All Fool’s Day (April Fools Day).

1766: From about this date, William Reeves, the English supplier and maker of artists’ materials, began to sell the first paintboxes with watercolour tablets.

1815: Birth of Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck (Schönhausen), Prussian statesman, known as the ‘Iron Chancellor’.

1875: The British preoccupation with the weather was given the additional benefit of the first weather chart published by The Times. Appropriately, the US chose this day, 1960, to launch their first weather satellite.

1885: Birth of Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (Hozier), wife of Sir Winston Churchill, whom she married in 1908.

1891: The telephone link between London and Paris began operating.

1899: The first time British troops fought alongside US troops was at Apia in the Samoan Campaign.

1908: The Territorial Army, a force of volunteer soldiers mainly for home defence, was formed in Britain.

1909: The first double-decker buses in Britain began running in Widnes, Cheshire.

1918: The Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to become the Royal Air Force.

1924: Adolf Hitler was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for his abortive beer hall putsch in Munich the previous November. The intimidated court agreed to him being paroled within six months.

1945: The US forces invaded Okinawa. The battle with the Japanese lasted until 6 June.

1948: The Berlin blockade began with Soviet troops enforcing road and rail blocks between Berlin and the Allied Western Zone. To solve the problem, the Allies mounted a massive airlift.

1967: Britain’s first ombudsman, Sir Edward Compton, began work.

1979: Ayatollah Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic.

1984: US singer Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father during a violent row, on the eve of his 45th birthday.

1989: Despite threats of non-payment and other protests, the Community Charge or Poll Tax was introduced in Scotland.

1990: The longest prison riot in British history began at Strangeways Prison, Manchester and lasted until the 25th. One remand prisoner died.


742: Birth of Charlemagne, French Holy Roman Emperor who was crowned by the Pope on Christmas Day, 800.

1792: The US mint was established in the nation’s capital, then Philadelphia.

1801: The British Fleet with Nelson on board the Elephant, engaged the Danish Fleet in the Battle of Copenhagen. When Admiral Parker signalled Nelson to end the attack, Nelson, who was Second-in-Command, pressed the telescope to his blind eye, claimed he could see no order and continued the action until the Danish Fleet were totally subdued.

1838: Birth of Léon (Michel) Gambetta, French politician who escaped from Paris during the Franco-Prussian War in a hot air balloon. He went to Tours, where he continued as dictator of France and, in 1871, founded the Third Republic.

1860: The first parliament in Italy met at Turin.

1873: Almost 14 years after the US, British trains were fitted with toilets, but only for sleeping cars. Day carriages were fitted in 1881. Third class passengers weren’t able to spend a penny until 1886.

1877: At West’s amphitheatre in London, Zazel became the first ‘beautiful lady fired from a monstrous cannon’.

1884: The London debtors’ prison, the notorious Fleet Prison, now in an appalling state, was finally closed.

1905: The Simplon Tunnel under the Alps linking Switzerland and Italy was officially opened.

1921: The IRA took delivery of their first consignment of ‘Tommy’ guns (their nickname derived from their potential targets, British ‘Tommies’), which were designed for them by Oscar Payne and Theodore Eickhoff of Hartford, Connecticut.

1939: The Spanish Civil War officially ended.

1977: Charlotte Brew on Barony Fort became the first woman to ride in a Grand National. Her mount fell at the 27th fence. The winner was Red Rum, scoring his third win, the only horse ever to achieve this.

1979: Israeli Prime Minister Begin met President Sadat in Cairo, and became the first Israeli leader to visit Egypt.

1982: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.


1367: Birth of Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt, first Lancastrian king of England.

1860: The Pony Express started its regular run of almost 2,000 miles (3218 km) from St Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco. It took about ten days, at a speed of around 8 mph and only operated for 18 months, until the first transcontinental telegraph line was completed. In 1882, St Joseph would feature again in the history of the West. Jesse James, the legendary US outlaw, was shot in the back here by one of his own gang, Robert Ford. He was 35.

1866: Birth of James Barry Munnik Hertzog, South African statesman and nationalist Prime Minister. He founded the Nationalist Party and opposed entering the First World War to aid the British. When he declared neutrality at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was defeated and retired soon after.

1898: Birth of Henry (Robinson) Luce, US publisher born in China, founder of Time (1923), Fortune (1930) and Life (1936) magazines.

1913: Emmeline Pankhurst, English suffragette, was found guilty of inciting supporters to place explosives at the London residence of David Lloyd George. She was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The Home Secretary banned all future public meetings of suffragettes.

1922: Stalin was appointed as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

1930: Helmut Kohl, West German chancellor from 1982, leader of the Christian Democratic Union. He was re-elected chancellor in 1987.

1947: BUPA, the private medical care service, was founded in Britain.

1975: Anatoly Karpov, at 23, became world chess champion when Bobby Fischer failed to show up for their match in Manila.

1981: The Brixton riots began. Mobs of youths, both black and white, went on the rampage. Police harassment over a long period was given as the cause.

1987: The late Duchess of Windsor’s jewels fetched £31,380,197 at auction.


1581: Francis Drake returned to England having circumnavigated the world in The Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth I knighted him on board his ship.

1720: The House of Lords passed the South Sea Bill to allow the South Sea Company a monopoly of South American trade in return for a loan of £7 million to ease the country’s French War debt. Expecting to get rich quickly, investors flocked to buy shares until the ‘South Sea Bubble’ burst. The promoters fled, corruption in high places was exposed and many people faced bankruptcy.

1896: The discovery of gold in the Yukon was reported and the gold rush began.

1904: Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale, a mutual recognition of each other’s colonial interests.

1922: The man who betrayed Nurse Edith Cavell to the Germans, Armand Jeanns, was sentenced to death by a Brussels court.

1946: Dr Marcelle Pétiot was sentenced to death in Paris for the murder of 27 people (although he admitted killing 63). Posing as a Resistance member, his victims thought he could arrange their escape. He gave them an injection, claiming it was necessary for where they were going, but instead they died in agony. He kept their possessions and is said to have made over £1 million from his crimes. He was guillotined on 26 May.

1949: Eleven countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington.

1968: At 6.01 pm, US civil rights leader and Nobel Peace prize winner Dr Martin Luther King was leaning over the balcony on the second floor of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, talking to colleagues on the ground floor when he was shot dead by James Earl Ray. His assassin escaped, but was later caught in London. Ray pleaded guilty and was given a 99-year sentence.

1974: Financier Bernie Cornfield was released on bail of £700,000 in Geneva, where he faced fraud charges over the collapse of his Investors Overseas Services. He was eventually cleared of all charges in 1979.

1979: Ex-President of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in Rawalpindi Central Jail. It was alleged that he had inspired the killing of a political opponent, but many believed it was the new regime’s way of ridding themselves of their greatest threat.

1981: An emotional Aintree saw Bob Champion win the Grand National on Aldaniti. Champion, suffering from cancer, had been given eight months to live, while Aldaniti, who had led all the way, had been plagued with tendon problems and a broken back.

1981: Susan Brown, Oxford’s first woman cox, made sure her crew won the annual Boat Race by eight lengths.

1988: The long-running television soap opera Crossroads ended after 24 years.


1588: Birth of Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher, born prematurely when his mother heard that the Armada was approaching. His political philosophy, that absolute authority should be vested in government, was expounded in his masterpiece, Leviathan (1651).

