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31st January 1849. Benzoline.

September 1932.

Former National Station at Friskney, Lincolnshire.

English chemist George Fownes who died Today in 1849 was famous for, amongst other things, the discovery of Benzoline in 1845 later used as a motor spirit, a petroleum spirit, marketed under various trade names such as National Benzole Mixture and Regent Benzole Mixture. (1)

Benzol(e) in the UK was crude Benzene derived from coal tar products mainly from Benzene and Toluene and was said to increase motor performance.

1950s advert.

1931 advert.






Fownes worked in his father’s glove business up to 1837 before studying science with Thomas Everitt and lecturing in chemistry at Middlesex Hospital.

Dying young from consumption (TB) he was to do his major work between 1842-6 when he isolated two new organic bases in 1845  by preparing Furfural by the action of Sulfuric Acid on Bran, and isolating Benzoline (hydro-benzamide from oil of bitter almonds.(2)

National Benzole was founded in February 1919 in a room next to the boiler house of the Gas, Light and Coke Company Ltd in Horseferry Road, London.

It was found to be useful in propelling shells in WWI and post war there was a ‘Benzole Lake’ which Samuel Henshaw, Chairman of Staffordshire Chemical Company saw there was money to be made from the surplus.

However by the 1950s Benzole was determined a health hazard and its ‘anti-knocking’ properties were superseded by lead petrol additives (another health hazard) and from the 1960s, the now re-branded National Company only sold petrol after being bought by BP, only to become defunct in early 1990s.


Benzoline also known as Petroleum Ether was a Petroleum Fraction consisted of Aliphatic (non-aromatic) Hydro-Carbon with a Boiling Point netween 35-60 (c) is now used as a laboratory solvent. It is not classed as an Ether but described thus owing to its lightness and volatility.

Confusingly in many countries Benzoline has many alternative names.

1950s advert.











(1) He became Thomas Graham’s assistant at London University and also discovered Farfurine.

(2) In 1839 he accurately determined the equivalent weight of carbon by means of combustion of Naphthaline. In 1844 he discovered the presence of Phosphate in igneous rocks, the original source of Phosphates in clay and soil.


Motor Sport Magazine Pics.

Graces Guide.

Alamy Stock Photos.


29th January 1947. There Was Real Weather Then.

If winter comes can spring be far behind’?: Ode to West Wind, Shelley.

In 1947 ‘Starve with Strachey’ and ‘Shiver with Shinwell’, was a Tory slogan of the time regarding the big freeze for Today in 1947 when the temperature in London fell to the coldest for half a century, a situation made worse by power cuts. (1)

Walls of snow: Farley in Derbyshire.

A few days before a Daily Telegraph headline reported: ‘Snow Falls in London’, which was the first glimpse of Britain’s worst winter of the 20th century when snow was to fall every day until 16th March and when the sea froze at Margate and in London temperatures went down to 16°(f), -9o (c).

The war-dilapidated railways had frozen points and hampered by 20-foot drifts, couldn’t move the coal, power stations began to run out of fuel, resulting in ‘load sheading’. Prime Minister Clement Attlee went on the radio to announce, ‘an emergency of the utmost gravity’ and appealed to everyone to economise.

Factories closed down, people went to bed for warmth and with Britain exhausted after the war coal supplies were low, shop-shelves empty and government coffers likewise. The pits, now in public ownership, along with the railways, road haulage and public utilities were perilously close to collapse.

Hardy cyclist, David Joel on frozen Thames at Windsor Bridge.

So much snow fell that by the end of January hundreds of villages were cut-off by 20ft snowdrifts and a 12 hour blizzard off the south coast brought shipping to a halt. The rail network collapsed as engines couldn’t move. By February coal boats were stranded in the north, roads were impassable, power stations, factories and homes were without coal.

On February 7th Emanuel Shinwell, the Minister of Fuel and Power was forced to announce drastic measures. Power to industries was cut off; houses had to switch off all electricity between 9am and midday and again from 2.0pm and 4.0pm. The incipient television service was suspended; streets were plunged into darkness; newspapers shrunk to a war-time four pages.

