On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.
The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.
They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.
Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.
On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
On the 8th July 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average – a key indicator of the value of America’s biggest companies – fell to its lowest point during the Great Depression that began with the Wall Street Crash. From its high of 381.17 on September 3rd 1929, the Dow plummeted by almost 90 per cent to 41.22. The last time it had closed that low was in June 1897.
The spectacular collapse of the Dow reflected the issue at the heart of the Great Depression – the panic selling of US stocks that wiped out private investors and many of the companies they had invested in. This had a knock-on effect outside the stock market, where those very companies were forced to lay off workers. In Cleveland, 50 per cent of the city’s workers were unemployed by the end of 1932. The downward economic spiral was eventually reversed, but the Dow itself didn’t return to its 1929 high point until 1954.
The response of American President Herbert Hoover to the economic crisis was not viewed favourably by ordinary American people. He gave numerous radio speeches in which he attempted to reassure them that things would improve. Although he never actually said, “prosperity is just around the corner” his speeches suggested it. But things continued to decline and shanty towns, known as Hoovervilles, appeared around the country as people moved from place to place in search of work. Protesting war veterans were attacked by the army. And, with promises of a ‘New Deal’ Franklin D Roosevelt went on to defeat Hoover in the 1932 presidential election.
The Peasants’ Revolt was triggered when John Bampton arrived in Essex to investigate non-payment of the poll tax.
Although sparked by the introduction of a new poll tax, the roots of the Peasants’ Revolt lay in the dramatic social and economic upheaval that had emerged after the devastation of the Black Death. The plague had reached England in 1348 and soon wiped out up to half of the entire population. In the aftermath the surviving peasantry had demanded better wages and conditions, so grew increasingly angry at the government’s attempts to limit such changes.
This resentment was aggravated by the introduction of taxes to fund the English campaign against France in the Hundred Years’ War. Richard II was only ten years old when he inherited the throne in 1377 and his government forged ahead with the introduction of a new poll tax. By the time Parliament passed a third poll tax in 1380 the situation was incredibly volatile.
Many people, especially those in the south-east of the country, refused to pay. This prompted the government to begin investigating those who had not paid. John Bampton and his clerks were greeted by a crowd of villagers determined not to pay any further taxes and, after the officials attempted to arrest their leader, violence broke out.
The revolt quickly spread from Essex to Kent and beyond. Tax collectors and landlords were attacked, while tax records and registers were destroyed. By the time the crowds reached London in mid-June, Wat Tyler had emerged as leader of the Kentish rebels.
After rejecting a series of royal charters granted at Mile End the previous day, Tyler presented a comprehensive set of demands to Richard on 15th June at Smithfield. Tyler was later attacked and killed by members of the royal party, heralding the collapse of the revolt.
On the 27th March 1963, Chairman of the British Transport Commission Dr Richard Beeching published his report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. The first of two documents that outlined his plans for the reduction and restructuring of the British railway network, the subsequent Beeching Cuts resulted in the closure of 2,128 stations, thousands of miles of track, and the loss of up to 70,000 jobs.
By the end of the Second World War, road transport had grown exponentially and many of the nation’s railway lines were in a poor state of repair. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became British Rail. However, economic recovery and the end of petrol rationing spurred a 10% annual increase in road vehicle mileage through to the 1960s, while railway income slowly fell below operating costs. By 1961 British Rail was operating at a loss of £300,000 per day.
Beeching was drafted in by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to make the railways profitable. His detailed analysis of rail traffic highlighted stations and lines that ran at a constant loss by raising very little income while their fixed operating costs remained high. He pointed out that stations and railway lines had broadly the same fixed costs whether they saw 1000 passengers a week or 6000.
Beeching’s report therefore recommended that 6,000 out of the existing 18,000 miles of railway line should be closed entirely, while others should only serve freight. Meanwhile 2,363 stations were to close. Not all the recommendations were implemented, but by the early 1970s thousands of miles of line, thousands of stations, and thousands of jobs had been cut.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.
By the start of the 17th century merchants from the Dutch Republic had begun to undertake voyages to the ‘Spice Islands’ of the Indian Ocean. This put them in direct competition with established traders from other European nations including Portugal and Britain, both of whom had previously dominated the market.
