‘A stamp is invented that putt upon every letter shewing (sic) the day of the month that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare detayne a letter from post to post, which before was usual’. Henry Bishop, Post Master General (PMG).
Today in 1661 saw the original London, Bishop Mark on letters, being a small circle 13mm in diameter bisected horizontally with two ‘serif’ letters for the month AP and 17 for date.
In 1673 the format became slightly larger with the month now in sans serif when a larger hand stamp came in; the circle now 14-20mm. The month was now in the lower and day in upper segments, to be replaced in 1787 with a double-circle.
Henry Bishop aka Bishopp or Bisshopp (1611-1691) PMG which Office had been preceded by that of Master of the King’s Post, had introduced the world’s first post-mark in 1661, known as the ‘Bishop Mark’ which showed the date the letter was received by the Post to ensure the despatch of letters was not delayed and were the first hand-struck stamps.
In 1660 Bishop had paid £21.500 to farm the Post Office for 7 years. Letters Patent were granted for this monopoly and was due to start on June 25th, 1660, but delayed to 29th September owing to the GPO being reconstituted for which he claimed compensation of £500.
One who held a quaint office in the Post-Office later was Thomas Moule antiquarian and engraver entitled Inspector of the ‘Blind’ (illegible letters) in the 19th century. He died at his residence at St James as he also held the sinecure of Chamber Keeper of the Lord Chamberlain’s Department.
By 1940, 38 million gas-masks had been issued despite the use of gas being prohibited under the Geneva Protocol.
Today in 1941 Churchill sent letter to his Secretary of State for War: ‘I remain far from satisfied with the state of our preparations for offensive chemical warfare, should this be forced upon us by the actions of the enemy…’
We had been prepared for on 27th Aug 1939 the Treasury had applied for £546,000 to develop a top secret chemical weapons plant at Rhydymwyn near Mold, Flint, north Wales. At the site atomic bomb and mustard gas research was undertaken. It was a prime site after Churchill had called on Imperial Chemical Industries to find a secret location to produce chemical weapons. Under the secret Tube-Alloys programme to develop a nuclear bomb the site was involved in producing weapons grade uranium.
By 1943 the Welsh site was employing 2,000 and producing at its height 40,000 mustard gas shells a week to be held in reserve. It was in that year that ironically saw the effects of mustard gas when off the Italian port of Bari on the 2nd of December the Luftwaffe struck one of the ships queuing to get into harbour.
Normally the casualties would have been heavy, but not so devastating as that which ensued for one American liberty ship, the John Harvey, was carrying, under the secret orders of Roosevelt mustard gas shells to be used in the event of enemy use. The resulting explosions caused the sinking of 17 ships and widespread contamination of the gas into the town and water where hundreds of sailors had been landed. (1)
Thus only by accident was mustard gas used in World War II, in distinction to its widespread use in the previous war 1914-18.
Like many of the secret sites of WWII Rhydymwyn is open occassionally to the public, now seemingly so quiet and harmeless in the north Wales countryside.
(1) One of the British sailors who did eventually survive was Tim Collins who was later Chairman of Morgan Grenfell. Daily Telegraph Obit. 29.10.2012. Tim Collins.
Tuesday 30th March 2010. BBC North East Wales. Nick Bourne.
Wikipedia site: Gas-masks.
The first edition of the Eagle Comic was issued today in 1950.
It was twelve years after the first Dandy comic in 1938. The Reverend Marcus Morris a vicar living in Southport, edited Eagle which rocketed comics into the 1950s, literally as the front page showed the lantern-jawed Dan Dare ‘Pilot of the future’. He, with his sidekick Digby, fought to restore peace in a galaxy terrorised by the green-skinned, bald Mekon. In its heyday it sold over two million copies a week.
It shot comic into super science fiction of an improving type. It ran a strip called Harris Tweed, Extra Special Agent by John Ryan later of Captain Pugwash fame. Tweed was a bachelor wannabe private-eye, based on bone-headed majors he had seen in the army. Frank Hampson did the artwork.
Eagle owed nothing to any comic that had gone before except in full-colour gravure printing which went back to Mickey Mouse Weekly, and designed for the boys of the space age. It set the highest standards in artwork and was the first comic to be launched by modern commercial methods. No 1 sold a million copies and was published by Hulton who also published the Picture post of the time.
