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30th June 1837. Whipping Boys.

‘He that spareth the rod, hateth the child, but he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes.’ Proverbs.XIII. 24.

The Romans had three grades of whips according to the nature of the crime: ferula, scutica and flagellum.

Today in 1837 an Act of Parliament ended the pillory in the Britain: public whipping had been abolished, for women 20 years earlier, men had to wait until the 1830.s.(1

Whipping was the punishment meted out to beggars who had strayed under the Tudor Poor Law when they were ‘whipped out of town’, and the Vagrancy Act of 1572 specified whipping of unlicensed vagabonds which included strolling players or actors.

Royal princes were whipped by proxy, with Barnaby Fitzpatrick, being the ‘Whipping Boy’, for any chastisement of Prince Edward (Edward VI). However Barnaby was later to prosper as the Baron of Ossory.

High Churchman, Archbishop Laud in the 1630.s used the Star Chamber in persecuting and torturing dissidents, including William Prynne, Henry Burton, John Bastwick and John Lilburne who were all sentenced to be whipped for aiding John Bastwicke’s scurrilous ‘Letany’ [Litany], printed in Holland and smuggled into the country.

Lilburne the outspoken Puritan and the founder of the Levellers also opposed Cromwell was whipped for his ‘oligarchic republicanism’, after being betrayed.

He was whipped from Fleet Prison to Westminster and also pilloried and imprisoned until he conformed, but released by the Long Parliament on a petition presented by Cromwell.

Whipping was the fate of Titus Oates who was whipped from two fixed points by the public hangman, for his perjury relating to the Popish Plot against Catholics in the time of Charles II. He was also condemned to annual pillory, but later pardoned by William III.

In 18thc Powys, Mary Luke was stripped to the waist and whipped, from 11 am and 12 am, between ‘ye east gate and west gate’, for the ‘felonious stealing a bodice’.

In the 1720.s the courts differentiated between private, and public whippings which were reserved for more serious crimes, which by An Act of 1770 saw anyone convicted of poaching between sunset and sunrise risk a public whipping on top of one year’s jail for a second offence.

Poaching, poor people wanting to feed their family, was taken very seriously, then regarded as a crime against property.

(1a) But not formally abolished until 1862. Whippings at the cart-tail, by the hangman was last used in Britain for a rioter in Glasgow on 8.5.1822.

(1b) The birch was not abolished in prisons until 1948.


Pepys records on Thursday 23rd May 1661 that Ascension Day was the time for ‘beating the bounds’ and whipping boys to impress on their minds the day and parish boundaries.



Order Book of Breconshire. 1725.

Powys Court Archives. B/QS/O/S.


29th June 1723. Hand-Fasting.

‘Hand Fasting’ : Old Norse ‘Hand Festa’, to strike a marriage bargain by joining hands which until 1940 was legal in Scotland, over the ‘Blacksmith’s Anvil’.(1)

The London Weekly Journal of Today June 29th 1723 reported: ‘From an inspection into the registers for marriages kept at several alehouses, brandy-shops, &c., [on the periphery] of the Fleet prison, we find no less than thirty-two couples joined together from Monday to Thursday last without licenses, contrary to an express act of Parliament against clandestine marriages’.

Various marriage rituals are recorded back to Saxon times including that of Harold II and his consort, Edith Swannesha (OE), (Swanneschals or Edith the Fair).(2)

Edith was the common law wife according to Danish Law, by a civil ‘Handfast’ for 20 years, but she was not considered his lawful wife by the Church, however there is no evidence that the children were considered illegitimate.

The 4th Lateran Council 1215 forbade clandestine marriage, with a public announcement being required, and the Council of Trent required a priest and two witnesses, as well as a promulgation of the marriage.

Blacksmith’s Shop, Gretna Green.

Clandestine marriage was certainly frowned upon by Elizabeth I when Sir Walter Raleigh secretly ’seduced’ and married Elizabeth Throckmorton (Bess), who happened to be a Lady of Privy-Chamber and Ward to the Queen, and needed her permission to wed.

Not surprisingly they earned the disfavour of the monarch. Raleigh was summoned from Panama and both unrepentant newly-weds were imprisoned in the Tower in June 1592.

