Archive by Author | colindunkerley

13th May 1925. The Noble Metal.

Gold (Au), Latin-Aurium ‘shining dawn’, a Royal or Noble metal as it is resistant to corrosion, doesn’t oxidise in air or water, with oxidation only with Aqua-Regis. Atomic Number 79, it is the most malleable, ductile natural metal.

Gold down the centuries has been the means of exchange and backing for currency: ‘All educated and reasonable men believed in the Gold Standard and any Chancellor who ditched it would be abused by the instructed’: Sir Montagu Norman, 1930.s Governor of the Bank of England.(1)

Gold Standard a monetary system in which paper money is convertible into gold. Rates of exchange between countries were fixed by their currency values in gold. In classical economics imbalances in trade were rectified automatically by the Gold Standard.(2)

The Gold Bullion Standard Act was passed today in 1925 after Churchill’s first budget in April; he was later to admit to having no understanding of economics). Gold could now be used to settle foreign debt having been suspended in 1919. (1)

However the new Standard was set at too high an exchange rate causing a strong a pound making exports less competitive. The result was unemployment and austerity to balance budgets. The following year saw the general strike.

The Gold Standard worked well from the 1870.s to World War I when most financially important countries were on the Standard, but broke down as countries engaged in competitive devaluation.

Up to 1914 when London was the centre of the international money market one could go to the Bank of England and demand gold in exchange for banknotes, but by 1925 became nonredeemable.

During the wars many countries printed money resulting in inflation and high prices to encourage employment but exports were devalued and there was a loss of confidence in the Gold Standard.

By the 1930.s all the countries of Europe and the US struggled to keep the value of their currencies steady in relation to gold and to balance their books they took to deflationary policies thus cutting demand and causing a drastic fall in production.

However people were demanding gold as happens with lack of confidence in other securities; gold reserves thus fell forcing suspension of convertibility.

Ramsey MacDonald leader of the National Government formed in August to deal with the financial crisis abandoned the Gold Standard on 20th September 1931 and the pound was devalued.

Gold now had to find its own level, the pound dropped overnight and Bank Rate was raised to 6% to prevent further withdrawals of gold, and to stop foreign speculation against the pound.

Post-war the Exchange Control Act of 1947 imposed certain restrictions on residents of the UK with regard to buying, selling and holding of gold. Only authorised dealers, banks, the bullion market or industrial users were permitted to hold gold bullion at home or abroad.

Vaults of Bank of England showing ingots of bullion.

The Act did allow genuine coin collectors to buy, sell or hold gold coins minted in or prior to 1816 with certain restrictions.

Our worsening trade deficit with the US and Canada running at £600 million a year was 1½ times our gold reserves, and devaluation in 1949 increased the cost of living by 5%.

By 1971 any restrictions were removed and gold coins could be purchased, sold or held without permission being required. In 1975 Exchange Control was abolished so there was no longer any restrictions on persons holding or dealing in gold in any form.

Gold is priced in dollars and hit $850 an ounce in 1980. In 1999 it slumped to $250. Labour Chancellor Brown sold off 415 tonnes or 58% of Britain’s gold reserves at an average price of $276 an ounce, to buy Euros, US Dollars and Yen, leaving the country after three-hundred years with the lowest holding of any major state.

Ten years later, now Prime Minister, he explained in a Question Time that the gold sale had been part of a wider European policy and a profit had been made on acquiring euros.

This at a time when gold had quadrupled in value in March 2008 at $1000 an ounce in a time of financial uncertainty. 

Bullion, Bills of Exchange, later cheques and credit cards have all fuelled borrowing which when excessive can cause financial crises as in 2008: In December 2010 gold was $1400 an oz.

(1) Norman was behind the transfer of Czech gold in 1939 to Germany, and determined to put Britain back on Gold Standard: result was depression and destruction of industry.

(2) A country in deficit would have depleted gold reserves and have to reduce money supply. Resulting falling demand would reduce imports and lowering of prices would help exports, thus deficit would be rectified.


It was during the first war that gold sovereigns ceased to circulate and since then there were various controls on buying and selling the metal. Gold up to 1932 had been graded in carets of 9, 15, 18 and 24,with the eventual abolition of the 15c.





12th May 1948. Cuckoo!

He was as the cuckoo is in June, heard but not regarded ’: Henry IV Pt.I.

