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The History of August

From electric lights to Lawrence of Arabia - Jeremy Smith explores the history of significant dates in August

"One report said that since my time on the run I've had 2,500 girlfriends. I mean, you have got to realise I've been on the run for more than 30 years. I have got to have had more than that"

1st August: "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves"

1740 - 'Rule Britannia', written by James Thomson and David Mallet, is sung for the first time in public in Thomas Arne's 'Masque Alfred'. And according to Oxford University historian Oliver Cox, it is written more as a protest against King George II than as a patriotic anthem. He believes audience members at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire where it was performed interpreted it more as a rallying cry against the King and Prime Minister (Sir Robert Walpole) than as a quintessential expression of British national identity.

1833 - Britain abolishes slavery. The act however does not free enslaved people immediately: instead they become 'apprentices' for six years (protests finally force the government to abolish this scheme on August 1st, 1838).

1871 - The first legislation relating to bank holidays is passed when Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock introduces the Bank Holidays Act 1871. Under the Act, no person is compelled to make any payment or to do any act upon a bank holiday which he would not be compelled to do or make on Christmas Day or Good Friday. The English people are, understandably, so thankful that some call the first Bank Holidays 'St Lubbock's Days'.

1932 – The first Mars Bars are produced. In 1932, Forrest Mars, son of American candy maker Frank C. Mars, rents a factory in Slough and with a staff of twelve people, begins manufacturing a chocolate bar consisting of nougat and caramel covered in milk chocolate, modelled after his father's Milky Way bar, which is already popular in the US.

3rd August: "And then there was light!"

1926 - Britain's first set of electric lights appear on the streets of London

4th August: "Humanity. Impartiality. Neutrality. Independence"

A public meeting is held in London and a resolution passed that "a National Society be formed in this country for aiding sick and wounded soldiers in time of war and that the said Society be formed upon the Rules laid down by the Geneva Convention of 1864".

In 1905 the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War is reconstituted as British Red Cross and granted its first Royal Charter in 1908 by HM King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, who becomes its president.

5th August: "... and stay out!"

910 - Last great Viking raid is defeated

1583 - The first British colony in North America is founded by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a British navigator and explorer. He spots the Newfoundland coast and takes possession of the area around St. John's harbour in the name of the Queen.

6th August: "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

1809 - Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson is born in Somersby, Lincolnshire. He is appointed Poet Laureate in succession to William Wordsworth.

1881 - Penicillin discoverer Alexander Fleming is born in Lochfield, Scotland. By accident he discovers mould from soil kills deadly bacteria without injuring human tissue. He receives the Nobel Prize in 1954. 

7th August: "Brum, Brum"

1926 - Britain's first Grand Prix is held at Brooklands

1993 - Buckingham Palace opens to tourists. Cost is £8.00 for adults and it is hoped profits will pay for the £40 million cost of restoring Windsor Castle, which was managed by fire in 1992.  More than 380,000 visited the Palace in this first year.

August 8:  "One report said that since my time on the run I've had 2,500 girlfriends. I mean, you have got to realise I've been on the run for more than 30 years. I have got to have had more than that"

1963 - Britain's Great Train Robbery. More than £2.6 million is stolen from the Travelling Post Office (TPO) on route from Glasgow Central Station to London Euston Station. Up until this time Britain had a proud record of operating a vast rail network without a single major robbery. The robbery stuns the nation because of the enormous amount of money stolen.

It also captures their imagination as the highly organised style of the robbery sounds more like a Hollywood script. Tales of a criminal gang co-ordinated by a single mastermind were soon spreading through the press.

In the aftermath of the robbery a total reward of £260,000 was offered for the detection of the thieves. Indeed, it is not until 2001 when the last of the known suspects is sent to jail. In the period in between the plot continued along the lines of a classic suspense movie with two of the men being arrested and then escaping from prison separately, arrests being made in Germany, Canada and Brazil.

The gang members are Ronnie Biggs, Bruce Reynolds, Ronald Edwards, Charles Wilson, Roy James, Brian Field, Gordon Goody, James Hussey, Roger Cordrey, James White, Tommy Wisbey, Bobby Welch, Bill Boal and John Wheater.

August 10: "And did those feet in ancient time..."

1895 – The first Proms concert. Although Henry Wood is today synonymous with The Proms, the first Proms concert took place on 10 August 1895 and was the brainchild of impresario Robert Newman, manager of the newly built Queen's Hall in London.

While Newman had previously organised symphony orchestra concerts at the hall, his aim was to reach a wider audience by offering more popular programmes, adopting a less formal promenade arrangement, and keeping ticket prices low.

1971 - first Mr Men book published. Written by Roger Hargreaves, the very first Mr Men were Mr Tickle, Mr Greedy, Mr Happy, Mr Nosey, Mr Sneeze and Mr Bump.

