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30 November 2011

On this day in history: Capital punishment abolished in Tuscany, 1786

In 1765, Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard succeeded his father, Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, as Grand Duke of Tuscany. For five years of his reign a group of counselors selected by his mother administered the Grand Duchy. Finally, in 1770 he visited Vienna and secured full control over Tuscany.

Peter Leopold set about reforming the Grand Duchy. Although he was unsuccessful in his attempt to secularise his state, he did remove many of the restrictions on commerce and personal freedom that the Medici had instituted and his father had left in place. He also started the process of drawing up a political constitution.

His enlightened attitudes extended to the punishment of criminals. After reading Cesare Beccaria's 1764 treatise on penal reform, Dei delitti e delle pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), he started blocking the application of the death penalty, with no executions taking place after 1769. On 30th November 1786, he promulgated a reform that banned torture, abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all instruments of capital punishment, making the Grand Duchy of Tuscany the first modern state to permanently abolish the death penalty.

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First execution in Salem witch trials: 10th June 1692
Last hanging at Tyburn gallows: 3rd November 1783
Guillotine used for first time: 25th April 1792
Rosenbergs executed: 19th June 1953
France abolished death penalty: 9th October 1981

28 November 2011

On this day in history: Most points scored by one player in NFL game, 1929

Born in Willow River, Minnesota, in 1903, Ernie Nevers developed his sporting prowess while at high school. He gained notoriety playing American football for Stanford University, being named as the Player of the Game in their 1925 Rose Bowl victory against the University of Notre Dame. The following year he made his professional sporting début as a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns baseball team, before also signing for the Duluth Eskimos AFL side as fullback.

In 1929 Nevers signed for he Chicago Cardinals NFL side, as player-coach. On 28th November, the Cardinals had a visit from their local rivals, the Chicago Bears, for the Thanksgiving Day fixture. The crowd of approximately eight-thousand watched as Nevers scored all forty points for the Cardinals in their 40-6 victory. He made six touchdowns and kicked four extra points to establish a record that still stands.

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Lowest innings total in first-class cricket: 11th June 1907
Garry Sobers hit six sixes in an over: 31st August 1968
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27 November 2011

On this day in history: Première of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, 1896

Richard Strauss was born in June 1864 in Munich, where his father, Franz, was the principal horn player at the Court Opera. Richard received a musical education from his father and started writing music at the age of six; yet, when he entered the city's university he chose to study philosophy and art history, rather than music. He spent a year at Munich University before moving to Berlin where he briefly studied music before securing a post as an assistant conductor in Meiningen, becoming principle conductor in 1885.

It was around that time that Strauss began composing tone poems, including Don Juan, op.20 (1889) and Tod und Verklärung ("Death and Transfiguration"), Op. 24 (1888-9). In 1894 he started sketching ideas for a tone poem inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel Also sprach Zarathustra ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra"), finishing the piece on 24th August 1896. It lasts around thirty minutes, comprising an introduction - now best known as the theme to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey - and eight other sections named after chapters in Nietzsche's book.

On November 27th 1896, Richard Strauss conducted the première of Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 in Frankfurt. The piece proved popular, soon entering the classical repertoire. Nevertheless, some criticised Strauss' attempt at composing philosophical music, but he responded saying that he was setting philosophy to music, rather that his symphonic poem was an homage to Nietzsche's genius and an expression of the impact that the book had upon him.

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First performance of Das Rheingold: 22nd September 1869
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26 November 2011

On this day in history: The Great Storm of 1703

On the night of 26th November 1703, the gale force winds that had swept over Britain for a week reached a climax. Winds travelling at an estimated 120 mph blew down buildings and carried people and animals through the air. Gusts uprooting over four-thousand oak trees in the New Forest alone.

The gales first struck the West Country causing widespread flooding in the Bristol area. In nearby Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder and his wife were killed when two chimney stacks collapsed on them while they slept. On land, over one-hundred people lost their lives, but the death toll was much higher at sea with many thousands dying: the Royal Navy lost thirteen ships and over fifteen-hundred men.

In London, the winds tore the roof off Westminster Abbey and many other churches lost their towers and spires. A row of houses near Moorfields collapsed and around seven-hundred ships in the docks were crushed into each other. Queen Anne took refuge in the basement of St. James Palace while part of its roof collapsed.

The storm abated the following morning, but strong winds continued to blow until 2nd December. The writer Daniel Defoe published a collection of eyewitness accounts of the devastation in a book called The storm: or, a collection of the most remarkable casualties and disasters which happen'd in the late dreadful tempest, both by sea and land (1704). He wrote:

In short, Horror and Confusion seiz'd upon all, whether on Shore or Sea: No Pen can describe it, no Tongue can express it, no Thought conceive it, unless some of those who were in the Extremity of it; and who, being touch'd with a due sense of the sparing Mercy of their Maker, retain the deep Impression of Goodness upon their Minds, tho' the Danger be past: and of those I doubt the Number is but a few.
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25 November 2011

On this day in history: Hollywood blacklist instituted, 1947

In May 1938, Congressmen Martin Dies and Samuel Dickstein created the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to investigate Communist and Nazi activities in the United States. The committee was originally known as the 'Dies Committee' after its chairman, and was the latest in a series of government bodies that conducted similar investigations since 1918. Dickstein co-chaired one of these committees between 1934 and 1937, but ironically he was later revealed to be a Soviet agent.

In 1945, Congress passed a law that made HUAC a standing committee with the New Jersey Representative, Edward J. Hart, as its first chairman. HUAC was mandated to investigate communist subversion of American society. As the paranoia of the Cold War took hold, the committee began to turn its attentions to the entertainment industry after hearing the testimony of various movie industry figures, including Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild.

HUAC drew up a witness list of forty-three Hollywood professionals suspected of being or having been members of the American Communist Party. Nineteen of those listed declared that they would not be prepared to give evidence. The committee called eleven of these to answer their questions, but only the German playwright Bertolt Brecht co-operated.