So dark were the skies that Kew recorded no sunshine at all between the 2nd and the 22nd of February. Birds froze in the trees. One eyewitness said it was if the earth had shifted its axis. By early February there was no power in the South and Midlands and two million were thrown on the dole. At the pits the coal was frozen solid, whilst 75,000 coal wagons couldn’t be moved.

By mid February industrial electric supply was completely cut-off. Electric fires were banned at certain times as well as greyhound racing, the Third Programme and TV were cut off; German POWs who were still here, were ordered to clear the railways.

There was 20 inches of snow in Huddersfield. The Great-North Road the main North-South artery was blocked for 22 miles with 20-foot drifts. The country almost ground to a halt with 14-foot icebergs off the Norfolk coast.

Buckingham Palace, The Law Courts and Government Ministries were candle-lit though by the end of February the cold appeared to be easing, but not before February suffered the coldest weather since 1659, when ice-floes appeared off the east coast.

By mid-March 300 roads were impassable, Scotland was cut off by 30ft drifts and it wasn’t until later in the month that the weather improved: then came the floods!

(1) Two key Ministers at the time in Attlee’s Government.





28th January 1837. Fragility of Banks.

Early banks were small and locally based so failure would have dire affects on the immediate and wider areas in its knock-on effects.

A typical example was Medley and Son which had branches at Uxbridge, Watford and Aylesbury as well as two in Ireland and it was Today that the Windsor and Eton Express in 1837 reported that ‘the Bank of Messrs Medley and Son and Company of this town had stopped payments’, which was to cause a run upon another old established bank of Ramsbottom and Company. (1)

Medley’s troubles, as a bank of deposit, was not of an ‘extensive character’, but declared that the ‘greatest loss was for holders of Medley notes, ‘as like other small banks then printed their own currency.

However larger banks could also suffer as was the case with Gurneys which had earlier become established in Norfolk and Suffolk. By 1800 Richardson Overend & Company was established by Thomas Richardson and John Overend Chief Clerk of bankers Smith Payne to become Overend and Gurney.(2)

On ‘Black Friday’ in May 1866 the ‘Bankers Bank’ as it was known, collapsed owing £11m (£981m in 2008 terms), causing a financial panic in the country. Gurneys survived the crash but were was taken over by Barclays in 1896. (3)

To meet the needs of economic growth many banks had been founded in the 18th century, with over seventy banks in London along with 400 private country banks. The early 19th century saw legislation to regulate banking with The Bank Charter Act of 1826 permitting formation of joint stock banks more than 65 miles from London which helped to spread risk.

The number of country banks totalled 554, but were small and restricted by law from competition with the Bank of England, leaving them vulnerable during financial crises to failure as in the 1816 crash. In 1828 Fry’s Bank collapsed and in 1857 over 130 banks collapsed.  Lloyds averted a serious banking crisis with the take over of Cox & Company, the Army bankers.

In October 1878 the City of Glasgow Bank foundered which saw the last run on a bank before that of Northern Rock in 2007.

The Bank, not for the first or last time, had hidden the true state of its affairs so that the day before collapsing, £100 shares were trading at £236, and as the shareholders were unlimited in their losses most of the holders of stock were committed to all the Bank’s losses not just their personal holdings, making a case for limited liability which was eventually to become law.

(1) The collapse of Ramsbottom and Newman & Co of Lombard Street, London in March 1816, was one of many in the 19thc. The collapse coincided with John Newman’s conversion experience, leading to his Roman Catholicism.  After the collapse Newman senior went to Alton to manage a brewery!

(2) Smith Payne & Company of Nottingham was absorbed by National Provincial in 1902.

(3) The family  de Gourneys ( Gurneys) had come over with William the Conqueror.


27th January 1942. Churchill under Attack.

Today in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph it reported Churchill’s reply to critics of his administration in a 95 minute speech when he surveyed the war situation and future direction of the Allied operations. Two day’s later on Thursday after he had called for a vote of confidence, he won by 464 votes to one. The lone ‘No’ was socialist James Maxton (1)

Churchill said, ‘he was not going to pick out scapegoats for things which have gone wrong and it is because things have gone badly and worse is to come that I demand a vote of confidence… more American forces will be added to those arriving yesterday and numerous fighter and bomber squadrons would take part in the defence of Britain and to attack Germany’.

