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31st July 1976. Battle for Clean Water.

‘It is vain to say where nothing is discovered there is nothing wrong’: William Lambe a campaigner for cleaning up the River Thames, the main source of London’s water supply.

We take water for granted, but the vital importance of the supply was brought home in 1976 when there was a great chance that Britain would run out of water, after the hottest and driest spell in memory.

Conditions were so bad that Today in 1976 when the Lord’s Test Match was stopped due to rain it was greeted with applause.

In the early 19thc it wasn’t the lack of water which constituted the problem, but its quality much of which, in London, came from the River Thames.

The bone of contention was the disagreement concerning what passed for scientific investigation, of the properties of the water.

On one side was Dr William Lambe who in 1828 asserted that, ‘the ordinary water a great many habitually drank was deadly… and was laden with organic matter in a state of decomposition…[and] had an injurious effect on the health’. (1)

He went on, ‘sometimes decaying organic matter is perceptible-noticeably foul, and in this case the common feeling of disgust induces men to reject it as unfit for human use…

…but all too frequently contamination was not only imperceptible to senses undetected by water analysts who exclusively and scandalously concentrated on the mineral spa waters of the rich, ignoring the water that everyone drank’. 

That was the nub of the argument and would have continued to rest with learned societies disagreeing behind a smoke-screen only of concern to the academic.

However when they are exposed to the light in a court room or public inquiry as with the 1828 Inquiry on London’s Water and The Royal Commission on Water Supply, conditions are set to change.

Then in December 1850 The Times reported on the current concern about water pollution in London which was increasingly becoming a battle not between politicians, but between the mineral chemists and those concerned with organic pollutants.

The newspaper’s Leader on the outbreak of the water controversy highlighted the dichotomy in scientific thinking, but made light of the degree that it had become before a select Committee which brought: ‘a long-necked phial from all the ponds within 50 miles with analysis by Professor Brande and contrary analysis by Michael Faraday…recriminations will be rife of animal and vegetative material and mineral pollution…’

Lambe, believer in common sense and epidemiology, was the harbinger in many ways of John Snow who proved that the source of water pollution came from contaminated wells, by closing a pump in Soho. 

(1) Dr Lambe a Fellow and Censor of the Royal College of Physicians, graduate and Fellow of St John’s, Cambridge where he was 4th Wrangler 1786.


Ref: An investigation of the properties of Thames Water, Butcher & Underwood, London. 1828. P.52.

Ref: No 3 3 London Water Dress Rehearsal of 1828

Ref: Saturday Review. 10 Oct. 1868.



30th July 1818. Wuthering Heights.

A reviewer in 1848 of Wuthering Heights reflecting on its austere background suggested it should have been called Withering Heights.

Today Emily Bronte was born in 1818, the fifth of six children of Patrick Bronte, Irish born, perpetual curate of the Yorkshire village of Haworth.

Title Page of original edition 1847.

Known for her only novel Wuthering Heights, a tale of a passionate war between two families, the book didn’t get off to a good start with one reviewer saying, ‘it was coarse and loathsome’, which in that Evangelical, god-fearing age it would have been so considered.

Another said that, ‘in spite of much power and cleverness… and truth to life in remote nooks and corners of England, Wuthering Heights is a disagreeable story’.

The three Bronte girls adopted pseudonyms to hide their true identities; Emily became Ellis Bell with one reviewer assuming it was a man writing pedantically; ‘Mr Ellis Bell should have known that forced marriages under threat are illegal’.


It was thus a difficult age for female writers who felt so constrained that they couldn’t advertise their name, so when Jane Austen was published, the book was described as written ‘By a Lady’.(1)


‘Pillar Painting’ 1835 of the three Bronte sisters by brother Branwell. Left to Right: Anne, Emily and Charlotte.

The Bronte’s brother, Branwell hoped to be a professional painter and the portraits above show the sisters separated by a pillar which originally had shown Branwell, who painted himself out.

However with the passage of time more of Branwell is being revealed and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is investigating through examination of the painting’s pigments to see how it was altered.

The picture, incredibly, was found on top of a wardrobe folded up, in 1906 by the 2nd wife of Charlotte Bronte’s husband, the Rev.A.B. Nicholls.

Many books of the early 19thc were only rescued from obscurity later in the century with Wuthering Heights being championed in the 1880.s by Charles Swinburne, Matthew Arnold and G.K. Chesterton who said it was ,’written by an eagle’.