The remaining group of screenwriters and directors were or had been members of the Communist Party. Since such membership was not illegal, they cited their First Amendment rights to free speech and public assembly as justification for their non-compliance. HUAC took a different view and accused the "Hollywood Ten" of being in contempt of Congress, and instituted proceedings against them.

On 25th November 1947, the House of Representatives voted 346 to 17 to cite
Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo for contempt of Congress. Film industry executives held a meeting the next day at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. The president of the Motion Picture Association of America then issued a press release that declared that the ten would be fired or suspended without pay and would not be able to work in the US film until they were cleared of the charges against them and had sworn that they were not Communists.

Early in 1948, the "Hollywood Ten" were convicted of contempt and sentenced to serve one year in prison. They began their incarceration in 1950 following a series of unsuccessful appeals and a Supreme Court decision against reviewing the case. In September of that year Edward Dmytryk was released following his announcement that he had once been a Communist and was now prepared to testify before HUAC.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood blacklist grew: in June 1950 right-wing journal Counterattack published a pamphlet entitled Red Channels, which listed 151 entertainment professionals engaged in Communist subversion of the industry. Some of those listed were denied employment as were many others who were accused of being Communists over the following decade. The blacklist effectively ended in 1960 when director Otto Preminger announced that Dalton Trumbo (one of the "Hollywood Ten") was the screenwriter of his forthcoming film Exodus, and Universal Pictures announced that he would be credited as a screenwriter of Spartacus.

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Disney`s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released: 4th February 1938
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24 November 2011

On this day in history: American Woman Suffrage Association formed, 1869

In January 1866, at a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone proposed the creation of a new organisation with the goal of universal suffrage. On 10th May, Anthony and Stone founded the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass. The relationship between black rights activists and woman suffragists was a difficult one, exposing the differences between the two, particularly regarding working with political parties and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave citizenship to former slaves and their descendants.

These differences resulted in a split within the association during its May 1869 conference. While most participants welcomed the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, which would prohibit the denial of voting rates based on a man's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude", as a step in the right direction towards universal suffrage, a small group led by Anthony and Stanton that opposed any constitutional change that did not give votes to women. Within days of the end of the conference, Anthony and Stanton formed the woman-only National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) to promote equal rights for women in all aspects of society.

On 24th November 1869, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Josephine Ruffin formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). This group, which was open to members of both sexes, sought to continue the work of AERA in not only calling for votes for women, but also supporting the Fifteenth Amendment. The following year, the AWSA founded their own national magazine, the Woman's Journal, edited by Stone.

The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 removed one of the main points of contention between the two groups. The woman suffragists also began to see the downside of having two rival groups who were working to the same ends. After years of negotiation, the NWSA and AWSA merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890.

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New Zealand women gained the right to vote: 19th September 1893
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23 November 2011

On this day in history: First broadcast of Doctor Who, 1963

In December 1962, a Canadian-born science fiction fan called Sydney Newman took over as Head of Drama at BBC Television. The following March, he was given the task of filling an early evening slot in the Saturday schedule. His brief was to create a show that would appeal to children, teenagers and adults alike.

Earlier that year, the BBC Script Department's Survey Group had produced a report, which suggested that a science fiction story involving time travel be developed. Newman seized on the idea, setting up brainstorming sessions with scriptwriters. During these sessions, Newman came up with the character of the Doctor and the idea of a vehicle that was larger on the inside than on the outside.

The relatively inexperienced Verity Lambert eventually took over control of production of the series, assisted by Mervyn Pinfield as associate producer, and David Whitaker as scriptwriter. Lambert offered the lead role to the 55-year-old character actor William Hartnell, who was initially reticent to take on the role. She also cast Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan Foreman, and Jacqueline Hill and Ian Chesterton as two of Susan's teachers.

Filming of the first Doctor Who story, "An Unearthly Child", began at Lime Grove Studios on 27th September 1963, directed by Waris Hussein. Anthony Coburn's script needed rewriting because it was scheduled to be the second storyline. Consequently, elements of the original opening story, "The Giants" written by C. E. Webber, were added. Coburn suggested that the Doctor's ship, called the TARDIS, be disguised as a police box.

The show was filmed as if it were a play, offering little opportunity for retakes. As a result technical problems and performance errors necessitated that the first episode be filmed again. A number of changes were made to the story for the second shoot on 18th October, to make the Doctor's character less forbidding and Susan's character less strange.

The first episode aired at 5.15 pm on 23rd November 1963. It was watched by an estimated 4.4 million people, but failed to attract much attention (possibly because of coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day). As a result, the BBC decided to reshow the first episode directly before airing the second part the following week, attracting 5.9 million viewers, a figure that rose as the series continued, particularly with the introduction of the Daleks in the second series.

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BBC Television Service started broadcasting: 2nd November 1936
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22 November 2011

On this day in history: Blackbeard killed, 1718

The early life of the pirate known as Blackbeard remains something of a mystery, as does his real name. Edward Teach (or Thatch, or possibly Drummond) probably grew up in Bristol, England, before embarking on a life at sea. Apparently, he signed up with a privateer (a state-endorsed pirate) in Jamaica during the War of the Spanish Succession.

When that conflict ended in 1713, Teach, like many sailors decided to continue the profitable life of a pirate, rather than sign up for a harsher life in the merchant marine or the Royal Navy. He joined Benjamin Hornigold's crew in 1716, and soon received command of one of Hornigold's fleet in recognition of his aggression. The following year, they captured the twenty gun, 300-ton French warship, La Concorde de Nantes, originally a British ship called Concord, which Teach took command of.

Teach renamed the ship Queen Anne's Revenge and doubled its number of guns to forty. In this heavily armed vessel, Blackbeard was able to fight off any Royal Navy ships sent to capture him, while he continued to capture and plunder merchant ships. Reputedly he attacked at least eighteen vessels in a six-month period, developing a reputation as a fearsome pirate.