In 18thc England there were many clandestine marriages such as ‘Fleet Marriages’, around the London Fleet Prison, and Scotland witnessed many un-solemnised common law arrangements, but ceased after being no longer recognised by the Kirk, and by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939, which abolished ‘Handfasting’, at Gretna Green.

Section 45 of the 1836 Marriage Act made Civil-Marriage possible thus releasing people from the constraints of the church. Nowadays many choose to avoid any ‘tying of a knot’, handfasting included.

(1) Handfasting is mentioned in Walter Scott’s, ‘The Monastery’, and in Shakespeare’s, Cymbeline, (Act I Scene vi).

(2) She is commonly known to history as Swan-neck which comes from an historical misinterpretation that her nickname represented the Old English ‘Swann’, hence (Swan Neck).


28th June 1558. The Tenby Genius.

Welshman, Robert Recorde, born in Tenby, is credited in 1557 with introducing algebra to England, and the = sign. However some continued to use the ae and oe ( short for aequalis), and vertical parallel lines until the 1700.s.

In The One of Wit of 1557, Recorde stated, [in the language of the time]: ‘To avoide the tedious repetition of these woordes: is equall to : I will settle as I doe offer in woorke use, a paire of paralleles, or gemowe [twin] lines of one lengthe =, because noe 2 thynges, can be moare equalle….’ (sic).

First Equation Ever.

Recorde had a chequered career which landed him in prison, leaving him feeling, no doubt, his future was in jeopardy.

For it was Today in 1558 that the physician and  mathematician made a will inside King’s Bench Prison, Southwark, having been put there for being unable to pay the debt for libel to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. He died soon afterwards.

Recorde had made enemies after becoming Comptroller of the Bristol Mint when he refused to divert resources to quell the rebellion in the South-West, leading to an accusation by Pembroke of Treason.

Then Recorde was made Surveyor of Mines and Monies in Ireland, but failing to make a profit was dismissed in 1553.

He wrote many books including the ‘Declaration of the Profit of Aritmeticke’ (sic), written to try to improve knowledge of basic arithmetic, in the preface writing about the poor state of learning in England. Nothing changes!

He also says, ‘how the learned are made fun of by the uneducated…it was a great cause of lament….when learned men…takes pain to do things for the aid of the unlearned. But derided and scorned and so utterly discouraged to take in hand any like enterprise again’.

Al-jabr (algebra) comes from Arabic mathematicians and which term, ‘refers to: reduction and balancing (transposition) of subtracted terms to the other side of the equation’.

In other terms, cancellation of like terms (constant terms) on opposite sides of the equation.

Abstract algebra should not be confused with manipulation of formulae as happens widely in schools, but what Recorde did in his books was bridge the difference between theory and application. However despite all his best efforts, for most today, Algebra is still a closed book.



27th June 2011. What Happened to T.J.Hughes?

T.J. Hughes was acquired by JJB Sports in 2002, but sold 18 months later to a private investment company. Nine years later Today in 2011 it was announced it was going into Administration.

It was surprising for a company which seemed to be doing well in the discount clothes and consumer hardware business and had grown by 20 stores since 2003 when it was acquired by Silverfleet Capital Private Equity.(1)

However three vital aspects caused their downfall: Cashflow caused by overstocking; withdrawal of credit insurance for suppliers, after Hughes’ battle to secure working capital, and increased competition from Peacocks, Primark, Matalan, TK Maxx, but also by the traditional food retailers Sainsbury, Asda and Tesco moving into clothing and consumer goods.

T.J. Hughes, Liverpool 1950.

There are five competitive forces that determine profitability: Suppliers and their bargaining power, substitutes or threats, buyers and their bargaining powers, potential entrants and the rivalry existing among existing competitors.

The collective strength of these five competitive forces determines the ability of firms to earn, on average, rates of return on investment in excess of the cost of capital. T.J Hughes fell foul of many of these forces.

In those areas where the five forces are favourable as in pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, data-base publishing, many competitors can earn attractive returns, but in some areas rubber, steel and video games, few firms command attractive returns despite the best efforts of management. Industrial profitability is not a function of what the product looks like or whether it embodies high or low technology but of industrial structure.

Mundane industries/companies, like T.J.Hughes can be profitable, whilst High-Tech computers and cable-television are not profitable for many participants.

