1st October 1909. The Red Menace and Others.

Initially to combat German spies, the first director of MI5 was Captain Vernon Kell a former foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph who held the post for 31 years. 

Today in 1909 the Secret Service Bureau, later MI5, with two officers with intelligence experience, was founded with an office adjoining a private detective agency in Victoria Street. London.

By 1912 the D-Notice System arrived when fear of German espionage had found expression in the first Official Secrets Act of 1911.

The notion of the D-Notice was that a committee would keep newspapers informed of matters which in the name national security should be restricted in publication.

The Committee continued to function in the inter-war years unobtrusively, and was strengthened as an aid to voluntary press censorship during the last war.(1)

One effect of the 1917 Russian Revolution was the fear of ‘the red menace’ with any strikes causing the government alarm as experienced in 1918 by Lloyd George at the time of the police strike.

Even the children’s author Arthur Ransome, whilst in Russia and providing intelligence to MI6, was regarded by MI5 as suspect, owing to his opposition to any British intervention in Russia.

On Saturday 25th October 1924, just before the general election, newspapers splashed a letter purporting to come from Zinoviev of the Communist International, with an incitement for British Communists to prepare for an uprising, with The Times headlining of a: ‘Soviet Plot…Red Propaganda in Britain’.

Coming out when it did It was instrumental in bringing down the short-lived, and first Labour Government of Ramsay MacDonald.

In the early century the menace was deemed to be Germany which inspired Erskine Childers to write Riddle of the Sands (1903), in which the patriotic and gentlemanly Caruthers of the Foreign Office went to the German, Frisian Isles, to discover that the nightmare was true in that the Germans were secretly preparing an invasion.

There was indeed a network of spies at work but most of the time the men appointed to combat it was spent in inter-departmental wrangling or trying to work out what they were supposed to do.

Secrecy was so taken seriously that agents were such as John Buchan’s Richard Arbuthnot, morally upright, patriotic and male; baddies were German or at least foreign.

In World War I the Daily Mail whipped up anti German feeling with its October16th leader saying the menace was, ‘efficient, dangerous and needing repressing’. Special constables typified by H.G. Well’s, Mr Britling saw spies everywhere. In Buchan’s popular novel, ‘39 steps’ German agents were endemic.

Post WW II Graham Greene, an ex-Intelligence officer, mocks the world of espionage in ‘Our Man in Havanna’, where Wormald, played by Alec Guinness, invents his own sub-agents.

Chapman Pincher.

The ‘D-Notice’ Committee was strengthened as an aid to voluntary press censorship during the last war and in 1956 was also used to try to gag public discussion on plans for a supersonic bomber.

Paranoia came to a head over D-Notices in 1967 when Prime Minister, Harold Wilson accused the Defence Correspondent of the Express, Chapman Pincher, of ignoring notices by revealing that the Secret Service was scrutinising private telegrams and cables without obtaining a secret service warrant. However the Committee decided for the newspaper, no doubt to Wilson’s disgust.

Nowadays D-Notices still exist, but under a different and confusing name.

(1) Somerset Maugham recruited to spy in Russia in WWI wrote a series of short stories about the agent, Ashenden.


guardian.co.uk. Roy Greenslade 31.7.2015. A typically British fudge.


30th September 1870. Rays: Dangerous or Benign.

The coloured lights in fireworks result from different elements being heated and by studying these lights given off, new elements have been discovered; all the result of the science of Spectroscopy. (1)

One in the 19th century who made a significant contribution to the science was William Allen Miller FRS who died Today in 1870.

He is especially remembered for his work in astrochemistry and spectroscopy which demonstrates the interaction of matter and electromagnetic radiation, the emission or transmission of Energy in the form of waves or particles through space or material.

Historically Spectroscopy originated from the study, through a prism, of visible light dispersion according to its different constituent wavelengths. Isaac Newton used a prism to describe the rainbow colours which were later discovered to form part of the the electromagnetic radiation spectrum, which stretches from Long Waves via Visible Light and X-Rays, to the Short Gamma Rays.

