pubs on her Monmouthshire Estates and established a Temperance Hotel.

Drunkard’s Progress. 1846. Walter Currier. ‘Moderate drinking can lead to total disaster step by step.’

‘Signing the pledge’ became widespread; the Band of Hope was founded in Leeds in 1847. Temperance Hotels sprouted. Sunday drinking in Wales and Scotland was banned and a self-help movement associated with Methodism and the Salvation Army. An early pioneer was Thomas Cook whose business was founded on using the Midland Railway to transport people from Leicester to a Temperance meeting in Loughborough.

The Liverpool UK Alliance & Band of Hope Union was founded by cotton manufacturer and member of the Religious Society of Friends, Nathaniel Card and originally called the ‘National League for the Total and Legal Suppression of Intemperance’, changing its name in 1942 to the UK Temperance Alliance Ltd and in 2003 to The All House Foundation.

One who later damaged the relationship between Tories and Liberal-Unionists and known as the ‘Brand of Caine’ was William Sproston Caine MP. Son of a metal manufacturer and a Baptist he was a leader of Temperance (26.3.1842-17.3.1903). So when licensees were compensated for the loss of licence on the reduction of pub numbers he resigned as chief whip and his seat.

The temperance movement gained ground again in WWI when in 1915 the King banned alcohol in the Royal Household and on the 30th March it was reported that he offered to give up alcohol as an example to the Vickers’ Carlisle munitions workers might be set if Kitchener and Haldane sign the pledge.

Churchill, Asquith (both bibulous).and Lloyd-George (though a light drinker) didn’t follow suit. It was as a direct result of these concerns, that in June 1916 the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) took over pubs and breweries in Carlisle, to continue well into the century.

(1) He was also wanted disestablishment from the state church, was against the Boer War and sought the abolition of the Lords.






15th July 1815. Surrender of a Tyrant.

There were many Napoleonic sympathisers in this country as they approved his attacks on the decadent French ancien regime, with many, such as Whig leader, the brewer, Samuel Whitbread, thinking that negotiation was preferable to battle; not unlike the 1938-9 scenario against the Nazis.

It was Today on 15th July 1815 that Napoleon surrendered to an astonished Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon at Rochefort. The blockade had made it impossible for him to leave France by sea and Britain was concerned that he didn’t flee to America. He was thus sent to St Helena where he died. (1)

After Waterloo (1815), Wellington and the Prussians under Blucher had advanced into France. Even if Napoleon had won at Waterloo it is unclear whether his grand strategy was sustainable. He had triumphed in battles without winning the war.

In 1794 we were ousted from Austrian Netherlands and from 1796 there was fear of invasion. In 1797 the French had attempted a three-prong attack via Wolfe Tone on Bantry Bay where he thought Irish would rise up, but weather defeated him. Further forays to Newcastle which he didn’t reach and the attack on Fishguard ended in farce.

The Spanish and Dutch were defeated at Cape St Vincent and Camperdown 1797 and after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of the Nile Aboukir Bay) in 1798, a vital sphere of British influence, there were fears that he was coveting British India and would take the Mascarene Islands in an invasion attempt.

Treaty of Amiens signed by Britain, France, Spain and Batavian Republic (Holland).

The Treaty of Amiens signed 25th March 1802, full of hope, but nothing else, as it lasted less than a year, was to bring no permanent peace, bearing in mind that France at the time was the largest and best-organised state in Europe with its population of 28 million, bursting with revolutionary dynamism. The Peace of Amiens left us isolated and France dominant with Spanish and Dutch support.

Napoleon’s 1804 invasion plans, as with the Spanish Armada and Hitler were defeated by weather. Napoleon realised that invasion by a fleet of barges was impracticable without temporary command of the Channel as the tides would not allow a quick concentration of flotillas.

Hence the Grand Design of 1805 to disperse the British fleets, which was foiled by First Lord of the Admiralty, the 80 year old Lord Barham’s correct strategy of concentration of naval force.

