Archive by Author | colindunkerley

16th December 1773. It Was No Tea Party.

The demonstration known to history as the ‘Boston Tea Party’ took place Today in 1773 when the Sons of Liberation against British rule and taxation in America, and with a few dressed as Mohawks, tipped tea into the harbour.

Three ships of Enderby and Sons of Greenwich. had come in from England, the Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver, and were riding at anchor carrying 340 tea-chests of the East India Company weighing 90,000 pounds and worth about £9,000, 

1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier of the destruction of tea at Boston Harbour.

The export of tea to New England was often made in the vessels of Samuel Enderby and Sons a whaling and sealing company founded c1775. In return the Company despatched much in demand whale oil to England.

One ship for the return cargo at the time of the troubles was the Britannia which had Thomas Melville as captain, whose grandson wrote Moby Dick, in which the Enderby’s are mentioned. There is an Enderby Land in Antarctica where the Enderby Company was involved in whaling.

The import and export of Tea had become big business after it  was made fashionable by Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, an invitation to a ‘dish’ of tea becoming for the rich a treasured social occasion. Samuel Pepys, the diarist recorded drinking a ‘cupp of tee’(sic) for the first time in 1660, the year of the Restoration of the monarchy.

In  1767 Chancellor, Charles Townshend had introduced taxes on the import of Tea along with glass, paper and dyestuffs.

A Tea Act had passed the British Parliament in May 1773 the receipts of which it was thought would help  the payment for defence against the France and for the American Colony’s administration. (1)

In 1784 duty on imported tea to England was cut from 119% to 12.5% thus making it a less exclusive beverage.

The Term ‘Boston Tea Party’ was not used at the time of the tea confiscation and is probably a term introduced by Victorian historians. Also few of the Sons of Liberation were disguised as national Mowhawk Indians: history is full of such false assertions.

Three years later the American War of Independence started in earnest.

(1) The Tea Act was passed on 10th May 1773.





15th December 1969. The Grasshopper Bank.

Today in 1969 was the day appointed by Act of Parliament for the merger of Martins Bank with Barclays. (1)

The Bank’s origins are said to lie in the 16thc and having as its sign the Grasshopper was known as the ‘Grasshopper Bank’.(2)

The Martin Family were early London goldsmiths and in 1558 Richard was elected a liveryman of the Goldsmith’s Company later becoming Master of the Mint and Lord Mayor.

Apostrophe dropped in 1918.

HQ building, Liverpool.







The Bank went through many titles: Martin, Stone and Blackwell and Martin, Stone and Foote before in 1918 being acquired by the Bank of Liverpool (founded in 1831), becoming Bank of Liverpool and Martins and simply Martins in 1928.

Its HQ was in Water Street, Liverpool in a building by Herbert Rowse which opened in 1932 and was considered among the best Classical Revival buildings in the country.

Mobile Banking 1948.

Drive-thru’ banking 1959.





In World War II Martins housed the bulk of English gold from the Bank of England. Women were expected to leave on marriage and up to 1965 men were allowed to marry only when having achieved a certain salary level.

Martin’s was a bank of many innovations with drive-through banks (in Leicester) (1959); cash-machines in 1967 and Epsom (1969) and many of its forms and processes were later adopted by Barclays as being more advanced.

Also between 1958 and 1967 they had in-house banks at Lewis’s Stores, as Lewis’s Bank, and also in Selfridges. Those in Lewis’s were sold to Lloyds in 1967 and set to last until the 1980s.

Martins Bank history gives an insight into how a relatively small bank can be a leader in innovation but can still finally be swallowed by a larger one.

(1) In 1968 the Monopolies Commission vetoed a merger between Lloyds, Barclays and Martins.

(2) The Logo has been associated with Sir Thomas Gresham the Tudor financier who also had a grasshopper sign but showing a different crest.





14th December 1264. Early Parliament.

The double root of the English parliament goes back to the Anglo-Saxon Witan and the Anglo-Norman Magnum Concilium and by the 1240s development of the notion of a king in parliament is seen. 

Henry III. Westminster Abbey c 1272

Thus kingship had changed from the days of a be-crowned Conqueror meeting his magnates and foreign ambassadors in the King’s Council at Winchester, Westminster and Gloucester over the Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas periods.

The first recorded use of word ‘parliament’, by Henry III, was at Merton Augustinian Priory Surrey in 1236. It resulted in the first Statute that of Merton allowing the Lords of the Manor to enclose Common Land, provided that pasture was left for tenants.

Parliament meeting on 27th January 1254 was the earliest recorded of Knights being summoned as representatives of individual counties along with the attendance of the lower clergy. Ominously it was notable by Simon de Montfort’s opposition to the King’s demand for a subsidy.(1)

1254 saw two parliaments reflecting a need for money after the King had departed the previous year to Gascony to combat the threat by Alfonso X of Castile, leaving the kingdom in the hands of his wife Eleanor of Provence, and his brother Richard of Cornwall, soon to be exiled to France.