The legends that surrounded Blackbeard meant that his reputation was often enough for ships to surrender to him, giving him the confidence to undertake his most audacious plan: a blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. With Hornigold having given up piracy and accepted a pardon, in May 1718 Blackbeard took a flotilla of four vessels to the mouth of Charleston harbour, where they plundered eight or nine merchant ships, ransoming their prizes for a chest of medicine before making their escape.

The following month, Queen Anne's Revenge and one of the smaller ships ran aground at Topsail inlet (now Beaufort inlet), North Carolina. Blackbeard may have done so on purpose in order to limit his crew to his most trusted men, who would consequently receive a larger share of the booty. He sailed to the North Carolina port of Bath Town, where he obtained a pardon from Governor Charles Eden and married a planter's daughter.

The governor of the neighbouring colony of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, suspected Blackbeard's continued piracy under the protection of Governer Eden in return for a share of the spoils. Even though Blackbeard was operating beyond Spotswood's jurisdiction, the Governor of Virginia decided to finance a expedition by both land and sea to expose the conspiracy and cement his own position, which was under threat from his council. He put a price of £100 on Blackbeard's head and sent two hired sloops, the the Ranger and Jane, to locate the pirate ships.

On 22nd November 1718, Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his fifty-four men engaged Blackbeard and his brigands at an inlet on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. As Blackbeard made a run for it in the Adventure, Maynards sloops gave chase but ran aground. After re-floating, Maynard ordered his crews to row after the pirates, there being insufficient wind to deploy sails.

As Jane pulled alongside Adventure, the pirates fired a broadside killing its captain and several of the crew. Maynard continued the pursuit, hitting Adventure's rigging and forcing her ashore. Maynard then ordered his men to hide in the holds and prepare for the pirate boarding party. In the ensuing mêlée Blackbeard was killed, reportedly he had been shot five times and suffered twenty stab wounds.

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First English colony in North America founded: 5th August 1583
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21 November 2011

On this day in history: First appearance of Sweeney Todd, 1846

The 21st November 1846 issue of Edward Lloyd's 'penny dreadful' The People's Periodical and Family Library contained the first part serialised story entitled The String of Pearls: A Romance. The story, which was published in eighteen weekly editions, tells of the mysterious disappearance of a naval officer called Lieutenant Thornhill, who is last seen entering the Fleet Street premises of a barber called Sweeney Todd. Thornhill was in possession of the string of pearls from the title.

The pearls were a gift for a girl named Johanna Oakley from her lover, Mark Ingestrie, who is presumed lost at sea. She joins forces with Colonel Jeffery, a friend of Thornhill's, to investigate the disappearance of the two men. Eventually, they uncover the grisly facts: Todd is killing rich patrons of his shop for their valuables, while his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, disposes of the bodies by using them as filling for her pies.

The story may have been based on an infamous murder from 1784 (the year before the setting of the Sweeney Todd story). A journeyman barber was shaving a gentleman, told of the barber of his exploits with a young woman who lived nearby. The barber assumed that the woman in question was his wife and slit his throat from ear to ear.

While the author of the The String of Pearls remains anonymous, the work is generally attributed to Thomas Peckett Prest; although, it may have been the work of James Malcolm Rymer. Both men wrote 'penny dreadfuls' for Lloyd, and both may have wanted to protect their professional reputations as composer and civil engineer respectively.

The text of The String of Pearls is available at the Victorian London website.

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20 November 2011

On this day in history: Recording of Funky Drummer, 1970

On 20th November 1970, "The Godfather of Soul", James Brown, went into the King Records studio in Cincinnati, Ohio to record a session with his band, the James Brown Orchestra. The band included drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who had worked with Brown since the mid-60s, drumming on the hit records "Cold Sweat", "I Got the Feelin'" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". While the band played an extended vamp, Brown improvised lyrics in a style he had made his own.

At one point Brown sings:

I wanna give the drummer some of this funky soul we got here
You don't have to do no soloing, brother
Just keep what you got
Don't turn it loose, 'cause it's a mother

Stubblefield then played eight bars of a slightly modified version of his earlier riff. When the rest of the band joined in once more, Brown announced that the tune is called "The Funky Drummer", apparently in recognition of Stubblefield.

Brown's prescience regarding the drum break has since been proven - even though the song was only a minr hit following its release in March 1970. It has become one the most (if not the most) frequently used sample of all time. Not only has it appeared on songs by hip-hop artists such as the Beastie Boys, De la Soul, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Ice T, LL Cool J, NWA, Run DMC, Public Enemy and Salt'n'Pepa, but it has also been used by Depeche Mode, Enigma, Fine Young Cannibals, New Order, Prince, and Sinead O’Connor.

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Purple Haze released: 17th March 1967

19 November 2011

On this day in history: Pelé scored his 1000th goal, 1969

The most famous footballer of all time was born Edison Arantes do Nascimento in the city of Três Corações in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. In spite of his father - João Ramos do Nascimento, nicknamed Dondinho - being a professional footballer, Pelé grew up in poverty in the city of Bauru, São Paulo. Nevertheless, he developed his sporting skills using makeshift footballs such as socks filled with newspaper or grapefruit.

Pelé joined the junior team at Santos at the age of fifteen, before joining the senior squad a year later as a forward. He scored a goal in his début match against Corinthians on 7th September 1956, going on to be the stop scorer in the division. Less than a year after signing a professional contract he played his first game for the national side scoring Brazil's only goal in a 2-1 defeat to Argentina, becoming the youngest ever player to score in an international: he was aged only sixteen years and nine months.

In 1958, he also became the youngest player to take part in a FIFA World Cup. He scored six goals throughout the competition, including two goals in Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden in the final. Brazil retained the World Cup in 1962, with Pelé getting on the score-sheet only once.

The 1960s proved to be a golden decade for Santos. Pelé's team won six national championships and two continental trophies. By the end of the decade he approached a milestone in his career: his thousandth goal in senior football.