One of the great discoveries using Spectroscopy was in identifying elements from their unique energy levels: Rubidium and Caesium wouldn’t have been discovered but for the technique. Helium was discovered by Line Spectra emitted from the sun.

Electrons of an element, have different Energy Levels, like a ladder around the nucleus, but these can never be between steps or energy levels.

If an electron is in high energy level it can get rid of this by dropping to a lower and emitting a packet of light, a Photon.

This can work the other way round when a Photon comes near an atom needing more energy it can absorb the photon, shown on the Absorption Spectrum with dark spectral lines.

The spectrum of Visible Light, the Emission Spectrum, shows a pattern of bright spectral lines, corresponding to different energy elevels of the elements.

The discovery that electrons can only emit or absorb specific energy levels is the heart of Quantum Mechanics: the Quantum Leap is between different energy ‘rungs on the ladder’.


The danger with some radiation is when it becomes ionized, having enough Energy to knock Electrons from atoms thus becoming net-positively charged which can damage bodily cells

(1a) Group I elements: Lithium gives off red; Sodium gives off yellow and Potassium gives off lilac.

(1b) Spectroscopy comes from Latin; Spectrum-image and Greek Skopia-observation.








29th September 1613. Water, Water, Everywhere…

In the late 15thc Elizabeth of York said; ‘the water of England is not drinkable’: (‘Nunc est bibendum’: now we must drink), meaning wine, mead or ale.

Ancient religious sites were associated with the purifying effect of water and the establishing of monastic houses throughout the country bear witness to this spiritual association.

Sites such as Winefride’s at Holywell, Canwell, Sandwell and Farewell (Frager (fair or clear) well, a Benedictine house of nuns founded by Roger de Clinton in the 12th century, all bore witness to  the notion of spiritual cleansing.

Hugh Myddleton.

In recognition of the need for a purer water supply, Today in 1613, the New River was officially opened, an artificial waterway to improve supply to parts of London, which brought clean water from the River Lea near Ware to the New River Head. This terminated at Clerkenwell, Islington, near the spring of Sadlers Wells.

The man behind the project was a Welsh goldsmith, mine-owner and banker, Sir Hugh Myddleton (1560-1631).

However though design and construction was attributed to Myddleton, Edmund Colthurst had proposed the idea in 1602 and obtained a Charter from James I (VI) in 1604, but financial difficulties meant the task fell to Myddleton.(1)

Later Combe the brewer used the water from the New River for his porter (a dark ale), which would have contrasted with the pristine water, having flowed through gypsum layers, later to be used in Burton’s Pale Ale.(2)

Present day, New Gauge House, New River.

In medieval times piped water was a luxury though in 1234 the Palace of Westminster was receiving a supply for the first time and the City of London was supplied by conduits, probably of wood, from distant wells, with drinking-standards down Cheapside, the end of the Great Conduit from Tyburn.

In 1496 the ‘Water-Carriers’ were formed as a guild, ‘The Brotherhood of S. Cristofer of the Water-Bearers’.(3)

However despite this beer and wine continued to be the staple drinks for all ages, the younger drinking weaker ‘small beer’.

During the 19th century the insanitary towns of the Industrial Revolution were a prey to diseases caused by poor water supply and allied with lack of sanitation, poor nutrition and overcrowding, typhoid and cholera were rife.

Much of the early piped water supply at the time was financed by private subscription as at Loughborough, Leics., where a drinking fountain in the town square was financed by Archdeacon, Henry Fearon in 1870.

However by the 1930s Britain still had polluted milk and water with a Women’s Institute Survey in 1949 finding basic amenities such as mains water and sewerage having barely improved, so little, that out of some 6,200 villages, 4,097 were without a sewerage system.

At Kingsland in Herefordshire sewage ran into an open drain down the street. In Lincolnshire contaminated water from cesspools lay around the village and a school lavatory near Bristol required a man to empty buckets in his back garden.

Abroad it was no better as the writer Arnold Bennett died in 1932 after insisting on drinking water from a French hotel carafe despite the waiter saying: ‘Ah, ce n’est pas sago Monsieur’.

Myddleton at Royal Exchange.

