On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a new decimal system based on pounds and new pence.
Tag Archives: History
I know that with the lowest average wage it is officially the poorest country in the EU, and for that reason tens of thousands of Latvians have left for England where they can earn as much in a week as they earn in a month back home but this place was lively and vibrant, the food was excellent and inexpensive, and the customers seemed affluent and happy.
Every now and again I do a memory post – something from my past. This is one of a sequence of posts about houses that I lived in.
The West End of Leicester was developed around about the 1900s when affordable housing was required to provide accommodation for the workers in the booming footwear and hosiery industries in the city.
The land was acquired from a wealthy protestant landowner who had some residual say in the naming of the streets – Luther, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer and Tyndale, all sixteenth century Protestant martyrs. The area is predictably called the Martyrs and the Church of the Martyrs stands nearby.
I was rather perplexed by this bizarre mystery that I came across in Malta just recently. Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint. Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper…
Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 25th September 2014 I was on a coach excursion visiting Ancient historical sites in Turkey…
The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!
I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and boisterous Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a noisy bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.
“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.” Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website
In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…
As it turned out (in 2000 to be precise) this turned out not to be Mary Arden’s house at all and the Shakespeare Birthday Trust had a bit of explaining to do.
Now I am one year old and sitting up. My parents hoped that my next steps will be walking around on those chubby little legs but this was something that could not always be guaranteed in the 1950s.
Early life was full of many dangers, mostly disease and in 1955 one in twenty children would die before they were five years old. It had taken one hundred and fifty years to reduce this statistic from one in three. I cannot begin to imagine living with that sort of fear, I brought up children in the 1990s when the risks were significantly reduced.
In 1955 there was a major medical breakthrough with the introduction of a vaccine to prevent the spread of an illness that caused widespread panic and fear amongst parents.
Polio, or to be strictly correct Poliomyelitis is all but eradicated now, there are still some cases in Africa, but was previously right up there along with smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis with the World’s most deadly contagions.
Polio is a highly infectious and unpleasant disease that affects the nervous system, often resulting in paralysis or death. It is transmitted through contaminated food, drinking water and dirty swimming pool water. Even though the disease had been around for much of human history, major polio epidemics were unknown before the twentieth century and only began to regularly occur in Europe in the early nineteenth century and soon after became widespread in the United States as cities got bigger and a lack of hygiene and poor sanitation created serious health hazards.
By 1910 much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in these big cities during the summer months. In the USA there was a devastating epidemic in 1952 and after the nuclear bomb it became the thing that most Americans feared most. In the UK there were about four thousand recorded cases every year. There was no known cure for the disease and it became an imperative to discover a vaccine so when this came along this was really good news and the World breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The man responsible was a medical researcher and virologist called Jonas Salk. Salk was subsequently revered as though he were a Saint not least because with no interest in personal profit there was no registered patent for the vaccine. Rather belatedly, on May 6th 1985, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that day to be ‘Jonas Salk Day’.
There were a number of forms of polio with varying degrees of seriousness but the one that you really didn’t want to catch was spinal polio which was a viral invasion of the motor neurons in the spinal column which rather importantly are responsible for movement of the muscles, including those of the body and the major limbs.
When spinal neurons die degeneration takes place leading to weakness of muscles and with the destruction of nerve cells they no longer receive signals from the brain or spinal cord and without nerve stimulation the muscles becoming weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and finally completely paralysed. Progression to maximum paralysis is as quick as two to four days.
Not being a qualified doctor I have massively simplified the medical details here of course but one thing that was absolutely certain was that polio was a very nasty business indeed and parents were understandably worried sick about it because if you caught it at best you would spend the rest of your life in leg irons or at worst in an iron lung (or to give it its proper name a negative pressure ventilator).
The vaccine was administered by an especially nasty injection which if you were unlucky left an ugly crater in the top of the arm but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind. Later it was administered orally with a few drops on a sugar cube but I suspect health and obesity fanatics would frown upon that now. I’ll deal with that later. Thankfully, polio is now practically unheard of in those countries that use the vaccine.
Polio wasn’t the only killer of course and there were also vaccines and injections for other unpleasant nasties like smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis. I can still remember the mere mention of suspected smallpox leading to mild panic by my mother. And then there were the common children’s diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox which could also be killers themselves but generally just made you feel rather poorly for a day or two.
To protect against them there were regular trips to the doctor’s surgery for inoculations against them all and there were so many pricks in your arm that by the time you were six years old your arm began to look a bit like a needle worker’s pin cushion.
Today in the UK infant deaths before the age of five are over one in two hundred.
Just out of interest, as well as being ‘Jonas Salk Day’, May 6th is now also celebrated as ‘International No Diet Day’ (an annual celebration of body acceptance and body shape diversity and for raising awareness of the potential dangers of dieting).