Anticipation increased during the 1969 season as he approached the landmark. On 19th November, Santos travelled to play Vasco Da Gama in the huge Maracana Stadium with Pelé's goal tally numbering 999. The 125,000 strong crowd watched as he was twice denied in the first half: first by the crossbar; then by a magnificent save from Vasco goalkeeper, Andrada.

In the second half, a defender appeared to bring Pelé down in the penalty area. The referee pointed to the spot and the Santos left-back, Rildo, stepped up to take the kick, but the team captain, Carlos Alberto, decided that Pelé should take the spot kick as his team-mates retreated to the half-way line in order that he may compose himself.

Pelé slotted the ball into the bottom-left-hand corner to score the goal known popularly as O Milésimo ("The Thousandth"). As photographers and spectators ran onto the pitch and surrounded the goal, he stood in the net repeatedly kissing the ball and thanking it for all it had given him. He was then carried aloft around the pitch while the entire crowd celebrated his achievement.

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18 November 2011

On this day in history: King`s Cross Fire, 1987

On 18th November 1987 at around 7.30pm a fire was discovered in a machine room at King's Cross St Pancras underground station. The machine room was beneath an escalator that connected the Piccadilly line with the mainline station. Subsequent investigations concluded that a discarded match on the escalator was the most likely cause of the fire.

Even though the evening rush hour was coming to an end, hundreds of commuters were still in the station, the busiest on London's Underground network. Initially there was little concern as the fire appeared to be small, producing little smoke. Unfortunately, the fire soon spread over the partly-wooden escalator before a flashover engulfed the ticket office in flames and smoke, trapping many passengers underground.

By that time, the first fire-fighters had arrived including London Fire Brigade Station Officer Colin Townsley, who was on the concourse when the flashover occurred, while he stopped to help a woman who was struggling to exit the station. Townsley was one of the thirty-one fatalities caused by the fire, most of who had been caught in the ticket hall during the flashover. Fourteen ambulances were used to take the sixty-plus people who received injuries as a result of the fire to various London hospitals.

150 fire fighters battled the blaze until it was declared extinguished at 1.46 the next morning. Nevertheless, emergency crews remained at the scene until the following evening. A number of bodies were recovered from the station, including one that was not identified until 2004 as a 73-year-old homeless man from Falkirk, Scotland, called Alexander Fallon.

ITN news footage of the disaster

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17 November 2011

On this day in history: Suez Canal opened, 1869

In the late eighteenth-century, Napoleon Bonaparte charged a survey team with the task of discovering the remnants of an ancient waterway that once joined the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Their findings appeared in the series of publications known as Description de l'Égypte published between 1809 and 1826. Although engineers deemed the route unsuitable for a new canal, the benefits of such a waterway inspired the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps to secure a concession from the viceroy of Egypt, Said Pasha, to form a company construct a ship canal.

This authorisation, secured in 1854, granted a ninety-nine year lease on the land for the canal operators Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez ("The Suez Canal Company"), which incorporated in 1858. International scepticism resulted in most of the available shares being bought by French citizens. The Egyptian state purchased the remaining forty-four percent of the shares in the company in order that the project progress.

The construction began in 1859 employing tens of thousands of workers, most of whom were Egyptian forced labourers. Fearing a challenge to their domination of world trade, the British sent armed Bedouin to lead a revolt of the labourers. The viceroy condemned the use of slavery, halting work on the canal until the practice of involuntary labour ceased.

Following ten and a half years construction, on 17th November 1869 workers breached the barrage on the Suez plains reservoir filling the canal with water. Later that day the first ships sailed the 199 miles (192km) of canal joining the two seas. Ten days later the Egyptian Khedive, Ismail Pacha, officially opened the waterway.

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16 November 2011

On this day in history: UNESCO established, 1945

In November 1942, the education ministers of the allied governments then exiled in London attended a meeting at the invitation of the President of the Board of Education of England and Wales, Richard A. Butler. The group, which became known as the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME), continued to meet for the duration of the war. As part of the fifth session of CAME in June 1943, the delegates agreed that their conference could form the basis for a worldwide educational organisation, an idea which soon attracted international interest.

AS CAME developed their plans for an international educational organisation, the U.S. government invited the allied powers to consider the creation of an international security organisation. In October 1944, a draft charter for the proposed organisation, called the United Nations (UN), was published. In April 1945, delegates met in San Francisco in a conference that not only established the UN, but also agreed to invite the British government to hold a meeting to discuss the creation of an international organisation for cultural co-operation.

On 1st November, delegates from forty-three nations arrived at a conference to establish the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization, presided over by Ellen Wilkinson, the British Minister of Education. A number of scientists pushed for the inclusion of science, not only in the name of the organisation, but also in its programme. The conference agreed, and on 16th November 1945, the delegates signed the agreements that established the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

To learn more about the history of UNESCO visit the 'About us' section of their web site and the UNESCO history project.

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The Antarctic Treaty came into force: 23rd June 1961
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15 November 2011

On this day in history: Only spaceflight of Buran, 1988

In 1974 engineers of the Soviet Union began work on the Buran ("Blizzard") project, which was a response to NASA's Space Shuttle programme. The Russian engineers favoured a design for a lighter reusable spacecraft where the entire body of the craft created lift, but the military leadership demanded that they copy the delta-wing design of the American Shuttle. Six years later, construction commenced on the spacecraft, with the first full-scale prototype reaching completion in 1984 and the first of the two completed production vehicles appearing in 1986.

As with the NASA design, in order to achieve space flight the Buran needed an external source of thrust that would be jettisoned when no longer needed. Buran employed an Energia rocket supplemented by four smaller liquid-fuel Zenit booster rockets, unlike the Shuttle, which uses two solid-fuel booster rockets connected to a fuel tank. The Energia made a successful test-launch in May 1987, paving the way for an unmanned test-flight of Buran.

At 3am local time on 15th November 1988 orbiter OK-1.01 lifted off from the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The space flight lasted 206 minutes, during which Buran orbited the Earth twice before making a successful automatic landing on a runway back at Baikonur despite of a powerful cross-wind. Nevertheless, the success of the test flight was not enough to save the project, which was mothballed due to lack of funds and the shifting political situation in the Soviet Union before President Bosis Yeltsin officially cancelled the project in 1993.