The cuckoo, British spring migrant.

‘Evoe’ writing in Punch Magazine Today  in 1948: ‘On Gowks’ (cuckoos)… ‘That they are rowdies, they make the night hideous with their hullabaloo, and this within five miles of Charing Cross’.

The arrival of the cuckoo was always a feature of letters to The Times, and in its ‘Calendar of Nature’, January 17th 1855 it was recorded, ‘that the earliest reported arrival of the cuckoo as April 18th 1843, with the latest May 14th 1850, having a mean of April 27th’.

Nowadays the cuckoo is said to be in decline owing to a shortage of host birds, as being a brood parasite, it foists its parental duties onto other birds, favouring dunnocks and reed warblers in lowland Britain and meadow pipits in upland areas.

The Author used to regularly hear the bird every year in the English Midlands, but has been absent for a few years, but it was said to be doing well in parts of Wales and Scotland.

Other factors might be a decline in fat, hairy, moth, caterpillars such as garden tiger, figure of eight, magpie and lackey.

The cuckoo lays one egg in other birds’ nests and once the baby hatches (faster than its hosts), it pushes all others over the side. After laying 15-20 eggs it returns to West Africa, the young, never having seen their parents, follow later.

It is a ritual first recorded in 1922 when Birmingham egg-collector Edgar Chance, and Oliver Pike, a pioneer natural history film-maker, first revealed the bizarre life of the bird.

The cuckoo was celebrated in medieval England in, ‘Sumer is icumen in…Llude (loud) sing cuccu’, in the Wessex dialect.

In modern notation.

Medieval notation. British Library. 978. Fol 11v.







Meticulous records are recorded from the time of the 18thc naturalist Robert Marsham and show that between 1736 and 1925 the 26th of April as the average date for the cuckoo’s arrival in England. (1)

Satellite tracking of cuckoos has revealed that those birds heading to Scotland and Wales, where cuckoos are thriving, take a route over Libya and Northern Italy, whilst those heading for England cross the Iberian Peninsula.

(1) Marsham corresponded with Gilbert White famous for his Natural History of Selborne who recorded the earliest arrival of many birds. Marsham was a wealthy landowner of Stratton Strawless near Norwich. He was the inventor of Phenology, the keeping of records of seasonal changes.

He recorded the earliest arrival of the swallow as 13th April and that of the swift as 27th April; the spotted flycatcher was the latest bird of passage first observed on 12th May.


Bill Bryson. At Home. Pub. 2010. Chris. Booker 23.5.2015.

11th May 1866. Banking Crisis.

Today ‘Black Friday’ in 1866 the bankers Overend and Gurney collapsed owing £11m (£981m in 2008 terms), causing a financial panic in the country. On the previous day the company had suspended payments.

The problem was exacerbated in that Bank Rate was 10% for the longest period in British history and resulted in a run on the bank not to be seen again until that of Northern Rock in September 2007. 

£50 share of Overend, Gurney.

The ’Bankers Bank’ had become the largest Discount House in the World and after the safe pair of hands of Samuel Gurney had retired, the company expanded its investment portfolio into railways and other long-term investments rather than holding short-term cash reserves. The liabilities were 4 million and liquid assets £1 million.

In an effort to restore its finances it offered shares as a Limited Company in July 1865 and as the market was buoyant 1864-66, it sold its £15 shares at a £9 premium.

Crowds rushing to the bank at 65, Lombard Street to get money back. Illustrated London News.

There followed a collapse in stocks and bonds prices and a tightening of credit, with the Bank of England refusing assistance. The Company was liquidated the next month and 200 companies collapsed among which were many banks. The separate Norwich Bank owned by Gurney cousins escaped any damage.

The Directors were charged with fraud and a false prospectus in 1865, but the Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn, said though not criminal it was a ‘grave error’ and they were acquitted. (1)

The crisis was made more serious as many railway companies from the boom years were associated including The Great Western with rumours that the company couldn’t meet debenture payments (Interest rates rose to 8.7%).

Daniel Gooch approached the Bank of England and even wrote to Benjamin Disraeli, then Chancellor, on 11th March 1867, but without success. However he did finally manage to come to some agreement with the debenture holders and creditors.

The London, Chatham and Dover Railway fell to the receivers and The Great Eastern and the Brighton were in trouble.

