1449: Birth of Florentine statesman Lorenzo de’Medici, known as ‘Lorenzo the Magnificent’. At that time the power and influence of Florence was at its height, and Lorenzo was a patron of the arts and a poet.

1583: The Gregorian calendar was adopted by German and Swiss states. England followed suit in 1752, Russia in 1918, and Greece in 1923. The Gregorian calendar is now used worldwide.

1660: Samuel Pepys began writing the Diary which he kept for nine years, writing in an early form of shorthand.

1716: Death of William Wycherley, English playwright and author of The Country Wife.

1735: Birth of Paul Revere, silversmith and American patriot. Revere became a folk hero for riding from Charlestown to Lexington during the American War of Independence in 1775, to warn that the British were advancing. In fact, Revere was detained by the British. It was Dr Prescott who delivered the warning.

1766: Death in Rome of ‘the Old Pretender’, James Stuart, father of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

1772: The London Credit Exchange Company issued the first traveller’s cheques, accepted in 90 cities and guaranteed against theft.

1781: The first all-iron bridge in the world, Iron Bridge in Shropshire, was opened to traffic.

1785: John Walter published the first issue of the Daily Universal Register. In 1788 it was renamed The Times.

1808: The importing of slaves into the US was stopped.

1814: In Swansea, the first Welsh-language newspaper, Seren Gomer, was published.

1841: The first all-metal camera went on sale, marketed by Voigtlander of Vienna.

1854: Birth of Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. In The Golden Bough, published in 1892, he traced the development of thinking from magic to science.

1858: The island of Tasmania received the name by which it is known today. Abel Tasman, the European who discovered it, had named it Van Dieman’s land after his expedition’s Dutch admiral.

1863: Birth of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, French founder of the modern Olympics.

1876: The first British trademark was registered, for Bass Pale Ale.

1879: Birth of British novelist Edward Morgan Forster. His novels include A Room with a View (1908) and A Passage to India (1926). For a brief time he was the literary editor of the Daily Herald.

1879: Birth in Hungary of Wilhelm Fried, later known as William Fox. In America he bought an unsuccessful penny arcade and developed it into a cinema chain. Later he founded Fox Films (now 20th Century Fox), to make films that would bring in the audiences.

1881: The first British postal orders were issued.

1887: The British Prime Minister, Disraeli, had Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India.

1890: Nets were used for the first time in the goal-mouth at a football match in Bolton.

1891: Old age pensions were introduced in Germany. 18 years later, in 1909, pensions for people over 70 and with an annual income of less than £21, were introduced in Britain; pensioners received five shillings a week.

1892: Birth of Pastor Martin Niemoller. He was a German priest, and a U-boat commander in the First World War. He was persecuted for his stand against the influence of Nazism on the German church.

1894: Death of German physicist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, who discovered radio waves.

1894: The Manchester Ship Canal was opened. The canal linked Manchester to the River Mersey in Liverpool.

1895: Birth of John Edgar Hoover, founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which he ran from 1924 to 1972. He established the world’s largest fingerprint file and crime detection laboratory.

1901: Birth of Xavier Cugat, ‘The Rumba King’, in Spain. He travelled through Cuba and ended up in Hollywood, playing at the Coconut Grove.

1901: The Commonwealth of Australia was established. Edmund Barton became Prime Minister.

1905: Official opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which extended as far as Vladivostok, the port in eastern Russia. The journey between Vladivostok and Paris took 21 days.

1909: Birth of Dana Andrews, US film actor, brother of the actor Steve Forrest. His films include Laura (1944) and A Walk in the Sun (1946).

1912: Birth of Harold ‘Kim’ Philby. Although British, he became a spy for the Soviet Union in 1933, before joining British intelligence. Together with Burgess, Maclean, and Blunt, he passed top secrets to the Russians.

1914: The first scheduled airline began operating from Florida.

1920: Birth of Jerome David Salinger, author of the cult novel The Catcher in the Rye.

1944: Death of Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, English architect of the Whitehall Cenotaph.

1947: Today the British coal industry was nationalized. In 1948 the railways followed suit, and the steel industry was also nationalized in 1951.

1955: Luncheon Vouchers were introduced, offered as a perk to British office workers.

1958: On 25 November 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed by France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, and the result was that on this day, the EEC came into being. In 1973, Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined, and Spain and Portugal followed in 1986.

1959: In Cuba, the Batista regime was overthrown by Fidel Castro.

1962: The Beatles had an audition for Decca Records, who turned them down and signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead.

1964: Jimmy Savile presented the very first Top of the Pops.

1965: Stanley Matthews was knighted, the first professional footballer to receive this honour.

1972: The French stage and film entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, died this day.

1975: John Erlichman, John Mitchell and H R Haldeman, all participants in the Watergate affair, were found guilty of obstructing the course of justice.

1975: Charlie Chaplin was knighted.

1975: P G Wodehouse was knighted, but subsequently lived for only one month. His knighthood was controversial, since he had done broadcasts from occupied France, where he was trapped during the invasion.

1989: Death of Hans Schlumf, the Swiss collector of vintage cars. He and his brother Fritz accumulated over 500 vintage cars in France, but in 1976 they were accused of misusing company funds and fled to Switzerland.


The Feast Day of St Marcarius, patron saint of confectioners.

17: Death in Rome of the poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso).

17: The historian Livy died in Rome. He wrote a history of the city of Rome which spanned 142 volumes.

1635: The Académie Française was established by Cardinal Richelieu in order to safeguard the purity of the French language.

1727: Birth of the British general James Wolfe, who died capturing Quebec from the French.

1757: Clive of India captured Calcutta. It had been seized by the Nawab of Bengal, who imprisoned 146 British in the infamous ‘black hole’. Only 23 of those prisoners survived.

1769: The Royal Academy opened on this day, with Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first president.

1788: Georgia was the fourth state to join the Union.

1839: The first photograph of the moon was taken by Louis Daguerre, the Frenchman who was a pioneer of photography.

1866: Birth in Sydney of Professor Gilbert Murray, the classical scholar. He studied in England from the age of 11, and remained there for the rest of his life. He made many translations of Greek drama into English, some of which were staged as new productions.

1868: Birth of Arthur William Charles ‘Wentworth’ Gore, the English tennis player. He competed at Wimbledon on every occasion from 1888 to 1927, winning the men’s singles championship in 1901 and 1908, and becoming the oldest winner in 1909.

1883: Death of Charles Sherwood Stratton (‘General Tom Thumb’). He was a midget, only 31 inches (90 cm) tall, and was exhibited by P T Barnum in his circus.

1900: The first electric omnibus ran in New York City.

1903: When a post office in Missouri refused to employ a black postmistress, President Roosevelt had it closed.

1905: Birth of Sir Michael Tippett, the English composer. His oratorio A Child of Our Time demonstrates his strong concern for social issues; during the war he tried, and failed, to get exemption as a conscientious objector, and was imprisoned.

1905: The Russians surrendered Port Arthur, Manchuria, to the Japanese.

1920: Birth of Professor Isaac Asimov, in Russia. He was a biochemist, but is probably best remembered for his science-fiction writing. He wrote over 200 books, including the ‘Foundation’ trilogy.

1935: The trial of Bruno Hauptmann began in New Jersey. He was accused of kidnapping and murdering the 19-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh, the US aviator. He was found guilty, and executed in April of the following year.

1938: Birth of David (Royston) Bailey, English photographer.

1944: Helicopters were used in warfare for the first time, as three US Sikorsky helicopters went on patrol with an Atlantic convoy.

1959: In Tyuratam, USSR, the unmanned Luna I was launched, to pass close to the moon.

1971: At the Ibrox Park football ground in Glasgow, 66 spectators were crushed to death when a barrier collapsed.

1974: Death of Tex Ritter, US stage and screen singing cowboy.

1988: A New York accountant finally claimed his $3 million lottery jackpot, which he had won 45 days earlier. He said he had waited until the New Year in order to save about $15,000 in taxes.


106 BC: Birth of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman orator and statesman. After Caesar was assassinated, he made speeches supporting republicanism, and was eventually killed for his outspokenness.

1521: Excommunication of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, who had refused to recant his criticisms of the Catholic Church.

1777: The Battle of Princeton ended with George Washington’s defeat of the British, led by Cornwallis.

1875: Death of Josiah Wedgwood, English potter. The pottery he founded remains one of the most famous in the world.

1823: Birth of Robert Whitehead. Whitehead was a British inventor who created the self-propelled torpedo.

1840: Birth of Father Damien (Joseph de Veuster), the Belgian missionary who became a legend for his work with lepers in Molokai, one of the Hawaiian islands. His selfless work resulted in his death from that terrible disease.

1875: Death of Pierre Larousse, the editor and encyclopaedist.

1883: Birth of Clement (Richard) Attlee, British Labour Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, during which time he carried out dramatic social reforms.

1888: Birth of Herbert (Stanley) Morrison, the Labour MP. He was a cabinet minister in both the Churchill and Attlee administrations, and during his premiership led the House of Commons.

1888: Paper drinking straws were patented in the States.

1892: Birth of John Ronald Reuel Tolkein, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. As well as being the author of the mythological tales The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, he was also a philologist.

1908: Birth of Ray Milland (Reginald Truscott-Jones), the US actor. In 1945 Milland won an Oscar for his role as an alcoholic in The Lost Weekend.

1909: Birth of Victor Borge (Borge Rosenbaum), Danish pianist and musical comedian.

1911: In a house Sidney Street in the East End of London, police trapped two members of a group of foreign anarchists who had killed three policemen during a robbery three weeks earlier. Thus began the Siege of Sidney Street. When the fugitives shot at police, the Scots Guards were summoned from the Tower of London, and Winston Churchill, who was then Home Secretary, arrived on the scene to find the house in flames. No firefighters were sent in to put out the blaze, and the house eventually collapsed, burning the anarchists to death.

1923: Death of Jaroslav Hasek, Czech satirist who wrote The Good Soldier Svejk. He had planned six volumes, but only lived to complete four.

1924: In the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor, Egypt, the English explorer Howard Carter discovered the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. On 12 February the sarcophagus was opened, and inside was the golden effigy of the young king.

