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28th February 1931. Fascists.

Today in 1931 the Fascist ‘New Party’, (The British Union of Fascists) was launched by Sir Oswald Mosley in the UK after losing patience with the Labour Party in tackling the Depression.

After his first wife Lady Cynthia Curzon died he secretly married in 1936 Diana Mitford, who along with her sister Unity were friends of Hitler, at Goebbels’s house in Berlin.

One Mosleyite working on a German radio station was the second wife of Captain Eckersley, Dorothy. Eckersley the first Chief Engineer of the BBC was forced to resign, by the Presbyterian, Director-General, Lord Reith, because of his affair with Dorothy whilst still married. (1)

Among names associated with Fascism released in 2004 was Admiral Sir Barry Domville former head of Naval Intelligence who had attended the 1937 Nuremberg Rally and given tour of Dachau and founder of the Fascist organisation ‘The Link’.

Also mentioned was Major-General, John Fuller close friend of Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail and linked to the Duke of Bedford via membership of Captain Archibald Ramsay’s MP’s Right Club.

It appears the General told some ex-servicemen that Hitler would soon be here and bringing the Windsors with him and conditions would soon improve. These were only the tip of an iceberg of potential Fifth Columnists awaiting the call. (2)

It wasn’t just the Mosleys under suspicion as the MI5 in early 1941, aware of the possibility of invasion, had drawn up a list of suspects and Mosley his wife and eight members of his Fascist organisation were arrested. (3)

Many others in high places including the ex-King Edward VIII had Nazi sympathies and his equerry Dudley Forwood from 1937 to 1939 was later to say that they all felt the Nazi regime was more appropriate than the old socialist Weimar Republic.

Of the 1,769 leading Fascists under detention ironically one was Lady Diana Mosley cousin to Clementine Churchill and George Pitt-Rivers another relative. 

One who was a supporter of Mosley was Major-General Fuller, military historian and tank warfare theorist the inventor of ‘artificial moonlight’ and like Mosley was frustrated by Democracy’s inability to act decisively especially with adopting military reform in the 1930.s.

One can be certain that after any invasion many more would have crept from the woodwork.

(1)  Dorothy was responsible for recruiting William Joyce (‘Lord Haw-Haw’).

(2) As well as Lord Rothermere and Lord Nuffield (the car maker) were sympathisers.

(3) Mosley was imprisoned until November 1943. Others arrested include the President of the Right Club a Conservative MP and a former Labour MP  secretary of the British People’s Party.


27th February 1892. Prince ‘Eddy’.

Today Prince Eddy was all set to marry in 1892 the minor German Princess, May of Teck, when he died of the flu epidemic sweeping the country six weeks before the wedding. However all was not lost as she went on to marry his younger brother, later King George V.

Prince Eddy on left and his brother George.

It was on 24th May in 1890 that Prince Albert Victor, known as Prince Eddy and colloquially as ‘collars and cuffs’, the present Queen’s great uncle and Queen Victoria’s eldest grandson.

The Duke of Clarence, Prince ‘Eddy’, has had a bad history and been airbrushed from memory, some would say to put his dull brother in a better light as he was said to be physically and mentally subnormal (this largely from his boring and uninspiring tutor Rev Dalton) and the subject of grave scandals, he was even said to be Jack the Ripper.

However there is no shred of evidence for any of the charges laid against him and contemporary accounts show someone more lively than his brother George and he was considered for the Viceroy-ship of Ireland hardly the post for a feeble nonentity. It also might be said he would have given the Royals much needed freedom from convention and dullness.(1)

One outcome of the Prince Eddy saga, was the libel case in 1911 when George V sued Edward Myluis over claims that George had set aside an earlier marriage to marry Queen Mary. Myluis an anti-Royalist was jailed for a year.

The hypocritical moral tone of the era was seen in 1911 when Queen Mary applied to have the will of her younger brother Prince Francis of Teck sealed to stop the public from finding he had left jewellery, the Cambridge Emeralds, to his mistress.

On the shrubby corner of the Mall is Sir William Reid Dick’s portrait medallion of Queen Mary who died in 1953.

(1) The Prime Minister explained that no office was more difficult to fill because to carry out the duties in a becoming manner required £40,000 per annum, the salary is only half that sum. Having originally declined the office he now accepted as Disraeli said in a letter to the Prince [bearing in mind the scandals] that, ‘the dignified withdrawal of the family from Metropolitan and English life at the moment had become desirable’.


26th February 1852. ‘Birkenhead Drill’.

Today in 1852 at 2 am, the 1900 ton and one of the first Ironclads, the frigate and troopship Birkenhead, built by John Laird, went down with the loss of 454 out of a complement of 693 sailors. From the disaster came Birkenhead Drill the sailors’ code of ‘women and children first’.

Wreck of the Birkenhead by Charles Dixon. 1901.

The ship was sailing from Cork, Ireland carrying reinforcements including 476 British soldiers for the war against marauding Xhosa tribesmen in South Africa. Also on board were 20 women and children. Following what was probably a navigational error, the ship foundered on a rocky promontory near Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point.