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14 November 2011

On this day in history: Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel died, 1831

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born on 27th August 1770 in Stuttgart, which was then part of the Duchy of Württemberg where his father served as a revenue officer. Hegel learnt Latin from his mother at a young age and later attended the Stuttgart Gymnasium. At his father's suggestion he embarked on a career as a protestant clergyman, enrolling at the University of Tübingen seminary in 1788.

On completing his studies in 1793, Hegel decided not to become a man of the cloth and started work as a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland. He had developed an deep interest in philosophy and began to study the works of Immanuel Kant and Johann Fichte. Nevertheless, he had not abandoned his study of religion as demonstrated by his writings of that time: Life of Jesus and The Positivity of Christian Religion.

In 1796, Hegel co-wrote The First Programme for a System of German Idealism with his friend the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. The next year he left for Frankfurt to take up a new tutoring job, but the bequest he then received following his father's death enabled him to return to education. In 1801, he found an non-salaried position at the University of Jena where he continued his studies, wrote and lectured.

Having exhausted the legacy from his father, in 1807, Hegel moved to Bamberg to take the position of editor of the Bamberger Zeitung newspaper. A year later he received the appointment of headmaster at a Gymnasium in Nuremberg. By this time he had published his first solo philosophical work, Phänomenologie des Geistes ("Phenomenology of Mind"), in which he detailed his dialectic method.

While teaching in Nuremberg, Hegel published the first part of his Wissenschaft der Logik ("Science of Logic") in 1812. The last part entered print in 1816, the same year that he received various offers of university professorships. He chose to take up the appointment from the University of Heidelberg, but two years later he became the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he published his Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts ("Elements of the Philosophy of Right") in 1821.

In 1830, the sixty-year-old Hegel became rector of the university and during the following year King Frederick William III of Prussia decorated him in recognition of his services to the state. Later that same year Hegel left Berlin during a cholera epidemic. Nevertheless, he died in his lodgings in Kreuzberg on 14th November 1831.

The German texts of a number of Hegel's works are available on Project Gutenberg. To learn more about Hegel's thought see his entry on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy site.

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13 November 2011

On this day in history: First manmade object to orbit another planet, 1971

On 30th May 1971, an Atlas-Centaur rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying the Mariner 9 spacecraft. NASA's Mariner program was an investigation of Mars, Venus and Mercury using unmanned probes. Mariner craft achieved many firsts: Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to fly past another planet (Venus) and Mariner 4 was the first to pass close to Mars.

The program also had its fair share of setbacks: Mariner 1 was destroyed following a rocket malfunction; Mariner 3 failed to reach Mars due to a technical fault; and Mariner 8 ended up in the Atlantic Ocean after an unsuccessful launch. With the demise of Mariner 8, its identical sister craft was tasked with becoming the first object to orbit another planet. Mariner 9 arrived at Mars on 13th November when it entered orbit.

For nearly a year, NASA received data from the probe's infrared and ultraviolet instruments. Mariner 9 also took photographs of the planet's surface after having to wait for a couple of months because of the amount of dust in Mars' atmosphere. The scientists switched Mariner 9 off on 27th October 1972 after it depleted its supply of gas that fuelled the altitude control.

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First man-made object to reach the Moon: 14th September 1959
First woman in space: 16th June 1963
Launch of Apollo 13: 11th April 1970
Only spaceflight of Buran: 15th November 1988

Also on this day in history
The Brezhnev Doctrine, 1968

12 November 2011

On this day in history: Sir Thomas Fairfax died, 1671

Thomas Fairfax was born in January in 1612 at Denton Yorkshire. He was the eldest son of Ferdinando Fairfax, the second Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and his wife, Mary Sheffield, who died while Thomas was still a boy. After attending St John's College, Cambridge, Thomas entered the military, serving in campaigns in France and the Low-Countries.

Fairfax was a commander in King Charles I's armies during the bishop's wars against the Scots in 1639 and 1640, including their humiliating defeat at Newburn. The following year the king bestowed a knighthood upon Fairfax; however, the two men soon found themselves in opposing camps. As tensions mounted between king and Parliament, Fairfax supported the parliamentarians who charged him with delivering a petition to the king to request that he cease raising a personal army.

Charles refused to accept the petition, his horse nearly trampling Fairfax underfoot as he rode away. Britain slid into open civil war and Parliament raised their forces. Thomas' father became commander of the northern army with Thomas as his second-in-command and general of horse. Father and son commanded with great distinction despite being outnumbered by royalist forces.

In 1643, while his father defended Hull, Sir Thomas took the cavalry to join up with the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the earl of Manchester in Lincolnshire, since the mounted soldiery would be of little use defending a city. By this time, Sir Thomas had achieved a reputation as one of the Parliamentarian's most able commanders entrusted to command important campaigns across the North of England, including the command of 4000 troops at the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, which proved to be a key parliamentarian victory.

The following December, Parliament passed the self-denying ordinance, an act that excluded all members of both houses from all military commands. Parliament created a new force from their three existing armies, which was soon to be known as the New Model Army. The House of Commons also voted that the thirty-two year old Sir Thomas Fairfax should be its commander-in-chief.

Sir Thomas' decisive victory at the battle of Naseby in June 1645 was instrumental in the collapse of the king's cause. Thomas then became embroiled in the political negotiations that occupied the various parties that had fought the war, including his own officers, who were becoming a potent political force in their own right. Injuries sustained in battle and general ill-health caused him to retire to Bath to recuperate, sparing him from some of the political machinations.

In spite of his position of authority, Sir Thomas found himself at odds with his subordinate officers and the republicans within the Parliamentarian camp. While he agreed that the king should be forced to surrender or resign, he did not support the execution of Charles I and was troubled by the war between Parliament and the Scots, who had taken up the royalist cause. Resolved to resign his post, his last act as commander-in-chief was to suppress a mutiny of radicals within the New Model Army in at Burford May 1649.