1926: Birth of George Martin, British record producer. As head of Polydor Records, he produced recordings by the Beatles and other major pop groups.

1940: Unity Mitford, one of the famous Mitford girls, returned to England after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in the Englischer Garten in Munich. She had been greatly attracted to Fascism, idolizing Hitler, but when Britain declared war she was so distraught that she tried to shoot herself.

1942: Birth of John Thaw, the British actor who is best known for his major roles in the television series The Sweeney and Inspector Morse.

1945: Birth of Victoria Principal, American actress who is best known for her role in the television series Dallas.

1946: William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) was hanged for treason in London. The Irishman had broadcast propaganda from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

1947: The US House of Representatives was shown on television for the first time.

1958: Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole. He had already climbed Everest five years before.

1959: Alaska joined the US as the 49th, and largest, state.

1961: The US broke off diplomatic relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.

1961: The millionth Morris Minor came off the assembly line at Oxford. This British car, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, was a huge success.

1967: Jack Ruby died in hospital from a blood clot in the lungs. He had been sentenced to death for shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, who in turn was waiting to stand trial for allegedly assassinating President Kennedy.

1979: Death of Conrad Hilton, US hotelier.

1988: The first advertisements in a Soviet newspaper appeared in Izvestiya. One was a full-page advertisement by a French industrial company, the other was shared by Soviet, West German and Belgian industrial companies.


1785: Birth of Jakob Grimm, the elder brother of the famous German folklorist duo who published the first volume of their Fairy Tales in 1812. He was also a philologist, and he invented the word ‘umlaut’.

1809: Birth of Louis Braille, the Frenchman who invented an alphabet that the blind could read by touch.

1813: Birth of Sir Isaac Pitman, an English publisher who invented the first major shorthand system.

1835: Bell’s Life in London was the first newspaper to print a chess column.

1878: Birth of Augustus (Edwin) John. A member of the Royal Academy, he was a great portrait painter, and was also fascinated by gypsy lore.

1884: The British socialist organization known as the Fabian Society was founded. The society was named after Fabius Maximus, who wanted to introduce gradual reforms. Bernard Shaw was a member.

1885: Mary Gartside, a 22-year-old farm girl, underwent the first successful appendectomy, performed in Iowa by Dr Williams West Grant.

1895: On the parade ground of the Military Academy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus suffered ritual degradation after being falsely accused of treason. He was tried, found guilty, and sent to Devil’s Island, but in 1906 he was at last exonerated.

1896: Utah became the 45th state of the Union.

1914: Birth of Jane Wyman (Sarah Jane Faulks), US film actress who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a deaf mute in Johnny Belinda. In that same year, 1948, she was divorced from Ronald Reagan.

1932: Gandhi was arrested, his National Congress of India declared illegal by the British administration.

1935: Birth of Floyd Patterson, who in 1956 became the youngest world heavyweight boxing champion. In 1960 he was the first person to regain the title.

1936: The first pop music chart, based on national record sales, was published in the States by Billboard magazine.

1937: Birth of Grace Bumbry, the first black opera singer to perform at Bayreuth. She studied with Lotte Lehmann.

1938: Bertram Mills’ Circus became the first circus to be shown on television. This was also the first time that a paying audience for any event had been televised, and audience members were informed that they could request seats out of range of the cameras.

1944: The British Fifth Army in Italy launched the attack on Monte Casino.

1948: Burma became fully independent outside the British Commonwealth.

1951: The Communists captured Seoul, capital of South Korea.

1957: A dissatisfied rhinoplasty patient was sentenced in London to ten years’ imprisonment. He had threatened his surgeon with a gun, complaining that his nose was too short.

1958: Death of Ralph Vaughan Williams, English composer.

1960: Death, in a car crash, of Albert Camus, the Nobel-prizewinning French novelist.

1960: Death of Donald Campbell, son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, in the Lake District in England, in an attempt to break the world water speed record. He had a good first run on Coniston Water, but for some reason did not stop to refuel and hit the wake during the second run. The Bluebird somersaulted at high speed, and Campbell died instantly.

1961: The Copenhagen apprentice barbers’ strike finally ended, after 23 years.

1965: Death of Thomas Stearns Eliot, American poet and critic.

1972: Rose Heilbron became Britain’s first woman judge at the Old Bailey.

1980: The body of Joy Adamson, the German-born naturalist, was found at her home in Kenya. She had been murdered. She was best known for her book, Born Free, about Elsa the lioness.

1986: Death of Christopher Isherwood, English novelist and playwright. His novel, Goodbye to Berlin, was adapted for the stage as the musical Cabaret.

1985: Death of Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks, the British military strategist. He was commander in North Africa during the Second World War.

1988: Death of Karni Bheel, Indian moustache-growing champion. He was decapitated and his head, complete with 7ft 10in moustache, was removed. The rest of his corpse was found in a cart in west Rajasthan city, where there is fierce competition to grow the most luxuriant moustache.


1066: Death of Edward the Confessor, the English king, called ‘the Confessor’ for his great piety. His death led to the Norman Conquest.

1477: Death of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The French and Swiss forces combined at the Battle of Nancy to foil his invasion of France, and he died in the battle.

1589: Death of Catherine de’Medici, wife of Henry II of France.

1779: Birth of Stephen Decatur, US naval commander. It was Decatur who first said, ‘Our country, right or wrong’.

1787: Birth of John Burke, the British genealogist who founded Burke’s Peerage, which first appeared in 1826.

1855: Birth of King Camp Gillette. Gillette invented the safety razor, putting it on the market in 1903. It was a huge success; within a year, he was producing 90,000 razors and over 12.4 million blades.

1876: Birth of Konrad Adenauer, the ‘Old Fox’. He became Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, having previously been imprisoned by the Nazis.

1887: Birth of Clifford Grey. He is best known for writing the lyrics to the songs ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’ and ‘Spread a Little Happiness’.

1896: Roentgen, the German physicist, demonstrated X-rays for the first time. The previous year, he had discovered X-rays while studying the passage of electricity through gases.

1902: Birth of Stella (Dorothea) Gibbons, English novelist and journalist who produced the well-known satire Cold Comfort Farm in 1932.

1906: Birth of Kathleen Kenyon, British archaeologist. She used radio carbon dating to date the remains of Jericho.

1909: Birth of Jean-Pierre Aumont (Jean-Pierre Salomons), the French actor who cornered the Hollywood market in handsome Europeans.

1919: A Munich plumber named Anton Drexler formed the German Workers’ Party, which Hitler later transformed into the Nazi Party.

1920: Birth of Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

1921: Birth of HRH Jean, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

1922: Death of Sir Ernest Shackleton, British Antarctic explorer, on the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. He was on an expedition to Enderby Land.

1925: In Wyoming, Nellie Taylor Ross became the first woman governor in the United States.

1928: Birth of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who went on to become president of Pakistan, but was executed for his part in a conspiracy to murder a political rival.

1931: Birth of Robert Duvall, US film actor. He first appeared in 1963, in To Kill a Mockingbird, alongside Gregory Peck, and later proved to be a leading character actor in Apocalypse Now (1979).

1931: Birth of Alfred Brendel, Austrian concert pianist and honorary KBE. In London in 1962, he played all of Beethoven’s sonatas in a single season.

1933: Death of John Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President.

1938: Birth of King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

1938: Billie Holiday recorded ‘When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)’ in New York.

1938: The BBC began broadcasting Bandwagon, its first radio comedy series, with Arthur Askey and Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch.

1940: Major Edward H Armstrong demonstrated FM radio for the first time in the States. Within a year, the first FM transmitter was up and running.

1941: Death of Amy Johnson (Mollison), record-breaking English aviator, while ferrying an aircraft on a flight across a Thames estuary in foggy conditions. The plane was found in the muddy water, but Johnson’s body was never recovered. She was one of the world’s great aviators, having flown solo from Britain to Australia.

1941: Birth of Mansur Ali Khan, former Nawab of Pataudi and former Indian cricket captain.

1942: Birth of Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini.

1943: Birth of Eusébio (Ferreira da Silva Eusébio), Brazilian footballer.

1946: Birth of Diane Keaton (Diane Hall), US film actress. After understudying in the musical Hair in 1968, she went on to play opposite Woody Allen on Broadway the following year in Play it Again, Sam. She starred in several of his films, winning an Oscar for best actress for Annie Hall (1977).

1960: The last journey of the Mumbles Railway, the oldest in the world. It was set up in 1804 as a goods railway running from Swansea to Mumbles Head, Wales, and began carrying passengers in 1807. In 1988, Swansea Council announced that it would consider the possibility of reviving the railway to run around the bay.

1964: For the first time in 500 years, leaders of both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches met. Pope Paul VI was touring the Holy Land, and in Jerusalem he met the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

1971: The body of Sonny Liston, former world heavyweight boxing champion, was found at his US home. He had been dead at least a week.

1971: One-day cricket was born when 46,000 turned up to watch England play Australia at Melbourne. The test match had been rained out for several days previously.

1976: Giscard d’Estaing, the French premier, promulgated a law banning foreign words in advertising; from now on products could be advertised only in French.


Twelfth Night (after Christmas). In the mid-19th century, it was the custom in London for groups of boys to assemble around pastry shops and nail coat-tails of unsuspecting pedestrians to the wooden window frame as they paused to look into the shop. With a single blow of the hammer, a boy would strike a nail through the coat-tail, much to the amusement of other passers-by until they, in turn, also found themselves nailed.

871: King Alfred won the Battle of Ashdown against the Danes.

1066: Coronation of Harold II as King of England, succeeding Edward the Confessor. He reigned for ten months before he died in the Battle of Hastings.

1367: Birth in Bordeaux of King Richard II, the last of the Plantagenet kings of England, the son of Edward the Black Prince.

1412: Birth of St Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans. She is a great heroine of French history. She believed she had a divine mission to drive the British from France. She died at the stake after being captured by the Burgundians and sold to the British.

1540: King Henry VIII married ‘the Flanders Mare’, Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. (‘The King found her so different from her picture... that... he swore they had brought him a Flanders mare.’)

