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24th July 1941. Sinking of the Scharnhorst.

The German battleship Scharnhorst was posing a problem from the beginning of World War II, as along with the Gneisenau the two ships operated together in the Atlantic against merchant shipping.


During her first operation Scharnhorst sunk the auxiliary cruiser Rawalpindi in November 1939 and participated in the invasion of Norway.

During operations off Norway the two ships engaged the battle cruiser Renown and the carrier Glorious and its escort destroyers Acaster and Ardent in June 1940.

HMS Ardent.

Glorious sent off messages but these never reached the British fleet or HQ. Minutes later, Scharnhorst with 11 inch gun, salvos sank all the ships.

Sadly though many of Acasta’s crew survived to abandon ship, communication errors meant there was unawareness of the sinking. There was one survivor from Acasta and around 800 died from exposure.(1)

In 1941 air reconnaissance concerning the position of the German battleship Scharnhorst showed she had moved to La Pallace (Rochelle), on the Atlantic coast, in an attempt to disperse the concentration at Brest.

As Brest was the RAF’s target for that night the 24th July, it was decided that two squadrons 35 and 76 of Halifax bombers should fly an extra 200 miles to bomb the Scharnhorst. whilst the rest went to Brest.

Of the 15 Halifaxes which inflicted serious damage on the Scharnhorst five of the unescorted Halifax bombers never came back from Le Pallice.

However the strategic damage was immeasurable as apart from Scharnhorst, the Gneisenau was being repaired, the Prince Eugen was damaged and the Bismarck had been sunk on 27th May. All of the capital ships depoyed to the Atlantic were thus out of action.

In early 1942 after repairs had been completed the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made a daylight dash through the Channel and in early 1943 joined the Tirpitz in Norway to interdict the allied Russian convoys and Scharnhorst and destroyers sortied from Norway to attack.

Revenge came on December 26th 1943 when the Scharnhorst the last major ship in the German Navy and responsible for sinking twenty ships, sallied from a fjord and was sunk attacking a Russian convoy (JW 55B), off North Cape.

HMS Saumarez slowed up the ship with fire, for the Duke of York to deliver the coup de grace after 7pm and so the Battle of North Cape ended the last big sea battle of the War.(2)

(1) In the engagement Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest gunnery hits in history.

(2) The sinking of the Scharnhorst was aided by Richard Pendered’s work at Bletchley, working as part of a small team who broke ’shark’ Enigma cipher used by U-boats. He was only eighteen when in July 1940 he joined the Code and Cipher School after a year reading maths at Cambridge.


Scharnhorst was the lead ship of the Class Gneisenau. Laid down in June 1936 and launched October 1936 she was the main battleship with 9 11inch guns in 3 triple batteries.

The two ships, with Gneisanau were built in the mid-1930s outside the limitations of the Versailles Treaty and at 32 knots were faster than most naval ships. They were dubbed Salmon and Gluckstein by bomber pilots after the British leading chain of tobacconists.




23rd July 1781. High Treason.

Charles Dickens’ novel, Tale of Two Cities, referring to the life and trial of Charles Darnay, brings to mind that of the French ‘expat’, Francois Henri de la Motte, emphasising the grotesqueness and gruesomeness of public executions up to the 18th century. 

However whilst Henry Carton altruistically took the place at the guillotine for Darnay, la Motte suffered Hanging, Drawing and Quartering.

de la Motte had been arrested as a suspected French spy in January 1781 and spent six months in the Tower of London.

At the Old Bailey Today 23rd July, Motte was found guilty of informing the French of Fleet disposals at Portsmouth, an enemy, which apart from supporting America in the Revolutionary Wars, had been at war with us from the beginning of their revolution in 1778.(1)

La Motte was sentenced to Hanging, Drawing and Quartering (HDQ), the traditional penalty in England for High Treason since 1352, though first recorded in the 13thc reign of Henry III.

He was executed for High Treason on 27th July 1781. but the full grisly extra execution process was mitigated, by this time executioners having discretion in executions. It is said that 80,000 turned out for the public execution of la Motte.

de la Motte.

However the Scots David Tyrie who was executed at Winchester in 1782 for sending naval, treacherous information to the French, didn’t escape the full horror of HDQ with unmentionable extras thrown in.

Here again thousands turned out for what was to be the last HDQ in English history, with people fighting for pieces of the body.