Gooch, a hard taskmaster, was one of the few to survive the 1866 crisis being rewarded with a baronetcy and elected Chairman of the Great Western Railway until 1889. 

(1) The result didn’t stop Beatrice Pease later Countess of Portsmouth bringing a lawsuit.


Joseph Pease was the founding father of Middlesbrough’s industry and Edward his son as a sideline to worsted trading, coal and rail, began money lending.

Joseph married into the Gurney banking family and Edward,‘s cousin Thomas Richardson left Darlington for London and went into business with John Overend and John and Samuel Gurney & Co.






10th May 1941. Protecting the Nation’s Treasures.

Madresfield Court near Malvern, Worcestershire was to be where the two princesses were to be escorted in the event of invasion, later to be joined by King and Queen.

Worcester was to be the location in the event of a siege of London where 16,000 civil servants were to move, whilst Churchill was to move to Spetchley Park, with the Cabinet re-located at Hindlip Hall. (1)

The wise move to disperse treasures was shown Today in 1941 when in an air raid on London, 250,000 books were destroyed after many from the British Library had remained in Bloomsbury. 

With war imminent in 1939 many historic treasures had started to be moved initially to the safety of country houses. The Coronation Chair was taken to an unknown destination. Art objects were removed from the British Museum to Boughton House owned by the Duke of Buccleuch near Kettering.

It also sheltered bronze figures from Westminster Abbey and a range of antiquities. Montacute House did the same for hundreds of treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Church valuables including antique window glass was stored in church crypts. The Rothschild’s mansion at Mentmore took possession of the Gold State Coach.

Montacute House, Somerset.

The day before war was declared in 1939, the final consignment of paintings had left under armed guard on six special freight trains and historic records were put on film before leaving for Bangor in north Wales where they were dispersed along with 2,000 other odd works of art into safe impregnable castles.

However on later reflection Montacute was considered a tinderbox in the event of a raid, Boughton was on the bomber route to the industrial Midlands and the north, and Bangor likewise lay on route to Liverpool.

In despair the National Gallery (it was bombed in November 1940 for the third time), suggested sending its pictures to Canada and its Director Kenneth Clark put the idea to Churchill. ‘Bury them in the bowels of the earth, but not a picture shall leave this island’ he retorted.

Manod Mines.





In September 1940 the Manod slate mine in North Wales, was acquired by the National Gallery.

Many crates of 13thc glass from Salisbury Cathedral found a home in underground limestone quarry workings.

The majority of documents from the Public Record Office, including Magna Carta, were bundled for storage in the women’s wing of Shepton Mallet, Somerset prison.

We became a nation of troglodytes as apart from use as shelters and storage much industry moved underground. One such was near Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, a labyrinth taken by the Ministry of Aircraft Production for an underground factory.  Another, the Westwood Quarry intended for use by the Royal Enfield Company which had turned from motorbikes to bomb-sights, after being under-occupied became home to much of our national heritage.

(1) Ben Fenton. Daily Telegraph.10.1.2006 accessed 7.7.2008.

References: April 2016/Pics.

9th May 1092. Diocese of Lincoln.

‘I have already held…that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have’.

John Ruskin was talking about Lincoln Cathedral which was commissioned in 1088 and consecrated Today in 1092; building in the local oolitic limestone continued throughout the middle ages.

Lincoln Cathedral with its long gone spires, from the west by Wenceslas Hollar. 17thc.

The diocese was based at Dorchester near Oxford from 634 until 1085 when the Mercian see was ordered by William the Conqueror to be removed to the old Roman city of Lincoln near his castle. The Lincoln diocese became the largest in medieval England.

Diocese map pre-925.

Thus Christianity had a presence in the area long before the Norman cathedral when the Bishop of Lindsey administered the Anglo-Saxon diocese in the ancient kingdom of Lindsey from the 7th to 11th centuries.

The Minster Church of St. Mary, Stow in Lindsey is sometimes referred to as the ‘mother church of Lincolnshire’ and  is one of the largest Saxon and one of the oldest parish churches in England, once serving as the cathedral church of the ancient diocese of Lindsey from the 7thc.

There is documented account of the church being burned after the 870 Danish invasion  and was in ruins until the Abbey was built in 1040 by the medieval bishops of Dorchester, when Stow was the seat of the united diocese of Lindsey and Dorchester.


