1640: The Spanish were driven out of Portugal and the country regained its independence.

1761: Birth of Madame Marie Tussaud (Grosholz), Swiss-born French waxworks modeller. During the French Revolution she made death masks from the severed heads of the famous. In 1800, separated from her husband, she toured Britain with her waxworks, eventually setting up a permanent exhibition in London.

1768: The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London.

1844: Birth of Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, who was the eldest daughter of King Christian of Denmark.

1887: Beeton’s Christmas Annual went on sale on or about this day with A Study in Scarlet by A Conan Doyle which first introduced the detective, Sherlock Holmes.

1906: The Cinema Omnia Pathé, the world’s first purpose-built picture palace, opened in Paris.

1919: Lady Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament.

1939: The world première in New York of Gone with the Wind, starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland.

1942: The Beveridge Report written by Sir William Beveridge proposed a welfare state for Britain.

1951: The first performance at Covent Garden of Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd with Peter Pears.

1987: The Department of Trade inspectors were ordered into the giant Guinness company to investigate allegations of misconduct which ended up with four arrests being made, including the chairman Ernest Saunders.

1989: In Rome, Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev ended seventy years of hostility between the Roman Catholic Church and the Soviet Union.


1697: The rebuilt St Paul’s Cathedral, the work of Sir Christopher Wren, was opened.

1804: Napoleon was crowned Emperor in Paris by Pope Pius VII. On this day, one year later in 1805, Napoleon defeated the Austro-Russian force at the Battle of Austerlitz.

1823: US President James Monroe’s Monroe Doctrine was proclaimed, opposing foreign, especially European, interference and involvement in US policies.

1901: In the US King Camp Gillette marketed a safety razor he patented in 1897. It had a double edged disposable blade.

1907: English footballers formed the Professional Footballer’s Association.

1942: At the University of Chicago, the world’s first nuclear chain reaction took place as the first atomic pile began operating under the direction of physicists Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton.

1982: The first artificial heart was fitted, to dentist Dr Barney B Clark, at the University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City. He died the following March.

1981: Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare and his 44 mercenaries posing as the Froth Blowers Club found their frothy cover blown soon after landing in the Seychelles and had to shoot their way out of the airport lounge, hijack an Air India plane and make the pilot fly them to South Africa where they had originally been sponsored to fly over and topple the Seychelles government. The Froth Blowers were arrested by South African officials.


1660: Margaret Hughes received a rousing reception for her performance at the Vere Street Theatre as Desdemona in The Moor of Venice, Thomas Killigrew’s version of Othello. It was the first time a professional actress had ever appeared on the British stage.

1818: Illinois became the 21st state of the Union.

1836: Three people were killed at Great Corby, near Carlisle in Cumbria, in the first fatal railway derailment.

1910: Neon lighting, developed by French physicist George Claude, was displayed for the first time at the Paris Motor Show.

1926: In an episode as puzzling and intriguing as any in her many novels, Agatha Christie disappeared from her Surrey home and was discovered on the 14th staying under an assumed name at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate. She said she had no recollection of how she came to be in Yorkshire.

1967: At Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, Dr Christiaan Barnard carried out the world’s first heart transplant. The heart of the first donor came from Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old bank clerk who was found dying after a road accident and agreed to give her heart to a 53-year-old grocer, Louis Washansky. He died 18 days later as a result of tissue rejection.


One-time Feast Day of Barbara, patron saint of artillery and miners. Her heathen father is said to have beheaded her for her faith and was immediately struck by lightning and died.

1154: The only Englishman to become a pope, Nicholas Breakspear became Adrian IV.

1791: The Observer, Britain’s oldest Sunday newspaper, was first published.

1865: Birth of Edith (Louisa) Cavell, English nurse in Brussels 1914-15, who was accused of helping Allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium over the Dutch border and was executed by the Germans.

1892: Birth of General Francisco Franco (Bahamonde), Spanish dictator who was formerly the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Army before being demoted to Governor of the Canary Islands and then dismissed by the Republican government. With German and Italian assistance, he initiated the Civil War and in 1939 became the head of a Fascist government.

1937: The Dandy comic was first published by D C Thomson featuring Desperate Dan, the brainchild of Dudley Watkins. With a fan club of over 350,000, Dan proved a durable character. A copy of this first edition is worth between £850 and £1,000.

1947: The first performance on Broadway of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy.

1948: George Orwell completed the final draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four which was published on 8 June 1949.

1965: The US launched Gemini VII into space for a link-up with the orbiting Gemini VI.

1988: Lorin Maazel conducted Beethoven’s nine symphonies in one day at the Royal Festival Hall, London, using three orchestras.


1766: The founder of the famous auctioneers, James Christie, held his first sale in London.

1782: Birth of Martin van Buren, 8th US President, from 1835-40.

1839: Birth of George Armstrong Custer, US cavalry commander famous for his ‘last stand’. He attacked Sitting Bull’s Sioux and Cheyenne Indian encampment on the Little Bighorn River in Montana and all 250 of his men were killed, because he failed to wait for reinforcements to arrive. He had previously been court martialled for leaving his fort without a commander to go off and visit his wife.

1839: The postage rate in Britain was changed to a standard charge of 4d a half ounce instead of being charged by distance.

1872: The Marie Celeste was found abandoned, drifting in the Atlantic with a cargo of alcohol. The captain, Benjamin Briggs, and his crew were never heard of again.

1904: The Russian fleet was almost totally destroyed by the Japanese at Port Arthur.

1928: England beat Australia by a record 675 runs in the Test at Brisbane.

1933: Prohibition ended after 14 years in the US.

1945: Five US Navy bombers took off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on a training flight. Contact was lost and an aircraft was sent to look for them. It too lost contact and no trace of any of the aircraft or their 27 crew members was ever found in the area which became known as the Bermuda Triangle.

