Category: History

Merry Christmas to you all!

Victorian Christmas card

Hmmm. They don’t look very happy, do they? In fact, the kitten on the right looks distinctly cross (because the one on the left has pinched his seat, by the looks….).

Anyway, this odd little Victorian Christmas card is from me to you, my truly fabulous readers.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas Day, wherever you are.

It’s also for you if you can’t or don’t (or even don’t want to) celebrate Christmas – I hope your day is a good one too, whatever you’re doing.

And if you’re alone today, well, fix me a gin and tonic and I’ll join you, if you’d like….

Merry Christmas to you all!

(And may you be as happy as some genuinely very happy kittens…)

xx

Incidentally, if you’re still in a festive mood and fancy some more seasonal reading, you’ll find a list of all my Christmas-related posts right here.

Christmas in London: The First Trafalgar Square Tree (1947)

O Christmas Tree

Back in 2012, I wrote about the history of that well-loved icon of a London Christmas – the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. Recently, while looking for something else entirely (as is always the way!), I came across a couple of vintage pictures of what appears to be the first tree to go up in the Square back in 1947, which I thought I would share with you this Christmas. From two different sources (click on each image for more information), these pictures were taken from different angles and seemingly by different photographers, but they clearly show the same tree and the crowds of Londoners who came to see it.

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Vintage Christmas Puddings: A Fourth Helping

The Empire Christmas Pudding (1926-1939)

Considering I don’t actually like Christmas pudding, it may seem a little strange that this is actually the fourth post I’ve written concerning the stuff in as many years (you can find the previous three here, here and here) – but I keep finding interesting and unusual historical recipes for this most seasonal of desserts! And this recipe is a particularly interesting one, which dates from sometime during the interwar period.

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Votes for Women!

With the recent success of the film Suffragette, the media has been full of the history of the campaign for Votes for Women over the past few months. So I decided to share this fantastic all-or-nothing, JUST DO IT NOW AND GIVE US THE VOTE contemporary letter to (I think) The Times, which I found quoted on pp. 176-177 of Caroline Lucas MP’s excellent book, Honourable Friends?: Parliament & the Fight for Change*:

Sir,

Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages, but no-one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote.

Yours truly,

Bertha Brewster.

Bertha, I think I love you….

*London: Portobello Books, 2015 – and very much recommended too!

Battle Abbey: 1066 and All That?

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I often talk about the fact that there are places where history exists in layers, where you can physically feel the weight of the past on the present. Battle Abbey in East Sussex is one such place. The importance of what happened here in October 1066 is still palpable nearly one thousand years later, for this is the site of what we now know as the Battle of Hastings – one of the most crucial moments in all of English history.

It all began (and ended) with the death of a king, as these things so often do. And, as is also so often the case with medieval history, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. On 4th January 1066, King Edward (‘the Confessor’) died. He had no children and thus no direct heir. As a result, his death was likely to leave something of a power vacuum in England.

This was a problem in the making, since the English throne was among the most desirable in all of Europe due to its significant economic and military strength at the time. Unsurprisingly, amongst all the interested parties there were a number of claimants sniffing round the throne (although who claimed or promised what to whom will never be known with any accuracy now), with three in particular having perhaps the most legitimate claims to the English crown at the time.

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Elections on Film: ‘General Election’ (1945)

Today’s election-related film is a bit different. It comes from the British Council film archive and is a short documentary explaining the processes involved in conducting the 1945 General Election from the perspective of one constituency – that of Kettering in Northamptonshire. The film offers the viewer a guided tour around Kettering as the various candidates (including the incumbent Tory MP John Profumo – yes, that John Profumo) valiently attempt to win their contituents’ votes, showing how their campaigns are run and reported and how the votes are cast and counted. Little has changed in this respect – much of what the viewer sees will still be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the way an election is organized in recent years.

Held in July 1945, this was the first General Election in ten years as a result of the Second World War and the results took some time to come in due to the huge numbers of the electorate who were still serving overseas in the armed forces, whose votes had to be returned to Britain from vitually every corner of the globe. This is also mentioned in the film and was, to a cetain extent, probably a factor in the end result – because the 1945 election is one of the most important of the twentieth century, as it returned a large and unexpected Labour majority for the first time.

This came as a real shock to the Conservative Party, who had expected to be carried into power on the back of Winston Churchill’s record as war leader. However, the nation thought otherwise and made their views very clearly known. The impact of this election result has echoed down the years following 1945 – indeed, modern Britain still owes a huge debt to this groundbreaking Labour government, as it was they who introduced the NHS and the welfare state.

Elections on Film: ‘All the Winners – And the Losers!’ (1923)

Today’s newsreel footage comes from the General Election of December 1923 and features a remarkable FIVE politicans who had been or were to become prime minister in the first half of the 20th century: Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (again! He randomly popped up yesterday too…) – plus Austen Chamberlain, senior politician and half-brother of the late 1930s prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

This election was a hugely momentous one in that the result gave Labour their first ever stab at forming a government (with the support of the Liberals, for whom it was the last time they would win over a hundred seats and more than 25% of the vote – although they came close with the Liberal Democrats’ controversial result in 2010 with 22.1%). This minority government only lasted until the following year, but it was the first time that the traditional two-party system had genuinely been threatened in an electoral context.

If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.

Elections on Film: ‘Animated Politics’ (1910)

Some of you might remember that in the run-up to Christmas I posted some seasonal film snippets from the wonderful BFI archive YouTube channel. Since it is now election week, I was pleased to discover they’ve uploaded some bits and pieces of newsreel footage relating to various 20th century General Elections – so I’ll be posting a particularly interesting example every day until Thursday’s crucial ballot…

Today’s choice is very brief snapshot of one of the two elections held in 1910 (January and December – this film is probably from the January one), showing footage of the Labour MP Will Crooks and his Tory opponent Major William Augustus Adams on the hustings at Woolwich in London, plus a glimpse of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.

The results of both of the 1910 elections had been ridiculously close and very tense, with Asquith’s Liberals being separated from Balfour’s Conservatives by a matter of only two seats in January and a mere one in December. These deadlocked elections were particularly significant for being the last elections to be held until after the First World War. They were also significant for being the last elections to be held over a period of days, unlike the single polling day we are used to now – this, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern electoral system.

If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.

Bodiam Castle: Medieval Ruins and Structural Secrets

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This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.

It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.

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Christmas on Film: ‘New Year Greeting’ (1949)

We are now approaching the final hours of 2014, so as an added bonus, here’s a last blast of seasonal strangeness from the BFI’s National Archive for you all. The only thing I know about it is that this odd little film was shown in British cinemas in late 1949. I can find no other information about it, although some thought has clearly gone into it, and some of the special effects are really rather fun. Despite this film being more than sixty years old, it must be said that it’s still better than most of the tat British TV broadcasts on New Year’s Eve these days…

On a more personal note, thank you so much to everyone who has read, commented, liked, shared, suggested things, written guest posts and sent me stuff in 2014 – your interest and intellectual contributions keep Another Kind Of Mind (and me) going in more ways than one. I am incredibly lucky to have such a great bunch of readers!

Wishing you all much light, luck and love for 2015 – and a very Happy New Year!