On the 20th September 1066, Harald Hardrada – the Viking king – defeated his northern English enemies at the Battle of Fulford. The defeat of Harold Godwinson’s northern earls was disastrous for the new English king who was forced to rush north and defeat Hardrada himself, which in turn contributed to Godwinson’s later defeat at Hastings to William of Normandy.
The origins of Hardrada’s invasion lie in the conflicting claims to the throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. As one of the claimants, Hardrada had allied himself with Harold Godwinson’s banished brother Tostig. Having been blown across the North Sea by the very winds that famously left William’s fleet stuck on the Normandy coast, Hardrada met up with Tostig’s forces and they made their way to York.
The battlefield at Fulford was largely flat marshland – hardly ideal conditions for armed combat. However, the English took advantage of the River Ouse and the marshier ground to arrange their troops in such a way as to secure their flanks. Despite this, the fierce fighting that initially saw the Norwegians being driven back gave way to a counter-attack that led to Hardrada’s victory.
The Norwegians made their way to the city of York, which surrendered on condition that the city wasn’t forcibly entered. Hardrada then set up camp at Stamford Bridge, and it was here that he was surprised by Harold Godwinson five days later. Despite Harold’s victory here, however, defeat at Fulford had depleted the English army. This had a major impact on William the Conqueror’s successful invasion that occurred just a few weeks later.
The Illuminations at the British seaside resort of Blackpool were turned on for the first time.
The Illuminations, which continue to be an annual light festival, have grown considerably since their inception. Now stretching for 6 miles along the Promenade, and featuring over one million bulbs, the very first illuminations consisted of just eight carbon arc lamps that were used to light the Promenade.
The lamps were positioned 320 yards apart, and were powered by 16 Robey steam engines that drove 8 Siemens dynamo-electric machines. Described at the time as ‘artificial sunshine’, the first Illuminations were turned on almost a year before Thomas Edison patented the electric light bulb. At the time the streets of Britain were lit by gas lamps, assuming they were lit at all. Since the eight Blackpool amp lamps were each equivalent to the light of 48,000 candles, their installation was an incredible novelty and it is estimated that over 70,000 people travelled from all over Britain to see them.
The Illuminations didn’t become an actual display until May 1912, when Blackpool was visited by a member of the British Royal family for the first time. Princess Louise opened the Princess Parade section of the Promenade, and her visit was marked by “festoons of garland lamps” that used more than 10,000 bulbs. The spectacle was so impressive that the local Chamber of trade urged the council to stage them again in September to mark the end of the season.
The Illuminations were such a commercial success that they were turned on again the following year, but the Promenade stayed dark throughout both the First and Second World Wars. The Illuminations were staged again in 1949 and have been an annual event ever since.
On the 18th September 1931, the Manchurian Crisis – also known as the Mukden Incident –began when Japanese soldiers blew up a section of their own railway in the Chinese region of Manchuria. Although it caused only minimal damage, the explosion was blamed on Chinese rebels and led to the Japanese using it as an excuse to invade.
The South Manchuria Railway had been controlled by Japan since the end of the Russo-Japanese War, but the relationship between the Japanese military who guarded the line and the local Chinese population was tense. Following the onset of the Great Depression, some renegade members of the Japanese Kwantung Army believed that a conflict in the area would be beneficial for Japan.
A small quantity of dynamite was detonated near the tracks at around 10.20pm on the evening of the 18th September. The explosion caused such little damage that a train was able to go over the section of track ten minutes later without incident, but within hours the resident Japanese forces had driven the nearby Chinese garrison from their barracks in retaliation for the alleged attack.
Over the next few days the Japanese army took control of towns and cities along the entire railway line, acting independently of the government in Tokyo. The politicians, unable to reign in the army, eventually lent support to the invasion and sent additional troops to support the invasion.
The Chinese government appealed to the League of Nations for assistance, which promptly passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Japanese troops. Japan ignored the League, and ruled Manchuria as a puppet state.
Norton had moved to San Francisco from South Africa sometime around the end of 1849 and, within three years, had amassed a significant fortune as a result of shrewd real estate investments and various commodities deals.
