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 17th November 1558, Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister Mary to become queen of England. The last of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth’s reign is seen by many as a ‘golden age’ in English history. A period of relative political and religious stability, her reign saw unprecedented foreign exploration and expansion, while at home the English Renaissance brought about enormous cultural developments and the rise of one of the greatest playwrights ever to have lived – William Shakespeare.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and, despite being declared illegitimate following the annulment of her parents’ marriage, came to the throne as the next in line behind her Catholic half-sister under the terms of the Third Succession Act. Having become queen when she was 25 years old, Elizabeth relied heavily on a group of advisers led by Robert Cecil and is generally seen as providing stability through her long reign, in comparison to her two siblings.
Soon after assuming power she introduced the Elizabethan Religious Settlement consisting of two Acts of Parliament which resolved much of the Protestant/Catholic divide that had characterised the years before and after her reign. However, this did little to appease the Catholic Philip II of Spain who famously launched the Spanish Armada against England in 1588 but was defeated.
Elizabeth never married nor had any heirs, leading to her becoming known as the Virgin Queen. When she died, the lack of an heir led to the end of the Tudor dynasty and the beginning of the Stuarts after James VI of Scotland became James I of England.
On the 13th November 1002, the St Brice’s Day Massacre took place when king Æthelred the Unready “ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England”. Although it is believed that there was considerable loss of life, actual numbers of Danes who were killed following the order are unknown. However, recent archaeological excavations including two mass graves have begun to shed some light on the mystery.
Æthelred came to the throne when he was just 10 years old, following the assassination of his half-brother Edward the Martyr, who he succeeded. Suspicions over Æthelred’s involvement led to distrust of the new king, and meant that he did not secure the full loyalty of all his subjects.
By this time Danes already dominated large areas of northern and eastern England in a region known as the Danelaw, where Danish settlers had practised self-rule since 878. Some Danes later settled in Æthelred’s kingdom, of which a portion exploited the existing divisions among the king’s subjects by raiding towns on the south coast. Combined with raids by new arrivals from Scandinavia, Æthelred found his kingdom under attack every year.
The king paid significant amounts of silver and gold to the new Danes as Danegeld (‘Dane-payment’) in an attempt to stop the attacks but, in 1002, received information that the Danes planned to “beshrew him of his life, and afterwards all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance.” In response, Æthelred ordered the killing of all Danes in England, although it is unlikely that the killing extended into the Danelaw. For Æthelred, the massacre had little effect but to provoke a brutal retaliation by Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, who invaded the following year.
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.
Raleigh had been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who granted him permission to lead three expeditions to the Americas. Although he had inspired the Queen’s fury after secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting, Raleigh had returned to her favour by the time she died in March 1603.
In November, Raleigh was found guilty of treason for his involvement in the Main Plot that sought to depose Elizabeth’s successor James I and replace him with his cousin Arabella Stuart. The King suspended the death sentence and instead imprisoned Raleigh in the Tower of London, where he lived for thirteen years before being pardoned.
Raleigh was freed and granted permission by James to undertake an expedition in search of the fabled city of El Dorado, which began in 1617. In January 1618 a group of his men ignored an order to avoid confrontation with Spanish settlers when Lawrence Keymis, Raleigh’s closest companions, led an attack on the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco River. This was in direct contravention of peace treaties signed between England and Spain. Raleigh’s son, Walter, was also killed in the attack.
Although Raleigh himself had specifically ordered his men not to attack, he knew that their actions had broken a key condition of his pardon. On his return to England the Spanish ambassador demanded the earlier sentence be reinstated, and King James had little option but to order Raleigh’s execution. He was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618.
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.
On the 14th October 1066, the Battle of Hastings was fought between Duke William II of Normandy and the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson. Harold’s defeat triggered the Norman conquest of England and the beginning of a new age in England’s rich monarchical history.
To call the battle the Battle of Hastings is actually misleading, since it was actually fought seven miles away from Hastings, near the modern town of Battle, although the 1087 Domesday Book ordered by William the Conqueror did describe it as the Battle of Hastings.
Less than four weeks before the battle, the northern English army had been defeated by King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Fulford. Harold had been waiting on the south coast, expecting an invasion by William, but Hardrada’s invasion forced him to rush north where he defeated the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th September.
Conscious of the imminent Norman invasion, Harold immediately marched his battered troops south again on an exhausting journey averaging 27 miles a day. Having received news of William’s arrival on the way, Harold arrived at the battleground and took up a defensive position on top of Senlac Hill.
Contemporary accounts of the battle frequently contradict each other, so specific details are not known. However, most historians accept that the Anglo-Saxons formed a shield wall that was broken after the Norman knights staged a feigned retreat. Harold was killed on the battlefield. His exact cause of death isn’t known, but signalled the collapse of the English forces. William was crowned King of England on the 25th December.
The first recorded naval battle featuring artillery took place in the first naval engagement of the Hundred Years’ War.
The Battle of Arnemuiden saw five slow but stable single-masted English cogs face 48 galleys of The Grand Army of the Sea. This huge French fleet had already sacked English coastal towns such as Portsmouth and Southampton in an attempt to cripple the English economy and stop Edward III’s attempts to gain the French crown.
Edward relied on income from the valuable wool trade to ensure he could pay for his army and maintain the support of his allies on the continent. The five ships that sailed from England to the Flanders port of Arnemuiden were unloading this cargo when they were overwhelmed by the French fleet.
Realising that their best chance of avoiding capture was to put to sea again, the ships quickly left their moorings. Under the command of John Kingston on board the Christopher, the English then attempted to fight off the French. Four of the five ships were forced to adopt the established tactic of attempting to ram the sides of the opposing ships, but the Christopher was able to employ a new type of offensive: artillery.
The ship was equipped with three canons and one handgun and, against overwhelming numbers, the crew were able to use these to hold off the enemy for much of the day. However, Kingston was eventually forced to surrender. The French admirals Hugues Quiéret and Nicolas Béhuchet captured the five ships with their valuable cargo and executed the crews.
The French navy went on to dominate the Channel for almost two years before its decisive defeat at the Battle of Sluys on 24 June 1340 during which the English were able to recapture the Christopher.
Cecil Chubb became the last private owner of Stonehenge, having bought the Neolithic monument at auction.
Chubb grew up four miles away from the famous stones in the English village of Shrewton, where his father was the village saddler and harness maker. He won a place at a grammar school and later attended Christ’s College, Cambridge before becoming a barrister.
Chubb had amassed a considerable fortune by the time he attended an auction at the Palace Theatre in Salisbury on 21 September 1915. The company Knight Frank and Rutley auctioned Stonehenge on behalf of its former owners, the aristocratic Antrobus family, who had owned the stones and surrounding land for generations. Lieutenant Edmund Antrobus, the heir to the Baronetcy, was serving with the Grenadier Guards in Belgium when he was killed in action on 24 October 1914. His father, Sir Edmund Antrobus, the fourth Baronet, died just a few months later on 11 February 1915. With no surviving male heirs the line passed to the elder Edmund’s brother Cosmo, who put Stonehenge up for auction.
According to Stonehenge’s curator, Chubb had gone to the auction to buy a pair of curtains and claimed that he only bought the monument ‘on a whim’. There is competing speculation that he may have bought the stones as a romantic gesture for his wife, or that he did so in order to stop a foreign bidder from taking ownership.
Whatever the reason for Chubb’s purchase, on 26 October 1918 he gifted the monument to the nation. As part of the terms of the donation, he stipulated that local people should get in for free and that outsiders should pay no more than one shilling per visit. English Heritage, who now run the site, claim that the current entry price is still within this limit due to wage inflation.
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.