Historical Background Information Outside the railway fence
Note - This section includes what I have found on fashion, important when populating a model railway layout, however clothing is a tricky area. Non-mainstream clothing and other distinctive styles are considered separately in Appendix One - General Information - Social-sub groups and youth movements
The British do not have local variations on a 'national costume', so there has never been a particular standard dress and fashions were generally only taken up only by the wealthy as poor folk were more concerned with practical working gear. There was a massive trade in second hand clothes, clothing generally (especially that of the poor) was 'made to last', often lined with thick cotton or canvas, so clothing with 'fashionable styling' would be seen many years after the fashion had changed. Men wore breeches (trousers that ended just below the knee) well into the mid 19th century and farmers favoured them into the middle of the 20th century. Trousers were really a poor mans garb, initially associated with the Navigators building the canals they only became fashionable for men in the early 19th century, they are however less comfortable and more restricting than breeches, working men would often tie strings around the leg just below the knee to prevent the trousers 'pulling' when they bent down. Working women's skirts were very standardised throughout the 19th century, being dark cloth, ankle length and made of two, occasionally three, widths of material and normally worn with an apron. Cheap printed cotton became available in the later 19th century, so a working or country woman's 'Sunday best' would often be a white cotton dress with a colourful print. I have tried to find photographs on which to base the illustrations, although for the early periods I have had to rely on contemporary art work as the basis. Given the longevity of clothing some illustrations have been repeated for different era's, this has been done where something similar was seen in both periods and saved me doing drawings showing essentially the same thing. One odd point, of no particular relevance here but curious to modern eyes, is that underwear as such did not really exist until the 19th century. For women a cotton under-dress was standard and corsets were worn (either over or more commonly under the dress, depending on the fashions of the time) but knickers (or something like them) only arrived in the 1890s and bras came in about ten years later. Men did not start wearing vests and underpants until the 1850s, when someone decided that wool next to the skin was a good thing and woolen undergarments appeared (although only worn by the more elderly for many years).
The period from about 1750 to the Great Exhibition of 1851 saw the most dramatic change in living conditions in human history, this period is commonly known as the Industrial Revolution, Britain was the cradle of this change but the mechanisms which brought it about are still a matter of debate. Although it is usual to refer to this period as the Industrial Revolution the introduction of industrial production in turn brought fundamental changes in the way people lived and worked which proved at least as significant to the way our world has been shaped. As revolutions go this was a rather slow affair, taking over a hundred years to reach fruition.
The growth of the middle classes during this period saw an increased awareness of clothing as a statement of social status. The first women's magazine to feature fashion plates and articles was The Lady's Magazine, which began this coverage in the 1750's. Thereafter fashion became steadily more important in women's lives, especially with the growth of disposable income in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century. The French Revolution in 1789 had quite an impact on British fashion. In France extravagant dress became unacceptable in the later 18th century and the wealthy French modelled their clothes on those of well to do English country folk and by the 1790's British fashions were simplified to match.
Men's clothing had also become simplified in the later eighteenth century. The standard knee length long coat was modified by having the lower part of the front turned back and buttoned. This in turn became the fashionable tailed coat in the early nineteenth century, worn by people of all classes and adopted by the early police forces as part of their uniform.
In 1813 a Frenchman by the name of Barthelemy Thimmonier invented the first practical sewing machine but this was not generally available (he used them to make uniforms for the French army).
The British canal network was completed within this period, a vast undertaking which saw gangs of 'navigators' (better known today as 'navies') moving from job to job across the country. The development of the canals is considered in more detail in a separate section but it is worth noting that canals were seen as essentially 'local' concerns, there was no private or government thought of a national system. This allowed the growth of a network with differing sizes of channel and lock which was a major factor in their inability to compete with the railways. The canals represented a major improvement where heavy goods were to be transported and the canal companies, or Navigation's as they were called, had a near monopoly on inland trade and charged high rates. To avoid the canal companies having too much power the Government decreed they must operate as toll roads. They were not originally allowed to own any boats themselves but made their money from charging other people to use the canal.
The changes in industry were founded mainly on the demands of the textile trades, which up to the twentieth century were amongst the most economically significant industries in the world. The spinning wheel had appeared in Europe in about 1200 but there was then little development until 1589 when William Lee, an English minister, fell in love with a woman who knitted hose (socks and stockings) for a living. She kept refusing his advances, arguing that she had no time for romance due to the pressure of her work. To resolve this situation Mr. Lee invented a machine called a 'stocking frame' that could produce stockings many times faster than it could be done by hand. The girl married someone else but by the late 1600's many people wore machine-knitted hose. Things then remained stable for a time but in 1733 John Kay (1704-1764) invented the 'flying shuttle' which really began the mechanisation of the textile industry. The following hundred years saw Britain transformed from a largely agricultural nation to the first major industrial power, largely based on textile manufacture. In 1813 the chemist Berzelius published the list of chemical symbols and formulae which we still use today, chemistry at the time was dominated by the needs of the textile industry, mainly associated with dyes and the 'mordants' which (by attacking the fabric) allowed the dyes to remain 'fast' (not washing out when wet). The range of inventions prompted by the needs of the textile industry was very wide, the Scottish Scientist Sir David Brewster invented the Kaleidoscope in 1816 and patented it in 1817) as an aid for textile designers. By the time the railways appeared in the early nineteenth century British exports of cotton goods were valued at over twenty million pounds a year, woollens accounted for another six million pounds and the value of all other exports combined was in the region of twenty million pounds.
One of the most notable social effects of this era of development was the near explosive growth in population. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the rate of population growth in Britain was about thirty percent in every ten years. In about 1800 London's population reached a million, overtaking Paris to become the first city in Europe to do so.
In 1801 a new material came onto the market called 'shoddy', made from woollen rags which had be shredded and re-spun with some new wool. The low cost shoddy, and the slightly better quality 'mungo', remained popular as clothing material for the next hundred years. Also in 1801 the Act of Ireland (1801) united Ireland and Britain as a single country, an idea not popular with the Catholic community in Ireland who were being repressed by the largely protestant 'aristocracy' (mostly of Scots heritage, imported in some numbers by Oliver Cromewll some time earlier, although the English 'occupation' of Ireland dates back to the time of Henery V).
In about 1812 the population of Manchester passed the 100,000 mark and within a few years the number of people working in industry exceeded those working on the land, within a few decades the country could no longer grow enough food and became reliant on imports.
By this time the British Empire stretched round the world, the loss of the American colonies in the eighteenth century had been compensated for by expanding in other areas of the world and Britain was at the height of its power and proud of it. The growing population of the towns had not been planned for, the towns themselves had grown up in a haphazard way and one matter of concern for the religious and increasingly powerful middle classes was the lack of churches in the towns and cities. The British expertise in decorative glass came about in part because of the Six Hundred Churches Act of 1818, passed to promote the building of Anglican churches (few of which had been built since the middle ages) and in the 1820's restrictions on building Roman Catholic churches were eased and this added to the demand. Looking round Britain today the characteristic Gothic architecture of the early Victorian churches in the towns contrasts starkly with the small and often very old village church. In the country the local Vicar, a pillar of Victorian society, was by this time often living in a house that was larger than his church. Life was not so comfortable in the lower orders of society.
The many Enclosures Acts in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century had deprived the poor (who constituted the vast majority of the population) of their right to graze cattle on much of the remaining 'common land' whilst artisans lost their source of timber for building and for fuel. To avoid people starving a system of 'allotments' was introduced in the 1830s, requiring land to be parcelled out in quarter acre lots so the poor could grow their own food, however this provided only a limited safety net, insufficient room for a cow and no firewood. The enclosure acts represented the final end to the medieval or feudal system of granting land rights in Britain and the end of what was left of the peasantry. The result was a period of considerable social unrest and there were gangs of desperate people roaming the countryside sometimes resorting to arson in protest. Food prices had risen as a result of the wars against Napoleon and theft (mainly of food) was rife. The old land rights systems had grown up over many hundreds of years and they incorporated a degree of 'fairness' lacking in the more commercial approach to land ownership which developed in the eighteenth century. The land owners evicting poor tenants were acting within the law but the sense of unfairness was taken by the poor driven from the land into the towns and contributed to much of the fervour of 'radical' thought in the following decades.
Fig ___ Farmer in the 1830s
Trade and 'commerce' were becoming increasingly important, leading to the establishment of what we now call the 'middle class' in society. Disdained by the land owning rich and distrusted by the labouring, uneducated poor the middle classes tended to be religious and conformist. Having no traditional role to play they established their social status by using their growing wealth for 'good works' and it was largely pressure from the middle classes that powered the drive for social reform.
With the social disruptions of changing land use there was also a general fear that mechanisation would lead to people starving to death for lack of paid work. Ned Ludd, one of the earliest dissidents, is reputed to have broken up stocking frames in Leicestershire in about 1789. Mr. Ludd's activities had been widely publicised and in the early nineteenth century when people began forming gangs to smash the new machines in the factories in protest they were known as 'Luddites'. They were active between about 1811 and 1816, however if you read the literature of the time the main thrust of their argument was that existing laws were not being properly enforced. The law set limits on working hours and pay and these same laws outlawed trades unions as being unnecessary, however only the latter element was enforced.
Factory work was not well paid, most people worked about thirteen hours a day and only had Christmas Day and Good Friday as holidays. In 1802 the first Factory Act was passed and one of its provisions required all apprentices to be given elementary education (reading, writing and basic arithmetic), this was the first move away from church based education in Britain. The Factory Acts were quite specific regarding who was affected and did not cover people working in mines, agriculture or on the railways. The war against Napoleon ( 1803- 1815) placed a great strain on the economies of all the countries involved and there was a general economic recession at this time. The Vagrancy Act of 1824 was introduced in the depression after the Napoleonic Wars to force unemployed and destitute soldiers off the streets. It made it an offence for any person to be `wandering abroad and lodging in the open air', it also made begging an offence. (Although repealed in Scotland, the act has been increasingly used in England in the 1980's and 1990's against the homeless. In 1989 in London there were 1,386 convictions for vagrancy. English law classifies as vagrants tramps who do not make use of available shelter, but also prostitutes who behave indecently in public, peddlers who trade without a licence, those who collect for charity under false pretences, and those armed with offensive weapons.).
Times were changing however, as industrialization introduced new goods to the market and reduced the cost of goods in the shops the domestic economy was evolving. The canals had allowed the easy and reliable transportation of good, in 1822 the Caledonian canal, built by Thomas Telford, connected the Atlantic and North Sea coasts of Scotland, this was the last great canal building exercise, within thirty years interest had shifted to the railways.
Fig ___ Caledonian Canal
The importance of commerce in everyday life is evidenced by the use of the word 'commercial' for roads along which commercial vehicles travelled in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These roads in turn became the site for new factories and other commercial enterprises. It was also in 1824 the first inflatable mattress and the first inflatable life jacket were developed in Glasgow, although neither caught on at the time.
In 1828 Samuel Pratt invented the coil spring, allowing the manufacture of comfortable furniture but steam engines at this time were still in their infancy and for the big new textile mills water power was preferred. In 1829 Braille devised his system of printing raised dots to allow the blind to read.
Fashions, although widely discussed, did not change a great deal during the first thirty years of the nineteenth century. Any woman who could afford it had a corset or two, these had evolved from wood and steel contraptions in the Tudor period, the later introduction of (somewhat) flexible whale bone strips (actually strips cut from the 'teeth' of baleen whales) had made the garment less punishing. Something akin to the brassiere (bra) had appeared in the later 18th century but the effect of the corset on the female silhouette had guaranteed their continuing success and the bra fell from favour until the early 20th century.
The shawl originated in India, the imported item was usually made of Cashmere wool and they were very expensive. Naturally the British began making copies and the town of Paisley soon became the main centre of production. The Paisley pattern, copied from the original Indian designs, established itself as the most popular. Wealthy women's dresses at this time were generally made of light cotton or muslin and the shawl was eminently practical as a warm covering, being fashionable it was adopted by the less well off.
Women wore long skirts which trailed on the ground, working women had shawls round their shoulders. All women wore head gear when outside and often when indoors as well, either a light cotton cap , or this with a bonnet over the top. Having a sun tan was unfashionable and the bonnet had a brim at the front and a curtain at the back to shade the face and neck. All women had long hair but the better off tended to have theirs pinned up, loose hair was seen as a sign of depravity, poor women tended to push it into their bonnet.
The gentleman's frock coat appeared in about 1816, this was a long coat reaching down to the thigh and with a gathering of material about the hips, it had a collar but no lapels and buttoned down to the waist.
High collars on men's shirts appeared in 1820, these were mainly worn by the fashion conscious wealthy and those in senior positions in industry and commerce. These collars were held in place with a large cravat. The high collar was initially somewhat impractical, reaching above the jaw bone, and over the years they gradually reduced in height.
Trousers became increasingly popular in the early nineteenth century, originally worn by the Navvies building the canals they had become acceptable for men to wear in about 1810. Trousers replaced knee length breeches with long socks but this earlier standard remained common into the 1840's and farmers often wore breeches into the mid 20th century. In 1822 the 'turn up' appeared on men's trousers, this was due to the Price of Wales visiting a farm, where he turned up the bottom of his trousers to prevent them getting dirty. Later he gave a speech, having forgotten to turn them back down again and this was picked up and commented on in the newspapers. Turn ups on men's trousers then remained a standard (other than on uniform trousers) until the 1970s.
Men's coats were usually buttoned at the top and hung open lower down, they were often worn over a waistcoat and in summer months working men were often seen wearing waistcoats with no jacket.
In bad weather people just got wet, cloaks and heavy coats were worn when it was cold but these were woolen, the more up market types had a skirt around the shoulders lined with waterproofed oil cloth. In 1823 Mr. Macintosh found a way of waterproofing cloth by coating it with rubber dissolved in coal tar naphtha and in 1830 he entered into a partnership with a Thomas Hancock and began manufacturing the Macintosh overcoat. These were not always black, I have come across a reference to a light blue riding coat (with blue velvet collar and cuffs) offered for sale by Macintosh in the late 1830's.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes 1800-1840
Also in 1830 the Prime Minister (The Duke of Wellingon at that time, and back then he was called the First Minister of the Treasury, which is technically the correct title even today) decided that the seriously poor (who were supported by the community) could apply for a licence to sell beer from their home, thereby reliving the parish of the cost of their upkeep. 24,000 licences where issued in 1830 alone, with 50 new beer houses a day opening in Liverpool, this had a devastating impact on the existing licensed trade. A couple of years later Parliament became sufficiently concerned about the resulting drunkeness to form a committee to look at the matter. The 1933 Beerhouse Act introduced the requirement for an annual licence to be granted by local magistrates.
By the time the first inter-city steam railways arrived in the 1830's the industrial revolution was in full swing, Abraham Darby had discovered a way to make iron using coke instead of charcoal (1709), Newcomen had devised the first practical steam engines (about 1712) and Trevithick had introduced high pressure engines that could be mounted on railway wheels (1803). Agriculture was being transformed, largely by the seed drill perfected by Jethro Tull (1730) and the specialised breeding of crops and animals. Steel was available albeit in small quantities using the crucible method developed by a Doncaster clock maker called Benjamin Huntsman (1740).
There were three main trades associated with industry; carpenters, iron workers and millwrights. Carpenters built most of the early machines but the iron industry was developing rapidly and producing material suitable for building tools and equipment. The millwright was well placed to succeed in this era. He was a general tradesman, able to turn his hand to most jobs from building machinery for flour mills (their original trade) to civil engineering. Millwrights were still being given apprenticeships up to the 1940's at least, although they were by that time incorporated in the Associated Engineering Workers Union.
The skills of all three groups were in great demand both in Britain and abroad. A law was passed in eighteenth century prohibiting people from offering iron workers jobs abroad but this did not stop foreign entrepreneurs visiting Britain and smuggling out skilled men and British built machinery. The textile industry of Ghent in Belgium is a good example, it was founded by such an entrepreneur who hired engineers and purchased equipment on the 'black market' in Britain. He got the men and machines onto a ship but after several scrapes with patrolling British warships he ended up landing in Germany. Most of the engineers deserted at this point and he had the smuggle the machinery all the way home hidden in the bottom of waggons. Had the Germans found the machines they would simply have confiscated them for their own use.
Coal was by far the single most important fuel but most coal was carried along the coast by sea to the nearest port to avoid the trouble of road haulage. To take the coal down to the docks 'railways' and 'wagonways' had been built on which wooden or metal rails carried horse drawn wagons. These proved useful for short lines but the technology was simply not up to doing very much more. In 1825 the first regular railway services began on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in the North East of the country and in 1826 the Journeymen Steam Engineers, the first powerful trades union, was established in Manchester.
Locomotion No.1 replica on the Stockton and Darlington line
Note that the engine shown above is a replica, the photo was taken at the centenary celebrations in 1925, the telegraph pole with its bank of insulators would not have been present when the original engine was in service.
Steam engines were still rather primitive however and in Britain most of the new mechanised textile mills were built in the Pennines where steady rainfall supplied the rivers for power. Many woollen mills were built in Yorkshire and on the western side of the hills around Manchester the humid air facilitated the spinning of long cotton threads. Liverpool became the natural entry port for the raw cotton and transport between the Liverpool and Manchester thus became a matter of serious concern. The various 'navigation's' formed of rivers and canals, notably the Bridgwater Canal of 1761, faced no real competition so charges were high and typical transit times for a barge between the two cities were in the order of two days.
Following the success of the tramways, wagonways and early railways a group of businessmen decided to built a railway to carry goods between Liverpool and Manchester. At the time there were various proposals put forward for hauling wagons on the line; some favoured horses, others wanted a system of stationary engines mounted beside the tracks to pull wagons along using ropes. Rope-hauled lines using stationary engines were already in use, these lines sometimes covered distances of several miles. Rope haulage could cope with very steep inclines and several rope-hauled inclines remained in operation on goods only branches into the 1970's. In the end the matter was settled by staging competitive trials at a place called Rainhill and the steam locomotive 'Rocket' (built by Robert Stephenson) won the day. When the Liverpool & Manchester line opened in 1830 there was one short section on a steep incline that was rope hauled but as locomotives improved this was dispensed with. By the early 1830's the country had largely recovered from the depression caused by the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. It was a time of political change as the old Whig Party joined with the Radicals to form the Liberal Party and shortly afterwards the old Tory Party was replaced by the Conservative & Unionist Party (usually just called the Conservative Party these days). One significant development was the great Reform Act of 1832 which shifted the balance of political power from the wealthy to the new middle classes. (An outline of British Political History has been included in a separate section).
In 1833 the British abolished slavery throughout their Empire and the British inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage (1729- 1821) designed a mechanical 'computer' (he called it an Analytical Engine). Babbage also invented a speedometer and the 'cow catcher' which became so much a feature of American railway engines. Another significant event in 1833 was the passing of the first effective Factory Act, introducing some legal control on working conditions in the new mills and factories. Earlier Acts (dating back to 1802) had failed because they did not include any mechanism for enforcement, the 1833 Act included a provision for inspectors answerable to a Secretary of State to check the rules were being followed. Oddly the railways were exempted from the provisions of the various Factory Acts until 1963 and railway working conditions remained primitive especially in connection with steam engines. The railway companies were generally paternalistic and would find work for staff injured at work. Miners were protected by various Mines Acts but agricultural workers generally were in a very bad position as regards safety at work and compensation for injury, they were also amongst the poorest people in the country.
Up to 1834 the poor were provided for, at least in theory, by the local church parish. This was a legal duty of the parish based on 'poor laws' dating back to the sixteenth century when (during a period of hard times) poor people had formed bands of outlaws that frightened the ruling classes. In 1834 the poor law was reformed with the creation of the Poor-Law Unions, usually covering several parishes and mainly remembered for the 'Work Houses' they built to provide a living for the destitute. The system of work houses was not new, they had been in existence since the 17th Century as a state funded provision for orphans, as with the orphans however the poor law work houses were widely abused by the people appointed to run them.
One curious side effect of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was a sudden increase in cottage building. Prior to the creation of the workhouses the parish, in the form of the local rate payers, was responsible for helping people in need, if there were no available homes the poor would move on somewhere else. The cottage building boom was seen in all parts of the country, mainly sponsored by property developers who owned the land and wished to earn money from rents. Although the resulting buildings were 'traditional' in the materials used, un-burnt clay and earth white washed walls resting on stone or brick foundations and with thatched roofs, they are recognisable as dating from this period by their large square windows and sharp cornered construction reflecting the architectural tastes of the time. The original trades union movement virtually collapsed in about 1834 but local Co-Operative Societies, which had been formed by many of the same people, survived.
Also in 1834 at an early meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science the term 'scientist' was coined to describe people who example and consider the physical world. prior to this there had been no specific name for the work. 'Natural philosophers' was probably the most common but the BA felt this was a bit pretentious.
In 1835 the Municipal Reform Act began the process of reorganising local government. In the same year the Municipal Corporations Act was passed, in effect a recognition of the changes in the old order of manor, parish, borough, hundred and county brought about by the industrial revolution. The primitive arrangements that had evolved for ensuring that housing and sanitation was up to standard had been augmented then replaced by Commissioners for Improvement, taking responsibility for lighting, cleaning, paving and generally regulating towns. These commissioners were replaced after the 1835 Act by Health Boards and subsequently by Borough Councils.
The 1836 Marriage Act introduced civil weddings and enforced the official registration of births, deaths and marriages. This new Act reformed the original 1753 Act which had brought marriage under state control. Also in 1836 Francis Petit Smith patented the screw propeller and this soon displaced the paddle wheel as the standard method of propulsion for all kinds of steam powered ship. Meanwhile experiments had continued with steam powered road vehicles, Walter Hancock's steam powered road buses were tried in London, but the technology was not sufficiently mature, the roads were not able to carry the loads and with railways offering a reliable alternative interest in steam road transport waned during the 1830s.
In 1837 Issac Pitman invented Stenographic Soundhand , better known as 'shorthand' notation. Shorthand was not a new idea, the Greeks and Romans used an alphabetic form, the Holy Roman Empire banned it as 'demonic' but it returned to favour in Renaissance, Reformation and Restoration-era England. Pitmans shorthand replaced earlier forms based on the alphabet with one based on phonetics and remained in common use into the 1980s (when it was increasingly replaced by 'shorthand typewriters'). Pitman's shorthand eventually became a formal part of the training for legal and military personnel as well as secretaries and journalists.
In Digbeth near Birmingham a chemist called Albert Bird (later Sir Albert) invented custard, an egg free desert for his wife who was allergic to eggs. It was only when it was accidentally served to dinner guests that he discovered its commercial potential and by the mid 1840s Bird's Custard was on sale throughout the realm. Mrs Bird was also allergic to yeast and Bird invented baking powder in 1844 so that his wife could have yeast-free bread, baking powder was later used by the British Army in the Crimean war and earned him a knighthood. A keen cyclist Sir Albert held the record for riding from Land's End to John o'Groats on a tricycle, a record that remains in his name to this day.
Also in 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne, Goldilocks & the Three Bears was published and the London Polytechnic Institution was founded. It was about this time that scientists in Germany and Switzerland began to explore the idea of 'ice ages' (the term was coined in 1837), prior to this the alluvial deposits and moraines were thought to be due to the Biblical Flood.
In 1838 Isambard Kingdom Brunel's wooden hulled paddle steamer the Great Western, the largest ship afloat when she was built, crossed the Atlantic in fifteen days. This was the first steam ship built specifically for the Atlantic crossing and when she arrived she still had coal in her bunkers, proving that a ship could carry sufficient fuel for the crossing.
In 1839 the British signed a mutual defence treaty with Belgium and the First Opium War broke out in China as the local government tried to end the distribution of opium amongst the Chinese population by British traders. The British used opium from India to pay for Chinese goods such as silk and above all tea and the fighting continued sporadically until 1842.
The last official jousting tournament between armoured knights held in Britain was staged in 1839, this was an attempt by the then Earl of Eglinton to revive a sport which had pretty well died out a hundred years before (the last official jousting tournament in the world was held at Turin in 1868 when the future King Humbert of Italy married Princess Marguerita of Savoy). Also in 1839 Edmund Becquerel, a French physicist, was the first person to observe the photoelectric effect (however it was only with the development of etched silicon in the 1960s that solar panels became a practical proposition for electricity generation).
In 1840 the first full amalgamation of two railways took place when the Preston & Wigan Railway and the Wigan Branch Railway merged to form the North Union Railway. Also in 1840 the first 'garden gnomes' arrived in Britain. These were a good luck charm used by German miners and a prominent Spiritualist had twenty sent over to decorate his 'alpine garden' (by 2003 only one of the original 20 remained, it was insured for a million pounds). In the same year Thomas Cook arranged the first railway excursion, organised on behalf of a Temperance League (an anti alcohol organisation), the trip was sponsored by the Midland Railway in the hope of publicising their new line. Day excursions by rail soon became popular although not all had such lofty ideals, in the early 1840's a day trip was arranged to view a public hanging at Bodmin gaol. Mr Cook was soon arranging trips to exotic places such as the River Nile and America (where one 'must-see' were the fresh battlefields of the Civil War strewn with the bones of the dead). As there were no hotels the tour took with it tents and a mobile kitchen that provided full seven course meals for the tourists. Closer to home his excursions to Scotland saw the surprised and delighted locals welcoming the trains with brass bands.
