850: Thomas Becket assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral (29 December 1170)
400: The Mayflower leaves Plymouth for America, carrying pilgrim settlers (6 September 1620)
200: Royal Astronomical Society founded (12 January 1820)
200: Birth of Florence Nightingale, in Florence (12 May 1820)
175: Drainage of the Tower of London’s moat completed (1845)
175: Rubber band (made from vulcanized rubber) patented by Stephen Perry (17 March 1845)
175: Brunel’s SS Great Britain crosses the Atlantic in 14 days (sails 26 July 1845)
150: First voyage of Cutty Sark, London to Shanghai via Cape of Good Hope (16 February 1870)
150: Death of Charles Dickens (9 June 1870)
150: Elementary Education Act introduces compulsory education for children 5–13, or 10 for Board School pupils (29 November 1870)
100: Women at Oxford University allowed to receive degrees (October 1920)
100: Burial of Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey (11 November 1920)
75: End of World War II. Anniversaries include liberation of the Channel Islands (9 May 1945), the Yalta and Potsdam conferences to decide postwar reorganization (February/July) and the start of the Nuremberg war trials (20 November)
75: Birth of Eric Clapton (30 March 1945)
75: Signing of UN charter (26 June 1945)
75: Parliament passes Family Allowance Act (15 June 1945)
75: Publication of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (17 August 1945)
75: Brief Encounter goes on general release (26 Nov 1945)
50: Black Tot Day. Last time the Royal Navy issues rum ration to sailors (31 July 1970)
25: Barings Bank collapses (26 February 1995)
25: Skye Bridge opens (16 October 1995)
25: BBC begins regular DAB broadcasting (27 October 1995)
25: Princess of Wales gives a candid interview to Panorama (20 November 1995)
Founding of the National Trust
125 years: Octavia Hill was a philanthropist and social reformer par excellence, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley tireless in his determination to preserve the Lake District from over-development and disfigurement, especially by those grubby steam trains. When the two of them got together with Sir Robert Hunter, lawyer, campaigner for public rights and committed preservationist, they were unstoppable.
In the face of rampant industrialisation, something had to be done to preserve places of natural beauty and historic interest. They hit upon the idea of setting up a dedicated company to acquire and administer such sites for the benefit of everyone, for ever. The trigger for it to get started was when the owners of Sayes Court in Deptford wanted to leave the property to the nation but couldn’t find the way to do it. They went to Octavia Hill, who spoke to Sir Robert and with Rawnsley on board, the result, on 12 January 1895, was the creation of the National Trust.
Within weeks, the Trust was given five acres of land overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales (Dinas Oleu) and in 1896 bought its first property, Alfriston Clergy House in Sussex. It cost £10. The Trust quickly acquired members and funds and, with the aid of several acts of Parliament, never looked back.
It is now the largest membership organisation in the UK with over four million people reaping the benefit of the socially aware, Victorian ideals of the founders.
VE Day – 8 May
75 years: When Grand Admiral Dönitz signed an unconditional surrender in Reims on 7 May 1945 – Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier – a great wave of relief, joy and unmitigated celebration swept across the country. The next day was declared a national holiday and folk flooded out on to the streets to sing, dance and generally let their hair down.
Renowned British reserve was abandoned and strangers embraced like old friends in an outpouring of euphoria after six years of fighting and austerity. At 3pm the crowds hushed to hear Churchill’s radio announcement that the war in Europe had ended, broadcast over loudspeakers.
Ten consecutive services were held at St Paul’s Cathedral, each one overflowing; the royal family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace seven times. On the eighth it was just the King and Queen. The future monarch and her sister had slipped off to join in the fun on the streets below (anonymously), shouting, ‘We want the King,’ along with everyone else. It seemed like the whole country was rejoicing but for those with loved ones still serving overseas, or who had lost family and friends, emotions must have been very mixed.
The end of the war came in August when Japan surrendered, following America’s dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By that time Britain had a new Labour government under Clement Attlee, and Churchill, as leader of the opposition, spoke of an ‘Iron Curtain’ descending across Europe. The war was over. Now the peace was about to present its own challenges.
50 years: Down at Michael Eavis’s Worthy Farm on 19 September 1970, the day after Jimi Hendrix died, just 1500 pioneering souls paid their £1 (for which they also got free milk) and for the next two days raved on to T.Rex, Stackridge and Al Stewart.
The next year 12,000 turned up, got in for free and were treated to Hawkwind playing on a strange pyramid stage, constructed out of scaffolding and plastic sheeting.
Since those first hippy fests, and despite its on-off early days, Glastonbury has evolved into a five-day extravaganza, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary and Performing Arts and a showcase for practically every musical style. The mud baths of 1997 and 1998 couldn’t dampen spirits, nor could the storm of 2007 when two months’ rain fell in a few hours and the site flooded.
A Blues festival in Bath gave Michael Eavis the idea for something on a smaller scale. Now fifty years on and millions of pounds of charitable donations later, it seems safe to say that idea was inspired!