1714: Birth of Percival Pott, the English surgeon who has both a fracture and a disease named after him.

1745: Birth of Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, French balloonist and paper manufacturer. With his brother Joseph (1740-1810), he made the first successful flight in a hot-air balloon.

1822: Birth of Heinrich Schliemann, German archaeologist. Schliemann discovered and excavated the legendary cities of Troy and Mycenae, where he believed he found the grave of Agamemnon.

1832: Birth of Gustave Doré, French painter and illustrator.

1838: Samuel Morse, the US inventor, demonstrated his electric telegraph system.

1838: Birth of German composer Max Bruch.

1872: Birth of Russian composer Aleksandr Scriabin.

1880: Birth of Tom Mix, the Texas ranger and US marshal who, with his horse ‘Tony’, became one of the best-known film actors in westerns.

1912: New Mexico became the 47th state of the Union.

1926: Founding of Lufthansa, the national airline of Germany.

1928: Four people were drowned, and many paintings in the basement of the Tate Gallery were severely damaged, when the Thames flooded. The water was deep enough to fill the moat of the Tower of London.

1930: Australian batsman Don Bradman, batting for New South Wales, scored 452 not out against Queensland in his first innings, which included 49 boundaries.

1938: The 82-year-old Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, arrived in London from Vienna with several of his students, to escape the persecution of Jews in his home town.

1988: La Coupole, the famous Parisian brasserie, was sold for £6 million, destined to become an office block. Frequented by Vlaminck, Derain, James Joyce and later by Hemingway, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein and other notable Americans, the restaurant was famous for its Welsh rarebit.


1450: Glasgow University, Scotland, was founded.

1558: The French recaptured Calais from the English, led by the Duke of Guise.

1610: Galileo discovered the four moons of Jupiter, which he named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

1618: Francis Bacon became Lord Chancellor of England. Later this year he was accused of taking a bribe, and fined £40,000.

1768: Birth of Joseph Bonaparte, eldest brother of Napoleon, who became King of Naples in 1806, and King of Spain two years later.

1785: Jean-Pierre Blanchard piloted a hot-air balloon across the Channel from Dover to Calais, accompanied by the American Dr John Jeffries, who financed the trip.

1789: The first national elections were held in the United States. George Washington would become the first president.

1800: Birth of Millard Fillmore, who became the thirteenth US president in 1850 on the death of Zachary Taylor.

1834: Birth of Johann Philipp Reis, the German inventor. Fifteen years before Bell’s telephone was patented, Reis demonstrated his own version of the electrical telephone.

1844: Birth of Marie-Bernard Soubirous, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. She was an asthma sufferer who claimed to see visions of the Virgin Mary at a spring near her home, which was to become the shrine at Lourdes.

1857: The London Central Omnibus Company began operating this day.

1873: Birth of Adolph Zukor, the Hungarian-born pioneer of the film industry and its first centenarian (he lived until 1976).

1889: Birth of Arthur Clifford Hartley, the English inventor of World War II’s PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean) and FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operation).

1899: Birth of French composer Francis Poulenc.

1904: The CQD distress signal was introduced. CQ apparently stood for ‘seek you’, and the D for ‘danger’. It lasted just two years before being replaced with SOS.

1927: Abraham Sapperstein of Chicago founded The Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

1927: Opening of the transatlantic telephone service between New York and London.

1937: Marriage of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands to Prince Bernhard.

1975: OPEC agreed to increase prices of crude oil by ten per cent. This precipitated massive inflation worldwide and drove developing nations to the edge of bankruptcy.

1988: At Bayreuth University in West Germany, Professor Frank Pobell and his team of scientists announced that they had achieved the lowest ever temperature in a laboratory. They had succeeded in cooling a block of metal to 12 millionths of a degree above absolute zero.

1990: For the first time since its opening in 1275, the Leaning Tower of Pisa had to be closed to the public for safety reasons.


1800: London opened its first soup kitchens for the poor.

1806: Britain occupied the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town, South Africa), formerly held by the Dutch.

1815: Britain lost the last battle it ever fought against the US in the War of 1812. General Sir Edward Pakenham and his men were defeated at New Orleans.

1824: Birth of Wilkie Collins, English novelist. He created ‘Sergeant Cuff’, the first detective to appear in fiction, in his novel The Moonstone.

1871: Birth of James Craig, the first prime minister of Northern Ireland and the first Viscount Craigavon.

1885: Birth of John Curtin, Australian Labour politician who became Prime Minister in 1941.

1889: Birth of Solomon Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. When he was assassinated, his wife Sirimavo succeeded him, becoming the world’s first woman Prime Minister.

1889: Dr Herman Hollerith of New York patented an electrical computer for processing data. He formed a company to market it, and the company grew until it became the world-famous IBM.

1902: Birth of Georgi Maksimilianovich Malenkov, Prime Minister of the Soviet Union from 1953 until he was replaced by Khrushchev in 1955.

1921: David Lloyd George was the first Prime Minister to reside in Chequers, a country mansion in Buckinghamshire which had been given by Lord Lee of Fareham as a gift to the nation.

1926: Ibn Saud became King of the Hejaz, and renamed it Saudi Arabia.

1935: Birth of ‘the king of rock ‘n’ roll’, Elvis Presley.

1937: Birth of singer Shirley Bassey.

1947: Birth of David Bowie.

1959: General Charles de Gaulle became the President of the French Fifth Republic.

1961: At the British Navy’s Underwater Establishment in Portland, Dorset, the Canadian Gordon Lonsdale and four others were arrested for spying.

1963: A serious fire broke out in the Empire State Building, New York, resulting in damage to seven floors.

1967: The Forsyte Saga, the television adaptation of Galsworthy’s novel, screened its first episode. It starred Eric Porter, Kenneth More, Susan Hampshire and Nyree Dawn Porter. It was so popular that for the six months of its run, many churches had to change the times of their services!

1971: The British ambassador in Uruguay, Sir Geoffrey Jackson, was kidnapped by Tupamaros guerrillas. He was held hostage but eventually released unharmed.

1982: Spain ended its siege of the British colony of Gibraltar and reopened the frontier. In return, Britain agreed to open negotiations on Gibraltar’s future, and ended its opposition to Spain joining the EEC.

1989: 47 people were killed and over 80 injured when a British Midland 737-400 jet crashed on the M1 motorway, less than half a mile from East Midlands Airport. One engine had had to be switched off and the other had suddenly shut down, forcing the plane into an emergency landing.


1735: Birth of John Jervis (Earl of St Vincent), the British admiral. In 1797, he and Nelson, who was then a captain, defeated the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent.

1799: William Pitt the Younger introduced an income tax of two shillings in the pound. He was forced to do so by the Napoleonic Wars.

1806: Burial of Nelson, Viscount Horatio, the British naval hero, at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

1811: In the fishing town of Musselburgh, Scotland, the first women’s golf tournament took place. All the players were local.

1854: Birth of Jenny, Lady Randolph Churchill, wife of Lord Randolph and mother of Winston.

1890: Birth of Karel Capek, the Czech writer who introduced the word ‘robot’ into the language, in his play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

1898: Birth of Dame Gracie Fields, English singer and comedienne who became internationally famous.

1902: New York State passed a bill which made it illegal to flirt in public.

1909: Ernest Shackleton’s polar expedition was forced to turn back, only 11 miles away from the South Pole.

1913: Birth of Richard Milhous Nixon, the first US president to resign (as a result of the Watergate scandal), and also the first US president to visit China.

1920: The Bolsheviks defeated the last of the White Russian troops under Admiral Koltchak.

1923: Spanish aviator, Juan de la Cierva, made the first successful flight in Spain. De la Cierva was the inventor of the autogyro.

1929: Alexander Fleming successfully treated his assistant Stuart Craddick’s infection with a penicillin broth, at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.

1957: Following the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden resigned as British Prime Minister. The next day, Harold Macmillan took over.

1969: The first trial of the supersonic airliner Concorde took place at Bristol.

1972: The Queen Elizabeth, the liner that had been turned into a sailing university, caught fire and sank in Hong Kong harbour. She had been the world’s largest passenger liner for over thirty years.

1972: British miners began their first strike since 1926. They were campaigning for improved pay and conditions. A season of power cuts followed.

1987: The Department of Industry began investigating Guinness’ takeover of the huge Distiller’s Group. Ernest Saunders, chief executive of Guinness, resigned as the investigation began.

1988: It was reported that Edgar Dakin of Yorkshire now owned Patent No. 8721872 for the Dakin Plastic Tombstone, which would cost only a tenth as much as a marble tombstone.


1645: Execution of William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury. He was beheaded on Tower Hill after being found ‘guilty of endeavouring to subvert the laws, to overthrow the Protestant religion, and to act as an enemy to Parliament’. The next archbishop was not appointed until fifteen years later, with the Restoration of Charles II.

1769: Birth of Michel Ney, commander of the Old Guard at Waterloo. He was Napoleon’s most famous marshal.

1834: Birth of Lord Acton, who said ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

1839: Indian tea was auctioned in Britain for the first time. Previously, only China tea had been available, at great expense. After the introduction of Indian tea, prices fell and tea became so affordable that it was soon the national drink.

1840: Sir Rowland Hill introduced the Penny Post to Britain. On its first day, 112,000 letters were posted in London alone. Sir Isaac Pitman introduced the first correspondence course on this day, for the shorthand system which he invented.

1863: The London Underground railway was opened by Prime Minister Gladstone. The first route of the Metropolitan Railway went from Paddington to Farringdon Street stopping at seven stations. The trains ran every fifteen minutes.

1863: Prime Minister Gladstone opened the London Underground. The first trains went from Paddington to Farringdon Street with seven stations in between.

1880: Birth of the Swiss clown known as ‘Grock’.

1888: Frenchman Louis Aimé Augustine le Prince, the true pioneer of cinematography, secured a US patent for the first single-lens film camera. He settled in Leeds, Yorkshire, and disappeared on a train journey between Dijon and Paris, and neither he nor his equipment were ever seen again. When his son tried to prove that his father was the one who deserved the credit for inventing the motion picture, he too disappeared, and his body was found in the woods near Long Island, New York.

