On the 8th August 1963, a gang of 15 men attacked a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London and stole over £2.6million in cash. Worth £50million today, the vast majority of the money was never recovered.

A core team of five men with backgrounds in organised crime planned the robbery over a number of months before drafting in support from another group of criminals with experience in train robberies. Central to the plan was information about the amount of money carried on Royal Mail trains, and this was supplied by a Salford postal worker known to the gang as ‘The Ulsterman’.

On the night of the robbery, the gang tampered with the signal at ‘Sears Crossing’ in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire in order to stop the train. Having overpowered the driver and the second crew member, the gang drove the train half a mile to a location where they could load the stolen bags of money onto a waiting Austin Loadstar truck.

Forcing their way in to the High Value Packages coach, the gang met only little resistance from the five postal workers inside the carriage and so ordered them to lie down on the floor in the corner while the bags of money were removed.

Having set themselves a time-limit of 30 minutes to carry out the robbery, 8 bags were left behind on the train when the gang drove to their hide-out at Leatherslade Farm. Here the loot was divided up, and the robbers dispersed before the police could find them. However, the majority were later arrested and convicted.

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 22nd July 1706, the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain was laid when commissioners from England and Scotland agreed the Acts of Union. Although both countries had been under the same monarch since King James I and VI, it took over a century for the two countries to be united as Great Britain.

Previous attempts to unite Scotland and England had taken place since James came to the throne, but each had resulted in failure. However by the start of the 18th century each country found itself in a position where political union would be advantageous. Scotland would benefit from the economic security of union, while England hoped to remove Scotland as a ‘backdoor’ for French attacks or a possible Jacobite restoration.

The 31 English and 31 Scottish commissioners chosen to carry out negotiations for union first met at the Cockpit, a government building at Whitehall in London, on 16th April. As well as their demands, each side also had a bargaining card: England would grant Scotland freedom of trade and access to colonial markets, while Scotland would agree to Hanoverian succession after Queen Anne.

The demands and compromises lined up incredibly well with each other, and after just three days the commissioners had agreed on the basic principles of union. However, it took three months in total to draw up the detailed treaty before it could go to the Scottish and English Parliaments to be ratified. Royal assent was given on the 6th March 1707, and on May 1st the Acts went into effect.

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.

On the 13th February 1689, William and Mary became co-regents of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland after agreeing to the Declaration of Right. On the 5th November the previous year William, the head of state of the Dutch Republic, landed at Torbay after being invited by a group of English Parliamentarians to invade England. His Dutch fleet and army went on to oust the Catholic King James II, his wife Mary’s father, in the so-called Glorious Revolution. James was allowed to flee the country and later took up exile in France.

The Declaration of Right, which became a Bill after it was formally passed on the 16th December, joined other documents such as Magna Carta and the Petition of Right as a central part of the uncodified British constitution. The Declaration placed limits on the monarch’s power and confirmed Parliament’s own rights, ensuring that it was free to function without royal interference. Furthermore, it banned Catholics from the throne.

Parliament originally only wanted to offer the crown to Mary, with William as Prince Consort, but the couple pressed for co-regency. Parliament agreed, and so on the 13th February the couple was declared king and queen. Their coronation took place on the 11th April.

The Glorious Revolution was not seen as such by everyone. The Bill of Right was both politically and religiously divisive, laying the foundations for generations of conflict. Beginning with the Williamite–Jacobite War that confirmed British and Protestant rule in Ireland, the Protestant Ascendancy established political, economic and social domination of the country for over two centuries.

On the 7th February 1964, the Beatles visited the United States for the first time. Their welcome at New York’s Kennedy Airport by 3,000 screaming fans was unprecedented, even for a band that had already become accustomed to hordes of followers at home in Britain and in Europe. Within two days, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show had put them in front of around 40% of the entire population of the country – an estimated 73 million people.

1963 had seen the release of the Beatles’ first two albums – Please Please Me and With the Beatles – as well as five number one singles including She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. The latter, released in the UK on the 29th November was kept from the number one spot for two weeks due to a resurgence in the popularity of She Loves You amidst the media storm that kick-started Beatlemania. A few weeks later, on the 26th December, I Want To Hold Your Hand became the first Capitol Records Beatles release in the USA, selling a quarter of a million copies in the first three days and finally hitting the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on the 1st February.

The Beatles’ arrival in America six days later couldn’t have been any better timed, despite their Ed Sullivan Show appearance being booked before the single was even released. By the time they performed their first live concert to 20,000 fans at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. on the 11th February, Beatlemania had taken a firm grip on America.

On 6 February 1918 the Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent, marking the start of female suffrage in Great Britain. The bill had been passed in the House of Commons by 385 votes to 55 and gave women over the age of 30 who owned property the right to vote. While it therefore denied the vote to a large number of women, it was still a watershed moment in the history of gender equality in the UK.

A traditional explanation for parliament supporting the bill is that it acted as a ‘reward’ for the vital work done by women during World War One. Adherents of this interpretation argue that the Suffragettes had actually damaged the suffrage movement through their violent actions. These included committed arson, vandalism, and other high-profile protests that included the death of Emily Davison at the horse racing Epson Derby of 1913. This interpretation therefore argues it was only the work done by women during the First World War, such as in munitions factories, driving buses, or working on farms that persuaded Parliament to support women’s suffrage.