A memorial to Myddleton in his Tudor finery, can be seen at Islington Green, London.(Below).

(1) Robert Mylne (4.1.1733-5.5.1811) responsible for the first Blackfriars Bridge was the surveyor to the New River project and along with John Smeaton was the founder of The Society of Civil-Engineers.

(2) Later Watney Combe Reid.

(3) Oath of Conduit Warden 31st October 1310 by Will Hardy: ‘came on Saturday eve of All Hallows in the fourth year cause the conduit chepe to be kept so neither brewers nor fishmongers shall waste water’.







28th September 1923. Those Radio Times.

On September 28th 1923 the Radio Times made its first appearance and set to grow into the largest-circulating magazine in the world at one time selling over nine million copies a week.

1923 Christmas edition.

However John Reith the first Director General received an ultimatum from the National Publishing Association that if the Corporation didn’t pay a fee for its listings in their newspapers they wouldn’t be printed.


However the conflict wasn’t to last, as a dedicated programme list was soon produced by the BBC. At first it was a joint venture between the BBC, and George Newnes Ltd who produced, printed and distributed the magazine, but by 1925 the BBC took over editorial control and by 1937 the entire operation was ‘in-house’.

First Edition. 28.9.1923.

The magazine soon had a reputation for leading writers, and illustrators such as Bob Sherriffs and Eric Fraser.

By 1928 it was announced that a regular experimental TV transmission was to begin, using the Baird System, for half-an-hour every morning.

On 2nd November 1936 the 405 line High-Definition TV system began with the Radio Times publishing the world’s first TV listings magazine, with 2 pages a week. By January 1937 it was  publishing a lavish photogravure supplement for the London viewers who could receive transmissions from Alexandra Palace.

In September 1939 the Radio Times was devoting 3 pages a week to TV., the month television closed for the ‘duration’ of the war.

Radio came into its own in wartime, but the magazine in 1944 with the paper shortage was down to 20 pages with tiny type and thin paper.

Post-war the peak year for sales was 1955, with  8 ½ million, weekly, but by 1999 had dropped to 1.3 million. Popular Christmas Editions, which began in 1980, reached a peak of 11.2 million in 1988, in 1999 down to a quarter of that figure.(1)

(1) Audit Bureau of Circulations.




Radio Times Story. Tony Currie. 2001.



27th September 1672. Royal Africa Company.

The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa originally incorporated under the Royal Charter in 1663 was Today in 1672 reconstituted as The Royal Africa Company (RAC) with a new charter giving it a monopoly of trading in Africa.(1)

Coat of Arms of Royal Africa Company.

The Company’s HQ in Africa was at Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, present Ghana, with forts established on the River Gambia in Sierra Leone. and on the ‘Slave Coast’, present Benin.

A variety of goods were traded: wax, ivory and wood, but mainly gold and notably slaves.

Manufactured goods were brought from Britain and Europe which were sold for slaves who were then transported to the West Indies and the American colonies to work on plantations  producing sugar and tobacco which were shipped to satisfy demand in Britain.

In 1698 when London’s monopoly of the Royal Africa Company was broken Bristol and other cities’ slave trade began.

In the 1720s the RAC was insolvent with the ports, settlements and factories now vested in The Company of Merchants Trading in Africa, incorporated by an Act of Parliament of 1750. This enterprise was abolished in 1821 with all property now vested in the Crown.

Trading of companies with Africa created a prosperity in 17thc Britain, creating millionaires-William Beckford alone had 22.000 acres in Jamaica, new banks were founded to supply credit, Barings, Barclays ( by Alexander and David) and the Bank of England founded 1694, was also involved.

Deptford in south-east London which benefited from the Africa trade.

In London alone 15 Lord Mayors, 25 Sheriffs and 38 Aldermen were shareholders in the RAC between 1660-90 and The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1766 recorded 40 MPs, or their descendants, as owning [slave-run] plantations.

Cities such as London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol flourished on the burgeoning wealth, multiplying throughout the upper echelons of society, which hasn’t been entirely dissipated in modern Britain.