1903: Birth of Barbara Hepworth, the British sculptor.

1910: Birth of Galina Ulanova, the Russian ballerina.

1913: Birth of Gustáv Husák, President of Czechoslovakia 1975-87, who took control after the ‘Prague Spring’, putting an end to hopes of democratic reforms.

1918: The US House of Representatives voted in favour of suffrage for married women over 30.

1919: Sir S P Sinha became the new Rt Hon Minister of State for India, the first coloured man ever to hold that position. Later this month he became the first coloured British peer, thanks to Lloyd George.

1920: The League of Nations was inaugurated.

1920: The Treaty of Versailles was ratified, bringing an official end to the First World War with Germany.

1928: Hood and Moncrieff, English pioneers of aviation, were lost over the Tasman Sea as they attempted to fly from Australia to New Zealand.

1929: Tintin and his dog Snowy, characters created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé (Georges Remi), appeared for the first time in Vingtième Siècle.

1934: Execution by guillotine of Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist, who was accused of burning down the German Reichstag. Many believed that van der Lubbe was actually framed by the Nazis.

1935: Divorce of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, ‘The King and Queen of Hollywood’.

1946: The UN General Assembly held its first meeting in London.

1949: RCA put its seven-and-a-half-inch, 45 rpm ‘microgroove’ records on sale in the US. Columbia, their rivals, produced 12-inch ‘long play’ records at 33.3 rpm.

1985: The C5 electric car was demonstrated by its inventor, Sir Clive Sinclair. It was a battery-driven car to be sold for £399 - it flopped.


1569: The first state lottery in England was held on this day. Lots were sold at the West Door of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, at 10 shillings each; there were 40,000 for sale, and each lot could be subdivided into smaller units. Prizes were £20,000 and £30,000. Critics claimed that it encouraged crime.

1716: Birth of Daniel Dancer, the last of a line of famous English misers. Dancer had lived as a recluse, eating only one meal a day of baked meat and a hard-boiled dumpling. His only visitor in his later life was Lady Tempest, who inherited his estate when he died, but herself died soon after of a severe cold which she contracted through looking after the old man in his cold, damp house.

1807: Birth of Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University, New York.

1813: The King of Naples, Joachim Murat, deserted Napoleon for the Allies. He later tried to take the crown of Italy, but was captured and shot.

1815: Birth in Glasgow of Sir John Alexander Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada.

1842: Birth of William James, US philosopher, brother of the novelist Henry James.

1856: Birth of the Norwegian composer Christian Sindig, whose most famous work was Rustle of Spring, for piano.

1857: Birth of Fred Archer, British jockey. He counted five Derby winners among his 2749 winning mounts.

1859: Birth of George Nathaniel Curzon (Lord Curzon of Kedleston), Viceroy of India. He had had hopes of becoming Prime Minister, but Baldwin was chosen in his place. The love of his life was Elinor Glyn, the romantic novelist.

1864: Opening of Charing Cross Station in London.

1867: Benito Juarez, the Mexican President, returned to Mexico City after the hated Maximilian had been shot by a firing squad, and foreign forces had been defeated.

1896: Birth in Canada of Sir William Stephenson, who was codenamed ‘Intrepid’ when he headed British intelligence in the US.

1898: Acquittal in Paris of Major Esterhàzy, who had been charged with forging documents which were used in evidence at the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Further evidence against Esterhàzy came to light years later, and he fled the country; a year after that Dreyfus was released from Devil’s Island.

1903: Birth of Alan Paton, the South African writer, author of the novel Cry, the Beloved Country.

1922: Birth of Neville Duke, the record-breaking English test pilot. At one time he held the world air speed record.

1922: At Toronto General Hospital, Canada, 14-year-old Leonard Thompson, who was suffering from diabetes, became the first person to be successfully treated with insulin. He went on to lead a normal life. It was only the previous year that the Canadian physiologists Frederick Grant Banting and Charles Herbert Best had discovered and isolated the hormone.

1946: King Zog, who smoked well over 100 cigarettes a day, was deposed in absentia and Albania became a republic.

1954: All Comet airliners were grounded. The day before, 35 people had died in a mysterious crash off the island of Elba. In 1953, another Comet had crashed inexplicably near Calcutta; it ‘fell out of the sky for no apparent reason’. The cause was finally traced to a structural fault, with serious consequences for British aviation.

1970: The Biafran leader, General Ojukwe, fled the country as Nigerian troops occupied the Ibo centre, Owerri, in southern Nigeria.

1974: Birth of the first sextuplets, in Cape Town, South Africa, to Mrs Sue Rosenkowitz.

1977: Trial of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, in London, charged with possession of cocaine. It was found in his car after an accident. He was fined £750.

1987: 25 people were lashed in public for staging an unofficial car race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


The Feast Day of Benedict, patron saint of speleologists (cavers and potholers).

1729: Birth of Edmund Burke, British statesman and philosopher, in Dublin. He was an MP, and the author of Reflections on the French Revolution.

1746: Birth of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Swiss teacher and educational reformer. Pestalozzi laid particular emphasis on the relationship between mother and child in the early years.

1822: Birth of Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir, French inventor of the first practical internal combustion engine. In 1903, three years after he died, his engine was put to use in powering an aeroplane.

1852: Birth of Joseph Joffre, French army marshal. During the First World War, Joffre was Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front.

1856: Birth of John Singer Sargent, US painter.

1866: The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain was formed in London, fourteen years after the Société Aérostatique de France, the first such organization, and thirty-seven years before the Wright Brothers achieved the first successful powered flight.

1893: Birth of Hermann Wilhelm Goering, Nazi leader and German field marshal. He was a fighter ace during the First World War, and later enlarged the Luftwaffe.

1926: Birth of Pieter Willem Botha, who in 1984 became the first executive state president of South Africa. He tended to lean towards reform, but there was a right-wing backlash and he remained in the Boer laager.

1948: Opening of Britain’s first supermarket, at Manor Park, run by the London Co-op.

1950: The British submarine Truculent collided with a Swedish ship in the Thames, resulting in its sinking, and the deaths of 65 people.

1954: The Queen opened New Zealand’s parliament, the first time in that country’s history that a reigning monarch had done so.

1959: Henry Cooper defeated Brian London on points over 15 rounds, becoming British and European heavyweight boxing champion.

1964: Zanzibar declared itself a republic, banishing the Sultan.

1970: The Boeing 747 jet completed its first transatlantic flight, from New York to London Heathrow.

1971: Two bombs exploded at the home of the British Secretary of State, in outer London. He was unhurt. The bombs had been planted by the Angry Brigade.

1977: Abu Davoud, PLO terrorist and leader of the Black September group, was released by French authorities. The Black September group was responsible for killing 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Israel removed its ambassador from France in protest.

1978: The executors of Lady Churchill’s estate admitted she had burnt Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Sir Winston 18 months after the House of Commons had presented it to him in 1954. Sir Winston ironically described it as ‘a remarkable example of modern art’.

1982: Mark Thatcher, son of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went missing in the Sahara while taking part in the Paris-Dakar Rally. He was rescued two days later, and it turned out that he had lost his way. The incident provoked a tidal wave of jokes and cartoons making fun of his sense of direction.


1838: William Lyon Mackenzie, the Canadian radical, fled to the US. He had led an uprising against the establishment families that held power in Toronto, but it failed.

1882: Birth of Peter Dawson, Australian singer. He began to make recordings in 1904, and went on to make at least 3,000 more. He was also a successful songwriter, under the name of J P McCall.

1893: Keir Hardie formed the Independent British Labour Party.

1898: Emile Zola’s letter to the French President, bearing the headline ‘J’accuse!’, appeared on the front page of L’Aurore. Zola accused senior government and military figures of concealing their involvement in the Dreyfus Affair. Zola was charged with criminal libel, and found guilty. He fled to England and continued the campaign for Dreyfus’ release.

1910: Lee De Forest demonstrated the first radio broadcast of opera from the New York Met. Caruso sang Pagliacci, followed by music from Cavalleria Rusticana.

1915: South African troops under Louis Botha occupied Swakopmund in German South West Africa, the most southerly stronghold of the crumbling German Empire. After the war, the area was mandated to South Africa. It became independent as Namibia in 1989.

1918: Birth of Lord ‘Ted’ Willis, English playwright and novelist, creator of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, the well-known British policeman.

1921: Birth in New Zealand of Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, former Prime Minister of Queensland, Australia. Most of his formal education was at Taabinga Village Primary School; after that he learned mainly by correspondence courses and private tuition.

1926: Birth of Michael Bond, English children’s writer and creator of ‘Paddington Bear’.

1964: Capital Records grudgingly released the first Beatles record, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, in the US ‘to see how it goes’. It became their fastest-selling single ever. Within only three weeks, a million copies had been sold.

1974: Opening of the world’s largest airport in Dallas, Texas.

1976: In France, the newspaper La Libération published a list of 32 CIA undercover agents operating in Paris.

1978: NASA selected six women as mission specialists. These were its first women astronauts, 15 years after Tereshkova orbited the earth for the USSR.

1982: A Boeing 737 crashed into a bridge on the Potomac River in Washington DC, hitting five ships and killing 78 people.

1989: The Friday the 13th computer virus threatened hard disks worldwide. Devised by persons unknown to trash data, it had already dumped random numbers on the screens at a staff training centre near Brussels.


1741: Birth of Benedict Arnold, American general. During the American War of Independence, he acted as a spy for the British.

1800: Birth of Ludwig von Köchel, Austrian botanist and musicologist. He classified and numbered the works of Mozart.

1814: The King of Denmark ceded Norway to the King of Sweden, provoking a rebellion in Norway.

1814: The last London Frost Fair. Crowds flocked to the frozen Thames, to enjoy the Punch and Judy shows, spit roasts and other entertainments, and purchase the wares of the piemen and oyster-wenches.

1886: Birth of Hugh Lofting, creator of ‘Dr Dolittle’.

1875: Birth of Dr Albert Schweitzer, French missionary surgeon and author of On the Edge of the Primeval Forest. In 1913, he founded a hospital at Lambaréné in Gabon, which he financed by performing organ recitals in Europe. In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1878: Queen Victoria watched a demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, by W H Preece at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

1900: First performance of Puccini’s Tosca, in Rome.