Conversely, in France where women did equally important war work, they did not win the right to vote. A counter-argument therefore exists that says this is because there was no pre-war suffragist movement in France – and certainly nothing to equal the militancy of the Suffragettes. Adherents of this interpretation therefore argue that the work of the Suffragettes and Suffragists before 1914 had been vitally important to women winning the right to vote years later. The actions of the Suffragettes had shocked many people in Britain, and no-one was keen to return to the violence of pre-1914. In the aftermath of violence that had erupted in Russia and led to the Communist Revolution, the British establishment wanted to avoid that possibility at home. This interpretation therefore argues that passing a relatively moderate female suffrage section in the 1918 Representation of the People Act kept the suffragists happy and delayed more radical reform – such as full and equal voting rights for men and women.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act was, therefore, an important but rather conservative measure. Firstly it only gave the vote to women over 30, since many politicians believed that their age meant they were 1much less likely to support radical politics since they were more likely to be married with children. This meant that many of the women who had worked in the fields and in munition factories during the war did not get the right to vote as they were generally younger than the minimum age. Secondly only women who were property owners qualified for the vote, meaning that even the educated middle-class women who had supported the Suffragettes before 1914 were excluded since many of them had gone into white-collar work after 1920 and lived in rented property away from their parents as a sign of their independence.

The bill passed through the House of Lords by 134 votes to 71 after Lord Curzon, the president of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, made it clear that he would not oppose it and risk clashing with the Commons. Consequently it received Royal Assent from George V on 6 February 1918, increasing the electorate to about 21 million of whom 8.4 million were women.

The women’s suffrage movements welcomed the 1918 Representation of the People Act with prominent campaigner Millicent Fawcett describing the act as the greatest moment of her life. However, the act still showed a clear division between men and women since the same act gave all men over the age of 21 the right to vote, while those who had been on active service in the armed forces could vote from 19. Therefore, women were still not political equals even after the 1918 act. True suffrage equality only came in 1928.

On the 5th February 1924 the BBC ‘pips’ were broadcast for the first time. Five short pips signal the five seconds leading up to the hour, with a slightly longer pip marking the start of the new hour. Although now largely inaccurate as a result of the inherent delay in the encoding, transmission, and decoding of digital radio broadcasts, the pips are still a part of many BBC radio programmes.

The BBC successfully broadcast the chimes of Big Ben for the first time at New Year 1924. This led the Astronomer Royal at the time, Sir Frank Watson Dyson, to suggest that time signals could be broadcast more regularly. Having convinced BBC boss John Reith, the Royal Greenwich Observatory fitted the pendula of two mechanical clocks with electrical contacts that sent a signal to the BBC every second.

The equipment that generated the pips moved from Greenwich in 1939, but the pips are still known officially as the Greenwich Time Signal. The name was even kept after the Greenwich Time Service stopped transmitting the pips in 1990. Since then, the national BBC stations have generated the pips themselves using an atomic clock in the basement of Broadcasting House.

Due to their use as a time signal, the BBC doesn’t allow programmes to broadcast the six pip sequence for any other reason, and used to strongly discourage broadcasters from ‘crashing the pips’ – that is playing any other sound at the same time. Although this rule is now less rigorously enforced on most stations, some Radio 4 listeners still wait with baited breath to hear a presenter accidentally talk over them.

The modern 3-point seat belt was created by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin, who was a safety engineer for car manufacturer Volvo. His creation was first fitted as a standard item to the Volvo 122 in 1959, after which the company made the patent available to other car manufacturers for free.

Australia was the first country to mandate the wearing of seat belts. While all British cars manufactured after 1967 had to have seat belts fitted, it took twelve attempts for legislation to be passed through parliament to make it a requirement to actually wear them.

Figures released at the time placed the number of road deaths in Britain at 6,000. William Rodgers, who served as the Secretary of State for Transport in the previous government, claimed that wearing seat belts could have saved upwards of 1,000 of these lives. Yet even in the face of these figures, which were not widely disputed, critics of the new law accused the government of infringing on personal freedoms and operating a nanny state.

The government, along with organisations such as the Automobile Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, invested heavily in pre-legislation advertising campaigns. These are believed to have increased the voluntary seat belt wearing rate to around 50%, while surveys conducted in the days after the law came into force showed that over 90% of people were now wearing them. The penalty for not doing so was a £50 fine.

The first year of the law also saw the number of road deaths drop by nearly 500 and, having been trialled for three years, the compulsory wearing of seat belts was made permanent in 1986.

The Outer Space Treaty, which provides the basic framework on international space law, was opened for signatures in the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom.

The full name of the agreement is “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”. The document was drawn up by the Legal Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space that had been established by the United Nations General Assembly shortly after the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957.

The treaty consists of just 17 articles, all of which were intended to be flexible in order to adapt to new advances in space technology. At its core, though, are the key principals that underline all modern space exploration. These include an agreement that all exploration should be done “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries” and that nobody has the right to claim celestial bodies as their own, in an attempt to avoid the frenetic imperialism of the nineteenth century. To avoid space becoming a new frontier for war, the treaty banned countries from placing weapons of mass destruction in space – though doesn’t forbid conventional weapons.

107 countries are currently party to the treaty, although another 23 have signed it but not completed ratification. This makes it, in the words of Christopher Johnson, the space law adviser for the Secure World Foundation, “the most important and most fundamental source of international space law.” Nations subsequently create their own specific legislation, but this draws on the 17 principles laid out in the Outer Space Treaty. As a result space exploration has remained entirely peaceful – for the time being at least.