The English genius for humour has been no better shown than in comics, which along with pantomime, has always had a slapstick quality. Many will remember Tiger Tim’s Weekly and Tip Top and Sunbeam.
The British invented the comic strip about 130 years ago and soon an artist J.F. Sullivan was producing comic strips which consisted of drawings with a verse beneath each picture or frame.
Artists in the early days saw the possibilities of comic strips but inhibited by the problems of reproducing drawings and relatively small circulations for such magazines and newspapers.
With the 1870 Education Act and new printing technology coming along the comic strip for mass consumption took off. Way back in 1874 the first comic, Funny Folks, came out it was for adults: the cartoons were political, the stories satirical, closer to Punch magazine then Beezer.
By the turn of the 20th century characters had attained the popularity of radio and TV today. Alfred Harmsworth anticipated the success of Coronation Street when he launched a series set in ‘Squashington Flats’. Published in Comic Cuts, like Chips, launched in 1890, the comic strip reported the deeds of Bachelor Boy, Miss Oldmaid, Frowsy Freddie and other characters.
Chips was printed on pink paper and had the good fortune to recruit Tom Browne the Nottingham born artist whose most famous characters were the tramp heroes Weary Willie and Tired Tim who might well have been based on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
It was probably Harmsworth’s Comic Cuts which set comics on the way to fame and at a halfpenny claimed ‘One hundred laughs for One halfpenny,’ finally folding in 1953 after 62 years.
The family of comic papers launched by Amalgamated Press included Funny Wonder on blue paper, Comic Cuts on white, Jolly Comic and Butterfly, light green and many others including Playbox. (1)
On 17th January 1920 the comic Film Fun was launched with a Harold Lloyd comic strip on its front page. Later Laurel and Hardy were to occupy front and back pages. The comic ran for 43 years until September 1962.
It had a stable mate produced by Amalgamated Press in Radio Fun featuring Arthur Askey and ‘Stinker’ Murdoch as a major strip running throughout WWII an event which caused the demise of so many comics owing to wartime newsprint shortages.
Radio Fun amazingly survived to 1960 (by which time few of its readers would have listened to the Radio).
The Author remembers receiving the first copy of Eagle and amassed many more, but sadly were later dispersed to my financial loss.
(1) Alfred Harmsworth later Lord Northcliffe from the profits of his ‘Answers to Correspondence’ financed Comic Cuts in the late 19thc.
Albion British Comics database wiki-Fandom.
It was today in 1929 that Mary Donoghue brought an action against mineral water manufacturer David Stevenson in a Common-Law case which was important in establishing the modern form of the Tort of Negligence. It was later to go to the Lords and a judgement and declaration by Lord Atkin on 26th May 1932, using a quote from Luke 10: ‘Who is one’s neighbour’? (1)
The above case established the rights of a third party as being protected by a ‘Duty of Care’, in tort, and that a remedy against suppliers of consumer products, in this case a fizzy drink, reportedly containing a snail, and so causing shock and gastro-enteritis to the consumer, can be expected, even though the complainant has no ‘Privity of Contract’ (participants to the contract) as between a producer and a shopkeeper.
Mary who was recently divorced, on a Sunday 26th August 1928 took a tram to Paisley with a friend and went into Mr. Minchella’s café and ordered a ginger beer, the last remnants of which contained the decomposed body of snail. She brought an action against Stevenson the manufacturer.
However he decided to ‘play the card’ of a previous case Bates v Batey and Co of 1913 when Bates had a bottle of ginger-beer explode in his face, but lost the case as while the manufacturer had a contract with the retailer who in turn had one with the consumer there was none between consumer and manufacturer. It was the Donoghue case which bridged the two.
It took until June 1930 for the Scottish Courts to rule that the case could proceed at all. The case went to the London Law Lords and five sat in judgement with a majority of three needed for the case to go forward: it was Lord Macmillan who cast in favour of Donoghue.
But action for damages never reached court as Stevenson promptly died and in December 1934 an out-of-court settlement for £200 ended the case. Such was the significance of the case initiated in Scotland that a memorial was erected in Paisley by Lord Chancellor Mackay of Clashfern and other Commonwealth lawyers.
