13th October 2016. Picric Acid: A Two-Edged Sword.

The organic compound Picric Acid ( Greek ‘pikros’ meaning ‘bitter’) is one of the most acidic of Phenols. Picric is carbozotic consisting of carbon and azote, the old name for nitrogen, so called because it does not support life.(1)

It is highly nitrated [with nitrogen] so highly explosive and used traditionally in medicine, antiseptics, burn treatment and dyes and the first nitrated organic compound considered suitable for withstanding shock of artillery firing.

Thus one of the most deadly explosives came from Picric Acid resulting from experiments by Peter Woulfe in 1779; ironic in its use as an antiseptic for burns.

Nitroglycerine and Nitrocellulose (gun cotton) were available earlier but being shock-sensitive causing detonation in the artillery barrel.(2)

Picric Acid was unusually in the news in 2016 when BBC Bristol reported Today that Clifton College was evacuated due to discovery of the acid, in its dangerous dried state, in its chemical store, resulting in a controlled explosion by the Army Logistic Corps. The following May the Corps, again in Bristol, were called out, this time to a private house to render safe a similar vessel of the acid.

Picric Acid in the 19thc was also found to dye silk a bright greenish/yellow by treating  a mixture of aqueous solution of Indigo with Spirit of Nitre (Nitric Acid). However it was found not to be ‘light-fast’, but could however be considered the first synthetic dye, thus a typical example of chemistry having negative and positive effects.

Picric Acid wetted with not less than 10% by mass producing yellow moist crystals.


(1a) Phenols are a type of alcohol.

(1b) Picric Acid (C6 H3 N3) O7.  (2-4-6 Trinitrophenol). Boiling Point c300°c.

(1c) Picrate is the highly explosive salt of Picric Acid (trinitrophenol).

(2) Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid. It is used as a propellant or low order explosive (guncotton).







12th October 1216. Lay Not Your Treasure up on Earth…

King John, according to legend lost his treasure Today in 1216 whilst crossing the Wash from King’s Lynn to Long Sutton.

The Wash and Fens would have extended further in the 13thc.

John like his deceased brother King Richard needed money and no town, which could afford it failed to acquire a charter, freeing them from the shire officers, but in exchange for paying their dues direct to the King.(1)

After Magna Carta 1215 the country was in revolt with the King travelling north to quell uprisings and by Christmas John with his small-armed force and baggage train had reached Nottingham.

By early January 1216 he reached York before moving south to plunder to replenish his stricken treasury balance from towns including York, Beverley and Thirsk. Within three months he had re-conquered the north of his country.

On October 9th he was welcomed by the loyal citizens of King’s Lynn in Norfolk who gave him a feast and 100 marks. Two days later he set out again with his treasury and ‘all the crown jewels of England and Germany’.

He was to take the route from King’s Lynn, which still holds John’s Cup and Sword-a gift to the town-before setting off via Wisbeach to Swineshead, spending the night at the monastery.

Then, ‘journeying towards the north in the river which is called the Wellstream as the result of an unexpected accident, John on Thursday 12th lost’, according to the dubious St. Alban’s monkish Chronicler Roger of Wendover, ‘All his wagons and carts and sumpter horses together with his treasure and vessels and all the things which he loved with so much care including 52 rings set with rubies and sapphires, 2 gold crosses, 132 cups of white silver, the Sword of Tristram and the Crown of Germany’.

One estimate suggests his train of 2,300 people, 800 horses and oxen and 219 wagons might have been as much as 2 ¼ miles long, loaded with loot from a six month extortion spree through southern England collecting finance and munitions for a proposed war against France.

However an alternative legend has the treasure being buried at the church of Walpole St. Andrew nearby. The only thing to survive appears to be the last parchment Patent Roll appropriately stained. This now reposes at the Public Record Office which lists all the items, which in 1923 was compiled, showing regalia which included that of Empress Maud of Germany, the daughter of Henry 1.

Military campaigns of King John 1215-16.

In 2001 William Smethurst, an expert on tides was looking for the treasure, sure that the crossing should be the River Welland and with the aid of geophysics, found an old foot-way after consulting and following old maps which show the site of old wash houses and inns.

Whatever be the truth the baggage train was supposedly engulfed by the local river bore, the ‘eagre’, which can advance at speeds of 30 mph.