Ten years later, in December, with the threat of invasion from Eleanor supported by the French king Louis, a parliament was summoned Today by someone other than the king, namely the rebel Simon de Montfort, in year when England came nearest to the abolition of the Monarchy before the Commonwealth Period 1649-60.

de Montfort. Clock Tower, Leicester.

However the date gave little time for attendees as the de Montfort parliament met on the 20th of the following month.  Held at Westminster Hall, London it can be construed as the first gathering to be defined as a parliament we might todayrecognise. It was set to continue until mid-March.

It comprised two knights from the shires and two burgesses from the boroughs, elected locally, who now joined barons, bishops and abbots of the Great Council and dictated by the Earl of Leicester, de Montfort’s need for financial and military support.The presence of these newcomers was required primarily to consent to taxation.

The Earl of Leicester whose star was once in the ascendancy was to meet his Nemesis a year after his parliament at the Battle of Evesham; monarchy had survived.


(1) The Parliament was summoned on 14th December 1253 and not dissolved until 15th February 1254 and proceedings were reported to Henry in a letter of 14th February 1254.


English Parliaments in Middle Ages. MUP. Holt 1999.

13th December 1939. Battle of the River Plate.

The first naval battle of World War II took place in the South Atlantic off the River Plate near Uruguay, the adversary being the German ‘pocket’ battleship the Admiral Graf Spee which had been in the waters since pre-war involved in commerce raiding.

Achilles from Ajax during battle. Note charred paintwork on gun-barrels.

One of the hunting group sent by the Admiralty was Force G comprising 3 cruisers: the York Class, HMS Exeter (8inch guns) with the Leander Class, Ajax and HMSNZ Achilles (6 inch guns). The force also included the County Class, Heavy Cruiser, HMS Cumberland which happened to be at the Falklands undergoing repairs.(1)

HMSO chart of engagement.

Action took place Today, a Wednesday in 1939, as the British squadron, commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood was on patrol near the mouth of the River Plate when at about 6am a German vessel was sighted.

HMSNZ Achilles.

The British vessels immediately attacked the ship which proved to be the Admiral Graf Spee which had been preying on allied shipping in the waters.

She immediately returned fire on the Exeter and after one or two ineffectual salvos scored a direct hit. She then concentrated another turret on the Ajax and Achilles, but so skilfully were they manoeuvred that they avoided being hit. However before long the Exeter was reduced to one gun and forced to withdraw from action.

Painting of Exeter (front centre); Achilles to the right and Graf Spee in distance.

Although the German ship’s armaments were half as much again as the combined three British ships, Ajax and Achilles harried the German ship with such effect she was forced to seek refuge in Montevideo Harbour, Uruguay, in a seriously damaged condition.

HMS Ajax.

However by international law a belligerent ship cannot stay in a neutral port for more than a specified time so all eyes were now on the Graf Spee to come out and rejoin battle. 

On the evening of the 17th December she did venture out, not to seaward, but to the west and shortly after 8pm two violent explosions saw a massive flash of flame.

The ship was blotted from view by a dense cloud of smoke as she crumpled, a mass of twisted steel, after being scuttled by her commander Captain Langsdorff; it was later revealed his main purpose had been not only to avoid unnecessary loss of life, but being a gallant officer he was unable to endure the shame at the loss of his ship. Langsdoff shot himself two days later.

(1) The New Zealand ship flew its new flag for the first time in battle.

12th December 2006. Premier Baron.

A Geoffrey de Mowbray (from Montbrai in Normandy), bishop of Coutances was advisor to William the Conqueror.

Today in 2006 the premier baron of England, Charles, 26th baron Mowbray Segrave and Stourton died. He was one of the few hereditary peers appointed by Prime Minister, Tony Blair to serve in the 1999 reformed House of Lords. (1)

In a Lords’ debate in the 1970s Lord Noel Annan recalled how in 1623 Lord Chief Justice Crewe lamented the passing of England’s old nobility: ‘Where is Bohun, where’s Mowbray, where’s Mortimer, nay which is more and most of all where is Plantagenet. They are all entombed in urns and sepulchres of mortality’. To which the gallant Mowbray, ‘responded here is a Mowbray’.

William de Mowbray, a Lincolnshire and Yorkshire landowner was one of the barons in 1215 at the signing of the Magna Carta at Runneymead with the barony of Mowbray and Segrave being created in 1283 by writ of Summons to Parliament by Edward I. The barony of Stourton was created in 1448 for a Treasurer of the Household of Henry VI.

Charles’ parents separated in 1961 with Mr Justice Marshall saying about his father; ‘he had the badge of an egocentric and reduced his wife to a near wreck’. Charles Mowbray married Jane Yarburgh Bateson daughter of 5th Lord Deramore who lived at Allerton Yorks.

Allerton, later became the most important Gothic Revival building in England becoming the home of 17th baron Stourton in 1805.(1)

Allerton, 1868 from County Seats of Nobles and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. Francis Orpen Morris.

