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31st December 1539.

Today in 1539 was a poignant time for the monasteries in general, and for Durham in particular when the last Office was sung before its dissolution.

However Durham was one of those to survive with its penumbra of outbuildings which had served the monastic community, as it was one of the ‘New Foundation’ cathedrals with a bishop and freshly founded posts of dean, prebendaries and ancillary staff in 1540.

The oddity of medieval religious organisation was seen in that more than half the cathedrals doubled as monasteries, which peculiarity dated from when monasticism was seen as the model which would serve growing Christianity in Britain, when the bishop was the nominal abbot of such cathedrals, with the real head being the Prior.

These monastic houses were ‘cathedral priories’ which Henry VIII dissolved then re-founded apart from Coventry which was spare to requirement in a diocese of Coventry/Lichfield, and so demolished.

This see was first centred on Lichfield, Staffs., then Chester in 1075 and Coventry 1102, but the continued claim of Lichfield, as the shrine of St. Chad, to be a diocese was recognised in 1228, in title ‘Coventry-Lichfield’, with Chester getting no recognition, until the bishopric of Chester was founded in 1189 and 1327.

There was no overall plan as some cathedral priories such as Bath, nominally a cathedral became a large parish church, with the diocese being centred on nearby Wells and entitled Bath and Wells. Many were elevated from former monasteries to become cathedrals, notably  Gloucester, Peterborough, Oxford, Bristol and Chester.

Ref: The Last Office 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery: Geoffrey Moorhouse.


30th December 1940. Civil Defence.

‘No use to us we refuse to assist in war and war preparations’, scrawled on returned Public Information Leaflet No 2 and signed family man Leigh-on-Sea, July 1939. 

Rumours of the threatened war were everywhere for example on posters that insisted on the wearing of gas masks. Information pamphlets were pushed through all letterboxes ‘the object of this leaflet’ was to tell people things they ought to know to be ready ‘for the emergency of war’.

By September 1939 a million and half had enrolled in the ARP (Air Raid Precaution Service) 400.000 were full time, the rest volunteers so largely unpaid and in many areas very casual and represented an integral part of the Civil Defence movement which was concerned with search and rescue particularly in the cities. They often had to rescue people from bombed buildings and with their stirrup pumps put out any incendiary fires.

In September 1940 the Daily Telegraph announced: ‘Roof Spotters for All Factories; Sirens as alert warning only; Work to continue; Sirens will be regarded as the alert and not as an alarm signal; Work was to continue until watchers on roofs give warning of danger when workers will take cover’.

By Today in 1940 ‘fire watching’ became compulsory, coming after the enormous damage caused to buildings by the blitz. Many old and young who had worked all day did duty at night as fire watchers, a task particularly important as they quite often were the first to spot the fires first, give warning and deal with the problem to the best of their ability and the equipment available. (1)

The ARP was on duty before, and during air raids, thus many a night’s sleep was disturbed by incidents and false alarms until the ‘All Clear’ siren wailed. (2)

In November Sir John Anderson had been made Lord Privy Seal responsible for A.R.P. and Civil Defence, with expenditure rising five-fold within a year. It was supported by much official literature and sets of cigarette cards (‘faggies’), advising on the ARP in the home.



These in pictorial detail, showing how to scoop up incendiaries and place into a bucket of sands, how to make a refuge in one’s house against gas attacks, by sealing all apertures, and how to put gas-masks on etc. (3)

The ARP wardens were the most visible of the Civil Defence, comprising old and young, men and women, rich and poor and were at first equipped with nothing but an armband, a silver badge and a tin helmet and attracted hostility from press and public alike, as thought to be ‘dodging’ military service and slacking.

All Civil Defence forces were disbanded on December 19th 1944, along with at the month’s end, the Home Guard of ‘Dads’ Army’ fame, thus ending a period when all classes were bonded together in a common purpose.

(1)  Wednesday September 11th 1940. Daily Telegraph.

(2) ARP was mobilised as early as September 1938, during the Munich crisis.

(3) It is just as well we weren’t subjected to a gas attack as Donald Nicholson later famous in chemical metabolism recalled that as Nottingham’s Poison Gas Detecting Officer he was equipped with two buckets of lime!

Ref: Daily Telegraph Obits. 2012.

Ref: londoncigarettecardcompany/Pic.

Ref: googleimages/Pics.


29th December 1940. Decline of City Churches.

Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s, London took 35 years to build.

Of those London churches surviving World War II bombing, which reduced twenty to shells, two can be named as of particular interest as showing a continuity with London’s ancient past, one being St. Michael’s, Cornhill, the site of Roman London’s basilica, a secular administrative building of the first century, which with its four pinnacles of pepper-pot towers, are the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor.

St. Michael, Cornhill.

The medieval tower stood until 1715 and an old pen sketch of the tower before its spire fell down in 1421 suggests Hawkmoor took his cue from the Gothic structure which survived.

St. Bride’s, Fleet Street was Wren’s tallest church, at 226ft which suffered badly in an incendiary raid on Today December 29th 1940 leaving it gutted, but was finally restored in the 1950.s.