Now the 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron (his father having died the year before), he retired to his home in Nun Appleton in Yorkshire on a sizable pension of £5000 per year. Following the death of Oliver Cromwell and the ending of the Protectorate, the Rump Parliament sat again with Fairfax representing Yorkshire. Tensions grew between the Rump and the army under General John Lambert resulting in General George Monck bringing his army south from Scotland to defend Parliament.

In his last military command, Fairfax accepted Monck's invitation to join his army at the head of a force of Yorkshiremen. When news reached Lambert's forces of Fairfax's appearance, 1200 cavalrymen deserted Lambert to join up with the Rump's forces. Monck's victory paved the way for the restoration of the British monarchy.

Fairfax returned to his retirement at Nun Appleton avoiding the vengeful punishment meted out to the regicides by King Charles II's government. He spent his retirement reading, writing and engaged in religious duties. Ill-health marred the remaining eleven years of his life, which ended on 12th November 1671.

A biography of Sir Thomas Fairfax at David Plant's excellent British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1638-60 site.

Related posts
The Solemn League and Covenant, 25th September 1643
English Parliament authorised the trial of Charles I, 6th January 1649
England declared a republic: 19th May 1649
Richard Cromwell resigns as Lord Protector, 25th may 1659

11 November 2011

On this day in history: Signing of the Armistice ended the Great War, 1918

After over four years of war, in the Autumn of 1918 the forces of the Central powers began a slow retreat from the Western Front following a series of Allied advances. The German troops still engaged in strong rearguard actions and the occasional counter-attack. Nevertheless, the situation looked hopeless for the Germans as their allies in the other theatres of the Great War.

As winter approached the German high command were faced with two choices, annihilation or surrender. They chose the latter option and decided to bring matters to a swift conclusion in order to prevent an impending revolution. On 7th November, the acting commander in chief of the German forces, Paul von Hindenburg, sent a telegram to the supreme commander of the Allied armies, General Ferdinand Foch, requesting a meeting.

Allied troops escorted the German delegation in the five staff cars across the border before joining a train to travel to their secret destination: Foch's railway carriage in Compiègne Forest, northern France. The representatives of the Allies were in no mood to negotiate. The three days of discussion centred on their terms of surrender, to which the Germans only managed to achieve a few minor modifications and to officially register their protest at the harshness of the terms.

Following the abdication of their Kaiser the day before and the failure of a last-ditch effort to stall the process, at 5am on the 11th November 1918, the German representatives signed the Armistice document. The ceasefire came into effect at 11am that day, now known as "the eleventh of the eleventh of the eleventh." The belligerents settled the final peace accords the following year at the conference in Paris that resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.

The text of the Armistice document is available on Wikisource.

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Treaty of Paris signed: 10th February 1763
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10 November 2011

On this day in history: Stanley found Livingstone, 1871

On 8th December 1840 Dr. David Livingston sailed from Britain to embark on missionary work in southern Africa. The month before he left he had received a medical licence from the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and been ordained as a minister of the Congregational Union of England and Wales. In March 1841 he arrived in Cape Town where he stayed for a few weeks before heading north to take Christianity and western medicine to the Africans.

Over the next fifteen years he made several trips of exploration into the interior of the continent returning to Britain in 1856 to find that his accounts of his journeys had given him celebrity status. Over the next two years he wrote a book about his exploits entitled Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, and embarked on a speaking tour. In 1858 he became a member of the Royal Society and had an audience with Queen Victoria.

Later that year, he embarked on an expedition up the Zambezi and Shire rivers to assess the prospects for trade in that area. Livingstone's six and a half years spent in Africa proved expensive and less successful than expected. His team spent less than eighteen months actually exploring the interior as the project was dogged by illness and logistical nightmares. He returned home in 1864 to a much less rapturous welcome than before.

Livingstone set off on another expedition in 1865 to establish a trading outpost on Lake Tanganyika, to continue his missionary work, and to seek the source of the River Nile. His journey through south-west Africa proved difficult and dispiriting. Sickness ravaged his party, who also bore witness to the evidence of the work of slavers. Livingstone often had to take detours to avoid local conflicts and within a year he had lost contact with the outside world.

In October 1868, the publishing editor of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, assigned the task of interviewing Livingstone to the journalist Henry Morton Stanley. Over the next three years Stanley travelled the world hoping to hear news of Livingstone to no avail. Finally, he decided to mount an expedition to find the missionary himself.

In March 1871, Stanley set off with a well-armed party numbering about two-hundred. The journey proved long and arduous with the expedition becoming embroiled in local wars and weakened by the ever-present diseases. Nevertheless, on (a date now thought to be) 10th November 1871, Stanley arrived at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika where he doffed his cap and uttered the immortal phrase, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ Stanley provided Livingstone's party with much needed supplies and stayed with them for four months.

The two men developed a close friendship while they explored the region, but Livingstone politely declined the offer of returning with Stanley. In 1872, Stanley returned to Britain to find himself the subject of controversy. Many people doubted his claim that he had found Livingstone. Nevertheless, his book in which he gave account of his expedition, How I Found Livingstone, sold well. Dr. Livingstone died in April 1873 from malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery.

Project Gutenberg hosts a number of works by and about Dr. David Livingstone, including The Last Journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa, from 1865 to His Death, Vol. II, 1869-1873.

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Tanganyika and Zanzibar unite: 26th April 1964

9 November 2011

On this day in history: First issue of Rolling Stone published, 1967

In 1966 Jann Wenner dropped out of Berkeley and sought work as a journalist. His friend and mentor the music critic Ralph J. Gleason found him a job working at the sister newspaper of the San Francisco based Ramparts magazine, where he was a contributing editor. Gleason resigned from his post after a disagreement Ramparts' editor, Warren Hinckle, criticised the burgeoning hippie scene.