I mention this here because with the nightmare of polio finally under control another health problem was started in 1955 because a man called Ray Kroc came along and unwittingly unleashed a new monster and the beginning of the western world obesity problem when he opened the ninth McDonalds franchise restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which eventually led to the McDonalds Corporation and a world domination that Ersnt Blofeld could only have dreamed about.
More about this next time…
I have still got the chubby legs…
Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Official Tourist Board there just about two thousand five hundred. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and whilst France claims roughly five-thousand this figure includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number.
My blogging Pal Brian has some interesting observations on French Chateaux and I think you might be interested to visit this post and then more of his site…
When or if you come back click on an image to scroll through the gallery…
The picture was taken only fifty years or so before I was born in 1906 but in a Merchant Ivory sort of way reveals a completely different way of life to the 1950s separated as they are by two World Wars and a global economic depression.
The happy couple are my great grandparents Joseph Insley and Florence Lillian Hill. Joseph was a coachbuilder who was born in 1873, one of eight children to Thomas Insley, a wheelwright, and his wife Martha (nee. Johnson) who lived in the village of Shackerstone, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Florence was one of seven children, the daughter of James and Emma Hill from the nearby village of Newbold Verdon.
Every year thirty or so members of my golf club go for a week away golfing in Scotland and after three years on the reserve list I finally got an invite.
Unfortunately the week prior to departure I entertained my three grandchildren and one of them left me a parting gift of a very heavy cold so when I set off one Sunday morning I was sniffing and sneezing and relying on cold relief capsules to help me through the journey north.
Actually I think it was probably ‘man flu’ and I digress here for a moment to explain that this is a condition that this is a strain of flu so powerful and so deadly that it can only be matched by the Bubonic Plague. It is an incurable virus, which has adapted to only effect the “XY” gene found in men. The virus attacks the immune system ten thousand times more seriously than an average flu and causes excruciating pain and discomfort for the victim.
For all of the week I felt awful but I played golf for four days but on Friday I woke to grey skies and persistent rain so on account of the fact that I was due to go on holiday to Wales a couple of days later and I didn’t want to get worse and spoil that I decided against putting on the leaking waterproofs and dragging myself around the fifth course of the week and thought that I might do a little bit of sightseeing instead.
I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.
This is Walter Scott country where the great man of Scottish literature chose to live and receive his literary inspiration and the land of William Wallace and the marcher lands that separated England from Scotland and was the scene of much medieval warfare and fighting.
And so it was in Galashiels where I came across memorial called “The Raid Stane” the site of an incident in 1337 when a raiding party of English soldiers were picking wild plums close to the town and and were caught by angry Scots who came across them by chance and slaughtered them all. It seems that they were picking and eating sour fruit and they were so unwell that they were unable to fight back.
Today the town’s coat of arms shows two foxes reaching up to eat plums from a tree, and the motto is Sour Plums pronounced in Scots as soor plooms. Every year in June there is an event in the town called the Galashiels Braw Lads Gathering which celebrates the event and by all accounts if you are English you really don’t want to be in town that particular night.
I spent a half an hour or so in the granite town of Galashiels and with the rain getting heavier returned to the car and with the stubborn grey skies refusing to clear away planned a route south towards the town of Jedburgh and followed a route through sweeping hills, purple with heather and decorated with the ragged stumps of the ruins of castles and derelict lookout towers, testimony to its turbulent history.
I passed through the town of Melrose with its ruined Abbey which is said to be the secret burial site of the heart of Robert the Bruce but I didn’t stop there because I calculated that I only had time for one ruined abbey and that was going to be Jedburgh.
I did however make detour into a valley of the River Tweed and stopped for a while at Scott’s view which is a place where allegedly he liked to stop by and reflect on life. I am not disputing this but it this rather remote place is about ten miles or so from where he lived so in days before automobiles this would not be something that the average person, or even the great Sir Walter Scott, would be able to do on impulse. It was a nice view all the same and apparently his funeral cortege stopped off here for a short while on his way to his burial spot in the grounds of nearby Dryburgh Abbey.
One of my favourite Scott stories is how he saved the Scottish bank note. In 1826 there was a proposal to abandon Scottish notes and adopt the English notes instead. Under the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther Scott campaigned hard against the proposal and was eventually successful. In recognition of this a picture of Scott even today appears on every Bank of Scotland note.
Instead of visiting the Abbey I sought out a massive stone statue of William Wallace standing solitary and magnificent in half armour and kilt, a massive claymore hanging menacingly from his belt and leaning on a giant sword fully fifteen feet tall.
Thanks to the hopelessly historically inaccurate Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’, quite possibly the most aggressively Anglophobe and historically inaccurate film ever made, William Wallace remains a burning symbol of Scottish nationalism but the truth is that his fame is based on one lucky victory against the English and a conveniently overlooked string of subsequent defeats.
I thought he looked rather sad and forlorn stuck out here abandoned on a ridge overlooking the river wondering what might have been and with nothing to detain me here for more than a few minutes I swiftly moved on towards my intended destination.