The ship went down in just 25 minutes after striking an uncharted rock at the appropriately named Danger Point. Of the eight lifeboats, only three proved seaworthy and these were boarded by civilians.

With the lowering equipment clogged with layers of paint and the ship fast breaking up the Master, Captain Robert Salmond ordered the assembled redcoats to ‘save yourselves and make for the boats’.(1)

The Troopship Birkenhead.

The soldiers’ senior officer Lt. Colonel Alexander Seton countermanded the order and ordered his troops to stand to attention on deck, effectively waiting for their deaths, while  women and children were rowed away. Not a single man broke ranks.

Some six hundred and thirty eight men and their families had embarked comprising drafts from ten regiments; both Seton and Salmond perished.

Among the survivors was cornet Ralph Shelton Bond of the 12th Royal Lancers, who after rescuing two girls from below deck, swam to safety.

A Victorian print shows Shelton rescuing the children whilst a popular and poignant poem of the times: ‘The Loss of the ‘Birkenhead’ was written by Francis Hastings Doyle in the mawkish sentimental style of the times.

Poet of Empire, Rudyard Kipling also compiled a poem in 1893 entitled ‘Soldiers an’ Sailors too’. ‘So they stood an’ was still to Birken’ead Drill/ Soldiers and Sailors too.

(1) The regiments included the 74th Regiment of Foot and The Queen’s Royal Regiment.


25th February 1941. Austerity.

Civil Servants had their pencil-sharpeners removed to conserve pencils. ‘Plimsoll Lines’ appeared in hotel baths as the fuel shortage hit. Someone was fined for feeding the birds. Petrol had been rationed in October 1939 and the speed limit was reduced to 20 mph later.

Today a Tuesday in 1941 Lord Woolton Minister of Food (1) announced that from March 10th no meal consisting of more than main course of either fish, meat or poultry and game eggs or cheese may be served to any person in a catering establishment, institution or residential establishment.

Meatless Woolton Pie created by chef at Savoy.

This was a step to reduce consumption in catering establishments of foods in short supply. However it was still possible to get sausage or kidney with bacon and veal, ham or steak and kidney in the normal way.

But a mixture of poultry and meat or poultry and bacon would be contrary to the order. Only one egg was to be served with bacon but not where omelette or scrambled eggs are made.

Penalties were on summary conviction three months imprisonment or a fine of £100 or both and on conviction on indictment two years or £500 or both. Where necessary regulations could be modified in hospitals, sanatoria or nursing homes. Works’ canteens were allotted double the meat per meal in hotels as they were considered of greater national importance.

The Orders went on to say that milk supplies in the industrial areas of Lancashire, the West Riding and the North East had fallen from 10% to 5% and consumption was still rising, therefore priority was to women and children. There was abundance of potatoes and consumption was urged of this first class food. Oatmeal (for porridge) demand had also risen. Fish was never rationed but like beer was in short supply.

Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, April 1940-11th November 1943 receiving cup of tea.

The year also saw the setting up of what were first called Communal Feeding Centres, until Churchill’s suggestion that they be renamed British Restaurants and usually run by Local Authorities.

Set up during the Blitz to ensure hot food for those bombed out, these were open to anyone and for less than a shilling one could have roast or minced beef with two vegetables, treacle tart, bread and butter and a cup of tea, though portions were small.

The London County Council provided around 250 restaurants in London in schools, halls and such unlikely buildings as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Veterinary College and the Banqueting Hall of the Fishmongers Company. Others were run by the Women’s Voluntary Service with The Ministry of Food supplying crockery which was virtually impossible to get.

(1) Shortly after the war began there was a glut of carrots and the Ministry of Food in desperation turned to Woolton who said ‘Put Freddy Grisewood [and his Kitchen Front talks] on to it’. Which Grisewood did by extolling their virtues as aiding eyesight in the dark and how they could be used in all kind of ways, which effectively reduced the stocks.

However the ‘Radio Doctor’, Charles Hill at the same time was exploding the myth: ‘Now don’t you go and think that because you eat some carrots you’ve got an extra No 9 battery in your eyes, because that’s just a lot of nonsense’, today we would call it ‘not joined-up thinking’.

Ref: The World Goes By, F. Grisewood p.211-12. 1953. Secker&Warburg Ltd.



24th February 1731. Dollands and Optics.

John Dolland was the son of a Huguenot silk weaver of Spitalfields, London who became a polymath and having studied optics he and his son Peter born Today in 1731 gave their name to a family of opticians still remembered in the company Dollond & Aitchinson. (1)

Peter Dolland.

The business made telescopes for sidereal and terrestrial use and supplied telescopes to the Royal Observatory and Nelson; another went with Captain Cook on his 1768 voyage to record the Transit of Venus and to sail to the southern ocean under the auspices of the Admiralty and Royal Society.

The success of Cook was dependent on the use of current technology and with Dolland’s inventions and Harrison’s chronometer he was able to complete great chunks of the world map.

Dolland started as a silk weaver but along with his father gave it up for optics with Peter opening his first shop in Vine Street near Hatton Gardens, London.

