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Notre Dame Cathedral Antwerp

The city of Antwerp, the metropolis of Belgium and one of the greatest seaports of Europe, has long played an important role in history because of its situation and its commercial importance. Located 50 miles from the open sea, on the right bank of the Scheldt River, which is here 2,200 feet wide, Antwerp possesses one of the finest harbours of the world, through which passes a huge volume of imports and exports. Besides its commerce Antwerp is important for its diamond-cutting, sugar-refining, brewing and distilling, and its manufacture of textiles.

Its commanding position was attained only after a long and troubled career. The city was founded some time in the 8th century and is said by some scholars to have acquired its name – Hand-werpen (“hand-throwing”) – from the gruesome practice of one of its robber chieftains who cut off the hands of his prisoners and threw them into the Scheldt. By the middle of the 16th century Antwerp had become one of the most prosperous cities in Europe and the world’s chief money-market, but in 1576 it was pillaged and burned for three days during the “Spanish Fury” because it had taken part in the revolt from Spain, which then ruled the Netherlands. The city was ruined and its inhabitants scattered.

Not until the days of Napoleon did it start again on the upward road, when it fell into the hands of France. Napoleon began the improvement of its harbour to make Antwerp a rival to London and a “revolver held at the heart of England”. With this impetus Antwerp continued to grow even after the downfall of Napoleon’s empire in 1814. Its commerce received another setback in 1830 when Belgium separated from Holland, for the latter country controlled both banks of the lower Scheldt and imposed heavy tolls on all vessels ascending or descending the river. This obstacle was not removed until 1863.

Antwerp suffered another heavy blow at the opening of the First World War in 1914. Although its fortifications had been strengthened after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, so that it was considered the strongest fortified city in Europe, it took the Germans only ten days to drive out the Belgian army. On October 8th, 1914, they occupied the town, which they had long coveted because of its strategic location, and did not give it up until their withdrawal from Belgium in 1918.

In spite of these disasters there still stand in Antwerp some of the old buildings. The most famous is the cathedral of Notre Dame, which was begun in 1352 and completed in 1616. With its lofty tower it is the most conspicuous building in the city, and in it are three of Rubens’ great paintings, The Descent from the Cross, The Elevation of the Cross, and The Assumption. Other important buildings are the richly decorated town-hall, built in the 16th century, and the gallery containing a priceless collection of Rubens’ and Van Dyck’s paintings. Boulevards mark the site of the old walls.

Not far from the cathedral stands the shop and home of Christophe Plantin, “the king of printers”. Setting up the establishment in 1549, the business was continued after his death by his descendants until 1867 – over three centuries. Not only did he work with all the strength of an active brain and an amazing physical energy, but the founder of a business that was destined to become the finest printing house in the world persuaded all his family to labour for him. His wife, five daughters and two sons-in-law toiled often enough from early morn until long after dewy eve. One of the most famous works produced by the Plantin Press was a Bible in several languages that filled eight volumes. The types, presses and other apparatus of this old 16th century printer are preserved as precious relics of a master craftsman. Population of Antwerp about 300,000.

Aachen Cathedral

It was the year 1000 after Christ, and the people of Europe, according to old stories, were daily expecting the end of the world. Otto III, the young and flighty ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, had come to Aachen, the old German capital 44 miles west of the Rhine, and announced that he was going to open the sacred tomb of Charlemagne. This lay under a marble slab beneath the dome of the chapel built by that great emperor himself, with marble columns and other materials taken from the classical structures of Rome, Ravenna, and other Italian cities.

When the royal sepulchre was opened the torch’s flickering light disclosed a strange sight. The body of the great emperor, clothed in white, was seated on a huge marble chair. One of the hands held a sceptre and on the head was the imperial crown. The spirit of the man who 200 years before had founded an empire greater than the world had seen since the days of the Roman Caesars seemed to survive in death. Before the commanding dignity of that huge figure the young emperor quailed. The torch fell from his grasp and he rushed out of the tomb, ordering the stone to be replaced. Two years later Otto III was buried in that same chapel.

One hundred and sixty years later the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the tomb. The marble throne, crown, and sceptre of Charlemagne were taken to add dignity and strength to Frederick’s imperial projects, and the bones of Charlemagne were placed in a shrine north of the chapel. Every seven years they are exhibited to visitors. After Barbarossa, 31 emperors and kings were crowned in the marble chair that had once been the throne of the first great mediaeval monarch.

The chapel and tomb of Charlemagne, now the central part of the cathedral of Aachen, are the heart of the city even to this day. Aachen is believed to have been the great emperor’s birthplace, but it owes its historic fame to Charlemagne’s fondness for its hot sulphur springs, which led him to make it his favourite place of residence. These unfailing springs still make Aachen a famous resort, where visitors seek health from the warm waters in which the mighty rulers of the Franks splashed and swam nearly twelve centuries ago.