In 1841 the British forces in China occupied Hong Kong whilst in Britain Brunel's famous Box Tunnel through the Cotswolds was opened. Box tunnel was one of the great technological achievements of its day (it is probably no coincidence that on Brunel's birthday every year the sun shines right through this tunnel from end to end). Lined with over thirty million hand-laid bricks and nearly two miles long it was at the time the longest tunnel in the world and did much to convince a skeptical public that long tunnels were not as dangerous as many had thought. Even so an enterprising coach operator made a living for a time offering a service to people wishing to leave the train before the tunnel and be ferried to the far end to join the following train.
In Belgium a chap called Adolphe Sax exhibited his invention, the Saxophone, at the 1841 Brussels exhibition (the sax remains to this day the most 'modern' instrument, with the debatable exception of the synthesiser).
Fig___ The Saxophone
In the same year Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) the MP for Bolton managed to have a new coin, called the 'Florin', issued. Valued at two shillings and hence running at ten to the pound it was intended as the first step in a move toward decimal currency. Also in 1841 Kew Gardens was opened to the public, the gardens were founded in the 1750's by the mother of King George III and had been presented to the nation by Queen Victoria in 1840.
It was also in 1841 that Edgar Allen Poe published his book The Murders in the Rue Morgue, generally regarded as the first 'detective novel', featuring the deductive powers of a M. Dupin.
The sketch below, a detail from a Punch cartoon of 1840 (scanned from a 1930s re-print) shows typical wealth persons clothing for the period.
Fig___ The wealthy in the 1840s
The power driven loom invented in 1813 by William Horrocks (1776-1849) had allowed the development of the 'factory' but perhaps the most important change was much more fundamental, quite literally at the nuts and bolts level. This was the development of standards for engineering, first seen in the use of templates so that worn or broken parts could be easily replaced.
In 1800 the American inventor Eli Whitney (1765-1825) had developed the idea of standard interchangeable parts for manufacturing fire arms, this idea was widely adopted in America and it became known as 'The American system'. One notable application of this system was the rapid firing Springfield repeating rifle, which caused dreadful casualties in the American Civil War sixty years later. This simple idea was later developed by the British engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth (see Appendix One - Significant engineers and Inventors) who established the first proper standards for nuts and bolts in 1841. The British government armoury at Enfield began using the American system in 1851 and other weapons manufacturers such as Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) soon took it up in order to get government contracts.
In 1842 the potato blight sweeping Europe caused the Irish Potato Famine, this lead to a great deal of ill feeling as there was food in storage which was not distributed to the starving people (apparently this was due to government policy which prevented any action which might interfere with 'market forces'). A great many people died and many more were driven to leave Ireland and seek a new life either in England or in America. Also in 1842 Queen Victoria made her first railway journey. Although enthusiastic about the railways the Queen insisted that her train never exceeded thirty miles per hour (48 kph), on one occasion she discovered it had reached forty miles per hour (64 kph) and demanded that the driver be dismissed. Also in 1842 the Earl of Shaftsbury, a great social reformer, pushed the Mines Act through parliament which finally prohibited the use of women, girls and boys (under the age of ten) in mines.
In 1843 a man by the name of Daniel McNaughton, under the delusion that he was being personally persecuted by Sir Robert Peel shot and killed Peel's secretary, Edward Drumond, believing him to be Sir Robert. McNaughton was tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds of insanity which provoked a public outcry. The end result was a major re-think on insanity and the Law enshrined in what are known as the McNaughton Rules and which remain in use today. The essence of the judgement was that, even if insane, a person who commits a crime knowing it to be a crime is liable to be imprisoned in an asylum for the criminally insane.
The Earl of Shaftsbury continued to press for reforms and went on to found the first Ragged Schools Union in 1844. He vigorously promoted education and social welfare (the aluminium statue of Eros was erected in his honour in Piccadilly Circus in London). Also in 1844 a Co-Operative store opened in Rochdale, Lancashire, which became the foundation of the modern Co-Op and legislation was passed which laid the foundation for modern Company Law. The Factory Act of 1844 was the first to concern itself with the safety of machinery. It was this Act which required protective screens to be fitted and another rule required the testing of devices such as cranes so that the safe working load could be established. In the event it soon became apparent that we didn't know quite as much as we had assumed about such matters and it was another forty years before such testing really began to bring any improvement.
One other event of 1844 was the first use of Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) as an anaesthetic. It was used by an American dentist by the name of Horace Wells who had seen it being used in a travelling side-show, sadly Mr. Wells continued his experiments with anaesthetics, became addicted to chloroform and died in prison at the age of twenty eight. It was another American dentist, by the name of William Morton, who popularised the use of anaesthetics (specifically ether) in dentistry and hence in medicine in general.
Factories and more up-market homes were by this time largely lit by gas jets but the light from these simple jets was little better than the wax tapers, candles and whale-oil lamps. The impure gas supplies tended to produce a lot of soot and often smelled rather badly of sulphur (see Lineside Industries - Gas Works, Coke and Smokeless Fuels).
In 1845 the British astronomer John Couch Adams calculated the position of the (then unknown) planet Neptune and Isambard Kingdom Brunel's new steam ship, the iron hulled Great Britain, became the first screw propeller steam powered ship to cross the Atlantic. This was the first ship to be divided into water-tight compartments as a safety measure and she had an eventful life, being used as a cargo ship on the long run to Australia and ending up as a coal hulk at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands (she was salvaged in the 1970's, towed back to Bristol for restoration and now sits in the dock in which she was built).
In 1846 the British inventor W. G. Armstrong erected the worlds first hydraulic crane on a quay in Newcastle and the Liberal's forced Robert Peel's conservative government to repeal the Corn Laws which removed the tariff systems protecting British farmers and caused a sudden drop in the price of grain. The Corn Laws had been in existence for hundreds of years but the price of bread had risen dramatically following the war against Napoleon and in spite of reforms the laws had become very unpopular. In America the war with Mexico over ownership of Texas broke out in 1846 (when it ended two years later the United States also obtained ownership of California and New Mexico) whilst in New York the first game of Baseball was played, the game was derived from an old English game called 'rounders'.
In Britain the railways had caught the public imagination and the success of early lines lead to the 'railway mania' of the 1840's. The railways were the largest undertaking ever contemplated by mankind, and even a minor line would require considerable capital investment (see also Appendix One 'Time and Money'). 'Money markets' in the modern sense did not exist and there were few large organisations with funds to invest, so cash came from investors large and small. Fraud was not unknown and many schemes were ill founded. Inevitably there was a crash (in 1847) but this was probably as much to do with the repeal of the Corn Laws (1846) and the failure of the Irish potato crop (1842/47).
The potato famine in Ireland ended in 1847 but by this time many had starved to death and many more had emigrated to Britain and the United States. The situation was not handled very well, as noted above Ireland remained a food exporter during the period but troops were used to prevent the starving locals getting at the grain and other food. All of the above, coupled with the establishing of the American railways, lead to the American Mid-West becoming the bread basket of the world, rivalled only by the great plains of Russia.
The sketch below is a detail scanned from a 1930s re-print of Punch cartoons and shows a well to do young woman at home in the 1840s.
Fig ___ Young lady in the 1840s
Also in 1847 the 'Ten Hours Act' was passed, limiting the working hours of women and children and the first surgery performed with anaesthetic took place, they used highly inflammable ethyl ether as this was less toxic than chloroform. There were two other events in 1847 with far reaching effects, a French clock maker called Antoine Redier invented the alarm clock and an Englishman called George Boole (1815 - 1864), who was professor of mathematics at Queens College in Cork at the time, published his book 'The Laws of Thought'. This work was a development of his ideas on the mathematical analysis of logic, Boole was a religious man and he had looked at ways of reducing problems to simple equations allowing only two states 'good' and 'evil'. Boolian Algebra using electronic switches with two states (on and off) is the basis of the modern computer program.
In 1848 the Palm House at Kew Gardens was opened whilst in Wales the station with the longest name in the world was opened on the island of Anglesey at a place called: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllantsiliogogogoh. The name translates to English as; St Mary's Church by the white Aspen over the whirlpool and St Tisilio's church by the red cave.
In the early eighteenth century, worried by the revolutionary movements in France, the Government had introduced a tax on newspapers. This Stamp Duty raised the cover price of a newspaper to the equivalent of the average working man's weekly wage but by the mid nineteenth century this was being increasingly criticised as a 'tax on knowledge'. Literacy rates were low but clubs were formed to buy newspapers, with the literate members reading aloud for the benefit of those who could not read. By this time the Sunday newspaper had established itself, Sunday being the only day when people had enough time to read a paper (the News of the World was one of the first of the Sunday papers, first appearing in 1843). The Stamp Duty on newspapers was lifted in the mid 1840's, causing a sudden upsurge in sales. The railways were keen for any revenue earning traffic and offered preferential rates for moving newspapers, promoting the growth of 'national' newspaper titles such as the London Times and the Manchester Guardian. In the late 1840's the Scottish publisher Thomas Nelson (1822 - 1892) invented the high speed rotary press which developed into the massive machines used for printing newspapers.
In 1849 the safety pin was invented by Walter Hunt of New York, Volvo produced the first car equipped with seat belts (Volvo introduced the most common modern three-point seat belt, developed by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin, in 1959, they decided not to patent the design as it was a matter of safety). In France dry cleaning was invented.
Fashions changed gradually during the 1840's but in 1846 an American by the name of Elias Howe invented the lock-stitch sewing machine. This was taken up by Singer who exported models to Europe. The affordable and reliable sewing machine had a dramatic effect, allowing ordinary people to make their own clothes and tailors and seamstresses to greatly increase their output. In 1846 an English clothes designer called Charles Worth established his fashion house in Paris and used live models to show his new designs which he copyrighted. This was the origin of the Parisian dominance of the fashion market and the beginnings of haute couture.
Fig ___ Working Clothes 1830 - 1850
The Coal Mines Act of 1850 marked the first official recognition of the dangers of mine working. In the same year a law was passed prohibiting the mills from working on Saturday afternoons, by this time the law stated that the working day was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an hour and a half off during the day for meals (a ten and a half hour working day). British industrial production had doubled since 1830, textiles were still by far the most important industry, of the working population about one person in nineteen were employed in this area.
Also in 1850 the first amusement arcade opened its doors and a British chemist called James Young found a way to extract kerosene from oil or coal and began to distill oil from oil-shale rock at Broxburn in central Scotland. In Britain kerosene is called Paraffin and there was a demand for this stuff for cooking and to replace the rather smelly whale oil in lamps. Young's patents on the process lapsed a few years later and by 1854 Britain was exporting oil recovered from shale-oil rock deposits. It took a ton of shale to yield a barrel of oil but the demand was there and business grew until exports were running at a thousand tons a year. Later shale oil proved a useful fuel for early internal combustion engines and the scale of demand contributed to the development of the oil industry in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
In 1851 the 'self righting lifeboat' was introduced at Great Yarmouth by James Beeching (1788- 1858) the work was funded by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (founded in 1824). These boats were rowed by the crew, although some had sails for when the weather was suitable. The last rowing lifeboat was finally retired in 1947.
Fig ___ Typical non motorised lifeboat
The Great Exhibition of 1851 owed much to the railways, it is unlikely the Crystal Palace could have been built without the experience of building the great halls of the railway termini. The railways transported not only the millions of visitors but also most of the building materials and a great many of the exhibits.
By the 1850's the rural and urban populations were about equal and the new Middle Class held sway in governing the towns. Conditions in the cities were still grim, over half the children of the poor died before the age of five and diseases such as typhus and smallpox regularly killed large numbers of town dwellers. One major problem was obtaining fresh drinking water and most people made do with polluted water from shallow wells (this issue is more fully discussed in Appendix One - Public and emergency services - Water, Sewage and Rubbish Disposal).
In 1852 the Frenchman Henri Gifford designed, built and flew the first successful powered airship whilst his countryman physicist Jean Foucault invented the gyroscope and an American army surgeon came up with the idea of using a plaster soaked bandage to support broken limbs. In Britain a Scottish chemist called Robert Smith first noted the existence of 'acid rain' in Manchester (this was caused by rain falling through sulphurous fumes released by burning coal and forming sulphuric acid).
In 1853 the German chemist Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) invented the Bunsen burner, using an opening below the flame pipe to allow air to mix with the gas. Earlier gas jets produced much less heat as only the outside of the flame (where the gas is in contact with the air) was actually burning. The gas-air mixture of the Bunsen burner produced a great deal more heat and was soon applied to the 'rings' on gas cookers, revolutionising cooking as heat could now be supplied very efficiently to the pots and pans without heating the entire kitchen.
In Britain in 1853 the Science Museum opened in Kensington and the world's first modern public aquarium was opened in Regent's Park, London. In Yorkshire the first flight by a piloted glider took place. The tri-plane glider was devised by Sir George Cayley but the pilot was his (somewhat reluctant) coachman who was carried about nine hundred feet (over 270m) across a small valley, becoming the first person to fly in a 'heavier than air' aircraft.
By the mid nineteenth century the railway companies owned about half the canals in Britain. Generally they preferred to carry traffic on the rails as they received all the revenue, on the canal the boat owner took a share, the owner of the wharf took a share and the canal owner received only his tolls. The nature of internal trade also affected the canals, the shift in agriculture from grain production to dairy produce introduced a preference for higher speed rail travel and coal merchants using the railway did not need to keep a large stockpile at their premises as the trucks could be reliably delivered as required and the coal left in them for shovelling into sacks. The competition from the railways was severe, canals which ran parallel to the railway routes failed and earning a living on the water was increasingly difficult. Boats stayed away from home longer and whole families began living in the small cabins at the front and read of the boats. This change saw the introduction of brightly painted boats, both those owned by the larger companies and the one-man operator craft.
In 1854 the British and French joined forces to oppose the threat to Turkey by Russia. The combined force sailed northwards through the Black Sea and landed on the Crimea Peninsular where the bitter fighting lasted over a year. At this time the army was still wearing the red-coated uniform (still seen today for certain ceremonial duties)
Fig ___ Scottish officer in the Crimea
Arguably the least well organised war in history it is probably best remembered for the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' when 600 British light cavalry (usually used for reconnaissance) charged the Russian gun emplacements head on due to a wrongly conveyed order. The man leading the charge was Lord Cardigan and his name was given to a light long sleeved jacket trimmed with fur which buttoned up the front. Seventy years later this design, but manufactured in soft wool, was popularised by the famous designer Coco Channel for civilian wear. Another item of clothing taking its name from this war was the 'balaclava helmet' (these days it would be called a ski mask), thousands of which were knitted for the troops by concerned British women.
This was the war in which Florence Nightingale set up her nursing system in the field hospitals, which became the model for nursing world wide. Tins for canning food at home had been around since the 1820's but this was the first war where tinned food was supplied to the Army in the field, giving rise to the term 'iron rations'. Bread was also available to the troops in the field, thanks to the invention by Mr Bird of 'baking powder' (described above) to replace yeast. One side effect of the war was that the price of tallow in Britain increased, prompting the development of the British soap industry. Soaps were made from natural fats and oils mixed with a vegetable alkali, most of which was burnt seaweed. Treating the burnt seaweed with lime made the soap caustic and all these materials were moved by rail. Industrially produced alkalis primarily 'soda ' (Sodium Carbonate) became increasingly important as the technology developed.
The public was outraged by the stories of hardship suffered by the troops in the Crimea and when they returned home the Chelsea Royal Home was established to care for the disabled soldiers, this in turn became home to many of the Crimean veterans when they became old (these men were known as Chelsea Pensioners). Subsequenty the home remained a refuge for elderly former soldiers and the distinctive scarlet uniforms remained a familiar sight in London up to the 1980's).
Fig ___ Cheasea Pensioners
To help the unemployed former soldiers the Corps of Commissionaires was formed in 1859 by Captain Sir Edward Walter, K.C.B. (1823-1904). The Corps with its distinctive dark military style uniform is the oldest security agency in the UK and membership was reserved for former soldiers until 1969 when police, navy and air force personnel and former members of the coast guard were allowed to join. A Commissionaire might be seen outside any more up-market establishment anywhere in the country (most top line hotels had one on the door), they also provide security for industry, notably at establishments working on defence related projects. The chap(s) in the gate house of a large factory was likely to be a uniformed Commissionaire right into the 1970s.
One curious footnote to the war in the Crimea was that the town of Berwick upon Tweed remained at war with Russia until 1966, when the Russians sent a peace delegate to the town. This was because the town had changed hands so often between Scotland & England it was habitually included separately on all state documents. When war was declared it was included in the declaration but when the Treaty of Paris was signed (in 1856) it was not mentioned.
The first Great Train Robbery occurred in 1855 when a bullion train was ambushed in Kent on a run from London to Folkestone. Also in 1855 Claridge's Hotel was opened by a former butler of the same name and the Civil Service became a proper professional body with entry by competitive exam (prior to this civil servants were appointed by the monarch). Practical photographic equipment was appearing in the streets and the first cross-channel telegraph cable came into operation around this time.
The first commercial dry cleaners was opened by J. B. Jolly in Paris in 1855, turpentine was used as the cleaning fluid. The first British dry-cleaners was opened in 1866 in Perth. Carbon tetrachloride was introduced in 1897 but this tended to kill the staff so in 1918 the industry switched to using trichlorethylene. Dry cleaning remained a specialist service until after the Second World War when a firm in Czechoslovakia set up shop with a swimming bath full of fluid which the customers walked through to clean their clothes. The widespread acceptance of high street dry cleaning only dates from the 1960's.
In 1856 the first Singer sewing machines appeared in Britain and the first 'ready-made' clothing factory opened. The factory used the Singer machines (still hand, or rather foot, powered) and two years later this firm introduced the band-saw for cutting several sheets of cloth at a time. Also in 1856 Henry Bessemer introduced his 'converter' which turned iron into steel cheaply and in large quantities and the first Victoria Cross medals were awarded, made from the barrels of Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war. It was Queen Victoria who initiated the practice of the sovereign personally handing out medals to soldiers. In the same year the first 'Neanderthal' remains were found in the Neander valley in Germany, provoking considerable debate over the history of humanity and the Second Opium War started in China. This time the French joined with the British, sending troops to force the Chinese government to allow imports of opium in exchange for Chinese tea.
In 1857 the American inventor Elisha Otis developed the first practical (and safe) passenger lift or elevator and toilet paper was invented (replacing strips of newspaper, by this time a commonplace commodity, or the bidet). Later in the year the Indian Mutiny began, a long a bloody struggle caused by the British insensitivity to Indian custom and religious tradition. The fighting between rebel Indian troop and British Indian army with loyal Indian troops was to last two years.
In 1858 fingerprints were first used as a means of identification by William Herschel to keep track of pay issued to illiterate troops in India. In Britain I. K. Brunel's massive iron hulled ship the Great Eastern was launched. Fitted with paddle wheels and a screw propeller she was the first ship to have power assisted steering and dwarfed everything that had gone before. At the time the biggest ships afloat were about five thousand tons, Great Eastern was nearly seven hundred feet long, over eighty feet wide and weighed in at nearly nineteen thousand tons. The difficulties and delays in construction ruined the ship yard and broke Brunel's health. Designed to carry 4,000 passengers to Australia she was unprofitably mis-used as a trans-Atlantic ship for a time and then converted to cable laying (she was broken up at New Ferry in Cheshire in 1888).
Fig ___ Great Eastern
Also in 1858 a shortage of rain coupled with a very hot summer caused the Great Stink of London, the river Thames reeked and the windows of the House of Commons were hung with blankets soaked in chloride of lime to try and keep some of the smell from the chamber. This was the first time that industrial pollution became a matter of serious public concern.
In 1859 Charles Blondin made the first tight-rope crossing of the Niagara Falls in America whilst in Britain the first 'dog show' was held (at Newcastle upon Tyne), attracting some 60 entries, and Charles Darwin published his book 'The Origin of Species' outlining his theory of 'natural selection' and the evolutionary process.
The 1850's saw a number of developments in clothing, many of which were brought about by the Singer sewing machine mentioned above. Women's skirts were still trailing on the ground and shawls remained popular (the shawl remained a standard bit of kit for working women into the 1940s). In 1851 the American Amelia Bloomer visited Britain to promote her baggy Turkish style trousers and short dress. This did not catch on at the time but proved popular some thirty years later.
In the mid 1850's the 'cage crinoline' was patented in Paris and soon became extremely popular amongst women in Britain. The women in the growing middle classes adopted the crinoline and even the working girls of the lower classes struggled with this highly impractical garment. The sketch below shows a lady wearing such a dress in the company of an officer in the Coldstream Guards.
Fig ___ Lady and Coldstream Guards Officer
The 'soft' turn down collar had appeared on men's shirts in about 1850 and over the following years ties began to replace the cravat. The standard working man's jacket, which was shorter than previously fashionable designs, became popular during the 1850's. The bright check pattern became popular for men's trousers and jackets (only occasionally did jacket and trousers match as this was not the norm at the time).
The bathing costume appeared in the early 1850's and soon became popular, although as they were usually made of knitted wool they stretched under their own weight when wet.
In America a chap by the name of Levi Straus had made his way out to the gold fields in the West with a waggon load of tent fabric. People didn't want tents so he used the material to make hard wearing trousers which sold well. He later changed to using a kind of cotton twill fabric called Serge de Nimes (after the French town noted for production of this cloth) and this was eventually shortened to 'denim'.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes in the 1850's
In 1860 the first tramway in Britain opened at Birkenhead on Merseyside, the horse drawn tram offered a smoother ride than buses and proved popular in larger towns and cities. Also in 1860 William Wilkie Collins published his book 'The Woman in White', generally regarded as the first ghost story. On the world stage the (French born) Italian general Garribaldi lead his thousand 'red shirts' to capture Naples and Sicily which lead to the re-unification of Italy as a single country after some five hundred years of division.
In 1861 the first colour photographs were taken by the British physicist Faraday, in the same year the Suez Canal opened, which greatly reduced the transit time for goods between Britain and British India, and coal exports to bunkering ports such as Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea increased steadily. Also in 1861 abortion (illegal since 1803) was made a criminal offence and construction work began on the Metropolitan Railway, the first line of the London Underground. Public services between Paddington & Farringdon Street started in 1863 and the District Line between Kensington & Westminster opened in 1868. Originally all services were steam hauled, electric power came with the City & South London Railway of 1890 and the inner London underground system was fully electrified by 1905. Services in the outer areas remained steam hauled and some of these steam services lasted into the British Railways era.
The Crimean War had proved rather more expensive than had been anticipated but the effect on the railways was not marked. The American Civil War, when eleven southern states ceded from the Union between 1861 and 1865 had a much greater impact, in 1862 the dramatic shortfall in cotton shipped from the Americas caused the Lancashire Cotton Famine.
Colonised countries have always suffered from a lack of skilled workers and the additional shortage of manpower and the demands of the military forced the Americans to industrialise, notably in the area of food production. This general trend lead to the foundation of what was to become 'Big Business' in the modern sense, which migrated to Europe fifty years later.
One side effect of the American Civil War was the collapse of American ship building and shipping, which had started to challenge the British for control of the worlds sea-borne trade. The British lead the world in the development of iron steam ships and the economy of scale at the big British shipbuilding yards gave British ships a telling advantage. The result was that the British merchant navy, by far the most important merchant fleet for the next hundred years, brought in considerable foreign earnings to pay for imports.
The Americans found to their cost that the battle tactics of the late Nineteenth century were not suitable for fighting with rapid firing rifles and hand cranked multi-barrel machine guns of the 'Gatling' type and the casualties were high on both sides. It was about this time that New York became the first American city to have a population of more than a million people.
In 1863, in the middle of the American Civil War, President Lincoln (head of the Northern states) issued a proclamation banning slavery and the French launched what was arguably the worlds first proper submarine, called Le Plongeur (The Diver) it was 140 feet long, 20 feet wide, displaced 400 tons and driven by a compressed air engine.
Also in 1863 an American firm developed the four-wheeled roller-skate. (The original roller skate dates from 1760 but when its Belgian inventor was demonstrating them in London he ran into a large mirror and was seriously injured which did little for their popularity. In-line roller skates were re-discovered in Britain in the 1823 but failed to catch on at the time).
In 1864, partly as a result of the slaughter in the American Civil War, the first Geneva Convention was signed laying down rules for warfare and the treatment of prisoners and the Red Cross was set up in Switzerland. The red cross flag is nothing (particularly) to do with Christianity, someone at the meeting decided they needed a flag so they simply reversed the colours of the Swiss flag. Also in this year the British physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831- 1879) put forward the theory of 'electromagnetic waves' able to travel through space at the speed of light, laying the foundations for what was to become radio (it was another twenty years before the German scientist Heinrich Hertz proved this theory correct).
In 1865 the American Linus Yale Jr invented the cylinder lock which remains the standard front door lock throughout the world today. In Britain the Salvation Army was founded and Elizabeth Anderson became the first British woman to qualify as a Doctor, denied access to a conventional medical education she studied privately for the exams. Also in 1865 Sir Joseph Lister performed the first antiseptic surgery at a Glasgow hospital using a mild solution of carbolic acid. Lister was following work done by a Hungarian doctor specialising in child birth who had tried using a solution of lime chloride to wash his hands between patients (rubber gloves for surgeons only appeared in the 1890's).