A famine in China, leading to a ban of rice exports at the end of 1852, led to Norton’s purchase of an entire shipment of Peruvian rice. The cost of rice rose as a result of the lack of Chinese imports, and he hoped to benefit from this. However, numerous other rice shipments from Peru arrived shortly after he signed the contract and the market value of his own purchase plummeted. These losses, combined with the cost of a court case that eventually ruled against his attempt to void the contract, forced him into bankruptcy.
Frustrated by what he perceived as the failings of the American political and legal system, Norton declared himself Emperor on 17 September 1859. The San Francisco Bulletin printed his decree in full, sparking media interest that led to him becoming a celebrity in the city. Norton often dined for free and received theatre tickets in return for the publicity that his imperial seal of approval would provide.
Norton maintained the role of self-declared Emperor until his death on 8 January 1880. Within this time he added the additional title of “protector of Mexico”, and issued a range of decrees ranging from the abolition of the United States Congress to the imposition of a fine for anybody who referred to San Francisco as “Frisco”. Although these decrees were ignored, a bridge and a tunnel between San Francisco and Oakland, both of which he called for in 1872, were eventually opened in 1933 and 1974 respectively.
On the 16th September 1978, filming began on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Seen by some as the greatest comedy film of all time, the film has courted controversy since its release due to its satirical portrayal of religion that is interpreted by some as blasphemous.
Life of Brian was the third motion picture to be released by the Monty Python comedy troupe, and is said to have had its origins in the publicity circuit accompanying their previous film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The box-office success of Holy Grail had proved that there was significant demand for feature-length creations from the group, and soon the idea of lampooning organised religion became a focus for development.
Two members of Monty Python, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, dismissed the idea of a direct satire of Jesus Christ since they agreed that – despite both being non-believers – there was nothing to mock in his teachings. Therefore they settled on the idea of his neighbour, Brian, being mistaken for the Messiah despite not wanting the attention.
It took just over a year for the script to be completed, and EMI Films had been lined up to fund the project. However, just two days before filming was due to begin the funding was withdrawn on direct orders of the company chief executive. Faced with catastrophe Eric Idle confided in his friend, ex-Beatle George Harrison, who stepped in to save the film by providing £3 million through his production company HandMade Films. It grossed over $19 million in America alone during its first year of release.
The British MP William Huskisson died as a result of a fatal accident on the opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was created in order to link Manchester, a major industrial city in the north west of England, with the nearby port of Liverpool. Intended to lower the cost of transporting imported cotton to the Manchester textile mills, the 35-mile railway was an incredibly expensive project as it was the first railway to use locomotives to haul goods and passengers.
William Huskisson was the MP for Liverpool, and fought hard to secure parliamentary representation for the new industrial towns. As former President of the Board of Trade he also had an acute awareness of the likely positive effects of the creation of the railway.
The Liverpool and Manchester railway used four equally spaced rails along the length of the route. George Stephenson, the designer and builder intended that under normal circumstances this would allow two-way traffic using a pair of rails in each direction, but also meant that the centre two rails could be used in case of a wide load or a problem with one of the outer rails.
The railway was opened on 15 September 1830 with great fanfare. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, was riding in a special carriage when his train stopped to take on water. Having invited Huskisson over, the passengers noticed the prototype engine Rocket approaching on the adjacent track. Huskisson attempted to climb into Wellington’s carriage, but the door swung open and the approaching locomotive crashed into it. Huskisson fell on to the track and Rocket ran over his right leg and thigh. He died of his injuries later that evening.
On the 14th September 1814, the poem that was to provide the lyrics for the United States’ national anthem was written by 35 year-old Francis Scott Key. Called “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, the poem provides an account of the British attack during the Battle of Baltimore.
The War of 1812 had already been raging for two years when the British launched a seaborne invasion of Baltimore. At the time of the invasion, Key was aboard one of the British Navy ships lying off the coast. He had sailed to the flagship HMS Tonnant the previous week in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange, and was present when the British officers discussed war plans. Consequently he was not permitted to return to his own boat since he would be able to pass intelligence to the American military.