Due to the high risks for individual investors who mounted these individual voyages, the Dutch government supported the creation of a new umbrella company two years after the establishment of the competing English East India Company. The United East India Company combined the various individual business interests into a single entity that was granted a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. Consequently the risk to investors was reduced as their individual funds were invested in the entire company’s voyages, meaning that if some ships failed to return they were not completely wiped out. In return investors received an annual dividend of 18%.
Known in the Netherlands as the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC, the company grew to become arguably the first transnational corporation. Yet by the middle of the 17th century it had begun to function as a state within a state that possessed its own army and political authority. Having usurped both the British and Portuguese competitors in the East Indies, the VOC dominated trade in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans for almost two centuries. During this time it sent almost a million European people to work in the region in almost 5,000 ships, more than the rest of the continent combined.
The economic bubble that is also referred to as the ‘dot-com boom’ was the result of investors speculatively pouring money into the numerous internet companies that were founded in the mid- to late-1990s. The exponential growth witnessed by the stock market was primarily based on overconfidence in new online businesses, many of which had a ‘.com’ suffix.
A large number of these companies raised enormous funds by selling shares in initial public offerings, despite the fact that some of them had not even begun to generate income, let alone make a profit.
Driven by a mixture of private investors and venture capitalists, both of whom hoped to make massive gains from the rapid growth of the internet, the stock value of many of the new dot-com companies increased exponentially. However the party couldn’t last and the market quickly declined after the NASDAQ Composite index, which includes many technology companies, peaked at 5,132.52 during trading on 10 March 2000.
Around this time some of the companies began to report huge losses. This bad news, combined with large sell orders of stocks by some of the larger tech companies, led to panic selling that made the stock market lose 10% of its value within just a few weeks. Without access to previously abundant capital other companies folded, bursting the dot-com bubble.
The dot-com crisis was exacerbated by a stock market downturn following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Yet, despite the broader collapse in the tech sector, a number of companies including Amazon, eBay, and Google, managed to survive and later flourish.
On the 15th February 1971, the United Kingdom and Ireland abandoned their old currency of pounds, shillings and pence and introduced a decimalised system. Thanks to a long transitional period that had been established prior to decimalisation, Decimal Day itself went relatively smoothly while shops continued to accept ‘old money’ for a few weeks afterwards in order to remove old coins from circulation.
Decimalisation wasn’t seriously considered by the British Parliament until the Halsbury Committee presented its report on decimal currency in 1963. The majority of the Commonwealth had either already adopted, or were in the process of adopting, decimal currency and so the time seemed right to reconsider Britain’s own stance. On the 1st March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced the government’s acceptance of the report’s recommendations and established the Decimal Currency Board.
Although the government didn’t pass the Decimal Currency Act until May 1969, production of the new coins had already begun at the new Royal Mint site in South Wales, which had opened the previous year. The gradual introduction of the new coins began in 1968, with 5p and 10p coins the first to enter circulation. They were exactly the same size and value as the existing one- and two-shilling coins, so ran alongside the old currency as their ‘decimal twins’. The following year the world’s first seven-sided coin was introduced, when the 50p piece replaced the 10-shilling note.
This prior introduction of three of the six new coins, together with an extensive publicity campaign, contributed greatly to the smoothness of Decimal Day when it finally came about in 1971.
France and the United States signed the first two treaties ever negotiated by the American government, and which formally recognised the independence of the United States.
Keen to exact revenge on Britain for the Seven Years’ War, France had begun to send secret military aid to the American Continental Army even before the Continental Congress declared independence. With French finance and equipment coming in through the fictitious Roderigue Hortalez and Company, founding Father John Adams began to draft a possible future treaty with France. Confident of securing a formal alliance with King Louis XVI, the Continental Congress sent a delegation to France under Benjamin Franklin in late 1776.
Franklin first met with the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes, on 28 December where he sought to obtain further French support for the fledgling American government. However, he struggled to secure a formal alliance due to French concerns over recent British victories in the New York and New Jersey campaign.
The British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga in October the following year caused the French government to reconsider their position and reopen talks with the United States. These negotiations led to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance.
Signed in Paris on 6 February 1778, the first of these documents formally recognised the independence of the United States and established a trading relationship that defied the Navigation Acts which had restricted colonial trade to England. The Treaty of Alliance was consequently signed to provide mutual military support in case the Treaty of Amity and Commerce caused Britain to break its existing peace agreement with France and go to war.