1649: Birth of Elihu Yale, US-born English official who became the governor of Madras. When in 1701 he sold some of his US effects, he stipulated that the money should go towards the establishment of a collegiate school which, in 1718, became Yale College. It expanded to become Yale University in 1887.

1724: Birth of Giovanni Jacopo Casanova, the world’s best known lover.

1827: Birth of Joseph Lister, first Baron, English surgeon and pioneer of antiseptics which revolutionized modern surgery.

1874: The first performance in Vienna of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II.

1902: The stand at Ibrox Park stadium in Glasgow collapsed during an England v. Scotland match, killing 20 and injuring over 200. History repeated itself on 2 January 1971.

1910: Kissing was banned on French railways because it could cause delays.

1915: Jack Johnson, ‘Galveston Jack’, the first black world heavyweight boxing champion, finally lost his title, which he won in 1908, to Jess Willard, ‘the great white hope’ from Iowa. The contest in Havana was a scheduled 45 rounds, but a tiring Johnson was knocked out in the 26th.

1920: On the anniversary of the Easter Uprising in Dublin, 120 police stations and 22 tax offices were set ablaze in Ireland.

1955: A frail Churchill resigned as Prime Minister, handing over to Anthony Eden.

1960: Ben Hur won a record ten Oscars.

1982: The British Task Force sailed from Southampton for the Falklands following the invasion of the ‘Malvinas’ by Argentina.


1580: An earthquake damaged many of London’s churches, including St Paul’s, the Norman building that replaced the original Saxon St Paul’s.

1652: Jan van Riebeck arrived at the Cape, South Africa to establish the trading station for the Dutch East India ships en route to the east.

1758: Birth of Maximilien François Marie Isidore Robespierre, French revolutionary who became the virtual ruler of France until his enemies finally succeeded in having him guillotined.

1789: George Washington became the first Chief-magistrate or President of the 12 American states which formed the government following the War of Independence.

1830: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, whose adherents are known as Mormons, was founded by Joseph Smith at Fayette, New York. Smith claimed Mormon was an ancient saint who wrote The Book of Mormon which was delivered into his hands on the night of 22 September 1827.

1843: William Wordsworth was appointed Poet Laureate.

1890: Birth of Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker, Dutch aircraft designer and engineer who built his first plane in 1911. The Fokker factory in Germany built many of the aircraft for the German airforce during the First World War.

1896: The first modern Olympic Games, revived by Baron de Coubertin, was held in Athens. US athlete James Connolly won the first gold in the Triple Jump.

1909: US Commander Robert Peary reached the North Pole, the first to do so, accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Inuit.

1917: The US entered the First World War.

1944: PAYE (Pay As You Earn income tax) was introduced in Britain.

1965: Early Bird, the first commercial communications satellite was launched by the US.

1968: Pierre Trudeau succeeded the retiring Lester Pearson as Canada’s Prime Minister.

1984: The 17-year-old South African barefoot long- and middle-distance runner, Zola Budd, who was brought by the Daily Mail to Britain in March of this Olympic year, was granted British citizenship by Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, after only a matter of weeks, provoking considerable controversy.


1506: Birth of St Francis Xavier, Spanish priest, who was ordained in Venice.

1779: A former footman who became a deacon in the Church of England shot and killed the Earl of Sandwich’s mistress, Margaret Reay, as she left the Covent Garden Theatre. The Rev James Hackman had fallen in love with Margaret when he was a footman to the Earl, but she had always rejected his advances. He was sentenced to death and rejected help from the Earl for clemency saying he wanted to die.

1827: The first matches were sold, invented by John Walker, a chemist in Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham. The first known purchaser was a local solicitor who paid one shilling (five new pence) for 100 matches and a further two pennies (one new penny) for the tin tube in which to store them.

1832: Joseph Thompson, a farmer, came to Carlisle to sell his wife, both having agreed to part. A large crowd gathered as he offered her for 50 shillings. After an hour, the price was knocked down to 20 shillings, together with a Newfoundland dog. The practice of wife selling, although illegal in Britain, was not unknown in rural areas.

1862: In the US Civil War, despite great losses and a relatively unprepared force, General Ulysses Grant forced the Confederate troops to retreat at the Battle of Shiloh.

1891: Ole Kirk Christiansen, Danish toy maker who, in 1932, formed the company Lego, from the Danish leg godt which means ‘play well’. After seeing his Lego bricks become one of the most successful toys of all time, Christiansen later discovered that Lego is also Latin for ‘I put together’.

1902: The Texas Oil Company, better known as Texaco, was formed.

1906: Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing more than 100 people.

1943: LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was first synthesized by Albert Hoffman in his Swiss laboratory.

1948: WHO, the World Health Organization, was set up in Geneva.

1949: South Pacific, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opened on Broadway.

1951: Only three horses out of 36 finished in the Grand National, which was won by Nickel Coin.

1953: Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization.

1958: An Easter march to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston attracted 3,000 anti-atomic bomb marchers and a further 12,000 members of the new CND movement (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).

1985: Pop duo Wham! performed two concerts in China to somewhat bemused audiences.

1988: The first Yorkshire Pudding Birthday Lunch was held near Hull. The famous pudding’s earliest known reference is in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Plain and Easy (1747).


1838: The day before his 32nd birthday, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s 236 ft steamship Great Western sailed from Bristol on her maiden voyage to New York. She would become the first steamship to make regular Atlantic crossings.

1875: Birth of Albert I, King of the Belgians.

1898: Lord Kitchener captured the Mahdi at Atbara River, after defeating his Sudanese army.

1919: Birth of Ian (Douglas) Smith, Rhodesian Prime Minister who advocated white supremacy and unilaterally declared independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965. After the transfer of power to the black majority in 1979, he was elected a member of parliament in the government of Robert Mugabe.

1925: The Australian government, together with the British Colonial Office, agreed to make available low-interest loans to enable around half a million Britons to emigrate to Australia.

1953: In Kenya, Jomo ‘Burning Spear’ Kenyatta was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for his involvement with the Mau-Mau.

1986: Clint Eastwood was elected Mayor of Carmel, California.

1988: Britain’s first self-extinguishing armchair was unveiled with its own heat detector-activated sprinkler system.

1989: The longest single-movement work in Western musical history, the symphony Odyssey by Nicholas Maw, received its first complete performance in London; 100 minutes punctuated by resonating ‘time-chords’ inspired by the composer’s grandfather clock.

1990: British golfer Nick Faldo won his second successive US Masters after a play-off.


1483: The young Edward V acceded to the throne on the death of Edward IV. The boy was murdered in the Tower 75 days later, on 25 June 1483.

1649: Birth of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, claimant to the English throne, who led a failed rebellion against James II which cost him his head. His 320 accomplices were sentenced to death by Judge Jeffreys.

1747: The Jacobite, Lord Lovat, became last prisoner to be beheaded in England, a form of execution which had been reserved for the nobility.

1835: Birth of Leopold II, King of the Belgians.

1865: At Appotomax, General Robert E Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant in the US Civil War.

1869: The Hudson Bay Company agreed to cede its considerable territorial rights to Canada.

1872: Birth of Léon Blum, first French Socialist and Jewish Prime Minister in 1936. Imprisoned for being both a Jew and a ‘Red’ by the Vichy government, he survived Buchenwald and Dachau to become Prime Minister of the provisional government after the War.