(1) ‘Tort’ means civil wrong and is found in the 16thc., in Spenser’s, Faerie Queene xii 4: ‘Gainst him, that had them long opprest with tort’.
Today in 1957 a government Defence White Paper announced that the ‘call-up’ will cease at the end of 1960, a fact which passed by the 18 year old author of these words who was to be called to Waller Barracks, Devizes, Wilts., in November 1957.
The decision had been taken after a special Cabinet Meeting held at Chequers 23-24th February 1957 when the Tory Government declared intent was to end National Service as soon as practicable with no call-up later than 1960, the last to leave in 1962. (1)
Above shows members of RAPC for casual group photo-no berets- with wooden barrack-room ‘spiders’ in background.
Back in 1948 The National Service Act increased service from 12 to 18 months and thousands of ex-National Servicemen were recalled as Reservists for Korea (1950) and Suez (1956) by a Royal Proclamation (which was reserved for imminent danger rather than a Parliamentary Act).
However it has been said that the 1948 National Service Act made the legal basis for recall doubtful and men had served their time and got established either in work or higher education. Many refused to comply and mutinous activities arose in many camps with a consequent breakdown in discipline.
Many National Service soldiers were also duped into being guinea pigs for germ warfare tests at Porton Down, being told it was for research into the common cold, but later turned out to be tests involving the deadly germ Sarin.
Others were also used at Christmas Island in the atomic bomb tests. They were told to put groundsheets over their heads (they were only wearing shorts) and told to close their eyes. It is no surprise that after-effects and early deaths resulted. In 2009 the victims of the nuclear tests were granted the right to sue the Ministry of Defence.
In 1950 there was a 250,000 National Servicemen serving out of an Army of 440,000. Since 1945 nearly 3,000 servicemen have died in sixteen conflicts throughout the world, many of whom were National Servicemen. British troops were even fighting in Greece till 1948.
An example of the thinking of the Regular Army as late as 1954 was seen when a National Service candidate wanted a Commission in the Grenadiers was asked if he had a private income. Many national servicemen served in Hong-Kong and in 2000 documents released said Britain was resigned to surrendering Hong-Kong to Mao Tse-tung after the Communist victory in 1949 despite the objections of generals that the colony could be defended.
In 1957 the armed forces was 690,000 strong the highest in peacetime though half were conscripts which Field Marshal Montgomery thought vital to supply reserves in the Cold War.
After the Second World War, half the Army’s strength were National Servicemen, with Montgomery persuading Defence Secretary Shinwell it was essential. In 1946 the government announced 1.1 million would be in military service by 1947 from a wartime peak of 5.1 million.
The Defence Statement published in February 1946 determined the forces strength to fall from 5.1 million to 1.1 million by December 1946, and one million 1948 and 716,000 a year later.
However 31st December 1960 saw the last day for National Service call-up and by the time the last had left in 1963 some 2.3m had served as National Servicemen: 72% Army; 26% RAF and 2% in the Navy. About half never left Britain and about one twelfth saw active service.
By 2000 the strength of British services stood at: Army 109,000, Navy 42,000 and RAF 54,000: the Head of War Studies at Sandhurst said the British Army was smaller than at any time since the Napoleonic era, at 100,000 after Pitt’s 1757 Militia Act and 1793 conscription. (2)
The most senior service ranks employed were: 239 (Army), 124 (Navy) more than the ships they controlled, and 130 (RAF): chiefs always survive longer than Indians!
In March 2021 a Defence Review envisaged a future Army of c 70,000 bolstered by 30,000 Reserves.
(1) (PRO.AIR 2/14712 Development of Defence Plans by Ministry of Defence 22.2.1957.)
(2) By 2008 the International Institute for Strategic Studies quoted in ‘The Military Balance’ figures of: Army: 99,707 (115 battalions); Navy: 38,900 (40 ships); RAF: 41,920 (51 squadrons); altogether 180,527.
‘Clarkson’s, It was an obstinate hill to climb’: Wordsworth Sonnet
Today in 1760 Thomas Clarkson, one of the many unsung heroes of Britain was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
Largely unknown it was Clarkson and others who collected the evidence on what was happening on ships used by the trade-slavers, by hunting down ships’ captains and crew members and in the process built up a formidable dossier which was invaluable evidence for those responsible for pressing fo abolition in Parliament. The poet Coleridge called Clarkson a ‘giant with one idea’.