Both were totally untrained in the science of optics though John had long been involved with telescopes, navigation instruments and other optical instruments being illustrious enough to become a member of the Royal Society and supplied Frederick the Great among others.

One company engaged in the flint glass for reflecting telescope glass was Chance Brothers of Birmingham when it was discovered that silver is the best material for the glass used in these telescopes as it is the most reflective of all the elements as when polished it reflects almost all the colour spectrum, aluminium only managing 90%.(2)

The company was appointed opticians to George III and George Huggins a relative changed his name to Dollond taking over the business in 1820. Dollond invented the Triple Achromatic lens in 1763 which is still in use today and renders images free from extraneous colours.

Achromatic lenses are corrected to bring two wavelengths-red and blue- into focus in the same plane: Triple Achromatic (Apochromatic) lenses corrects wavelengths to bring green as well as red and blue into focus.

There were many employed in optics at that time and Zoffany painted ‘John Cuff and his Assistant’ (1772) surrounded by the tools and examples of his craft including his treadle wheel. George III commissioned Zoffany to depict Cuff (c1708-72) of Fleet Street having bought two microscopes from him.

Supposed painting of Cuff, also entitled Lapidaries or Two Old Men.

(1) Peter Dollond lived to a good age dying on 2nd July 1821. James Aitchinson opened a shop in 1889 in Fleet Street.

In 1927 the two names combined as Dollond and Aitchinson prospered and are now a subsidiary of Alliance Boots and were once owned by a TV company Television Wales & West in the 1960.s.

(2) Chance Bros supplied the glass for the ‘Crystal Palace’ at the 1851 Great Exhibition.



23rd February 1629. Hard Times.

At the accession of a new monarch, up to Tudor Times, all awaiting trial and execution were reprieved. However if a member of the large number employed in  the priestly orders one could claim ‘benefit of clergy’ if one could parrot-read the ‘neck-verse’, but it could only be claimed once and branding on the thumb was enforced.

Arson was one of the crimes claimed for reprieve, except if one was a minor as seen Today in 1629 when John Dean, a junior felon was indicted, arraigned and found guilty all on the same day and hanged accordingly: for arson.

It related to two barns in the neighbouring town of Windsor and Justice Whitlock said the boy had, ‘malice, revenge, craft’, and described in court documents as an ‘infant between eight and nine’.


The death sentence was once routinely passed on seven to thirteen year old children, but often commuted; girls were only hanged for more serious crimes.

The Children’s Act 1908 lifted age for execution to sixteen and the last juvenile to receive a death sentence was the 16 years old Harold Wilkes at Stafford Assizes on 18th November 1932 for the sexually motivated murder of Ethel Corey.

However he was reprieved and the law was changed the following year with the Children and Young Person’s Act 1933 when liability to capital punishment was raised to eighteen. It also brought in Juvenile Courts. The age of criminal responsibility once seven was  raised to eight and in 1963 to ten.

Seven teenage girls were condemned to death in the 20th century but all were reprieved; the boys weren’t so lucky!


Historia placitorum coronae (History of pleas of the crown vol 1 William Axton Stokes and Edward Ingersoll.

Juvenile Offenders Act 1847 et al.

Annals of Windsor.

22nd February 1377. Malign Influence?

Today in 1377 the so called Bad Parliament summoned by Edward III’s 4th son John of Gaunt was dissolved having undone most of the good work of last year’s treasured and reforming, ‘Good Parliament’.(1)

One who deservedly suffered, according to many, under the Good Parliament, was Edward’s mistress the rapacious, scheming and disliked Alice Perrers (aka Alice of Windsor) who initially was a Lady in Waiting to Queen Phillippa of Hainault, who had been called before parliament and condemned to banishment.

She was paraded in London in costly apparel and jewels to a tournament in a chariot entitled ‘Lady of the Sun’,  having controlled the dotard King from 1369 to 1376 after the death of the Queen from the Black Death.

Alice was hated by the Court for apart from being rapacious and having a malevolent hold over the king, she manipulated the law for the benefit of her relatives.

She was infatuated by the occult and spells and her physician was arrested on a charge of making love philtres. Religious reformer John Wycliffe called her the ‘Devil’s Tool’.

However after the Good Parliament was dissolved in July 1376, John of Gaunt attempted to undo its provisions and Alice was restored to the King’s company and allowed to  claim her estates.

Ford Maddox Brown painting of Edward III and Alice.

Alice born in the 1340.s suffered a ‘bad press’ as she was said to have come from a lowly background by the hostile St. Alban’s Chronicle, but in fact she was the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers a Hertfordshire landowner, sheriff and MP.

‘There was in England a shameless woman and wanton harlot Ales Peres (sic) neither beautiful or fair she knew how to cover these defects with her flattering tongue’, said the Chronicle.(2)

Whether Alice was justly maligned is debatable, but people have never liked mistresses with control over the monarch. She died in 1400 and was buried at St. Laurence’s Church, Upminster where her grave is lost.

(1) The 1376 Parliament ran from 28th April to 10th July, the longest to date.

(2) Thomas of Walsingham a monk at St. Alban’s Abbey.