St. Paul’s Cathedral foundation stone was laid in 1675 and soon fifty-one new City churches came after the second Rebuilding Act. Twenty were begun simultaneously, with much work being delegated with few of the surviving drawings in Wren’s hand.

These preaching boxes served the 17th and 18thc well, until the flight of the resident population and the coming of banks, insurance offices, warehouses and business chambers and resembled a forest of spires around St. Paul’s until nineteen were to be lost in the blitz, ten in one night. Those remaining are now largely lost among the towers of the 21st century.

St. Bride’s, Fleet Street. Early drawing.

St. Brides in 19thc.








The City churches were fashioned for Protestant, pulpit based worship, adorned with marble monuments, many being the work of Robert Hooke, the City Surveyor who began to redraw the capital after the Great Fire by measuring and staking out plots.

In the 1680.s Wren was joined by the Nicholas Hawksmoor who was truly an original designer of the English Baroque style, unlike his master and might have contributed more to St. Paul’s, than he has been given credit for.

Many of the City churches were tiny and over time amalgamated for example St. Andrew Undershaft which was named after the shaft of the great maypole demolished in 1547, which was considered as idolatrous.

Other churches included the antique named, All Hallows on the Wall, St. Stephen’s Walbrooke & St. Benet Sheerhogg with St. Laurence Pountney and S. Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral).

The Union of Benefices Act 1860 demolished many City churches with the money transferred to the growing suburbs and many of Wren’s churches were demolished in Victoria’s reign to improve traffic flow: St Benet, Gracechurch in 1867, St Mary Somerset, St Dionis, Backchurch in 1878, St Mary Magdalene, Old Fish Street in 1887, and St Olave Jewry in 1888.

St Katherine Coleman, Fenchurch St escaped the 1666 fire but was pulled down in 1926 and at All Hallows Staining only the medieval tower is extant in Mark Lane, saved by the Clothworkers Company in 1873.

St Benet Fink (money raised helped to build the same named church at Tottenham), was demolished to make way for the Royal Exchange in 1844 and the parish united with St Peter le Poer (money going to Friern Barnet of the same name.) The church had escaped the Great Fire, was rebuilt in the 18thc, but demolished for street widening in 1907.

In 1994, The Lord Templeman Commission recommended that of the thirty-six Anglican churches in the City, only twelve should stay open, in an age of dwindling faith.


28th December 1838. Apochryphal.

Some Bibles contain what is known as the Apochrypha from the Greek : Apo (‘from’) and Krypt-ein (‘to hide’).

Divinely inspired it was originally only revealed to the ‘chosen few‘, the early Greek and Latin Church Fathers, such as Iraenius, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian, but was to be widely revealed in the ‘final age’.

However many texts which didn’t suit the early compilers of the Bible weren’t even included in the Apochrypha one of which was The Book of Enoch brought to light by Richard Laurence archbishop of Cashel, Ireland who died Today in 1838. (1)

Known for his great work on the Book of Enoch the Prophet, (8vo 1821) and later editions of 1832 and 1838, it was printed from manuscripts from Ethiopia which James Bruce had brought back from Abyssinia and presented to the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The Book of Enoch has been entirely sidelined by western churches as being one of a set of falsely attributed texts as their’ authority’ it appears is unfounded. Could it be because of its mystical references to the ‘old religions’? (2)

So Enoch doesn’t even lie along with Esdras, for instance as part of the Apochrypha, a word which owing to the Church Fathers eventual discarding of these Books, as not part of the canon,  has taken on the meaning of spurious or of doubtful origin. One only takes that which will suit one’s argument whilst ignoring the rest, whether ‘divinely inspired’ or not!

(1) Better known for his academic work as Regius Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church Oxford 1814,  in an age at Oxford when all academics were priests and Anglicans.

The fourteen books of the Apochrypha of the Old Testament were found in the Septuagint (LXX) and so called as they constituted 72 Books c 3rd BCE translations of the Alexandrian Ptolemy Philadelphus, but not in the Hebrew Canon.

(2) Enoch son of Jared in the Old Testament has no authority in the Christian Canon apart from in Abyssinia, but is quoted in Jude and has a reference in Paul.

Ref: Book of Enoch site:

Ref: Why did Christianity discount the Apochrypha?

Ref: Brief History of the Apochrypha.

27th December 1941.

The term Commando in the British Army was revived in 1940 for the 5,000 men involved in raiding parties in recollection of the mobile guerrilla tactics of the Boer War commandos.

Each man was picked for his personal qualities and trained to act on his own initiative with no supply route to support him and later many raids were amphibious and involved the utilisation of paratroops. (1)

Operation Archery involved 3 Commando against Vaasgo, Norway Today in 1941 and broke new ground as it was a Combined Operations with air-cover, after Mountbatten had been appointed Adviser in October. It was preceded by Operation Anklet by No. 6 and  No.9 Commando on December 9th attacking the island of Floss.

The Norwegian coast installations were raided including Vaagso as they were the sites of fish-oil plants, which the Germans were using for the manufacture of Nitro-Glycerin explosives.

The raids were also significant in causing the Germans to supply large numbers of troops which could have been employed on the Eastern Front against our then ally Russia.

