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23rd June 1503. Alum.

Henry VII had enriched himself by trading alum in 1486, after alternative sources from the Ottoman Empire had been found. Previously the pope had controlled a monopoly being mined only in Tolfa, Italy, in the process making a fortune for the Pope. 

The chemistry of textile dying, which required alum, developed from unforeseen circumstances relating to the Treaty of Betrothal of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, which took place Today in 1503.

Alum Crystal.

However at the time of Henry’s annulment of the marriage, the pope who had controlled the source of alum, essential as a mordant in cloth dyeing, in retaliation, cut off supplies.

Remains of alum liquor channel.

Abandoned Alum House in North Yorkshire..

Alum is a mordant which binds the dye, like a glue, to the cloth fibres, without which the colours are less vivid and soon wash out. Thus without the Papal alum, the race was on to find alternative sources in Britain. 

It was textile manufacturer Sir Thomas Challoner in 1600 who realised, after visiting Italy,that the shales in North Yorkshire, were similar to those at Tolfa.

So returning with key workers he set about quarrying the grey shale from the cliffs on the coast at Ravenscar, North Yorkshire.(1) 

The industry was to continue in Yorkshire until the mid-1800.s and the remains of track-ways for horse and carts, and harbours, where flat-bottomed ships berthed, are still evident.

The shale was roasted slowly for nine months on a bonfire and either toasted seaweed and ammonia from stale human urine was added.

It has been said that ‘Taking the P***’, came from ships’ captains transporting urine from London, when asked the contents of their cargo.

The liquor collected in big lead pans until a fresh chicken’s egg just floated on the surface. After a long time cooling, out came beautiful colourless crystals of pure alum.

Chemistry as a science was not officially developed for another 150 years, but this blend of alchemy and trial and error became the first chemical industry in the country.

Over the next 250 years thousands of tons of alum were made in north Yorkshire all resulting from the rift of Henry VIII from Rome.

Alum was vital to our woollen trade originally based in the West Country, East Anglia, and Coventry where  textiles at the Whitefriars had flourished since the 1340.s, (with its ‘true blue’ dyed cloth), thus establishing the fourth largest industry outside London.

(1) The names Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight and Alum Chine in Dorset testify to the activity there to find alum.

References. yorkshire. of crystal.




22nd June 1402. Welsh Triumph.

As Merlin once predicted the Welsh would once again rule England, but whilst not to be, at least they gave the English a ‘bloody-nose’ after the Battle of Pilleth in 1402, which the English prefer to forget.

Site of Bryn Glas (Blue Hill) or Pilleth where the Welsh occupied the domed hill and English from this angle up the River Lugg, and not far from the Border and Offa’s Dyke. The Welsh were buried by the Wellingtonia tree clump; the English left to rot.

It happened on the Welsh Borders near Knighton, Herefordshire, and an English humiliation on such a grand scale, that within days, news of the casualties said to number 8000, had reached Rome. It was a bloody business and was also the last and the most complete Welsh victory over the English.

It was to be pay back time for the victory of Edward I over Llewellyn ap Gryffid in the 13thc which made Wales an English dependency, and the previous onslaughts by Hugh ‘Lupus’ D’Avranches, Earl of Chester, who in 1070, was given the town and county charge of the Palatine of Chester against the Welsh.

He was thus called the ‘fat’ or the ‘wolf’, by the Welsh whom no doubt were relieved when he died on 27th July 1101.

One won’t find the battlefield in the Ordnance Survey, ‘Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain’, though there is no uncertainty over the site. The disaster was so absolute that it was days before the vanquished could even approach to bury their dead. The result is that for 600 years it has been kept from their descendants.

For two years Owain Glyndwr had been a rebel against Henry IV and had made the mistake of proclaiming himself Prince of Wales, a title appropriated by the English Crown after the conquest of Wales in 1283. 

It was in June that a large English levy under Sir Edmund Mortimer pushed westwards in search of Owain Glyndwr, who would have known many of the opposition sweating in armour, as the long column came up the valley of the Lugg, and they would have recognised him.

Until then it had been a sporadic business of guerrilla ambushes and attacks on English colonial towns in Wales, but things were changing as the mercenaries from the French wars were coming home bringing their expertise with them.

The Welsh scholars from Oxford brought their enthusiasm and the gentry joined along with labourers with little to lose, in this gathering in the hills which the English hoped to snuff out. There are no eyewitness accounts, and little remains except reminders of the slaughter where four redwood trees were planted, near where a plough turned up a mass grave at the end of the 19thc.

Only two things are known for certain: the church was set on fire by Glyndwr and the Welsh archers on the English side changed allegiance, having probably recognised the flag of Glyndwr. Whatever, the English were possibly ambushed by a smaller force and caught between the marsh and hill.