By 1865 the railways in Britain were moving some 17,000,000,000 ton-miles of coal at an average cost of about four pence a mile (old pence that is, about 1.6p in the current system). The estimated cost of shipping coal by road was in the order of sixteen pence per mile but the canals could still undercut the railways.
Changes in technology had an increasing impact on both the railways and society at large. Milk was available in cities from cows grazing set aside land, private fields and 'commons' but the quality was never very good. In 1865 an outbreak of disease prompted the destruction of all the cattle in London and within a week the price of milk rose dramatically. A dairyman called George Barham began bringing milk into the capital by railway, calling his service Express Dairies to emphasis the railway connection. This milk was of a higher quality than the earlier in-town production and railway hauled country milk soon became commonplace in all British cities and even the larger towns. In-town dairies remained in use although their numbers declined steadily and tinned 'condensed milk' was soon competing with the often adulterated raw milk from the farms.
It was during this decade that Porter and East India Pale Ale were developed, porter fell from favour in the early twentieth century but IPA as it is known remained a popular drink well into the Twenty First Century.
In 1866 the French inventor Georges Leclanche (1839- 1882) invented the zinc-carbon battery remained the most common type in use for portable equipment into the first years of the 21st century. Meanwhile the Austrian biologist monk Gregor Mendel was laying the foundation for genetics by studying garden peas (it was another forty years before anyone realised how important this idea was).
In 1867 Disraeli pushed his Reform Bill through parliament giving the vote to large numbers of workers in the new industrial towns, this one act more than doubled the number of people eligible to vote. In the same year the Americans purchased Alaska from the Russians at a cost of about seven million dollars (gold was discovered five years later precipitating the Great Alaskan Gold Rush). Also in America someone invented 'instant coffee' but it did not catch on for another sixty years.
In Britain the reign of Queen Victoria saw increasing industrial specialisation, a process which was aided and abetted by the railways. Towns or entire regions developed homogenised principal industries. Steel and ships at Barrow in Furness, Jute cloth from Dundee, Kidderminster, Axeminster and Wilton carpets, boots and shoes at Northampton, hardware from Birmingham and Staffordshire, cutlery from Sheffield, gloves from Worcester, woollen cloth from the Yorkshire mill towns, cotton goods from Lancashire, crates of pottery and 'china' from the North Staffordshire Potteries, beer from Burton on Trent, cotton and imported American goods from Liverpool and Manchester.
Hosiery or knitwear, made from cotton, wool or silk, was produced in South Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, while north of the border the towns of Hawick and Dumfries consumed a lot of the locally produced spun wool. The London Brick Company began using the clay deposits near Peterborough and produced a reliable standard product that set the style of British Architecture for the next hundred and fifty years. Fruit growing became concentrated in Kent and the Vale of Evesham whilst other areas specialised in particular agricultural produce such as rhubarb in Yorkshire and broccoli in Cornwall.
The railways revolutionised the meat trade, first by transporting live animals and later, partly influenced by the railway companies concern about the flow of empty cattle wagons, by transporting fresh killed meat. By the 1860's London received two meat trains a day from the Scottish farming areas some 500 miles (800 km) away, the journey taking only about a day and a half. Incidentally it was only in 1904 that the Ministry of Agriculture ruled that all livestock, cattle, sheep, horses and pigs, could no longer be carried in open topped stock, although by that time few open livestock wagons remained on the system.
Railways forced the development of the iron and steel industry, and consumed a vast proportion of its produce (only in the late 1960's did another industry, the motor car, consume a greater proportion of world steel production). Both Alfred Krupp and Thomas Vickers developed special steels for the railways that later allowed them to build bigger and better guns.
By this time Britain was without doubt the world leader in factory production and urban development, most people now lived in towns and cities, although conditions were still very bad. It is worth noting that more men worked as blacksmiths than worked in the foundries and iron works, more men made shoes than worked in the mines and more women worked as dressmakers milliners and seamstresses than were employed in the big mills.
Agriculture was the single largest employer of labour however, taking up over a quarter of the male population over the age of twenty and also a great many women. At this time the proportion of the population employed in the new cotton mills still fell in third place behind agriculture and domestic service although they were slightly ahead of building work and general labouring. Farming was however becoming less labour intensive with the new steam powered threshing and ploughing machines working in the fields. The steam threshing machine meant an end to much of the available winter work and the number of women working the land dropped as many of the jobs they had done were mechanised.
The displaced agricultural workers moved into new industries, many of the men went into the mines, iron foundries and railway service whilst the women went to work in mills or into domestic service. The hard years of the early part of the century had seen the growth of the large farm and although small farms outnumbered large they occupied a smaller percentage of the farming land. The railways brought a national market into being which saw profits for the farmers increase steadily.
In 1868 barbed wire was invented in America but it took several years before it was accepted in Britain. It was in the 1860's that legislation was enacted which meant that fathers of illegitimate children could be named and made to pay maintenance.
In 1869 new laws were passed to control the consumption of alcohol, the 1869 Beerhouses Act restricted the sale of alcohol from unlicenced premises.
Fig___ 1869 Velocipede
During the 1860's fashions changed slowly, by 1860 the crinoline was anything up to six feet in diameter (1.8m) but by the middle of the decade it had changed to a half-crinoline extending in a semi-circle to the rear.
Men's fashions remained stable, the frock coat was slowly changing however and although it still reached down to the thigh the amount of material gathered on the hip was reducing. By the end of the decade it was recognisable as the for runner of the modern suit jacket although the suit as such did not yet exist. The bright check pattern remained a popular feature of men's clothing at this time.
The Bowler hat appeared in 1860, developed by a hatter of the same name as a riding hat. It was soon adopted as a badge of office by 'foremen' and remained popular in that role into the 1960's. It was in the mid 1860's that boots and shoes were made with elasticated side panels instead of laces and around this time the 'cloth cap' originally developed as a hat for wealthy sportsmen became popular amongst ordinary working men.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes in the 1860's
In 1870 Forster's 'Education Act' was passed which established local school Boards to administer the growing number of schools. In the same year Doctor Barnardo (1845-1905) set up the first of his ninety Barnardo's Homes for orphaned and destitute children.
Europe in the 1870's was still prone to minor wars, the more powerful nations were fond of interfering in other countries affairs. At this time Germany did not exist as such, the area was a hotch potch of small kingdoms, dukedoms and bishoprics operating as a loose alliance. Austria and France were both bullying the small German states and the situation was deliberately manipulated by a Prussian statesman by the name of Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenberg. Bismarck engineered a small war with Austria, which the Prussians won, and went on to engineer a dispute with France. In 1870 the French attacked Prussia, the Franco Prussian War lasted until 1871 and the French lost.
The nationalist fervour in the German states was manipulated by Bismarck who became the chief architect of a single unified country known as the Greater German state. Germany instantly became the largest and potentially the most powerful country in Europe, at the time it was classed as an Empire. In 1871 Berlin became the capital, with Prussia as the dominant state and the rather reluctant King William 1 of Prussia as the new Emperor and Bismarck as Chancellor (equivalent to the Prime Minister). In the 1870's the chancellor Bismarck nationalised the disparate German railways.
In America there was a devastating fire in Chicago in 1871 which was thought at the time to have been caused by a cow knocking over a lantern. Research in the 1990's has suggested the fire, which struck several surrounding towns simultaneously, may actually have been caused by a meteorite exploding in the air above the city.
Also in 1871 the British got their first 'Bank Holiday', an idea promoted by a banker, the argument went that as the banks were closed no business could be conducted and so everyone should have the day off (more have been added over time, in the 1970s the Labour Government made May Day and New Years Day bank holidays). By this time the railways were keen to accomodate even lower paid workers on day trips (the tours arranged by Thomas Cooke since the 1840s were, in the main, aimed at the rather better paid). Probably the most important event in Britain in 1871 was the passing of a Law that all water pipes in London had to be made of cast iron (these were already in use but combined with wooden and stone pipes). This change allowed higher pressure and for the first time taps did not have to be on the ground floor. The big political issue in Britain in 1871 was Baby Farms, establishments which would take in illegitimate children with no awkward questions, usually for a fee. All too often the infants died suspiciously and this was partly why Doctor Barnardo set up his famous homes.
In 1872 the government passed the Infant Life Protection Act but this was not entirely successful and was replaced by another Act of the same name in 1892. The foundations of the modern system only appeared in the 1940's (following an Act passed in the 1930's).
The sketch below is scanned from a 1930s re-print of Punch cartoons and shows a street scene in the mid 1870s. The caroon was set in France but the clothing styles are typical for North West Europe at the time.
Fig___ Street scene in the mid 1870s
An important event in 1872 was the first 'secret ballot' in a British election, a truly weird event was the brig Mary Celeste being found off the Azores having been abandoned by her crew of seven and the captains wife and daughter (non of whom were ever seen again). No concrete explanation for the abandoning of an apparently seaworth ship has yet been found.
In 1873 the modern game of tennis was devised in Britain, at the time men wore long lightweight flannel trousers (often held up by a cummerbund or sash round the waist as braces would not look the part) with a white shirt to play the game. Women played in something similar to normal street clothes, the lady below is wearing an outfit designed for playing the game in the later 1870s.
Fig ___ Woman dressed for playing tennis
Also in 1873 the French writer Jules Verne published 'Around the World in Eighty Days' and in Britain Samuel Plimsoll published his book 'Our Seamen', bringing to the public's attention some of the more alarming and unsafe practices in the British merchant shipping fleets. In Birmingham the Quaker engineer Sir Richard Tangye instituted the Saturday half-day for all the workers at his factory.
In 1874 Mr. Fox's patent umbrella went on sale, the basic design remains in use to this day and the first fire sprinkler system was invented by American, Henry Parmalee.
The British cities had grown up during the industrial revolution and there was a lot of very poor 'slum' housing. Windowless 'cellar dwellings' were often shared by several families and sanitation was almost non existent. Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) and Lord Shaftsbury were both active in trying to address this situation but it was only with the passing of Acts on housing and sanitation under Disraeli in 1875 that things really began to improve. These acts enabled local authorities to enforce building regulations and to clear the slum buildings. Streets were built to a minimum width enforced by law (they were knows as by-law streets) and sanitation was installed as standard. This then became the era of the building of the great Victorian sewer systems in all the main towns and houses were built with flushing toilets (see Appendix One - Public and emergency services - Water, Sewage and Rubbish Disposal).
The slums took time to clear however and a new idea was the 'Garden City', a completely new town, pre-planned with large areas of open ground dotted with trees. The first attempt was in Chiswick in 1876 but few people took the idea seriously . It was thirty years before the idea was really developed with the building of Letchworth in 1903, followed by Wellin Garden City a few years later. One odd development in 1876 was the introduction of tomato ketchup (the name is taken from the Malay word for spicy fish sauce) which was popularised by the American firm of H. J. Heinz.
Also in 1876 the British Trade Mark Registry was established, allowing people to protect their product brand names.
By the mid 1870's steam ships had begun to outnumber sailing vessels in British ports. The government was increasingly concerned about the growing power of the large railway companies and the following twenty years saw a whole series of commissions and laws to try and regulate the situation.
In 1876 Queen Victoria became Empress of India and the government passed the Merchant Shipping Act prohibiting ships from putting to sea in an unsafe or overloaded condition. This was in response to concern about 'coffin ships', old and worn out vessels which were deliberately overloaded so they would sink and a claim could be made against the insurance. This Act saw the introduction of markings on the ships side showing the safe loading depth for the vessel, these markings are known as the Plimsoll Line after Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) the MP who championed the cause of safe shipping. These markings should be visible on models of all sea-going craft after the 1870's (see Appendix One Canals, rivers and coastal shipping).
Also in 1876 the Plimsoll was patented, a flat rubber soled shoe with a canvass upper. The shoe was named after the Plimsoll line on ships as the rubber sole extended part way up the sides and provided a degree of waterproofing. Plimsolls soon gained popularity for sports and remained a standard until displaced by 'high tech' sportswear in the 1980's.
In 1878 the first practical incandescent electric lights were produced by Joseph Swan (1828-1914) in Britain and shortly afterwards by Edison in the USA. Toward the end of the century electric light was introduced on the railways. Carriage lighting was supplied from a battery under the vehicle, charged up by a dynamo driven by a belt from one of the axles.
The sketch below is a detail scanned from a 1930s re-print of Punch cartoons and shows a well to do farmer in the later 1870s.
Fig ___ Farmer in the 1870s
In 1879 saccharin was discovered in America whilst in Britain a scientist by the name of Sir William Crookes developed a device consisting of a empty tube through which electrons could travel carrying an electric current, this was the basis of the TV picture tube of today (he did not know about electrons however, they were discovered in 1897 by another British scientist called Joseph Thomson).
In the later 1870's large 'department stores' such as Harrods began to appear in London and other big cities. The first such store had opened in Paris in 1820 and caused something of a stir as it featured fixed prices and cash payment instead of the more usual barter and credit, the French developed the idea and opened much larger establishments in about 1850. The first British department store was the Crystal Palace Bazaar of 1858 but this was a rather small establishment.
By the end of the decade British industrial production had doubled again, a quadrupling of output since 1830. The world was lit by gas and still ran mainly on steam, electricity supplies were not set up for another few years. It was during the 1870's that 'fish and chips' was born, fried fish, sold with bread, had been a feature of British life since the 1830's but in the 1870's the French idea of fried chipped potatoes was added to the dish. Steam trawlers were by this time bringing fish back from the far reaches of the North Atlantic, notably the cod from the Newfoundland's Grand Banks, and the railways were distributing the fish to the towns and cities inland. The fish and chip shop soon became a feature of Northern cities and the idea gradually spread to the South of the country.
Fashions changed slowly during the 1870's but there were some notable developments, one notable change during this decade was the falling from fashion of the Paisley shawl as a fashion accessory, although working women retained the woolen shawl as a practical necessity.
The half-crinoline had shrunk again by the middle of the decade to a lump at the rear called a 'bustle' which supported the gathered material of the skirts.
Fig___ Woman with Bustle from the early 1870s
In 1875 a woman's magazine called Myra's Journal published patterns based on the latest French fashions and women with access to a sewing machine were able to run these up at home. The sketch below is a detail scanned from a 1930s re-print of Punch cartoons and shows a typical middle class woman and daughter in 1875.
Fig___ Woman and daughter in 1875
The hair 'set' was invented in France in about 1870 and proved popular although the curls tended to fall out quite quickly. Shampoo appeared in the late 1870's, it was actually soap ready-mixed with water. The name came from the Hindi (Indian) word for a head massage and it was only used by ladies hairdressers (home shampoo's only appeared after the Second World War).
During the 1870's the waistcoat was added to the gents matching jacket and trousers and the ensemble was being called a 'suit' The top hat remained popular, particularly among the wealthy but the bowler was more common on the streets.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes 1870's
The Education Act of 1880 made education for all children between the ages of five and ten compulsory. In the same year a Swiss chocolateer tried adding cocoa butter to the crude bar chocolate and produced the modern form of the stuff. Solid chocolate had been developed in 1819 (also in Switzerland), before that it was only ever used as a drink.
In the 1870's a French inventor had perfected a way of refrigerating ships holds with cold dry air, the first commercial use of the system was for a shipment of frozen meat from America to London in 1874. Further batches of frozen meat were then imported from Argentina (1878) and Australia (1879). By the 1880's controlled refrigeration systems in ships holds enabled the transportation of exotic fruits such as bananas and also allowed chilled meat and butter to be brought all the way from Australia and New Zealand. These products and techniques introduced new traffic for the railways and also changed the existing practices. Mechanical cooling was not used on British railway stock, instead vans were insulated to carry chilled products or fitted with ice tanks to carry frozen goods. Ice was collected in winter and stored in underground store houses (some dating back to the 1600's), it was a useful way to store foods and Britain had even been importing from the Northern USA and Norway since the 1840's. Mechanical cooling made ice much more widely available but the underground ice houses remained in use up to about the time of the First World War.
The first electrically powered trams arrived in the city streets in 1881 (the same year that Mr. Siemens devised the overhead wire and 'trolley pole' electrical pick-up). One odd service which made use of trams was a late posting box on a tram running from the suburbs to the town centre in the evenings, allowing people to post letters anything up to an hour after the last postal collection.
In 1882 the sticking plaster was invented in Germany but as with most medical improvements of the time it was a while before it saw widespread use. Even the obvious candidates for public interest, notably dentistry, saw only a slow adoption of new techniques. The British Odontological society was formed in 1857 and anaesthesia had been popularised in America in the later 1840's, but this cost money and the 'tooth puller' was still a regular feature of British fairs in the 1880's. He generally had very little knowledge and often pulled the wrong tooth (formal examinations for dentists were only introduced in Britain in 1921). His entourage consisted of a clown or a pretty female acrobat to distract the crowds attention and a drummer who's job it was to drown out the cries of pain from the clients.
The sketches below, a detail from a Punch cartoon of 1882, shows typical dress for well to do kids from the period.
Fig___ Middle class children in 1882
By this time most of the European railway system was completed, in 1883 the Orient Express service between Paris and Istanbul made its first scheduled run. Development of railways was not confined to Europe of course, the Americans were busy building their own national networks and in India the British built over twenty five thousand miles of railway in the later nineteenth century.
Also in 1883 the first Boys Brigade was set up in Glasgow.
In the 1880's military rifles with multi-round magazines began to appear and in 1884 Hiram Stevens Maxim (an American living in Britain) built the first practical belt-fed machine gun.
Also in 1884 a French chemist by the name of Hilaire Chardonnet developed the first man-made fibre, originally called 'artificial silk it was renamed Rayon in 1924. Rayon is made from wood pulp or cotton, chemically it is a nitro-cellulose material. Of more interest to the modeller was the new glue, called Seccotine, introduced in 1884. This became the first 'tube' adhesive claimed to be able to stick, wood, metal, cardboard, china and glass it was the mainstay of modellers right up to the 1950's.
In 1885 the first sky-scraper building was erected in Chicago, it was only ten stories tall but the weight was entirely supported by the steel frame and the walls (instead of supporting the building) were hung from the frame. In Britain that year the age of consent was raised to sixteen and a Mr. Lee, a convicted murderer, walked away from the gallows after three unsuccessful attempts to hang him (it was later found that there was a fault in the trap door). His sentence was commuted to life and he was released 22 years later. The sketch below shows a typical street scene from this decade, the large blue structure in a Gents toilet (see also Public and emergency services - Water, Sewage and Rubbish Disposal).
The sketch below, a detail from a Punch cartoon of 1885 (scanned from a 1930s re-print) shows typical working woman's clothing for the period, she is indoors so, although wearing the cap, she is not wearing her sun bonnet.
Fig___ Working woman at home in 1885
In 1886 the Liverpool Underground Railway began operating (it remained steam hauled until 1903) and the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler built the first boat powered by an internal combustion engine.
In 1887 the Cambrian Railways published the worlds first tourist guide, detailing the delights of Wales accessible via their system and in Germany the worlds first electric passenger lift went into service.
The 1888 Local Government Act transferred the powers exercised for centuries by the County Justices to the new County Councils. Meanwhile in America a Mr Marvin Stone patented the spiral winding process to manufacture the first paper drinking straws and George Eastman (1854-1932) perfected the hand-held camera. Eastman had already invented a practical roll film (in 1880), he called his new company Kodak as he felt the name would be easy to remember. The first cameras held enough film for 100 photographs and were returned complete to Kodak for processing. This was also the year that light-sensitive paper became available, so prints became much easier to produce and Celluloid film for the cameras was invented the following year (replacing the widely used glass plates).
The sketch below, a detail from a Punch cartoon of 1888 (scanned from a 1930s re-print) shows typical middle class clothing for the period.
Fig___ The middle classes in the 1880s
The Irish Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, which opened in 1889, was a curious steam powered monorail. Designed by a Frenchman by the name of Charles Lartigue the line used an 'A' shaped frame with a single high rail running along the top to take the weight and two lighter rails arranged on either side of the A shaped frame to stabilise the load. The rolling stock, including the locomotives and passenger coaches, was built in two halves, arranged one to either side of the central rail. A degree of balancing was required, so if a farmer sent a cow to market he also sent two calves to balance the load, on the return journey the calves were placed on either side to balance each other. The line survived until 1924. The design of the rolling stock was different to say the least, the locomotives had two boilers, one to either side of the centre rail, each with its associated coal bunker arranged to either side of a central water tank. This arrangement leaves little room for a model railway motor and I suspect modelling this line in any scale smaller than 7mm/foot would not be practical.
Also in 1889 the Juke Box was invented in America and the Eiffel Tower in Paris was opened to the public visiting the Paris Exhibition held that year (it was intended to last only ten years but it found additional uses as a radio broadcast mast and a meteorological station). In Britain the first electric cooker appeared on the market but it was another forty years before it began to challenge the gas cooker in British homes.
Fig___ 1880s town street
The decline of the British iron trade in the later nineteenth century meant the work force, often skilled, moved into manufacturing electrical appliances bicycles and road vehicles. In general road transport had not really developed very far, the industrialised nations had extensive railway networks already in place and the technology of the internal combustion engine took time to evolve. Early road vehicles used wooden wheels with iron tyres which gave a very rough ride (steel tyred wooden disc type wheels (Mansell wheels) remained in occasional use on British railways into the early 1950's).
In general life was still rather primitive but things were improving. The problems of jointing gas pipes had been largely solved, reducing the number of explosions in the streets, and the new piped water systems were just about reliable. Steam engines remained the mainstay of industrial power but there was a growing demand for small gas and oil fuelled internal combustion engines. The Otto four-stroke 'Silent' gas engine (which could run on town gas, producer gas or water gas) was probably the most common type. There is a large gas engine on display outside the Manchester Museum of Science and Technology which ran on gas made from sawdust at a wood yard.
The typewriter had been invented by a chap called Sholes in 1867, he persuaded the Remington company (a firearms manufacturer) to produce them but only sold a few hundred. Mark Twain was the first author to use one, delighted that it produced dense but legible script that saved on paper. The original Sholes machine was very clumsy to use but in 1881 a much better design was developed (for one thing you could see what you were typing and the clear legible print ensured their success. Typewriters required a skilled operator and by the 1880's this had become an acceptable occupation for respectable ladies. The Inland Revenue took on their first two lady 'typewriters' in 1887 but to protect them from the male staff they worked in a small self contained office with a hatch through which messages could be passed. Once a week the ladies were escorted by two messengers to collect their pay. The use of typewriters spread and large establishments would have a group of typists (almost all women) in a single room commonly called the typing pool, with runners (usually young men) ferrying in hand written letters and shorthand notes to be typed up.
There were some major changes on the fashion front during the 1880's, the Rational Dress Society had been formed in 1881to campaign for more sensible clothing whilst the aesthetic dress movement championed subdued colours and understated decoration in reaction to the overly decorated high Victorian fashions of the day. In 1884 an International Health Exhibition was held in London which included displays of 'hygienic' and 'rational' dress styles. Women stopped wearing the heavily boned corsets and changed to softer, looser clothing at about this time. The bustle had a brief revival in 1882-1885 but this was only seen in towns. The press-stud was invented in 1886. The 'bloomers' of the 1850's had never proved terribly popular but they found favour amongst wealthy women of the 1880's who wished to ride bicycles. In the later 1880's women started wearing 'suits' of matching jacket and skirt with a white blouse or shirt.
The straw 'boater' and the softer 'Panama' hats became popular during the 1880's, the circular boaters were worn by both men and women but the Panama was purely male attire. By the end of this decade the bright check pattern had largely fallen from favour in men's clothing.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes in the 1880's
In 1890 the Forth Bridge was came into use, giving Edinburgh a more direct railway link with the south, and in Lancashire Blackpool opened its pleasure beach. The railways soon found it profitable to carry people from the Lancashire and Yorkshire mill towns to Blackpool during their various holiday weeks (known as 'wakes' in Lancashire and 'feasts' in Yorkshire). Demand was considerable and within twenty years over fifteen hundred special trains had to be laid on each season. By this time there was a licenced public house for every three hundred people in the country, about 90% of these being directly owned by the breweries themselves. There were only about three thousand breweries at this time, down from fifty thousand in the 1840s.
The sketches below, a from a Punch cartoon of 1890 scanned from a 1930s re-print, shows a typical middle class woman and her daughter from the period.
Fig___ Woman and child in 1890
In 1892 the adjustable spanner was invented by a Swede by the name of J. P Johansson. Elsewhere the American government passed its first 'Anti-Trust' laws to fight the growing power of the industrial cartels whilst in Britain Sir James Dewar invented the vacuum flask (usually called a 'thermos' after a very successful brand name). Also in 1892 the first British Communist MP took office. The MP in question, the Scot James Keir Hardie, wore a working man's flat cloth cap to work that morning, which was regarded as scandalous.
In 1893 the British firm Crompton &Company introduced the worlds first electric toaster (this was before pre-sliced bread appeared but toast had been popular for two thousand years, the word toast is derived from a Roman word for scorching).