It was in 1783 that 300 Quakers pressed Parliament with its first Petition as being Dissenters they were denied becoming Members. These were the opening challenges to the Church in a twenty-six year campaign to stop slavery in the British West Indies. Bishop Porteous adopted other means through writing political initiatives and the sending of mission workers to Barbados and Bermuda.
In 1788 he supported the Slave Trade Bill from the Bench of Bishops and became leading advocate in the Church for the abolition of slavery encouraging Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay to secure the eventual passage of the Bill in 1807. Also Zachary Macaulay’s father wrote a pamphlet which helped to found the Anti-Slavery Society, and Harriet Martineau a later leader on the Daily News campaigned against the trade.
Clarkson was one of many notable members of the influential Clapham Sect which included Wilberforce, Hannah More, Henry Thornton, Bishop Porteous, Rev. Thomas Gisborne, Henry Venn (a descendant invented the Venn Diagram) Thomas Fowell Buxton the brewer. They were responsible for founding Freetown in Sierra Leone the first major British Colony, pushing for, for in Clarkson’s words: ‘Abolition of the slave-trade. and introduction of the Gospel’. (1)
Other Quakers who opposed slavery was William Allen, son of a silk manufacturer and Granville Sharp a self-taught law clerk who on one occasion served a writ on a ship’s captain who had chained a slave to the mast; then he spent three days in court arguing that the slave was a man not a chattel. The slave was freed, and from then on years ahead of the Wilberforce Act, any slave who set foot on English soil became a free man.
One of the ostensible reasons for the missionary Livingstone’s journey to Africa, apart from self-aggrandisement to be the first to find the source of the Nile, was to deal with the indigenous slave trade, though not averse to getting traders help when in trouble.
He is said to have been influenced by Buxton’s belief that the African trade could be destroyed by legitimate trading and the spread of Christianity, though one Mission had to be recalled because of the deaths of many members owing to disease.
Slavery and ill-treatment of the Blacks has come into focus with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, which is indisputable, but one is forced to be worried that militants have taken over the movement in their wanton destruction of all memorials to people who were eventually to become public benefactors. Like it or not what happened in the past in all societies can’t be expunged we can only learn from man’s inhumanity to man which has never been eradicated in all races.
(1) Thomas Buxton though an Anglican had a mother Anna Hanbury who was a Quaker and was to become a close friend of the Quakers Joseph Gurney and his sister Elizabeth Fry and Buxton was to marry their sister Hannah: moves for reform ran in families.
Many works in the Public Domain.
Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance lived up to her name: ‘nomen est omen’, (the name is the sign), as the long suffering wife who remained loyal to Oscar, the aesthete, even after being convicted of ‘committing acts of gross indecency’. Her friends recognised this as such when actress Ellen Terry wrote to her as ‘Dearest Constancy’.
Today in 1884 Richard D’Oyle Carte gave William Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan a contractual notice that a new opera would be wanted in six months.
The result was the operetta The Mikado which true to form was a satire on British politics and institutions this time in the disguise of an exotic setting in Japan. G&S were associated with current social concerns so just as Patience satirised Aestheticism, the Mikado whilst criticizing Government and Institutions in a foreign guise was helped in the task by the current fashion of all things Japanese which itself inspired much of the cult of the Aesthete through its art.
The Japanese culture was in the news stemming from the 1885 Japanese Exhibition in Knightsbridge, London and the opening up of the country to trade in the 1850s and 60s and the visit to the country by the designer Christopher Dresser who developed an Anglo-Japanese style perceived as an untouched medieval culture. Gilbert was to visit the Exhibition and acquired some of the staff to teach the actors about the culture.
It was the era of the London house Liberty’s who were selling eastern house-ware of carpets, ceramics and furniture and tallied with the new Walter Pater inspired philosophy of beauty, ‘arts for arts’ sake’, and taken up by William Morris in his designs which had a nostalgic idea to replicate medieval design overlain with Japanese flora, fans and flowing dress, inspired no doubt by Dresser who was also a botanist.
Aesthetic style was seen in ebonised wood with gilt, blue and white porcelain and overblown nature in flowers, tendrils and peacock feathers closely associated with Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Aubrey Beardsley. And all in an academic response and in opposition to the growing factory produced work as manufacturing grew with its associated self-made men and ‘vulgarity of the Great Exhibition.