1906: Birth of Hugh (Todd Naylor) Gaitskell, English politician and leader of the Labour Party.

1940: The German invasion of Norway and Denmark began.

1960: A 52-year-old white man, David Pratt, fired two wounding shots at South African Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd. Pratt claimed he’d done it because he was refused a visa to visit his second wife in Holland.

1966: In Paris, Sophia Loren married Carlo Ponti, who was still married to his wife in Italy.

1969: Concorde 002 made its maiden flight from Filton, near Bristol, with Brian Trubshaw in charge of the flight deck.

1970: Paul McCartney issued a writ in the High Court to dissolve the Beatles’ business partnership.

1983: Corbierre won the Grand National, the first winner trained by a woman (Jenny Pitman).


1512: Birth of James V, King of Scotland, who was still an infant when he inherited the crown.

1633: Bananas were displayed in the London shop window of Thomas Johnson. The fruit had never before been seen in Britain.

1710: The Copyright Act (1709) came into effect in Britain, allowing the author to hold exclusive rights to his or her work for up to 50 years after their death.

1755: Birth of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann, German physician who founded homeopathic medicine.

1820: The first British settlers arrived at Algoa Bay in the eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

1829: Birth of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, which he began in 1865 while performing mission work to the poor in London’s East End. It was only named in 1878, when he took the title ‘General’.

1841: The New York Tribune was first published. It later became the Herald Tribune.

1849: The safety pin was patented in the US by Walter Hunt of New York, but he later sold the rights for $400. On 12 October, a British inventor, Charles Roweley, also patented his safety pin, unaware of the earlier US patent.

1860: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (Marian Evans) was published.

1864: The Archduke Maximilian of Austria became the Emperor of Mexico.

1919: Mexican rebel leader Emiliano Zapata was killed by government troops.

1921: Sun Yat-sen was elected President of China.

1924: The first crossword puzzle book was published in New York.

1932: In the German elections, Paul von Hindenburg was elected president with 19 million votes to Hitler’s 13 million.

1960: The US Senate passed the Civil Rights Bill.

1974: Golda Meir resigned as Israeli Prime Minister over differences with her Labour Party colleagues and Yitzhak Rabin became the new party leader on 22 April.

1988: Probably for the first time ever, a dog died as a result of watching a television programme, in China. In a violent scene in an East German film, a long-haired man leapt out of bushes with a shotgun; the dog howled with fear, ran about in all directions and finally died of a heart attack.

1989: Nick Faldo became the first Englishman to win the US Masters in a dramatic sudden death play-off.


1689: William II and Mary II were crowned joint monarchs of Great Britain by the Bishop of London. The Archbishop of Canterbury refused to officiate.

1713: Gibraltar and Newfoundland were ceded to Britain by France in the Treaty of Utrecht.

1814: Napoleon abdicated and was banished to the island of Elba.

1902: Fred Gaisburg of the Gramophone Company made the first recordings of Caruso, who received the unheard of advance of £100. Caruso eventually made over £1 million from his recordings, the first artist to achieve this.

1913: French aviator Gustave Hamel made a record double Channel crossing from Dunkirk to Dover and back in 90 minutes.

1919: The International Labour Organization was founded.

1929: Popeye made his first appearance as a supporting character in a cartoon strip in Hearst’s New York newspapers.

1935: Severe dust storms hit Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, destroying crops and making many homeless. Tornadoes followed, killing 26 people and injuring 150 in Mississippi.

1951: President Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur from all his posts, including UN forces in Korea, for publicly criticizing his Korean policy.

1951: The Stone of Scone, stolen from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalists who wanted it returned to Scotland, turned up this day, 107 days later, at an abbey in Forfar, Angus.

1957: The Entertainer, by John Osborne, starring Sir Laurence Olivier as the music hall comedian Archie Rice, opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

1957: Singapore was granted self-government by Britain.

1961: Adolf Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem, after he had been traced and captured in Argentina by the Israelis. He was found guilty on 15 December and later hanged.

1967: Tom Stoppard’s first play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened at the National Theatre.

1981: Bobby Sands, IRA hunger striker in the Maze Prison, won the Fermanagh and Tyrone by-election, but he died on 5 May.

1983: Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi received eight Oscars, the most any British film has ever won.

1988: Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, Elite Syncopations, based on the music by Scott Joplin, was performed at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, accompanied by only two pianos, after the orchestra had won the right not to play music written by a black man under a 1937 Nazi law. Sir Kenneth banned any further productions of his work in Munich.


1204: The Fourth Crusade, which had more to do with finance and lands than religion, was diverted by the Venetians to the riches of Constantinople, sacked this day.

1606: The Union Jack became the official flag of England.

1709: The Tatler magazine was first published in Britain.

1777: Birth of Henry Clay, US statesman and orator who was the speaker of the House of Congress from 1811. A founder of the Republican Party, he failed three times to become president.

1838: English settlers in South Africa won the Battle of Tugela against the might of the Zulus, who were led by their chief, Dingaan. The fact that the settlers had guns and the Zulus only spears probably had some bearing on the outcome.

1861: The American Civil War began when the Confederate Army under General Pierre Beauregarde besieged Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

1914: George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion opened in London, with Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle, and Sir Herbert Tree as Professor Higgins.

1954: Bill Haley and the Comets recorded ‘Rock Around the Clock’.

1961: The USSR put the first man in space when Yuri Gagarin was launched in Vostok I for a single orbit of the earth. The flight lasted 108 minutes before he landed safely back on earth.

1989: Lloyd Webber’s Cats was performed for the 3,358th time at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, making it Britain’s longest running musical. Steven Wain who played one of the cats, was the only member of the original cast still in the show after eight years. Seats are booked to the end of 1999.

1990: A routine check by British Customs officers uncovered the planned shipment to Iraq of what appeared to be sections of a ‘supergun’, which initiated an international investigation.


193: Marcus Diderius Salvius Julianus was proclaimed Emperor of Rome, but 49 days later he was put to death by order of the Senate.

1668: John Dryden was appointed the first Poet Laureate and Royal Historiographer.

1732: Birth of Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guildford, who, as Lord North, levied the tax on tea that so incensed the American colonists and provoked the ‘Boston Tea Party’.

1741: The Royal Military Academy was established at Woolwich. It was transferred to Sandhurst, Berkshire in 1946.

1742: First performance of Handel’s Messiah, in Dublin.

1743: Birth of Thomas Jefferson, third US President who was the original drafter of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the Democrat Party.

1821: Friday the 13th proved to be John Horwood’s unlucky day. He was hanged at Bristol for the murder of Eliza Balsam. While the crime is now of little interest, Horwood’s claim to immortality is as a result of the usual practice of allowing criminals’ bodies to be used for anatomical purposes. Not one scrap of Horwood was wasted, even his skin was used to bind the anatomist’s account of the post-mortem which may be found on the shelves of Bristol’s record office.

1882: The founding of the Anti-Semitic League and the presentation to Bismarck of a petition demanding restrictions on the liberty of Prussian Jews.

1892: Birth of Sir Arthur Travers Harris, Royal Air Force Bomber commander, nicknamed ‘Bomber Harris’, who instituted the mass bombing raids over Germany, including the controversial blanket bombing of Dresden.

1902: Birth of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, wine producer who invited leading artists such as Picasso and Warhol to design his famous Château Mouton labels. He was also a poet, translator, Bugatti racing-driver, champion yachtsman and theatre lover.

