The worst fire in the history of the London Underground killed 31 people at Kings Cross St Pancras station.
King’s Cross St Pancras is a major intersection on the London Underground network. Numerous deep platforms serve the Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines in addition to the Thameslink service. At the time many of these platforms were reached by wooden escalators that had been in place for many years, inside which large amounts of combustible waste had accumulated.
At approximately 7.30pm, passengers reported a fire on one of the Piccadilly Line escalators. The official inquiry later determined that it had been started by a lit match being dropped, which caused the fire to break out beneath the escalator in an area that was difficult to reach with a conventional fire extinguisher. Although water fog equipment was present in the station the staff had not been trained on how to use it so the fire brigade was called instead.
The decision was soon made to evacuate the station using the Victoria Line escalators, and just a few minutes later the fire brigade arrived to find a small fire that soon engulfed the entire escalator. Superheated gases rose to the ceiling of the tunnel, where layers of old paint absorbed the heat that caused a devastating flashover at 7.45pm. Due to the construction of the escalator and the 30° angle of the shaft, a jet of flames and smoke burst into the ticket hall in what scientists now refer to as the ‘trench effect’.
The intense heat of the flashover killed or seriously injured the people who were still in the ticket hall, while hundreds more were trapped below ground and were forced to escape on trains. London Underground were later criticised for failing to train staff effectively on how to deal with fires and evacuate passengers.
On the 11th November 1918, fighting on the First World War’s Western Front ended when representatives from the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne. Named after the location in which it was signed, the armistice was agreed at around 5:00 a.m. in a railway carriage that was part of Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch’s private train. Designed to come into effect at 11:00 a.m. Paris time, the armistice was extended three times before the Treaty of Versailles finally came into force on the 10th January 1920.
President Woodrow Wilson of the USA had outlined his war aims in the Fourteen Points that he announced in a speech in January 1918. These provided a framework for peace, and were a key factor in encouraging Germany to enter negotiations.
By the end of September, the German High Command had realised that the German cause on the Western Front was doomed. The Kaiser was informed of the situation on the 29th September, and by the 5th October the German government had contacted President Wilson of the United States to begin preparations for negotiating an armistice. However, the two sides didn’t come together until the 8th November because Britain, France and Italy were unwilling to enter discussing based on the 14 Points. By this point the German Revolution was about to result in the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The negotiation wasn’t really a negotiation: the German delegation was presented with the terms and had no option but to sign. The railway carriage in which they did so was later used by Hitler for France’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940.
Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American journalist and explorer, allegedly greeted the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone with the phrase, “Dr Livingston, I presume?”
David Livingstone was born in 1813 and, having completed training as a doctor, made his first journey to Africa in 1841. He converted his first and only African eight years later, after which he became convinced that further missionary work could only succeed if Africa’s rivers were mapped to become ‘highways’ to the interior.
Livingstone sent his family back to Britain in 1852 prior to beginning an expedition to explore the Zambezi. Over the course of the next four years he crossed the African continent and mapped almost the entire Zambezi while becoming the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls.
Livingstone returned to Britain in 1856, but sailed back to Africa in 1858 with the intention of opening the Zambezi to ‘legitimate’ British trade to combat slavery. After this expedition failed in its aim to find a navigable route to the interior Livingstone again returned to Britain. He began his final journey to Africa in January 1866.
Hoping to find the source of the Nile, the expedition began to fail as Livingstone’s assistants began to desert him. With the outside world having heard nothing of him for over three years, Henry Morton Stanley was sent to find the Scot by the New York Herald newspaper in 1869. He was eventually found on 10 November 1871 in the town of Ujiji. Stanley is alleged to have greeted him with the words “Dr Livingston, I presume?” although this phrase is likely a fabrication since the relevant pages in Stanley’s diary were torn out, and Livingstone himself never mentioned it.
On the 5th November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot was foiled when Guy or Guido Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in an undercroft below the House of Lords in London. The failure of the plot and execution of the conspirators has since been commemorated in Britain on what is known as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, where effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on a bonfire amidst large firework displays.