It was an aesthetic notion taken up and personified by the well-heeled Oxford educated poet, critic and playwright Oscar Wilde (16.10.1854-30.11.1900) in a louch life style and seen in the poetry of Swinburne, the art of Whistler and some of the Pre-Raphaelites such as Holman Hunt
Predecessors in this idealised Romantic vein could be counted poets Keats and Shelley and later devotees of the Oxford Aesthetes as opposed to ‘Hearties’ were Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, A.E.Housman and Antony Powell, so well described in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.
Pretentious, foppish behaviour attracted Punch cartoon satirists in the 19thc notably George du Maurier in Punch: ‘Perils of the Aesthetic Cult’ (10th May 1879), and ‘Nincompoopiana’ (20th December 1879) and others in the 1880s parodied the style of Mr Cimabue Brown, Soulful Aesthete and her protegees Wildean Maudle and Postlethwaite.
Aestheticism conveyed refined sensuous pleasures with went against the ‘moral rectitude’ of the times with its sentimentalism therefore did not accept Ruskin and Matthew Arnold with their notions of Utilitarian conception of Art as something moral or useful; there was no didactic purpose, the only necessity was Beauty.
Burne-Jones painted aestheticism; Kate Vaughan danced it; ‘Souls’ attempted to live it; humorists caricaturised it and Philistines thought it morbid and unwholesome; it eschewed heartiness and was essentially a painters’ movement with the likes of ‘Golden Stairs’ of Burne-Jones the defining picture of Aesthetic Movement a reaction against the anecdotal, sentimental and morally sententatiousness of early Victorian Evangelicalism.
The opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street near the Royal Academy in 1877 was a show-piece for the movement with its marble, gilt and ‘greenery-yallery’ silk walls and pictures of Edward Burne-Jones, Whistler, Albert Moore and G.W. Watts. At the opening Wilde turned up in an outfit shaped like a cello. In the 1890s.
A Private view at the Royal Academy 1883 by William Powell Frith is a satire of flowing dress with Oscar Wilde in the centre of admirers, who was to die in illness and poverty in France after a gaol sentence at Reading for his ‘association’ with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). A sad end for a brilliant scholar and wit.(1)
(1) Where he wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol.
Franny Moyle Constance: The tragic and scandalous life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (Murray). Fiona MacCarthy, The Guardian, Saturday, 26.3.2011 The last pre Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination.
Richard Hooker, Thomas Cranmer and Matthew Parker were the founders of Anglican theological thought, but it was Cranmer’s conviction that Christ exists in faith, not in material symbols which was to pave the way for reform to Protestantism. However it was reform only to benefit the Elect who were to receive sacramental signs and Grace as Justification by Faith and Predestination were central to his ‘loving’ theology.
Cranmer’s star had risen with the reign of the Protestant Edward VI which saw the 1549 Prayer Book which was to prove short-lived as within a month of Mary’s accession in 1553 it was banned.
His arrest and execution Today in 1556 as an heretic under Queen Mary was to avenge his part in her mother’s divorce, having survived in 1543 a plot from five Prebendial Canons and a monk at Canterbury to oust him as archbishop in the Prebendaries Plot as an heretic for his reforms which were to prove eventually unstoppable.
Cranmer had appropriated Continental notions in reform following in the path of Luther which rejected all ideas of sacrifice and transubstantiation in the Mass, ”That they may be unto us the body and blood’.
To Cranmer bread and wine would represent the body and blood which can only be received spiritually.
However in matters theological as elsewhere things never stay the same and after the tumultuous 16th century opposing views saw the Laudian reform of the 1630s resulting from Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (1633-45) who made an early attempt to do what Newman achieved in the age of Victoria; to make the Church of England more sacramental, partly by more ceremony an attitude reflected in church furnishings.
However it was not Laud on his own for Richard Neile (Bishop of Durham 1617-28) gathered round him the Durham House Group (named after the Bishop’s London house), which included John Cosin, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge and then Bishop of Durham from 1660 until his death in 1672. Laud’s execution in 1645 indicates the opposition the 17thc movement encountered.