This was all a far cry from the 10th century when Hywel Dda allied with the English and gave his son an English name Edwin, and when Welsh kings bowed to Edgar at Bath.

However it might be apposite to remember that historically the Welsh probably had more to fear from the Irish than the English, as the Roman fort at Cardiff was built against Irish pirates whose raids intermittently terrorised the west coast of Britain until the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170.

Later much of Wales was laid waste and the principality was subsumed under England, by Henry VIII in 1536.

A painting, by Brian Palmer, in the heroic style, captures the Battle of Pilleth showing the burning church and flying arrows and general mayhem.

References: powys/Pic.

21st June 1786. The Big Three of 18thc Furniture Design.

Today George Hepplewhite died in 1786. Famous as a furniture designer he was to join two others from the north of England whose names still resonate.

Hepplewhite style table.

Little is known of Hepplewhite, almost a contemporary of Thomas Chippendale, another furniture designer, except his death certificate, and no pieces of his making are known to exist, his name living-on in his distinctive style of the last quarter of the 18thc.

Shield-Backed Chair. Hepplewhite.

Shield-Backed Chair.









He was apprenticed at Gillows in Lancaster before moving to St Giles, Cripplegate, London where his distinctive features are slender, curvilinear, shorter, curved chair-arms, straight legs and shield-shaped backs.

On his death his widow Alice continued the business and in 1788 published a book of 300 designs in ‘The Cabinet Maker and Upholsters Guide’.

He followed in the footsteps of Thomas Chippendale, born in Otley, Yorkshire, whose 1754 Gentleman’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director, was the first of the three to publish, his Book of Design, showing his Rococo and mid-Georgian style.

Chippendale, Pembroke Table for Paxton House. 1775.


Chippendale Gothick Tracery Style with Splat Back.

Thomas Sheraton was the last of the three (1751-1806), being born, again born in the north, at Stockton on Tees, where he was apprenticed as a cabinet maker before, as the others, moving to London.

Sheraton Rectangular-Backed Chair.

He was later to publish 4 volumes of the Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Drawing Book, but no furniture, as with the others, none traced to his hand.

Where does this leave people today keen to buy antique furniture? How does one know the difference between: Fake, Reproduction and Revival?

The short answer one can’t unless it has impeccable ‘Provinence’. With the ravages of time even genuine period furniture needs some restoration until what’s left is little of the original.

Clever fakists can fool any ‘expert’ and it is well to remember, for example, that on the centennial of Hepplewhite’s death in 1886, thousands of reproductions in his style were made, ironically now valued antiques. Caveat Emptor.



20th June 1858. First Telecom.

The element Copper (Cu) atomic number 29 is a ductile metal highly thermal and electrically conductive. Known as Cyprium metal of Cyprus and shortened to Cuprum. Copper is a transition metal known for conductivity and malleability.

William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone had patented the Electric Needle Telegraph when a telegraph line was set up on the Great Western line from Paddington to West Drayton 1838-39. After its success on land there was a desire to use it over greater distances which meant under-water: the Atlantic.

Atlantic Cable Map.

However the first attempt ended in disaster and it was Today in 1858 that the second attempt to lay the transatlantic telegraph cable manufactured by William Kuper and Co. of Greenwich, was under way, only to be called off the next day. When finally laid, it sent its first message on 12th August.

Two ships, the USS Niagara and HMS Agamemnon carried half the cable being spliced in mid-ocean and allowed to run into the sea as the ships ran in opposite directions.

Many substances were used to surround the seven twisted copper wires: rubber, yarn soaked in pitch, glass tubes enclosed in wood and gutta-percha, a rubbery substance found in Malaya, giving its name to a company of the same name, later the Cable and Wireless Company.

The English Channel had been crossed on 28th August 1850 when the first telegram was sent via cable from Dover to Cap Gris-Nez and it was in 1857 that Cyrus W.Field and Lord Kelvin made an attempt to cross the Atlantic from Valentia in Ireland to Newfoundland, that the troubles arose.

Prince of Wales visits cable works.

Within a month of the cable laying it had broken and couldn’t be repaired and seeing the disadvantages of using two ships, found that the only ship capable of carrying the 22,500 tons of cable was the Great Eastern, unable to sail until 1865 due to the American Civil War.

It was Daniel Gooch, Great Western’s Chief Engineer, who was to be instrumental in establishing the transatlantic cable being laid by Brunel’s ship after it had snapped on the 2nd August in 1865, a thousand miles west of Ireland. Gooch had boarded Brunel’s Great Eastern ship to take control on 10th July.

He again joined the ship on the 27th July 1866 and was able to send first telegraph message from Newfoundland after successfully laying the cable.

By 8th September, his team had located and raised the earlier 1865 cable from a great depth, spliced it and brought a 2nd cable ashore at Newfoundland. Part of the triumph of the exercise was down to the Greenwich time signal, which facilitated calculating longitude accurately.