1956: Miss Rose Heilbron QC was appointed Recorder of Burnley to become Britain’s first woman judge.

1958: The Queen dialled Edinburgh from Bristol to inaugurate the first direct dialled trunk call (STD).

1958: Prime Minister Harold Macmillan opened the Preston bypass in Lancashire, the first stretch of motorway in Britain.


The Feast day of Nicholas, patron saint of youth, popularly known as Santa Claus. He is also the patron saint of merchants, thieves, sailors and travellers.

The National Day of Finland, marking the day in 1917 when it proclaimed its independence from Russia.

1492: Christopher Columbus discovered Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

1732: Birth of Warren Hastings, first Governor General of Bengal who established the foundations of British administration in India. He was impeached for corruption on his return to England in 1785, but later acquitted.

1774: Austria became the first nation to introduce a state education system.

1877: Thomas Alva Edison recited ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ into his Phonograph and made the world’s first recording of the human voice.

1921: Irish independence was granted for the 26 southern states which became known as the Irish Free State. Six counties which formed Ulster (Northern Ireland) remained as part of the UK.

1975: The Balcombe Street siege, watched by millions on television, ended when the four IRA gunmen who had taken a couple hostage following a gun battle and chase finally gave themselves up without a shot being fired.

1989: The worst mass killing in Canadian history took place when a gunman burst into an engineering class at the University of Montreal and shot dead 14 women students and wounded nine others and four men, before turning the gun on himself.


1732: The first Covent Garden Opera House, then called the Theatre Royal, opened in London.

1783: William Pitt the Younger, aged 24, became the youngest British Prime Minister.

1787: Delaware became the first US state.

1889: The first performance at the Savoy of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, their last real success.

1907: Eugene Corri became the first referee to officiate inside a boxing ring at the Tommy Burns - Gunner Moir fight at the National Sporting Club, London.

1916: David Lloyd George became Prime Minister of a British coalition government.

1924: Birth of Dr Mario Soares, President of Portugal, who lived in exile during the period of dictatorship, but returned in 1974. He was elected Prime Minister in 1976, and President in 1986.

1928: Birth of Professor Noam (Avrom) Chomsky, US linguist who revolutionized the study of linguistics. He also became well known for his opposition to US involvement in Vietnam.

1941: The Japanese attacked the US fleet in Pearl Harbor. Without any official declaration of war, they sank or damaged five battleships, 14 smaller warships, 200 aircraft and killed 2,400 people.

1972: The US launched Apollo 17 on its way to make the sixth landing on the moon.

1982: Charles Brooks Jr, a prisoner on death row at Fort Worth Prison, Texas, was executed by being given a lethal injection, the first to die by this method in the US.

1988: A severe earthquake hit Armenia, killing thousands and causing widespread destruction.


1542: Birth of Mary, Queen of Scots, who reigned as Scotland’s Queen from 1542 and married her cousin the Earl of Darnley. After Darnley was assassinated, she married the Earl of Bothwell. A rebellion led to her abdication and later Elizabeth I imprisoned her for the plot to restore the Roman Catholic religion and to take the throne from Elizabeth.

1841: Prince Albert Edward, later King Edward VII, became the Prince of Wales.

1854: Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be an article of faith.

1863: The world’s first heavyweight boxing championship took place at Woodhurst, Kent, between Tom King (England) and John C Heenan (US). King became the first world champion.

1864: The Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon at Bristol, designed by Brunel, was opened.

1941: The US, Britain and Australia declared war on Japan following the Pearl Harbor attack the previous day.

1987: Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan signed the first-ever treaty to reduce USSR and US ground-based intermediate-range missiles.

1988: Scientists at Liverpool University reported they had etched an image of Marilyn Monroe onto an area smaller than a pinhead using a revolutionary new instrument, an ultra-powerful ‘field emission electron microscope’, devised by Professor Colin Humphreys, who said the device was capable of etching the entire contents of the 29 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The machine can store 1,000 times more information in a given space than any other medium.


The National Day of Tanzania, celebrating its independence in 1961. Originally Tanganyika, it became a republic on the first anniversary of independence, remaining within the Commonwealth and with Julius Nyerere as the first President.

1783: The first executions took place at Newgate Prison.

1868: Gladstone became Prime Minister for the first time. He would win office for three more terms.

1886: Birth of Clarence Birdseye, US inventor of a process to deep-freeze foodstuffs in small packages for retailing, who got the idea from his days as a fur trader in Alaska where he had seen the Inuit do exactly that.

1895: Birth of Dolores Gómez Ibarruri, Spanish politician, known as ‘La Pasionaria’ who won a seat in parliament in 1936. She was a great orator; her passionate speeches against the Fascists, and her cry of ‘They will not pass’ became the battle cry for the Republican soldiers during the Civil War. She eventually fled to Russia, only returning to Spain in 1977.

1902: Birth of Richard Austen (‘Rab’) Butler, progressive British Conservative politician born in India who was Minister of Education, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary but never the role he was most tipped for, that of Prime Minister. Instead he served no less than four Prime Ministers.

1905: Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, based on Oscar Wilde’s play, was first performed at Dresden.

1929: Birth of Bob (Robert) Hawke, elected Prime Minister of Australia in 1983.

1955: Sugar Ray Robinson knocked out Carl Olson to regain his middleweight boxing title.

1960: The first episode of Coronation Street was screened on ITV.

1987: The first martyrs of the ‘intifada’ in the Gaza Strip were created when an Israeli patrol attacked in the Jabaliya refugee camp.


1817: Mississippi became the 20th state of the Union.

1819: Birth of Count Felice Orsini, Italian political activist who was a member of a secret political group trying to assassinate Napoleon III in an effort to spread revolution from France to Italy.

1845: Civil engineer Robert Thompson patented pneumatic tyres in London. Later manufacture had to be by hand and were too expensive to catch on. That was left to Dunlop in 1888.

