Monday, 25 January 2010

Sir Christopher Wren

Hang on a minute. Who did she say?

‘Christopher Wren? The guy that built St Paul’s Cathedral?’

Last month I mentioned Sir Christopher Wren briefly when I wrote a blog entry about The Monument to The Great Fire of London. Now we will talk about him in a bit more detail.

Sir Christopher Wren has been immortalised in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was completed in 1710. His eldest son, Christopher Wren Jr., placed an inscription in his crypt that says: “LECTOR, SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS, CIRCUMSPICE.” This roughly translates to: “If you seek his memorial, look around you” - a fantastic idea to place inside Wren’s amazing work.

Born on October 20th 1632 into an Anglican family, Wren went from being schooled from home, to studying at Oxford University. Although he began as a student of Latin, he soon began to show talents for maths and the sciences, including anatomy, physics and astronomy. From here he moved into architecture. In 1662 he became one of the founding fathers of The Royal Society, which was dedicated to the sciences, and would also eventually become Surveyor-General of the King’s Works.

Wren was commissioned to work on re-building London after the Great Fire in 1666 working on, among others, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument to the Great Fire of London, The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, The Royal Hospital at Chelsea and the library at Trinity College, Cambridge.

The Windsor Guildhall is also interesting in that it shows Wren’s wry sense of humour and slightly stubborn nature. While building the Guildhall’s open space (later to house corn markets), Wren’s clients in Windsor were adamant that four pillars be included for safety. Wren tried to convince them that the pillars not needed, but the client’s view prevailed and Wren placed four pillars in the middle. However, to prove that he was right, he left a gap between the roof and the pillars, so that the don’t do anything but look nice. They definitely don’t hold up the roof!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Sir Isaac Newton

Mama and Papa don’t seem to think much of Mr Newton. ‘The man is full of all sorts of nonsense about science.’

Another science post ladies and gentlemen. I have always talked about what an important subject it is and today we will be looking at Sir Isaac Newton.

Today is also a very important day concerning Sir Isaac Newton because the Royal Society have published the manuscripts of his life, by physician and biographer William Stukeley, including the events of that very famous apple that changed the way that we looked at the world. I wanted to put a quote from the manuscripts on here but the Royal Society website is jam packed with so many visitors that I cannot even get onto it. It looks like everyone wants to know the story.

But let us move on and talk about the man himself.

A Cambridge graduate, Isaac Newton is known by most as the one who sat under a tree and discovered gravity just because an apple fell down. There was a lot more to him than that, we seem to know the anecdote and not the science. What he questioned was not just how objects on earth were pulled down to the ground. Instead, what if this had extended to the universe as well? Like the moon, the planets and Earth itself.

What Newton brought to the world of science are things that you have learned about in school. Does the formula F=MA ring a bell? It should. According to Newton there were three laws of motion. We shall put them simply.

1) All objects will stay stationary, or at a constant speed, if extra force is not applied to it

2) The acceleration of an object is dependent on the mass of the object and the amount of force that is being applied to it, and can be calculated with the formula F=MA

3) For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

You will have witnessed the third law in what is properly known as Newton’s cradle. Have you ever seen those five pendulums in a metal frame, where if you swing one ball on one side then the exact same one of the other side will be forced to move as well and they both go back and forth? That is Newton’s third law in action.

Optics was very important as well. It is because of him that we understand how a prism can disperse a beam of white light into a spectrum of different colours.

What you may not know is that Newton was a man of religion as well. He spent a lot of time studying the Bible and credited some of the more amazing aspects of the world to a divine being. Although he was born into an Anglican family he did not share the same views on religion and God as his peers, of course he kept a lot of this a secret.

He became a fellow of the Royal Society in London in 1671 and President in 1703. He was also a Warden of the Royal Mint, where he would investigate counterfeit coins – a crime punishable by being hanged drawn and quartered.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Beginning of the Metropolitan Police

‘What about the police, didn’t they do anything?’