1912: The Royal Flying Corps was formed.

1919: The Amritsar massacre took place in the Punjab when British troops led by Brigadier-General Dyer opened fire on an unlawful demonstration on an open wasteland in the Holy City of the Sikhs.

1935: Imperial Airways and QANTAS inaugurated their London to Australia air service.

1964: For his role in Lilies of the Field, Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Oscar.

1980: Four days after his 23rd birthday, Severiano Ballesteros won the US Masters, the youngest winner ever.


1471: The Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Barnet. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘the Kingmaker’, was slain in the battle. He had put Henry VI on the throne, but Edward IV returned from exile in Holland to reclaim the crown.

1527: Birth of Philip II of Spain, who, in 1588, tried to conquer England, but sent his ill-fated Armada to destruction.

1527: Birth of Ortelius (Abraham Oertel), Dutch cartographer and engraver who produced the first atlas.

1828: Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language.

1865: On this Good Friday, at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln, the US president. Lincoln died the following day. Booth, who injured his leg escaping from the theatre, was later cornered in a barn and shot dead.

1889: Birth of Arnold Toynbee, English economic historian who coined the phrase ‘Industrial Revolution’ in his book covering that period in Britain.

1897: Birth of Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger, English politician who became the first woman to sit on the woolsack as deputy speaker of the House of Commons.

1900: The French President, M. Loubet, opened the Paris International Exhibition, the biggest of its kind in Europe.

1903: In New York Dr Harry Plotz discovered the term typhus vaccine.

1906: The term ‘muckraking’ entered the language when President Roosevelt criticized the press for writing about business ethics - or the lack of them. He quoted Bunyan, ‘... never looking at the stars, but steadily plied his rake in the muck.’

1907: Birth of François Duvalier (‘Papa Doc’), president of Haiti, virtual dictator who created his own murderous private army, the Tonton Macoute.

1925: Birth of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) for six months in 1979 before the election of Robert Mugabe.

1931: Spain became a republic when King Alfonso abdicated.

1931: The British Ministry of Transport issued the Highway Code.

1932: Violent riots erupted in New Zealand when civil servants were told of major pay cuts.

1939: Birth of Trevor Locke, policeman who was taken hostage while on guard duty outside the Iranian Embassy in London. He tackled the terrorist leader as the SAS stormed the building, saving the life of the first SAS man on the scene.

1950: The British comic strip hero Dan Dare made his first appearance in the first edition of the Eagle, drawn by Frank Hampson.

1954: In Canberra, Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov asked for political asylum. His defection exposed a vast spy ring in Australia and first confirmed that Burgess and Maclean were spying for the Russians.

1965: Robert E Hickock and Perry E Smith, murderers of the Clutter Family featured in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, were hanged at Kansas State Penitentiary.

1983: The first cordless telephone, capable of operating up to 600 feet from base, was introduced. It was made by Fidelity and British Telecom and sold for £170.

1989: Police in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, revealed that violent prisoners were being put into a bright pink cell which seemed to have a calming effect. The colour was named Baker-Miller Pink after the police chief and psychologist who thought up the idea.


1755: Dr Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary; in it he defined ‘lexicographer’ as ‘a harmless drudge’.

1793: The Bank of England issued the first five-pound notes.

1793: At Spithead in the Solent, off Portsmouth, British naval personnel mutinied over poor conditions and pay.

1800: Birth of Sir James Clark Ross, English explorer, nephew of Scottish explorer John Ross, who attempted to find the Northwest Passage. James discovered the North magnetic pole in 1831. The Ross Barrier, Sea and Island are named after him.

1852: The first screw-top bottles were patented by François Joseph Belzung of Paris.

1865: Andrew Jackson was sworn in as US President following the death this day of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s Theatre the previous evening.

1901: A motor hearse was used for the first time at a British funeral. The special 6 hp Daimler was used for a funeral in Coventry.

1912: The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank with the loss of 2,206 passengers and crew on her maiden voyage. Three millionaires escaped in the first lifeboat, but John Jacob Astor, the US multimillionaire and William Thomas Stead, the English journalist and editor, perished. There were 732 survivors. This was also the first time radio was used to call a fleet of vessels to a sea rescue.

1923: At the Rialto Theatre, New York, Lee De Forest screened a selection of musical short films demonstrating his Phonofilm process. These were the first sound films to be presented using the sound-on-film method, and the first to be shown to a paying audience. They were the supporting programme of the silent main feature, Bella Donna, starring Pola Negri.

1925: Sir James Barrie donated the copyright fee of his play, Peter Pan, to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.

1942: The entire population of the tiny island of Malta was awarded the George Cross for the gallantry they showed during the pounding they took from both the German and Italians during the Second World War.

1945: Art treasures looted by the Nazis were discovered down an Austrian mine. Amongst the find were paintings by Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Goya, Raphael and Michelangelo’s famous Ghent altarpiece.

1964: Ian Smith became Prime Minister of Rhodesia.

1970: The first hand-held electronic pocket calculator was announced by Canon Business Machines of Japan.

1974: Patty Hearst, carrying a gun, took part in a bank raid with her kidnappers. This surprise appearance was captured by the bank’s video cameras and she was later convicted for the crime.

1988: The British nuclear submarine Talent became the last boat to be launched down a conventional slipway at Barrow-in-Furness. In future, new craft will be lowered by crane into the water.

1988: The North Korean President, Kim Il-Sung, celebrated his 76th birthday and received 43,000 gifts, including a car. Other gifts included an Arabic translation of his book, The Non-Aligned Movement is a Mighty Anti-Imperialist Revolutionary Force of our Times.

1989: Britain’s worst football disaster took place at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield at the start of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. When around 3,000 supporters were suddenly let into the stadium to relieve pressure outside, they forced spectators against the perimeter barriers. 94 died and over 200 were injured.

1989: Sylvie Guillem, the brilliant 23-year-old French ballerina, made her debut as principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet to great acclaim.


238: The Senate in Rome appointed two emperors, D Caelinus Balbinus to run civil affairs, and M Clodius Pupierus Maximus to command the Legions.

1646: Birth of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, French architect who designed the Galérie de Glaces at Versailles.

1661: Birth of Charles Montague, 1st Earl of Halifax, founder of the Bank of England.

1746: The Duke of Cumberland’s forces defeated the Jacobite Scots at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness. The bloody battle earned the Duke the name ‘Butcher Cumberland’. The Young Pretender Charles Stuart escaped and was later helped by Flora Macdonald to flee the country.

1867: Birth of Wilbur Wright, US aviation pioneer who with his younger brother Orville developed the first real powered aircraft while running their cycle business in Dayton.

1883: Paul Kruger became the President of the South African Republic. The seeds of the Boer War were sown.

1895: Birth of Sir Ove Arup, English structural engineer, to Danish parents. He was educated in Denmark. He built the Sydney Opera House and worked with Sir Basil Spence on Coventry Cathedral.

1902: A rally in Dublin Park attracted over 20,000 people protesting against the British government’s harsh legislation.

1912: Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly the English Channel.

1940: Birth of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

1953: The Royal yacht, Britannia, was launched.

1964: Geraldine Monk of West Germany became the first woman to complete a solo round-the-world flight.

1975: Cambodia fell to the Communist Khmer Rouge when the capital, Phnom Penh, surrendered.


1421: At Dort, Holland, the sea broke through the dykes and an estimated 100,000 people were drowned.