In an age of airport books that ‘fly off’ shelves it is difficult to imagine a time when they were not written to order, but in the case of the Brontes with ample time on their hands it was a chance to retreat into a fantasy world with no notion of monetary reward.

However with reviews such as the one which said, ‘the brutal master of the lonely house…had his prototype in those ungenial remote districts, where human beings like the trees grow gnarled and dwarf”, it’s no surprise they were not instant best sellers.

(1) Thus they were known as Acton (Anne), Currer ( Charlotte) and Ellis (Emily) Bell.

References: 18.12.2015. Hannah Furness article on NPG painting/Pic. page of Wuthering Heights. books Pic.


29th July 1833. Slavery.

Slavery has been endemic down the centuries involving all races and peoples.

In the 17thc vice-admiral Sir William Rainborough and Ambassador to Morocco campaigned unsuccessfully to end the ’White-Slave’ trade, especially concerning North African slavers who were capturing native Irish from around Baltimore.

Slavery is recorded in  the Code of Hammurabi (c1760 BCE), and in Greco-Roman times captured foreigners were enslaved.

In 18th century Britain with many wealthy people benefiting from slave plantations and trading, certain Evangelicals notably the Clapham Sect, made it their mission to end the infamous trade. The most notable and influential was William Wilberforce, who died Today in 1833.(1)

Slavery became  particularly profitable in the 16th century with Africans being sent to America to work the cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations, in a triangle of trade which filled the coffers of the likes of the Linlithgows (Hopes) and Beckfords.

Wilberforce House and statue, Hull.

Slavery became illegal in Britain in 1772: Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s declaration stated: ‘No slave could be forcibly removed from Britain and sold back into slavery’.

It followed the tragic case of a slave picked up on the Thames, so not being on land was condemned to be returned, but committed suicide instead.

An Act of 1807, repressed the British slave trade and on the 1st August 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire.

Most British ports benefited from slave trading, notably Glasgow, Bristol, and Liverpool where references are sculpted into pier-side buildings. Banks grew rich, and thoroughfares, Matthew St and Penny Lane commemorate slave-ship captains.

Bristol slave trade began in 1698 when London’s monopoly of the Royal African Company was broken and like Glasgow was closely involved in tobacco.

Glasgow street names also, are testimony to the men made rich: Buchanan, Glassford, Ingram and Dunlop. William Cunningham whose Mansion in the centre of the City was remarkable in its opulence, is now home to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art.

The Church of England was owner of West Indian plantations, with Bishop Phillpots of Exeter opposing any reform having invested in the Jamaican slave trade; he was burnt in effigy in his own Palace Yard.

Then High Tory, William Gladstone’s maiden speech in Parliament on 3rd June 1833 during the Committee Stage of a Bill for the Abolition of Slavery defended his father from charges of cruelty to the slaves on his West Indian plantation in Demarara. Ownership was widespread.

Brown Shipley was founded in 1825, when William Brown of Liverpool, (whose father had dealt in linen in America), with Joseph Shipley, became involved in financing merchants who were shipping goods and slaves between US and Britain, Europe and the Americas.(2)

Wilberforce was buried next to Pitt at Westminster Abbey. Statue: Samuel Joseph 1791-1850.

As an antidote to undue hero worship, Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect were responsible for the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, there to spread the Gospel and civilisation.

Its capital Freetown denoted the area as a refuge for those rescued by the Royal Navy from slave ships, and for immigrants from across the Atlantic.

Being termed by the 1807 Act as ‘Apprentices’, they were however on arrival sold off to resident landowners, though for a term ostensibly of 14 years, thus de facto again slaves.

However the Clapham Sect and Wilberforce were caught between two stools: there was the chance that the Abolition bill wouldn’t get through the Lords without some sop, so there might have been some trade-off as the lesser of two evils.

(1)  The Group based in Clapham, London included many influential people many of whom were to set the moral tone of the 19thc.

(2) Brown was a public benefactor and commemorated in the William Brown Library and Museum. Brown Shipley traded as a separate company until recently.

Ref: BBC. Slavery/Families.

theguardian.3.8.2010.Stephen Tomkins article on Sierra Leone slavery.

28th July 1863. Treasonable Thoughts.

Between 1530 and 1540 Henry VIII was to execute 300 on Treason charges.

The Treason Act of 1534 aimed against those who disavowed Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy claimed many victims including three Carthusian priors and a monk who were hanged and quartered in 1535, a few weeks before the beheading of Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Fisher on Tower Green, London.

On the accession of his son Edward VI in 1547, all forms of high treason introduced since 1351, except forging and counterfeiting, were abrogated.