August 11: "... and lashings of ginger beer" (even though this line never appears in a single Famous Five adventure)

1897 - Birth of best-selling children's writer Enid Blyton, who not only created The Famous Five but also Noddy, Malory Towers, The Secret Seven, the Naughtiest Girl and St Clare's. In total she wrote 186 novels, 269 character books, 983 short story series books, 268 education books and 252 recreation books. But she will always be best remembered for Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy.

1711 – The first race at Ascot. It is Queen Anne in 1711 who first sees the potential for a racecourse at Ascot (in those days called East Cote). Whilst out riding near Windsor Castle she comes upon an area of open heath that looks, in her words, “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch”.

The first race meeting ever held at Ascot takes place later that year, on Saturday 11th August. The inaugural event was Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over six years of age.  Each horse was required to carry a weight of 12 stone and the seven runners were all English Hunters, rather different to the speedy thoroughbreds that race on the flat today.

August 13: "People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately!"

1899 - British film director Alfred Hitchcock is born in London. During his career, he creates more than 50 feature films including 'Psycho', 'North by Northwest', 'The Birds', 'Rear Window', 'Dial M for Murder', 'Strangers On A Train' and 'Vertigo'.

August 16: "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts"

1888 - Birth of Thomas Edward Lawrence in Tremadoc, North Wales. He only became famous as 'Lawrence of Arabia" when American war correspondent Lowell Thomas launched a 1919 lecture tour recounting his assignment in the Middle East. His photographs and films transfixed the public and transformed the British colonel into both a war hero and an international celebrity. 

Interestingly, while six-foot, three-inch Peter O'Toole cut a towering figure in the 1962 epic, the real Lawrence was only five feet, five inches and remained self-conscious about his height all his life. 

He also first travelled to the Middle East as an Oxford archaeology student in the summer of 1909.

August 17:  'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"

1945 - Animal Farm is published. Written by George Orwell, acclaimed writer Malcolm Bradbury has called it "surely the most important work of fictional political satire to be written in twentieth-century Britain". Manor Farm is a small farm in England run by the harsh and often drunk Mr. Jones. One night, a boar named Old Major gathers all the animals of Manor Farm together. Knowing that he will soon die, Old Major gives a speech in which he reveals to the animals that men cause all the misery that animals endure. 

Old Major says that all animals are equal and urges them to join together to rebel. Old Major dies soon after, but two pigs named Snowball and Napoleon adapt his ideas into the philosophy of Animalism. Three months later, the animals defeat Jones in an uprising and rename the farm..."Animal Farm."

August 20: "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen"

1940 - In one of his most memorable speeches (and there were many) Winston Churchill says of Britain's brave RAF pilots: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so few"

1951 - First Benny Hill. Benny Hill’s solo TV career begins with his own show, named Hi There! It is broadcast on Monday August 20 1951. 

The BBC programme, 45 minutes long, is written solely by Hill and takes inspiration from his hero, Charlie Chaplin (it's interesting to note that this admiration was mutual, with Chaplin inviting Hill to his Swiss home on at least one occasion).

It was not, however, until January 15th 1955 that the first show actually titled The Benny Hill Show aired and continued to run for 40 years.

August 22: "The Loch Ness Monster is a mixture of gas-filled vegetable mats, turbulence caused by gas escaping from faults in the bed of the loch, commonplace objects including boats and birds seen at a distance ... waves ... otters ... and doubtless other things besides"

565 - The earliest report of a monster in the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the seventh century AD. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events described, Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he encountered local residents burying a man by the River Ness.

They explained that the man was swimming in the river when he was attacked by a "water beast" which mauled him and dragged him underwater. Although they tried to rescue him in a boat, he was dead. Columba sent a follower, Luigne moccu Min, to swim across the river. The beast apparently approached him too but after Columba made the sign of the cross and said: "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once" the creature stopped and fled.

1485 - Richard III becomes the last English King to die in battle, killed at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire

1964 - First edition of TV's "Match of The Day" features just a single game in Liverpool vs Arsenal. The audience for the programme, which is presented by Kenneth Wolstenholme, is a measly 20,000 and the famous Match of the Day theme tune is still six years in the future. 

1996 - Charles and Diana divorce

August 29: "if there is no blood on the line, it is not rugby league"

1895 - Birth of Rugby League. A meeting of major Northern rugby clubs is called at The George Hotel in Huddersfield with representatives from 21 clubs attending (Stockport participating over the telephone).  Among them were names still revered in the game: Wigan, Widnes, Bradford, Warrington, Huddersfield and by a majority of 20–1 they voted to leave the Rugby Union, and form the Northern Rugby Union, which in time became the Rugby League. They arranged a championship, with Manningham of Bradford the first winners in 1896.

August 30: "All aboard!"

1860 - Birkenhead boats the first tram in Europe

August 31: "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony..."

1900 - Coca Cola is sold for the first time in Britain

Jeremy Smith