In that Monarchs needed to travel the country in the middle-ages for various reasons the attendant treasure of the nation was always at risk and less than a century after King John the monarch’s treasure and jewels were stolen in London by a Richard of Pudlicott, (de Podelicote).

He was an English wool merchant down on his luck and managed to burgle the Wardrobe Treasury of King Edward I by burrowing into the vaults of Westminster Abbey in 1303, before making away with the King’s treasure, gems and gold coins worth then £100,000 which was equal to a years tax revenue for England.

When priceless objects started to flood pawn shops and houses of ill-repute the King and Household away in Scotland were alerted, the culprits rounded-up and after trials about a dozen were executed included Pudlicott. In the event most was recovered.

The outcome was the leader made a false confession, as the only one involved, this it seems to protect the clergy as inside accomplices. Richard was hanged in 1305, flayed and his skin was said to have adorned Westminster Abbey’s door.(2)

During the 14thc the conflict between the monarchs’ personal Wardrobe and the Exchequer was resolved when William Edington, as Treasurer under Edward III began a process which by the 16thc resulted in a greater parliamentary financial control.

(1a) This included the Author’s home town as described over the Market Hall.

(1b) It was John who confirmed the City of London’s Charter of William I. They were also allowed to choose their own Lord Mayor with the caveat that he ‘show’ himself at Westminster for royal approval.

(2) Since proved to be wrong after scientific tests on this the oldest door in England.


bbc.co.uk/news 29.1.2015.


stevenliddell.co.uk/Pic of Wash.

ancient-origins/natural-history/Pic of map.


11th October 1957.

In Biblical scripture Joshua is represented as ‘stopping the sun in its course‘, and the Psalms speak of the earth as ‘not to be moved’.

Today in 1957 the Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, 250 ft, Mark 1, radio telescope came into operation using the gun-turret, track pinion gearing of the de-commissioned HMS Revenge.

Jodrell Bank 1957.

Our view of the earth in the context of the universe was being founded at the time of Aristotle in the 4thc BCE who like other ancient Greeks with their questioning minds, had discovered the theory of eclipses, the sphericity of the Earth and its revolution, like other planets, around the centre of the solar system.

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Emperors symbolised their earthly power by putting their hands on an orb and in the Anglo-Saxon 8thc the Venerable Bede compared the earth to a ball.

Later King Alfred imagined the world as the yolk in the middle of an egg; in spherical terms. However he was wrong in thinking that the sky travelled round the earth a pre-Renaissance misconception.

Later under the influence of the medieval church dogma the view of the world is reflected in the Mappa Mundi of which there is a copy at Hereford Cathedral, which demonstrates the theocentric thinking of the universe as earth centred with Jerusalem at the centre.

The daily rotation of the heavens was explained by the notion of the ‘Primum mobile’ situated beyond the fixed stars and between them and the Empyrean Heaven where God and the Angels dwelt.

It was a notion not corrected until Copernicus in his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, and Galileo which brought conflict with the Catholic Church.

Mappa Mundi.

Conflict arose after Galileo’s propositions, which the Church thought both heretical and erroneous resulting in his persecution, causing his recantation, and condemnation in 1616 by the Inquisition of his belief that; ‘the sun is the centre of the cosmos’, and that, ‘the earth is not the centre of the cosmos, nor immovable’.

The writer C.S. Lewis somewhere makes the point that, ‘there were medieval ditchers and ale wives who did not know the earth was spherical-not because they thought it was flat but because they had not thought about it at all; the more educated would not have been flat-earthers’.

In fact it was the 19thc Washington Irving who spread the myth that all medieval men thought the earth was flat in his ‘Voyage of Columbus’.

In 2008 it was revealed by the 95 years old, Sir Bernard Lovell, physicist and astronomer, who founded Jodrell Bank, that he was ordered by the Chief of Air Staff in the late 1950.s, to adapt the facility to provide a ‘four-minute warning of an impending nuclear attack’. He said, ‘it was the only instrument  that could detect a Soviet missile’.



10th October 1731. The Mystery of Water.

Water is unusual in that in its liquid state it is denser that in its solid: ice floats. It does things which liquids are not supposed to do. It expands on freezing; it is densest at 4c°. It also has an enormously high heat capacity and odd viscosity.(1)

One born Today in 1731 who made a significant contribution to our understanding of the constituents of water was the eccentric and reclusive aristocrat, Henry Cavendish, which included his discovery that a gas was produced when zinc or iron was dropped into acid. This ‘inflammable’ air, as he called it, was later known as Hydrogen.