The Gunpowder Plot was conceived at a time of significant religious tension in the British Isles. Less than a century had passed since Henry VIII broke from Rome, and Catholics continued to be persecuted when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. Led by Robert Catesby, a group of thirteen Catholics conspired to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament, when James would be inside the building. Having killed the king, they would then initiate a revolt that would bring James’ young daughter Elizabeth to the throne as a puppet queen. However, the plot was revealed in an anonymous letter and the search of the undercroft was conducted late in the evening of the 4th November.
Most people know that Guy Fawkes, along with the other surviving conspirators, was sentenced to execution by being hung, drawn and quartered. However, what is less widely known is that he managed to leap from the gallows and break his neck. Fawkes was therefore already dead by the time the executioner began to carry out the more gruesome parts of his sentence.
Focusing on reform of the electoral system to improve the conditions of the working class, the release of the People’s Charter in 1838 had prompted the creation of the national working-class Chartist protest movement. William Lovett of the newly-established London Working Men’s Association had written the majority of the document, but a petition in favour of it was rejected by the House of Commons on 12 July 1839.
Parliament’s refusal to listen to their concerns led to increased working class anger. Just three weeks later the Chartist leader Henry Vincent was jailed by the Welsh Monmouth Assizes for making inflammatory speeches. This further angered Chartists in Wales who soon began to organise and equip themselves for a mass protest.
Between three and five thousand Chartists marched into Newport on 4 November, by which time the authorities had prepared for a violent confrontation. The marchers made for the Westgate Hotel where they heard a number of Chartist prisoners were being held, but their chant to “surrender our prisoners” was met only with gunfire from the soldiers stationed there. An estimated 22 Chartists were killed in the battle, and dozens more were injured.
Approximately 200 Chartists were arrested for their involvement in the march. The three principal leaders, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Although their sentences were later reduced to transportation for life following a national outcry, they were the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales.
Prior to the adoption of universally accepted time zones, the vast majority of settlements around the world observed local mean solar time. Because of variations in geographical longitude, this meant that different towns and cities had slightly differing time standards. Although Greenwich Mean Time had been established in 1675 to help mariners navigate at sea, no law existed to mandate its use for local time.
The arrival of the railways in the mid-19th Century increased the need for a standardised time across the network, since local time would differ in all the towns the train visited. In Great Britain, Greenwich Mean Time was first adopted by the Great Western Railway and it is estimated that by 1855 up to 98% of all public clocks in the country displayed Greenwich Mean Time.
The use of a standard time in Britain was, however, not mandated by law. It was the New Zealand government that first introduced such legislation in order to allow the easier synchronisation of railways, steam ships, and the electric telegraph. Having consulted with Scottish-born scientist and explorer James Hector, the government adopted his recommendation of a time zone based on New Zealand’s mean longitude 172° 30′ east of Greenwich. Originally established at 11½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, New Zealand Mean Time was adopted on 2 November 1868.
Britain eventually implemented a standardised national time in 1880, while the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act on 19 March 1918.
On the 26th October 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi met with Victor Emanuel II, the King of Sardinia, at Teano and handed him control of southern Italy. Hailing him as King of Italy, Garibaldi’s surrender of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies effectively ended any hope for an Italian republic but was one of the most significant events in the unification of the peninsula.
Garibaldi landed with his ‘Thousand’ – better known as the Redshirts – on the island of Sicily on the 11th May. The number of troops under his command quadrupled within just three days and so, on the 14th, Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.
Within a fortnight he had besieged the Sicilian capital of Palermo, where many of the inhabitants joined with him and began to attack the Neapolitan garrison. Despite the arrival of 25,000 reinforcements the Neapolitans surrendered the city following an armistice facilitated by a British admiral, but not before the city had been virtually reduced to rubble.