Together Wennner and Gleason decided to found their own magazine. Wenner raised $7500 in loans from his family and that of his fiancee. On 9th November 1967 they published the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco, with John Lennon on the cover. Initially the magazine reported on the city's counter-culture but maintained a distance from the underground press.

Wenner took the roles of publisher and editor - positions that he holds to this day, while Gleason contributed articles to the magazine until his death in 1975. As well as reporting on cultural matters, the magazine began reporting on political issues for which it gained a growing reputation, not least because of the work of Hunter S. Thompson. As well as the self confessed gonzo journalist, Rolling Stone also gave breaks to many other popular writers including Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire), Joe Klein (Primary Colours), and P.J. O'Rourke (Parliament of Whores).

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Samuel Johnson`s Dictionary published: 15th April 1755
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The Hobbit first published: 21st September 1937
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8 November 2011

On this day in history: The Louvre opened as a museum, 1793

On 8th November 1793, as the Reign of Terror began in Revolutionary France the Palais du Louvre (Louvre Palace) first opened in its new role housing a national museum. The palace started life as a twelfth-century fortress, which successive generations of French monarchs altered and expanded. In the mid-eighteenth-century, King Louis XV accepted a proposal to use part of the palace as a gallery in which visitors could view part of the royal collection.

Following the execution of Louis XVI and the suppression of the Catholic Church their respective art collections became property of the French people, as did many works of art confiscated from émigrés (those who had fled the country as the Revolution progressed). The public could view the initial collection of 537 paintings and 184 other works of art for free on three days a week. The French government pledged to provide 100,000 livres per year to expand the collection, but the military successes of the Republic resulted in many works of art from across Europe being brought back to France - a process that continued during Napoleon's reign.

If you wish to learn more, visit the history pages on the Louvre web site.

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The British Museum opened to the public: 15th January 1759

7 November 2011

On this day in history: Jesús García saved the town of Nacozari, 1907

In 1898, Jesús García moved with his family to the town of Nacozari in the Mexican province of Sonora. His father worked as a blacksmith in the town, which was purpose built to service the nearby copper mines at Pilares. The mines were owned by Moctezuma Copper Company, a subsidiary of the American company Phelps Dodge.

The company built housing and amenities for its workers and constructed a narrow gauge railway, on which Jesús García worked his way up to a position as engineer. The railway ran between Pilares and a processing centre near Nacozari, carrying ore from the mines to the mainline that ran to Douglas, Arizona, and taking materials from the town up to the mines. On 7th November 1907, one such train was assembled at Nacozari to take supplies to the mines, including seventy boxes of dynamite.

On arriving at work that day, Jesús was informed that the conductor had been admitted to hospital and he was to take the waiting train up to the mines. He did not notice that, against company policy, the wagons containing the dynamite had been put behind the locomotive rather than at the end of the train, something that the conductor would have checked. He did, however, notice that there was a problem with the smokestack, which wasn't preventing cinders from escaping as it should.

As the train pulled out of town at just after 2pm, the locomotive built up steam to start the two thousand foot ascent. The railwaymen noticed that a box of dynamite had started to smoke after being covered in cinders. They tried to free up the smouldering box to hurl it from the train, but when they failed Jesús ordered them all to jump from the train.

He attempted to put as much distance between himself and the town as possible. Had he left the train it would have rolled back towards town. At about 2.20pm, the two tonnes of dynamite exploded, killing Jesús and a number of neighbouring residents. The death toll would have been much higher if the explosion had happened closer to the large dynamite magazine and gas storage tanks, which were in close proximity to Nacozari.

Jesús García became a national hero for his sacrifice. The town was renamed Nacozari de García in his honour. Across Mexico memorials went up to mark his heroism and streets were named after him, and 7th November is still celebrated as Día del Ferrocarrilero ('Day of the Railway Worker').

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The world`s first public railway opened: 27th September 1825
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6 November 2011

On this day in history: First Sex Pistols gig, 1975

On 6th November 1975, one of the most infamous rock bands of all time played their first concert at St. Martin's College of Art in London. The Sex Pistols emerged from an earlier group called The Strand that the boutique owner and impresario Malcolm McLaren managed. Following a brief spell in the United States promoting the New York Dolls, McLaren returned to England with the plan to develop the punk scene he had witnessed emerging in Lower Manhattan.

After changes in personnel and a succession of band names, the Sex Pistols line up was in place. The original members from The Strand, Steve Jones on guitar and Paul Cook on Drums, were joined by Glen Matlock on Bass and Johnny Rotten (real name John Lydon) on vocals. In September 1975, McLaren arranged rehearsals for the group at the Crunchy Frog studio, near the London's docklands.

Matlock was a student at St. Martins where he secured their first gig in a support slot at the college, which set the scene for their later reputation. The organisers pulled the plug on the band before they finished their set resulting in a brawl. Undaunted, the band continued to play at colleges over the next year before performing at larger venues and finally receiving national notoriety following an incident during a legendary early evening live television broadcast in which they used strong language leading to a moral outcry in the press.

To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the gig in 2005 The Independent newspaper's web site featured an article entitled "The birth of punk" sharing the memories of those who were there.

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First Rolling Stones gig: 12th July 1962
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5 November 2011

On this day in history: Nixon won presidential election, 1968

On 5th November 1968, Richard Millhous Nixon won the U.S. presidential election following a turbulent campaign that saw the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, as well violent protests on the issues of race and the Vietnam war. Nixon, the Republican candidate, received 301 votes from the Electoral College and 43.4% of the popular vote; the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, received 191 Electoral College votes and 42.7% of the popular vote; an independent candidate George Wallace (the Governor of Alabama and former Democratic candidate who ran on a pro-racial-segregation ticket) received 46 electoral votes and 13.5% of the popular vote. Thus, Nixon was duly elected to be the 37th President of the United States, taking office on 20th January 1969.