1904: Birth of Sir Cecil Beaton, photographer, writer and theatrical designer. He created the scenery and costumes for My Fair Lady and Gigi.

1907: Kingston, Jamaica, was virtually destroyed by an earthquake which killed over 1000 people.

1911: Birth of J Skelly Wright, US judge and hard-line racist who had a change of heart when he saw blind blacks and whites segregated at a party. He played a major role in enforcing the desegregation of schools in New Orleans.

1918: Joseph Caillaux, former French Prime Minister, was arrested for treason after advocating a peace settlement with Germany.

1926: Birth of Warren Mitchell, English actor who portrayed ‘Alf Garnett’, the British bigot.

1938: First screening in the US of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s first full-length Technicolor cartoon. It opened in London in February of the following year, rated ‘A’ instead of the expected ‘U’.

1947: The newly formed Covent Garden Opera Company opened with Karl Rankl’s production of Carmen, in the newly renovated theatre which had been a dance hall during the war.

1983: In central London, police opened fire on Stephen Waldorf’s Mini, believing him to be the escaped convict David Martin. He survived, and was later awarded £120,000 compensation.

1988: The Alcor Life Extension Foundation faced a legal dispute over the frozen head of their client, Dora Kent. She had herself requested that her head be frozen, as she wished to be brought back to life in the future, but the medical examiners in Los Angeles wanted to examine the head because Mrs Kent was not dead when the head was removed. The Foundation, together with Mrs Kent’s son Saul, contended that an autopsy would damage the skull and brain, making it impossible to carry out her wish to be brought back from the dead.

1989: Muslims in Bradford ritually burned a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in the first serious protest in Britain. The book had been banned in some Muslim countries.


1559: Coronation of Queen Elizabeth I.

1759: Opening of the British Museum, at Montague House, London.

1779: The first top hat was worn by John Hetherington, a London haberdasher.

1785: Birth of English physician and chemist, William Prout, who anticipated the atomic theory.

1790: Fletcher Christian, eight fellow mutineers from the Bounty, six Tahitian men, and 12 women, landed on the remote Pacific island of Pitcairn.

1809: Birth of Pierre Joseph Proudhon, French social reformer and anarchist, who declared that ‘All property is theft’.

1867: Crowds flocked onto the frozen surface of the lake in London’s Regents Park during a severe frost. The ice broke, and 40 people died.

1878: Women received degrees for the first time at London University.

1878: For the first time, the telephone was used to summon help for a public emergency. 20 doctors were called out to a rail disaster at Tariffville on the Connecticut Western Railway.

1880: The London Telephone Company published the first directory, listing 255 subscribers.

1881: ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ was published, the songwriter unidentified.

1890: The first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, in St Petersburg, choreographed by Petipa for the Russian Imperial Ballet, based on the story by Charles Perrault.

1893: Birth of Ivor Novello, the Welsh composer and actor.

1906: Birth of Aristotle Onassis, millionaire Greek shipowner and pioneer of the supertanker. Onassis is probably most famous for his association first with Maria Callas, and later with the widowed Jackie Kennedy, who became his wife.

1908: Birth in Hungary of Edward Teller, American scientist known as ‘the father of the hydrogen bomb’.

1912: The first-ever propaganda leaflets were dropped by Italian aircraft during the Italo-Turkish War. The leaflets offered a coin (a golden napoleon) and a sack of wheat or barley to every Arab in Tripolitania (Libya) who surrendered.

1916: The Irish Free State, as southern Ireland was formally called, was established.

1918: Birth of General Gamal Nasser, first president of Egypt. He overthrew the playboy King Farouk and made Egypt a republic.

1922: Following the resignation of Eamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith was elected president of the Irish Free State.

1927: BBC radio broadcast the first live commentary of a rugby match. Captain Teddy Wakelam narrated the match at Twickenham between Wales and England, with a blind man sitting beside him to give him ‘some sort of feel of what the newfangled thing was about’. The following Saturday Wakelam provided the first football commentary from Highbury, where Arsenal was playing Sheffield United.

1929: Birth of Martin Luther King, US clergyman, leader of the Negro civil rights movement, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

1962: The centigrade, or Celsius, scale was used in the British Meteorological Office weather forecasts for the first time, more than 200 years after the death of the Swedish scientist who invented it.

1963: Moishe Tshombe surrendered Katanga, the breakaway Congo state, after requesting amnesty for himself, his government, and 200 white mercenaries.

1970: General Gowon accepted the unconditional surrender of the Biafran commanders in Nigeria.

1971: Official opening of the Aswan High Dam, by President Sadat of Egypt and President Podgorny of the USSR. The USSR had been responsible for both financing and building the Dam.

1972: Queen Margrethe II acceded to the throne of Denmark.

1973: Golda Meir became the first Israeli head of state to be received by the Pope.

1973: President Nixon halted the US’s offensive in Vietnam.


1547: Coronation of Ivan the Terrible, first Tsar of Russia.

1599: Death of Edmund Spenser, ‘the Poets’ Poet’.

1769: One of the worst riots in theatre history occurred at the Haymarket Theatre, London. Crowds had packed out the venue to see a conjuror who claimed he would get into a quart tavern bottle ‘and there sing several songs’. The conjuror never arrived, and the crowd erupted.

1780: Admiral Rodney defeated the Spanish at Cape St Vincent and relieved Gibraltar.

1809: At the battle of Corunna, in Spain, Sir John Moore Marshal Soult and his burial (‘darkly at dead of night’) is commemorated in the poem by Charles Wolfe. (‘Slowly and sadly we laid him down,/From the field of his fame fresh and gory;/ we carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,/But we left him alone with his glory.’)

1874: Birth in England of Robert Service, the poet and novelist known as ‘the Canadian Kipling’.

1909: Ernest Shackleton’s British expedition reached the area of the South Magnetic Pole, but could go no further.

1920: Prohibition was introduced in the US, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Leading gangsters produced bootleg spirits, and Americans drank more alcohol during prohibition than ever before. Prohibition was finally repealed at the end of 1933.

1924: The BBC broadcast Danger by Richard Hughes, the first play written specially for radio.

1925: Leon Trotsky was dismissed as Chairman of the Russian Revolutionary Council.

1928: Funeral of Thomas Hardy. His heart was buried in the village cemetery in Stinsford, Dorset, and his ashes in Westminster Abbey.

1932: Duke Ellington and his Orchestra recorded ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’, in New York.

1944: General Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe.

1957: The Sadler’s Wells Ballet became the Royal Ballet when it received a royal charter.

1957: The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool. It provided a showcase for many young rock ‘n’ roll musicians, among them the Beatles.

1963: Yvonne Pope was the first woman to pilot an international airline flight (Gatwick to Dusseldorf).

1970: Colonel Gaddafi became Prime Minister of Libya.

1979: Cher, US singer and actress, filed for divorce nine days into her marriage to musician Greg Allman.


The Feast Day of Antony of Egypt, the patron saint of pigs. His name gives us the word ‘tantony’, a diminutive applied to pigs, meaning the smallest of the litter.

1706: Birth of Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and scientist. He helped to draft the Declaration of Independence, discovered that lightning was a form of electricity, and invented the rocking chair.

1746: ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and his Highlanders won the battle of Falkirk. It was to be their last victory in the Forty-five Jacobite uprising; three months later they were defeated at Culloden.

1820: Birth of poet and novelist Anne Brontë, the youngest Brontë sister.

1827: The Duke of Wellington was appointed commander in chief of the British Army.

1863: Birth in Manchester of David Lloyd George, Welsh politician. In 1909 he introduced old-age pensions, followed in 1911 by health and unemployment insurance. In 1916 he became Prime Minister of a coalition government. After the First World War he was re-elected with a huge majority, and held office until 1922.

1871: Birth of David Beatty, the first Earl Beatty, the commander of the British battle cruisers at the battle of Jutland in 1916.

1883: Birth of the British novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie.

1899: Birth of the British novelist Nevil Shute.

1912: Captain Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole, only to find that the Norwegian Amundsen had beaten him by one month.

1933: A telegram was received by the MCC at Lords Cricket Ground from the Australian Cricket Board: ‘Bodyline bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game, making protection of his body by a batsman his main consideration. It is causing intensely bitter feeling between players as well as injury to them. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless it is stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England.’ The third test was being played at Adelaide with Jardine captaining England. The body-line bowler was Larwood. In the Australian team was Bradman; two of his team mates had been injured by head-high bowling.

1934: A 500-carat diamond, which a poor white named Pohl had discovered near Pretoria in South Africa, was rumoured to be the stolen half of the Cullinan diamond found in 1905.

1942: Birth of Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), American world heavyweight boxing champion and the first to regain the title three times.

1966: A B-52 carrying four nuclear weapons crashed with a refuelling tanker, killing eight of the eleven crew. One of the hydrogen bombs fell unexploded to earth, one fell into the ocean and was not found for three months, and the other two landed in the fields of Polomares, Spain, releasing plutonium.

1977: Execution of double murderer Gary Gilmore. He was the first prisoner to be executed in the US since the reintroduction of the death penalty the previous year. He elected to die by firing squad.

1983: BBC introduced breakfast television to Britain, with Frank Bough and Selina Scott as presenters. TV-am followed soon after.

1989: The trial began at the Old Bailey for the participants in Britain’s biggest armed robbery. The robbery, described as being like ‘a clip from a Carry On film’, involved £40 million in cash and illegal drugs at a Knightsbridge deposit centre. The manager admitted to being associated with the gang.

1991: Beginning of the ‘Gulf War’ as allied US, British and Saudi forces launched air raids on Iraq, to liberate Kuwait.


1485: Marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV. The marriage united the Houses of Lancaster and York.

1778: Captain Cook discovered Hawaii. He named them the Sandwich Islands, after Lord Sandwich, who was then first Lord of the Admiralty.

1779: Birth of Peter Mark Roget, English doctor and lexicographer, who produced his Thesaurus in 1852 after 47 years’ work.

1782: Birth of Daniel Webster, American statesman who in 1942 negotiated the Ashburton Treaty, setting the boundary between the US and Canada.