When the British began their attack, Key was therefore only to watch as Fort McHenry was subjected to an enormous bombardment from the ships, including a number of Congreve rockets from HMS Erebus that provided the “rockets red glare” in the fifth line of the poem. However, bad weather combined with the poor accuracy of the British munitions being fired at their maximum range meant that little damage was done to the fort.
When dawn came and the skies cleared, Key could clearly see a large American flag flying above the fort, and felt inspired to write the poem. It was published a week later alongside a note instructing readers to sing it to the melody of “The Anacreontic Song”. Ironically, the song itself was English.
Michelangelo’s David is considered to be one of the greatest examples of Renaissance sculpture. Carved from a piece of marble from a quarry near the Tuscan town of Carrara, the statue is a nude male standing 517cm tall without his pedestal.
Michelangelo was not the first artist to begin carving a statue of David from the marble block. The Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio had first been contracted by the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral in 1464 to create the statue as one of twelve figures to appear on the buttresses of the recently-completed cathedral. Having begun to shape the feet and legs, he stopped work on the statue in 1466 and work only resumed a decade later when Antonio Rossellino took over.
Rossellino did not do much more to the marble before his contract was terminated shortly after it had been awarded. The block then remained on its back in the cathedral yard for 25 years before Michelangelo was recruited to complete the statue two years after he finished work on the Pietà.
The 26 year old was given two years to produce David and, according to the written contract, was to be paid ‘six broad florins of gold in gold for every month’. Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum has since used the Bank of England’s price inflation index to calculate that Michelangelo was therefore paid just £40,000 at today’s prices for the finished piece.
On its completion the sculpture was placed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, although it has been displayed in the Accademia Gallery since 1873 to protect the fragile marble.
On September 12th 1919, Adolf Hitler officially joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At the time no membership cards were issued but, when they made available in January 1920, Hitler was given membership number 55 although he later claimed in Mein Kampf to have been the seventh. Hitler was actually the seventh executive member of the Party’s central committee. His membership card actually identified him as number 555 since the party began its numbering at 500 in order to make it appear to have more members than it really did.
At the time Hitler was working as an army intelligence officer who had been tasked with infiltrating the German Workers’ Party. However, he was attracted to the angry rhetoric of the founder – Anton Drexler – and during a party meeting in the first floor restaurant of the Sterneckerbräu beer hall in Munich on the 12th September put forward a passionate argument denouncing the views of another speaker. In Mein Kampf Hitler describes Drexler as being impressed by his oratorical skills, which resulted in him being invited to join the party.
Despite members of the army not being permitted to have membership of a political party, Hitler was given special permission to join the DAP. However, before long his role in the party began to eclipse his role in the military and he was discharged from the army on the 31st March 1920 after which he began working full-time for the renamed National Socialist German Workers Party.
The Sterneckerbräu building still exists in Munich, although the beer hall has gone and it is now used for residential and commercial purposes.
Alexander Hamilton was made the first United States Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington.
Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis to a Scottish-born father and a half-British, half-French Huguenot mother who had left her husband and son on the Danish-ruled island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Alexander’s parents were consequently unmarried when he was born, and he became an orphan around the age of twelve following his mother’s death. His father had left the family a number of years earlier, and Hamilton moved to live first with his older cousin and later a wealthy merchant.
Hamilton secured work as a clerk at a local shipping company, where he developed an interest in writing. A letter to his father recounting a violent storm was later published in a newspaper, and this attracted the attention of wealthy locals who provided funds for him to continue his education in New York City.
Hamilton believed strongly in independence for the Thirteen Colonies and, following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he joined a local militia from which he rose to become the senior aide to General Washington. The end of the war saw Hamilton elected as New York’s representative to the Congress of the Confederation, where he argued for a strong central government and the creation of a new constitution.
Hamilton was a highly influential member of President Washington’s cabinet, and was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury on 11 September 1789. He continued in this role for almost five years, during which he had a key role in defining the structure of the government of the United States and created the country’s first national bank.