One side effect of the cable laying was that when hauled up in 1860 for repairs from more than 3km down it was found to be encrusted with corals, clams and other detritus.

This had surprised the scientific world which after a surveys by British naturalist Edward Forbes in the 1830.s, had said that below 600m, there was no light and pressure was too high for life.

Telecommunications needed copper cable. Thomas Bolton at Froghall near Cheadle was sited between cheap waterborne coal from north Staffordshire coalfield and the copper from the mines of the Dukes of Devonshire at Ecton near Hartington.

It was once the largest in the world and was to finance the building of Buxton. Water from the Churnet and a tradition of iron mining and smelting meant that Bolton thrived and in 1852 acquired Cheadle Brass Co at Oakamoor.

They converted to copper wire and was the first continuous drawing mill to spin for the Transatlantic Cable of 1858, and the two following, as well as the later Channel Tunnel.

Bolton’s sold out in 1961 when Thos. Bolton & Sons merged with Mackechnie’s of Walsall Group.

One beneficiary of the copper mines was the Cavendish Family, of Chatsworth, which was ennobled as earls of Devonshire, (later dukes), by James I in 1618.

19th June 2007. Genius.

Computer science sparked the digital age and considered the third major leap in human technology from the agricultural revolution of 8th-5thc BCE and the industrial revolution 1750-1850.

One of the key figures in the new technology was Alan Turing who Today in 2007 had a  life-sized statue, sculpted by Stephen Kettle, at Bletchley Park, where he did so much to decode the German Enigma codes.(1)

With his father, a civil-servant in India, Alan was placed in the care of a retired colonel in Hastings in Sussex. Being sent to Sherborne Public School at 13, he endured the typical rigid curriculum in classics and humanities.

His headmaster said, ‘If he is solely to be a science specialist he is wasting his time at public school’, thus with little encouragement for those mathematically inclined such as Turing, not surprisingly he came bottom in the likes of Scripture.

Gaining a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge he came under the influence of Max Newman who introduced him to mathematical logic in 1935.

This sparked Turing’s ideas on artificial intelligence and what it meant for humans to follow instructions, which led to his Computable Numbers and ideas of his Universal Machine.

Turing was little known in the outside world, the secrets of Bletchley, not to be generally released until the 1980.s. However an article in the Surrey Comet in 1946, reported on, ‘some of the feats to be performed by Britain’s new electronic brain developed at National Physics Laboratory (NPL) at Teddington by Dr AM Turing (34).

Turing’s future seemed assured, but not to be, as the rigid management at NPL meant nothing was built in 1947/8 and all ideas from this period, including the beginning of computer languages, were lost when he resigned in 1948.

Another factor was the secrecy about his war-time, code-breaking, and opposition meant he couldn’t draw on his immense experience, being regarded as purely a theoretical university mathematician.

He did not promote his ideas effectively if he had written papers on the theory and practice of computers in 1947 instead of developing new ideas on artificial intelligence next step, or even the very thing which made him interested in computers in the first place.

Turing’s Automated Computer Engineering (ACE) Design.

After 1948 almost everyone had forgotten that he had drawn up a design for a computer in 1945/6. (see above).

Even H.A. Max Newman, who had worked with Turing at Bletchley, in his biography, neglected Turing’s origination of the computer, seeing it as a trivial off-shoot for a pure mathematician.

Surrey Comet. 9.11.1946.

In 1946 Turing saw it would be possible to use his ACE computer, by a remote user, over the telephone link, a combination of computer and telecoms, commonplace today.

After Turing resigned from NPL there was a change of management, which meant that the ACE programme could go ahead and a working computer on his original designs was operating in 1950. Called Pilot ACE it was a scaled down version of Turing’s.(2)

In 1948 Turing went to Manchester University to join a remarkable team of future computer development experts where the future was born including Kilborne’s ‘Baby’.

Turing died in June 1954, he had been convicted of gross indecency in 1952, and chose to be chemically castrated rather than imprisoned, but later committed suicide by eating a cyanide dosed apple. He was aged 41.

He was given a Royal Pardon in 2013.

(1) On 23rd June 1998 on what would have been Turing’s 86th birthday a plaque was unveiled at his birthplace Warrington Crescent London, now the Colonnade Hotel.

(2) One of Turing’s colleagues at NPL was Donald W Davies who pioneered the principle of ‘Packet Switching’ leading to ARPANET and the Internet.


bbc:iwonder. Andrew Hodges. Turing and creation of modern computer. Andrew Hodges.

all about


18th June 1625.

Tonnage and Poundage had been levied from the time of Edward II on every tun (cask) of imported wine, mostly from Spain and Portugal and every pound weight of merchandise exported and imported.