The Laudian practices in the 1600s which would have seen themselves as successors to Richard Hooker the Elizabethan architect of Ecclesiastical Polity: ‘O Worship the Lorde in the bewtie of holiness’, Hooker urged, quoting Psalm 96. However it seemed not beauty but idolatory to opponents of the Laudian movement, and many were persecuted for opposing Laud. (1)
The Puritan opponents of John Cosin Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge and Bishop of Durham 1660-72 in a lawsuit claimed that the people of Durham were being ‘inveigled and begiled by your Popish baits and allurements of glorious pictures, and Babalonish vesturs, and excessive number of wax-candles at one tyme and especially the horrible profanation of both sacraments with all manner of musick’.
This legal assault on the ceremonialists backfired on the instigator; Peter Smart who was imprisoned when he refused to pay a fine imposed during a tangle of litigation, but got his own back in the Civil-War and gave evidence against Cosin who had to flee into exile. However the episcopacy survived to the Restoration and Cosin returned to Durham to build a font cover to rival the Albert Memorial. Furnishings reflect belief and some of the Laudian changes survive such as Laudian rails round the altar.
If one views Christian notions of sublimated sacrifice which still obtains to the present one can hardly not view it as one stop away from pagan practices existing to the dawn of history and no papering over cracks can remove these horrific associations so benignly accepted in the comfort of the modern pew.
(1) A Statue to Richard Hooker by Alfred Drury RA is on Exeter’s Cathedral Green.
‘Politics is the paradise of voluble windbags‘: (G.B. Shaw).
Harold Wilson, politician, economist and sometime statistician at the Ministry of Fuel and Power announced Today his resignation as Labour Prime Minister. It is ironic that Wilson who did brilliantly in his exams in economics should have suffered so much from failing to control the turbulent economic times of his period in office.
Born in Huddersfield on 11th March 1916 to an industrial chemist he became one of the major Labour leaders of mid-20th century politics. In his last period of office he chose not to live at Downing Street, which must have pleased his wife who previously used to disappear to a friend’s for champagne and bed to escape the Downing Street ‘Hot House’.
It was in January 1963, after the right-wing Hugh Gaitskell’s death, that Wilson, who had challenged for the leadership two years before, that he became Labour’s youngest leader, much to the disgust of the ebullient George Brown who had defeated Wilson only a few weeks before for the Deputy Leadership.(1)
Wilson had come to power determined to see change, ‘forged in a technological revolution’, to substitute merit for the ‘grouse moor’ image of his predecessor, Macmillan and to end restrictive practices,
Labour won the October election 1964 by a small margin gaining 317 with the Conservatives 303 and the Liberals nine and so had to return to the electorate two years later when he achieved a 97 seat majority.
Wilson made pragmatism into an art form, his technologically fuelled miracle never happened as the old traditional industries collapsed under foreign competition despite government subventions. Statutory trade union reform was aborted under his first government when a voluntary income policy seemed set fair, though modest social reforms were achieved and he united the party after the infighting of his predecessor Gaitskell.
Wilson assumed he would win in 1970 backed by the polls, but he surprisingly lost to Heath, but in the February 28th 1974 election with 301 seats and Tories with 297, had no overall majority even though the Tories had more of the popular vote. (2)
Heath tried to cobble an agreement with Thorpe’s Liberals, but four days later admitted defeat. In the 2nd October 1974 Labour was returned with a 3 seat majority. Heath blamed Sir Campbell Adamson sometime Director General of CBI for contributing to his defeat, after making some off the cuff remarks about what he saw as the failings of the Industrial Relations Act.
Wilson’s final two years coincided with two turning points in politics: the replacement of Heath by Thatcher and the Benn campaign to set Labour on the road to socialism. However a referendum did confirm our entry into the then Common Market, which Heath had signed in 1972.
Why Wilson resigned at 60, an age when Churchill was not yet Prime Minister, is speculative. He had told his wife he would go at 60. Later it was revealed that the onset of senile-decay was responsible. He had simply worked himself out; he sadly told his last private secretary that in the 1960s he had twenty ideas in the morning, now he had few fresh ideas and his famous memory was fading.
However Wilson had told Labour Minister, Barbara Castle in March 1976 that he had told the Queen when he took office of the date. He later had an operation for stomach cancer and on awaking according to his wife Mary who told Joan Lestor Labour MP (as recorded in The Benn Diaries), that he thought he heard three surgeons discussing that he had received too much anaesthetic, to which his memory loss was attributed.