1851: Birth of Melvil Dewey, US librarian who devised the library cataloguing system which bears his name.

1868: Whitaker’s Almanac was published for the first time.

1896: The first performance of Ubu Roi, the first Theatre of the Absurd play by Alfred Jarry, conceived when he was 15, presented when he was 23. The second performance was called off after rioting, but the play influenced much 20th-century literature and theatre.

1898: Cuba became independent of Spain following the Spanish-American War.

1901: The first Nobel prizes were awarded on the anniversary of the death of Nobel.

1903: Madame Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel prize which she shared with her husband Pierre, and Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity.

1917: The first postmark slogan was stamped on envelopes in Britain: ‘Buy British War Bonds Now’.

1919: The Smith brothers became the first aviators to fly from Britain to Australia.

1924: Birth of Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972-80 and again in 1989. His father Norman had been Prime Minister ten years before.

1928: Piccadilly Circus Underground station opened.

1931: Alasara Zamaora became Spain’s first constitutionally elected President.

1974: Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn collected his award for Literature four years late, after originally being blocked by the USSR.

1983: Raul Alfonsin became the first civilian president of Argentina for eight years following the rule of the military junta.


1769: Venetian blinds were patented by Edward Beran of London.

1882: Birth of Fiorello Henry La Guardia, three times mayor of New York, who fought corruption and did much to improve the city. Known as Little Flower, he was a colourful, legendary character whose actions ranged from providing a Jewish police escort for a visiting Nazi delegation and reading the comic strips on radio during a newspaper strike. He was later the subject of the hit musical, Fiorello.

1894: In Paris, the first motor show opened. There were nine exhibitors.

1903: The first wildlife preservation society was formed in Britain to protect fauna, called the Society for the Preservation of Wild Fauna of the Empire.

1914: The Royal Flying Corps, which later became the RAF, adopted the red, white and blue roundel to identify its aircraft.

1936: Edward VIII abdicated and slipped away in the early hours to an exile in France. He was succeeded by his brother, George, who became George VI. Edward planned to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson and, before he left the country, made a final farewell broadcast.

1952: Derek Bentley, aged 19, and 16-year-old Christopher Craig, were found guilty of the murder of a policeman in south London. Because of his age, Craig was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, while Bentley, who did not fire the gun, was sentenced to hang. Despite a public outcry, the sentence was carried out on 27 January 1953.

1987: Charlie Chaplin’s famous cane and bowler were sold at Christie’s in London for £82,500 and his boots for £38,500.


The National Day of Kenya marking its independence, with Jomo Kenyatta as the first Prime Minister, in 1963. He became President when Kenya became a republic in 1964.

1724: Birth of Admiral Samuel Hood, first Viscount, British naval commander and one of the most skilful tacticians who had notable victories including those in the West Indies in 1782.

1787: Pennsylvania became the second state of the Union.

1896: Marconi gave the first public demonstration of radio at Toynbee Hall, London. The same day in 1901, Marconi carried out the first transatlantic radio transmission from Poldhu, Cornwall, to St John’s, Newfoundland.

1913: The Mona Lisa, which had been stolen from the Louvre, was recovered from its hiding place in a bedroom of a small hotel in Florence. Vincenzo Perugia and three others were arrested.

1915: The first all-metal plane, made by German aircraft builder Hugo Junkers, was flown for the first time.

1955: Christopher Cockerell patented his prototype of the hovercraft.

1955: Bill Haley and the Comets recorded ‘See You Later Alligator’ at Decca Recording Studios, New York.

1988: Britain’s worst rail crash for 20 years killed 35 and injured 113 people when a packed express from Bournemouth ran into the back of a stationary commuter train near Clapham Junction.

1988: The first satellite pictures were beamed to 2,200 London betting shops to allow them to watch the races live from many race courses.

1989: Billionaire Leona Helmsley, who said, ‘Only the little people pay taxes,’ was fined $7 million and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for tax evasion. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Greed’, she and her husband Harry owned a chain of luxury hotels worth $5 billion.


1577: Francis Drake set sail from Plymouth in the Golden Hind on his circumnavigation of the world.

1642: Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigator, sighted New Zealand, but several of his men were killed when he attempted to land.

1779: The first Smithfield Show organized by the Smithfield Cattle and Sheep Society was held at Wooton’s Dolphin Yard in London.

1847: On or about this day, Wuthering Heights by Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë) was published, as was Agnes Grey by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë).

1878: The Holborn Viaduct in London was illuminated by electricity, the first street lighting in Britain, installed by a French contractor who had lit a street in Lyon in 1857, the first in the world.

1884: A coin-operated weighing machine was patented by Percy Everitt.

1903: Ice cream cones (or moulds) were patented by Italo Marcione of New York.

1904: The Metropolitan Underground railway in London went electric.

1915: Birth of Balthazar Johannes Vorster, South African Prime Minister from 1966-78 and President from 1978-9, resigning the office following the ‘Muldergate’ propaganda slush fund affair.

1939: The Battle of the River Plate with action by British cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles, who drove the great German battleship Admiral Graf Spee to seek shelter off Montevideo, Uruguay.

1967: King Constantine of Greece fled the country after his attempt to overthrow the Greek Military junta had failed.

1989: A deaf choir from South Wales gave what was claimed to be the first concert using sign language. Performed in unison with a leading male voice choir, it enabled deaf members of the audience to enjoy the concert at the Gwyn Town Hall in West Glamorgan.


1503: Birth of Nostradamus (Michel de Nostradame), French astrologer and physician who published his celebrated book of prophecies, Centuries, in 1555. It seemed many of his prophecies were fulfilled; his fame spread and he was invited to cast horoscopes for Catherine de’Medici, the queen consort.

1546: Birth of Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and mathematician who, with Kepler, proved that the planets orbit the sun in ellipses. The Danish King Frederick II provided an island for an observatory where Brahe was able to carry out some of the most advanced astronomy in Europe.