Nixon's period in office is seen as a particularly divisive period in American history as opposition to the Vietnam war grew, especially after the bombing of Cambodia. Nevertheless, many of Nixon's policies were far from conservative: he continued the process of racial integration in schools; he expanded the role of the federal government by creating many new agencies; on the international stage, Nixon opened diplomatic links with China and achieved a degree of détente with the Soviet Union. In 1972 he won a second term in office following a landslide victory but resigned two years later following the Watergate scandal.

Richard Nixon's acceptance speech.

Related posts
John F. Kennedy inaugurated as President: 20th January 1961
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4 November 2011

On this day in history: Entrance to the tomb of King Tutankhamun discovered, 1922

In 1891, at the age of just seventeen, Howard Carter arrived in Egypt to work as an artist tracing the scenes on the walls of newly discovered tombs. While working for the passionate archaeologist W. M. Flinders Petrie at the excavation at el-Amarna, Carter first felt the inspiration to become an archaeologist himself. Nevertheless, he continued to work as an illustrator until 1899 when Gaston Maspero, the director-general of the antiquities service of Egypt, gave him the position of chief inspector of antiquities in Upper Egypt in recognition of his managerial skills.

The appointment surprised the archaeological community because Carter had no formal qualifications in the field; however, he proved a capable administrator working hard to preserve and protect existing antiquities, and overseeing new excavations. In 1904, Carter was transferred to lower Egypt but during the following year he resigned after a violent incident between a group of foreign visitors and Egyptian antiquities guards. After spending a couple of years barely supporting himself selling his watercolour paintings and working as a tourist guide, Carter formed a relationship with Lord Canarvon after being introduced to him by Maspero.

Canarvon provided the financial backing for a number of digs in Egypt, and before long Carter was supervising them all. Carter approached Canarvon for funding for a project of his own: the hunt for the tomb of Tutankhamun, a previously unknown pharaoh whose existence Carter had recently discovered. A number of years passed with little success and as a result the two agreed that the 1922 expedition would be the last.

On 4th November 1922 Carter located the steps leading down to Tutankhamun's tomb, the best preserved example of its type in the Valley of the Kings. The excavation work and removal of the artifacts took a decade to complete while Carter traveled the world presenting lectures that fueled a period of egyptomania. Ill health prevented Carter from producing a complete scientific report of his discovery, and he finally died aged 64 in 1939.

The Griffith Institute web-site hosts Howard Carter's records of the five seasons of excavations financed by Lord Carnarvon in the Valley of the Kings 1915 - 1922.

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Suez Canal opened: 17th November 1869
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3 November 2011

On this day in history: Last hanging at Tyburn gallows, 1783

The gallows at Tyburn in London were the site of the demise of many infamous characters. The first record of an execution there dates from 1196 when the leader of the London tax riots, William Fitz Osbern, along with nine of his accomplices were hanged from a gibbet. In 1499, Perkin Walbeck was convicted of treason and hanged at Tyburn: he had led the Cornish Rebellion two years before, claiming to be Richard IV, the younger of the two princes imprisoned in the Tower of London by their uncle, King Richard III.

In 1571 the Elizabethan authorities constructed the "Tyburn Tree" a horizontal wooden triangle on three legs that enabled many people to be hanged at the same time. The religious strife of that period meant that many people were martyred at Tyburn including Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and John Southworth, all of whom were later made saints by the Roman Catholic church. Later, following the restoration of King Charles II to the throne, the bodies of the regicides John Bradshaw, Oliver Cromwell, and Henry Ireton were exhumed and symbolically hanged in an act of grisly revenge.

On 3rd November 1783, the highwayman John Austin became the last person to be hanged at Tyburn. He was convicted of robbing and wounding 'a poor man' called John Spicer in a field near the road in Bethnal Green. Reportedly Austin's last words were "Good people, I request your prayers for the salvation of my departing soul; let my example teach you to shun the bad ways I have followed; keep good company, and mind the word of God." The sight of the "Tyburn Tree" is marked today by three brass triangles where Bayswater Road meets Edgware Road.

The transcript of the trial of John Austin is available on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey web-site.

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Sir Walter Raleigh beheaded: 29th October 1618
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Prince Murat executed: 13th October 1815
Rosenbergs executed: 19th June 1953

2 November 2011

On this day in history: BBC Television Service started broadcasting, 1936

The first television broadcast in Britain was made on 30th September 1929 using an electromechanical system pioneered by the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. His Baird Television Development Company Ltd used the British Broadcasting Corporation's London transmitter to send images over the airwaves. The following year, with the introduction of the BBC's Brookmans Park twin transmitter, Baird was able to broadcast sound along with the pictures.

The BBC started their own experimental broadcasts in 1932, using Baird's thirty vertical line system. By 1936 Baird had improved his mechanical system to 240 lines; however, the BBC decided to alternate between it and Marconi-EMI's new completely electronic 405-line system for their regular broadcasts. So, on 2nd November 1936, the BBC television service started broadcasting for the first time from their new studios at Alexandra Palace using the Marconi-EMI system and the new VHF transmitter.

The 405-line broadcast was the first regular high-definition television service in the world. It proved so successful that after a few months of switching between the two systems on a weekly basis, the BBC stopped broadcasting using the Baird electromechanical system. While the official range of the broadcasts was twenty-five miles (40km), in practice they could be picked up much further away (on one occasion as far away as New York when RCA engineers were experimenting with a British TV-set).

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BBC Radio first broadcast the Greenwich Time Signal: 5th February 1924
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1 November 2011

On this day in history: First aerial bombing, 1911

On 29th September 1911, the Italian government declared war on the Ottoman Empire having failed to achieve their demand for control of those Ottoman territories that make up modern day Libya. The conflict marked the first military use of airplanes. Initially the Italians used the new technology for reconnaissance, and later to attack Turkish troops.

On 1st November, Liuetenant Giulio Gavotti [pictured] set off on a reconnaissance flight over the Ain Zara oasis in his Taube ("dove") monoplane. He took with him four 2kg grenades with the intention of attacking the Turkish forces without the knowledge of his superiors. He dropped each of the bombs onto the enemy camp, but (thankfully) there were no casualties.

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