The family acquired Allerton Park, Yorks., regarded as the most important Gothic Revival homes in England having replaced an earlier building.

Allerton Mauleverer near Knarsborough Yorks, was formerly a Benedictine Priory founded by Richard Mauleverer in Henry II’s reign which was bestowed on King’s College, Cambridge.

The Lords Stourton side of the family came from Stourton in Wiltshire and flourished pre-Conquest in fact one who opposed the Conqueror was Botolph Stourton.

Sir John, soldier and statesman in the reign of HVI was elected to the peerage on May 26th 1448 and was to build a house at Stourhead on the proceeds of loot from the French wars.

There is a recumbent effigy tomb monument to the 5th Lord Stourton at St. Peter’s Stourton.

Lord and Lady Stourton 1536 tomb effigy.

Stourhead was home to the Stourton’s until 1714 when it was acquired by the Hoare family in 1717.

(1) In 1786 Frederick, Duke of York (the ‘Grand old Duke’ of York), brother of George IV lived there.



11th December 1906. Dreadnoughts.

A new and more powerful type of naval ship introduced in World War I was the Super-Dreadnought comprising four of the Iron Duke Class and named after the first 1906 HMS Dreadnought. Now any pre-Dreadnought ships, considered as less effective, were allocated secondary roles.

The first ship named HMS Dreadnought was commissioned into the Fleet Today in 1906 only 15 months after being laid down. The first of its kind it was so highly regarded it became the generic term for the later ‘Super-Dreadnoughts’.

The 1889 Naval Defence Review introduced the concept of British equality with both France and Germany combined, but by 1903 Britain concerned about a German war and a German fleet had built Rosyth Dockyard resulting in Britain’s having 42 battleships against France’s 19 and Germany’s 12.

HMS Dreadnought 1906.

However by 1909, there was a realisation that Germany would soon overtake Britain, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Reginald McKenna told MPs that the Government had underestimated German Naval strength and that thirteen German Dreadnoughts might be completed in 1911 alone on top of those already in service.

Parliament agreed to build new cruisers and heavily armed destroyers along with six Dreadnoughts, but the Navy would still have only eleven of these ships by 1911.

However by now a new driving force arrived on the scene with Churchill now as First Lord, and concerned about German militarism, and from the Admiralty Yacht Enchantress badgered and immersed himself in understanding the needs of the Admiralty. 

The Dreadnought HMS Iron Duke.

Churchill proposed a new fleet of five super-Dreadnoughts that would boast a battery of eight 15 inch guns each firing a 1,920 lb shell. Enlarging the guns meant enlarging the ships and thus cost, and there was now little time for trials.

When the guns proved successful he turned to protection against the new torpedo and increase speed; first they would be protected by 13 ½ inch thick steel armour and the speed needed to be 25 knots to give any superiority.

On 12th October 1912, the Royal Navy’s ‘Iron Duke’ had been launched which was the largest and most powerful of the Dreadnoughts: by 1914 on the outbreak of war, the British had twenty-four Dreadnoughts to Germany’s seventeen, all fated to meet in the Battle of Jutland.


The Iron Duke Class (named after the Duke of Wellington) replaced the George V and was superseded by the Queen Elizabeth.

The Iron Duke once the Flagship of the Fleet, was scrapped in 1946.

10th December 1626. Gunter’s Chain.

Today in 1626 mathematician, geometer, clergyman and astronomer Edmund Gunter died.(1)

Typical of the polymaths of those times, and later, Gunter was responsible for devising numerous items of technology which were to advance measurement techniques which were to last well into the future. These included the back-staff, the astrolabe and cross-staff.

He also invented the first analogue computing devise in 1620 to calculate aspects of logarithms and probably the best, and most used, the Gunter Chain, a distance, surveying measuring chain with a 100 links.

Gunter’s first slide-rule.

Gunter’s Chain could now be used to measure land plots legally and commercially becoming the basic device over long distances in Britain and the Empire until superseded by the steel tape.

Gunter’s Chain.

Its legacy was a new statutory unit of length which equalled 66ft in 100 links, each link being 7.92 inches long. A quarter Chain or 25 links equalled 5½ yards and so equalled a Rod or a Pole. Ten chains equalled a furlong (1/8th of a mile) and 80 chains equalled a statute mile.

Gunter’s Chain reconciled two seemingly incompatible systems: the traditional English land measurement based on 4 and the 10-based decimal.

Since an acre measured 10 square chains or 100,000 square links (Gunter’s System), the entire process of land measurement could be computed using the mesurement in Links and converted to acres by dividing by 100,000.

The method of surveying a field or other parcel of land with Gunter’s Chain was to determine corners and other significant locations and then to measure the distance between them, taking 2 points at a time.(2)

The Chain was used as a location identifier by railway companies in calculating rail distances, measuring in miles and chains, and as cricketers will be aware the length of the cricket pitch is 1 chain or 22 yards.

(1) Born in Hertfordshire in 1581.

(2) The surveyor was assisted by a chainman and undulations saw the chain levelled to ensure accurate calculations.