The pre-Victorian Secret Service Fund did not provide for an established Service, but financed British propaganda and espionage on the Continent via free-lance agents and political and diplomatic bribery.

Espionage really got into its stride in Napoleonic times when the authorities became paranoid about security and invasion, similar to 1940.

In 1794 the Government brought prosecutions against those whom it deemed to be writers, publishers and purveyors of seditious literature and its object was to bring the medieval charge of ‘compassing the death of the king’ to make into an act of treason.

Even the poet Wordsworth and his drug-crazed friend Coleridge strolling by night on the Quantocks in 1797, were under the observation of Mr. Walsh, a Home Office Spy which Coleridge later recalled in his ‘Biographia Literaria‘.

(1) Harry Peckham one of the early founders of Cricketing Law was junior counsel to former A.G. John Dunning, who had to retire from the case due to ill-health, in the unsuccessful defence of la Motte.


Thackeray in his last unfinished novel Denis Duval the leading characters are la Motte and his accomplish Henry Lutterloh.

Ref: Harvey Peter Sucksmith and Paul Davies. The Dickensian Magazine Spring. 2004, No 462, vol 100. pt.1.



22nd July 1911. If You Don’t Like the Heat…

The 2018 summer in Britain is set to break some kind of record for dryness and sunshine, which brings to mind one of the hottest summers of the 20th century that of 1911, when although public health had improved since the last great hot summer of 1868, there was still a marked increase in the death rate, especially among babies and small children, from gastric and other disorders.

During July 1911, afternoon temperatures regularly reached more than 86F (30C) with Today July 22nd seeing the hottest temperatures with highs of 96F (35.6C) at Greenwich Observatory, and 97F ( 36.1C) at Epsom, Surrey. The average maximum temperature for the whole of July was 81.7F (27.6C) recorded at Camden Square, London.

Nude bathing in London’s Regent’s Canal. 1911.

Girls in Serpentine, Regent’s Park, London. 1911.







Though the last ten days of the month saw localised thunder storms, the fine settled weather lasted through to the second half of October, but early November brought a different kind of extreme, this time delivering severe gales and exceptionally high tides.

Two intense depressions tracked from mid Atlantic past the western and northern Isles of Scotland between November 3rd and the 6th delivering a severe south to south-westerly gale with an average wind speed of 70 mph.

Western Scotland bore the brunt in Clydeside, as it coincided with high tides, with forests in Argyllshire and Perthshire, along with woodland by Loch Lomand suffering ‘indescribable destruction’.

Further south damage was done at the airfield on Port Meadow, Oxford with all the aircraft sheds wrecked, several ending up on the lines of the nearby Great Western. Heavy rain accompanied the storm and not surprisingly Seathwaite in Borrowdale, said to be the wettest place in Britain, getting 3.68inches (93mm).

Repeated heat waves during July and August are often accompanied by high humidity meant that these months comprised the hottest ‘high summer’ in the Central England Temperature (CET) record between 1659-1983.

July 1911 remains the sunniest calendar month on record over England and Wales with monthly aggregates exceeding 300 hours over much of the Midlands, East Anglia, south Wales and southern England with many southern towns seeing 350 hours.

The CET of each month was 64.8 F (18.2C), a figure which was only exceeded in both July and August 1995. It is possible that the heat might have contributed to widespread industrial unrest in 1911, with riots in London, Liverpool, south Wales and Belfast, but probably this is too simplistic.


Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.


Phillip Eden. Weather Watch. Daily Telgraph, Sat. July 16th 2011.

21st July 1995. Parliamentary Privilege.

One of the great applications of common law relates to the notion of what is called MPs. ‘Privilege‘.

It was Today 1995, in the middle of the ‘cash for questions’ scandal, that the Libel case brought by Neil Hamilton MP against the Guardian newspaper was stopped by Mr. Justice May when he ruled that the prohibition on courts questioning parliament proceedings contained in the 1689 Bill of Rights would prevent the Guardian from obtaining a fair trial.

It resulted in Section 13 of the 1996 Defamation Act a year later when MPs could waive Privilege. (1)

Parliamentary Privilege goes back to Haxey’s Case in 1397, relating to Sir Thomas Haxey, which is a leading case in English law as it established the right of free speech within Parliament.(2)

It arose when Haxey presented a Petition to parliament criticizing the cost of Richard II’s Household. The king was affronted and with the collusion of Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel insisted Haxey be tried for treason and be deposed of his title and possessions. However when Henry IV came to the throne in 1399, after deposing Richard, he petitioned parliament to reverse the judgement against Haxey as being ‘against the law and custom which had been before in parliament’.

