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.
On the 8th September 1888, the very first Football League games were played in England. Consisting of twelve teams, the first day’s table – if one had been printed – would have featured West Bromwich Albion at the top based on the calculation of ‘goal average’ that acted as the tie-break criteria. However, under the modern rules of ‘goal difference’ that was introduced in 1976, Derby County would have been top of the table on the first day.
The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, who hoped to provide a system whereby all the member clubs would play a guaranteed number of games each season rather than rely on ad-hoc arrangements. The idea was simple: each member of the League would play a home game and an away game against every other League team. Two points would be awarded for a win and one point for a draw and, at the end of the season, the team with the highest number of points would be declared the Champions of England.
Twelve teams made up the very first Football League, and Preston North End finished the season without suffering a single defeat. They became the first ever League champions, and also won the 1889 FA Cup which made them the first ever team to win the League and Cup double.
Based on post-match reports that reveal the delayed kick-off times of each of the matches, it’s now generally accepted that the first ever Football League goal was scored by Kenny Davenport against Derby County just 2 minutes after the match began.
The Great Fire of London began on the 2nd September 1666. Having famously started at a bakery in Pudding Lane, the catastrophic fire blazed for more than three days and destroyed over 13,000 houses, churches and government buildings.
London in the 17th Century was a sprawling and disorganised conurbation, with the thousands of buildings inside the old Roman wall at its heart. This area – known confusingly as ‘the City’ – may well have been the centre of English commerce but was also an enormous fire hazard due to its narrow warrens of houses and workshops. The ballooning population ignored the law that banned the use of wood and thatch, and continued to construct up to six- or seven-storey buildings with over-hanging ‘jetties’ whose roofs would often meet.
It’s generally accepted that the Lord Mayor should have acted more decisively when pressed to authorise the demolition of buildings to create a fire-break. Having failed to cut off the fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, it quickly spread to the south and west thanks to the wind. By lunchtime most residents had given up any hope of extinguishing the flames themselves, and instead were fleeing the fire. This mass of refugees in the narrow streets made it almost impossible for professional fire crews to reach the blaze.
It’s generally believed that the fire was only brought under control due to the use of gunpowder to create large firebreaks, which coincided with the previously strong winds dying down. Then the biggest challenge began: trying to rebuild the city from the smouldering ruins.
On the 31st August 1888, Mary Ann Nichols – commonly known as Polly – became the first confirmed victim of Jack the Ripper in the Whitechapel area of London. Not only had her throat been cut, but her body had been mutilated. Her corpse was left next to a gate in Buck’s Row, which is now known as Durward Street, and was discovered by a cart driver. It was three weeks before the inquest was concluded, by which time a second murder with a similar modus operandi had been committed. On studying the body of Annie Chapman, the coroner noted that “The similarity of the injuries in the two cases is considerable.”
Nichols was 43 years old when she was murdered, having found herself forced to live in boarding houses and workhouses after her alcoholism led her husband to leave her. She turned to prostitution as a way to earn money and, in the early hours of the night she was murdered, had gone out to make enough money to pay for her bed in a boarding house at 18 Thrawl Street.
An hour before her murder, her friend and roommate Nelly Holland spoke to her as she walked the streets. Nichols had already spent her night’s earnings on drink, and so continued to search for customers. Holland was the last person to see her alive before her body was found by Charles Cross at 3.40am.
Nichols’ killer was never found, and debate continues to rage about the identity of the Whitechapel murderer who was given the nickname ‘Jack the Ripper’.
On the 26th August 1346, one of the most decisive battles in the Hundred Years War was won by the army of the English king Edward III. The Battle of Crécy was fought against the French army of King Philip VI and eventually led to the port of Calais becoming an English enclave for over two centuries.
Determined to unseat Philip from the French throne and claim it for himself, Edward had already been involved in a series of conflicts across the Channel. However, the invasion force he brought in 1346 was notable for its large number of longbow archers who made up between half and two-thirds of the approximately 15,000 men who made up the army.
The key advantage of the longbow was its ability to be fired over long distances. Although research has shown that longbow arrows could only pierce the plate armour worn by knights at a distance of 20 metres, they were highly effective against their horses and the lighter armour worn on limbs. Being able to bring down knights before the onset of hand-to-hand combat was incredibly important. Furthermore, the psychological effect of thousands of arrows raining down is known to have affected the fighting spirit of the enemy.
After forcing over 4,000 Genoese crossbowmen in the service of the French King to retreat, the French cavalry were similarly overwhelmed by the archers. Philip abandoned the battle around midnight, with his remaining knight and men-at-arms fleeing the field soon afterwards. French losses mounted into the thousands, while the English lost barely a hundred.
