Samuel Pepys begins his famous diary today. Entries include dreadful diary gems like, ‘Today I went to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.’ The major ends up in four cheerful bits!
Sidney Street, London. Three terrorists hide in a house. Next day they’re surrounded by 1,000 troops. After a seven-hour gun battle the house catches fire. A Government minister watches the fire and lets them burn to death. This ruthless minister is a young man called Winston Churchill who will lead Britain (ruthlessly) through World War II in thirty years’ time.
Hammersmith, London. Local people are terrified by tales of a monstrous white ghost. One woman has already died of fright. Law Officer Smith sees a white figure and shoots it ¬– the figure drops dead! It isn’t a ghost, it’s a brick-layer in white shirt and trousers. Oooops! Brick-layers of Hammersmith will be careful to change out of their white clothes before walking home in future.
London. King Charles I marches into Parliament with his soldiers to arrest some MPs who are demanding the arrest of his queen. The gallant MPs gallantly run away through the back door as Charles comes in the front.
London. Amy Johnson is a British superstar of the air with record flights around the world. In World War II she has the job of delivering planes around the country. Today she delivers her last. It crashes into the Thames. But why is it 100 miles off course? Why do search ships see two parachutes descend when Amy is flying alone? Why is her body never recovered? It’s a mystery.
(That’s to say the twelfth after Christmas Day.) Take down your decorations or bad luck will strike! If you’re really unlucky you might have to watch Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, in which a boy actor plays a girl who dresses up as a boy but is really a girl. (You’ve been warned!)
Switzerland. The body of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, has been found. In his last battle, at Nancy two days ago, he was defeated for the third time in twelve months. (You’d think he’d have learned after the first or second time, wouldn’t you?) A young knight finds what’s left of Charles’ body once the wolves have had a nibble!
Battle of New Orleans, USA. 6,000 Americans defeat 12,000 British soldiers. 2,000 British are killed but just 8 Americans – and that’s without John Wayne to help them! The Americans celebrate this day. For some reason the Brits do not.
Whitehall, London. Do you have a pus-filled swelling on your neck? (No, not your head, stupid). It could mean you have scrofula. Never mind, today Charles II is organizing the cure – the touch of the king’s hand. He touches 24,000 sufferers in the first 4 years of his reign. Hope he washed his hands afterwards. Yeuch!
London. Prime Minister Gladstone opens a fantastic new transport system for London – the underground railway. Of course, this is for steam trains!
Rome, Italy. Augustus takes over complete control of the Roman Empire. He’s a bit of a coward who wears a seal-skin coat to protect him from lightning. Shocking.
River Thames, England. ‘Truculent’ means fierce. Someone decided it would be a good name for a British submarine. But today HM submarine Truculent bumps into a ship – fiercely enough to sink them both. 65 people die.
St Hilary's Day
Hilary is a feller, by the way. This is supposed to be the coldest day of the year so St Hilary ought to be the patron saint of thermal underpants.
Long Island, USA. George Lutz and his family leave their home for good. But they’ve only lived there 28 days. They’ve been driven out by a curse, by nightmares, by pigs peering in at the windows, horrible smells, blood-soaked walls, a ghostly white figure and green slime that slithers down the stairs to get them. This will be known as the Amityville Horror . . . but is it just a horrible fake?
Boston, USA. Disaster strikes in a strange and terrible way. A storage tank bursts and 21 people are drowned . . . in nearly 5 million litres of black treacle. (No jokes, please, about them coming to a sticky end.)
USA. Great idea! Ban the drinking of alcohol in the whole country – from today! It’s called ‘Prohibition’. But people who want to keep drinking pay lots of money for secret supplies. Lots of money attracts lots of gangsters who have booze made and delivered. They don’t care if they murder each other (as well as assorted policemen and innocent citizens) to make their fortunes. The Gangster Age is born. Rotten idea leads to lots of horrible deaths.
New York, USA. Al Capone is born today. Little does anyone know that he will have a very happy 21st birthday (1920, you dummy) because yesterday’s Prohibition laws allow Big Al to become the world’s most famous gangster, nicknamed ‘The Big Shot’. Once killed three men with a baseball bat but ended up in prison for not paying his taxes.
Turin, Italy. King Amadeo dies in Turin, where he was born. But he isn’t the king of Italy – he’s the king of Spain. And not very popular there, where they called him ‘The Intruder King’. The Spanish made his life a misery by laughing at the way he and his wife dressed. (They probably had the clothes sense of a pair of teachers.)
Great Yarmouth, England. A German airship appears over the town and drops bombs which kill innocent Brits. This has never happened before so the proud people of Yarmouth become a famous first. Of course, some of them are too dead to enjoy their moment of glory.
London. King George V dies . . . with a little bit of help from his doctor. He was dying anyway, and the waiting ‘just exhausts the onlookers and keeps them strained’ (the royal doctor wrote). Quick injection of morphine and it’s ‘Goodnight George’.
St Agnes's Day
Little 12-year-old Agnes was a Christian so the Romans executed her. She was beheaded, or burned, or strangled, depending on which story you like best. BUT the legend says that any man who touched her turned blind. So, the mystery is, how did they manage to execute her?
London. Queen Victoria dies today, after a record 63 years on the throne. Still, she should have died almost 60 years ago. In 1842 John Francis shot at her as she drove past in her carriage, then he ran away. Amazingly, Vic agreed to go back next day to give Francis a second chance – that way the police could grab him. Sure enough Francis tried again and was arrested. Francis was not executed, however, and this left the queen un-amused.
Shensi, China. Some people believe that the world is balanced on the back of a tortoise. When the tortoise moves the earth trembles – this is what causes an earthquake. (You can believe this if you wish.) In China on this day an earthquake kills 830,000 people – possibly the worst earthquake ever. A turtle disaster, in fact.
Paul's Pitcher Day
Britain. Cornish tin-miners celebrate St Paul’s Day by putting an empty beer pitcher on the ground. They throw stones at it until it is wrecked. They then replace it with a full one. After drinking the beer they start again . . . and again. Not a lot of tin is mined on this day.
Alloway, Scotland. Scottish poet Robert Burns is born. He goes on to write ‘To A Mouse’ and ‘To A Haggis’ – sadly neither the mouse nor the haggis reply.
Sydney, Australia. Britain has solved its over-crowded prisons problem. Take the convicts and dump them on a huge continent on the other side of the world. The first convicts arrive today.
London. A Scottish inventor called Baird demonstrates a fiendish new machine that will change the lives of millions of people. It will allow untold terrors into the ordinary living room. It will turn a sane person brain dead after just a few hours. It may well have turned you brain dead – just you’re too brain dead to notice. That’s right, it’s a thing called . . . ‘television’.
Edinburgh, Scotland. Record crowds of 25,000 gather for the public hanging of bodysnatcher William Burke. With his partner, William Hare, they murdered the poor and lonely of Edinburgh and sold the bodies to the surgeons for students to practise on. A grave offence.
England. Mad King George III dies today. He probably went mad from drinking lemonade from a lead bowl. Mad George is deaf too, but he should have known that hearing-aids are safer than lemonades.
London. Charles I goes for the chop. He wears two shirts because he doesn’t want to shiver and for people to think he is afraid. He will end up very cold, of course.
Rome, Italy. Bonnie Prince Charlie (a bit of a Charlie) dies. He once planned to take the throne of Britain but ended up having to run away to Rome.