Water defines our terrestrial environment being central to life, to atmospheric science, biology and technology, but though two thirds of our planet is water the more its molecular structure is studied, the more problems are met.

Certainly water doesn’t conform scientifically, for normally as a liquid expands as it gets hotter, and shrinks when cooler, as in a thermometer where Mercury expands as it heats up, water being different, expands (anomalous expansive), as it freezes as the molecules move closer together.

However at 4c° (39°f) the molecules are as close as they can get, having reached its maximum density. Further cooling sees the molecules rearrange in open structure, so ice-bergs float.

It takes a lot of energy to turn ice into water and water to steam, where the temperature doesn’t increase, but where energy is pushing molecules apart to a gas, to steam, to become Latent Energy, a reservoir of energy locked up and used effectively in steam power.

Then Specific Heat Capacity shows water holding more heat per kilogram (pound) than virtually any other substance, practically it means that radiators deliver more heat relatively, though the water takes time to heat up.

Where water is not fully understood is in the field of pharmaceuticals, as some inhibitors are designed to bind via water, some to exclude water, but their design is not based on water molecules as their role is not fully understood.

Then coming to DNA as our view as a double-helix relates only to its structure in water; in the gas phase it is flat. So hydration-changes such as removing water from the surface of the molecule can induce switches in DNA conformation.

(1) One element of its molecular structure that sets it apart is the fleeting nature of its Hydrogen bonds which link the molecules  and constantly break  and form above melting point.

The standard picture of liquid water posits a picture of each molecule having on average bonded to 4 others in a tetrahedral shape.




academia.edu. Water the Enduring Mystery. Nature. Vol. 452. 20.3.2008. Philip Ball.

9th October 1841. Pocklington to HSBC.

In 1841 two scoundrels William Gregory Bigg and Joseph Ralph Paybody were indicted Today for forging and uttering an Order for the payment of 200l.(pounds).

One of the banks involved and named in the trial at the Old Bailey, was Pocklington and Lacy of West Smithfield, London which had been founded in the 18th century; the oldest record in the Hong-Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) archives is an account book of the company of 1775.

Benjamin Pocklington along with representatives of Jones’ Bank and ‘master banker’ J. Biggerstaff, all banks in the environs of the London, Smithfield Meat Market on which the case against Biggs and Paybody centred, relating as it did to fraud and deception regarding trading in cattle. Both were to be convicted and transported for up to 20 years.

The Pocklington and Lacey was to be acquired by the Birmingham and Midland which by 1851 bought its first branch, the Stourbridge Bank of Bates and Robbins, and in 1891 became established in the capital after buying the Central Bank of London.

Later in 1923, as the Midland Bank, it became one of the largest in the world, only to be swallowed in 1992 by the HSBC originally founded by a Scot for the benefit of the opium trade of Hong Kong.

In 2012 it was discovered that HSBC had been involved in wide-scale drug laundering operations, particularly in Mexico, and it is not surprising that with the billions coming in from illegal operations they didn’t require any government bail-out in the financial collapse, neither did Barclays who were fixing Libor Rates.

The boss of HSBC whilst their illegal operations were in full spate, Lord Green became one of David Cameron’s Trade Ministers. At the local level, people such as the Author are now treated with suspicion when paying in large amounts.

The proving of the case against those charged in 1841 centred on the numbering and recording of 10/-(shillings) by banks on issue, a practice to continue with higher denomination notes well into the 20th century.

HSBC were fined nearly $2m for involvement in money laundering, those involved escaped Transportation or indeed any penalty.


In the new Millennium the five big banking players were: Lloyds TSB, Barclays, RBOS, and HSBC and HBOS an ex Building Society which in 2001 amalgamated with the Bank of Scotland to form the 3rd largest bank in Britain in terms of group assets, later to go bust!

Ref: hsbc.co.uk/Pics.

Ref: wikipedia.org.

Ref: Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913. P.134.

Ref: oldbaileyonline.org. Article Head ‘Deception and Forgery 29/11.1841’.


8th October 1789. Halcyon Days.