1819: Alabama became the 22nd state of the Union.

1895: Birth of King George VI, the second son of George V and Mary who succeeded Edward VIII when he abdicated, and led the British through the war years.

1900: Professor Max Planck of Berlin University revealed his revolutionary Quantum Theory.

1911: Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his three companions reached the South Pole 35 days ahead of Scott’s expedition and planted the Norwegian flag on top of an ice mound.

1918: The first woman elected to Parliament was Constance, the Countess Markievicz who won for Sinn Fein contesting a Dublin seat. She was unable to take her seat as she was in Holloway Prison, London, which is why Lady Astor is officially recognized as the first woman member (1919). The 1918 General Election was also the first time women in Britain had the vote.

1920: The first scheduled airliner disaster in aviation history occurred when an airliner with six passengers and two crew took off from Cricklewood Airport, London, for a flight to Paris. Barely airborne, the plane crashed into a house in neighbouring Golders Green, killing the crew and two passengers. The others escaped from the wreckage.

1922: The man who would play a significant part in the history of British broadcasting, John Reith, was appointed General Manager of the fledgling BBC.

1932: The first floodlit rugby league match was held at London’s White City Stadium between Leeds and Wigan.

1959: The shortest murder trial in British legal history took place. In 30 seconds at Winchester Assizes, Brian Cawley pleaded guilty to murder of Rupert Steed and was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

1962: US Mariner II sent the first close-up pictures of the planet Venus back to earth.

1973: John Paul Getty II, teenage grandson of the oil tycoon, was set free by his Italian kidnappers after part of his ear had been cut off and sent by post, together with a ransom note demanding $750,000 which was paid by his grandfather.


37: Birth of Nero, the fifth Roman emperor, who put to death his mother in 59, his wife Octavia in 62, and saw Rome destroyed by fire in 64. His behaviour inspired a revolt which eventually led to his suicide.

1654: A meteorological office established in Tuscany began recording daily temperature readings.

1832: Birth of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, French engineer who built the great landmark that bears his name for the Paris Exhibition of 1899. The Eiffel Tower stands 300 metres (984 feet) high, and when originally proposed, aroused a good deal of hostility and fear that the structure would be an ugly, tall edifice.

1840: The remains of Napoleon returned from St Helena were interred at Les Invalides, Paris.

1852: Birth of Antoine Henri Becquerel, French physicist who shared the Nobel prize in 1903 with the Curies for his discovery of radiation coming from uranium salts.

1859: Birth of Dr Lazarus Ludovic Zamenhof, Polish oculist and linguist who invented the artificial language of Esperanto in 1887.

1892: Birth of Jean Paul Getty, US multimillionaire who was president of the Getty Oil Company from 1947. He later founded the world’s richest art gallery in California, which bears his name.

1916: The Battle of Verdun ended with 364,000 Allied soldiers and 338,000 Germans dead.

1918: Birth of Ahmed Ben Bella, Algerian Prime Minister who led the War of Independence against the French.

1927: The British Parliament rejected the New Book of Common Prayer because it ‘leaned too far towards Rome’ and it was returned for further revision.

1939: Billie Holliday recorded ‘The Man I Love’ in New York.

1939: Nylon yarn was first produced commercially in Delaware.

1964: The Canadian Parliament adopted the maple leaf as the official symbol for the national flag.

1965: Two US spacecraft achieved the first space rendezvous when Gemini 7, with Frank Borman and James A Lovell, Jr, and Gemini 6 with Walter M Schirra, Jr, and Thomas Stafford travelled side by side for four hours.

1978: Laser videodiscs were launched in Atlanta, Georgia, by Magnavision, part of Philips/MCA.

1979: Two 30-year-old Canadians, Chris Haney, picture editor on the Montreal Gazette, and sports writer Scott Abbott, came up with the idea for a game called Trivial Pursuit. It was eventually manufactured in 1982 and sold 45 million copies worldwide in its first five years.

1987: A company in Bedford became the first to be fined (£500) for failing to register personal computer records under the Data Protection Act.


1485: Birth of Catherine of Aragon, first of Henry VIII’s wives. She bore him six children but only one survived (Mary I), and Henry divorced her against the Pope’s wishes, in his pursuit for a male heir.

1653: Following the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell failed to get the Parliament he wanted and became Lord Protector, turning himself into an uncrowned king for the next four years.

1742: Birth of Gebhard Berecht von Blucher, Prussian general nicknamed ‘Marshal Forward’. In the Battle of Waterloo, his forces supported Wellington and tipped the balance against Napoleon.

1773: Taxes by Britain on tea and other commodities led Samuel Adams and 150 ‘Sons of Liberty’ disguised as Mohawk Indians to hold the Boston Tea Party in which 342 tea chests worth £18,000 were tossed off Griffin’s Wharf into Boston Harbour. The War of Independence had begun.

1790: Birth of Leopold I, King of Belgium, the first of an independent nation. He was Queen Victoria’s uncle.

1809: Napoleon divorced his wife Joséphine by Act of the Senate to marry Marie Louise, daughter of the Habsburg Emperor.

1838: The Boers on their Great Trek away from British rule in the Cape Colony, clashed with the mighty Zulu nation. At the Battle of the Blood River, their superior weaponry and clever tactics of forming a laager - a circular fortress using their ox wagons - defeated the Zulus.

1850: The first immigrant ship, the Charlotte Jane, arrived at Lyttleton, New Zealand.

1853: Santa Anna became dictator of Mexico.

1856: Marthinus Pretorius who founded Pretoria the previous year, now established a Boer Republic in the Transvaal.

1914: German warships bombarded the seaside resort of Scarborough, believing it to be a major British port. Several other east coast resorts were hit.

1925: Construction work began on the Mersey Tunnel which would take nine years to complete.

1929: Barnes Wallis saw his R100 airship carry out its first test flight.

