‘The wind at North and East was never good for man nor beast. So never think to cast a clout, until the month of May be out’: Proverb.
Today in 1989, saw a violent thunderstorm hit West Yorkshire in the afternoon, one of the most violent on record. The epicentre of the storm lay over the moors at Halifax with floodwaters racing down the valley of the River Calder, through the village of Luddenden and some of the Halifax suburbs. In Luddenden several homes were flooded to a depth of four feet.
At Walshaw Dean Reservoir above Hebden Bridge, an exceptional total of 193mm (7.6 inches), of rain fell in two hours. This remains the highest two-hour rainfall ever recorded in the UK. This deluge is even more remarkable in that parts of London had no rain at all in that month.
May often brings a brief and chill reminder of winter thus the saying: ‘N’er cast a clout till May is out’ though whether it relates to the blossom or the month is in doubt. FK Robinson’s (1855) verse is in no doubt and warns: ‘May can also be a cold, wet month’.
Of the cold Buchan Spells, (he postulated that the British weather is prone to warm and cold spells), one occurring between 9-14th of May, known as Buchan’s Winter. In mid May in 1830 the riders in the Derby went to the start in an atrocious downpour of rain and hail and there were thirteen false starts, the horses finally getting away an hour late.
In 1839 the race was held in a snowstorm and in 1863 it was also wet after several days of heavy rain. Charles Dickens wrote that Epsom railway station was an, ’oasis of boards in a sea of mud, whilst last year it was iced champagne, claret cup and silk overcoats, now it ought to be hot brandy and water, foot baths and flannels’. (1)
In 1891 on Whit Monday, a bitter north wind brought hail, snow and severe frost to most of Britain and the temperature plunged to -10C (14F) on Ben Nevis, the lowest authentically recorded in May in Britaiand an overnight storm on the 17th, deposited 7 inches in Norfolk.
The archives reveal a small number of significant snowfalls in May, arguably the heaviest was on the 17th in 1935 when much of the west country was affected with Tiverton having 5inches. Also on the 17th in 1955 inches of snow fell in Sheffield and the Cotswolds.
In 1965 the highest temperature of the year was in May with 28.9c (84f) at Kensington Palace on the 14th. In fact the hottest days of 1965 was reported on the 13th or 14th in most parts, but many days have also a hint of summer in their heat and humidity.
Occasionally they may happen on the same week as in 1944, when the temperature slumped to 22 °F (-5.6 °C) on the 22nd at Dalwhinnie in Inverness-shire. Then on the 29th (Monday Bank Holiday), soared to 91 °F (32.8 °C) in Horsham Sussex and Tunbridge Wells, Kent equalling the highest temperature recorded in May in Britain.
May’s lowest authenticated temperature minus 9.4C (15 F) was recorded at Lynford in Norfolk on both 4th and 11th in 1941. The reason why May is so capricious is that the prevailing westerly airflow over the north Atlantic is at its weakest and the Arctic winds moderate slowly with the sea slow to warm-up and a typical May will bring cold snaps damaging frosts and sudden downpours and thunder.
May 12th is the earliest date in the calendar on which temperatures in the UK have exceeded 30c (86f) and this occurred in 1945 when the 11th and 12th saw the warmest days of the year. Camden Square, London topped the list with 30.6c (87f) on the 12th.
(1) In 1867 the race was run later in June. In 1911 lightning killed 17 people and four horses on Derby Day.
George Boole who devised Boolean algebra, the logic for computer circuits, married Mary Everest niece of the geographer and one of the couple’s daughters Lucy became first woman chemistry professor in England.
Today in 1993, 40 years after the Hillary expedition, Rebecca Stephens became the first British woman to conquer Everest. It was on June 1st 1953 that signals from Kathmandu confirmed that, under Sir John Hunt, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary (who died in 2008) and the Nepalese Sherpa Tensing, members of the ‘British’ Everest expedition, had reached the summit of Everest. (1)
Everest was named after a Surveyor-General to India, Sir George Everest, however if a certain Colonel Valentine Blacker, then Surveyor General hadn’t died in Calcutta in 1823, in a duel over a woman in which his opponent also died, Everest would have died forgotten. In the event Blacker’s work on the trigonometrical survey of the Indian Empire was to be continued by Everest. (2)
The name of Blacker lived on via a descendant, Major Blacker, an officer in the Guides, the Special Forces unit of the British Army in India, who planned and navigated the first flight, by two planes, over Everest in 1933. This was financed by Lady Houston and piloted by the future Duke of Hamilton.
In 1999 the body of an earlier climber of Everest, George Leigh Mallory who disappeared in 1924, was found. He had attempted to conquer the mountain with his friend Andrew Irvine. The two were last seen 800 feet from the summit and reported ‘going strong for the top’. Their last known photograph, on the mountain shows them in tweed jackets, hobnailed boots, puttees and khaki trousers. The discovery of the body however did not provide evidence that one or both men did make it to the mountain peak, of 29,028 feet, 29 years before Hillary.