Halcyon is the mythological term for calm, coming from the ancient Greek myth of Halcyone (Alcyone) the daughter of Aeolus, ruler of the winds, who threw herself in the Aegean Sea after her husband drowned. She was carried to her husband by the wind with both being transformed into kingfishers. 

Halcyon was a term used by ornithologist William John Swainson FLS. FRS., born Today in 1789, when he introduced the genus Halcyon for the European kingfisher.(1)

He named the type species as Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon Seleganensis), from the bird in Greek myth, as it was associated with the Kingfisher, in the ancient belief that the bird nested at sea which it calmed to enable egg- laying. So two weeks, starting around the winter solstice calm weather was expected.(2)

River Kingfisher.

The myth was introduced to the English-speaking world in 1398 by John Trevisa who translated Bartholemew de Glanville’s De Propietatibus Rerum, into Middle English.

By the 16thc it had lost its association with the bird  and regarded figuratively with calm days as in Henry VI (1592) : ‘Expect of St.Martin’s Summer Halcyon Days’, and in King Lear (1605) ‘Renege affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks with every gale and vary of their masters’.

This referred to the hanging of dead kingfishers whose beaks would  turn to the direction of the wind.

Swainson a Fellow of the Linnean Society was the first naturalist and illustrator to use lithography which required no engraver and his monochrome illustrations were later hand-coloured.

However his reputation was somewhat tarnished when he became a proponent of the Quinarian System stemming from the publication in 1819 by William Sharp Macleay of his ‘Quinarian System of Biological Classes.’

Nicholas Aylward Vigor’s, Quinarian Bird Classes showing missing entries supposedly representing Groups expecting to be discovered.

In this system all taxa are divided into 5 sub-groups, if fewer it was believed those missing awaited to be discovered. The system was later discredited by botanists who considered Swainson was being too presumptuous, as a mere naturalist, and it was rendered obsolete after Darwin’s evolutionary taxonomy.

(1) He died 6.12.1855.

(2) The genus Halcyon has 11 species with the common bird we see by rivers known as River Kingfisher (Alcedo althis).



wikipedia.org. quinarian_system/Pic.


7th October 1337. End of the French Dream.

Gascony formed the nucleus of our French possessions until the end of the 100 Years War in the 15th century.

The War though punctuated by short periods of uneasy peace actually lasted for 116 years from 1337 to 1453 and was essentially a struggle for the throne of France between the rival houses of Valois and Plantagenet (also kings of England).

Edward III who ruled over Gascony had a good legal claim as his mother Isabella was the sister of the last French king Charles IV, but was still a boy of sixteen. His rival Philip of Valois was only Charles’ cousin, but a grown man and already regent, and unlike Edward away in England, was on the spot. He thus had himself crowned.

The history of England would undoubtedly have been different if Edward’s claim had prevailed with England and France under a single crown.

France at the time of the 100 Years War.

Amicable relations between the two countries weren’t helped by the fact that Edward had invaded France’s old ally Scotland. Thus in 1337 Philip confiscated Gascony, ‘on account of the many excesses, rebellions and acts of disobedience committed against us and our royal majesty by the King of England, Duke of Aquitaine’.

This was the last straw for King Edward who Today in 1337 formally claimed not only Gascony, but France as well, declaring himself, ‘King of France and England’: the 100 Years War had begun.

Wars need money to pay for them  but his attempt to raise an army provoked a domestic crisis because of the sums needed to be raised in tax. The proceeds of 30,000 sacks of wool was loaned and money was borrowed from the Bardi and Peruzzi Banks, with his demands becoming increasingly intolerable in his last ten years.(1)

BH0TR6 Philippa of Hainault Queen of Edward III alabaster effigy on tomb in Westminster Abbey, London England. Image shot 1992. Exact date unknown.

Edward’s French campaigns coincided with his war in Scotland and broke the friendly relations which had existed for a 100 years. If there was any consolation with the 100 Year War taking place in France, there were no casualties in England: France’s population was to drop dramatically.

Another consolation for Edward was his genuine regard for his wife Phillippa, remarkable in an age of formal dynastic marriage, and to whom he regaled with sumptuous gifts.

By the end of the War against France the only territory we owned was Calais.

(1) Edward III died in 1377.


A History of England in 100 Places. J.J.Norwich. P 118.


historyextra.com/BBC History Magazine. 21.6.2017/Effigy.