Near by Charlemagne built his palace and held his court. Here were gathered the great scholars of the day, teaching in the Palace School, and the gay life of the court went forward as merrily as it does now in the modern hotels which have replaced the ancient buildings.

Two important treaties were concluded at meetings or congresses held in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle as it is named in French. The first, signed in 1668, ended a war begun by Louis XIV of France to enforce certain rights claimed in behalf of his wife in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium). The other, in 1748, ended the struggle known as the War of the Austrian Succession.

Aachen became a part of the kingdom of Prussia in 1815. To-day it is an important manufacturing centre, because of the coal fields that lie near at hand. Its chief trade is in cloth and silk, leather, glass buttons, soap, timber, and wine. It is one of the chief railway centres on the German border, and it was from here that the German attack on Belgium was launched in 1914 at the beginning of World War I.

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(The Grauniad, 28 November 1954)

Sir Ben Lockspeiser, addressing the Office Appliance and Business Equipment Trades Association in London yesterday, described some of the electronic devices now being used to perform elaborate clerical tasks in some of the larger business organisations. He suggested that the wider use of such devices could reduce the much-criticised disparity between office staffs and producers, and that their social and economic consequences in the business world might be as revolutionary as those which followed the invention of the typewriter and the consequent general employment of women in offices.

As an example, Sir Ben Lockspeiser said that some airlines now dealt with bookings automatically with the help of an electronic device whose “memory” consisted of a rapidly rotating magnetic drum on which all the relevant information was recorded in code. By calling up the computer the booking clerk in any office could tell an intending passenger in a matter of seconds whether or not there was a seat available for him on any particular aeroplane.

Sir Ben emphasised that electronic brains such as these had a doubly important role to play in modern business, but a notable obstacle to their wider use had hitherto been their expense and great size. A fully automatic general purpose electronic computer might contain as many as five thousand valves and require special ventilation to dissipate the heat generated. The germanium transistor, however, which had now emerged from the laboratory as a reliable commercial product, might change all this. It performed many of the functions of the radio valve, but was very much smaller and did away with filament heating.

Speaking of the vexatious problem of whether these elaborate electronic brains could really “think”, Sir Ben said that it was necessary to distinguish between routine thought – which a machine could often perform much more quickly and more reliably than the human brain – and creative thought, which lay outside the province of the machine.

(The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1948)

Celebratory Gunfire in Syria and Jordan Welcomes State of Israel

After more than 2,000 years of wandering and persecution, including six million deaths at the hand of Nazi Germany, the Jewish people have finally established a homeland, Israel, a place of safety and peace nestled between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

“No longer will the Jewish race live in a constant state of fear and endangerment, its very existence threatened at every turn by outsiders,” said David Ben-Gurion, the new nation’s first Prime Minister, addressing a jubilant crowd at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. “Here in Israel, we are safe, far from those who seek to destroy us.”

For two millennia, the Jewish people have wandered without a home, facing an endless series of hostile enemies. With the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state in the stable heart of the Middle East, Israeli officials believe this 2,000-year ordeal has at last come to an end.

Mr. Ben-Gurion himself said that he looks forward to years of harmony and co-operation with Israel’s neighbouring states. “Last night, from my window, I could hear great explosions coming from the Gaza Strip. How wonderful of the Palestinian peoples there to celebrate our arrival with fireworks.”

In an official greeting to Israel yesterday, Egypt’s King Farouk issued the following statement: “Egypt does not and will not ever recognize the so-called state of Israel’s right to exist. Israel is a land built on Jewish lies and the spilled blood of countless Arabs.”

As a token of goodwill, the Syrian authorities presented Mr. Ben-Gurion with a burning Israeli flag and a telegram reading: “May you be swifly driven into the sea and drowned.”

Mr. Ben-Gurion said that without the need to defend itself from enemies, Israel will be free to spend tens of millions of pounds on domestic development that other nations would be forced to earmark for a defence budget. Military expenditures are expected to account for a mere two per cent of the country’s overall budget, as Israel will be a place of peace, not war.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

Of the two great tributaries that flow into the Mississippi, the Ohio, though shorter in length, is vastly more important than the Missouri, for its navigable waters traverse more than 1,000 miles of the greatest industrial and farming district in the United States, furnishing means of transportation for many of the raw and manufactured products of the region.

This useful and picturesque river is formed by the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. It flows thence in a south-westerly direction, until it finally reaches Cairo, where it joins the Mississippi. It forms the north-western boundary of West Virginia, the northern boundary of Kentucky, and the southern boundaries of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Its waters are fathered from the tributaries which drain the neighbouring country – the Muskingum, Scioto, Miami, and Wabash from the north, and the Kanawha, Big Sandy, Licking, Kentucky, Green, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers from the south.