RAID ON VAAGSO, 27 DECEMBER 1941 (N 459) An oil factory burns in Vaagso, 27 December 1941. British troops can be seen on the quay in the foreground. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The Commandos first raid ’Operation Collar’, was on the Pas-de-Calais on 24/25th June 1940 under Major Ronnie Tod after the humiliation of the evacuation of Dunkirk, when Churchill called for a force to inflict casualties to bolster morale, under the then Combined Operations control of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, a veteran of Gallipoli and Zeebrugge.

Later in the month on 30th June in 1940 the Germans invaded the Channel Islands and in a minute to the military wing of the War Cabinet, Churchill declared that an attack on the invaders was an exploit that would suit the newly-formed Commandos.

A force of 140 men was selected from No 3 Commando, the first to be raised and No 11 Independent Company, a force of volunteers for special services.

The operation was code-named Ambassador and included amongst it objectives the destruction of Guernsey’s airfield, a machine-gun post and the German barracks at Telegraph Bay. However the raid was disastrous owing to vague ideas where the Islands were and that some of the raiding party couldn’t swim back to the boat to pick them up.

The German occupation of Norway ended on May 8th 1945.

(1) Modern Commandos were founded in Plymouth 23.6.1940 with its CO Lt. Col. J.F. Durnford Slater.



26th December 1791. The Genius of Babbage.

In 1617 the Scots mathematician John Napier devised a system to multiply and divide using ’Napier’s Bones’ the precursor to the slide-rule and to the machines devised by Charles Babbage born Today in 1791.(1)

In 1821 Babbage invented his Difference Engine No 1 which calculated by repeated addition, essentially a calculator, for computing mathematical tables.

Punched cards used in the Analytical Engine.
At the front are operational cards to input instructions; at rear are variable cards for data input.

In 1840 he invented the Analytic Machine which marked the progress from mechanical arithmetic to fully-fledged general purpose computer where he utilized the potential of the Jacquard Punch Cards.

These had been a feature of the textile industry, in programming input instructions for many years so now the Analytical Machine had all the functions of a modern digital computer, but without the terminology. Between 1847-49 Babbage turned his attention to his new Difference Engine No 2. (2)

Trial part of Analytical Machine in London Science Museum.

The brilliant mathematician Ada Lovelace developed a program for the Analytic Engine but neither this nor the Difference Machine No 2 were completed in Babbage’s lifetime.(3)

However despite all this early activity the ‘steam age’ was not ready for a ‘computer revolution’, then there was the problem of replicating these machines in large numbers and the precision required couldn’t be achieved with the then technology, also significantly the government failed to take much interest.

What can be said is that Babbage as the inventor of the first mechanical computer can’t be considered a casual statement.

(1) Babbage 26.12.1791-1871.

(2) In 1985 the Science Museum constructed a Difference Engine No 2 using original designs and completed in time for the bicentennial of Babbage’s birth. It had 4000 parts and weighed 3 metric tons, the printer came 9 years later with 4000 parts and weighing 2.5 metric tons.

(3) Augusta Ada Byron (1815-51) Countess of Lovelace was the daughter Lord Byron and wrote a program called ’Ada’ which instructions could be woven onto punch-cards using a language that was compatible with Babbage’s machine.


Half of Babbage’s brain is on display at the National Science Museum, and a Moon Crater is named after him.

The Times in its obituary dated his birth as 26th December 1792, but a nephew pointed out he was baptised on 6th January 1792, eleven days after his birth.

25th December 1950. Stone of Scone.

The Stone of Scone was recovered in Arbroath Abbey in April 1951, after a 107-day hunt after Scottish Nationalist students said they were responsible for its theft claiming they had returned the hefty sandstone slab to the country of origin.

The Coronation Stone, commonly called the Stone of Scone had been stolen Today in 1950 from Westminster Abbey where it had rested underneath the Coronation Chair for 650 years.

The Stone which once rested under the Coronation Chair of Edward I.

The stone weighed 458 pounds and was wrested overnight from underneath the Coronation Chair behind the High Altar and then dragged through a small door to waiting cars.

According to tradition it was the ‘pillow’ on which Jacob slept at Bethel. After various moves round the Mediterranean it arrived in Ireland where it became the ‘Stone of Destiny’ upon which Irish kings were crowned.

Taken to Scotland by Fergus who founded the Scottish monarchy it was set up at Scone and encased in a wooden chair upon which the Scottish kings were crowned. Kenneth MacAlpine king of the Dalriada Scots brought it to Scone Abbey in 838.

Edward I took the stone from Scone in 1296 to Westminster Abbey forming the support for Edward the Confessor’s chair, thus becoming the coronation chair of British monarchs, down the centuries.

Speculation however, is concerned about authenticity of the stone, for the original was said to have been intricately carved, while the present is a plain block of sandstone. Many believe the canny Scots palmed this off on the English and the real one is hidden underground.

It was in December 1996 that John Major’s government to placate the Scots gave permission for the Stone of Scone to be returned to Scotland where it reposes not at Scone but in Edinburgh Castle.

Ref: alamy/pic.