Midway between the Battles of Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815), a tiny fleet of French ships in the Indian Ocean began to attract attention in Britain, with danger to our possessions in the Cape of Africa and India, with Napoleon using his possessions of Ile de France (Mauritius), Bourbon (Reunion) and Rodrigues as their Gibraltar of the East.

The French thus seemed to be making a mockery of our European naval blockade by raids across the British controlled, East Indies Company’s trade routes.

The big worry now was that cargoes of high-grade saltpetre (essential for better gunpowder, shipped from India), and urgently needed by Sir John Moore in the Iberian peninsular. However 1808-9 encounted the worst hurricane season in living memory and one in four ships sank, with1200 lives lost- a loss to the self-styled ‘Grandest Company of Merchants in the World’ amounting to a staggering £2 million, which undermined Moore’ campaigns.

The other worry was fear for India. The lead up to the planned invasion of the Mascarene Islands was inauspicious: there was the ‘White Mutiny’ in the Madras Army and the Navy suffered its sole and ignominious defeat of the Wars at Ile de France’s Grand Port and the Commander-in-Chief of the invasion force was captured en route from India.

However the French squandered their advantage and when a British invasion force of 10,000 soldiers and marines landed backed by seventy ships, the largest fleet gathered in the Indian Ocean, the campaign was swiftly concluded. India was saved and the war in Europe led to Napoleon’s Waterloo.

After his defeat at Waterloo, Wellington was lauded by the nation and granted Strathfield Saye House, Hamps. Rented from the monarch this is redeamed by a French, small tricolour flag every June 18th, Waterloo Day, celebrated by a dinner held in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. Wellington never to lose a battle, later became Prime Minister and on his death and state funeral, was suitably interred to in the crypt of St Paul’s, London.

There is no doubt that Napoleon posed a threat as big as any in Britain’s history and defensive installations against the French were still being built here to the mid-19th century.

(1) A decision to build a war-memorial to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers successors to the Northumberland Regiment, later Fusiliers in 1836, when 5,000 British soldiers were killed, in 1812, at Badajoz, during the Peninsular War was opposed owing to supposed atrocities committed.







14th July 1349. Black Death.

Today in 1349 at the Bishop of Durham’s Halmote Court Leet (holmotum was a manor court), at Houghton, Lancashire, it was recorded that, ‘no one will pay the fine for any land which is in the lord’s hands through fear of plague; and so all are in the same way of being proclaimed as defaulters until God shall bring in some remedy’.

This was to be a repeated refrain in 14th century Britain in this 1st Bubonic Pandemic, in all courts in the land and revolutionary in its economic effects. Now the down-trodden peasantry now being in short supply were able to dictate their own terms which had the effect of creating a new class of self-employed, despite government measures to clamp down on this new-found freedom. (1)

Religious belief also took a battering as apart from the dire shortage of clergy, people’s perception of a loving God was to be replaced by one more circumspect and in some cases a more radical view of faith in that unscientific age.

Many chantries were built for the prayers of the rich and faithful departed, villages were deserted, the pestilence affecting the high and lowly: Joan, daughter of Edward 1st succumbed as did Anne of Bohemia, Richard II’s first queen in 1394.

Medieval man attributed plague, and all calamities, to God’s retribution; folk remedies proliferated including keeping a pot of pennyroyal herb by the backdoor to control the fleas.

The source of contagion was said to be the bobac variety of the marmot found on the Mongolian steppes, particularly susceptible to lung infection caused by the bacterium and spread by coughing, infecting fleas, rats and humans, resulting in the great plagues through Asia and Europe down the ages.

The Medieval Age was a time of constant battle against disease and plague in particular, which had the effect of moderating the population: by 1564 it had probably risen to c 3-5 million from its 14thc low. This was not surprising as society had to contend with measles, rickets, TB, scurvy, two types of smallpox, scrofula, dysentery, malaria, ’the sweats’ and spotted fever to mention a few.