The year 2011 as well as T.J. Hughes, saw the demise of the Faith Shoe Chain, Officers Club, Oddbins, Home Form (Moben kitchens/Dolphin bathrooms), Habitat and Jane Norman.

Liverpool was once the home of retail department stores: Blackler’s, Owen Owen, Littlewood’s, Lewis’s, and T.J. Hughes, but are now only a name.

In September 2012, JJB Sports followed T.J. Hughes into Administration. 

(1) Hughes’ Gross Profits rose about 50% from £3.6m (2003) to £7.9m (2004) to £12m (2006). The 2007 Pre-Tax of 5.1m to January 26th was up from £1.2m the previous year, with operating profit up 299% to £2.9m for year to January 2010. 2011/Pic.

26th June 1657. Doleful Sunday.

Mrs Crupps, David Copperfield’s landlady had a constitutional objection to ‘spies, intruders and informers and named no names, let them the cap fitted wear it’.

Petty officialdom love telling the rest of us how to live our lives, which in the 17th century was enshrined in one person: Oliver Cromwell, and his Puritan supporters. 

The Second Protectorate Parliament in England sat for two Sessions, with Thomas Widdrington as Speaker. In its First Session, the Commons was the only Chamber; in the Second, an ‘Other House’ (Lords), with power to veto was in evidence.

John Taylor Pamphlet Vindication of Christmas. 1652. Bridgeman Art Library.

The First Session ran from September 1656 until Today in 1657 which saw an Act, ‘For the Better Observation of the Lord’s Day’. (1)

Cromwell and his Puritans, in the Lord’s Name, loved to ban things: the Second Chamber of Peers, for ten years from 1649; Christmas and celebrations on Holy Days were seen as superstitious, contraventions being reported by a system of spies.

In addition Sundays, (The Lord’s Day), became extremely doleful as the 1657 Act said: [banning anything]: ‘Adjudged prophanation of the Lords Day, Travelling, Innkeeping &c; Entertaining such &c; Persons being in Taverns, Inns &c; keeping open door, Dauncing, Singing &c; Washing Whiting &c; Burning Beet, Gathering Rates, melting Tallow or Wax, Brewing, Baking, Butchers and other exposing Wares to Sale, Taylours, Barbers, Fairs, Wakes, Revels &c; Walking in Times of Publique Worship, Travelling and Carrying Burdens or Doing Worldly Labour’.

One such victim was the diarist John Evelyn who wrote about living through the time of the Commonwealth. In 1657 he and his wife went to London to take part in a ‘Christmas service to be held in secret’.

The authorities were alerted, soldiers broke up the service and arrested those present, but Evelyn records that after a few hours under arrest at a private house where he wasn’t deprived of his dinner, the prisoners were released, and Evelyn and his wife after an examination by officials, were allowed home.

Sundays in the Author’s lifetime were days of restrictions on all types of entertainment and one wasn’t allowed to play in the street. The Lord’s Day Observance Society still cast its shadow over life.

(1) The  2 sessions from 17th September 1656 until 4th February 1658. The first ran until 26th June 1657.


Ref: Acts and Ordinances of 1642-60 originally published by HMSO. London 1911.



25th June 2003. Route to Muscovy.

This evening President Putin of Russia attended a dinner at the Guildhall, London in 2003. The last Russian, as opposed to a Soviet Head of State, to experience this hospitality, was Tsar Alexander II back in 1874, who had a choice of twenty-two courses which included seven desserts.(1)

That impressive menu was headed: ‘Reception By the Corporation of the City of London of his Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of All The Russias, at the Guildhall’ followed by the date: in 2003 it just said ‘Menu’.

Map of Muscovy by Anthony Jenkinson and Gerard de Jode. 1593.

The President was here to celebrate 450 years of trade links with Britain, and marked the day when Richard Chancellor accidentally discovered the northern route to Russia, via the White Sea, which led to the formation of the Muscovy Company in 1555. (2)

The history of Arctic exploration goes back to 14th September 1553 when Sir Hugh Willoughby of Risley, the Arctic explorer, sailed into a bay near to the present border between Finland and Russia. His chief pilot was Richard Chancellor, under the auspices of what was later to be called the Muscovy Company, to find a north-east route to Cathay (China).

Seal of Muscovy Company founded by Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot and Sir Hugh Willoughby.