1521: Martin Luther was excommunicated by the diet at Worms.

1837: Birth of John Pierpont Morgan, US financier, son of the founder of the international banking house of Morgan. He helped raise the huge loans for Britain during the First World War.

1860: The first international boxing match between a US boxer, John C Heenan and a British boxer, champion Tom Sayers, at Farnborough, Hampshire took place. Despite being 46 lb lighter, Sayers forced a draw after 42 rounds of bare-knuckle brawling.

1880: Birth of Sir (Charles) Leonard Woolley, English archaeologist who carried out the excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia.

1894: Birth of Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, USSR leader best remembered for his shoe banging performance at the United Nations during a speech by British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

1916: Birth of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka 1960-65, and again 1970-77; the world’s first woman prime minister. She was re-elected for a third time in 1988.

1956: Harold Macmillan’s budget speech introduced Premium Bonds to Britain with prizes of up to £1,000.

1963: British businessman, Greville Wynne, was charged in Moscow with spying. Found guilty, he was sentenced to three years in prison and five years in a labour camp.

1982: The Queen signed an act transferring sovereignty of the 1867 Canadian Constitution from Britain to Canada.

1984: WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead during an anti-Gadaafi protest outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in London. Her killer escaped under the cloak of diplomatic immunity.

1986: El Al security officials at Heathrow Airport, London foiled an attempt to smuggle a bomb on board an airliner with 360 passengers. The bomb was found in the baggage of a pregnant Irish woman duped by her Jordanian boyfriend. He was arrested the following day.


1797: Birth of Louis Adolphe Thiers, President of France who put down the Paris Commune.

1881: The Natural History Museum in London was opened.

1906: At 5.12 am the first rumblings of the San Francisco earthquake were felt. Enrico Caruso was in the city to sing in Carmen with the Metropolitan Opera. He survived the destruction, but swore never to return. Four square miles, 514 blocks of 28,000 buildings were destroyed by the earthquake, which killed over 450 people.

1909: Joan of Arc was beatified at the Vatican.

1917: Pacific Aero products changed its name to the Boeing Airplane Company.

1934: The first launderette or ‘washeteria’ was opened in Fort Worth, Texas.

1942: US aircraft bombed Tokyo for the first time, using the aircraft carrier, Hornet, as their base.

1949: The Republic of Ireland Act came into force, and with it the establishment of Eire.

1949: The first Scouts’ Bob-a-Job week was held.

1954: Colonel Nasser became Prime Minister and military governor of Egypt having seized power while President Neguib was away from the capital.

1980: Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe as the Union Jack was lowered in the dying seconds of a nation called Rhodesia.

1982: Salisbury, Zimbabwe, became Harare.

1986: Guinness, the giant brewery business, won their battle to take over the equally large spirits combine, the Distillers Group. The manner of the takeover was later investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions and led to arrests of top financial figures including the Guinness chief executive, James Saunders.

1988: ‘Ivan the Terrible’, John Ivan Demanjanuk, a Polish-born former SS camp guard, was found guilty in Jerusalem of operating the Treblinka gas chambers and murdering 870,000 Jews in 1943. He was sentenced to hang ten days later, but he appealed against the verdict.

1988: In the House of Commons, the 16th-century symbol of the Speaker’s authority, the Mace, was damaged by Ron Brown, Labour MP for Leith, when he flung it to the floor during a debate. It was described by his own supporters as ‘a childish stunt’.

1989: The Spanish tenor, José Carreras, gave a recital at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, his first for three years because of his leukaemia.


1637: Amye Everard became the first English woman to be granted a patent for her tincture of saffron and essence of roses.

1775: The American Civil War began when General Gage fired into a crowd at Lexington, Massachusetts.

1883: At a meeting in Liverpool to establish a home for dogs, the proposer, T F Agnew, suggested it should perhaps be turned into a home for children. He had seen the work of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to children. The evening of this day, the Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed. Later, it would become the National Society (NSPCC).

1905: Birth of James Allan ‘Jim’ Mollison, Scottish aviator who flew from Australia to England in 1931 in eight days, 19 hours and 28 minutes. He married aviator Amy Johnson, and together they made the first east-west crossing of the North Atlantic and several other pioneering flights.

1917: The US Mongolia fired the first shots to enter the First World War when she sank a German submarine.

1947: When a fire on board a French ship loaded with high explosives in Texas City harbour ignited a chemical plant by the dockside, it set off massive explosions at the neighbouring oil refinery, killing 714 people.

1951: Eric Morley, Publicity Officer with Mecca Ltd, devised the first Miss World beauty contest to coincide with the Festival of Britain. Of the 30 contestants, only five came from overseas, but that produced the winner, Kiki Haakonson, a Stockholm policeman’s daughter.

1956: Prince Rainier of Monaco married his dream princess, film star Grace Kelly.

1959: The Dalai Lama, fleeing from Tibet and the Chinese invasion, was offered sanctuary in India.

1961: US-backed Cuban exiles invaded their former homeland at the Bay of Pigs. Castro’s forces were supported by the threat of Soviet missiles. There was talk of a Third World War, but the invasion failed and both the US and the USSR pulled back from the brink.

1966: An advance party of 4,500 Australian troops sailed from Sydney to join with US troops in Vietnam.

1971: The USSR launched the Salyut space station.

1988: China radio began broadcasting western pop music for the first time, ranging from Glenn Miller to Madonna. ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ was banned as being disrespectful to the composer.


1653: Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Long Parliament which had governed during the Civil War.

1657: The British Admiral Blake destroyed the Spanish fleet in the harbour of Santa Cruz.

1808: Birth of Napoleon III, whose efforts to emulate his uncle’s previous military glories, led to the collapse of his empire and defeat by the Prussians, whom he had goaded into war. During his reign, corruption flourished, and this fed republican and socialist opposition.

1841: The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, considered the first modern detective story, was published in Graham’s magazine in the US.

1887: The first motor race was held in Paris. Only one driver took part, Georges Bouton in his four-seater steam quadricycle. The following year he had just one rival to beat.

1889: Birth of Adolf Hitler, German dictator, whose real name was Schickelgrüber and whose original ambition was to be a painter. He sold postcard sketches in Vienna and drifted into politics, ranting against money lenders and trade unions, revealing his philosophy in Mein Kampf (1925). In 1933, he came to power in a Germany weakened by its defeat in the First World War. His ‘Third Reich’, which he claimed would last 1,000 years, ended after twelve years when he died in a Berlin bunker in 1945.

1902: At an exhibition in Paris, ‘Art Nouveau’ was introduced.

1913: The dancer Isadora Duncan’s two children, one by theatre designer, Gordon Craig, and the other by sewing machine magnate, Paris Singer, were the passengers in a chauffeur-driven car with their nurse when it stalled on a hill. When the chauffeur got out to crank the car, it began to roll downhill, finally crashing into the Seine, drowning Deidre, aged seven, and Patrick, aged five and their nurse.

1929: The first parliament made up exclusively of Fascists led by Benito Mussolini, was opened by King Victor Emanuel III of Italy.

1981: Steve Davis became the world snooker champion at 23 years old, beating Doug Mountjoy at Sheffield.

1988: The world’s largest termite mound, around 21 ft high, was found in the Australian outback, it was claimed this day. The mound was located at Hayes Creek, 105 miles south of Darwin.