1818: Birth of George Palmer, of Huntley and Palmer biscuit manufacturers, who introduced the first biscuit tins.

1848: Birth of Matthew Webb (‘Captain Webb’), the first person to swim the English Channel.

1849: Birth of Sir Edmund Barton, first prime minister of the Australian Commonwealth.

1871: Wilhelm of Prussia was proclaimed the first German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

1882: Birth of Alan Alexander Milne, creator of ‘Winnie the Pooh’.

1884: Birth of Arthur Ransome, English children’s writer.

1888: Birth of Sir Thomas Sopwith, British aviation pioneer and the first pilot to land in the grounds of Windsor Castle. It was a Sopwith Camel which shot down Von Richthofen, the Red Baron. On Sopwith’s 100th birthday, a Sopwith Pup built after World War I, led a fly-past over his home in Hampshire. Blind by then, he could only hear the engines.

1879: England beat Wales 2-1 in their first international football match, played at the Oval, Kennington, London.

1879: The first edition of Boy’s Own Paper was published. During its 88-year history it published stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, G A Henty, and R M Ballantyne. The editor was S O Beeton, the husband of Mrs Beeton, the cookery book writer.

1911: Eugene Ely landed his Curtis pusher-bi-plane on a special, 120-ft platform on the US cruiser Pennsylvania, in San Francisco Bay. In so doing, he became the first pilot to land his aircraft on a ship.

1919: The Versailles Peace Conference opened, with Georges Clemenceau of France as chairman.

1934: The first arrest was made in Britain as a result of issuing pocket radios to police. A Brighton shoplifter was arrested just 15 minutes after stealing three coats.

1934: Birth of Raymond Briggs, English children’s writer who also illustrates his books.

1943: After a 16-month siege by the Germans, the Soviet army broke through and relieved the city of Leningrad.

1972: Former Prime Minister Garfield Todd, and his daughter Judith, were placed under house arrest in Rhodesia by Ian Smith’s government, because of their campaign against legal independence for that country.

1982: In South Africa, Colonel ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare and four mercenaries were charged with hijacking an aircraft during an attempted coup in the Seychelles; the coup had South African backing.

1988: A Hindu used his own skin to make a pair of sandals and travelled across India to offer them to his family deity.


1544: Birth of Francis II, King of France, son of Catherine de’Medici and husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.

1736: Birth of James Watt, the Scottish inventor who gave his name to a unit of power.

1793: King Louis XVI, King of France, was convicted of treason and beheaded. His wife, Marie Antoinette, followed in October of that year.

1807: Birth of Robert Edward Lee, American general and Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

1809: Birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet and short story writer who pioneered the modern detective story.

1813: Birth of Sir Henry Bessemer, who gave his name to a process for converting cast iron into steel.

1839: Birth of Paul Cézanne, the French painter and pioneer of the Impressionist movement.

1853: The first performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore in Rome.

1870: Two New York sisters became the world’s first stockbrokers. Victoria Caffin Woodhall and Tennessee Caffin attracted mainly female customers, but the business collapsed because of their outspoken views on Marxism and racial equality.

1884: Massenet’s opera Manon was first performed in Paris.

1903: In Paris, it was announced that a new bicycle race called the ‘Tour de France’ would be held.

1915: German Zeppelins bombed Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn in the first raid on England, causing casualties.

1920: Birth in Peru of Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, secretary-general of the UN from 1982.

1921: Birth of Patricia Highsmith, the American crime fiction writer.

1937: The first play written for British television, The Underground Murder Mystery by J. Bissell Thomas, was broadcast by the BBC. The 30-minute play was set in Tottenham Court Road tube station.

1942: The Japanese invaded Burma.

1955: Birth of Simon Rattle, English conductor.

1966: Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India, following her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

1966: Sir Robert Menzies resigned as Australian Premier after 16 years in office.

1969: Jan Pallach, a Czech student, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square in protest against the Russian invasion. On the 25th, he was buried as a martyr.

1988: Christopher Nolan, a 22-year-old Irish writer, won the £20,000 Whitbread Book of the Year Award for his autobiography, Under the Eye of the Clock. Completely paralysed, Nolan used a ‘unicorn’ attachment on his forehead to write the novel at a painfully slow speed.


The Feast Day of Sebastian, patron saint of athletes.

St Agnes’ Eve. On this day, legend has it that a woman can divine her future husband. ‘They told her how, upon St Agnes Eve/Young virgins might have vision of delight’ (Keats).

1265: The first English parliament met at Westminster Hall.

1327: Edward II was deposed by his eldest son, who became king of England as Edward III on 25 January.

1649: Parliament tried King Charles I.

1763: Birth of Wolfe Tone, Irish nationalist. He enlisted French support to fight against the British in Ireland.

1841: The British occupied Hong Kong. China ceded it to Britain by the Chuenpi Convention, and the Treaty of Nanking confirmed it a year later.

1882: A draper’s shop called Coxon & Company, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was the first shop in the world to be lit by incandescent electric light. It used Swan lamps.

1892: The first game of basketball was played at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. The game was devised by Dr James Naismith, a Canadian.

1896: Birth of George Burns, American comedian.

1907: Birth of Sir Roy Welensky, Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland from 1956-63.

1910: Birth in Germany of Joy (Friederike Victoria Gessner) Adamson, the conservationist whose books about Elsa the lioness, among them Born Free, became worldwide best sellers and films.

1930: Birth of Dr Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, US astronaut who followed Neil Armstrong on to the Moon.

1936: Edward VIII became the first British monarch to fly in a plane. He was a passenger in a flight from Sandringham to London on the death of George V.

1939: Birth of Professor Nalin Chandra Wickransinghe the astronomer. In 1982 he and Sir Fred Hoyle co-wrote Space Travellers.

1942: In a 30-roomed villa in Berlin, Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann held a meeting to plan the Final Solution of the ‘Jewish problem’. The solution was extermination. The meeting took 90 minutes.

1944: The RAF dropped 2,300 tons of bombs on Berlin.

1945: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as US president, his record fourth term.

1953: General Dwight D Eisenhower was inaugurated as US president.

1961: John F Kennedy was inaugurated as US president.

1965: Lyndon B Johnson was inaugurated as US president.

1969: Richard M Nixon was inaugurated as US president.

1971: The famous Red Arrows aerial display team was involved in a mid air collision in which four people died.

1977: Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as US president.

1981: Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as US president. At 69, Reagan was the oldest of all 40 presidents to take office.

1981: 52 hostages were released after being held for 444 days, following an agreement to unfreeze Iranian assets held in the US. The Americans had been taken hostage when student supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the US Embassy in Tehran.

1986: Mrs Pauline Williams of Luton won her three-year fight to prosecute the man who injected her drug-addict son with a fatal painkiller. The man was jailed for 15 months for manslaughter. Mrs Williams was the first person to bring a private prosecution for manslaughter to a Crown Court trial.

1986: France and Britain finally decided to undertake the Channel Tunnel project, promising that trains would run under the Channel by 1993.

1987: Just before 7 pm in Beirut, Terry Waite, special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, was last seen before he was kidnapped.

1988: It was announced that Russian goldminers had found the remains of a prehistoric mammoth with flesh so well preserved that it looked edible.

1989: George Bush was inaugurated as US president.


The Feast Day of Agnes, virgin and martyr, patron saint of girls.

1813: Birth of John Charles Fremont, US explorer who was the first to cross the Rockies. He later became a senator.

1824: Birth of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Confederate general in the American Civil War. He was nicknamed ‘Stonewall’ because of his stubbornness in the Battle of Bull Run, when his troops resisted an attack by the northern forces.

1829: Birth of Oscar II, King of Sweden and Norway. During his reign, the two countries were separated.

1846: Publication of the first edition of the Daily News, edited by Charles Dickens.

1855: Birth of John Moses Browning, the American inventor of the automatic pistol and machine gun named after him.

1905: Birth of Christian Dior, the French dress designer and founder of the international fashion house named after him.

1907: Taxi cabs were officially recognized in Britain.

1911: The first Monte Carlo Rally began. The winner on 28 January 1911 was Henri Rougier.

1922: Birth of the British actor Paul Scofield.

1925: Birth of the British comedian Benny Hill.

1934: Birth of the Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.

1935: Snowdonia in Wales became a national forest park.

1937: Marcel Boulestin became the first television cook when he presented the first of the Cook’s Night Out programmes on BBC.

1941: The British communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, was suppressed in wartime London.

1954: The US launched the first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, on the River Thames.

1976: A British Airways (then BOAC) Concorde, flight 300, made its inaugural flight to Bahrain, and an Air France Concorde, flight 085, also took off at 11.40 am from Paris en route to Rio de Janeiro.


The Feast Day of Anastasius, patron saint of goldsmiths.

1440: Birth of Ivan III ‘the Great’, Grand Duke of Muscovy, who rebelled against the Tartars in 1480 and made himself the first Tsar.

1561: Birth of Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans. He was a statesman, a lawyer, a philosopher, an essayist, and Lord Chancellor of England. Some even claim that he was the real author of Shakespeare’s works. Alexander Pope described him as ‘the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind’.

1788: Birth of George Gordon Byron, Baron Byron of Rochdale. Max Beerbohm claimed that this great English poet ‘would be all forgotten today if he had lived to be a florid old gentleman’.

1858: Birth of Beatrice Potter Webb, English social reformer. She and her husband Sydney Webb founded the Fabian Society and the New Statesman.

1875: Birth of David Lewelyn Wark Griffith, American film director.

1879: The Zulus massacred British troops at Isandlwana. Two British officers and eighty men of the 24th regiment fought off attacks of more than 4,000 Zulu warriors and eleven Victoria Crosses were won.

1902: Marconi’s carried out his first radio transmission experiments, transmitting from the Lizard, Cornwell, across the water to St Catherine’s on the Isle of Wight. The experiments were successful.

1904: Birth of George Balanchine (Georgij Balanchivadze), choreographer and ballet director.

1905: ‘Red Sunday’ in St Petersburg when Russian troops fired on workers protesting against repressive conditions.