The vital proof could only be supplied by the missing camera, not found on the body, which yielded amongst other items; a letter to his cousin, a box of Swan Vestas and an unpaid bill to Gamages.
Leigh Mallory’s reply to the question why he wanted to reach the summit; ‘because it’s there”, inspired Lancashire born poet Robert Williams Service to write ‘Dauntless Quest’, the inspiration for climbers and explorers ever since.
(1) It was not until 1856 that a British Mapping team established the height of Everest.
(2) Army officers have been involved in mapping the Empire since General Wade in the Scottish Highlands in the 18th century with the founding of the Ordnance Survey. One notable Engineer was Major Martin Hotine. RE. Head of Trigonometrical and Levelling Division, who had served on the North West Frontier and Mesopotamia.
Ref: Information in the Public Domain, including wikipedia.org.
After King Henry III was defeated at Lewes in Sussex, by Simon de Montfort, he agreed to a ‘settlement by arbitration’ in the Mise of Lewes Today in 1264. It resulted in the subsequent treaty which led to de Montfort’s 1265 parliament and saw some progress towards representative government. It was followed by Compromissio or Ordinatio of June 1264 which was known significally, to have been made in parliament, and the Forma Pacis of August 1264. (1)
One of the baron signatories of the Commission drafting the Agreement was Alan la Zouche (1205-1270) an Anglo-Norman whose grandfather was a member Henry II’s Court.
During the 2nd Barons War (1264-67) Zouche adhered to the King in his battle against the barons led by Simon de Montfort, which was caused by Henry’s repudiation of Magna Carta. It resulted in the 1258 Provisions of Oxford and attempts to curtail the King’s power.
The King was captured at the Battle of Lewes (1264) and England was now controlled by Montfort who became virtual ruler of England as leader of the anti-royalist faction, until his eventual defeat and death at Evesham a year later. (2)
Of significance for the constitution of England in the months after the Battle of Lewes, is that the country came closest to being a republic before the civil-war in the 17th century. (3)
(1) Prince Edward was captured and held hostage.
(2) John Giffard was of the de Montfort Party, (which included Roger de Clifford), and though captured at Lewes, changed sides and fought for Henry at Evesham.
(3) Henry when under attack retreated to Lewes Priory which was the first Cluniac monastic building in England, but like the rest of these establishments was to submit to dissolution in 1537.
The Abbey of Roche, lying in the Malt Dyke, near Maltby in South Yorkshire was founded in 1147 for the White Monks or Cistercians. (1)
Two hundred years later de Warrenne, earl of Surrey, gave the church of Hatfield to Roche Abbey, ‘for the maintenance of thirteen additional monks’ and Today in 1346 Archbishop Zouche made the formal appropriation to Roche. Between this time, owing to loss of documents, little is known of the Abbey until the 16th century great monastic dissolution by Henry VIII.
The sad end of the Abbey, as for the rest, came after the King’s Commissioners, Dr Legh and Layton in 1536 made the customary charges of immorality against the monks, they also reported it, ‘as a place of pilgrimage to see the [superstitious] miraculous cross inscribed in a rock’.
Fourteen monks and novices were there at the Dissolution on the 23 June 1538 and as the monks went quietly they were accorded a pension; many who didn’t weren’t so lucky and suffered the ultimate penalty.
However the locals decided they had first claim on the Abbey and possessions and a chronicle kept by Michael Sherbrook, rector of nearby Wickersley, described the pillage.
‘Every person was intent on filching what they could even those who had been content to permit worship and do reverence at matins and mass two days previously were no less happy to pilfer’.
He went on: ‘What is even more revealing is the disregard of the locals for the abbey when they saw what could be ‘rescued’ from the building in wood, lead, bells and the like: It seemeth that every person bent himself to filch and spoil …that seemed not two days before to allow their religion …the House of God and the next day House of the Devil’.
‘To the better proof…I demanded of my father 30 years after the suppression when timber and bells etc had been removed…whether he thought well of the religious persons and religion then used to which he replied he might as well as others have some profit….I did as others’.
‘Nothing was spared except the ox-houses and swine-cots which stood outside and favoured more than the church’.
The worship of Mammon has a habit of prevailing then as now and as usual there were winners as well as losers, as after the Dissolution, the lands of Roche was placed in the hands of a relative of Henry VIII.
By 1775 Roche was owned by Lord Scarborough who commissioned ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the grounds who proceded to cover all the site with turf leaving just two transepts for effect. In the 1920s excavations were undertaken and Roche was in many ways reborn.