However the Act created new treasonable acts such as denying the King was Supreme Head of the Church, and attempting to interrupt the succession as determined by the 3rd Succession 1543 Act which had returned the right of Mary and Elizabeth to succeed after their half-brother.

After Elizabeth succeeded in 1558, an Act of 1570 stated that a charge of High Treason could be used if there was an intention to cause: ‘bodily harm to the Queen, levy war, incite others or say she ought not to enjoy the Crown, or publish in writing, saying she is heretic, tyrant or usurper…or to say that enacted by Parliament do not govern a successor’.

The underlying reason behind the Tudor Treason Acts was a paranoia aimed to protect the succession in favour of the Family who had defeated the last of the Plantagenets in 1485.

Potential interlopers were condemned with Henry VIII determined that the succession should go via his heirs, and not to the likes of Buckingham who had been executed back in 1521 for ‘having treasonable thoughts’.

It resulted in the loss of his estates Penshurst and Thornbury, which the Crown acquired along with twelve castles.

Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s Chief Minister, produced a new Treason Bill which made it High Treason punishable by death and confiscation even to question verbally any of Henry’s titles let alone in writing or by act and said that verbal treason had been an offence in Common Law since the middle of the last century.

However Cromwell ironically, was ‘hoist by his own petard’ being charged with High Treason and Heresy, and trumped-up charges that he had sworn to marry the King’s daughter Mary in 1538 and usurp the throne. He was executed.

The charge and penalty was a repeat of what Cromwell himself had suggested for dealing with the remaining Plantagenets, including the aged Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.

Lady Jane Grey was executed for treason along with her husband, the Protestant, Guildford Dudley, son of John Dudley, created Earl of Warwick by Edward VI in 1547, after Jane had been proclaimed queen for 9 days, in place of Catholic Mary the rightful heiress.

When Mary succeeded in 1553 she abolished all Treason Acts since 1351 and Not until the Statute Law Revision Act of Today in 1863 was section 2 of Mary’s Act repealed, and not until 1967 was the remainder repealed. 



27th July 1986. Pocket Cartoons.

Osbert Lancaster who died Today in 1986 will be remembered as the creator of Pocket Cartoons, the single-panel topical drawings which were a regular feature of the Daily Express newspaper from 1939 until 1979.


He thus in this time became a British institution and deservedly rests in the pantheon of cartoonists which includes the likes of Giles, also of the Express, along with David Low and others. Matt of the Daily Telegraph is his modern counterpart.

In World War II he was engaged in Press censorship whilst continuing a wry look at daily events, through his cartoons, and so offering an antidote to those dreary times of rationing and bombing.

Lancaster came from that now defunct, Oxford educated, upper-middle class, which contributed so much in a literature which reflected that way of life, thinking of novelists Evelyn Waugh, and Anthony Powell, for whose front covers Lancaster was to illustrate, and poet and friend John Betjeman with whom he worked on the Architectural Review.







Lancaster thus contributed in his small way to lift the spirits of the British people with his gentle mockery of the upper classes and their concerns, epitomised particularly by the comments of Maudie Littlehampton and her aristocratic family.

Critic, stage designer, author, illustrator and commenter on architecture and dandyish gossip, Lancaster richly deserved to be one of the few cartoonists along with John Tenniel and David Low in being awarded a knighthood.



pinterest/Pics. Osbert Lancaster. David Smith. 23.11.2008.

Abbott and Holder/Pics.

26th July 1968. La Reyne le Veult.

Today in 1968 the Royal Assent was given to the Theft Act replacing the 1916 Larceny Act. Nothing particularly unusual, just the final confirmation of a procedure which had passed through Commons and Lords in the British Parliament, and sealed by the Norman French ‘La Reyne le Veult’, The Queen Wills It. (1)

The last time a bill was rejected was in 1707 when Queen Anne gave the thumbs-down to one concerning the Scottish Militia.

The Royal Prerogative of Assent is now done by proxy through The Lord Commissioners who are Privy Councillors appointed on the Monarch’s behalf’ and granted through Letters Patent. Queen Victoria was the last to grant the Royal Assent in person in 1854.

The change away from the monarch’s direct involvement came with Henry VIII’s decision to execute Catherine Howard for adultery, which was inserted in an Act of Attainder, noting that Assent by Commissioners; ‘is and ever was and ever shall be as good, as Assent by the Sovereign person‘.

Start of Parchment Roll of the Reform Act 1832,
with the name of William IV at top. Clerk’s Record of Royal Assent.

