In the 18th century, Britain seemed to be at war more or less continuously. However, once Napoleon was defeated in 1815 the amount of international conflict requiring naval firepower subsided significantly for the rest of the 19th century. It might, therefore, be assumed that in the Victorian era few vessels of the Royal Navy would have been lost. Yet this is not, in fact, the case. There were quite a large number of appalling shipwrecks in which there was significant loss of life and some examples are given below.
Kempton Park – home to this month’s Family History Show (see box) – has a long history that can be traced back further than you may think, and in this article I am going to use various online records and maps to unearth a long-lost mansion and the manor house that it had replaced. The Kempton Park Racecourse built in its grounds was the idea of a 19th-century accountant and businessman called Samuel H. Hyde. The story of how it came to be that the racecourse was laid out here comes down to Hyde and his wife having been out in the country in June 1870, taking a carriage drive, when they came across Kempton Manor and Park. The estate was up for sale at the time and soon Hyde had leased the grounds in 1872 as a tenant. Having formed a company with some other shareholders, six years later in July 1878 Kempton Park opened its gates as a racecourse while Hyde and his family lived in the mansion on the estate.
Cycling has been a popular activity in Britain since the late 19th century. Cycling arguably started in Germany, but over the course of a few decades, different inventors from around Europe – including Scotland’s Thomas McCall – developed it from a rudimentary vehicle that still needed the rider to push along with his or her feet to a recognisably modern means of transportation. In the 1870s, the focus of stories in the press about cycling was about learning to ride, and to ride safely, with cycling clubs being established and pamphlets being published to help people learn – such as one published by the Surrey Bicycle Club in 1874, entitled ‘Hints on Bicycle Riding: How to learn to ride without a Master’, which was available to buy for fourpence. However, it was still seen as something of a niche interest, with a Scottish paper in 1879 stating that it ‘fancied’ the fans of cycling to be ‘a select rather than numerous section of the public’, largely comprising of ‘youths long of leg and eccentric of habit’. Elsewhere in Scotland, one writer set out to disprove the notion that cycling was hard, and boasted that he had learned the skill in ‘exactly twenty minutes’.
At Tobacco Dock in Wapping, East London there’s a striking statue/sculpture depicting a boy looking awestruck at a tiger, which has a threateningly raised paw. Here’s what the caption under is companion statue of a bear says: Over a hundred years ago on what was then called Ratcliffe Highway near to this spot stood Jamrach’s Emporium. This unique shop sold not only the most varied collection of curiosities but also traded in wild animals such as alligators, tigers, elephants, monkeys and birds… The animals were housed in iron cages and were well looked after until they were bought by zoological institutes and naturalist collectors
The world-famous Spitalfields silk industry flourished until the Anglo-French war ended in 1765, then afterwards London’s skilled handloom weavers struggled to gain work. Causes included the modern water-powered mills that took silk-throwing out into the provinces; changes in late-Georgian fashion, which increasingly favoured new, convenient cotton fabrics; and a global slump in the price of silk goods. Aimed at alleviating the distressed Spitalfields weavers, the government passed the 1773 Spitalfields Act that fixed their wages and set prices for their goods, but this proved counterproductive, for manufacturers simply had their textiles woven more cheaply elsewhere, notably East Anglia and the North-West, so by the time the Act was repealed in 1825, production was well established in other locations.
Today Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England. In the past it witnessed much conflict between England and Scotland. As evidence of its violent history, Northumberland has more castles than any other county in England, including those of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh, Newcastle and Warkworth.
Few transportation maps can boast the pedigree that London’s iconic ‘Tube’ map can. Sported on t-shirts, keyrings, duvet covers, and most recently, downloaded an astonishing twenty million times in app form, the map remains a long-standing icon of British design and ingenuity. But it almost didn’t make it out of the notepad it was designed in.
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