By March the News Chronicle Gallup Poll found that 50% of the people were dissatisfied with the conduct of the war with Beaverbrook’s Daily Express using Tom Driberg’s critical pamphlets. Churchill resisted demands for a Second Front from critics such as Bevan, but agreed to launch a new bomber offensive.

However on March 28th when Lubeck was destroyed; the Germans responded with the Baedeker raids adding to the general growing discontent. George Orwell, considered: ‘Churchill’s position is very shaky and thought after the fall of Singapore his popularity has slumped’.

On June 25th a censure motion was placed on the Commons Order Paper: ‘that this house, while paying tribute to the heroism and endurance of the armed forces….has no confidence in the central direction of the war’.

The first name on the motion was that of Sir John Wardlaw-Milne, one of the most powerful of backbenchers. Allied with him was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, whose intervention in the Norway debate helped the demise of Chamberlain; a third signatory was Hore-Belisha.

Wardlaw-Milne sensing the hostility suggested the motion be deferred until the battle of Tobruk was over.(2) But the Cabinet wouldn’t have this and with a red flower in his button-hole and looking as a reporter said ‘like a Punch cartoon of a statesman’ started well but then stuttered out: ‘It would be a very desirable move-if His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness would agree-if His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester were to be appointed Commander-in Chief of the British Army.

This was followed by a gasp followed by a cacophony, half-groan, half-guffaw. Churchill in understatement said his gaffe had, ‘proved injurious to his case by proposing to involve the Royal family in controversy’.

‘What impertinence’, the Duke later wrote to his wife, ‘without asking anybody and me in particular.’

However Churchill survived the vote on 2nd July 1942 by 475 to 25, giving the ‘V for Victory’ sign as he left the chamber and called to an end of ‘naggers and snarlers’. Sir John never recovered, losing his seat in 1945, though Sir Roger couldn’t hide his respect for Churchill who he said was interfering too little in the detailed conduct of the war. The debate had lasted until 3 am, the longest sitting of the war.(3)

(1) The Commons resolved that this House has confidence in His Majesty’s Government and will aid it to the utmost in the vigorous prosecution of war.

(2) Tobruk fell on 21st June 1942.

(3) Stafford Cripps later resigned from the War Cabinet In November 1942, but he remained as a Minister when his demand for a war-planning directorate was vetoed and Aneurin Bevan attacked army commanders’ failure for lack of co-ordination with the RAF.

Ref: H of C Debate 29 Jan 1942 Vol 377 cc927-1019.

Ref: David Reynolds. Command History: Churchill Fighting and Writing in 2nd WW, 2005.

Ref: Hinge of Fate Vol 4 1950 Churchill.



25th January 1821. Mayoral Door Posts.

John Adey Repton FSA once assistant to the great London architect John Nash was much interested in obscure British social traditions as revealed in his contributions to The Society of Antiquaries on for example, ‘TheTreatment of Male and Female Head-Dress from 1500-1700’ and, ‘The Beard and Mustachio from the 16thc to 18th centuries. (1) 

Norwich door post of Chief Magistrate. 1592.

So it was Today that Repton (1775-1860), son of the famous landscape designer Humphrey, gave a lecture to the Society on the Mayoral ornamental door-posts at Norwich as it appears this was the custom to so place outside the Chief Magistrate’s door.

John Adey Repton holding surveyor’s theodolite.

The practice was alluded to by playwrights of the time when Thomas Petts, Mayor of London in 1592 was spoken of by a contemporary dramatist:  Cornrnunis-crave my counsel : tell me what manner of man is he? Can he entertain a man in his house… know he how to become a scarlet gown? Hath he a pair of fresh posts at his door? (2)

Then in Beaument and Fletcher’s play, The Widow. ‘I have your door the better while I know it. Widow: A pair of such brothers were fitter for posts without door indeed to make a show at a new-chosen magistrate’s gate than to be used in a woman’s chamber’.

Mayoral posts at Rochdale.