In 1895 the National Trust was established and Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor working in Britain, sent the first radio signals (managing a distance of over a mile or about 1.6 km). Also in 1895 the German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-Rays whilst working with one of Crookes tubes, by the end of the decade doctors were using X-Rays to diagnose illness and find broken bones (they did not know about the danger of radiation at the time). In America the coin operated gambling machine (the 'one armed bandit' or 'fruit machine') was invented by an engineer in San Fransisco. One other event in 1895 was the first public showing of a moving picture film in France (although it was 1896 before a really practical film projector was developed).
By the 1890's the modern type of bicycle ruled the road, meanwhile the railways occupied about ten percent of the land in the five largest British cities. There were over two hundred thousand miles (320,000 km) of railway track laid world wide, most of which had been put in place within the last forty years. In Britain, of the over twenty thousand route miles (32,000 km) of railway about seven and a half thousand miles (11,000 km) were single track. There were ten different gauges ranging down to about two foot and the 'loading gauge' (the clearance above the track) ranged from nine foot six on some lines up to nearly fourteen foot on others. Cars were starting to become a more common sight however, particularly in the towns and cities. The example shown below is typical of the period, I believe it was built in Manchester in about this period but unfortunately I did not make a note of the maker or date when I took the photograph and the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry in the mid 1980s.
Fig ___ Photo of a typical car of this period
In 1894 Sir Oliver Lodge produced a practical version of a device called a 'coherer' invented by Frenchman Edouard Branly and using this he was able to make the first transmission by radio using a spark-gap transmitter in 1894. Lodge was a prolific inventor and went on to develop tuning circuits allowing transmission on specific frequencies and perfected the spark plug for petrol engines (his sons set up Lodge Brothers &Co to sell what was then called the Lodge Igniter). Also in 1894 Tower Bridge in London opened for business, the photo below was taken in the 1930s, when the bridge opened regularly for ships to pass up to the docks in London.
Fig ___ Tower Bridge
The introduction of Death Duties in 1894 began the break-up of the large estates, and facilitated the spread of the suburbs. Railway season tickets had existed since about 1845 but the horse drawn tram and omnibus probably had more to do with the migration to these new suburbs. Although slower and less comfortable the trams and buses were cheaper than trains. In the same year the thirty five mile Manchester Ship Canal, extending from the new docks at Trafford Park to the Mersey, was opened by Queen Victoria. Also in 1894 the General Post Office relinquished its monopoly on producing post cards (invented by American John Charlton of Philadelphia in 1861) and the picture-post card was born, soon to become a collecting fad for the affluent Victorians.
The 1895 Act allowing the setting up of Light Railways was passed to assist British farmers in remote areas who had suffered fifteen years of hard times, partly due to the development of railway supplied national market and the cheap food imports arriving daily in steam ships. Most of these light railways lived a rather precarious existence, given a quarry or something similar they could survive but passenger workings were the exception rather than the rule.
In 1896 Britain and Zanzibar fought the shortest ever war when a British gunboat fired on the Sultans only warship and palace for about forty minutes at which point the Sultan surrendered. In the same year the first person to be run down and killed was a lady called Bridget Driscoll, who was run over and killed by a car doing 4mph at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, this was also the year that the first speeding fine was issued (1/- or 5p for doing 4mph in a 2mph area but as far as I am aware there was no connection between the two events). The 1896 Highways Act ended the requirement for a man to walk in front of motor road vehicles carrying a red flag and the speed limit was raised from 4 mph to 12 mph, the same Act required lights and brakes to be fitted and motor vehicles other than motorbikes had to have a reverse gear. Also in 1896 Lloyds Weekly News, a Sunday newspaper, became the first to achieve a circulation of over a million people.
Women's clothing became softer toward the end of the 1890s and the 'Empire' line, with material being gathered below the bust, returned to favour (it had been popular in the 18th century).
Fig ___ Woman in an empire line dress
In 1897 the small steam launch Turbina proved that value of turbines by out running everything the Navy had at a Royal Review of the Fleet. Having been less than enthusiastic prior to this event the Navy then adopted the turbine for its fighting ships. The photo below was taken a few years later, it was scanned from a 1930s book on engineering.
Fig ___ Turbina running at speed.
Also in 1897 the Glasgow Underground Railway began operating (it remained steam hauled until 1935), it uses a relatively small loading gauge and a track gauge of only four feet. The Automobile Club of Great Britain (later the RAC) was formed in 1897 and a small boy was run over and killed by a motor taxi in London, the first recorded motoring fatality on a British public highway. Also in 1897 Plastiscene (a kind of modelling clay using linseed oil instead of water to soften the clay, making it reusable) was invented by British art teacher William Harbutt as an aid to art students (it was sold commercially from 1900) and the General Assembly of the US state of Indiana ruled that the numerical value of Pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) would hence forward be four (4). Obviously this law didn't remain in force very long.
Rather quietly, in 1897, a lady by the name of Millicent Fawcett established the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. New Zealand had given women the vote in 1893 and within a few years British women were regularly protesting to demand the vote (the word Suffragettes was coined by the Daily Mail in 1906).
In 1898 the German airship pioneer Count von Zeppelin took to the air in his first rigid framed airship whilst on the roads of Britain Henry Lindfield crashed his new car on a run from London to Brighton, becoming the first British motorist to die in a car crash. It was in this year that the first recorded 'Jumble Sale' was held at a church hall.
Fig ___ Zeppelin LZ1 on its maiden flight
In 1899 an electrically powered car broke the 100 mph barrier in France and the Boer War started in South Africa (lasting until 1900 with small bands of Boer guerrillas harassing the British until 1902). It was in this war that the British abandoned the red coats and changed to khaki uniforms. In the same year Acetylsalicylic Acid (aspirin), the first of the wonder drugs, was isolated by chemists. This was some two thousand years or so after Hippocrates had prescribed willow bark, which contains the natural form of aspirin, to treat pain. Also in 1899 the first successful internal combustion engined locomotive appeared on British lines, a tiny 0-4-0 shunting locomotive for use on the eighteen inch gauge Royal Armoury Railway at Woolwich. The locomotive engine was an airless injection type, a forerunner of the modern diesel.
During most of the nineteenth century if an engineer required a copy of a drawing this was done using flimsy tracing paper. This had obvious drawbacks but during the later 1890s the 'blueprint' system of copying drawings was invented. To make a blueprint copy the draughtsman first made a copy of the drawing on tracing paper as before, but he only needed to make a single copy of the drawing. The sheet of tracing paper was then held against a sheet of paper treated with ammonium fericyanite and ferric citrate. When this was held up to the light the areas of shadow remained unchanged whilst the exposed areas underwent a chemical change resulting in the deposition of insoluble Prussian Blue. The sheet was then washed in water which caused the Prussian blue to mark the paper and the result was a drawing made up of white markings on a blue background, usually with a white border where it had been clamped to the tracing. In the early days sunlight was used, with variable results, but in the early years of the twentieth century the process was automated using a machine with electric lights inside to give a constant level of light.
The later years of the nineteenth century saw the 'rational' dress campaign having some effect. The 'leg of mutton' sleeve generally applied to women's clothing, giving much greater freedom of movement. The sketch below shows typical working people in the 1890s.
Fig ___ Typical working people's dress for the 1890s
In about 1900 the 'Gibson Girl' look became popular, this consisted of a long sleeved blouse or tailored shirt tucked into a belted long plain skirt. This was a variation on the ladies 'suit' of the 1880's but the use of the term 'girl' in this context is interesting. The Gibson Girl was a young and very slim woman but prior to this the 'ideal woman' had always been a mature adult. The original Gibson Girl was the wife of the American artist Charles Gibson (her sister became Lady Astor, the first woman MP in Britain) and it was his drawings of his wife which popularised the look.
Fig ___ Gibson Girl look
By 1900 the British railway system was virtually complete, the last major trunk route was the Great Central's London Extension to the new Marylebone terminus in 1889, but that venture probably never paid for itself. By the turn of the century most of the worlds various coasts were charted and vast tracts of inland areas had been mapped but still most of Africa remained blank on the maps. In 1900 there were just over two hundred makes of car on the road, about half of which were American, although sail remained the most common form of propulsion for water craft.
The sketch below shows a typical sailing barge and a larger horse-drawn barge on the Runcorn Canal in about 1900 (see also Background Information - Canals, rivers and coastal shipping).
Fig ___ Typical scene on a canal about 1901
In 1898 there had been a large strike by gas workers and dock workers in London, the success of which prompted many people to join or form unions and it was at about this time the railways became unionised. Although the rate of population growth in Britain had started to slow down in the 1870's it was about this time that Britain became the most populous country in Europe. France, which has more than twice the land area of the British Isles, had for the preceding two hundred years boasted the largest European population under a single government.
In 1900 the European colonial powers in China faced the Boxer rebellion, a nasty little war which lasted about a year, and Norwegian inventor Johann Waaler patented the paper clip in Germany.
In 1901 Queen Victoria died, quite literally marking the end of an era, and Marconi sent radio
signals across the Atlantic Ocean from Britain to Newfoundland in Canada. In the same year Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance (better known as Land of Hope and Glory) received it's first public airing at the last night of the proms. Elgar's piece was an instant success and it has provided the finale for the concerts ever since, when asked for another one Elgar replied 'My boy, a tune like that comes only once in a lifetime' although he disliked the fact that his music was seen as supporting British Imperialism.
In America King Camp Gillette invents the double-edged safety razor and the Oldsmobile firm introduced production-line motor car building (the idea had originated in the meat packing factories in Chicago) whilst in Sweden the first Nobel prizes were awarded. The first signs of American 'big business' methods appeared in Britain when several small tobacco firms amalgamated to form Imperial Tobacco in 1901. A year later a second tobacco giant appeared as several firms amalgamated into British American Tobacco, mainly concerning itself with the export trade.
The first practical vacuum cleaner was invented in 1901 by the Scottish engineer Hubert Booth (1871-1955) (although he was building on work done by I. McGaffey in 1869 and J. Thurman in 1899). Booth saw a demonstration of a compressed air carriage cleaning apparatus intended to blow the dust out of the compartments. He reversed the process, making it suck instead of blow (nearly choking to death when he demonstrated the idea to a potential backer), and set up the British Vacuum Cleaner Company in 1901. Few houses had electricity so Booth set up a cleaning service, the machines were big things powered by petrol engines and mounted on a horse drawn four wheeled carriage. The machine was equipped with long flexible hoses which were passed in through the windows and it gained public acceptance when it was used to clean the carpets in Westminster Abbey in 1902 ready for the coronation of Edward VII. After that society hostess' of the time would throw parties so people could watch the operators at work, Booth added transparent hoses so people could see the dust and dirt being sucked into the machine).
In 1902 the School Boards came under the authority of new Local Education Authorities who were empowered to develop existing elementary schools and also to set up secondary and technical schools. In the same year Dr. F. Lanchester invented the disc brake (they were used on military vehicles but they only appeared on cars about fifty years later following the use of Dunlop disc brakes on Jaguar cars) and the photo-electric system facsilimie machine or 'fax' was invented by a Dr Arthur Korn (this used an electric current to burn marks on special wet paper, this was slow and messy and the idea did not catch on until about 60 years later when a dry system was developed. Fax was based on an idea patented by one Edouard Belin in 1914).
In 1903 the 'teddy bear' appeared in Germany and America, the name came about because the American Franklin 'Teddy' Roosevelt spared the life of a young baby bear when on a hunt, the story caught the American imagination and people started making bears. The pivoted armed bear was developed in Germany and imported into the USA to meet the demand for 'teddy bears'. Also in 1903 the original Engineering Standards Committee (later incorporated into the British Standards Institute) registered the 'kite mark' symbol to mark products they had tested and approved as being to a definite standard. In America the Wright Brothers managed the first powered flight in 1903 and Marie Curie became the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on the radiation from Uranium (feminism was still a long way off however, the following year a woman in New York was gaoled for smoking in public).
In 1905 Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity, which gave the world the famous formula E=MC2. In the same year the local anaesthetic Novocain was discovered (it's chemical name is procaine), and soon replaced cocaine as it is only one third as toxic. By this time there were over seven hundred car firms world wide, the example shown below is a 1905 Royce motor car, this was a year before the name changed to Rolls Royce and the familiar RR badge was introduced.
Fig___ 1905 Rolls Royce Motor Car
In 1906 a steam powered car set a new world land speed record for road vehicles when it reached over 121 mph at Datona in the USA (this was the last such record held by a steam car).
In 1907 Robert Baden Powell set up the Boy Scout organisation and an American inventor called Lee De Forrest invented the 'triode' which is a radio device resembling a milk bottle with some metal parts inside which can amplify electronic signals. This was a major step in the development of radio. Also in America the 'New Years Resolution' first appeared at this time, it seems to have arrived in Britain a few years later.
Also in 1907 a Swede by the name of Sven Wingquist produced the first practical metal ball bearing (it was about 50 years before the related 'needle bearing' was invented).
In 1908 the German scientist Fritz Haber invented a process for making ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen (he also went on the develop the first chemical weapon (chlorine gas) used in World War One) whilst Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes managed to prepare liquid helium. Meanwhile something, probably a metal asteroid, possibly a comet, smacked into a remote area in Siberia, devastating about a thousand square miles (however the exact cause of the Tunguska Event remains unclear). The area was so remote it was the 1920s before scientists made it to the impact site.
In 1909 the Panama Canal opened, Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first totally synthetic plastic and the French pilot Louis Bleriot flew across the channel in his monoplane.
Louis Bleriot's aeroplane
Also in 1909 the Old Age Pension Scheme was established (pushed through by an alliance of Labour and Liberal MPs), town planning was introduced and the 'pedrail' steam traction engine appeared. This machine, billed as 'The Machine that Walks Hedges and Ditches' had very large wheels equipped with hinged 'feet', it did not catch on as an agricultural machine but the idea was used as the basis of the first military 'tank', developed privately by a Mr. Morris. The army had a good look at the Pedrail armoured vehicle but due to it's low speed it was considered useless for modern, highly mobile, warfare by the military authorities at the time.
On the railways in 1909 the Railway Clearing House issued its second standard specification for Private Owner wagons, introducing the requirement for right-handed either-side wagon hand brakes to try and reduce the number of accidents to shunters working in goods yards.
In 1910 a French engineer got into the air in the first successful sea plane and bathroom scales were invented in Germany whilst in Britain the Girl Guides organisation was established and George V became king. In the same year there was an outbreak of the Black Death in Sussex, probably due to disturbing a burial site. The Black Death or bubonic plague virus can remain dormant in the ground for upwards of ten thousand years and in London there are strict restrictions on building work on the sites of former mass graves dating back to the great pandemic in the later twelfth century (that outbreak had killed more than 40 million Europeans, about a third of the population).
In 1911 Britain Members of Parliament decided they should be paid and the Parliament Act reduced the power of the Lords. National Insurance was introduced (twenty years after it had been introduced in Germany) and at first the existing Friendly Societies (self help groups established in the previous century) were used to collect and distribute the money.
Also in 1911 Marie Curie received an unprecedented second Nobel Prize for her work on Radium, she had managed to extract about one three hundredth of an ounce from a ton of pitchblende ore donated by the Austrian government. This was enough for her to assess the atomic weight of the new mineral.
Motor buses were gaining in popularity, about the turn of the century the Great Western Railway had set up the first properly scheduled motor bus service and they were a serious alternative to the electric trams. In 1911 the electrically powered 'trolley bus' appeared and in many cases these were used instead of buses to replace the trams (see also - Appendix One - Public and emergency services - Public Service Vehicles).
Long distance road haulage was not something the railway companies initially took much interest in although the haulage company Pickfords had by this time become a subsidiary carrier to the LNWR. From about the turn of the century the railways began operating a large number of horse drawn, steam powered and petrol driven goods road vehicles for deliveries from railway goods depots. In more remote areas the railways began providing petrol lorry pick-up and delivery services for local farms and outlying communities but these did not become popular until the 1920's.
In the spring of 1912 the passenger liner 'Titanic' sank after hitting an iceberg and over 1500 people lost their lives.
Newspaper boy selling 'Extra' papers
Also in 1912 the first neon sign appeared (in Paris - it was an advertisement for Cinzano) whilst in Britain the British Board of Film Censors was established to control the content of films and there was a large strike by coal miners (troops were put to work in the pits).
Typical motor car from 1912
In 1913 stainless steel was invented (more or less by accident) by a Henry Brearley (born in Sheffield in 1871). Also in this year there was a grouping of union members working for the railways, only two unions remained outside the resulting National Union of Railwaymen, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen representing the locomotive crews, and the Railway Clerks Association. The NUR was something new in unionisation, anyone working for the railways in any capacity could join, including the crews of railway company ships and the staff of railway company owned hotels. Also in 1913 the Leica camera appeared based on the Kodak idea of roll film. It used 35mm film stock, which at the time was only used in large cinema cameras, and it was the first truly compact 'pocket' camera. It was not long before someone thought of using interchangeable lenses, only possible due to the design of the Leica, and it revolutionised photography.
Two other events of 1913 had an effect on the railways; a William H. Burton developed the 'cracking' process for refining petroleum oils which averted a threatened shortage of petrol and the first diesel-electric railway locomotive was built in Sweden. At the time diesel-electric locomotive was not considered of much interest in Britain (which had plentiful supplies of coal) but was taken up and developed in America where within twenty years these engines began to replace steam locomotives. It was in 1913 that Henry Ford introduced the moving conveyor belt into his factories, from this time on factories engaged in mass production gradually changed from gravity-fed multi-story operation to powered conveyor systems. This was a slow change however, British motor car production did not switch to conveyor belts until the 1930's. A lot of commercial vehicles were still steam driven at this time, less tempremental and more reliable than internal combustion engines although heavy and not noted for high speed running.
Fig ___ 1914 steam pick-up and lorry
The brassiere (bra) was popularised in about 1908 by a Frenchman by the name of Pierre Poiret, this was really a development of the camisole (a cotton under garment, the name comes from the British involvement with Arabs, the Arabic word kamis means under-tunic). The bra was worn as well as a corset for many years and midel little visual difference to women's appearance at the time. M Poiret also introduced the 'hobble skirt' with a gathered in hemline which (if not fitted with hidden pleats) made walking difficult. These skirts became very fashionable by about 1910 and even the suffragettes wore them.
Fig ___ The Hobble skirt
In 1910 the Russian ballet toured with a production of Scheherazade (produced by Diaghilev himself) and sparked a massive interest in oriental designs in fashion. Work clothing remained essentially unchanged, hobble skirts were fashionable but impractical and women in industry wore the skirt and blouse with an apron over the top.
Men's fashion changed little, the stiff collar remained the regulation wear for anyone in a position of authority but by this time it was little higher than the modern soft turn-down collar. The rich and senior officials all wore top hats and favoured brightly coloured 'spats'. The cloth cap, both the flat type and the more unusual designs such as the 'Deerstalker' had become popular at the turn of the century and by the time of the First World War they were worn by a majority of the working men. The bowler hat had by this time become the standard headgear for affluent shopkeepers and foremen , also the Gents jacket length was reduced and the last traces of gathering at the hips disappeared. Men's jackets were commonly buttoned all the way down the front by the time of the First World War.
Fig ___ Fashions & Working Clothes pre World War One
Working gear saw the introduction of the rubber 'Wellington Boot' (introduced by the North British Rubber Co). This boot was quickly adopted by farmers to replace lace-up leather boots in bad weather although they favoured leather boots and leggings worn over trousers or breeches when it was not muddy as these offered greater protection and lasted longer. The picture below is a detail from a film made at about this time.
Fig ___ Farmer wearing leggings
At this time most people wore a hat most of the time when outdoors, the selection shown below is typical, although a number of men were wearing the bowler by this time.
Fig ___ Head gear pre World War One
In 1914 eighty percent of the British population lived in towns and the total number of people employed was somewhere between eighteen and nineteen million. Agriculture was only employing about one and a half million people (about eight percent of the population) but Britain was importing over half its food. The shift to cattle farming, although profitable for the farmer, is grossly inefficient in terms of land use. We could grow five times as much protein on the same land if we switched to cereals, or over twenty times as much if we grew spinach.
The largest single category of employment in 1914 was domestic service with over two and a half million people working in other people's homes. The next largest group were the people extracting metal from ore and making things with it, there were about two million people working in this area, transport workers and textile trades, each employed about one and a half million. The clothing trades, mining, building and construction work and the combined food drink and tobacco industries each employed over a million people. Paper and paper related industry such as printing employed a third of a million people, whilst chemicals, oils and soaps provided work for a quarter of a million and the British employed in the armed forces of the Empire amounted to something like two hundred thousand.
By this time most manufacturing was mechanised, windmills and water mills had begun to disappear and steam was the dominant power source. In the 1840's steam engines offering three hundred horsepower had been considered enormous, by the time war broke out in 1914 engines of several thousand horsepower were relatively common. Over half Britain's electricity was still generated using steam reciprocating engines but the Parsons steam turbine was becoming the standard machine for this work. Less than half the electricity generated was being used by industry, most was consumed by domestic and street lighting and the trams. By 1914 gas and oil fuelled engines were in widespread use in agriculture and light industrial plant. Most of these internal combustion engines were quite small but by this time motor vehicles rivalled steam on the roads.
The five hundred year reign of the Turkish Ottoman Empire was ending and the weakening of power to the North of the Indian sub continent was of grave concern to Britain as the Russians sought to gain influence in the region. Meanwhile in Eastern Europe the small countries in the Balkans such as Serbia and Bosnia gained independence from Turkey and began fighting amongst themselves trying to re-establish their territory.
The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand had married a woman from a poor family and was tired of the way she was badly treated in Vienna, he took her on an official visit to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, to try and establish her credentials. The country was mainly Catholic and the neighbouring Serbians mainly Protestant, the Serbs had fought two successful wars to gain more territory and saw the areas of Southern Bosnia, populated largely by Protestants, as a good opportunity to gain more land. The head of the Serbian Military Intelligence believed that assassinating the Austrian Duke would further their cause and on 28th June 1914 a chap called Gavrillo Princip shot the Duke and Duchess. Austria (then part of a combined Austria Hungary) was furious and wished to have the Serbian state destroyed to end the Balkan fighting, they enlisted the new German Empire to assist. The Germans agreed but when France refused to sign a treaty saying they would not attack Germany if it waged war on Serbia the Germans felt they had to attack France (the French may have fired first, no one is certain on that point). Meanwhile the Russians felt they had to defend the Slavic Serbs from the Germans and Austrians and began mobilising their army to bring political pressure to bear. The Germans invaded Belgium as part of their war plan with France and this brought Britain into the way due to the treaty of 1839. The Russian Tsar tried to stop his country's involvement in the war, ordering that Russian troops be withdrawn from the front, but he was told that to do this would require a complete re-write of the railway time tables which would take at least six months to complete. The photos below show the first British gun to fire in World War One, part of a battery of six guns it survived the war and is now on display in the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester.
Fig ___ British 18 pdr field gun
Part of the stress between Germany (only recently formed into a single country) and the older European powers with their extensive overseas holdings and influence, was oil. The Royal Navy had switched to oil fired boilers and other navies had followed suit. The Germans were planning a railway down to what is now Iraq to supply oil for their fleet and the first actual deployment of British Troops was in fact to Basra, the main oil port for Iraq.
With the outbreak of the First World War the British government set up a new organisation to co-ordinate the railways called the Railway Executive. Under this system the various companies were still largely autonomous and overall the arrangement worked very well, about 130 railway companies were involved and this centralised control lasted until 1921.
It was generally believed that modern weapons would mean the end of siege warfare but the struggle in Europe developed into nothing less than a siege of Germany. Feelings ran high as the death toll at the front mounted and a Magistrate in Leeds ordered the destruction of 20,000 printed copies of Christ's Sermon on the Mount as 'seditious literature', the distributor got three months hard labour. In 1915 the wrist-watch was invented, rapidly replacing the pocket watch amongst the more affluent soldiers in the trenches and the 'thermostat' temperature control was invented, revolutionising gas and electric cooker design. The war was massive in scale but the technology was barely up to the task, almost everything was horse drawn and the British Army shipped a greater tonnage of fodder for its horses than shells and ammunition for the troops.
The number of shrapnel injuries to the head came as something of a surprise to both sides and steel helmets (known by the British as 'tin hats') were introduced to reduce the casualties. All sorts of new weapons were developed, one of the most deadly proved to be the trench mortar, man portable and able to lob a bomb high in the air to drop down into the opposing trenches. It was not very accurate but accounted for more lives than the rifle in both world wars.
Fig ___ Corporal in steel helmet demonstrating the trench mortar
Early in the war the Germans tried using chlorine gas as a weapon, not with a great deal of success, but the idea caught on and by the end of the war one in three hand grenades was a gas bomb.
In 1916 the Daylight Savings Bill was introduced, and Britain had it's first taste of 'Summer Time' and 'Winter Time', a system subsequently adopted by many other Northern countries. This was a wartime measure intended to save power on street lighting and also at this time shops began closing earlier in the evenings. Before the war most shops stayed open until about nine o'clock at night, by the time the peace came most closed at about six in the evenings. This meant that large numbers of people were 'free' in the evenings and leisure activities ceased to be the province of the rich.