1937: The first performance in London of Noel Gay’s Me and My Girl, which introduced ‘The Lambeth Walk’.

1944: The Battle of the Bulge began in the Ardennes when German forces under Field Marshal von Runstedt caught the invading Allied forces at their weakest.

1949: Ahmed Sukarno was elected the first President of Indonesia.

1949: The Voortrekker Monument was unveiled in Pretoria, commemorating the Great Trek north and the consolidation of the Afrikaaner nation.

1951: Freddie Steele was transferred from Mansfield to Port Vale, the first footballer to be involved in a transfer deal.

1954: Professor H T Hall at GEC Laboratories in the US produced the first synthetic diamonds.

1955: London Heathrow opened its new terminal buildings and established itself as the world’s busiest international airport.

1987: Italy’s biggest Mafia trial convicted 13 Mafia bosses to life sentences this day, 22 months after the trial opened. 1,314 people testified and of the 474 defendants, two were shot while out on bail.

1987: Himalayan herdsmen were reported to have offered a £44 reward for help in catching thieves who cut off yaks’ tails for use as dusters or decorations and in certain religious ceremonies.


1843: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was published.

1874: Birth of William Lyon Mackenzie King, three times Prime Minister of Canada during a period from 1921 to 1948.

1892: The first performance of The Nutcracker at St Petersburg (now Leningrad), with music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by Ivanov and danced by the Russian Imperial Ballet.

1849: Thomas and William Bowler, felt hatmakers, sold their first bowler to William Coke, which he purchased at Lock’s of St James.

1903: The Wright brothers’ aircraft made the first flight of a heavier-than-air machine. It made four flights from Kitty Hawke, North Carolina, the longest lasting just under a minute, and all piloted by younger brother Orville.

1939: The German battleship, Admiral Graf Spee, was scuttled in the River Plate off Montevideo, Uruguay.

1971: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.

1986: Mrs Davina Thompson became the world’s first heart, lungs and liver transplant patient in a Cambridge hospital.

1989: Brazilians had their first opportunity for 29 years to elect a president. They chose Fernando Collor de Mello.


1707: Birth of Charles Wesley, English hymn writer who was an evangelist like his brother John, the founder of Methodism. Amongst his 5,500 hymns is ‘Jesu, Lover of my soul’.

1787: New Jersey became the third US state.

1865: The US officially abolished slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

1912: The Piltdown Man was discovered in Sussex by Charles Dawson, claimed to be the fossilized skull and remains of the earliest known European. In 1953 it was proved to be a hoax. The skull was that of an orang-utan.

1913: Birth of Willy Brandt (Karl Herbert Frahm), the illegitimate son of a shop assistant and anti-Nazi who became one of the most charismatic post-war German politicians and West Germany’s chancellor in 1969. He changed his original name after fleeing Germany in 1933 to Norway where he temporarily became a citizen until he could return to Germany after the war.

1971: Stan Mellor, champion English National Hunt jockey, rode his 1,000th winner.

1987: Ivan Boesky, the former US ‘King of Arbitrage’ was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for insider stock exchange dealings. Some of Boesky’s revelations led to the investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry in Britain into Guinness’s takeover of Distillers.


1154: Henry II became King of England. It was during his reign that the conquest of Ireland began.

1863: Linoleum was patented by Frederick Walton of London.

1906: Birth of Leonid Ilich Brezhnev, Soviet politician and President from 1960-63. The following year he became General Secretary and combined this with the position of President.

1955: Carl Perkins recorded his ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ at the Sun Studios, Memphis, Tennessee.

1984: Britain and China signed an agreement for the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

1987: Gary Kasparov defeated Anatoly Karpov in Seville to retain his title as world chess champion for a further three years.


1804: A new game, ‘Emulation’, was published, ‘designed for the Amusement of Youth of both Sexes and calculated to inspire their Minds with an Abhorrence of Vice and a Love of Virtue’. The game was over when a player moving his or her token along the board and passing through various virtues and vices, eventually reached the centre where ‘Virtue is its Own reward’. It never caught on.

1894: Birth of Sir Robert (Gordon) Menzies, Australian Prime Minister from 1939. He returned as leader of the Opposition in 1943. The following year he formed the Australian Liberal Party and in 1949 became Prime Minister of a coalition government which was re-elected six times from 1951 to 1963, retiring as Prime Minister in 1966. He was both knighted and made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1965, formerly held by Churchill.

1906: Birth of Sir Dick White, one-time head of Britain’s secret services, MI5 and MI6.

1915: The ANZACS, Australian and New Zealand forces with British troops, were evacuated from Gallipoli. Over 90,000 men, their weapons and animals were rescued after their expedition, which started in February against the Turks, went seriously wrong.

1928: Harry Ramsden started his fish and chip restaurant in a hut near Bradford, West Yorkshire, which soon became the most famous fish and chip restaurant in the world.

1933: Fred Astaire’s first film with partner Ginger Rogers, Flying Down to Rio, was premiered in New York.

1957: At the height of his career Elvis Presley received his call-up papers.

1973: The Spanish Prime Minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, was killed when a bomb hidden in a tunnel exploded as his car passed over.

1987: A Philippine ferry with more than 1,500 passengers sank in shark-infested waters south of Manila after colliding with an oil tanker. More lives were lost than when the Titanic went down.

1989: General Manuel Noriega, Panama’s former military leader, dictator and alleged drugs baron, was overthrown by a US invasion force invited by the head of the new civilian government, Guillermo Endara.


The Feast Day of St Thomas the Apostle, patron saint of Portugal, and of architects.

1620: The Pilgrim Fathers in the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

1719: The first edition of the Boston Gazette was published.

1804: Birth of Benjamin Disraeli, first Earl of Beaconsfield, British Prime Minister and novelist, author of Endymion (1881). He became the first Conservative Prime Minister in 1868, but was defeated at the next election. He was Prime Minister again in 1874 with a substantial majority which allowed him to carry out reforms.