(1) Originally constituted on 10.1.1663





26th September 1950. Once in a Blue Moon or Sun.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded in 734: ‘This year was the moon as if covered with blood’.

It wasn’t a blue moon which impressed Today a Tuesday in 1950, it was a blue sun which began at 4pm, a phenomenon being especially observed and recorded in Scotland.

Not surprisingly it caused phone-calls to local newspapers for an explanation, for as one journalist said, ‘this was the normal response then to give cheer and comfort’. No 24 hours news then.

One who left a vivid account was aged just five at the time and recalled that his grannie took him to Troon beach as the sun turned blue in a bronze sky, ‘the familiar landscape of Troon had turned alien like being on another planet shining in a sapphire-grey sky’. It was to last until 6.30pm.

The phenomenon was reported by a pilot of a Meteor fighter out of Leuchars who noticed a brown haze at 30,000 ft.

The Air Ministry, ‘Met Office’ said the likely cause was diffraction of light caused by dust particles of a certain size in a haze layer at between 6-8 miles which had probably drifted from large Canadian forest fires.

By a coincidence on the same evening on that Tuesday there was an eclipse of the moon which was described as blue.

Patrick Moore who presented BBC.s Sky at Night for many years described it as a, ‘slightly misty sky with a lovely blue moon comparable to an electric glow discharge, I have never seen anything similar’.

Probably the rarest and most lurid sunset in recent times was seen on November 26th 1979 as reported in the Telegraph next day …’the evening sky turned bright pink then mauve, deepening into purple over a large part of the South-East and East Anglia’, which apparently had been caused by a coincidence of a Saharan dust plume, two cloud layers and an ordinary sunset.

On Tuesday 9th January 2001 the eclipse of the moon was unusual in that it was marked by a definite red, coppery colour owing to atmospheric pollution.(1)

(1) After the huge volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883 there was a similar phenomenon.

Ref: volcanocafe.wordpress.

Ref: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Britannia.com/history A/S Chronicle.

Ref: wikipedia.org.

Ref: paulcockburnjournalist.com. Picture.

Ref: xenology.info.bluemoon.

25th September 1953. Cock-Fighting to Horse Racing.

An article in the Daily Mirror for Friday, September 25th 1953 reported that police entered the Albany Club in Saville Row, London.

On going into ‘Sportsmans Corner’, a room with TV access to the street, they found Lord Selsdon, Teddy Knox and Sydney Lee, a billiards player, watching Ascot Races and presumably ‘engaging’ with outside punters.

Contravening the 1906 Street Betting Act it resulted in their being bailed to appear before Bow Street Magistrates.

A century or more previously something more sinister and grisly would have been discovered by the law officers of those times, as it was the heyday of gambling on cock-fighting and duck-baiting.

Cocks have a congenital aggression against those of the same breed and their natural spurs were fitted with false spurs to add to the injuries.






Many pubs were the centres of these blood-sports until the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 made them illegal, though no doubt then flourishing underground; practices now only remembered in the names of the Dog and Duck in Soho and the Fighting Cocks in St.Albans. (1) 

Blood-sports go back to ancient times with the cockpit by Tudor times being the name for entertainment of frenzied activity, with Shakespeare having Henry V using the term for the area around the theatre-stage, now just the ‘pit’.

The Palace of Westminster had one, later to be converted to a theatre, designed by Inigo Jones in 1629. Drury Lane, London had its Cockpit Theatre based on the round enclosure of the cockpit.

Cockpit in Court. Engraving Mazell, in Pennant’s London, reproduced in Typographical Record.

In Britain the gamecock is first referred to in the 17thc and ‘Cock of the Game’ by George Wilson’s, ‘Commendations of Cocks and Cock Fighting’ (1607).

The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act of 1963 cleaned up the association of pubs with illegal gambling, mainly on horses, using ‘bookies’ runners’. Now no commercial betting is allowed on licenced premises. It would be nice to think that illegal, underground cock-fighting, has gone the same way.

(1) 60 years later in Scotland.





Dark History of English Pubs. Hollie Mantle. Blood, Betting and Baiting.