In the 16thc parliamentary privilege was an issue when Richard Strode MP was prosecuted by the powerful Stannary Court for attempting to rectify problems in the tin industry. He came up against Stannary jurisdiction which enforced a law which protected obstruction of tin mining.

For this breach of Stannary Ordinance, he was imprisoned, by his fellow ‘tinners’, in Lydford Castle, ‘in a loathsome dungeon, at first in  irons, until he bribed a gaoler for release and survived on bread and water’.

Thomas Denys, Deputy Warden of The Stannaries, now came up against parliamentary privilege and thus sought clarification from the King’s Council, which resulted in the Privilege of Parliament Act 1512. (3)

The Strode case is one of the earliest and most important regarding parliamentary privilege.  However in the 1629 prosecution of Sir John Eliot MP, the court held that Strode’s Act was a private act applying only to Strode and not other MPs.(4)

In 1667 the Commons and Lords declared it a general law and established the common law principle that privilege extends beyond any action for treason or defamation and was subsequently codified as Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689. 

Parliamentary Privilege was raised when claims, citing the Bill of Rights, which exempts MPs in proceedings in and out Parliament from the law, were dismissed, in the MPs expenses scandal, in the new millennium, brought to light when the Daily Telegraph acquired a disk of all the sleazy details which Parliament had attempted to keep private.


The 1689 Bill of Rights protected Parliament vis a vis the Crown; it wasn’t for the commonality.

(1) Section 13. Defamation Act 1996.

(2) (Rotuli Parliamentorium iii 434.

(3) Henry VIII c8.

(4) R v Eliot, Hollis & Valentine.


20th July 1837. Hardwick’s Arch.

Philip Hardwick, in the 19th century, designed railway station buildings. including Euston and Birmingham, Curzon Street, the warehouses at St Katherine’s Docks, London in 1825, and the third Goldsmiths’ Hall. (1)

St. Katherine’s Dock, London, opened 25.10.1828.

Present Goldsmiths’ Hall, London.





It is however Euston Station, London (built by William Cubitt), for which Hardwick is largely remembered, opened Today in 1837 as the terminus of the London-Birmingham Railway. (2)

Euston Arch, 1934. Opposite picture 1950.s

An heroic monument to Britain’s railway age. This huge Greek Doric gateway, built in 1838, rose over 70ft to form a gigantic gateway to Euston, the first mainline terminus in a capital city anywhere in the world. Its demolition in 1962 triggered a public outcry which did much to boost the growth of the conservation movement.








One of its most outstanding features was the Doric Propylaeum, based on the ancient Greek gateway to the Acropylis at Athens.

It was this three storey 70feet high, entrance arch which caused a furore when Prime-Minister Macmillan authorised its demolition in 1962.

Curzon Street Station, Birmingham.

Euston Station in its prime 19thc.





The result was the founding of the Victoria Society and poet John Betjeman’s campaign which possibly saved the nearby St. Pancras Hotel, in the revolt in society against demolition of England’s heritage.

The Euston Arch saw many owners: The London to Birmingham from 1837-1845; London and North West Railway 1846-1922; London Midland and Scottish 1923-1947 and British Railways, London Midland Region 1948-1994 under which demolition was effected.

The Euston Arch eventually ended up in the Prescott Channel, part of the River Lea, near London, built in 1930-35, to improve the waterway. In 2009 in a project to build a lock as part of the London Olympic Project, 29 of the stones were raised from the bed.

In a campaign led by art-historian Dan Cruickshank the stones are being held in trust with the possibility of their being used in the reformed Euston Station, as part of the HS2 Project.(3)

(1) Hardwick, 15,6.1792-28.12.1879.

(2) LNWR initials can still be seen carved in Portland Street, Euston Station entrance.

(3) S.W. Prescott, Chair of the Lee Conservancy Board.

Ref: Pic. article featured in ‘Lost London: 1870-1945’, a free English Heritage exhibition at Kenwood House, Hampstead (23 January – 5 April) of historical photographs of a now vanished London. Pic of Euston 1934.


19th July 1995. Danger of being, ‘Killed, Maimed or Hurt’.

The above heading relates to anyone, so affected, in resisting the Receiver of Wrecks under the 1894 Merchant Shipping Act.