753 BC: According to the historian Varro, this was the day that Romulus founded Rome.

1509: The accession of Henry VIII to the throne.

1634: Birth of Jan van Riebeck, Dutch naval surgeon who was put in charge of the Dutch East India Company’s refuelling station at the Cape of Good Hope and was the founder of Cape Town.

1836: The Mexicans were defeated by the Texans at the Battle of San Jacinto.

1894: Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man was performed for the first time in London.

1901: The French sculptor Rodin shocked Paris with his semi-nude ‘Victor Hugo’ when it was exhibited at the Grand Palais.

1916: Roger Casement, the Irish-born British consular official, landed in Ireland from a German submarine prepared to lead the Sinn Fein rebellion, but was arrested this day as the ‘Easter Uprising’ took place. the rebellion against the British in Dublin reached its worst level as Irish republicans took over sections of the city, while a Royal Navy gunboat bombarded them from the River Liffey.

1917: The Canadians finally took Vimy Ridge after a battle which started on 9 April.

1918: Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary German ace pilot, known as the ‘Red Baron’ because of his distinctive red Fokker tri-plane, was shot down by an RAF fighter. He died from the crash behind British lines, but not before he had show down 80 Allied aircraft.

1923: At the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sir Barry Jackson’s production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was staged entirely in modern dress, the first such production.

1926: Birth of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

1945: Ivor Novello’s musical Perchance to Dream opened at the London Hippodrome with his now-classic song, ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’. The show ran 1,022 performances.

1959: Ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn was jailed for a day in Panama City while Panamanian police hunted for her husband, Dr Roberto Arias, former ambassador to Britain who was accused of planning a coup to overthrow his government. Dame Margot was released and flown to New York, and was reunited with her exiled husband in June.

1960: Brasilia was inaugurated as the new capital of Brazil.

1962: The US Bell Telephone Company introduced radio paging.

1964: BBC television launched Playschool as the opening programme of their second channel. BBC2 actually opened a day late due to a major power failure the previous day.

1989: Over 100,000 Chinese students poured into Peking’s Tiananmen Square, ignoring government warnings of severe punishment.


1500: Pedro Alvarez Cabral discovered Brazil and claimed it for the King of Portugal.

1724: Birth of Immanuel Kant, German philosopher who wrote the Critique of Pure Reason, a classic work. He was very much a person of order and method. People could set their watches by his constitutional walk, it was said.

1760: The first known pair of roller-skates were worn by a young Belgian musical instrument maker who rolled into a London party while playing a violin, finally crashing into a mirror.

1769: Madame du Barry became Louis XV’s official mistress.

1838: The first steamship to cross the Atlantic to New York from England was the British packet steamer, Sirius. The journey took 18 days and ten hours.

1870: Birth of Lenin (Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov), leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, who prepared the way for the acceptance of the doctrines of Marx and Engels, mainly in exile.

1881: Birth of Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky. A few days after the Tsar was deposed, in April 1917, Lenin was sent in a sealed train by arrangement with the Germans back to Petrograd, to organize the overthrow of the moderate provisional government led by Kerensky. Deposed by Lenin and his Bolsheviks, Kerensky fled to Austria. In 1940, he went to Australia, moving six years later to the US.

1915: The Germans used chlorine (poison gas) for the first time on the Western front at Ypres, blinding French Canadian troops and French Zouaves.

1952: South African Prime Minister Daniel F Malan introduced legislation to make parliament the highest court in the land and so passed the apartheid bill which had been previously invalidated by the South African Supreme Court.

1964: British businessman Greville Wynne, imprisoned by the Russians for spying, was swapped for the Russian spy Gordon Lonsdale, who was jailed by the British for his role in the Portland espionage ring in 1961.

1969: British lone-yachtsman, Robin Knox-Johnston completed his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world in just 312 days in his 32 ft ketch, Suhaili.

1983: £1 coins were introduced into Britain, replacing paper money.


St George’s Day, the national day of England.

St George slayed the dragon in Libya in the third century, and became the patron saint of England when he appeared as an apparition in the sky while the Crusaders were fighting their Muslim enemy.

1661: Charles II was crowned king of England.

1702: Queen Anne was crowned.

1791: Birth of James Buchanan, US Democrat statesman who became the 15th President during the run-up to the Civil War.

1861: Birth of Henry Hyman, Viscount Allenby, British Field Marshal during the First World War, who crushed the Turks at Megiddo in Palestine in 1918.

1879: The first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened in Stratford-upon-Avon, and in 1932 the New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was opened by the Prince of Wales. The opening performances were Henry VI Parts 1 and 2, Shakespeare’s first plays.

1897: Birth of Lester Bowles Pearson, Canadian Prime Minister (1963-8), and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in establishing the United Nations Emergency Force. He was also the designer of the Maple Leaf flag.

1924: King George V and Queen Mary opened the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium.

1935: The official opening by Stalin of the Moscow Underground railway took place.

1962: Stirling Moss crashed at the Goodwood circuit at 110 mph. He was rushed to hospital with a broken rib and leg, and serious head injuries.

1968: The first decimal coins appeared in Britain. They were the five-and ten-pence pieces which replaced the old 1/- (one shilling) and 2/- (two shilling) coins.

1969: In the US, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was found guilty of the assassination of Robert F Kennedy and was sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

1980: Saudi Arabia threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Britain following the screening on television of the documentary Death of a Princess, which described the events leading to the death of a Saudi princess for infidelity.

1984: The US announced the discovery of the AIDS virus.

1988: A Greek myth relates that on this day Daedalus flew from the island of Crete across the Aegean Sea to the island of Santorini, a distance of 74 miles. This day, a Greek cycling champion, Kanellos Kanellopoulos, pedalled an extra-lightweight flying machine called Daedalus through the air over the same route, setting a record for man-powered flight. He crashed into the sea, just yards from the shore, and swam safely to land.

1990: The ‘silent man of the Great Train Robbery’ (8 August 1963), Charlie Wilson, was shot dead at his home near Marbella, Spain.


St Mark’s Eve, on which apparitions of those to die in the coming year are said to appear at midnight in churchyards.

1533: Birth of William I, the Prince of Orange, in Germany. He was known as ‘William the Silent’ because of his ability to keep a secret. He helped free the Netherlands from Spanish domination.

1782: This night, and into the early hours of the morning, Claude Rouget de Lisle composed the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.

1856: Birth of Henri Philippe Omer Pétain, French statesman and Army marshal who tried to make terms with the Germans during the Second World War and established a collaboratist government in Vichy. After the War, he was imprisoned for life as a traitor.

1882: Birth of Lord Dowding (Hugh Caswall Tremenheere, 1st Baron), British Air Force Commander-in-Chief in the Battle of Britain, which he directed from Bentley Priory.

1889: Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, British statesman, economist and chemist who became the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1947 Labour government. The ravages of war left him no alternative but to introduce an austerity programme, but his style produced a positive public response; trade unions imposed a voluntary wage freeze.

1895: Captain Joshua Slocum, in his sloop Spray, set sail from Boston to circumnavigate the world single-handed. He would return on 27 June 1898.

1906: Birth of William Joyce, US-born British traitor who collaborated with the Nazis, broadcasting propaganda to Britain from Germany during the Second World War in a curious English accent which earned him the nickname ‘Lord Haw-Haw’.

1930: Amy Johnson landed her Gypsy Moth Jason in Darwin, Australia, the first woman to fly solo from England. Her departure 19 days earlier had not attracted much attention, but her courage in braving sandstorms and forced landings made her an international heroine.