Further difficult battles followed, but by the start of September Garibaldi had crossed to the mainland and taken control of Naples after the king fled with his army. However, he was not yet defeated, and still had the support of around 25,000 soldiers. At the Battle of Volturno, Garibaldi’s Redshirts were only successful against them thanks to the arrival of the Piedmontese Army who made it clear that they would not allow Garibaldi to march on Rome. When Victor Emmanuel arrived on the 26th October therefore, Garibaldi handed over his territory and retired to the island of Caprera.
At 9.15am on the 21st October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a colliery spoil tip above the Welsh village of Aberfan collapsed. Approximately 150,000 cubic meters of mining debris from waste tip No. 7 surged down the mountainside, of which 40,000 cubic metres swept in to the village.
Within seconds a large area of the village was inundated with a thick slurry up to 12 metres deep. A farm and twenty houses on Moy Road disappeared under the surging waste, but the most devastation was wrought on Pantglas Junior School. The landslide smashed into the school and filled the classrooms, which were on the side of the school facing the mountain, with rubble. The children and teachers, who had only arrived a few minutes earlier, were buried alive. Over half the children enrolled at the school died.
Hundreds of people including parents, miners and rescue workers struggled to rescue those trapped beneath the waste. Their efforts were hampered by the continuing flow of water and mud from the tip as well as the lack of space in which to work due to the number of people who had descended on the village to help.
The National Coal Board and its chairman, Alfred Lord Robens, were heavily criticised in the aftermath of the disaster. Lord Robens didn’t go to the scene until the evening of the next day, and claimed that the disaster was caused by ‘natural unknown springs’ despite evidence that the NCB was fully aware that the ground beneath the tips was unstable. The remaining tips were only removed after government intervention.
On the 18th October 1922, the British Broadcasting Company was established. Originally established as a private consortium of radio manufacturers to secure the first broadcasting license in the UK, the company later became the British Broadcasting Corporation when it transferred to government ownership under the Postmaster General, the ministerial position that was responsible for the postal system and telecommunications.
In the early 1920s, the UK’s radio set producers were keen to expand their market. At the time the government only granted occasional ‘experimental’ radio licenses, which meant that there were large periods when the airwaves were completely silent. This was no use to radio manufacturers themselves who needed broadcasts in order to make their products worthwhile.
As more and more requests were submitted for the ‘experimental’ licenses, the government declared its decision to instead grant a single broadcasting license to a consortium of the UK’s leading radio manufacturers. The six companies held an equal amount of shares in the new venture, which hired John – later to become Lord – Reith as its first Managing Director.
The new broadcasting company was funded through a royalty on the sale of radio sets sold by the member producers, and by a license fee. However, the number of amateur electronics enthusiasts who began building their own sets meant that the income did not produce adequate funds. Consequently the member companies found themselves making a loss, which contributed to their desire to extricate themselves from the arrangement. By the time the BBC had begun its first experimental television broadcasts in 1932, the company had been publicly funded for five years.
Einstein, who was Jewish, was undertaking a visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30 January 1933. With the Nazis expanding their power in Germany, Einstein chose not to go home when he returned to Europe in March. When his ship docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp on 28 March he renounced his German citizenship by handing in his passport at the German Consulate.
While the Nazis seized Einstein’s cottage and converted it to a Hitler Youth camp, the government barred Jews from teaching at universities and the German Student Union burned his books. With a bounty on his head, Einstein stayed in Belgium for a few months before moving to Britain where he was guarded by his friend, naval officer Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson.
While a refugee in Britain, Einstein lobbied foreign governments and universities to find employment for former German Jewish scientists. Many places were found around Europe, with over 1,000 German Jewish scientists being placed in Turkish universities alone, but Einstein himself was refused British citizenship and instead accepted an offer from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. He departed England on 17 October 1933.
Although Einstein initially intended to only stay in the United States for a short time, in 1935 he chose to seek American citizenship, which he gained in 1940. By this time he had warned President Roosevelt about the danger of Hitler developing nuclear weapons, and encouraged the United States to begin its own research.