The siege warfare in France was killing people at an unprecedented rate, the economies of all countries involved was stretched to breaking point and neither side could see any way to force a final victory. Air power had proved indecisive, wars are won on the ground and a lot of the air effort was expended in fighting the other sides air power and only a small proportion was used for bombing and strafing the ground targets. London was bombed by German airships (called Zeppelins after Count Von Zeppelin who had pioneered the large rigid bodied airships in Germany) but this achieved little. In desperation, to try and break the deadlock of trench warfare the Germans tried using poison gas (chlorine released from cylinders when the wind was in the right direction). The effect on the unprotected British and French troops was devastating but the Germans had not positioned sufficient forces to exploit the opportunity and break through the allied lines. All sides then started employing gas weapons, although this was expressly forbidden by the Geneva conventions held since the American Civil War. The Germans also introduced the flame thrower, again in contravention of the Geneva convention, and again all sides took up this fearful weapon. In 1917 the British used 'tanks' for the first time, although not with a great deal of success, as with the German chemical attack the forces were not available to follow through the breakthrough achieved by the tanks. The name 'tank' came from the code name for the project, 'Water carriers for Mesopotamia', this was shortened by the workers to 'those tank things' and the name 'tank' stuck.
Fashions changed dramatically during the war, women's skirts lifted to six inches above the ground so less material was used for the skirt. Women went to work in the factories and as hair was generally still worn long they adopted a bag called a 'snood' to keep it out of the way. The photo below shows my Great Aunt (top right) with girls from the factory in which she worked in about 1918.
Fig ___ Working women in about 1918
A coat manufacturer called Thomas Burberry added epaulets and rings to carry grenades to his standard light cotton overcoat and marketed it as a 'trench coat'. The trench coat proved popular among officers at the front and soon established itself as a design classic. On the German side the pilots cut off the long tails on the flying coats and produced the 'bomber jacket'.
Fig ___ Trench coat
The war finally ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, no one had actually 'won' anything, millions had been killed and large sections of Europe were bankrupted by the expense. The two years following the war saw the devastating effects of the 'Spanish Flu', which swept through Europe and killed more people than the preceding four years of all-out warfare. This disease killed mainly the young and healthy, attacking the lungs and turning them into mush, it hit the young and healthy hardest as it killed by provoking the victim's immune system. It disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived and it was only in the later 1990s that scientists began to unravel its secrets by recovering tissue from bodies buried in permafrost.
Many things changed mainly as a result of the war, in 1918 women householders over the age of 30 were given the vote. More women were working in offices which was considered an acceptable occupation for respectable middle class ladies, the civil service had employed about six hundred women before the war, by the 1920's there were over one hundred and seventy thousand on the payroll. Life in the countryside had changed little however, horses still did most of the work and windmills were still in regular use, the photographs below both date from the 1920s and show (left) a Cambridgeshire smock mill and (right) the base of a Suffolk post mill, the scans were taken from a tourist book published in the 1930s.
Fig ___ Windmills in use in the 1920s
It was at about this time that women started out-living men in the general population, up to this point the dangers of child birth had killed many women every year. Nothing specific seems to be responsible for this change, rather there were a number of small but important changes (such as the use of sterilised medical instruments and an awareness of microorganisms) each of which made a contribution.
In 1919 the Rawlplug was invented by the firm of J. J. Rawlings and the British airship R34 made a non-stop round-trip crossing of the Atlantic in relative comfort. The airships success was overshadowed in the press by the heroic non-stop crossing by the British aviators Alcock and Brown in a highly uncomfortable Vickers Vimy bi-plane bomber. Also in 1919 Greyhound racing was invented in America and the New Zealand born scientist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) split the atom at Manchester University. This was a logical extension of his earlier work which had proved that an atom consisted of a central nucleus surrounded by electrons. Rutherford had tried to obtain funding for the work but the government had refused, on his return to the laboratories at Manchester University he told his staff 'Well, we haven't got any money, so we shall have to think.'
The end of the war saw a surge in marriages and a consequent demand for homes, by this time over eighty percent of the population lived in towns and only about eight percent of the work force was employed in agriculture. The housing situation in Britain at the time was not good (it has remained a problem ever since) and Mr. Addison the president of the Local Government Board and the first Minister of Health ordered the local authorities to build houses for rent. The building of council housing reached something of a peak in 1921 with quite simple homes costing the councils nearly a thousand pounds but within a few years the price fell to less than half that figure. It was in 1921 that the Czech writer Carl Capek coined the word Robot for a play he was writing and unemployment in Britain passed the one million mark for the first time.
Unemployment had replaced famine as the main problem as the country shifted from an agricultural to an industrial economic base. Prior to the First World War had been steady, averaging 5% it was typically about 1% in good years, 14% in slumps but after 1921 the figure never dropped below 10% even in good years and the average was around 14%. This figure is misleading however, in areas where older industries such as iron and steel making predominated the situation was catastrophic, in areas where more modern industries such as domestic electrical goods and motor car manufacture had developed life was rather good. This era saw a shift in prosperity back toward the South and East of the country and a consequent migration of people into that part of the country. Not everyone moved however, the system of unemployment benefit discouraged re-location and people have a natural affinity for their home towns. The result was pockets of long term unemployment in some areas with other towns becoming more prosperous. The high unemployment was concentrated in the North and West, better conditions prevailed in the South and East. This was not a hard and fast rule however, towns with diversified industrial bases such as Manchester and Sheffield, did well whilst some areas in the South found their local industries in decline.
Commercially produced tinned food became a regular feature of life in the early 1920's, although almost all was imported from America. The British were still making tin cans by hand for home preserving, there again it was some years before anyone invented a viable can-opener, people used a knife either to cut the end off completely or work at the edges to remove the top. British canneries were built in the 1920's, and being well suited to railway connections most such factories were built close by a line to enable the laying of private sidings. The history of the canning industry is discussed in more detail in the section on Lineside Industries.
The First World War had brought home the importance of strategic industries and in 1920 the Ministry of Transport was formed by the government. This new ministry charged with co-ordinating the development of roads, railways and to a lesser extent the canals and navigable rivers (legislation relating to sea going ships remained the province of the Board of Trade). Also in 1920 the Marconi Company made the first public radio broadcast from their station in Writtle in Essex (the first fully commercial radio station opened later the same year, KDKA in Pittsburgh USA, and that station remains on the air to this day).
In 1921 the Irish Free State was established giving full independence to the southern counties of Ireland. This had surprising little impact on the lives of the people of Ireland, but the loss of over 80 MPs had a dramatic effect on British Politics, beginning the move toward a stable (and arguably much less democratic) two-party system. Meanwhile the 1921 Railway Act lead to the 1923 government sponsored rationalisation of the railway system known as 'The Grouping'.
The strategic nature of oil had become a matter of concern and ICI were working on making a synthetic petrol. The first practical results were based on coal and later on Creosote recovered from coal at the town gas works. The process involved very high pressures and used considerable quantities of Hydrogen most of which was prepared on-site (the government sponsored this work after about 1933). On the railway oil was still shipped as single wagon loads attached to ordinary pick-up goods trains but the majority was my this time carried in bulk tank wagons. The photo below was taken in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry in the late 1980s, it shows a van, typical of the types seen in the 1920s, and a hand operated petrol pump of early design.
Fig ___ Typical 1920s van and petrol pump
Diesel engines appeared in canal boats after the First World War and large diesels were tried on sea going ships in the 1920's but many shipping companies continued to use steam as the engines were more reliable and easier to maintain if any thing went wrong. It would be another forty years before the large cylinder slow-revving diesel engine became the standard for ships and it was the 1980's before diesels became the norm on tankers.
In 1922 the privately owned and commercial British Broadcasting Corporation was set up to provide a national radio broadcast service. The first Director General of the BBC was the formidable Scot John Reith, after whom the Reith Lectures for Children are named. Reith believed that the radio needed to be politically impartial and that as well as entertainment it had a duty to educate. Although they could not be seen the announcers and performers were expected to dress 'properly' for their work. This usually meant full evening dress, as though going out to the Opera. It was found that the stiff shirts worn by male announcers made an audible creaking noise if they moved so soft shirts were allowed by the 'powers that be'. Radio sets were expensive and the most common type was the simple 'crystal set' which had no valves (electronic components enclosed in an evacuated glass tube) and hence required very little power. The set shown below left is typical of this period, which did not require a battery, relying on a strong signal to drive the headphones (it was too weak to have a speaker). For more powerful sets a power supply was required, usually a battery, the example shown below right is a battery of a type commonly used for domestic radio when most houses had no electricity supply.
Fig ___ Crystal set and domestic radio battery
In period after the First World War criminals started using cars and preying on motorists, rather like the highwaymen of old. Motor car use in crime escalated until in the 1920's Scotland Yard formed the Flying Squad, equipped with powerful motor cars of their own to chase the criminals. Four wheel brakes became standard on cars by about 1923 and a complete spare wheel was now usually carried vertically at the rear of cars (prior to this a lot of firms just provided a mounting to carry spare tyres).
Typical motor car from 1923 (a Lanchester)
There were some quite bizarre motor vehicles about, in 1922 Dunkley's of Birmingham introduced a two-stroke petrol engined pram with a small platform for the nursemaid at the rear. These were prohibited by law from operating on the pavement and had to run on the road proper.
Fig ___ Dunkley's 'Pramotor'
In America in 1923 someone had the idea of producing a 'new model' motor car every year to encourage people to buy new cars, Ford's Model T was the most common car in the world at the time and Ford resisted this change for four years but in 1927 they re-jigged their entire factory to produce the new Model A motor car. Smaller firms could not handle the re-engineering of their product on a yearly cycle and many went out of business.
Ford Model A two seater
This era, between the two World Wars, was a difficult time for the railway companies. The coal strike of 1921 hit hard on a system primarily involved with moving coal and the General Strike of 1926 affected not only the railways but the industries they served. The General Strike was brought about by the continuing economic down turn started by the First World War, the value of the pound had dropped almost sixty percent between 1914 and 1920 and retail prices had fallen about six percent following the war.
Coal mines were operating at a loss, which was serious as everything was powered by coal, and the Government set up a Royal Commission to look at the problems in the coal industry across the country. The commission's first recommendation was to nationalise the coal mines but the government rejected that out of hand. The next idea was for the coal miners to take a cut in pay or work longer hours for the same pay and although several groups of workers had agreed to similar schemes the mining unions opposed this with the slogan 'Not a penny less - Not a minute more'. The government at the time was looking to set the power of the unions back and they deliberately engineered the crisis until the rest of the unions decided to call out their members in support of the miners. The resulting national strike in May 1926 went down in British history as the General Strike, at it height over two million workers were involved.
This general strike by all unions had been planned for by the government and there were posters ready in stores to explain the emergency measures. The government controlled the press and banned any pro-union stories, troops were called in to operate some industries and civilian volunteers filled other posts. After nine days the Trades Union Congress (the Unions central co-ordinating organisation) realised what had happened and decided to give up but the coal miners remained out on strike for another seven months. The Trades Disputes Act of 1927 made General Strikes illegal.
All was not doom and gloom, generally speaking the 1920's saw a steady increase in the material standard of living, the main beneficiaries being the burgeoning middle classes. In 1924 the first Labour Government came to power, disposable paper tissues appeared in the shops and the first British Nudist resort opened in Essex (the movement began in Germany in 1920). To reduce unemployment there were many large civil engineering schemes, the photo below, scanned from a book published in the 1940s, shows a section of the Great West Road in London, built under such a scheme.
Photo of the Great West Road (taken in about 1930)
It was about this time that electrical appliances such as vacuum cleaners, electric cooking ranges, irons and washing machines all began to sell in some numbers. In the mid 1920's the Manchester Corporation Electricity Committee staged an exhibition of domestic electrical equipment and began offering electrical appliances for hire. A typical vacuum cleaner of the period was the all-British 'Thor' from GEC, which cost seven pounds fifty pence (about the average weekly wage for a skilled factory worker).
Not everywhere was so advanced, it was only in 1926 that Hemel Hempstead received its first electricity supply (mains gas supplies had arrived in 1869) but in general the world was moving on, in the same year the American scientist Robert Goddard (1882-1945) built the first successful liquid fuelled rocket.
In 1927 Hollywood released the first talking picture (the Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson) and later the same year a fill called On With The Show became the first talking picture in colour. In Britain the BBC became a publicly owned corporation established under a Royal Charter which, as the Director General John Reith had demanded, guaranteed it political impartiality until 1996. Reith continued as Director General but his dictatorial attitude caused some problem with the Board of Governors and his political impartiality did not sit well with Parliament and ten years later he resigned to take up a job running British Imperial Airways.
Young lady in the later 1920s
In 1928 all British women over the age of 21 received the vote the LNER Royal Scot passenger express beat an aeroplane on a race from London to Edinburgh and the Tannoy public address loud speaker company opened for business. As the first in the field Tannoy soon became synonymous with loud speaker systems. In the same year Cadillac introduced the synchromesh gear box on motor cars (it was many years before it became universal however) whilst in Germany an Opel rocket car reached a speed of 156 miles per hour before crashing. During this period the private motor car became increasingly popular in Britain, receiving a boost in the 1920's from low cost Morris and Austin family saloons, accidents were commonplace and about three people a day were being killed on London's roads. It was at about this time that the first police motor cycles entered service, the machines were built by Royal Enfield and the policemen riding them wore flat uniform caps in place of their normal helmets. Also in 1928 the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published, the first dictionary to attempt to list all the words used in a particular language it had taken over seventy years work in its compilation.
In 1929 the London to Paris Golden Arrow passenger service made its first run, the coaches made the channel crossing in specially designed ferries (see also Railway Freight Operations - Ferry Traffic).
Dover-Calais train ferry
Also in 1929 the British Standards Institute received its Royal Charter, adopting the Kitemark symbol of the original Engineering Standards Institute. The first designated 'green belt' land was approved, near Hendon outside London whilst in the capital experiments were made with electric traffic lights (an idea from America) along Oxford Street and all-over red was adopted as the standard colour for London's buses. The budget that year removed the tax on tea which had existed for 325 years (a couple of years later a small tax on tea was re-introduced).
In the same year the 'I speak your weight' machine was developed by an Italian inventor, the first 'Oscars' were awarded in Hollywood and the world's stock markets crashed precipitating the great economic depression which lasted through most of the following decade.
Fashions changed dramatically between the end of the First World War and through the booms and busts of the 1920's. In 1920 Coco Chanel popularised two and three-piece suits for women and established 'the little black dress' as a standard item of a woman's wardrobe which remains to this day. Shortly afterwards hitherto exclusive Parisian couturier's established 'ready to wear' designs which they sold through boutiques. In the later 1920's wealthy young women started to look very 'boyish' with straight dresses and short cropped hair. In 1925 the skirts moved above the knee for the first time, it was around this time that the 'waist' on women's dresses dropped to around the hips. It was also at about this time that the 'cloche' hat established itself as the standard women's headgear This was a standard dome-topped women's hat but with almost no brim, or a partial brim dropped down to one side. This style of ladies hat was seen occasionally (mainly on young women) through the later 1920s and became very common in the mid to late 1930s.
Typical 'cloche' hat and 1920s woman's hairstyle
The wide brimmed dome topped hat remained common into the 1930s however. It was somewhere in the 1920's that someone thought of combining the 'set' with the 'perm' to give permanent curls that were large and 'natural' looking, at the time the 'sleek look' was fashionable so women mainly had short hair and it was only in the 1940s that 'big hair' became popular. German scientists were advising people to take regular exercise in the sunshine to combat 'deficiency' diseases such as rickets and scurvy and in the later part of the decade 'rambling' (short hikes through the countryside) became popular in Britain whilst the sun-tan became a fashion accessory.
Fig ___ Fashions in the 1920's
In 1930 the 20 mph speed limit was abolished and a draft Highway Code was published. Running boards on motor cars started to disappear from about this time. In the same year the government sponsored airship R101 crashed in France and as a result the privately built and much better designed R100 was banned from flying. It was in 1930 that pre-sliced bread appeared in Britain and the first tape recorder to use plastic tape was demonstrated in Germany (the quality was dreadful and it was only with the development of AC bas in the late 1930s that tape recording became useable for music). Another significant event was the formation of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), a joint initiative backed by a number of rambling (hiking), cycling and youth organisations. In America a company called 3-M was selling sand paper to motor manufacturers for use when painting cars (having bought a worthless mine some years earlier that only produced grit). Talking with a client a salesman by the name of Richard Drew came up with the idea of sticky tape to be used as a masking material, resulting the production of 'Scotch Tape', the first 'sticky tape'.
Typical motor car from 1930 (an Alvis saloon car)
In 1931 the Empire State Building was opened in America with its 102 floors it was the tallest building in the world. At the time airships were seen as the future of trans-Atlantic travel and the top of the building was designed as a mooring point with the top floor (now a visitor centre) as an embarkation deck for passengers.
In Britain the 1931 Road Traffic Act brought in compulsory Third Party Insurance for motorists and introduced traffic policemen. In London trolley buses appeared in the streets, 20 years after their Yorkshire debut and trials of flood lighting old buildings in London caused traffic chaos. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease caused the government to ban the movement of cattle, costing the railways some valuable business.
A coalition government was formed in to try and address the problems caused by the Depression. The country left the Gold Standard to try and preserve some gold reserves (the Pound was devalued by about a third overnight) and a 100% duty was put on all imported goods. People throughout the nation faced pay cuts and 1,200 sailors at a Royal Navy base in Scotland went on strike (the Navy called it a Mutiny) to protest at pay cuts in the services. By the end of the year unemployment was running at something over three million, the highest it had ever been.
Again in the 1930's not everyone did badly, prices fell, mainly due to improved manufacturing technology, mass entertainment (mainly in the form of luxury cinemas) was booming and people in work were buying more. There was more to buy of course, new labour saving domestic electrical appliances such as the new 'enamelled' cookers and domestic radio receivers were popular. Radio was known as 'wireless' in those days and by 1939 nine out of ten homes had a wireless receiver. It was during this era that domestic electrical appliances started to rival gas for cooking.
The ladies shown below are dressed typically for middle class women of the period, the dead animal round their shoulders is the 'fox fur' (a fox skin with tail), considered highly fashionable for most of the 1930s.
Mother and daughter shopping in about 1930
Furniture sold well and people were buying homes rather than renting them. House building saw unprecedented growth, reaching levels never again seen in this country, most of the properties being sold rather than rented out. The first half of the decade saw over a million houses built and the work force hired to build them kept unemployment down (although the national figure was still around two million). There was a marked movement of people from the badly affected areas of the North East and North West toward the South of the country.
In 1932 the experiment with using traffic lights on Oxford Street was declared a great success and similar lights are to be introduced throughout Britain. The Motor Traffic Bill makes drivers who kill guilty of manslaughter and the first 3-letter number plates appear (the first in London was AMY 1). Later in the year police pay was reduced by 10%.
Also in 1932 the original 'anglepoise lamp' was invented by George Carwardine, a motor engineer with an interest in suspension systems living in the West Midlands. He employed the constant tension principle used by the human arm, initially with two springs on the base and two more on the arm but later designs employed a three spring base as people kept catching their fingers in the arm springs. Carwardine went into partnership with Herbert Terry & Sons, a specialist spring manufacturer based in Redditch, who had invented the 'Terry Clip'.
In 1933 'stereo' recording was invented (it did not catch on for another thirty years) and Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting. Planned as a 'local' station the accidental choice of a natural aerial as the site of the transmitter meant the station was audible throughout the southern part of Britain. The BBC reserved Sunday for religious broadcasts and this gave Luxembourg a large Sunday audience and it lead the way in popular broadcasting for the next forty years (the station finally closed down its English broadcasts in 1991).
In 1933 the actress Marlene Dietrich set a trend for women to wear men's clothes, in particular trousers, although few women adopted the look at the time trousers became moderately popular among well to do young women in the later 1930s and it set the scene for the women's 'trouser suit' of 1960s and 1970s.
Women's trousers in the early 1930s
Trousers were worn as evening or leisure wear but not to work, they were also worn when holidaying or camping, which is slightly odd as they are ill suited to open country. The army had long noted the problems of trousers becoming soaked and heavy when passing through wet grass and they tended to pull on the knee when bending. The army had introduced the 'puttee', a strip of cloth worn wound round the legs below the knee to resolve these problems, men working or roads and the like favoured a bit of string to hitch the trouser up the leg whilst farmers (and to a lesser extent farm workers) favoured buttoned cloth 'leggings'. The pre-trouser style of gents leg wear had been the knee length breeches and these had remained in use in the countryside, by the early 1920s they had evolved in to 'plus fours', worn with putees for heavy going or long socks they were much favoured by golfers and people engaged in countryside pursuits such as grouse shooting. Only the upper middle classes would invest is such specialised clothing however.
Golfers in the early 1930s
Also in 1933 new body, the London Passenger Transport Board, was established, taking control of the various underground railway lines as well as the buses and trams in the capital. Of more importance in the present context however was the 1933 Road and Rail Traffic Act which introduced tighter controls on road haulage and a new three tier system of licensing. The Class A licence allowed the vehicle to be used for any haulage work anywhere in the country whilst the cheaper Class B licence only allowed for local work. The Class C was for firms using their own lorries, which could travel anywhere as long as they were used purely for the firm's own goods.
This had only marginal effect on the competition between road and rail but it did bring about a general improvement in the standards within the road haulage industry. By the mid 1930's competition from road transport was becoming a serious problem for the railway companies, who launched a 'fair deal' publicity campaign pointing out that whilst the railway's rates were set by central government the road hauliers were free to charge what ever they wanted. The canal companies had similar problems but the legislation was slightly different and allowed many canal owners to invest in lorries and even ships to broaden their base in the transportation business.
Although the economics of the diesel lorry were such that the high initial cost was only worthwhile if the average haul was to be greater than about thirty miles (48 km) they were a serious alternative to long distance rail and canal transport. Road haulage also offered the additional benefit of 'door to door' services.
The railways, supported by various Government sponsored reports, countered this by increasing the use of containers and by increasing their own stake in road haulage. Standardised road-rail containers were introduced by the railways in about 1926, allowing them to offer competing door-to-door container services, the containers were transported on
both horse drawn and motor road vehicles at either end of their journey.
Fig___ 3 ton mechanical horse transporting a container
The railways also used motor transport to undertake various re-organisations and rationalisations of their loss-making 'sundries' or small consignments business. The basic trend was toward fewer sundries depots and local goods yard deliveries, operations being concentrated in a smaller number of yards from where the railway road lorries would provide local deliveries. Only the Southern Railway managed to keep this side of the business in the black.
It was in the 1930s that the beach, rather than the promenade, became the main attraction for holiday makers at the sea-side. The Women's League of Health and Beauty was set up in 1930 by Prunella Stack to offer low cost exercise classes for women became a force extolling the virtues of the 'body beautiful' and the beach was a good place to show this off. The League built up to 160,000 members and mass demonstrations were held in large parks, reminiscent to modern eyes of the orchestrated mass displays popular in Communist countries in the later 20th century. The government was less interested, however when war loomed in the later 1930s they eventually set up the Fitness Council to promote physical exercise and healthy eating, this may well have been because at the outbreak of the First World War about 80 percent of the new recruits were found to be unfit for duties at the front.
In 1934 the American Dale Carnegie published his famous book 'How to Win Friends & Influence People' whilst a drought coupled with intensive farming methods caused the Great Dust Bowl Storm in America, over three hundred million tons of fertile top-soil were blown away leaving farmers destitute. In Britain the Daily Mirror was re-launched as the first 'tabloid' style newspaper and 'cats eyes' were invented by an eccentric Yorkshireman by the name of Percy Shaw (1890-1976). There was concern over the growing number of pedestrian road casualties and the Minister of Transport, a Mr. Belisha introduced his famous 'beacons' to mark pedestrian crossings on the London streets. These beacons were black and white striped posts about seven foot high topped with orange spheres about a foot in diameter (see Street Furniture below), the number of pedestrian deaths in London fell by about twenty percent following their introduction. Also in 1934 the driving test became a requirement for new drivers, this idea originated in France where drivers in Paris had been tested since the early 1890's (the idea was extended to the whole of France in the later 1890's). Also on the roads of Britain in 1934 traffic police were introduced, a thirty mile per hour speed limit was introduced (twenty miles per hour for vehicles weighing more then two and a half tons laden), standardised road signs were introduced and the Mersey Tunnel was opened (at the time it was the worlds longest underwater tunnel).
Fashionable woman in the mid 1930s
The bicycle continued to be the most common private transport machine throughout the 1930's, although cycling enthusiasts were not held in high regard. People bowling through the countryside at speeds of up to 15 mph (24 kph) were considered a hazard and there were concerns that horses might be startled. Bicycle racing was therefore confined to very early morning out-and-back 'time trials' with individual riders setting off at one minute intervals, invariably dressed in black so as to be inconspicuous.
Typical motor car from 1935 (a Ford Popular)
In 1935 the passenger liner Queen Mary was launched, the first ship to pass the 75,000 ton mark whilst the government passed a Housing Bill which placed legal limits on occupation to force a reduction in overcrowding in the poor areas of the cities.
In the same year the Ramblers Association was formed from an amalgamation of groups dating back to the 1880s and a Keep Fit boom began in Britain. Gymnasiums (built with the support of the local corporations) were fully booked almost as soon as they opened their doors. In the manner of the times there was quite a lot of regimentation in Keep Fit, playing fields were filled with ranks of people doing repetitive exercises with 'Indian clubs'.