1932: A mass trespass by thousands of ramblers took place on Kinder Scout in the Peak District to establish public right of access on the moors and mountains which were privately owned for grouse shooting.

1939: Robert Menzies became Australian Prime Minister, aged 44.

1949: One of the great days in any British child’s life - if they were born during the war years - sweets and chocolate were no longer rationed!

1967: The first space tragedy occurred: Vladimir Komarov, aged 40, was killed when the Russian Soyuz I crashed to earth after leaving orbit.

1989: Peter Scudamore became the first National Hunt jockey to ride 200 winners in a season over jumps when he won at Towcester with Gay Moore.


Anzac Day, commemorating the landing at Gallipoli in 1915 of the heroic Australian and New Zealand troops. It was first celebrated in 1916.

1214: Birth of St Louis IX, King of France who led a crusade to Egypt. Defeated, he was captured and ransomed in 1250. Eventually he returned to France, where he reorganized the courts and authorized new laws before heading off on another crusade, in 1270, from which he would not return.

1284: Birth of King Edward II, who became the first heir-apparent to bear the title Prince of Wales. King from 1307, he ruled during a period of pestilence, famine, defeats at the hands of the Scots and intrigues, and was eventually murdered.

1559: Birth of Oliver Cromwell, Protector of England who led his ‘Ironsides’ in the English Civil War against the ‘Roundheads’ of King Charles I. Cromwell’s victories enabled him to have the King tried and beheaded, after which he established a republic.

1660: Ironically, on the 63rd anniversary of the birth of Oliver Cromwell, a Convention parliament in London voted for the restoration of Charles II.

1719: The publication in London of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

1792: Although in use since the Middle Ages, Dr Guillotin much improved the device for beheading people. On this day, his new model was used in Paris to remove the head of a highwayman.

1848: The first Royal yacht, Victoria and Albert, was launched at Pembroke Docks, after suffering serious damage when first floated.

1859: Ferdinand de Lesseps saw his great plan initiated when work began on the 100-mile Suez Canal. He supervised the project until its opening on 16 November 1869.

1920: Percy Toplis, who had led a mutiny in the British Army, and then deserted, shot and killed a taxi driver near Salisbury Barracks. He followed this crime with a succession of robberies, until he was finally captured after one of the biggest manhunts of its time, which ended with him dying in a hail of police bullets.

1926: Toscanini conducted the first performance of Puccini’s last opera, Turandot. The composer had died before completing his masterpiece, and it was left to Franco Alfano to write the final missing section based on the composer’s notes.

1945: The United Nations Organization (UNO) was planned at a meeting of 46 nations at the Paris Opera.

1953: The British monthly magazine Nature published an article by US genetic researcher, James Dewey Watson, and an English geneticist, Francis H C Crick, introducing their work on DNA.

1956: Rocky Marciano, US world heavyweight champion since 1952, retired unbeaten.

1964: The head of the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen harbour was sawn off and stolen.

1969: The 21-year-old BBC radio serial Mrs Dale’s Diary ended.

1980: The US made a disastrous attempt to rescue hostages from the US Embassy in Tehran. A helicopter collided with a fuel tanker aircraft when they landed secretly near the city, and the covert mission had to be aborted.

1983: In Germany, Stern magazine published the first extracts from the so-called Hitler Diaries, which were also published by the Sunday Times in Britain. Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper said they were authentic, but they were later found to be forgeries by Konrad Kujau.

1988: In Israel, a monkey and his owner were arrested by police after they both got drunk on cocktails in a hotel bar. The owner bought the cocktails.

1990: The Hubble Space Telescope was launched from the space shuttle Discovery and began sending back pictures on 20 May 1990.


121: Birth of Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor who was trained as a philosopher. He proved a noble, civilized emperor despite ruling through difficult times. He found time to write his Meditations, revealing his loneliness, and founded chairs of philosophy.

1711: Birth of David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian who wrote the Treatise of Human Nature. As an atheist, he was barred from a professorship at Edinburgh, so he taught a mentally deranged nobleman until he became the keeper of a library in the city.

1812: Birth of Alfred Krupp, German armaments manufacturer who succeeded to the business begun by his father, making the firm the biggest supplier of arms to the world. The firm later supported Hitler’s rise to power.

1875: Birth of Syngman Rhee, the founder of South Korea in 1948, when he was elected President.

1876: The town of Deadwood, Arizona was officially laid out. The locals included ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp and later, ‘Doc’ Holliday.

1894: Birth of (Walther Richard) Rudolf Hess, Nazi leader, who was imprisoned with Hitler in the 20s, when Hitler dictated Mein Kampf to him. When the Nazis came to power, he was made deputy to the Führer, but early in the War he flew to Scotland to try to arrange a peace treaty and was imprisoned in Britain. At Nuremberg, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He hanged himself in Spandau Prison.

1900: A huge fire in Ottawa and Hull, Canada, destroyed vast areas, making 12,000 homeless in just 12 hours.

1921: The first motorcycle police patrols went on duty in London.

1923: The Duke of York (the future King George VI) and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were married at Westminster Abbey.

1931: The first (private) performance was given by the Camargo Society, London, of the ballet Façade by Frederick Ashton, with music by William Walton, based on poems by Edith Sitwell. The first public performance was on 4 May, staged by the Ballet Rambert, London.

1937: German bombers, under the command of Franco’s forces, made the first raid on a civilian population during the Spanish Civil War when they attacked Guernica, the spiritual home of the Basques. This atrocity was later captured on canvas by Picasso.

1975: Portugal held its first free elections for 50 years, with a victory for Mario Soares.

1986: The world’s worst nuclear accident occurred at Chernobyl. The area around the power station near Kiev, USSR, was evacuated, but radioactive levels increased over a huge area, even affecting Welsh sheep. It was four days before the Soviets admitted the disaster.

1988: Mick Jagger was cleared of pirating a song by an unknown reggae musician and recording it as ‘Just Another Night’. The judgement came after a two-day hearing in the US.

1989: Naas, County Kildare, in Ireland held their first annual pig race watched by over 7,000 people. One punter won £200 on the favourite, Porky’s Revenge, and the bookies handed the remainder of their money to the charity People in Need. The organizers plan to invite competitors from as far afield as the US and USSR.


1822: Birth of Ulysses (Simpson) Grant, American general with the Union Army and 18th US President.

1828: The London Zoological Gardens in Regents Park, London, were opened.

1888: The oil company Esso was established in London.

1927: Birth of Sheila (Christine) Scott, English aviator who broke 104 light aircraft records and was the first to fly solo over the North Pole. Despite this, she failed her driving test three times. Her flying endeavours were always under-financed and when funds ran out, she was left to a sad and lonely retirement.

1932: Birth of Pik Botha, South African Minister for Foreign Affairs, and one of the more enlightened members of the Nationalist Party and government.

1932: Imperial Airways began its service from London to Cape Town.

1943: English-born Judy Johnson rode Lone Gallant in a steeplechase in Baltimore to become the first woman jockey to ride as a professional.

1950: The British Government recognized the state of Israel.

1970: US actor Tony Curtis was fined £50 in London for being in possession of cannabis.


1442: Birth of King Edward IV, son of Richard, Duke of York, who beat the Lancastrians at Mortimer’s Cross and St Albans to enter London and take the crown.