1846: Robert Liston used anaesthetic (ether) for the first time in a British operation at University College Hospital, London, to perform an amputation of a leg.

1879: The first performance of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen, with a specially revised happy ending to oblige the leading lady. The more realistic ending soon replaced it.

1879: Birth of Joseph Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili), Russian revolutionary whom Lenin had wanted to remove, but died before he could do so, leaving Stalin to impose his harsh ideology, carrying out purges to eliminate critics.

1880: An act passed by the House of Keys on the Isle of Man granted women the vote, provided they were widows or spinsters with a property rated annually at £4 or over. The first opportunity to vote was in April, the following year. In 1901, Norwegian women were allowed to vote, but in local elections only.

1911: The Jules Bonnot gang escaped from a bank holdup in Paris in what is believed to be the first getaway car.

1913: The New York World printed the first crossword puzzle.

1918: Birth of Dr Kurt Waldheim, Austrian chancellor, former secretary-general of the United Nations (appointed this day in 1971), who lied about his war record and was later alleged to have links with Nazi atrocities.

1925: Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin was first screened in Moscow.

1935: Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length colour and sound animated cartoon, was shown in the US.

1958: Charles de Gaulle became President of France.

1963: Undersoil heating was used for the first time at the Leeds Rugby League ground for their match against Dewsbury.

1968: Apollo 8 was launched from Cape Kennedy to orbit the Moon on 27 December.

1988: A US jumbo jet carrying more than 270 people blew up and crashed onto the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The aircraft, en route to New York, had taken off from London after completing its first leg from Germany. The bomb had been hidden in a transistor radio.

1988: Two Russian cosmonauts and a French astronaut returned to earth after a record 366 days in space.


1715: James Stuart, the Old Pretender, landed at Peterhead to lead a Jacobite rebellion which failed.

1864: Savannah, Georgia, fell to General Sherman’s Union troops in the American Civil War.

1877: Liquid oxygen was formulated by Raoul Pictet, Geneva.

1894: Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer who was found guilty of selling military secrets, was sent to Devil’s Island. Innocent of the crime, his conviction sparked off the Dreyfus Affair and he was eventually exonerated.

1895: Roentgen made the first radiograph or x-ray of his wife’s hand.

1965: The 70 mph speed limit was introduced in Britain.

1975: Pro-Palestinian terrorists led by Carlos seized 70 hostages at OPEC’s Vienna headquarters. Austria decided to let the terrorists escape in return for freeing most of the hostages. The remainder were freed once the terrorists landed at Algiers.

1987: Chinese thieves caused chaos in the streets of Xianyang in north China when they stole 2249 manhole covers to sell back to government departments.


1777: Birth of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia whose armies fought Napoleon when he made his disastrous march into Russia.

1805: Birth of Joseph Smith, US leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons, who claimed he had been directed by an angel to buried golden plates written by Indians who were descendants of the Biblical Hebrews.

1812: Birth of Samuel Smiles, English author of Self Help (1859) which sold over 250,000 copies, followed by other self-improvement books such as Thrift (1875) which were meant as the tools of Victorian virtues.

1834: English architect Joseph Hansom patented his ‘safety cab’, better known as the Hansom cab.

1848: The London Illustrated News published the first Christmas supplement with advice on ‘making the Christmas Pudding’.

1888: Vincent Van Gogh, suffering severe depression which was increased by his companion Gauguin’s decision to leave their lodgings at Arles to escape winter, cut off his ear.

1918: Birth of Helmut Schmidt, West German Chancellor following Willy Brandt’s resignation in 1974, and who supported the deployment of US missiles on German soil.

1922: The BBC began daily news broadcasts.

1970: The Mousetrap reached its 7511th consecutive performance to break the world record for the longest running play.

1973: The Shah of Iran announced that his country would increase oil prices 100 per cent.

1987: The first ‘Scrooge’ award by the Low Pay Unit was made to a Wiltshire stable-owner who paid a qualified groom only £28 a week. The runner-up was a doctor employing a telephonist for 30p an hour. The prize was an illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol.

1987: Santa Claus, by arrangement with the Finnish Tourist Board, had an audience with the Pope to prove that ‘the Finnish Santa is the genuine article’.


Christmas Eve

1167: Birth of King John, youngest son of Henry II, King of England, who was forced by the barons to sign the Magna Carta. When he tried to revoke his authorization, civil war broke out.

1491: Birth of Ignatius Loyola, Spanish soldier who became a religious convert when injured in battle and who formed the Jesuits.

1582: Water piped to private houses by the London Bridge Waterworks began flowing.

1809: Birth of (Christopher) Kit Carson, US frontiersman, trapper, scout, Indian agent and national folk hero who played an important part in the westward expansion of the US. He served the Union cause during the Civil War and was made a colonel. Carson City, Nevada, was named after him.

1814: The war of 1812 between the US and Britain was brought to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.

1818: The first performance of the song ‘Silent Night’ (‘Stille Nacht’), music by Franz Gruber with words by his friend Joseph Mohr, a priest at the church in Oberstdorf, Bavaria.

1828: The trial of William Burke began in Edinburgh. The other bodysnatcher, William Hare, had turned King’s evidence and was not therefore brought to trial. Burke had published his full confession in the Edinburgh Courant. Dr Knox, who bought the bodies, was not even called to give evidence. Burke charged sixpence to artists wishing to draw him while in court. Sentenced to death, he was hanged on 28 January, 1829, when the rhyme appeared: ‘Burke’s the murderer, Hare’s the thief/And Knox the boy who buys the beef’.

1851: Part of the Capitol building in Washington and the entire Library of Congress was destroyed by fire.

1871: The first performance of Verdi’s opera Aida was presented in Cairo.

1904: The London Coliseum opened with the first revolving stage in Britain.