Elizabeth looks at Jones, who stares at the poo-strewn ground. ‘Police, what on earth are these police of which you speak? I do worry for your health.’

Right. No police 300 years ago. That probably explains the scoundrels then.

It wasn’t until 1829 that the Metropolitan Police Act was passed through Parliament. Before that, law enforcement was carried out by regular citizens who were interested in keeping order in their beloved city. It was the Conservative Home Secretary Robert Peel who decided that an organised police force was required. The Metropolitan Police force first stepped out on duty on the 29th September 1829. And they were not popular.

First of all they were no better than the people that they were trying to police. The first officer employed was dismissed after just four hours on the job because he was so drunk, according to the History of the Metropolitan Police. By 1863 , booze was still a big problem - 215 officers were fired that year because they were drunk whilst on duty.

Secondly, many thought that having a police force was a like having an overbearing government keeping a constant eye on the people of London, and therefore was a threat to civil liberties. Others saw the police as bullies. It was not uncommon for officers to be physically assaulted in the line of duty. In 1833 , one police officer was stabbed to death for trying to break up a political meeting. The jury sided with the defendant with a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ - in other words it was okay to kill a police officer. In 19th century London no one wanted a police force, and it wasn’t until organised crime became a problem that people started to see a use for these ‘Bobbies’ (so named for Robert Peel).

It looks like Picky will have to wait a long time to report anything to the police. Good luck to her.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

London Bridge

First of all readers I would like to welcome you all back to my blog after the long Christmas break and I wish you all a very Happy New Year and best wishes for 2010.

Now, let’s go back to the past - today we look at the famous London Bridge.

The carriage passes what looks like Westminster Palace (minus Big Ben) and eventually turns into a narrow street. Wait a minute, it's not a street, it's actually the bridge.

But nothing like the London Bridge I know.

First of all, there are buildings all over it ... There is hardly any room for people to walk about.

The London Bridge that we see today only opened in 1973, but there were many others built before that. Today we shall focus only on the 17th century bridge that Picky is crossing. Or trying to cross. In a carriage slowly moving through a road busier than Oxford Street on Christmas Eve.

The Old London Bridge was first opened in 1209, complete with gates, houses and a chapel. By 1358, records showed that there were 138 shops set up that were paying rent.

The bridge went through a number of other builds to make it look the way Picky saw it. Unfortunately, like the song says, it was always falling down. All those buildings were weighing down on the arches and causing damage little by little and eventually huge problems began to occur. Incidents usually involved fire damage, and collapse from lack of repair or extreme winter weather. In 1460, it was finally decided that the bridge would be completely rebuilt over a period of 30 years.

During the 17th Century, where our book is set, there were multiple fires across the bridge destroying shops and homes. Eventually another big development began to take place to help to widen the bridge's streets and make more space simply for people to move around and about. Even more space was created when an Act of Parliament was passed in 1756 to remove all of the houses from the bridge.

Now we shall dig even deeper into some more interesting areas of history…

As we all like the disgusting topics we cannot write this post without mentioning beheading. Over the years a number of heads were placed on display across London Bridge - the first in 1309 was William Wallace (hero of the Wars of Scottish Independence), followed by Wat Tyler (leader of the Peasants' Revolt), Jack Cade (leader of the Kent Rebellion against King Henry VI), Saint John Fisher (executed for treason and whose head was so scary and life-like that it had to be thrown into the Thames), and all those behind the Gunpowder Plot against the Houses of Parliament.

A popular myth regarding Old London Bridge is that when it was sold off in 1968 to the McCulloch Oil Corporation the man who bought it, Robert McCulloch, thought that he was buying Tower Bridge. This is simply untrue. Mr McCulloch knew what he was buying when he bought it. If you are ever in Lake Havasu City in Arizona you can pay a visit and marvel at how a whole bridge was transported across the Atlantic and over halfway across the U.S.A.

And before I finish I would like to credit The London Bridge Museum and Educational Trust website for all the dates and numerous other bits of information provided in this blog post.