There was also some talk that some aspect of his private life was about to surface or that he was ducking some fresh economic horror round the corner, possibly a collapse in the pound. Then MI5 had for some time had him on their files under the name of Norman Worthington. Not surprisingly he was paranoid about bugging, being convinced that a hole in the wall behind Gladstone’s portrait in the Cabinet Room contained a listening device.
A Committee later set up under Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Hunt, by Jim Callaghan (then Prime Minister) found no evidence of a plot against Wilson, but suggested there were some malcontents who might have had a grudge. Wilson saw intrigue everywhere telling the Commons in March 1976, that Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, who was embroiled in charges of attempted murder, was being smeared by private agents representing South African business; Labour were about to seek Liberal support in the Commons!
Wilson’s last years were sad in that he had to survive on a pension of £28,000 and he needed friends to organise round the clock attendance. In fact he was lucky to survive to see retirement as back in August 1973, as revealed in the 2007 Daily Telegraph obituary of Paul Wolff (a distinguished mechanical engineer), that he saved Wilson from drowning at his favourite resort in the Scilly Islands. It appears that Harold was seen clinging to the side of a motor launch and being tubby couldn’t haul himself aboard.
(1) ‘Poor Mr. Gaitskell’, (said Macmillan) ‘always seems a little conscious on these occasions that he has no medals.’ Harold Macmillan, PM until 1963, divided people into ‘sword’ and ‘gown’), wrote in his diary on the day of the Cenotaph service in 1960.
(2) Wilson’s ‘Inner Cabinet’ flying under two names (Parliamentary Committee and Management Committee) was to survive until 4.00 pm Friday June 19th 1970, when it was apparent that Labour had lost the election.
The Benn Diaries.
Daily Telegraph Obituary 2007.
Many sources in public domain on Wilson et al.
Isaac Reckett (1792-1862) a pioneer of consumer goods died Today after founding a company which later became Reckett Benckiser now one of the largest companies producing household products.
Isaac started milling in Boston, Lincs., with his older brother, before moving into corn milling in Nottingham on his own. Isaac then acquired a starch-making business in Hull in 1840 diversifying into black-lead (for grates) and washing blue (known as dolly-blue), which improved the appearance of textiles, especiallyl white fabrics, in laundering, where a trace of blue (often ultramarine or Prussian Blue), was added. (1)
Up until then white fabrics acquired a slightly yellow or grey hue after use and since blue and yellow are complementary colours in colour perception, by adding a trace of blue this makes fabrics appear whiter. However it was not permanent so each wash required this colouring; a principle later to find favour with mature ladies with their hair rinses.
Reckitts Crown Blue was produced at Hull and Dolly Blue was made at Backbarrow at the Lancashire Ultramarine Company which suffered a disastrous fire in 1913.
Reckitts bought out the owner of Backbarrow, a Mr King who had acquired the old cotton works in 1895, in 1918 and once a major exporter to the Empire. By 1929 the company was Reckitts Colours and by 1981 had become Reckitts Coleman.
Backbarrow complemented Reckitts at Hull, but forced to close after the introduction of washing machines in the 1960s, with a new range of detergents, the bases of these new products being made at new Marchon Works at Whitehaven. These used a tiny secret ingredient to produce the well-known Daz, Fairy, Omo, Persil and Surf powders to be much advertised over the years as ‘whiter than white!’
The Backbarrow factory required a tall chimney to carry away the noxious fumes as the artificial lapis lazuli was made from bones, china-clay, coal (for pitch), coke, feldspar, silica, soda-ash and sulphur. The workers were so covered in blue dye that they later had special buses for those living in Ulverston.
Today Reckitts Benckiser products include: Calgon, Dettol, Harpic, Vanish and a multitude of other household products, a testimony to Victorian enterprise.
(1) Blue powder was recorded as used by laundresses in 1618 and ultramarine blue pigment, originally lapis lazuli, was recorded in 1686 according to the OED.
Backbarrow Ultramarine Works Company. Edited version of article by Mike Davies in CIHS Bulletin. Dec 2000.
Reckitts. Basil N 1958. History of Reckitts and Sons Ltd. A Brown and Sons p.75.