The Receiver, who in theory was allowed to carry weapons until 1997, was also not subject to any punishment or damages by reason of the person being so ‘killed, maimed or hurt'(1)

A wreck is any part of a vessel, plane or cargo and if not claimed within one year proceeds go to the Crown.

Today the Royal Assent was given in 1995 to the Merchant Shipping Act, replacing the 1894 Act. 


Under the 1894 Act when a vessel is in distress the Receiver, ‘shall take command of all persons present, and assign to them such duties as he thinks, though he must not interfere between master and crew unless requested to do so by the master. Hence he should be a person of such powerful personality that, even though he is dressed in pyjamas and duffel-coat, the crew will instinctively obey him rather than the captain’ (2).

The 1894 Act required any owners of a cart, wagon or horses who unreasonably refused to lend them may have to pay £100 a penalty, which also included obstructing Receivers from passing over his land.

The Receiver of Wrecks also has the ancient charge to undertake the disposal of ‘Royal’ Fish which includes, dead whales, dolphins, porpoises and sturgeon, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, rights going back to Edward II.

Two wrecks of the amunition packed, SS Robert Montgomery and SS Castilian, administered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, are ‘no-go’ areas as they were grounded in World War II. Their disturbance could result in such a catastrophic explosion that many in nearby settlements could indeed be ‘killed, maimed or hurt’.


(1) The term wreck includes ‘jetsam’ relating to items thrown overboard; ‘flotsam’ items floating on the water; ‘lagan’ includes items tied to a buoy and ‘derelict’ refers to property that has been abandoned.

(2) The Receiver of Wrecks comes under Admiralty Jurisdiction.


Royal Assent 19 July 1995. Salvage and Wrecks Part IX.

Punch Mag. Jan 10th 1968. E.S. Turner.

slideshare. UK Maritime, Coastguard Agency.

18th July 1556. The Grinstead Martyrs.

Many Protestants refused to abide by Catholic practises after the accession of ‘Bloody’ Mary in 1553 and so paid the ultimate price of heresy: burning at the stake.

This in the name of any belief, even in the 16th century, must have been regarded with abhorence by any sentient, right-minded people.

Her father Henry VIII had left a poisonous legacy in his 6 Articles of Faith, one of which,  the denial of Transubstantiation, was regarded as a capital offence and which had been retained in the reign of his ‘Protestant’ son Edward VI.(1)

Today we commemorate three who so suffered in the middle of East Grinstead, Sussex, as John Foxe recorded:

‘In Grinstead in Sussex suffered two men and one woman the names of whom were Thomas Dungate, John Forman and Mother [Anne] Tree, who for righteousness sake gave themselves  to death torments and the fire, patiently abiding what the furious rage of man could say or work against them; at the said town of Grinstead ending their lives the 18 July 1556′. (2)

A memorial inside West Hoathly Church records: ‘Ann Tree of this parish was for her faith burnt at the stake in the High Street of East Grinstead in 1556’.

Near these modern shops the Grinstead martyrs suffered death by burning.

The plaque was erected nearly 400 years after the martyrs’ deaths in 1940, where only a stone slab in the churchyard at St. Swithin’s, East Grinstead, commemorates the three martyrs.

Among the charges was that they had refused to give up their Protestant faith and whilst others had been discreet in their Protestantism, they had overtly listened to a preacher from Plaw Hatch near East Grinstead between 1549 and 1552.

In 1556 the Queen’s men swooped on the preacher and he was martyred the same year.

Memorial to Grinstead Martyrs.

Ann Tree was tried before Richard Brisley, Vicar-General of the Bishop of Chichester. She insisted she did not attend Mass, as she had no Latin. She was excommunicated, branded as an heretic and handed over to the secular judges for execution.

Excommunication, which punishment is to be found in the Pauline Epistles, meant damnation, forbidden the Sacraments; a threat used against the monarchs, Kings John, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Henry VIII died a Catholic leaving £500 per annum for masses for his soul’s repose and though his daughter Mary was responsible for hundreds of burnings for offending against Catholic doctrine, matters under the King had been little better. Not until the reign of Elizabeth did a via media arise.

(1) Transubstantiation: Where wine and bread are mysteriously changed into body and blood of Jesus.

288 were said to have suffered a martyr’s death in the reign of Queen Mary I, 36 in Sussex alone.

(2) Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. J. Foxe.1563.