In 1936 the recorded time announcement was set up by the General Post Office telephone branch, the idea came from France where the staff at the Paris observatory had grown tired of answering endless telephone enquiries. The British recordings were made onto glass disks and the lady who recorded the messages (a telephone operator from Croydon) was paid ten guineas for her work. At the time telephones had both letters and numbers and the number to dial was TIM. These recordings remained in use for more than fifty years.
In 1937 following much concern about the time taken by telephone operators to answer emergency calls the emergency '999' system was established in London (it was introduced in Glasgow the following year but did not reach the rest of the country until after the second world war). The number 999 was chosen following a series of trials where people had to dial whilst blindfolded and with the telephone perched at an unusual angle, the alternative 000 took longer to dial on the old rotary dial phones but was rejected partly on the grounds that it sounded like 'Oh-Oh-Oh' which was deemed to be 'un-manly' and 'un-heroic'.
1937 Wolseley 18 Police Radio Patrol Car
Also in 1937 in America Hormel's Spiced Ham held a contest for a new name, the winner was Spam, meanwhile the German airship Hindenberg exploded at Lakehurst, also in the USA, this event is generally regarded as the end of the commercial airship but the fire was largely due to an American embargo on Helium which forced the Germans to use Hydrogen. Military airships continued in use with the US navy into the 1960's and airships remain in use for advertising and for various surveillance activities where their flight endurance and fuel efficiency are an advantage.
In 1938 an American engineer called Chester Carlson (1906-1968) invented xerography, better known as the photocopier the machine did not arrive in the shops until 1959. In Britain new legislation was introduced in 1938 to give ordinary factory workers paid holidays (an idea from Hitler's Germany, where it proved a vote winner for the Nazi party), this was in the event delayed and did not come into effect until after the Second World War. Also in 1938 the LNER steam locomotive Mallard reached a top speed of 126 mph (203 kph) whilst pulling a seven coach train, setting a world speed record for steam locomotives.
In 1938 the 'magnetometer' was developed, this is a device which is sensitive enough to monitor slight changes in the Earth's magnetic field, when mounted in an aircraft it can be used to map the field over a large area. This has proved to be one of the most valuable tools for geologists searching for oil and minerals and it can also be used to hunt for submarines, crashed aircraft and sunken ships in shallow waters. Oddly enough it did not find a wartime role, although in the cold war era it was widely deployed to hunt for submarines).
The first real boom in car ownership took place during the 1930's, from a million in 1930 to nearly two million by 1940. Pubs and hotels eagerly sought the prestige of having a number of 'motor car people' in their clientele.
1939 Hilman Minx
Fashions during the 1930's were generally more subdued, a common feature of periods of economic depression. Skirts settled at just below the knee whilst the stretch latex 'roll-on' girdle replaced the boned corset. British factories were now increasingly electrified and the electric sewing machines allowed mass production of clothes although these were still largely based on the Paris designs.
In America students began wearing jeans in the mid 1930's but they were worn because they were cheap and not considered particularly fashionable. In Britain the full skirt with belted waist, derived from German traditional dress, became popular. Women's fashions moved toward the long line bias-cut in the later 1930's when padded shoulders for both men and women started to appear. The Men's Dress Reform Party had been formed in 1929, advocating the wearing of shorts and loose open necked shirts. This became an increasingly common outfit for men's general leisure pursuits throughout the decade whilst ramblers were often seen wearing 'plus fours' trousers, gathered below the knee and worn with long brightly patterned socks.
Typical clothing in the later 1930s
World War Two began in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland and the allied armies were quickly overwhelmed by the much better organised and relatively mechanised German army (the British army was actually more mechanised and the French probably had the best tanks but neither had developed the methods of employing such forces). The British force withdrew to a small French coastal town called Dunkirk where many of them were lifted off the beaches by ships and small craft. They had to leave behind all their heavy equipment however and it seemed only a matter of time before the Germans invaded Britain. In the event the Germans were not able to amass sufficient transport and the German air force was beaten back by the British RAF. Unable to guarantee air superiority the Germans were not able to guarantee the success of an invasion and contented themselves with bombing raids and submarine attacks on the British shipping.
Meanwhile the Japanese were trying to conquer China and Korea and a singularly nasty war was well under way. The Japanese realised that the Americans were getting nervous and decided that their only hope was to cripple American military power to prevent them from interfering. The resulted in their attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbour in 1941 which brought America into the war. One curious event in Britain in 1941 was the introduction of the 'kerb drill' for children crossing the road. The word 'drill' was taken from Army parlance and meant a set routine to be followed, in this case 'Stop, look left, look right, look left again and if all clear cross the road'.
The Germans original intention had been to attack Russia, they had invaded Poland simply because they did not trust the Polish government to allow their troops free passage. In 1941 the German army rolled into Russia (in spite of a peace treaty with the Communist government under Stalin), with the intention of gaining control of the oil fields in the Ukraine. The invasion of Russia started in the summer and made great advances but the Russian winters were more serious than the Germans had anticipated and by 1945 the Russians had pushed the German forces back to the border but at a cost of many million lives. The Russians call this the Great Patriotic War.
The Russians, in pre communist times, had adopted a different track gauge from their neighbours, at the time the lines were built cross border trade was not terribly important and the Russians were aware that railways made invasion easier. The German leader Hitler had an aversion to the use of railways in warfare, his experiences in the First World War meant that the old head-on mass assault approach to warfare was clearly not viable in the age of the machine gun. Instead he favoured a more naval style of maneuver warfare which became known by the German name Blitzkrieg (lightning war). In the event the lack of rail connections into Russia caused the Germans massive supply problems as it became clear that roads and lorries simply could not move the quantity of materials required. Belatedly the Germans began re-gauging the tracks to allow supply trains to run, but they lost an entire army at Stalingrad, not least due to the lack of supplies reaching the front line and before long they were tearing up the tracks to prevent the advancing Russians using them.
The bombing raids on cities during this war were on a scale not seen before and the balloon barrage was set up to augment the anti-aircraft guns. The balloons were tethered with long steel cables which forced the bombers to fly higher, making bombing less accurate. There were two kinds of balloon used, one with a rigid frame called the Type A Rigid and one without called the Type B Limp from which we got the term 'blimp' for non-rigid airships.
During the war there was a need to break the German codes, the Poles had already done a lot of work on this and their engineers came to Britain after war broke out, bringing with them the technology they had developed. A chap called Alan Turing, a mathmatician at Cambridge University, had been working on problems of this general type and had proved mathmatically that there were ways to break such codes, however the technology was not in place to exploit his ideas. In the 1930s several people had been working on computing machines to solve mathmatical problems but these were slow, difficult to use and unreliable. A man called Tom Flowers (working at the GPO as a telephone engineer developing automatic telephone exchanges) read Turings work and proposed building an electronic machine using 1800 'valves' to process the information. The authorities decided this could never work and refused to provide the resources to build it. Mr Flowers decided to work on it himself, putting up a thousand pounds of his own money to obtain the parts. The machine had to store the message to be decoded and compare this to a (hopefully) partially decoded copy fed in to it on punched paper teleprinter tape. The machine worked as advertised, code named 'Colossus' ten were built in total secrecy for the code breakers at Station X (set up at the start of the war at Bletchly Park), enabling the defeat of the German submarines and probably shortening the war by at least a year. After the war the British allowed other governments to use the German code machines, which everyone thought were 'secure'. The British had meanwhile destroyed all record of the machines, although they moved two to the GCHQ intelegence centre at Cheltenham where they could de-code all the diplomatic traffic from other countries. Mr Flowers received a thousand pounds from a grateful nation, although this probably did not cover his personal expenses, but due to the absolute secrecy he was not otherwised recognised. The Americans were told about Colossus and fed the ideas into their military suppliers, the early American machines were built for calculating gunnery tables but this work laid the foundation for the American computer industry.
The fashion for 'big hair' which lasted through the entire war, meant that women had to contend with the wind and with hats scare due to rationing the solution widely adopted was a head scarf. A brightly coloured, often silk, headscarf was considered acceptable for every day wear well into the 1960s, although for working women a less expensive material, usually worn in a 'turban' style tied at the front was the norm. The turban style was also used to cover hair when it was set in curlers, and this remained a common sight into the 1970s.
Women's head scarves
Clothes rationing was introduced in 1941 and during the war a great many people would be seen wearing uniform. These were not only the armed forces (of many nations) but also the 'Land Army' girls working in the fields. Women went to work in the factories in some numbers, the 'snood' re-appeared but hairstyles were generally shorter and many women simply adopted a kerchief tied as a 'turban' (as shown above) with a knot on the forehead. The nylon stocking had first been exhibited in the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York, during the later part of the war they were smuggled into Britain by American troops. By the end of the war, due to shortages of cloth, the hem line on women's skirts had moved from just below the knee to just above. The photograph below shows three girls on a holiday to Blackpool in the middle of the war.
Fig ___ Young women in World War Two
During the war a lot of women's clothing was made in the home, reusing old material, at the time many women had been taught the basic skills required at school as repairs to worn or torn working clothing were the norm. In the illustration below the woman in the centre is showing a syle of clothing designed to be made in the home using fairly minimal materials. This was the 'utility style' promoted by the government at the time.
Fig ___ Dress in World War Two
This war had its oddities, in 1944 Mrs. Helena Duncan, a well known spiritualist was tried under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 after having a vision of a British battleship being sunk (the Admiralty got word of just such an event a few hours after she made her announcement). Mrs. Duncan, the last person to be tried under this Act, was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in Holloway women's prison. Also in 1944 Butler's Education Act raised the school leaving age to 15 and introduced free school meals and milk. Also in 1944 the Tetrapak paper based container for liquids was invented by Erik Wallenberg and Ruben Rausing. This only arrived in the UK in the later 1960s but the paper based container for liquids such as milk and fruit juice soon became commonplace.
World war two was as horrific as the 1914-18 event but because of the fanatical nature of the Nazi organisation it was not considered practical to conclude a negotiated peace and the war was fought to the bitter end. The war against the Nazi's dragged on until May 1945, when Russian troops overran Berlin and the German leader Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The war against Japan ended a few months later in September 1945 after atom bombs had destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Around the end of the war the British League of Racing Cyclists began to organise mass-start bike races on open roads. They wore brightly coloured clothing and were initially shunned by the traditional cycle clubs. Meanwhile in America a chap by the name of Zimmerman developed the first practical telephone answering machine. It was also about this time that the American blue 'denim' cotton canvass working trousers arrived in Europe. They were widely referred to as dungarees, an Indian word for working clothing, or 'jeans', which was the name given to a style of trouser worn by Italian sailors since the nineteenth century. Cheap and 'different' they appealed to the younger generation and over the following two decades they became increasingly popular.
The development of mass produced penicillin during the war made a massive difference to life expectancy, up to this point a simple scratch could often turn 'septic', the resulting infection often proving fatal. Hospitals has special 'septic wards' to isolate victims. Penicillin was therefore a highly valued commodity in the immediate post war years, not least for the treatment of various sexually transmitted diseases, and became the focus of attention for criminal gangs (the film The Third Man tells the story of a man dealing in 'black market' penicillin stolen from hospitals).
In 1945 British engineer James Martin introduced the first practical ejector seat which was fitted into RAF Spitfire aircraft (the Germans had done some work on this, they introduced jet fighters in the later stages of the war and found that the pilot could not 'bail out' unaided). The first ejector seats used a spring mechanism but later seats used explosive charges and then small rockets. The firm of Martin Baker remains (in 2007) the worlds foremost ejector seat maker. Meanwhile in Canada an engineer called Hugh Le Caine built the world's first voltage controlled music synthesizer, he also developed a touch sensitive keyboard and variable speed multi-track tape recorder. His work did much to popularise the synthesizer as a serious musical instrument.
As the war ended tensions between the western Europeans and the Americans (the Capitalists) and the Russians (the Communists) heightened, the Russians fearful of an attack closed down the border all along their front, dividing Germany in half . This worried the British, French and Americans, in 1945 Sir Winston Churchill the wartime British leader gave a speech in which he said 'An Iron Curtain has descended across the continent'. The Iron Curtain entered popular language. The tension between the Russian lead East and the American lead west was to dominate the world political scene for the next fifty years.
Following the war there was an accute housing shortage, caused in part by the bombing raids on the cities, and there were demonstrations and (perhaps more importantly) 'mass occupations' where large numbers of homeless people would occupy a building that was unused. This was all rather orderly, in spite of hundreds of people being at odds with large numbers of police there was no violence as such. Eventually the government was provoked into acting and a large scale council home building programme got under way. The councils took up the challenge and also demolished a lot of the older poor quality housing (the majority of which was rented accommodation, replacing these with council homes. Initially the council homes were of very high quality and council houses built in this period retain something of a premium even in the early 21st century. During this period quite a number of wealthy people left their house to the council in their will.
In the 1930s it had become acceptable for men to wear a jacket that did not match their trousers, replacing the 'suit) below left) with the 'sports jacket' and trousers (below right). In the post war era the sports jacket was very common, the trousers were usually grey flannel or brown corduroy as clothing was expensive and 'hard wearing' was as important as fashion.
Fig ___ Suit and sports jacket and cords
In the lead up to the second world war a German engineer accidentally discovered a process called 'AC bias' which transformed the quality of tape recordings, this was used during the war to broadcast Hitlers speeches but after the war the British and Americans discovered the plans for the system and 'hi fidelity' tape recordings appeared as a commercial option to the vinyl record for music.
In 1945 the American and Russian forces which had been fighting the Japanese in Korea divided the country along the 38th parallel into a (communist) North Korea and (capitalist) South Korea whilst back home the Americans developed frozen TV dinners and Tupperware plastic containers (made of a flexible plastic these had lids which snapped into place making them leak proof). In the later part of 1945 the United Nations was set up to try and police the world and an American inventor patented the microwave oven (it was another twenty two years before these appeared in the shops however). Also in 1945 the technique of dehydrating foods before freezing them was developed, this reduces the mass to be cooled by typically 50%. Finally in the same year the British scientist Arthur C. Clarke received a payment of one hundred pounds for an article he wrote for Wireless World magazine in which he outlined his theory of geo-stationary communications satellites. He assumed these would use 'valve' technology which would require large maintenance staff involving perhaps two or three hundred people. By this time Britain, a relatively small group of islands, had the eighth largest population of any country on earth and came close behind the much larger Germany and Soviet Russia in the European states.
Leslie Patrick Abercrombie was knighted in 1945 for his services to town planning. He believed in the Garden City idea of the late nineteenth century and in 1944 he headed the team which prepared the Greater London rebuilding plan. He went on to develop the idea of completely new towns, properly planned and well built, on new sites in the countryside. In 1946 the government passed the New Towns Act, the final fruition of Abercrombie's ambitious ideas, which lead to the building of complete towns (e.g. Skelmersdale and Milton Keynes) in what had been open country.
Post war clothing was restrained by shortages but one idea which proved popular was the 'zip' fastener. This was actually an old idea, the first device was a hook and eye system with a sliding closure devised by a Chicago engineer in 1891. It was used on a waterproof overshoe sold as a 'zipper' and the name was transferred to the closing device. The combined pin and socket was developed in 1906 and the modern cloth strip design appeared in 1913. The US navy adopted the modified device for use on air-crew equipment in the second world war and this gave the device the publicity boost it needed to become a world wide success. In 1947 Christian Dior produced his 'New Look', wide flared skirts, wide brimmed hats and tailored jackets. Uniforms continued to be commonplace but were fading from sight by the end of the decade as more men were released from wartime 'National Service'.
Fig ___ Dior's 'New Look' of 1947
In 1947 two forms of Long Playing record were invented, one using 45 revolutions per minute the other using 33 r.p.m. These gave considerably longer recordings than the then standard 78 r.p.m. but the 45 r.p.m. standard failed to catch on for normal size records and was only used for small records with only a single piece of popular music on each side (which became known as 'singles', the larger type with more tracks were known as 'albums'). The Bikini swim-suit was produced in 1947 by the French engineer Louis Reard (1897-1984), named after an island devastated by an American nuclear weapon test the same year. Also in 1947 India and Pakistan (formerly British India) became independent, an American aircraft broke the sound barrier and the British Civil Service was tasked with creating a 'retail price index' which is the average price the average person would spend on a series of standard goods and services. This allowed the 'man in the street' to get some idea of how inflation was moving. For what it's worth the same basic basket of food cost 22 times more in 1997 than in 1947, although the average wage had increased by more than this figure.
Also in 1947 the new Labour government passed the National Assistance Act, finally doing away with the Poor Law and its Work Houses, one of the more popular provisions was that the elderly and needy would no longer be 'means tested', a standard rate old age pension would be paid to everyone. Perhaps the most significant change however was the nationalisation of strategic industries including coal mines, gas works, many of the major docks, and long distance transport systems, railways, canals, and long-haul road haulage.
Nationalisation was not a new idea, the Post Office had been effectively nationalised as far back as 1657 and the BBC had been taken under government control in 1926. The Central Electricity Generating Board had appeared in 1926 (following a decision made in 1889) and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) had been nationalised in 1939. It is not widely realised that the Bank of England was nationalised in 1947, in fact it was the very first organisation to be taken over. Founded in 1694 it had grown in importance due to government borrowing to pay for the wars of the eighteenth century. It had been a privately owned organisation and many economists blamed the reluctance of the bank to loan money for investment for the high unemployment in the pre-war years.
Other nationalised businesses included the Thomas Cooks Travel Agency but this was sold back into private ownership quite soon. Attempts at nationalising the breweries and pubs were confined to the North East and proved something of a failure.
In 1948 the Monopolies Commission was formed to address the problem of the power of the big companies and corporations, who could control prices to suit themselves, and the National Health Service was established. The National Health Service replaced a commercial hospital system backed up by 'Free Hospitals' supported by charitable donations and small Municipal Hospitals paid for by the local corporations. Under this new system doctors would no longer need to be paid for their services by the patient and optical tests would be available free, allowing people to find the correct pair of spectacles.
In the same year there were big changes to the administration of the Police forces which relaxed the tight discipline, prior to this if a bobby wanted to marry his fiancee had to be vetted to ensure she was someone 'suitable' and if he went on a touring holiday he had to telephone his station every day to advise them where he would be staying that night.
The first Polaroid Land camera appeared in the shops in 1948, this camera uses film sandwiched in a flexible container with the chemicals required to develop and fix the image. On the early manual models the process was activated by pulling the film out of the camera through rollers which released and spread the chemicals, after ten seconds you peeled off the backing to see the black and white print.
In Britain in 1948 two classic British cars were put on sale. First to arrive was the Land Rover, intended as a farmers light truck it found favour with the army and became a design classic. The very early examples were painted a light green (see also Appendix One - General Information - British Motor Manufacturers), but the standard army bronze green was soon adopted.
Fig___ Original 1948 Landrover (Series One)
In the same year the Morris 1000 saloon car arrived, one of the most successful British designs it remained in production for many years.
Original 1948 Morris 1000
One final event in 1948 was the development of the modern 'ball point pen' by two Hungarian brothers called Biro who by this time were living in Argentina. Lazlo Biro had been working on the idea of a pen containing quick drying printers ink (that did not require blotting paper) since the 1930's. The ball-point was not a new idea, an American called John Loud had patented a roller-ball pen for marking leather in 1888, but these were big pens not suitable for hand writing. Quick drying printers ink used linseed oil as the base and Biro had some success with this, he started selling his first pens in 1938 and they proved popular with British and American wartime air crews as the pens did not leak with pressure changes in the aircraft . The breakthrough came when he tried Olive Oil in place of the Linseed Oil and replaced the plunger feed with a simple capillary system. It was a few years before the ball-point pen arrived in Britain however and early models were sold at a premium price.
XXX Check dates XXX
It was about this time that the dreaded 'Colorado Beetle' arrived in Britain, this small bug has no natural enemies in Britain and eats the leaves of the potato plant which eventually kills the plant. Worst hit was Guernsey, where the early potato crop was a major economic factor. Initially teams of farm workers were employed to check each potato plant by hand and pick off any beetles they found. The chemical industry responded to the crisis by developing new forms of spray for the plants and special fumigation mixtures which could be pumped into the ground to kill any bugs in the soil. Tractors were fitted with specially designed spray equipment to spread the bug-killing mix, where tractors could not be used horse drawn sprayers were used and where even these could not reach men with back-pack pumping sets formed lines and systematically covered the area.
In 1948 the Communist Party of Malaya (basically made up of the Chinese
population who were discriminated against by the majority Malays) began attacking plantations and police stations. Malaya (now Malasia) was a British colony at the time and as the situation
escalated the British declared a state of emergency in the
country and put in large numbers of troops. There was a general fear that
the Communist Chinese might try and take over the entire far east and
newspapers coined the term 'The Yellow Peril'. The fighting dragged on for several years but the British 'hearts and minds' campaign undermined the support for the communists who never achieved much popular support.
Typical motor car from 1948 (a Standard 'Vanguard')
In 1949 named railway trains were re-introduced and sets of electrically powered four carriage articulated double-decked railway coaches or 'multiple units' were put into service on the Southern Region line between London and Dartford. These were intended to ease congestion but as they only had doors at either end of each coach they had to wait longer in the stations for people to get on and off. They were judged to offer no advantages and no additional units were ordered. It was at about this time that the word 'commuter' and 'commuting' entered the English language, the words had been brought over from America during the war and gradually replaced the English terms 'Season Ticket Holders' or (in the North) 'Contract Ticket Holders'. 1949 also saw the end of trials of oil-burning railway steam locomotives. Oil was cheap at the time and in 1945 all the former Big Four companies had converted a number of locomotive to use oil. In practice the savings proved elusive and the cost of the change over was deemed not worth the effort. On the world stage in 1949 several Western nations set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, better known as NATO. The prime objective was to defend the West against possible Soviet attack.
Also in 1949 'Silly Putty' went on sale in America, and became the fastest selling toy in history (it is actually silicone oil treated with boric acid and has some very unusual properties, for example having a better 'bounce' than a standard rubber ball). No one has yet found a practical use for this material.
In 1950 the first 'credit card' appeared in America, the Diners Club card, (introduced by Ralph Schneider, a credit expert who got the idea after forgetting his wallet on a trip to a restaurant) and Dunlop announced their motor car disc brakes which were featured on a successful Jaguar racing car. Disk brakes soon became popular on both private and commercial motor vehicles but although they have been evaluated for railway stock it has been found that the additional costs outweigh any technical improvement in braking performance.
Also in 1950 Yoshiro Nakamoto (a Japanese inventor with more patents to his name than anyone else in history) invented the computer 'floppy disk', these were eight inches in diameter, very floppy and only coated on one side so they tended to warp. They were initially adopted by IBM as a means of loading diagnostic software onto large main-frame computers and were made available to the public on the IBM personal computer of 1981 as an alternative to a tape cassette drive.
In the same year war broke out in Korea when the Communist North invaded the Capitalist South. The communists did well at first and at the United Nations in New York the Russians were boycotting meetings so the Americans were able to pass a resolution for UN troops to assist the South (the Russians never again missed a meeting). When the UN troops pushed the North Koreans back the Chinese joined in to support the North and the fighting dragged on until 1953. In 1951 the commons chamber at the Palace of Westminster, which had been
destroyed by German bombing during the war, re-opened for business.
In 1952 tea was de-rationed, identity cards were abolished and the first injection moulded plastic kits were produced by Airfix. Their first kit was the 1:72nd scale Spitfire, complete with a pilot with handlebar moustache, this kit remained in production for fifty years. In the same year the British De Haviland Comet became the worlds first jet airliner to enter service. The Comet flew so high it had to have a pressurised cabin, which was a very new technology (up to this point aircraft with pressurised crew compartments had been built but non with the whole fuselage pressurised). There were two serious crashes because the structure round the Comet's windows was not strong enough to stand the pressurization for high flying, which hit sales of the aircraft (once this flaw had been rectified it became one of the safest ever passenger jet aircraft and military derivatives such as the Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft are still flying in the early 21st century).
Comet airliner prototype
In 1953 the combined heart-lung machine was invented by a US surgeon called John Gibbon and the American tape recorder firm Ampex developed the video recorder although these machines were large and vary expensive and only used by television companies. Elsewhere the Russian leader Stalin died, Queen Elizabeth came to the throne and the structure of DNA was discovered by the British scientists Crick and Watson. On the home front sugar rationing ended and the Vickers Viscount (the world first turbo-prop airliner) entered service.
At this time the canals with their traditional barges were still in operation but there was no investment in the system and little official interest in developing the waterways. This contrasts markedly with Europe where international standards evolved based on the wide natural waterways and in the 1990's these still form a large part of the freight-haulage infrastructure.
In 1954 the British athlete Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes and the remaining food rationing was scrapped. In the same year the Conservatives pushed through new legislation with set up the Independent Television Authority (ITA), allowing privately owned television companies to set up in competition with the BBC. ITV (Independent Television) had access to stations covering the whole of Britain by 1960 but the actual transmitters were operated by a government agency. Radio was considered too important to national defence to allow private broadcasting at the time.