1758: Birth of James Monroe, US Republican statesman and fifth President, elected first in 1816. His popular ‘Monroe Doctrine’, which said that no European power would colonize any part of the American continent, won him a second term.

1770: Captain James Cook in Endeavour landed at Botany Bay. It was first named Sting Ray Bay, but this was changed to Botany Bay when it was found to be a botanist’s paradise.

1772: The world’s most travelled goat died in London. She had circumnavigated the world twice, first on Dolphin under Captain Wallis, then on Cook’s Endeavour. The Lord of the Admiralty signed a document admitting her to the privileges of an in-pensioner, but she died soon after.

1788: Maryland became the seventh state of the Union.

1789: The crew of the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied against the harsh life at sea under Captain Bligh. They were on the return journey from Tahiti where they had spent six months gathering breadfruit trees. Bligh and 17 others were cast adrift in a small boat without a chart. While the mutineers eventually colonized Pitcairn Island, Bligh managed to sail the small craft 3,618 miles to Timor, near Java, arriving there on 14 June.

1795: Birth of Charles Sturt, English explorer who headed three major Australian expeditions. With Hume, he discovered the River Darling. He also charted the Murray to its source near Adelaide, suffering great hardships along the way. Another area he explored, the Sturt desert, is named after him.

1801: Birth of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, 7th Earl, who introduced the Coal Mines Act in 1842 which prohibited the employment of women and children underground.

1889: Birth of António de Oliviera Salazar, Portuguese Prime Minister and dictator from 1932-68.

1912: Birth of Odette Hallowes, British secret agent in wartime France who was captured and tortured by the Gestapo. She later won the George Cross.

1923: The first FA Cup final was held at Wembley Stadium. Before the game started, the huge crowd spilled out on to the pitch, but a single policeman astride a white horse managed to get the crowd off the playing area. Bolton Wanderers won 2-1 against West Ham in front of a crowd of 126,000 people and another 75,000 who had scaled the walls.

1924: Birth of Kenneth (David) Kaunda, first president of Zambia who was imprisoned in 1958 for founding the Zambia African National Congress. Later released, he became the first Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia in 1964, before becoming President of a one-party state in 1973.

1930: John Gielgud opened at the Old Vic as Hamlet.

1945: In Milan, Mussolini (Il Duce) and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were caught by Italian partisans and shot. Their bodies were strung upside down from the rafters of a petrol station.

1953: Japan was allowed self-government following its defeat at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

1969: De Gaulle resigned when the response to his referendum for major government reforms was ‘Non’.

1977: In Germany, the Baader-Meinhof terrorists, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan Raspe were jailed for life, plus 15 years.

1987: It was announced that some 3,000 toads had passed through a special toad tunnel at Henley-on-Thames during the first six weeks. This crossing between woods had reduced the death toll by 95 per cent as it was now unnecessary for toads to risk life and limb crossing the road.

1988: The first woman conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden took up the baton this day. Sian Edwards, a 28-year-old from Manchester, made her debut with a new production of Sir Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden.

1990: A Chorus Line closed on Broadway after a record-breaking 15 years.


National Day of Japan.

1376: The first Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Peter de la Mare, took office.

1696: There were many attempts on the life of William III, King of England, who attracted opposition in part because he was a foreigner. This day, three would-be assassins, Rookwood, Lowick and Cranbourne, were executed for an attempt that failed.

1769: Birth of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, in Ireland. Known as the Iron Duke, he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He was Tory Prime Minister from 1828-30, becoming unpopular when he conceded Roman Catholic emancipation. His London house had its windows smashed by an angry mob on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

1818: Birth of Alexander II, Tsar of Russia who emancipated the serfs in 1861. The Russian Empire grew during his reign, and despite being a liberal ruler, there was severe repression of political opposition which would lead to his assassination on 13 March 1881.

1842: The Corn Bill received Royal Assent. The law was designed to ensure an adequate supply of corn for domestic use and a fair price for the producers.

1863: Birth of William Randolph Hearst, US newspaper magnate who introduced banner headlines and other techniques to sensationalize news.

1885: Women were granted permission to be admitted to Oxford University examinations.

1901: Birth of Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the first crown prince to visit Europe. He became emperor in 1926, but after defeat in the Second World War, he formally renounced his divinity and the racial supremacy of the Japanese.

1913: The zipper that zipped was finally patented by a young Swedish engineer, Gideon Sundback. Previous patents were not for the zip as we know it today.

1930: The UK to Australia telephone service was inaugurated.

1933: The FA Cup Final match between Everton and Manchester City was the first in which players wore numbered shirts - from 1 to 22. Everton, who wore 1 to 11, won 3-0.

1935: Just one year after their invention by Percy Shaw of Yorkshire, ‘cat’s eyes’ were being inserted into British roads.

1945: The Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich, was relieved by US troops.

1967: Muhammed Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title for refusing to be drafted into the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War.

1976: The first consignment of British North Sea crude oil was exported to Germany.

1977: For the first time since 1936, trade unions were declared legal in Spain.

1977: British Aerospace was founded.

1987: A unique night at the theatre. The musical revival Cabaret was performed without music. The orchestra went on strike at the Strand Theatre, London after five of its members had been sacked. The show was performed for a further two performances without music before being suspended until the dispute was settled.

1990: Stephen Hendry of Scotland, aged 21, became the youngest ever Embassy World Snooker Champion.


National Day of the Netherlands.

Walpurgisnacht in Germany - the Witch’s Sabbath held in the Harz Mountains, during which bonfires are lit.

311: Galerius Valerius Maximianus issued the edict of Nicomedia which meant the Roman Empire legally recognized Christianity.

1651: Birth of Jean Baptiste, Abbé de la Salle, the canon of Rheims who founded the Christian Brothers.

1770: Birth of David Thompson, London-born Canadian explorer who explored much of western Canada, including the Columbia River.

1772: John Clais of London patented the first dial weighing machine.

1789: General George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. John Adams was the first Vice-President.

1803: Louisiana and New Orleans were purchased from the French by the US.

1821: The first iron steamship, Aaron Manby, named after the proprietor of the Staffordshire ironworks at which it had been made, was completed, having been assembled at Rotherhithe.

1893: Birth of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister. The British captured him at the end of the Second World War, and the tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced the former wine merchant to death.

1900: Hawaii, a republic, ceded itself to the US.

1900: John Luther ‘Casey’ Jones, an engineer on Illinois Central Railroad’s Cannonball Express from Chicago to New Orleans, ran down the train warning everyone to jump as the train was about to smash into a stalled freight train. As a result, only one person died.

1905: The French psychologist, Alfred Binet, explained his new ‘intelligence tests’.

1909: Birth of Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands who passed her final exam in international law in 1930. She married Prince Bernhard in 1937. During the war, she escaped to Britain and later resided in Canada. Her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, abdicated this day in 1948 and she became queen on her 39th birthday.

1925: The Distillers whisky and spirit group was formed.

1925: Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was elected the first President of Germany.

1945: In his underground bunker in besieged Berlin, Hitler first poisoned his wife of a day, Eva Braun, then stuck a revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

1948: The first Land-Rover, made by the Rover company, went on show at the Amsterdam Motor Show.

1975: There was panic in and around the US Embassy in Saigon as pro-US Vietnamese tried to flee the country before the city fell to the North Vietnamese forces. The Vietcong would rename it Ho Chi Minh City.

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