1924: Stanley Baldwin resigned as British Prime Minister at the end of an unsuccessful election, and the new Labour Party had their first Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald.

1944: The Allied landings in Anzio, Italy, began.

1962: The ‘A6 Murder’ trial began, the longest murder trial in British legal history. James Hanratty was accused of murdering Michael Gregston at a lay-by near Bedford. The trial finally ended on 17 February 1962 with Hanratty sentenced to hang, despite his protests of innocence and disquiet amongst some observers of the trial.

1964: Kenneth Kaunda was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia, now called Zambia.

1972: The United Kingdom, the Irish Republic, and Denmark joined the Common Market.

1983: Anne Winter became British Rail’s first woman engine driver.

1988: Schiphol airport in Amsterdam opened a special departure lounge for cows, serving pre-flight food and drink to travelling cattle.


1556: An earthquake in Shensi Province, China, killed approximately 830,000 people.

1571: Queen Elizabeth I opened the Royal Exchange, London, founded by the financier Sir Thomas Gresham as a bankers’ meeting house.

1752: Birth of Italian composer, pianist and piano manufacturer Muzio Clementi.

1806: Death of William Pitt ‘The Younger’, the youngest British Prime Minister. He was 46. There is controversy over his last words. Some say they were ‘Oh, my country! how I love my country!’. Others claim he said ‘Oh, my country! how I leave my country!’; or ‘My country! oh, my country!’; or ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies.’

1832: Birth of Edouard Manet, French painter who was one of the forerunners of the Impressionist movement.

1878: Birth of English composer Rutland Boughton.

1898: Birth of Russian film producer Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein.

1910: Birth of Belgian jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt.

1938: 16 oil companies were convicted in the US under the Anti-Trust laws for price fixing. Among them were Standard Oil, Shell, and Continental Oil.

1943: The British captured Tripoli. The Germans retreated, and the Eighth Army crossed into Tunisia in pursuit.

1960: Professor Picard descended a record 35,800 feet into the Pacific Ocean in the bathyscaphe Trieste.

1963: At 7.30 pm in Beirut, the American Eleanor Philby was waiting for her husband Kim, the Middle East correspondent for two London journals, to collect her. Instead, he was on his way to Moscow - ‘the most damaging double agent in British history’.

1968: Several crew of the US ‘spyship’ Pueblo were killed and wounded when North Korean patrol boats boarded. The Pueblo was claimed to be within territorial waters.

1985: PC George Hammond was viciously stabbed while on the beat in London, and it took 120 pints of blood to save his life. Yet he never fully recovered, and two years later he committed suicide.

1989: Legislation came into force which allowed garages to display fuel prices by litre only, not by the gallon.


The Feast Day of Francis of Sales, who wrote several popular books on theology and so was adopted as patron saint of authors and journalists.

76: Birth in Scotland of Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus), Roman Emperor whose defensive policies led to the building of Hadrian’s Wall on the border between Scotland and England.

1236: Marriage of Henry III of England to Eleanor of Provence.

1670: Birth of William Congreve, English dramatist and poet.

1712: Birth of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. A reluctant monarch, he was one of those who have greatness thrust upon them. As a young man he tried to escape his future duties by settling in England (his grandson was George I of Great Britain), and was nearly executed as a result. In the end, he faced his responsibilities with courage both in victory and defeat, and managed his country’s resources to bring it prosperity.

1732: Birth of Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, French playwright.

1749: Birth of Charles James Fox, the British Whig whom Sir George Macaulay Trevelyan described as ‘Our first great statesman of the modern school’. A great orator, he supported the French revolutionaries, and as Foreign Minister, persuaded Prime Minister Pitt to abolish slavery.

1776: Birth of Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, the German writer and composer whose Tales inspired Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffmann.

1848: The gold rush began when James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s sawmill in California, just a week before the peace treaty with Mexico.

1862: Birth of Edith Wharton, US novelist.

1888: Birth in Austria of Vicki Baum, the novelist.

1900: General Sir Charles Warren led 2,000 British troops to capture Spion Kop, South Africa, which was defended by just 500 Boers. The British lost 1200 troops, the Boers 300.

1915: The First World War sea battle of Dogger Bank ended with a British victory as the superior speed and gunnery of the British fleet sinking the German armoured cruiser Blucher. Blucher’s design had been based on a stolen forecast of the Invincible, which German Intelligence did not know had been planted by the British. To hit her, British shells had to travel 15 miles on a trajectory reaching an apex at 22,500 ft (Mont Blanc is only 15,755 ft) before descending.

1916: Conscription was introduced in Britain to provide more fodder for the trenches on the Western front.

1941: Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll and a Kenyan socialite, was found shot dead in his car. Hay had fallen in love with Diana, the young wife of Sir Henry Delves ‘Jock’ Broughton, who was much older. Sir Henry was acquitted of murder, but in 1942 committed suicide in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. Some believe that Diana murdered the Earl after he rejected her. The story inspired a book and film called White Mischief.

1961: It was reported that Elsa, the lioness of Joy Adamson’s books, had been found dead in Kenya.

1961: A US B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, releasing two 24-megaton nuclear bombs. One bomb parachuted safely to earth, but five of its six safety devices had failed. The other bomb landed in a waterlogged field near Goldsboro, North Carolina, never to be found. Three of the bomber’s eight crew were killed.

1965: Death of Sir Winston Churchill, aged 90. He was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of the battle of Dogger Bank (q.v., 1915). He had correctly predicted that he would die on the same day of the year as his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who had died exactly 70 years before.

1976: The largest shipwreck recorded took place when a 270,000-ton oil tanker, the Olympic Bravery, ran aground off France. On 13 March she broke in two.

1978: An orbiting Russian satellite crashed near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada.

1986: An exodus of major newspapers from Fleet Street to Docklands as the Sun and the News of the World told staff of plans to relocate to Wapping.


Burns Night in Scotland.

1327: Edward III acceded to the English throne.

1533: The Bishop of Lichfield secretly married King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, the second of his six wives.

1540: Birth of St Edmund Campion, English scholar and the first Jesuit martyr. He went to Rome and returned to England as a missionary. He was accused of spying, and was hanged, drawn and quartered on Tower Hill. He was canonized in 1970.

1627: Birth of the Honourable Robert Boyle, one of the pioneers of modern chemistry and physics.

1759: Birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. His birthday is celebrated as ‘Burns Night’ by Scotsmen all over the world.

1874: Birth of William Somerset Maugham, English novelist and short story writer.

1878: The first torpedo was fired in war as a Russian torpedo boat sank a Turkish steamer.

1882: First meeting of the London Chamber of Commerce.

1882: Birth of Virginia Woolf, English novelist who was a leading member of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals.

1891: Birth of English actress and centenarian Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, who died in 1992.

1895: The first hockey international was held at Rhyl, Wales. Wales lost 3-0 to the Irish.

1899: In Chelmsford, England, the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company began manufacture of the first radio sets.

1899: Birth of Paul Henri Spaak, Belgian prime minister, founding father of the EEC, and first president of the UN General Assembly.

1917: The Virgin Islands (formerly the Danish West Indies) were sold to the US for $25 million.

1919: Founding of The League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations.

1924: Start of the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France.

1928: Birth of Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet foreign minister who brought a new spirit of pragmatism and co-operation to the Soviet Union’s dealings with the West during perestroika.

1938: Intense sunspot activity caused the aurora borealis to be visible as far south as London’s West End and most of western Europe.

1944: Due to the shortage of ordained priests in the Far East towards the end of the Second World War, the Reverend Florence Tim-Oi Lee of Macao became the first Anglican woman priest.

1950: American Alger Hiss was convicted and sentenced to five years for perjury. He had concealed his membership of the Communist Party, but there was no evidence of him spying against the US.

1955: The USSR proclaimed the end of belligerency with Germany, ten years after the end of World War II.

1971: A period of unprecedented barbarism began as Idi Amin deposed Milton Obote and became President of Uganda.

1981: ‘The Gang of Four’ (Roy Jenkins, Dr David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers) split from the British Labour party to form the Social Democrats.

1981: Chiang Ch’ing, Mao’s 67-year-old widow, was dragged shouting from a Peking court after being found guilty of ‘counter-revolutionary’ crimes during the Cultural Revolution.

1985: Bernard Goetz, who shot four black youths trying to mug him in a New York subway, was told he would only face a charge of possessing an illegal weapon. Some considered him a hero, others a criminal.

1989: Actor John Cleese won damages for libel at the High Court over an article in the Daily Mirror, which claimed he had become like Basil Fawlty.


The Feast Day of Paula, patron saint of widows.

Australia Day, marking the founding of Sydney in 1788 by Governor Arthur Philip as a penal colony comprising 1,030 people, of which 736 were convicts. Transportation of convicts, often for petty crimes, was only ended in 1865.

Republic Day, India, celebrating the day in 1950 when it became a democratic republic within the Commonwealth.

1500: Discovery of Brazil by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, who claimed it for Portugal.

1802: Napoleon was made President of the Italian Republic.

1828: The Duke of Wellington became British Prime Minister.

1837: Michigan became the 26th US state.

1841: Hong Kong was proclaimed British sovereign territory.

1871: The Rugby Football Union was formed in London by an initial 20 clubs.

1875: The first battery-powered dentist’s drill was patented by George F Green of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Electrical drills were not developed until 1908.

1880: Birth of Douglas MacArthur, US general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific during World War II.

1885: Just two days before a relief expedition arrived, General Gordon was murdered on the palace steps at Khartoum, at the end of a siege of ten months.

1886: Karl Benz patented his three-wheel drive motor car and internal combustion engine, which he had tested the previous year.

1905: Captain Wells discovered the Cullinan diamond at the Premier Mines, Pretoria, South Africa. The largest diamond in the world, it weighed over 1_ lbs.

1907: A riot broke out in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on the first night of J M Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, when the audience took offence at the ‘foul language’. The riots continued for a week, but the show went on, heavily guarded by police.

1907: Birth of Sir Henry Cotton, the British golf champion, who received a posthumous knighthood.

1908: The 1st Glasgow Boy Scout group, the first Scout group ever, was registered.