(1) The stone quarried locally at Maltby was highly valued and used on Windsor Castle and Kings College Chapel, Cambridge.
cistercian.shef.ac.uk/roche. M Sherborn account of spoiliation of Roche.
Samual Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of England 1848.
‘Stand firm, be loyal to instructions and trust your leaders’, said the Daily Worker to strikers in 1926.(1)
The 1926 General Strike was the culmination of miners’ grievances, which had been reverberating for some time, and exacerbated by the previous year’s overpricing of gold which affected British exports.
Such were the desperate feelings engendered that a rail was removed causing the Flying Scotsman train to be derailed Today on the 10th May. The Government called the perpetrators, ‘anarchists and lunatic’.(2)
However by the 12th the strike was crumbling and the Trades Union Council (TUC) seeing that they had been drawn into a dispute which put them in direct challenge with the government’s authority, had little alternative than to call the strike off.
The TUC and Labour party had voted to back the miners when employers had offered a 13% pay cut and with no thought of revolution, four million workers made themselves idle in support of the miners. A.J. Cooke Secretary of the NUM said: ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day’.
A state of emergency was declared and troops deployed to quell violence. ‘A class war could split the country’, said Churchill, and his rallying cry was, ‘no surrender to the enemy’. Paradoxically the economic troubles faced came against the background of a rise in domestic prosperity.
Wages had risen during World War I as employers offered more to secure scarce labour, hours of work had fallen as labour, through the trades Unions, negotiated better working conditions, so much so that in 1924 real wages were 11% higher than in 1914 whilst the working week had shrunk from 60 to 50 hours. Moreover commodity prices had fallen so the cost of living was falling and so increased purchasing power.
A combination of world-wide coal famine and labour shortage pushed the price of coal to an unprecedented £4 a ton in 1920 compared with less than a pound in 1913, demand fell and cheaper American coal was imported. The Coal Emergency Act was ended and wages reduced which the Miners’ Federation refused to accept.
A national strike was called on 1st April.1921 for 3 months and a short-lived boom in 1924 saw pay reduced and an extra hour on the day. Despite the support of the TUC the strike only lasted for nine days, but the miners’ lockout continued until November.
Employers at the time were suffering a fall in demand for traditional exports: cotton, iron, and steel and coal and domestic sales was declining. Taxation for the ‘well-heeled’ had risen steeply; income tax rose from 5 % to 25% between 1910 and 1924.
Unemployment reached 1 million by 1924: the national debt in the war had risen from £620m to £8,000m and to repay the American war loan a trade gap opened-up with resultant unemployment. By 1926 the artificially high exchange rate drove the coal owners to insist on a reduction of miners’ wage.
One typical Churchillian move (as Home Secretary) to combat the strike was his assumption of the editorship of the British Gazette, printed on the commandeered presses of the Morning Post, which provided daily and officially approved news in the absence of ordinary newspapers. Daily Mail printers had refused to print a leading article under the headline ‘For King and Country’ and the Daily Telegraph printers went on strike.
The Union responded with the British Worker published by the Daily Herald which the police acting on the Home Secretary’s instructions tried to stop.
The Army and Navy, (the latter used for the first time), were at the ready with London, at war with troops in battle order and armoured cars driving up and down the streets. Large stocks of flour at the docks couldn’t be moved. For the middle classes the strike was a chance to realise long-cherished fantasies with young men in tweeds or sports coats driving trains or acting as guards or porters.(3)
This amateurism had dire results; sand for the sandbox was inadvertently poured into the bearing box; deaths occurred. Riots took place; the Head of Eton and his masters enrolled as special constables. Pictures of the time show an armoured car in Oxford Street and a policeman sitting by the driver of a bus.
On May 8th a train of lorries escorted by a battalion of Grenadiers with armoured cars marched from Hyde Park to the docks where the flour was taken away. Troops and volunteers were brought in to move essential services. Naval ratings shunted at Nine Elms Goods Depot in South London.
The miners however were to struggle on and their leader Arthur Cook was bitter at the way they had been deserted. In July the Coal Mines bill was enacted legislating for longer hours and shorter pay, causing militant MPs to visit the Lords shouting ‘Murder Bill’.
By November the miners caved in, with the only concession being that local agreements on wages and conditions would be examined. If a revolution, in Britain, never happened then, it never would.
(1) Dated 10th May 1926.
(2) On Wednesday 5th May 1926 the Daily Mirror produced its General Strike edition on Day One of the strike.
(3) The amateur, volunteer, train drivers resulted in the deaths of four people at Edinburgh and Bishops Stortford.
Today in 1791 the English pharmacist John Wheeley Lea was born in Feckenham, Worcestershire, who no doubt would have passed into obscurity, but for his fortuitous partnership with William Henry Perrins in Worcester where in 1837 they opened a drug store.