Typical motor car from 1954 (an Enfield)
In 1955 the British engineer Christopher Cockerel was awarded the first patents on his idea for floating vehicles on a cushion of air (the Hovercraft). In the same year the first mass-inoculation against Polio (infantile paralysis) was carried out in America, the new SALK vaccine was the first effective treatment for polio and had taken years of research to perfect. A Mr William Russell (formerly a Major in the REME) introduced the first fully automatic electroic kettle (sold by his company Russell Hobs.) Later in the year artificial diamonds were made by the American firm General Electric by heat-treating carbon at very high pressures (an American physicist called Percy Bridgeman had done the theoretical work). There was a spate of adventure stories about people causing the collapse of the value of diamonds but in practice it cost more to make them than to dig them out of the ground. In the same year the Russians set up the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (usually called Warsaw Pact) to counter the threat from NATO and a Swiss inventor produced Velcro. In Britain fibre-optic cables were invented and 'smokeless zones' were introduced in which people were only allowed to burn coke or other smokeless fuels in their fires to try and combat the health problems associated with the 'smog' (smoke mixed with fog) produced by burning coal. At this time most homes had st least one 'coal fire' to provide heating although gas and electric fires were also widely used.
In 1956 the Premium Bond was launched, with its famous computer known as ERNIE (Electronic Random Numeral Indicating Equipment). There was a lot of fuss about the government sponsoring gambling but the defence was that this was simply a savings bond which replaced a regular interest payment with the possibility of winning a small fortune. One big event in 1956 was the discovery of a natural gas field in the Netherlands. This field contained enough gas to affect the fuel situation in the whole of North West Europe and geologists began to look again at the potential for oil reserves in the North Sea (it took ten years for them to take the idea seriously however). Also in 1956 petrol rationing was re-introduced following the Suez Crisis when the Egyptians nationalised the Anglo-French Suez Canal. Britain & France invaded the canal area to resist the Egyptians but the Americans sided with Egypt and the European powers were forced to withdraw. The Suez crisis had shown how vulnerable Britain was to changes in the price of oil, although over half our power was still supplied by coal, and the government began to look at ways of expanding the nuclear power industry.
Petrol rationing lasted until 1957 and restricted the use of commercial vehicles, giving the railways a chance to recapture some of their lost traffic. Things were not working out quite as planned however, by 1958 general merchandise and livestock rail movement was down by more than 80% on the levels of 1948, mainly due to road competition. The restrictions on petrol and diesel fuel had been lifted, the numbers of lorries on the roads had already started to grow rapidly and their numbers were to increase by another 50% within ten years.
A big problem for the railways was the fall off in coal shipments, these were down to about 60% of the worst years of the 1930's depression. Coal and coke accounted for something like two thirds of all freight revenue on the railways, so any fall in demand had a serious effect on railway finances. The coal situation was mainly due to a shortfall in the projected industrial use, party because industry did not pick up as fast as expected but another factor was the 1955 Clean Air Act. This meant that people had to buy more expensive smokeless fuel and this encouraged the change to gas fires.
In spite of the reduction in demand coal was still in short supply and in the autumn of 1957 the Minister of Fuel, Hugh Gaitskill, actually gave a speech encouraging people not to have hot baths every day. Many homes still had no separate bath room with a plumbed-in bath and people made do with a tin bath in the kitchen. It was in 1957 that British fish were frozen for the first time, this allowed the fish to be stored for up to nine months.
In 1957 the first British parking meters were installed on the streets of London and the Russians put the first artificial satellite into orbit and caused something of as panic in Britain and America. Sputnik I was a rather basic design which sent a regular 'beep-beep' signal back to earth but it heralded the beginning of the space age.
Fig ___ Sputnik I
At the time Sir Bernard Lovel's new Mk 1A radio telescope at Joderel Bank in Cheshire was the only telescope in the west to be able to track the signal. The telescope, the largest fully steerable telescope on Earth, had been built with much subterfuge on a plot of land technically belonging to the agriculture department of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. This giant dish replaced a simple set-up of wires supported on wooden posts hooked up to a wartime radar receiver, intended to last perhaps fifteen years it has work to do until about 2020. Some idea of the size of the thing can be gauged by the way it towers above the trees, one of the problems in building it was the lack of a mobile crane big enough to lift the girders into place.
Fig ___ Joderel Bank telescope
A few months later Sputnik 2 carried a dog (Laika) into orbit, this probe was six times larger than the original device and caused even greater concern in the West. This event probably secured the future of the Joderel Bank telescope and funding was suddenly made available to develop the system there.
In 1958 the first industrial robot appeared, called Unimate it was built by Univac (now called Unisys) a computer manufacturer. In the same year the first 'big jets' (such as the Boeing 707) began non-stop services across the Atlantic, spelling the end of the great ocean liners. In Britain the first 'Life Peers' were appointed to the House of Lords and Sir Christopher Cockerel's Hovercraft saw the light of day (he had problems obtaining financial support, especially when he explained that the secret was to add a rubberised cloth 'skirt' to the base of the machine to contain the air cushion). Later in the year the SRN-1 Hovercraft crossed the English Channel with the inventor standing on it's deck.
In 1957 Mary Quant (later famous as a fashion designer who popularised the mini skirt in Britain and hence the 'Chelsea Look' around the world) opened her first shop, called Bazzar, a boutique selling women's clothing and accessories.
In 1958 the Preston By-Pass opened, a short stretch of what we now call a motorway. This proved instructive in terms of the design of such roads as many assumptions proved wrong and many mistakes were made in the design stages. The original two-lanes in each direction had to be expanded to three lanes, the need for a central 'crash barrier' became apparent (early types used a wire mesh fence with steel cables running along them) and in 1963 'hard shoulders' were added. All these features were standard on all future motorways.
In 1959 the American firm Du Pont introduced Lycra stretch fabrics and the 'hula hoop' craze swept through America and Europe.
It was also in 1959 that the first commercial photocopiers came on the market, marking the beginning of the end for the 'blueprint'. As described earlier blueprints had been in use since the 1890s for making copies of drawings but within twenty years the blueprint had disappeared, although the name remained in widespread use for schematic diagrams.
Also in that year the first 'integrated circuits' were made in America, consisting of several electronic components on a single 'chip'. Up to this point each transistor (or 'crystal valve' as they were often called) had to be hand assembled by a technician in a 'glove box' as shown in the photo below.
Fig ___ Hand assembling transistors in the 1950s
Early chips had perhaps five components on them, by the 1990's there were several million components per chip. By the end of the 1950s the American ideas of self-service shops and even 'Supermarkets' had arrived in Britain, albeit in a small way with larger premises on the high street being converted to a self-service approach. It was about this time that the Jacuzzi was launched as a health and recreational product by the Italian born American engineer Candido Jacuzzi.
By the end of the 1950's there were more casualties each year on the roads of Britain than in all the homes and work places combined.
Fashions in the 1950's saw a great diversification of styles. On the men's side the 't' shirt, a standard issue US forces undershirt was popularised as outer wear by films starring the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean. 'Youth movements' were starting to define themselves by having distinctive dress styles, the American all-black clothing 'beat generation' look crossed the Atlantic and in 1953 the Teddy Boys appeared with their long draped jackets and tight 'drainpipe' trousers (see also Appendix One - General Information - Social-sub groups and youth movements).
The Dior 'New Look' remained the main driving force behind women's clothing but skirts became much lass flared during the decade. The skirt length stayed just below the knee.
Fig ___ Dress styles of the 1950's
In 1960 the British declared the 'state of emergency' in Malaya to be over, the country had become independent in 1957 but the British armed forces had remained to assist the local troops fighting the communists. Meanwhile the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) was developed by a Mr Theodore Maiman in the USA - This was a development of an earlier device called a maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). For several years the laser was seen as a solution in search of a problem but by the middle of the decade the CD had been developed and in 1970 laser bar-code readers appeared for use in shops.
Also in 1960 an organisation called the European free Trade Association was formed by Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Britain as an alternative to the European Economic Community or EEC. Iceland joined some time later. The EFTA arrangement allowed tax-free trade between countries in the organisation but made few other demands on the members.
In 1961 the Russians put Yuri Gagarin into earth orbit, the first man in space, the East Germans built a wall all the way round the Western occupied part of Berlin and the Russian premier Khrushchev met with American President Kennedy to try and reduce tensions between the two countries. During the talks Khrushchev used an old Russian expression 'We will dance at your funeral' which means simply that he felt Communism would out-last the western Capitalism. This was translated to Kennedy as 'we will bury you' which to an American is a declaration of war. Kennedy asked the CIA to look at Russian military capability and they reported that there seemed little evidence of any growing offensive capability. Eventually a special department was set up, run by a chap called Donald Rumsfelt, and reports started arriving at the White House of a massive programme of military development. In the event it transpired that Mr Rumsfelt had made most of this up as he felt it was necessary for America to have an enemy in order to unite the country and prevent a decline into decadence. Kennedy authorised a major program of missile building in response and the cold war escalated until the demands of the military on both sides distorted the economy of almost the entire planet. In the early 1990's it was discovered that at the time all this began the Russians in fact had only one missile and no warheads for it.
On the railways in 1961 the Golden Arrow London to Paris service changed from steam to electric locomotives and the last steam hauled passenger service on the outskirts of the London Transport system (between Rickmansworth and Aylesbury) changed to diesel. This was also the year that the very first Portakabin (see Fig ___).
The 1961 French film Jules et Jim caused a stir and re-introduced above-the-knee fashions from the 1920's for women, this in turn lead to the mini-skirts first seen in Paris in 1964 courtesy of André Courrèges, who also introduced the knee-high white boots to go with them. The min skirt became popular in Britain by the mid 1960's, adopted by British designers such as Mary Quant it remained popular into the early 1970s although the fashion in the later 1960s was for ankle length skirts. To go with the mini knee length boots were popular and the PVC waterproof coat also proved popular, often in bright yellow. There was a brief period of 'space age' inspired see-through and plastic clothing but this was really confined to the cat-walks of Paris and London.
In 1962 the Americans installed nuclear missiles in Turkey (at the time the range of missiles was too short to fire them between the two superpowers but the Turkish sites could fire on Moscow directly). The Russians responded by installing missiles on Cuba which lead to a crisis and the world came dangerously close to all out nuclear war. In the end the US withdrew its missiles from Turkey and the Russians dismantled the launch sites in Cuba.
On a more positive note Telstar became the first communications satellite able to relay television pictures, albeit only a single channel. It was the first of a series of commercial satellites funded by the American telephone company Bell Telephone labs and lasted in service for almost a year before failing. A woman called Rachel Cusson published a book called The Silent Spring in 1962 which caused something of a sensation. The book dealt with the problems of the unrestricted use of pesticide sprays in agriculture, pointing out that killing all the insects by spraying the land with pesticides was not good from the plants point of view as it interfered with their pollination and many birds were dying from eating poisoned insects or starvation where the insects had all been killed. At this time the chemical DDT was in widespread use, DDT kills most insects but it is not good for humans and other animals either. Another influential book from this year was Anthony Samson's 'Anatomy of Britain' in which the author dissected the actual mechanisms of power and control within the country. It was this book that introduced the concept of, and popularised the phrase, 'The Establishment'.
The 1962 Transport Act abolished the British Transport Commission and established separate controlling boards for the railways, canals and the nationalised road haulage system. Under the 1962 Act the canals and navigable rivers came under the jurisdiction of the British Waterways Board but by this time canals only accounted for about 1% of freight haulage and the exceptionally bad winter of 1962/63 hit the canal trade hard. Within a few years the carriage of general freight in nationalised traditional barges was wound up. This was not the end of commercial waterways however as bulk movement of coal to a few power stations and gas works as well as some other specialised freight services continued operating.
The nationalised road haulage business run by British Road services was transferred to an entirely new organisation called the Transport Holdings Company, British Road Services remained as the road haulage operating arm and they were still one of the largest haulage firms in the business. By this time however they were under a great deal of pressure from smaller private operators who often did not operate to the same high standards and could under-cut them on cost.
Possibly the most important development in Britain in 1962 was the invention of the stacking plastic chair with tubular metal legs by a chap called Robin Day. In the 1960s this single item was Britain's most important export, outclassing the Beatles. Variations on this highly successful design remain in use today.
Fig ___ Robin Day's stacking chair design
In 1963 the American President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. In August of 1963 the second British Great Train Robbery took place on a remote line in Buckinghamshire. A mail train was stopped by a gang who set up fake signals and they made off with over two million pounds. Most of the robbers were caught within a year and eventually only one remained free. He was a small-time crook called Ronnie Biggs who eventually made his way to Brazil, abandoning his family on the way. Also in this year the Flymo hover-lawn mower was invented, these would be very visible due to their orange base.
Fig ___ Flymo
The Compact Disc music recording system was introduced by the Dutch firm Philips in 1963, the capacity of the disc had been a matter of some debate, in the end it was settled when one of the senior designers decided it should hold the whole of Beethoven's 5th symphony. The equipment required to play the disks was bulky and it was another twenty years before it really caught on. Rolls Royce aero engines were developing a new 'turbofan' jet engine at this time, this kind of engine was developed by the British for their long range bombers in the 1950's. It has a large turbine at the front of the engine but most of the air this pulls in is passed round the outside of the engine proper and re-introduced at the exhaust end. This gives a lot more power for a given size of engine and reduces the noise dramatically. The problem was that the blades on the big front mounted fan could not be made strong enough to take the forces at high speed. Two British scientists working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment began experimenting with burnt man-made fibres to see if they could produce something with which to strengthen the blades. They found that the new acrylic fibre Courtelle (developed by Courtalds) could be burnt to produce long strands of pure carbon and developed 'carbon fibre reinforced' materials. These materials have four times the strength of high tensile steel and they allowed Rolls Royce to build their quiet, powerful, and economic RB211 turbo-fan jet engine.
Fig___ 1963 advert for the Morris Mini Minor
In 1964 BBC 2 started broadcasting, this was a black and white only station until 1967 but from the start it used a new 'high definition' 625 line format in place of the existing 405 line standard. The new 625-line colour signals were made possible by using a higher frequency band (UHF instead of the older VHF standard) and this brought a change from the old 'H' and 'X' type VHF aerials to the UHF 'Yaggi' type antennas. The older VHF antennas lasted into the late 1970's but were increasingly replaced by the new antennas for colour reception.
Fig___ TV Aerials
Also in 1964 the Americans became involved in the Vietnam war where the communist North was supporting guerrillas fighting against the capitalist (and deeply corrupt) southern government. The Americans had been supporting the south as a 'bulwark against communism' to the tune of over a thousand million dollars worth of aid. The trigger for American involvement was the supposed attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin of the Vietnamese coast (it was only in the 1990's that the American government discovered that this attack, if it happened at all, was nothing to do with the Vietnamese, it seems likely that American Big Business interests precipitated the war to bolster their profits). Americans were drawn ever deeper into this conflict, at considerable economic and human cost.
Early 1960's Hillman Super Minx
At about this time the Mods (on scooters) and Rockers (on motorbikes) appeared on British streets (see also Appendix One - General Information - Social-sub groups and youth movements).
In 1965 cigarette advertising on TV was banned in the UK and UHT or 'Long Life' milk appeared, bringing with it the curiously shaped but very successful 'tetrapak' paper carton (invented in 1944) which could be sold from coin-in-the-slot milk machines. Following a large number of 'multiple pile up' crashes on the M1 motorway (most happening in fog) a 70 mph speed limit was imposed, amid howls of protest from the motoring public (who appeared to think motorways were for cars, not realising they were built for lorries). On the railways the first Freightliner services, between London and Glasgow began regular operations and the BR 'double arrow' began to appear on locomotives (and even on some freshly painted freight stock). Also in 1965 the first 'package holiday' (a low cost flight on a charter aircraft to a destination somewhere hot) was offered by Thompson Holidays, an idea that was to catch on and ultimately affect the revenue of the railways as fewer people elected to take British holidays. It was about this time that the first motor homes appeared, one of the first was the Dormobile, based on the bedford van of the time.
Fig___ Mid 1960s Bedford 'dormobile'
In the wider world in 1965 the Americans launched Early Bird, the first commercial communications satellite
In 1966 the first modern style laser-read bar code was introduced in the USA (the original idea dates back to the 1930s, using punched cards, the 'bar' type was invented in 1948 but the original 'reader' was a crude TV camera type device. The development of the laser in 1960 opened up a more practical way of working with bar codes but it was 1970 before a standard set of codes was developed that allowed the universal use of the codes for grocery shopping). In Britain the vertical take off Harrier 'jump jet' entered service with the RAF
Fig___ Harrier jump-jet
Also in 1966 two British adventurers (Chay Blythe and Captain John Ridgeway) rowed across the Atlantic in a small open boat. In America the Black Panther organisation was set up but British news was dominated by the Aberfan disaster. Aberfan is a small mining village in West Glamorgan in Wales which is overlooked by the massive piles of colliery waste called 'slag heaps'. One of these heaps became waterlogged and thousands of tons of mud slid down and engulfed the school and several houses. Of the 144 people killed 116 were school children. Also in Britain the railways sundries operation (anything less than a full wagon load) with all its depots and road vehicles were transferred to a new organisation called National Freight Carriers (who marketed themselves as 'National Carriers Limited') and within a couple of years British Railways liveried vehicles (other than Express Parcels vans) became a rare sight.
Fig___ Ex BR road vehicles in NCL livery
In 1967 the 'hole in the wall machine' (cash dispensing machine) was introduced, the first was at a branch of Barclay's Bank in North London. The machine was apparently inspired by a chocolate bending machine. Also in 1967 the 'breathalyser' was introduced (road deaths fell by over twenty percent within the first year) and the Jaguar E-Type sports car was introduced. The photo below shows the original design with glass covers over the headlamp apertures (see also Appendix One - Background Information - British motor manufacturers).
Original Jaguar E-Type
In the same year the oil tanker Torrey Canyon was wrecked in the English Channel. There was a concerted effort to deal with the oil, the RAF even tried bombing the remains of the tanker, but the spilled oil did considerable damage on the coasts of Britain & France (it should be noted that the amount oil deposited in the oceans by leaking and working ships is negligible compared with the quantity oil washed down the drains by the world's motorists changing the oil in their cars). One significant event in 1967 was the arrival of the first natural gas from the North Sea 'Argyle' oil field piped directly ashore and the gas industry embarked on a massive program to lay thousands of miles of high pressure pipelines throughout Britain to carry the new gas to homes and factories.
Also in 1967 the government devalued the pound by 14.3% to try and help the trade situation, the first human heart transplant operation took place in South Africa and BBC2 began broadcasting colour TV pictures. To go with the new colour service BBC 2 introduced a new test card, designed by one George Hersee and featuring his daughter Carole Hersee as a young girl playing 'noughts and crosses' on a blackboard (the 'x' marking in her game showed the approximate centre of the screen). This 'Test Card F', the sixth card designed by the BBC to help engineers setting up television sets, is still in use today by the BBC and also in 30 other countries.
During this period transistor radios came to dominate the market and fewer people bothered rigging wire antennas in their gardens for radio reception. FM 'static free' broadcast technology had been available since the early 1930's. It had been used for military communications (mainly walkie-talkies and air-to-ground voice communications) but it's short range counted against it and it needed the transistor radio and other technological developments to make it a worthwhile commercial broadcast proposition.
Finally in 1967, responding to the success of the 'pirate radio stations' operating from ships anchored outside the British three mile limit and playing popular music, the BBC domestic radio services were restructured, the Light Programme became Radio One and Radio Two, the Home Service became Radio Four and the Third Programme became Radio Three. The World Service, broadcasting on shortwave for foreign listeners remained unaltered.
In 1968 first manned space flight in the American Apollo moon landing program took place when Apollo Seven orbited the earth.
At about this time a new youth group appeared, only the males having a distinctive appearance, they were known as 'skinheads' as they had either shaved their heads or cut their hair very short indeed (see also Appendix One - General Information - Social-sub groups and youth movements).
On the housing front the emphasis had shifted, councils were instructed to throw up homes as fast as possible to cope with the rapid population growth in the post war era, the council house built to a very high standard was abandoned in favour of cheaper tower blocks. These were developed to use prefabricated sections to save on costs, although problems then developed as the joints between the sections often leaked water and inadequate ventilation lead to problems with condensation. In 1968 the prefabricated tower block at Ronan Point in London suffered a progressive collapse following a gas explosion on one of the lower floors. Five people died and the way the building had failed brought a wave of concern for 'system built' structures.
In 1969 the Americans Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, the first human beings to walk on another planet and scientists discovered how to fertilise a human egg outside the mothers body but it would be another eight years before the first 'test tube baby' was born.
Also in this year the 'smoke detector' was invented but it was twenty years before they became common in houses.
It was during the 1960's that satellite navigation systems became practical, initially developed to enable rocket launching submarines to position themselves by the end of the decade the system was made available to the general public. The American Transit system used a number of rapidly moving satellites to give intermittent position fixes with a theoretical accuracy of about 100 metres. Some years later a US registered tanker was transiting the straits of Gibraltar, the officer of the watch was relying on the satellite fixes rather than on the old fashioned window and (on a clear sunny day) managed to run into Gibraltar.
Fashion in the 1960's became dominated by the younger people's ideas and desires, people older than about 25 tended to stay with the same basic fashions of the 1950s. The 'Rockers' did a lot to popularise denim for jackets and jeans, the motor-scooter riding 'Mods' were wearing slim Italian designed suits. Trouser suits for women caused a stir in the early part of the decade, many restaurants would not allow women in trouser suits through the doors and it was the mid 1960's before the trouser suit became generally accepted.
Following the mini, which had dominated fashion through most of the 1960s, came the ankle length Maxi (this first appeared in about 1968). Initially confined to overcoats this style developed into ankle length skirts, often brightly patterned in the 'hippy' style by about 1970.
Fig ___ Clothing styles of the 1960's
In 1970 the American Apollo Thirteen mission came close to total disaster when an oxygen tank exploded, the planned moon landing was aborted and the crew had to use oxygen supplies in the moon lander to get back home, only just making it. In the same year the first heart pacemakers were fitted to patients and the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet entered service. The Jumbo's were able to carry over 400 passengers, more than six times as many as the other airliners then in service.
Fig___ The Bond Bug, introduced in 1970
The first commercial video recorder system suitable for home use (although too expensive for most people) was the U-Matic system using 1" (25mm) wide tape produced by a Japanese firm in 1970, within a couple of years this system (in the form of a player, not a recorder) was being used as an alternative to 16mm film for supplying movies to ships, oil rigs and the like. It was the later 1970s before the more compact Phillips VHS and Sony Betamax tape systems arrived on the scene.
It was about this time that the first real public concern developed over the dangers of using fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Lake Erie had been declared officially 'dead' in 1968 but this was mainly due to industrial pollution from the cities along its shores. It was becoming clear however that air-borne contamination was having serious effects on the environment. In areas where there is little limestone there is little ability to absorb the sulphuric and nitric acid produced by burning fossil fuels. The acids run off the land and gradually concentrate in lakes and in 1971 it was announced that over 14,000 lakes in Sweden had become so acidic that all the life in them had died. Meanwhile scientists had found traces of the insecticide DDT on the top of Mount Everest and in the snows of the North and South poles. Pressure was mounting to control the use of insecticides and other sprays on the land as problems with contamination of the food and water supplies had begun to show up. It was soon after this that DDT itself was banned, but we shall have to deal with the legacy of thousands of tons of the stuff in the environment for many years to come.
In 1971 the Open University went on the air, 'micro-processors' in the form of the Intel 4004 chip (intended for desk-top calculators) became a commercial reality and Britain went decimal, at least as far as currency was concerned. In the air British European Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation were merged to become British Airways.
In 1972 a group of scientists appealed to governments to abandon the dangerous fast breeder reactors for power stations and instead concentrate on developing safe nuclear fusion. In the same year the first pocket calculators appeared in the shops and the last Apollo moon landing was successfully completed. The pocket calculator was a British invention but early models had only the basic four functions and used 'inverse Polish notation', to add two and two you had to type in 2 (Enter) 2 (Enter) + (Enter) = (Enter).
The last Golden Arrow London to Paris passenger service ran in 1972 and there was a serious national miners strike bringing with it widespread power cuts and a State of Emergency was declared by the government. This had an adverse effect on a railway still mainly concerned with moving coal. Also in this year the Government passed an Act enabling the establishment of a series of large Metropolitan Boroughs. This was thought to be a maneuver to improve the chances of Conservative candidates but in the event the reverse proved to be the case (these giant boroughs were abolished, also by the Conservatives, in 1986).
Hillman Avenger early 1970s.
In 1973 the Americans finally pulled all their remaining troops out of Vietnam and Britain entered the Common Market (forerunner of the EEC and EU, abandoning the EFTA). The first privately operated British broadcast radio stations opened for business and on April 1st VAT was introduced replacing the old 'purchase tax' but liable on services as well as goods. More importantly in 1973 the oil producing countries belonging to the OPEC (Oil Producing & Exporting Countries) organisation decided to raise the price of oil, which had a serious effect on UK industry and on the profitable transport of petroleum products by the railways. A blanket fifty mile per hour (80 kph) road speed limit was established to save fuel and the number of road deaths fell dramatically.