In the 15thc the Cabots and Columbus journeyed largely unnoticed, and Geography where taught, was based on the out-of-date ‘disc’ maps which displayed Britain as the ‘utmost corner of the West’, instead as the island outpost ideally placed to become the intermediary between the old world and the new.

The greatest mathematicians of the day were thus to produce by the latter part of the 15thc a Nautical Almanack and Manual of Navigation. But we lagged behind however in these matters for Britain, down to the time of Henry VII, was anything but a maritime people.

The oldest arithmetic books were simply Ready-Reckoners. Commerce implied ships and this implied navigation, and the ability to set a course by compass and chart.

Checking a position by even the simplest observation of a star something more than arithmetic was needed. The ship-master must be familiar with the measurement of angles.

Navigation was primitive, so two Cambridge scholars, Robert Recorde, John Dee and Richard Chancellor were brought to London  to give the most up to date training in the science of navigation that Europe could provide; thus, ‘Shooting the Sun’ began to replace ‘Rule of Thumb’.

The ability was now needed to fix the latitude of the sun and to understand the solar declination which alters daily. Thus astronomy-‘shooting the stars’ for navigation, acquired a practical significance.

By the time Henry VIII had died in 1547, a group headed by the Duke of Northumberland had embraced the project of discovering a short Arctic passage to Cathay, and accepted that maths theory was fundamental to technical advance in navigation: the beneficiaries were the Muscovy and later trading companies.

(1) May 18th 1874.

(2) The City’s first commercial links with Russia were established when Tsar Ivan IV granted a charter to the company giving it the monopoly of English trade with Russia.



24th June 1909. Nuclear Deterrent.

Today Sir William Penney a member of the team that developed the British nuclear bomb was born in 1909. Later a life-peer he died at 82 from liver cancer which may have come from a life-time’s exposure to Uranium.

Successive governments have denied any link between nuclear tests and ill-health, but links with liver cancer are well known.

Penney’s son later said, ‘his father never wanted to do the job but did what Attlee, and later Prime-Ministers asked of him, and regretted the death and suffering which had made his father’s name.

Sir William Penney. Hulton Pics.

Mathematician of Imperial College, London, Sir William worked on the original atomic bomb in the USA with Robert Oppenheimer in the 1940.s, and their use in Japan in 1945.

He was in charge of Tests between 1952-67, in Australia and the Pacific, Christmas Island, when over time, 20,000 servicemen were used as witnesses to the explosions without adequate protection. They were told to put groundsheets over their heads (they were only wearing shorts), turn round and close their eyes.

In 1985 Penney gave evidence to a Royal Commission into the Tests, the only time he had commented, saying, ‘the public were in the dark about size of ‘fall-out’. He said there ought to be a balance between East and West, and that all he wanted was to be professor’.

He also revealed that in 1958, ‘he and the top brass fled the area from the fall-out at Christmas Island, unsure of what was to happen. 

Our first Atomic Test took place on the 3rd October 1951, with the Blue Danube, Plutonium Bomb, being tested next year in the Monte Bello Islands off North-West Australia. Remarkable in that Churchill, then Prime Minister, had taken part in the last cavalry charge at Omdurman.

The first H-bomb detonation took place on 15th May 1957, leaving Harold Macmillan as the first Prime Minister to have his thermonuclear finger on the trigger.

The earliest British hydrogen bombs, the Yellow Sun Mark 11.s were fitted to V-bombers from 1961 onwards, after their successful testing under Operation Grapple on Christmas Island four years previously.

It was revealed fifty years later on a BBC Radio 4 programme that despite popular thinking we never produced an operational H-bomb in the 1950.s. It appears that the bombs in Operation Grapple on Christmas Island were fission devices, not fusion, devised to fool the media and convince the Americans we now had the H-bomb, despite be denied American co-operation after the 1946 U.S. McMahon Act.

In 2009 the victims of the nuclear tests were granted the right to sue the Ministry of Defence, at a time of only 3,000 surviving  servicemen who had been involved and experienced the effects of radio-active fall-out.

We are all victims to some extent and do what is expected of us and I speak as someone drafted to carry arms at the government’s behest. William Penney as a mathematician was drafted into government service in World War II and things developed from there: all he wanted was to be professor.

References: 1.3.2009.