The Tax had commonly been a temporary grant from the early days for the monarch’s life and one year later,  to maintain a navy and by the time of Henry VIII was granted for his first six years, but continued with parliamentary authority.

By the time of Charles I the Commons were keen to reduce these powers and only voted the Tax for one year, but being the King who believed in the Divine Right of Monarchy, refused to listen to opposition.

It was Today in 1625 that the so-called, ’Useless Parliament’ of Charles I assembled and voted two subsidies of c £140,000, but this was insufficient to engage in war against the Spanish treasure ships. Parliament refused to sanction any more money unless it could control expenditure.

It was the continuation of the King’s’ levying of Tonnage and Poundage, a complaint of the Long Parliament, from 1640, which inevitably led to the English Civil War, two years later.

So the Tax which had been granted for life since the 1414 ‘Fire and Faggot’ Parliament (1) was to cause a rumpus between not just Commons and king, but between the Lords who regarded the one year limit as an insult and refused to pass the Bill lessening its collection.

The King dismissed three parliaments between 1625-28; in 1626 he was forced to summon his second Parliament for funds and attempted to attack Spanish treasure ships in his support of Louis XIII against the Protestant Huguenots.

However the Parliament of 1628 did forced Charles to accept the Petition of Right giving Parliament the right to consent to taxation.

In reply Charles now chose to ignore parliament dissolving it from 1629 in the ‘Eleven years’ Tyranny’(2), whilst the Star-Chamber suppressed all opposition, so in his first five years Charles summoned and dissolved parliament three times.

The King was thus forced later to raise money in other ways, when in 1635 he raised the controversial Ship Money, which along with monopolies on salt and bricks, contravened Magna Carta which required Parliament’s approval for raising taxes.

Charles continuance of collection of Tonnage and Poundage, was a complaint of second parliament and when the King moved to adjourn parliament members held Speaker John Finch in his Chair until three resolutions could be read; one of which declared anyone who paid the tax was to be regarded as a betrayer of England.

At the 1660 Restoration, Tonnage and Poundage was still granted for life, used to reduce the National Debt, and through the ages of Anne and the Georges, only to end with the Customs Consolidation Act 1787.

(1) Held at Leicester Priory in 1414.


faculty/ of Iberia. David Hume.

17th June 1898. Sentiment in Art.

Disengaged from the world by basing his art on myth, legend and the Bible, not surprisingly for someone born in 1833 wishing to escape from the growing industrialisation of Britain, by the time Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Bt) died Today in 1898, he had earned a place in the Pantheon of 19thc painters.

The Wedding of Psyche. 1895.

An influential later member of the Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movement, he was par-excellence a painter of the imagination, of dreamy maidens and sleeping beauties.

Having internalised the Victorian ethos of hard work and moral purpose, his work reflected the narrative of literature especially of The Middle Ages, of Mallory and the Legends of King Arthur, causing Henry James to remark, ‘it wasn’t painting but literature’.

The Annunciation. 1879.

Burne-Jones became closely associated with the decorative art and crafts movements after meeting William Morris at Oxford, the founder of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co.

After encountering the works of fellow Pre-Raphaelites; Millais, Ford Madox Brown, Holman Hunt and Rosetti he decided on a career in art.

The multi-talented Burne-Jones was much involved in the rejuvenation of stained-glass, including work for Birmingham Cathedral, Trinity Church, Sloane Square, Chelsea, and in the Shires at the Church of St. Edward the Confessor, at Cheddleton, Staffordshire.

The glass for a window at Christ Church, Oxford of 1859 was 2 years before the foundation of the Morris Company, after the recommendation of Benjamin Woodward, architect of the Oxford Museum of Natural History and friend of John Ruskin and the Pre-Rapaelites.


The picture evokes the spirit of medieval glass with its crammed style and vibrant colour, but also reflects the artist’s well-known sense of humour: notice the WC in the background.


Window at Christ Church Oxford showing St Frideswide who founded a convent on the site in the 8thc. Notice the incongruous WC in background.

By the the 1860.s Burne-Jones was developing his own style and in 1877 was persuaded to show eight oil paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery, a new rival to the Royal Academy.

One was the Beguiling of Merlin (1872-77), from the Arthurian legend of the infatuation of Merlin with the Lady of the Lake, Nimue.

Merlin shown trapped in an hawthorn bush as Nimue reads a book on spells.

One can look at the art of Burne-Jones and others of the 19thc, making of it what one will, and to some might seem sentimental to modern eyes, but it can hardly fail to tug at some cord in the human imagination.


Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside.

Photo of Christ Church by Alkoliasnikoff. Collective Commons Attribution.

The Last Pre-Raphaelite. Fiona MacCarthy. 12.9.2011.

Red List/Pic of Annunciation.

Wikiart/Pic of Psyche.