Similar posts were erected at the sheriff’s gate and used for dispaying proclamations: in Rowley’s play, ‘A woman never vexed (1632). ‘If e’er I live to see thee Sheriff of London, I’ll gild thy posts’.

The practice of having posts, lamp-posts, still continued outside the house of ex-Provosts of Edinburgh as recorded in 2007 when the ex official was complaining that a faulty bulb hadn’t been replaced.

Also in Rochdale, Lancs., the tradition was renewed in recent times as revealed in the biography of Cyril Smith, late Liberal politician, who recalled having a pair outside his terraced house when he was mayor. 

(1) Printed London in 1839.

(2) ‘In Lingua or a Combat of one Tongue and Five Senses for Superiority’: a Pleasant Comedie 1607.


Chambers Book of Days. 1869. 26.9.2007. 1.12. 2016.

24th January 1924. Labour in Power.

The British prime minister before we had fixed Quinquennial Parliaments used to legitimise his position by deciding when to go to the electorate. But if he ended up not commanding the largest party he could hold out and meet parliament without resigning, until a vote has taken place on the monarch’s speech. Thus Baldwin did hold on to office until Today in 1924 when he was defeated after a vote of no-confidence.

Until 1868 the prime minister always met parliament after an election even if they had clearly lost and take defeat on a confidence vote or its equivalent before resigning. Thereafter administrations normally resigned before a new parliament assembled.

Disraeli’s decision in that year to resign immediately after the election result was clear, rather than meet parliament and be voted out by Gladstone. He thus created a precedent of an unambiguous election result showing that the government has clearly lost, it resigns immediately.

However where no party has a clear majority, either course seems to be valid constitutionally:to resign forthwith as not commanding confidence of the House or to face parliament.

This is where we come to the precedent set by Baldwin in 1923 when he was unlikely to be able to command a majority, after the Liberal Asquith said he would support Labour in a hung parliament, nonetheless decided to meet parliament.

It was only after being voted down in King’s Speech, about six week’s after the election, did he resign.

Baldwin was thus to revert to the pre-1868 practice in January 1924 after losing in December 1923 when he lost his majority and couldn’t form a coalition. He held on to office until he was defeated on a vote of no confidence over tariffs on January 24th 1924 in the King’s Speech allowing Labour and Liberals to pass the vote 328 to 251.

After Baldwin resigned the King asked Ramsay MacDonald to form a minority government and so Labour came to power for the first time.

Ref: Lord Adonis. 14.10.2010. Lessons from process of government formation after 2010. volume 1. GB Parl: House of Commons : Political & Constitutional Reform Committee.


23rd January 1766.

Ampersand, Interrobang, Pilcrow, Octothorpe, Capitulum; some of the weird names for single type faces.

Tomb of Caslon the Elder at the deconsecrated St. Luke’s, Old Street, London.

Today gunsmith and typographer William Caslon the Elder died in 1766 once notable as the founder of a distinctive and legible typeface. This secured for him the patronage oF leading printers in England and on the Continent, after being inspired by the Dutch Baroque style once the most commonly used in England.

Specimen of Caslon typefaces.

Born in Cradley in the Black Country in 1692/3. he trained as an engraver in Birminham and in 1716 started in London as an engraver of gunlocks and barrels. Becoming a bookbinders’ tool cutter which due to his contact with printers induced him to fit up a type foundry after being encouraged by William Bowyer. (1)

His name soon became identified with an enduring style of Latin alphabet and later known as Caslon’s first type called ‘Exotics’. His first design was Arabic made at ‘English size’ and commissioned by the Society for Propagation of Christian Knowledge (pre 1725), followed by Hebrew created for Bowyer in 1726 and Coptic for Wilkins in 1731.

His designs was later to influence John Baskerville typefaces and was progenitor to Transitional and Didone type classifications. Caslon’s first print version was used in the US Declaration of Independence and the motto was: ‘When in doubt use a Caslon’. However after his death his style fell from favour but revived in 1840s with several revivals still used today.

Caslon was buried at St. Luke’s, Old Street, London where his table tomb is still preserved.

(1) Two year dates common before calendar reorganisation of 1752.


Simon Garfield. Just my Type. and other Typography Curiosities.

Keith Houston. Shady Characters, 2013.