The Royal Assent by The Commissioners Act 1541 was a practical way round the sensitive problem of the bill being read in his presence.

Thus the bill passed in 1542 for the execution of Catherine Howard for adultery created a new way in which Royal Assent was granted for legislation.

It read: ‘The Bill of Atteynder of mestres Katherirn Hawarde late Quene of England and divers other personnes complices’…(sic)

In that Katherine was to be convicted by Bill of Attainder it avoided normal prosecution in a court of law, in other words, at the King’s behest.

Until 1542 the Royal Assent could only be granted by King in person at a ceremony when the whole bill was read out loud. However Henry decided that a repetition of, ‘so grievous a Strong and recital of so infamous a Crime in his presence might re-open a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom’. So to avoid this, Parliament inserted a clause in the Bill of Attainder which provided for Royal Assent be granted by Commissioners.

Initially the arrangement was used sparingly but became the norm and though the last to grant the Assent personally was Victoria, previously George IV had attempted to thwart a bill over Emancipation and George V had taken legal advice relating to the 1911 Ireland bill.

The Henrician Act wasn’t finally repealed until The Royal Assent Act of 1967 which confirmed the modern system. The mills of the law grind exceedingly slow but sure.

(1) It would be Le Roy Vuelt for a King.

Acts of Parliament were dated in the year in which session of parliament it started rather than when passed.




25th July 1957. Cutting the Coat…

In times of national financial stringency often the military is seen as a soft target for the axe, so it was in 1957 when a Bank Rate of 5-7%, the highest since 1921, saw the government looking to reduce expenditure.

Today The Times headline in 1957 announced: ‘Merged regiments and new system of brigades with many familiar units to lose their separate identity’.

It went on: ‘The British Army was to be reduced in size…leaving it with a strength of 165,000 officers and men. The process was to be carried out in two phases, to be completed by the end of 1959 and 1962 respectively’.

The February 1957, Sandys’ White Paper Directive envisaged armed forces of c380,000; half the size of 1954, but also included measures affecting the aircraft industry, as the development of ground to air missiles was now optimistically seen as the future for defence.(1)

The Directive was driven through by Sandys who brooked no opposition from the Service Chiefs, with Enoch Powell describing the atmosphere in the Minister of Defence, as ‘abrasive’, a view supported by Sir Richard Way, Deputy Secretary at the Ministry.

Sandys had a reputation for cost-cutting going back to 1953 when he spearheaded cost-cutting on aircraft carriers, so when Harold Macmillan took over in 1957 as Prime Minister, he supported the Minister aware that a 1946 Act had given greater power to politicians. (2)

The fallout from the review was the rapid amalgamation of household names of aircraft manufactures, so in 1960 English Electric, British Aero Company and Vickers Armstrong became British Aircraft Corporation.

Then Hunting Aircraft joined De Havilland, Blackburn Aircraft and Folland to become Hawker Siddeley, which already embraced Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Gloster and Hawker since 1935.

One result of the 1957 review was the cancellation of aircraft in development, the next generation of supersonic interceptors, as against high flying bombers. Thus the F 155, SR 53 and 177 and Avro 730 were cancelled, as was Blue Rosette the nuclear weapon to arm it.

Then Blue Envoy surface to air missile was surprisingly cancelled, though the English Electric P1 Lightning was spared as it was too far advanced to cancel.

However in a seemingly volte-face, the later 1959 Defence White Paper made no reference of deterrent defence and confirmed the importance of conventional forces with the army increased to 180,000.

(1) Sandys was Tory, Secretary for Defence.

(2) Under MOD Section 1 of MOD Act 1946.

(3) Westland took the helicopter work of Saunder’s Roe, Fairey Aviation plus Bristol’s . The Hovercraft element of Saunders’ was merged with Vickers-Supermarine as British Hovercraft Corporation; Handley Page remained independent.

Auster, Boulton Paul, Miles Aircraft, Scottish Aviation and Short Brothers (bought by Bombardier in 1989), merged with British Aerospace in 1977.

In 1959 Armstrong Siddeley and Bristol Engine divisions merged into Bristol Siddeley, to be bought by Rolls-Royce in 1966.


PRO.AIR 19/856 Extract of Minutes of Meeting of PS 20.2.1957.

Government and Armed Forces in Britain 1856-1990, Paul Smith.

Enoch Powell described Sandys at his time at Housing as ‘exacting’ (The Independent, 27th November 1987).

Alistair Horne. Macmillan. London 1988. p.245.