It was there they invented and sold a sauce which has since become a household-name: Lea and Perrins. The sauce with its iconic orange label, produced to deter copy-cat manufacturers, is still a big brand now owned by Kraft Heinz, and was said to have been inspired by Marcus Sandys 3rd baron Sandys who having tasted fish sauce in India suggested they create something similar.
However the resulting product proved a disaster becoming putrid, only to be re-discovered three years’ later after having fermented: the rest is history.
Sauces in the 19th century were often a necessity what with the susceptibility of meat to being past its best, before refrigeration, also they often had the effect of tenderising meat.
As with many products, whilst the main ingredients are known in Worcestershire Sauce: vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions and garlic, the magic ingredient is still a secret. The sauce is still produced in Worcester.
Ironically though having spent a lifetime improving the taste of the British gastronomy Wheeley Lea fell victim to acute dyspepsia, dying in 1874.
bbc.co.uk. History of the World.
Alone among the Houses of Nuns of which we have records, the Sisters of Syon continued to live as best they could under the rule of their foundress, at first here, then abroad. The last to go was Waltham Abbey, re-founded as an Augustinian House by Henry II as part penance for the murder of Beckett, where Thomas Tallis was the last organist. The land was leased to one of Henry VIII’s Court, Sir Edward Denny.
These Houses sacred to successive kings were amongst the first targets of the monastic suppressions of Henry VIII. Richard Reynolds, a monk of Syon was hanged, drawn and quartered along with the Prior of the London Charterhouse and his fellows Today May 4th 1535, though Syon itself survived until 1539. (1)
The Prior and monks had made the fatal decision to resist and the Prior, John Houghton was HDQ at Tyburn whilst ten monks were imprisoned at Newgate. Nine starved to death and the tenth was executed three years later at Tower Hill; collectively known as the ‘Carthusian Martyrs’.
The London Charterhouse was founded in the 14thc, by Walter de Manny, (1st baron 1310-72), and consecrated as a burial place after the Plague, the name deriving from the Carthusian Priory founded in 1371 and dissolved in 1537.
Walter de Manny had obtained from Edward III Letters Patent for the Carthusian Monastery named ‘La Salutation Mere Dieu’, the monks to pray for the bishop of London, Michael Northburgh ( who had been involved in financing the House), as well as Manny himself.
Syon Charterhouse at Isleworth was ruled by Katherine Palmer as a double foundation of sixty nuns and a House of twenty four brothers: a Bridgettine foundation from Queen Bridget of Sweden who had died in 1373 and declared a saint eighteen years later.
From the reign of Richard II ‘alien’ Houses were in the hands of the Crown and only ended by Henry V in 1414 when he re-founded Sheen Priory with forty Carthusians.(2)
The Royal Manor and Palace of Sheen had been the favourite residence of Richard II. However when his queen Ann died of the plague in 1394, he cursed the place and razed the palace to the ground.
Stemming from this was Henry V’s ‘Great Work’ from the years 1413/4 with the new Carthusian, Sheen Palace and nearby three Monastic Houses.
Henry V also created a monastery of The Celestine Order, but was dissolved soon after its foundation as the monks refused to pray for the King. Then the Carthusian House of John of Bethlehem of Sheen of the Order of Carthusians 1414 and built within Sheen Manor to the north of the new palace.
There was a great devotion to St. Bridget in England, being founded by Henry V just before Agincourt, and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry V: ‘Two chantries where the sad and solemn priests/ Sing still for Richard’s soul’, in expiation of his Henry’s father’s usurpation of Richard II throne.
These chantries were Syon, and the House of Jesus of Bethlehem across the river at Sheen, a monastery of Carthusians who had another Charterhouse at Clerkenwell, remains of which still survive.
Cardinal Pole encouraged the nuns to return and the monastery of Syon was re-founded in 1557 with Katherine Palmer (whose mother’s family had lived at Ightham Mote in Kent), was elected Abbess. In 1559 under Protestant Queen Elizabeth they had to flee again, under Palmer, abroad.
The Nuns of Syon returned to England in 1861 and since 1925 have lived at South Brent, Devon and the only continuously existing community founded in England before the Reformation, to survive.
(1) The London Charterhouse was extended in 1611 as almshouses and a school endowed and founded as a Corporation by Thomas Sutton, a coal owner and is now the Sutton Hospital in Charterhouse.
(2) At this time alien priories not assigned to Rome had their revenues diverted to other religious uses only to be finally supressed by Parliament of Leicester ( Parliament assembled 30.4.1414 under Speaker Sir Walter Hungerford).
Any revenue that didn’t end up in the King’s coffers was sent to Syon Abbey and the Carthusians at Sheen Priory and educational purposes, a trend later to continue with Henry VI at Eton and Kings Cambridge.