St. Mary’s Church, Stow now badly in need of funds.

West of Stow is the site of a Roman Road, Tillbridge Lane and the remains of the medieval palace of the the Bishops of Lincoln built in 1336, now only mounds, moat and traces of fishponds.



There is a stained-glass window and plaque at Lincoln Cathedral dedicated to the pioneer of digital technology, Boole (2.11.1815-8.12.1864)

In 1185 Lincoln Cathedral was largely destroyed by a bad tremor and had to be completely rebuilt and the central spire collapsed in 1549 and never rebuilt.

It has the third largest floor space in Britain after St. Paul’s and York Minster and was the tallest building in the west for 238 years between 1311-1549.

In 1563 William Byrd became organist and choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral, living at 6, Minster Yard.


References/Pics: 28.6.2005.

8th May 1450. Failed Rebellion?

Jack Cade’s Kentish Rebellion which began Today in 1450 was a marker for the so-called Wars of The Roses and unusual in that wealthy property owners led the bulk of the insurgents, the peasantry.

The Rebellion was important as it marked the incipient political consciousness of non-aristocrats and the precursor of the English baronage in effect committing felo de se over the next 30 years.

The uprising, in the reign of the weak, wife dominated Henry VI, was against the  corruption, forced labour, corrupt courts, land seizures by the nobility and heavy taxes to pay for the recent wars in France. There was also a demand for the recall of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York from Ireland, the main opposition to the king.

Baron Saye and Sele brought before Cade on 4th July 1450. 19thc painting by Charles Lucy.

However Cade’s cause was undermined on his entry into London when widespread looting took place and the rebels were forced out from the city after the bloody Battle of London Bridge.

Then James Fiennes, 1st baron Saye and Sele, Warden of The Cinque Ports, was beheaded by Cade.  Fiennes was a supporter of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, the principal power behind the King..

Unlike the 1381 rebellion, Cade’s was not instigated by peasants, but showed the potential of the poorest to become a powerful force to be harnessed by those seeking to affect political change.

Cade’s manifesto, ‘Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’ of 1450 and his popular grievances were often quoted by the opposition Yorkists.

Cade was mysterious figure whose name was uncertain; of Irish descent he was forced to flee to France, when on his return he settled in Kent posing as physician when he went under the assumed name of John Mortimer the name of Richard of York.

Though Cade’s rebellion ended in his being killed in a skirmish on 12th July 1450 it eventually saw the elimination of several hated men of the King’s government and several of Cade’s demands were echoed by the Yorkists when they disposed of Henry VI in 1461.(1)

(1) The Cade Rebellion was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry VI (Pt 2), but with much artistic license.



7th May 1925. A Fishy Story.

First shop at Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey.

One of the famous High Street shops in the Author’s early days was MacFisheries one of the enterprises of William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme who died Today in 1925.

Lever was also notable for co-founding a soap empire with his brother which became Lever Brothers, eventually through merger the giant Unilever.

Pentland Road at Carloway originally laid out as a railway track bed.

It was when in his 30.s that Leverhulme took a boat trip to the Western Isles of Scotland and fell in love with the area.

Convinced he could resurrect the local fishing industry he set about investigating all aspects of a supply and distribution chain and planned to build an ice-making plant at Stornoway to also include refrigeration cargo ships. (1)

A depot was opened at Fleetwood in Lancs., where he build herring-curing facilities and canning plants for fish cakes, fish paste, glue, animal feed and fertilizer.

To create a market he started buying up independent fishmongers which he branded as MacFisheries.

Life in war-time Exeter High market, 1943.

MacFisheries was the first high street chain to have a standard logo, lay out and colour scheme after employing Schleger & Associates who took seven years to transform the company’s visual appearance via advertising between 1952-79. (2)








Trade Mark.

Like all enterprises the end for MacFisheries came swiftly in 1979 whilst the Unilever backed Food Centres were sold to International Stores.

(1) At the age of 66 he bought the Isle of Lewis for £167k.  He Left Stornoway on 5 Sept. 1924.

(2) Founded by Hans Schlegel (1898-1976.


Pictures courtesy of the references below.

jsamacfisheries.1920.s posters.

flickr. mikeyashworth. mackfisheries advert by Fred Taylor.