1905: Birth of Howard (Robard) Hughes, US tycoon who inherited the Hughes Tool Company on his father’s death and invested some of the money in Hollywood productions including Hell’s Angels (1931) and later Jane Russell’s films including The Outlaw (1943). He was considered a ladies’ man during this period, dating many stars including Ava Gardner. He worked under an assumed name for American Airways, then left after less than a year with enough knowledge not just to start his own aircraft company, but also to design an aircraft to take the airspeed record. In 1950, he became a recluse, by all accounts living a bizarre lifestyle.

1906: The first radio telephone broadcast was demonstrated by Canadian-born Professor Reginald Fessenden from a radio station at Brant Rock, Massachusetts, to ships’ radios within a five-mile range.

1914: A German monoplane dropped a single bomb on Dover, the first ever to be dropped on British soil. It landed on a rectory garden lawn and blew out the house windows.

1922: The BBC broadcast The Truth About Father Christmas by Phillis M Twigg, the first play written for radio in Britain.

1942: At Peenemunde, the Germans launched the world’s first surface-to-surface guided missile, the VI.

1943: General Dwight D Eisenhower was appointed by Roosevelt to be Commander-in-Chief of the invasion of Europe. The desk-bound general had never fought a single campaign.

1944: The Germans flew the first jet aircraft for wartime use.

1965: A meteorite weighing about 100 lbs landed on Leicestershire, possibly the largest to fall on Britain in modern times.

1974: The Beatles’ partnership was legally dissolved.

1979: Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan as the Kabul government fell.


Christmas Day

1066: William the Conqueror was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

1176: The first eisteddfod took place at Cardigan Castle.

1741: The Centigrade temperature scale was devised by Anders Celsius and incorporated into a Delisle thermometer at Uppsala in Sweden.

1800: The first Christmas tree in Britain was erected at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor by the German-born Queen Charlotte, wife of George III who brought the idea over from Germany where the first reports of Christmas trees go back to 1521.

1864: The traditional swim in the ice-cold Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park was initiated.

1866: The US yacht Henrietta sailed into Cowes harbour, Isle of Wight, the winner of the first transatlantic yacht race.

1876: Birth of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Indian politician who, as a Muslim, opposed Gandhi’s policies for a united India, demanding a separate Muslim state. He was made the first Governor-General of Pakistan in 1947.

1887: Birth of Conrad (Nicholson) Hilton, US hotelier who founded one of the largest groups in the world. He began by helping his father turn their large New Mexican house into an inn for travelling salesmen.

1914: The famous Christmas truce between British and German troops bogged down in the trenches on the western front during the First World War led to fraternizing and swapping presents in no man’s land. At midnight, they began to shoot each other again.

1918: Birth of Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt from 1970 who initiated peace talks with Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister Begin. They both shared the Nobel Peace prize for accomplishing a reconciliation.

1926: Hirohito acceded to the throne of Japan on the death of his father Yoshihito.

1932: King George V made the first Royal Christmas broadcast to the Empire. Queen Elizabeth II made her first Christmas broadcast in 1952, and her first television Christmas message was broadcast in 1957.

1941: Hong Kong fell to the Japanese after a seven-day battle.

1950: The Stone of Scone, the Scottish coronation stone which had been in Westminster Abbey for 650 years was stolen by Scottish nationalists. The Stone, weighing 458 lbs, was said to have been taken from Scotland by Edward I.

1959: Sony launched their transistor television set, the Sony TV 8-301 in Japan.

1972: The Nicaraguan capital of Managua was devastated by an earthquake which killed over 10,000 people.

1989: The former dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, who had been in hiding since 22 December when the hated regime was toppled, were arrested, tried and found guilty of ‘genocide’ by a military court. They were executed this Christmas Day.


Boxing Day, also the traditional starting day for English pantomimes.

1717: The first pantomime, Harlequin Executed presented by John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, London.

1893: Birth of Mao Tse-tung, Chinese Communist leader who was a founder of the party in 1921 and organized the Long March. He led his nation after the war of liberation, from 1947 to his death. Chairman Mao’s famous Little Red Book with his thoughts, was issued to all the population.

1898: Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium while experimenting with pitchblende.

1906: The world’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, made in Australia, was screened in Melbourne.

1908: ‘Galveston Jack’ Johnson became the first black boxer to win a world-heavyweight title when he beat Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia. It shocked white boxing fans and so began the quest for the Great White Hope to put this ‘uppity n***** in his place’.

1932: The BBC presented the first televised panto, Dick Whittington.

1943: The last major German battleship, the Scharnhorst, was sunk by the Royal Navy.

1948: Bertrand Russell delivered the first Reith Lecture on the BBC, entitled Authority and the Individual.


1571: Birth of Johannes Kepler, German astronomer who discovered and confirmed Copernicus’s theory that the earth and planets circle the sun in elliptical orbits.

1773: Birth of Sir George Cayley, English pioneer of the study of aerodynamics who built the first successful glider to be flown by a man - his reluctant coachman - in 1853. One of his later inventions was the caterpillar tractor.

1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur, French chemist and bacteriologist who discovered that microorganisms cause fermentation and infection and later developed a vaccine for rabies. His pupil Lister developed this research into the field of antiseptic surgery.

1831: Charles Darwin set sail in the Beagle from Plymouth on his voyage of scientific discovery.

1904: The first performance in London of James Barrie’s Peter Pan with Nina Boucicault as the first Peter and Gerald du Maurier as Captain Hook.

1904: The world’s first state subsidized theatre, the Abbey in Dublin, opened with two short plays, one by Yeats, the other by Lady Gregory.

1927: Broadway saw the first performance of Jerome Kern’s musical Show Boat, presented by Florenz Ziegfeld. It introduced songs including ‘Ol’ Man River’ and ‘Bill’ (with words by P G Wodehouse).

1945: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established in Washington.