Young people were favouring longer hair and generally bright coloured clothing by this time, the photo below shows a group of teenagers, typical of the period. The young lady standing is wearing the long skirt that was fashionable at the time.
Fig ___ Teenagers in the early 1970s
The coal miners went on strike again in 1974, this time there were almost no stockpiles at the power stations and the power cuts became a regular feature of life. The situation was so serious that the whole country went onto a three day working week. Also in that year the Health & Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission were set up under section 10 of the Health & Safety at Work Act (taking on responsibilities for various issues which had previously been covered by the various 'Factory Acts'). In June of 1974 an accident at a the Nypro chemical plant near Flixborough caused the largest explosion in Britain since the war and the IRA brought its bombing campaign to mainland Britain.
By 1975 unemployment had risen to over a million for the first time since the 1930's, the British Army de-mobilised its last pack mules (when it closed its Jungle Warfare School in Singapore) and the first oil for the North Sea Forties field came ashore in Scotland. It was about this time that self-cleaning electric ovens and easy-clean ceramic hobs appeared in new cookers. On the world stage the Vietnam war finally ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon (subsequently renamed Ho Chi Min City), liquid crystal displays appeared in wrist watches and the European Space Agency was established (replacing an earlier organisation called ELDO, the European Launcher Development Organisation).
The Americans had meanwhile developed a new satellite navigation system (called Navstar) which gave continual readings of position accurate to within a few tens of centimeters anywhere on earth. This was thrown open to civilian use as the Global Positioning System (GPS), although errors of about 100 metres were deliberately introduced to prevent other countries from using it militarily.
The compact VHS (Philips) and Betamax (Sony) video recording tape systems were developed in 1975, although it was a couple of years before they appeared in the shops and it was the end of the decade before the price fell to the mass-consumer level.
In 1976 the first Cray super computer was switched on (it had less power than a 1990s Pentium desk top system), the Anglo-French Concorde made its first commercial flight and the American Viking 1 space craft sent back the first detailed pictures of Mars. In Britain deaths exceeded births for the first time since records began (1837) and the country experienced the worst drought for five hundred years. Teams of volunteers joined with fire fighters trying to extinguish fires on the moorlands of the North. The Labour government passed legislation which was intended to do away with a two-tier secondary education system, replacing the existing Grammar Schools and Secondary Schools with unified 'comprehensive schools'. Britain began exporting North Sea oil in 1976 but the government was still forced to ask for a loan of a thousand million pounds from the International Monetary Fund.
The winter of 1976/77 saw record levels of snow and in 1977 BR claimed the world long haul railway speed record with the HST service between London & Bristol. In 1977 British Aerospace was formed to try and save the UK aircraft manufacturing industry and the Royal College of Surgeons published a report warning people of the dangers of smoking, this was the beginning of the long running anti-smoking campaign.
1970s Triumph Stag sports car
The short lived BACAT project of the early 1970's, which involved widening canals in Britain and building a ship to carry barges across the North Sea, allowing the large European size barges to reach as far inland as Sheffield, was the last attempt at modernising the British waterways. The dockers unions effectively ended the project by insisting that their members handled the loading and unloading of the barges.
In 1978 Dixons, a chain of high street electrical goods shops, sold their first domestic video recorder, which cost 800 pounds (a great deal of money at the time). Later in the year there was a large scale strike by firemen, as a result of which troops were called out to deal with fires using their 'Green Goddess' military fire engines (see also Appendix One - Emergency Services).
Fig___ Green Goddess
The winter of 1978/79 saw widespread strikes as workers rebelled against earlier agreements between the government and the Trades Unions limiting pay rises. This became known as the Winter of Discontent and in the following election of 1979 the Conservative party swept to power under Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister in Britain.
In 1979 there was a new oil crisis following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran (an unpopular dictator who had been installed by the American CIA after a democratic government had been elected that they did not like). The revolution lead to a consequent reduction in production by that country of around fifty percent as the new Islamist revolutionary government caused chaos in the country. The dictator of neighbouting Iraq, Saddam Hussain, saw this as an opportunity to take control of the major waterway called the Shatt Al Arab and (supported by the Americans with military aid) his armies attacked Iran. The war would drag on for another eight years but within a year the price of oil had rocketed to more than ten times the price in 1969 and the world was plunged into an economic recession. In the same year the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in America suffered a system failure and nearly suffered a complete melt-down. It was claimed that little radiation escaped but a dentists x-ray films over thirty miles away were fogged and there have been many reports of genetic mutation is plants. The clean up operation at the plant cost over a thousand million dollars in the first ten years alone.
Also in 1979 the General Post Office was split into the Post Office and British Telecom. British Telecom painted its vans yellow (the GPO telephone vans were green) and introduced a new blue logo based on the letters BT. In the same years British scientist Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield won a Nobel Prize for developing the CAT (Computed Axial Tomography) scanner. These were known at the time as the EMI scanner after the firm which funded the research and built the first machines.
During the early 1970's the 'hippie' look developed with women wearing ankle length 'granny skirts', bright psychedelic colours on T-shirts and the widespread acceptance of denim 'jeans' as acceptable wear. Throughout the middle of the decade flared trousers were all the rage for men and jeans, worn by both sexes, often had an assortment of colourful patches sewn on where they had worn through. The word 'ethnic' entered the language of fashion with block prints on cotton, cheese-cloth blouses and velvet skirts, trousers and shirts. Both men and women adopted the 'poncho' (a blanket with a hole in the middle, pulled over the head (as seen in 'spaghetti western' films). Men's overcoats had virtually disappeared but the 'car coat' was popular, this was usually little more than hip-length and in practice was pretty useless. Commercialisation of pop music lead to printed T-shirts and this in turn provoked a back-swing.
Fig___ 2CV, a popular car in the later 1970s and early 1980s
A completely new approach to fashion developed in the late 1970's with a shift toward aggressive and exaggerated 'non-commercial' styles such as the 'punks' whilst other youngsters developed a fondness for very loose baggy clothing. (see also Appendix One - General Information - Social-sub groups and youth movements)
Fig___ Punk clothing style
The skateboard craze began in Britain around 1977, bringing with it elbow and knee pads, meanwhile 'jogging' (gentle running) had gained in popularity and quite a few people were seen running in the street wearing a track-suit and plimsols.
It was in the early 1970's that fluorescent orange and green pigments appeared, usually called 'dayglo' colours after the trade name used by a prominent manufacturer. By the mid 1970's fluorescent orange plastic waistcoats were being worn by railway maintenance staff working on the line.
Fig ___ Clothing in the 1970's
In 1980 the World Health Organisation announced the total eradication of smallpox (much to the relief of travellers as the vaccination used made you feel very ill for about a week afterwards). Also in 1981 the Sony Walkman personal tape cassette player appeared in Japanese shops whilst in Britain the government ended the provision of free school meals and free milk for school children.
In 1981 the Post It Note appeared on the market (the clever 'tacky but not sticky' glue had been invented in 1970 but no one could think of a use for it at the time), whilst in Britain riots broke out in several cities, houses and shops were burned and looted. Most of the rioters were little more than children but a lot of people were hurt. The Freight Facilities Grant scheme was extended to apply to waterways, with even less impact than on the railways. In the same year the American space shuttle made its first flight and the IBM 'PC' personal computer appeared. The IBM PC gave big-name approval to small computers it used the Intel 8088 chip and came with a 'massive' 128K of RAM (by 1991 cars and even domestic appliances had a more powerful computer inside).
By 1982 the cost of imported crude oil had risen to about four times the 1970 value and the number of people unemployed rose above three million for the second time in British history. North Sea Oil cushioned the direct effects slightly in Britain but other countries were hard hit and there was a general world recession in trade which deepened until it rivalled the great depression of the early 1930's. Meanwhile scientists working in German forests published reports that acid rain from the burning of oil and coal was killing their trees. Initial estimates were that about a third of all the trees were affected and public concern throughout Europe began to mount with so called 'Green Parties' formed to fight in the political arena.
In 1983 the North Sea replaced the Middle East as the worlds largest oil exporting region and in Britain the weight restriction on road lorries was raised from thirty two to thirty eight tons. This represented an increase in the cargo capacity of road vehicles of nearly 30% and was a major blow to the railways ability to compete.
In 1984 an accident at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal (India) released poisonous methyl isocyanate gas which killed about two and a half thousand men women and children, blinding and crippling many more. There was much talk at the time about compensation and cleaning up the site, but in the event little was done. In Britain the miners union called for a strike following the announcement that 20 pits were to close, this strike dragged on for nearly a year and lead to much hardship. Not least affected was British Railways with coal shipments reduced to nothing in some areas and steel and ore traffic also badly affected. BR crews refused to handle coal that was available whereas road haulage drivers did not and this caused some loss of confidence in the rail option.
In 1985 it was discovered that there was effectively a 'hole' in the protective ozone layer above the Arctic (scientists had been warning about this since the mid 1970's) and the British Board of Film Censors became responsible for policing the home video market and saw it's name changed to the British Board of Film Classification. In the same year the portable cellular telephone appeared in Britain. Earlier British systems, mainly fitted in motor cars, used a simple radio link to an operator who connected you to the telephone system. The cellular phone system was invented in Sweden where it had been in use since 1979 but the bulky systems meant that it was some years before portable phones really caught on in Britain. In the same year Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor of the 'pocket calculator' introduced his electrically powered C5 one person vehicle. This interesting machine was a failure in rainy Britain but achieved some success in hot climates such as Australia.
Probably the last big strike by British coal miners began in 1985 the coal miners lead by Arthur Scargill went on strike over the closure of six coal mines. The mines were officially closed down due to a fall in the price of oil and although British coal was the cheapest deep-mined coal in Western Europe it could not compete with imported 'open cast' coal and coal from Eastern Europe. The miners leaders claimed that there was a plan to close down most British pits, the government of the day ridiculed this suggestion. The strike dragged on for a year and eventually collapsed as the world price of coal fell by two thirds.
It was in the same year that Poland declared four entire regions of the country to be Ecological Disaster Areas, they had been badly polluted by the East Germans using cheap 'brown coal' in their power stations and factories. About a third of the Polish population lived in these areas, lead contamination alone was running at sixty times the World Health organisation recommended limits and chronic illness and birth defects were many times the world average.
Fig___ The first 'people carrier' the 1985 Renault Espace
In 1986 Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was first identified in cattle, government statements assured the public there was no danger to humans. In the same year a rubber 'o' ring on the Challenger space shuttle failed and brought disaster, this meant a four year delay in the space shuttle program. Meanwhile a revised estimate for the damage done to trees in Germany by acid rain was issued, suggesting that about half the trees were affected. In the same year the Russian nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded and released massive amounts of radioactive dust into the atmosphere which slowly drifted West on the prevailing winds. Most fell in Byelorussia but reindeer in Lapland and sheep as far west as Britain had to be destroyed as they were unsafe to eat. By this time there were over four hundred nuclear power plants operating in the world, more than half of these were in Europe and Western Europe alone had a hundred and forty seven.
In 1989 the electronics firm Amstrad (The name is an abbreviation of the actual title Alan Michael Sugar Trading) released their all-in-one satellite dish for the new Astra satellite services. Early models were white but satellite TV soon developed a rather negative image, people complained about the dishes and the colour changed to black in the early 1990's.
On the world stage in 1989 the Japanese motor car firm Mitsubishi introduced the Gallant which has four wheel steering. In the same year the border between East and West Germany was opened, marking the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain separating the communist East from the capitalist Western Europe. Public concern over 'acid rain' caused by pollution was mounting and the Green Parties had sufficient political success to change government policy. It was estimated that about a third of all western Europe's trees had been killed and the situation in Eastern Europe was much worse. Only about seventeen percent of the vast Polish forests were undamaged and about a quarter of the Czechoslovakia forests were healthy.
During the 1980s the government decided to promote private home ownership, instructing councils to offer their council houses for sale to occupants at a knock down price. Unfortunately they did not allow the councils to retain the money received, this all went to central government, and the councils were not allowed to build replacement homes for rent. This change saw non standard front doors and different coloured paints used on the woodwork of the sold off council homes. There was also a move during this period to demolish the system built blocks of concrete flats thrown up in the 1960s, these had never been a success and few people wanted to live in them. Rather less sensible was the tendency in the 1990s to demolish perfectly good terraced homes, the motivation for this seems to have been that the councils could sell off the land to property developers for smaller but more 'modern' homes often built to a rather lower 'legal minimum' specification.
During the early 1980's Power Dressing arrived from America, basically suits for men and women, both featuring padded shoulders. Meanwhile Lycra fabrics popularised body-hugging fashions such as leggings and cycle shorts. Women began cutting their hair short in the early 1980's, a feature that became standard as women damaged their hair with repeated 'perms' and dyeing. In the mid 80's the Nike Air Jordan made big white sports shoes (called 'trainers') fashionable amongst young people.
Fig ___ Clothing in the 1980's
By 1990 a hundred British coal mines had closed down and the work force in the industry had reduced by more than half, however actual tonnage production had only fallen by about seventeen percent. The government changed the rules on paying local property taxes, instead of being based on the value of the building the tax was applied to each individual living there. This was in effect a 'poll tax', that is a tax on one's right to vote and it caused large scale unrest. There were riots in some cities and mass non-payment was encouraged by dissidents. The whole system proved unworkable in the face of public opposition and the law was changed a couple of years later.
Also in 1990 Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi leader, again tried to use his massive army to capture more oil reserves when he invaded Kuwait, this time without the support of the Americans, and again the price of oil rocketed. Iraq and Kuwait combined produce only about six percent of the world consumption but the threat to the massive and neighbouring Saudi Arabian oil fields (holding about a quarter of all known oil reserves) caused something of a panic. The Arab states generally did not react too strongly to this but reaction in the rest of the world was dramatic.
A massive and unprecedented military coalition, with American and Russia on the same side for the first time in fifty years, along with British, French and many others poured troops into Saudi Arabia to stop Hussain. He had been put into power by the American CIA and was, apparently, somewhat surprised at America's antagonism as he had (at their behest) attacked Iran and had even used chemical weapons (the materiel for which had been supplied by the Americans). In 1991 the coalition forces lead by the Americans launched an offensive and their superior technology and training allowed them to quite quickly destroy most of Hussain's forces, driving the rest back into Iraq.
Meanwhile 'environmental awareness' was still growing and the pressure from the political Green Parties continued to focus the public's attention on the problems of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Countries began to legislate to have 'scrubbers' fitted to the chimneys of power stations and other major users. Scrubbers pass the fumes through water and remove up to eighty percent of the sulphur, they are not a new idea (Battersea power station had them fitted in about 1934 when the station still had only two chimneys) but they were not compulsory. It was then found that motor car exhausts were a big part of the problem and legislation was passed to reduce the emissions from motor vehicles. The motor trade had resisted this as it would add about three hundred pounds to the cost of a new car but once they started they found that advertising 'green' motor cars paid off. In fact the 'catalytic converter' added to exhausts had little effect on journeys less than a few miles and the consumption of the platinum required to make them began eating into world reserves.
In Britain in 1991 the recession which began in 1989 continued to deepen, the Manchester Super-Tram opened for business between Altrincham to the South and Bury to the North and the Government began preparing for the privatisation of the main line railway system.
In 1992 unemployment reached a five year high and large scale job losses were reported in several major industries, the government announced plans to close 31 coal mines, with a loss of 300,000 miners jobs but this provoked a massive public outcry and the plan was subsequently changed (the mines were still closed but over a longer time period). Meanwhile the Church of England decided to allow the ordination of women priests and in London the first phase of the Canary Wharf redevelopment was completed. In the same year Kodak introduced Photo-CD for storing still images on a CD ROM disk and a new pain killer (epibatidine) was discovered in the skin of an Ecuadorian frog (tests showed it to be about two hundred times as powerful as morphine). Also in 1992 DNA was successfully extracted from insects which had been trapped in Amber about thirty million years ago. This prompted much debate (and the book Jurassic Park) on the subject of cloning prehistoric animals using blood from preserved mosquito's but in practice the DNA has decayed somewhat and this is unlikely to ever be a practical proposition.
In 1993 the former prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was called before an enquiry into illegal arms sales to Iraq (the first British Prime Minister to be called before such an enquiry). The US Space Shuttle Endeavour went on a mission to repair the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and the World Meteorological Organisation reported that ozone levels in the upper atmosphere were down by twenty percent in the Northern Hemisphere over Canada and Northern Europe.
Vauxhall Astra of the mid 1990s
In 1994 the Baltic ferry Estonia sank after her bow doors were broken open by heavy seas, nearly a thousand people died in the worst shipping disaster since the Titanic. Also in 1994 scientists discovered a fossilised whale dating back fifty million years which had legs that would have enabled it to walk on land, while in Britain over 115,000 cattle, several cats and a few rare mammals in captivity had died of BSE but the government were still advising the public that British beef was safe to eat. In late 1994 the National Coal Board was fully privatised, most of the remaining English pits and open cast mines went to a company called RJB Mining, the Welsh anthracite mines were purchased by a company called Celtic. By this time there were only a few deep coal mines left in Britain with several open cast sites. This massive reduction in the number of coal mines, from over two hundred pits in the mid 1970's, was pretty much as predicted by Mr. Scargill, the leader of the miners union. At the time the government had heaped scorn on his predictions and whether the government had lied, or merely been incompetent, is an issue protected by the Official Secrets Act.
In 1997 the Department of Transport lost responsibility for roads to a new Highways Agency but in what was perhaps it's last significant action it agreed to move in stages toward allowing forty four ton lorries on British roads. These very heavy lorries were only to be licensed to operate from inter-modal depots (that is ports and railway yards) and the theory is that they will encourage the use of rail for long hauls. A heavy lorry does several thousand times as much damage to the roads as a private car and the new lorries will require bridges to be strengthened and will probably accelerate the collapse of older sewer and water pipes under the roads. The Department of the Environment were reportedly not pleased with this move and naturally local councils are concerned, prompting greater interest in railway freight services at a local level.
The end of guaranteed markets for British deep-mined coal at power stations in early 1998 brought a steady reduction in mines of this type through the 1990's, although open cast mines have remained in operation. Meanwhile coal imports increased.
Fig___ 1990s Bentley Continental
During the 1990's clothing began to feature 'ecological' slogans and more young people began to take direct action against large civil engineering projects such as motorways and airport expansions. In 1992 the 'grunge' look became popular, mis-matching clothes, new and second hand to create a deliberately disheveled look in a general 'anti-fashion' trend reflecting environmental awareness and the general world economic recession. In about 1995 the 'retro' look appeared, basically resurrecting fashions from the 1970's and 1950's. Meanwhile women began to wear their hair long again as the cropped 'bob's were grown out.
In the later 1990s women adopted a shorter hair length and the women's 'suit' reappeared, although without the shoulder pads. Jeans were often decorated with embroidery and sequins and by this time had become acceptable dress for an evening out. The layered look such as body warmers worn over light tops and long cardigans and waistcoats (reaching down to the calf) were popular. 'Combat pants' became fashionable during the decade, in the later half they were worn with high boots. Teenagers, both male and female adopted very baggy trousers with layered clothes topped off with a cloth 'hooded top' (or 'hoodie). In the later 1990s the 'poncho' made a big come-back as women's wear.
Fig___ Fashions of the 1990s
By the year 2000 the problems caused by the governments plan to effectively abolish council housing were starting to appear. House prices had inflated dramatically in a series of booms and busts and were rapidly reaching levels where people who did not already own a home they could sell would be unable to purchase one. Councils, forced to sell off their housing and banned from investing in new homes were suffering the high costs of providing bed and breakfast accommodation for the people they were required by law to house.
The government felt that the private sector should shoulder the burden, and reap the benefits, of providing homes, apparently having forgotten the 'slum lord' scandals of the 1960s. Unfortunately the housing stock situation was actually rather more serious than in the 1960s as a very small number of powerful developers now dominated the house building market. These large companies earned substantial profits from the overpriced and often poorly constructed houses they were selling, they could out-bid local builders for building land and faced no competition on the basis of quality. The developers were in a very strong position, well able to resist attempts by the weakened government to influence their work and the standard of the homes being built had declined steadily. The house building process had become increasingly industrialised during the 1990s as cost cutting and mass production allowed buildings to be produced cheaply to the minimum legal specification. Oddly however, when the Swedish firm Ikea wanted to build Swedish deigned and produced high quality pre-fab housing and sell this cheaply (although you could only sell it back to Ikea) the Government felt this would 'distort the market' and the plan did not go ahead.
Lofts were no longer usable as practical storage space and by this time the average house occupied about a third the amount of land that had been average in the 1970s as 'gardens' became a thing of the past (one housing expert described this as a 'massive slum building exercise').
Nurses, firemen and teachers, traditionally poorly paid, were finding it increasingly difficult to live in the more expensive cities and began demanding higher wages but the government still felt this was 'the way forward' and refused to allow the councils to build new homes. The government then encouraged workers from the poorer countries of Eastern Europe to come to Britain in order to keep wage costs (and hence the expenses of the voting middle classes) down.
Large parts of the cities were 'redeveloped', rows of terraced houses, once felt to be small, were demolished to make way for modern 'luxury' flats that were even smaller. Many of the factories in the city centres were bought up and converted into multiple 'micro-flats', others became storage facilities where the young people condemned to live in the micro-flats could store their clutter and out of season clothing. The over-priced houses produced by the property developers funded the purchase of land so parks began disappearing and even schools were persuaded to sell off their playing fields.
One very visible change during the 1990s and early part of the new millennium was the concreting over of the former front gardens of houses built in the pre-world war two era to provide 'off road' car parking spaces. This has had a number of unfortunate consequences as it promotes flooding during heavy rainfall, but as it gives 'off road parking' to houses built before motor cars became a necessity it increases the value of the property.
A characteristic sight in the early 21st century was long lines of people queuing in the street trying to register with a national health dentist. In the 1980s the government had felt that the use of fluoride in drinking water would reduce the need for dentists and had closed many of the training schools. Unfortunately they had not considered the effect of the increasing popularity of the supermarket 'ready meal' which tended to have lots of sugar in them. The supermarkets make a lot more profit on the ready meal than on basic vegetables and meats so promoted them enthusiastically, net result was the effective collapse of NHS dentistry and a lot of people with very bad teeth (politicians of course have a special arrangement with the NHS, they are given higher priority than mere brain surgeons or airline pilots, after all it wouldn't do if they were late putting in their expenses claims).
In 2006 the government very quietly dropped its much hyped plans to invest in and make greater use of rail and water transport and decided to concentrate instead on subsidising the roads. They had not achieved much, by this time their various policies had reduced the cost of motoring by 4% whilst increasing the cost of public transport by about 40%. This shift in direction was in part due to the abject failure of the botched railway privatisation in which the banks had managed to persuade the government to allow them to own all the rolling stock and charge the operating companies to use it. In the event, although the government was putting in three or four times as much money to support the privatised system, the banks siphoned off the bulk of the profit from the rail network, including all the additional subsidies and the actual investment in railways was small. The government, trapped by its involvement in largely meaningless pseudo 'statistics', felt it would not be 'helpful' for them to admit they had made an unholy mess of the job and decided instead to reduce the rail services in order to announce a reduction in the subsidies being paid.
Railway freight was suffering from the general de-industrialisation and the railways were encouraged to sell off their land to property developers for supermarkets and yet more blocks of micro-flats. The average youngster in Britain was faced with giving half of everything they earned in their lifetime to a property developer in order to keep a roof over their heads, in France the figure was 17%. British students now had to pay for any further education they received after they left school so they were starting life 'fashionably endebited' and this lead to the favouring of what were felt to be 'easier' courses in the arts as failing the degree and still having the debt was seen as too frightening to contemplate. Shortages of skilled people lead to the government encouraging immigration from countries in Eastern Europe, aggravating the housing shortages.
Although Britain was still manufacturing, and producing more than it had done, the sector had declined at about three percent per year since the 1970s and the main earner for the country had become 'financial services' (which require minimal investment but which could be relocated overnight), closely followed by tourism. The government tried to encourage mass employment in the form of call centres and the like, but the internet allowed this kind business to be farmed out to countries such as India where personnel costs were lower. The introduction of a minimum wage meant that mass poverty was avoided but only at the cost of lowering competitiveness with other countries.
The town high streets were largely gone, dominated now by charity shops, offices trying to sell 'financial services', over priced 'coffee shops' (selling paper cups of un-taxed coffee for as much as a pint of highly taxed beer and without providing the 'social forum' of the old style pubs) and 'niche market' stores selling the things the supermarkets cannot be bothered with. The social effects of these trends, with the erosion of any sense of community, was producing ever increasing crime statistics and people with 'transportable skills' were leaving the country in unprecedented numbers (although many returned a few years later, having failed to bother learning the language and customs of their adopted home).
By this time the feminine look was again popular with women, hair was again long and dresses featured tight waists and longer skirts in the fashion of the Lauren Bacall (a famous actress of the 1940s and 50s). Jeans became rather tight and figure hugging, worn with frilly blouses and the 1950s summer dress with cinched waist and full skirt was often seen. High heeled shoes were more widely worn and in the evening more women adopted a more formal evening dress with flowing fabrics and sequins on an empire line dress. The full and colourful 'gypsy skirt' and frilled blouses was common as day wear.