On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.
Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.
Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.
Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.
On the 18th August 1612, the trials of nine Lancashire women and two men known as the Pendle Witches began. Accused of various murders, twelve people were charged of whom was found not guilty and another died in prison before going to trial. The other ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials of the Lancashire witches are not only some of the most famous, but also some of the best recorded witch trials in British history. This is due to a published account called The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts, the clerk to the Lancaster Assizes where all but one of the trials took place.
One of the most interesting things about the trial is that the majority of the defendants self-identified as witches, or at least as village healers who practised what they referred to as ‘magic’ in return for payment. A number of the accused even admitted to Roger Nowell, the justice of the peace for Pendle and chief prosecutor at the trials, that witchcraft had been practised by a number of people in the area around Pendle Hill for many years.
In historical terms, the Pendle Witch trials were significant for their scale. Despite a popular belief that witch trials were a common occurrence in the early modern period, only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft throughout the 300 year period when they were carried out. This means that the ten found guilty in Pendle represented an astounding 2% of all British witches to face trial during the period.
On the 29th July 1567, James VI was crowned king of Scotland when he was just 13 months old. As the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, he succeeded Elizabeth I and became the first monarch to rule all three countries almost 36 years later.
James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and as such immediately became heir to the Scottish throne when he was born. However, his mother’s Roman Catholic faith caused her reign to be constantly under threat from the largely Protestant nobility, and was one of many reasons for her arrest and imprisonment in June 1567. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her young son a month later, and never saw him again as he was quickly taken away to be raised in Stirling Castle as a God-fearing Protestant king.
Having been crowned king when he was barely one year old, James obviously didn’t rule Scotland himself. Instead power lay with a series of four regents who handled the affairs of government until his minority ended in 1578 when he was 12 years old. However, he didn’t gain complete control over the government for another 5 years.
James ruled Scotland on its own until the 24th March 1603, when Elizabeth I of England – James’ first cousin twice removed – died and James was proclaimed king in a surprisingly smooth and peaceful succession. As such he was the first monarch to rule Scotland, England and Ireland in what is referred to as the Union of the Crowns.
The first ever women’s cricket match was played on Gosden Common near Guildford in Surrey.
The match was reported in The Reading Mercury and featured teams from the villages of Bramley and Hambledon. The newspaper made the point that all the players were dressed in all white, but those from Bramley wore blue ribbons while the Hambledon ‘maids’ wore red.
Although the identities of the players are unknown the final result, which saw the team from Hambledon beat Bramley with a score of 127 to 119, was recorded. Furthermore the article highlighted that, ‘the girls bowled, batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game.’
The majority of early women’s cricket matches were local fixtures played in the communities around Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey. Often associated with heavy betting, the sport quickly spread and gained a level of respectability in 1777 when Elizabeth Smith-Stanley, the Countess of Derby, organised a match in which upper-class women made up the two teams.
Despite the growing popularity of women’s cricket, the first women’s cricket club wasn’t formed until 1887. The White Heather Club was established in North Yorkshire, and was followed three years later by the chronologically-confusingly named Original English Lady Cricketers. However, a national organisation for women’s cricket wasn’t established until 1926 when the Women’s Cricket Association was founded. Under its guidance the England team played its first series of test matches in Australia in 1934-5. The Women’s Cricket Association was eventually absorbed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in 1998.
On the 19th July 1799, an announcement was made of the discovery of a slab of rock covered in carvings by French Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard in the area around Fort Julien near the Egyptian town of Rashid or, as it also known, Rosetta. The Rosetta Stone was soon identified as the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but it would be another twenty-five years before the ancient Egyptian language was actually deciphered.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt had begun the previous year with the dual aim of protecting French trade in the area and undermining Britain’s access to India. However, his force also included 167 scientists and scholars who had been tasked with various jobs including researching a possible Suez Canal and creating accurate maps of the country.
It was while some of the engineers were working with the army to strengthen Fort Julien that the granodiorite block we now know as the Rosetta Stone was uncovered. It was soon sent to the newly-created Institut d’Égypte in Cairo who announced the find and devised ways to make copies of the inscriptions which soon made their way to universities and museums around the world.
The inscription is a decree written in three different scripts that all say effectively the same thing: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. It is because the scripts effectively convey the same message that transliteration was able to take place.
When the British defeated the French army in 1801 they seized a large number of French finds, including the Rosetta Stone. It has been exhibited in the British Museum ever since.