1975: The Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts came into effect in Britain.

1984: The four police officers accused of killing the pro-Solidarity priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, went on trial in Poland.


1846: Iowa became the 29th state of the Union.

1856: Birth of (Thomas) Woodrow Wilson, 28th US President, elected 1912 and 1916, who was one of the founders of the League of Nations.

1879: The Tay railway bridge collapsed when the Edinburgh to Dundee train was crossing. The engine and carriages plummeted into the icy river below killing 90 people.

1904: The first weather reports relayed by wireless telegraphy were published in London.

1908: An earthquake killed over 75,000 at Messina in Sicily.

1926: At Melbourne, the highest score in a single innings in first-class cricket was 1107, hit by Victoria. New South Wales bowler, Arthur Mailey, ended with a world record 362 runs for four wickets.

1950: The first British national park was designated: the Peak District.

1963: The last That Was The Week That Was, television’s first satirical show, was broadcast by the BBC. It was pulled off while still commanding huge audiences because 1964 was to be election year; it was felt the show could influence voters.


1720: The Theatre Royal Haymarket opened.

1721: Birth of Jeanne Antoinette, Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, a woman of fashion who attracted the eye of the King. She became involved in matters of state and also diverted its wealth to supply her own lavish lifestyle.

1808: Birth of Andrew Johnson, 17th US President, the former military governor of Tennessee who became Vice-President in 1865 and took over the presidency on Lincoln’s assassination. His unpopular policies led to impeachment proceedings being brought against him but he was acquitted.

1809: Birth of William (Ewart) Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister in 1868-74 which allowed him to carry out major reforms. He was elected in 1880-85, and again in 1866. When his Home Rule Bill was defeated, he resigned. He became Prime Minister again in 1892 and resigned two years later, this time when his Home Rule Bill was rejected by the Lords.

1845: Texas became the 28th state of the Union.

1860: The first iron-clad screw-driven British warship, HMS Warrior, was launched.

1890: The last major battle between US forces and the Indians took place at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, when 200 Sioux Indians under Chief Big Foot were massacred by Colonel Forsyth’s 7th Cavalry.

1895: The Jameson Raid into the Transvaal to aid the Uitlanders (mainly British settlers) in the Boer Colony, began.

1911: Birth of Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs, German physicist and spy who settled in Britain in 1933 and studied at Edinburgh and Bristol Universities. During the war he was involved in the Manhattan Project - the development of the atomic bomb - but he was meeting Soviet agents and passing them secrets. He was later charged with spying, confessed and served nine years in prison.

1911: Sun Yat-sen became the first president of a republican China following the revolution.

1930: Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting.

1937: The Irish Republic changed its name to Eire as the new constitution was implemented.

1940: German bombers dropped 10,000 bombs on London on one of the worst nights ever during ‘The Battle of Britain’.

1951: The first transistor hearing aid went on sale in the US.

1952: The coelacanth, a prehistoric fish believed to be extinct, was caught off the coast of South Africa.

1972: The 16 survivors from the crashed Uruguayan Fairchild F227 which had been chartered by an amateur rugby team en route to Montevideo, were rescued on the Andes. The crash had taken place on 13 October, and it was only later that the 16 revealed their survival had been possible because they ate the flesh of their dead companions.

1989: Vaclav Havel was sworn in as President of Czechoslovakia.


1672: The first public concert was held in London. The musicians performed behind a curtain while patrons ate cakes and drank ale.

1879: The first performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at Paignton, Devon.

1880: Transvaal became a republic with Paul Kruger as the first president.

1887: A petition addressed to Queen Victoria with over one million names of women appealing for public houses to be closed on Sundays was handed to the Home Secretary.

1922: Russia officially became the USSR - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

1948: The first performance of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate in New York with songs ‘Wunderbar’ and ‘Always True to You In My Fashion’.

1973: The head of Marks and Spencer’s, Lord Sieff, was wounded by an Arab gunman at his home in St John’s Wood.


New Year’s Eve, and Hogmanay in Scotland.

1491: Birth of Jacques Cartier, French navigator who explored the St Lawrence river and named the site of Montreal during his Canadian explorations.

1687: The first Huguenots set sail from France for the Cape of Good Hope where they would escape religious persecution and create the South African wine industry with the vines they took with them on the voyage.

1695: The window tax was imposed in Britain which resulted in many being bricked up, evidence which remains to this day.

1720: Birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart), also known as the ‘Young Pretender’, in Rome. With his followers he landed in Scotland in 1745, capturing Edinburgh and setting up court at the Palace of Holyrood. He scored a further victory at Prestonpans, but his decision to march on London brought him head on with the British army and defeat at Culloden.

1880: Birth of George Marshall, US general and statesman who directed the Marshall Aid plan to help the post-war recovery of Europe.

1890: Ellis Island in New York was opened as the immigration depot to handle the ‘huddled masses’.

1911: Marie Curie received her second Nobel prize, unprecedented in the history of the award.

1917: Sugar was rationed in Britain as a result of shortages during the First World War, the first time food rationing had ever been imposed in Britain on a national scale.

1923: The chimes of Big Ben were broadcast by the BBC for the first time.

1935: Charles Darrow patented his board game ‘Monopoly’, which he had first invented in 1933.

1938: In Indianapolis, Dr R N Harger’s ‘Drunkometer’ was officially used to breathalyse drivers by the Indianapolis Police Department.

1960: The farthing ceased to be legal tender in Britain at midnight.

1968: The Russian supersonic airliner TU-144 made its inaugural flight from Moscow to Alma Ata, several months ahead of the Anglo-French Concorde.

1973: The three-day week began in Britain as a result of power strikes; it would lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Edward Heath and his government.

1988: At midnight, when the Queen’s New Year honours list was revealed, world champion Eric Bristow - ‘the Crafty Cockney’ - became the first ever darts player to receive an MBE.

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