Stow records that in the 1577 outbreak the Queen and Court fled to Windsor, whilst another bolt-hole was the area of the ‘Liberty of the Savoy’ an enclave owned by the Duke of Lancaster and the earl of Leicester appointed a bailiff to take charge against infection for those within.

Plague was to continue in a some sporadic form affecting all aspects of life as by 1594 only two patronised acting companies were still in existence: Alleyne’s Admiral’s and Burbage’s Lord Chamberlain’s with which Shakespeare was to spend his last years.

In the plague year of 1597 the itinerant Shakespeare’s Company was in Barnstaple and whether they all survived is conjecture for down the road at Lapford one Matthew Shorpsheire lost five of their six children in quick succession, and Matthew died in May. In Hertfordshire, sixty villages had disappeared.

The second Pandemic, was in 1665 after which it mysteriously disappeared. However though the 17thc outbreak was dire, its effects apart from mortality, were different compared with the 14thc which saw the gradual disappearance of the Feudal System and religious practice had been reformed in the 16th century.

Coburg Street, Glasgow, the centre of the outbreak. Glasgow City Archives.

In 1900, the Bubonic plague, known as the 3rd Pandemic, had appeared in the Glasgow Gorbals, and not until the following year, was the theory advanced by a German Dr. Robert Koch, that it may be due solely to rats, spread to people by fleas infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis.

36 were infected with 16 deaths in that isolated British outbreak in Glasgow.

(1) The population dropped by a third so by 1400 it has been estimated the country had c 2m inhabitants.

In 2000 a Channel 4 documentary suggested that the Roman Empire was badly affected by the plague in 547 and mentioned in the Annals of Wales as a ‘great mortality’. It is known from historians such as Procopius as coming from Africa along with ivory.

As a result of a volcanic activity at that time, the world’s temperatures fell and it was suggested that the flea in low temperatures suffers digestive problems making it look for any source of nutrient.








13th July 1937. Moth Balls.

Today the chemist Henry Edward Armstrong died in 1937 at Lewisham in his 90th year. Though largely unknown today, leaving school at 16, he was to make his mark after enrolling at the Royal College of Chemistry, London (now part of Imperial).

Armstrong was notable as one of the great pioneers of chemistry keen to encourage students to take up science by his support of the non-university technical establishments, a feature of late 19th century vocational education.

He gave impetus to synthetic dye industries by his study of the chemistry of Naphthalene derivatives having an acid named after him: the Armstrong Acid. Naphthalene is the simplest polycyclic aromatic organic compound derived from coal-tar.

A crystalline solid its pungent aroma can be detected at very low levels of concentration. Anathema to moths, as moth-balls, many back in the day, had to endure the not unpleasant aroma from the garments of elderly aunts.(1)

Later research was undertaken with Terpenes especially Camphor and he was instrumental in water purification which helped to eradicate typhoid fever.

Armstrong great contribution in an age when Classics dominated the public schools and ‘Oxbridge’ was to establish a three-year diploma course in chemical engineering, seeing the need for a more scientific frame of mind among Britain’s industrialists.

He was thus involved with the incipient institutions of The City and Guilds of London and was professor of chemistry at the Central Institute, both of which later became subsumed under Imperial College. Through his teaching many young people were to acquire an interest in the new science and technologies and so helped to lay the foundations of Britain’s modern production and its processes.

The City and Guilds since its inception on November 11th 1878 was the initiative of the City of London and 16 Livery Companies, developing a system of technical education to varying levels of competency. However as this was aimed at potential artisans and apprentices, there was never the prestige which these institutes deserved.

However the skills and rigour involved would knock many of the so-called university courses today into a ‘cocked-hat’, not just in the technical sense, but in the practical usefulness to a society which depends on making things. Not surprisingly many students went on to senior positions in many fields: in effect they were and are employable.

(1) (1) Armstrong Acid is (Napthalene-1-5 disulfonic acid) a fluorescent organic compound. (C10 H6 (So3 H)2, a colourless solid and like other sulfonic Acids is very strong.





gracesguide.co.uk/henry edward armstrong