1908: Birth of Stéphane Grappelli, French jazz violinist and founder, with guitarist Django Reinhardt, of the famous Hot Club de France. Grappelli’s career spanned seven decades.

1931: Mahatma Gandhi was released from prison to have discussions with the British government in India.

1939: Franco’s rebels, helped by Italian aid, took Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War.

1945: Birth of Jacqueline du Pré, English cellist whose career was ended by multiple sclerosis in 1973.

1965: Hindi became the official language of India.


1756: Birth in Salzburg of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a prodigy and one of the greatest composers in history.

1757: Birth of Henry Greathead, English inventor of the first purpose-built lifeboat.

1822: Greece won her independence after a war against Turkey.

1832: Birth of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’), the English mathematician who wrote Alice in Wonderland.

1859: Birth of Kaiser Wilhelm II, third German emperor, eldest son of Prince Frederick (Frederick III) and Victoria, daughter of the British Queen Victoria. He was forced to abdicate after the First World War, and fled to Holland.

1868: E D Young reported to the Royal Geographical Society that Dr Livingstone, the British explorer and missionary in Africa, was still alive.

1885: Birth of Jerome Kern, US songwriter.

1901: Birth of Arthur Joseph Rooney, Snr, a spectacularly successful gambler. He bought an American football club on his winnings from a single bet. His subsequent winnings enabled the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl for the fourth time in 1972.

1913: It was ruled that US athlete Jim Thompson was a professional, having been paid £25 a week to play baseball, and he was stripped of his Olympic decathlon and pentathlon gold medals.

1926: John Logie Baird gave a special public demonstration of television to members of the Royal Institution in London.

1943: The US made their first bombing raid on Germany.

1945: Birth of Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, joint Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was co-founder of the Northern Ireland ‘Women for Peace’ movement, which sought to unite both factions.

1952: 17 people died when the famous Shepheard Hotel in Cairo was burnt down during an anti-British riot.

1967: Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee died just 218 feet above the ground on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy. An electrical fault ignited pure oxygen in the Apollo I during a ground test, burning all three astronauts to death.

1967: Francis Chichester, the round-the-world yachtsman, was knighted on the quay at Greenwich. The sword used was the one which belonged to another seaman, Sir Francis Drake.

1969: Many died and several thousand people were left homeless after serious flooding in California.

1973: End of US action in Vietnam.


1457: Birth of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty in England. He restored order after the Wars of the Roses.

1547: Death of Henry VIII, exactly 100 years after the birth of his father Henry VII. His only son, Edward VI, succeeded him.

1596: Death from dysentery of Sir Francis Drake. He died aboard his ship, off Porto Bello.

1706: Birth of John Baskerville, the English printer who gave his name to the 1763 edition of the Bible.

1807: London’s Pall Mall was the first street in any city to be illuminated by gaslight.

1833: Birth of General Charles George Hamilton Gordon, British defender of Khartoum.

1841: Birth in Wales of Sir Henry Morton Stanley (John Rowlands), explorer and journalist. The New York Herald sent him to search for Dr Livingstone, who had disappeared in Africa.

1853: Birth of José Marti, Cuban poet and revolutionary leader who fought against Spanish rule.

1873: Birth of ‘Colette’ (Sidonie Gabrielle Claudine Colette), the French novelist and dancer.

1884: Birth of Auguste Piccard, the Swiss scientist who at various times was the joint holder of altitude records (in balloons) and the record for ocean descent.

1887: Birth in Poland of Artur Rubinstein, the pianist, who was made an honorary KBE at the age of 90.

1896: Walter Arnold of Kent was the first British motorist to receive a speeding fine, for exceeding 2 mph in a built-up area. He was doing 8 mph.

1896: Emile Grubbe of Chicago administered the first radiation treatment for carcinoma of the breast to Mrs Rose Lee.

1918: The Canadian army surgeon John McCrae was killed in action. His poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ inspired the use of poppies on Remembrance Day: ‘...If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.’

1928: Birth of (Leonard) James Callaghan, former Labour Party leader and British Prime Minister.

1930: End of Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship in Spain.

1932: The Japanese occupied Shanghai at the beginning of a full-scale invasion of China.

1953: 19-year-old Derek Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison. On 2 November 1952, he and 16-year-old Christopher Craig were attempting to rob a confectioner’s warehouse in Croydon when they were caught by police. It was alleged that Bentley urged Craig to fire his gun, injuring one policeman and killing another. Both boys were found guilty of murder. Craig, too young to hang, was imprisoned, while Bentley was sentenced to death despite considerable public protest.

1965: Crown Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands announced her plans to marry a German. The protests that ensued would mar her wedding day the following year.

1985: The Clive Ponting case opened in London. Ponting, a civil servant, was accused of leaking secret information on the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands war. He was found not guilty, ‘much to my surprise’.

1986: The US space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, killing five men and two women. The next shuttle would not fly until 29 September 1998.


1728: First performance of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, with a musical score derived from popular ballads.

1737: Birth of Thomas Paine, English social and political philosopher. The reaction to his treatise The Rights of Man forced him into exile in France and America.

1817: Birth of John Callcott Horsley, English artist. Horsley designed the first commercial Christmas cards in 1843.

1843: Birth of William McKinley, 25th US President for two terms during the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippines. During the first year of his second term of office he was assassinated.

1853: Marriage of Napoléon III to Eugénie de Montijo at the Tuileries, Paris.

1856: Queen Victoria instituted Britain’s highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross (VC). The medal is awarded to British and Commonwealth armed forces for outstanding bravery ‘on the field of battle’. The medal was originally made from the metal of cannon captured from the Russians at Sevastopol, until the supply came to an end in 1942.

1860: Birth of Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright and short story writer.

1861: Kansas became the 34th US state.

1867: Birth of Spanish novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, best remembered for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

1876: Birth of Havergal Brian, English composer of twenty-seven symphonies, four operas, and a number of other major works written after his 70th birthday.

1916: German Zeppelins bombed Paris for the first time.

1916: British military tanks had their first trials in Hertfordshire.

1942: The first broadcast of Desert Island Discs on BBC radio, devised and presented by Roy Plomley.

1947: The temperature in Britain dropped to an all-time low of -16°F, producing nationwide power cuts. Buckingham Palace was lit by candles.

1988: During an intermission of a matinée performance of Verdi’s Macbeth at the New York Met, failed opera singer Bantcho Bantchevsky committed suicide by leaping from the balcony.

1989: The artificial leg that had belonged to Sir Douglas Bader was catalogued for sale. His widow was selling memorabilia to raise money to buy her own house, instead of the rented farmhouse she was living in.


1649: The executioner Richard Brandon beheaded Charles I at Whitehall.

1775: Birth of Walter Savage Landor, English poet. Landor was caricatured as ‘Boythorn’ in Dickens’ Bleak House.

1790: The first purpose-built lifeboat, The Original, was launched on the River Tyne at South Shields.

1815: Birth of Sir William Jenner, Physician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria, who discovered the difference between typhus and typhoid fever.

1858: Charles Hallé founded the celebrated Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. Charles Hallé remained its principal conductor, proprietor and performer until his death in 1895.

1882: Birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lawyer, US Democrat statesman and 32nd President. He took the US out of the Depression with his ‘New Deal’. He helped Britain with aid in the years before the US joined the Second World War, but did not live to finish his record fourth term of office.

1889: Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his mistress, the beautiful 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera, were found dead in the bedroom of the royal hunting lodge at Mayerling. It is not known whether it was a double suicide or murder.

1913: Birth of Percy Thrower, English gardener and broadcaster who did a great deal to popularize gardening in Britain after World War II.

1927: Birth of Olof Sven Joachim Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, who was later assassinated.

1933: The President of Germany, von Hindenburg, appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

1937: Birth of English actress Vanessa Redgrave, daughter of the actor Sir Michael Redgrave.

1945: The Duke of Gloucester was appointed Governor General of Australia, the first member of the British royal family to take that position.

1948: The Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.

1958: The 23-year-old Yves Saint Laurent held his first major Paris show, and was hailed as Dior’s successor.

1965: State funeral in London of Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of England. It was the biggest state funeral of its kind since the burial of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.

1972: ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. British paratroopers, believing they were under fire from Catholic protesters on a banned march which had become a violent riot, opened fire, killing 13 people.

1973: Gordon Liddy and James McCord were convicted of spying on the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate building. McCord later revealed to Judge Sirica that top White House officials were also involved in the scandal.

1976: Muriel Naughton became the first woman jockey to compete under National Hunt rules when she rode her own horse in an amateur riders’ chase at Ayr.

1989: In Luxor in upper Egypt, near the foundations of the Temple, archaeologists discovered five life-sized black granite figures, Pharaonic statues dating back to 1470 BC.


The Feast Day of John Bosco, the popular preacher who became patron saint of editors.

1606: Guy Fawkes, the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, was hanged, drawn and quartered.

1788: Death of Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’). He died in Rome, having assumed the title of Charles III of Great Britain.

1797: Birth of Franz Schubert, Austrian composer who died in his 32nd year with his Symphony No. 8 in B minor left ‘Unfinished’.

1858: The Great Eastern, the five-funnelled steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and John Scott Russell, was launched at Millwall.

1876: All US Indians had to move into reservations or be declared hostile. Many never even knew of the proclamation; others did not make it in time.

1882: Birth of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

1892: Birth of American film actor and comedian Eddie Cantor.

1901: First performance of Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Moscow Arts Theatre.

1923: Birth of American novelist Norman Mailer.

1928: 3M began marketing their clear Scotch tape.

1929: Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein) was exiled by Stalin and found asylum in Mexico.

1938: Birth of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

1943: Field Marshal Paulus defied Hitler to surrender the German 6th Army to the Russians at Stalingrad.

1953: 307 people were killed when the Thames estuary broke its banks, flooding large areas of Kent and Essex. There was also flooding in Holland and other parts of the Continent, resulting in the deaths of over 2,000.

1955: RCA demonstrated the first musical synthesizer.

1957: The Trans-Iranian oil pipeline was completed.

1958: The first US earth satellite, Explorer I, was launched at Cape Canaveral.

1983: It became compulsory in Britain to wear car seat belts.

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