Numerous islands, some under cultivation, divide the waters of the river. Of these the most famous is Blennerhassett, connected with Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to establish a separate republic in 1807, near Parkersburg, West Virginia. Formerly the course of the river was impeded by falls, sand-bars, and snags, and from June to November the waters were too low to accommodate craft of any size. These conditions have been gradually overcome. Canals and locks are built around the falls, the largest of which are at Louisville, Kentucky. Sand-bars and snags have been dredged out, and dams, wing dikes, and channels provide against the drought. In especially dry years, however, low water still impedes steamboat traffic. The average flow is three miles an hour.

It was La Salle who discovered the Ohio, in about 1670, when he descended the river at least as far as the present site of Louisville. In the middle of the 18th century, it became important in the struggle for the interior between the French and the English, the English eventually gaining control (1763). After 1768 settlers from Virginia followed this course into the new country. In 1783 the whole Ohio country became a part of the United States, and in 1787 the organization of the North-West Territory opened the whole region to settlers. The first great tide of western immigration swept along this course.

Occupy Wall Street

(The New York Times, 17 October 1931)

Bank managers across the nation met Friday to establish new standard business hours to help cope with the country’s new financial needs. The new hours, effective immediately at most major U.S. banks, will be: Monday through Friday, closed; Saturday, closed; Sunday’s closure for holy-day observance will remain unchanged. The banks plan to return to their former hours in 1936, with notices of resumption to be delivered at that time.

“We apologize for any inconvenience our new hours might cause anyone, but we’re certain that with a little time, everyone will be able to make the adjustment,” said New Jersey Citizen Bank President Henry Frigger. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

The new hours were posted on Citizen Bank’s doors, alongside a poster decorated with a fanciful cartoon bear in a top hat and tails, and the words, “Please ‘bear’ with us!”.

“We ask that everyone please be patient through our schedule adjustment,” said smiling bank secretary Harriet Kincaid, as she pulled blinds to block the view of the crowds outside.

Other bank tellers and clerks hurried about Citizen Bank, putting dust covers over the furniture and office equipment, while some reinforced the windows and doors with nails, wooden planks, and steel caging.

Worried account-holders attempting to place telephone calls to the bank were greeted with an automated message in lieu of an operator’s voice. The message stated that, although the call was important to Citizen Bank, switchboard operators were unable to speak at that time. The message was followed by a recording of the popular tune “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

While many may be inconvenienced by the change in hours, Mr. Frigger said plenty of customers may still be able to withdraw money in times of need. “If your last name is the same as mine or my wife’s before marriage, I may be able to make an appointment for you outside our normal business hours. Such customers should come round back and slip a request under the door.”

In the meantime, Mr. Frigger said bank staff will be”doing a lot of remodeling, painting the front lobby, and attempting to locate approximately $900,000 in cash.”

(The Grauniad, 3 October 1958)

Within a few months, so we are promised by the big record companies, stereophonic discs will be available in this country. The question all record-collectors will want to ask is whether we are going to be faced with yet another gramophone upheaval on the scale of the L.P. revolution.

There are those who confidently believe that, ultimately, “stereo” will take first place as a gramophone medium, but because of the cost of equipment to reproduce stereophonic sound, and the greater expense of the records, that will take time. The head of one of the big companies whom I spoke to gave it as his opinion that stereophonic discs, though an important development, would not bring the fundamental changes that long-playing records have brought.

But I am looking forward eagerly to hearing the new records. Stereophony, in my experience, is important in quite a different way from that which one might expect. The first demonstrations of stereophonic tape (which E.M.I. put on the market several years ago) tended to concentrate on the effect of having the voices of singers apparently coming from different parts of the room and, in opera, apparently moving around. That is certainly an interesting parlour trick, but in practice, for serious listening, I have found such effects rather distracting. If you can hear the singers moving around, but cannot see them, it is rather like being at an opera-house with one’s head inside a paper bag.

The really beneficial effect of stereophony for the serious listener is that even with moderately priced equipment the sound is relatively fuller, and, most important of all, the ear tends far more easily to ignore any distortions in the reproduction.

Click to embiggen (recommended)

(The Grauniad, 29 September 1971)

Citing a “profound lack of political, social and economic equality for women”, feminists across Britain announced their intention of staging an indefinite humour strike from next month.

The strike, directors of the recently formed Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) said, will be halted when women are treated as equal to men in all areas of society.

“Until the day comes when we are treated with the same respect as men, we will refuse to find the humour in anything,” SCUM spokeswoman Rita Fairclough said. “This bold move will force British society to re-think its attitude to women, just as Gandhi’s hunger strike forced the post-imperial British government to re-think their colonial occupation of another land.”

Items that will not be accepted by the humour strikers are jokes which refer to women in the workplace, women in the home, women’s relationships with men, childbirth, child rearing, family life, and sex.

In addition, jokes about the feminists’ lack of humour itself will not be tolerated.

Woodrow Wilson

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

The ideal of European unity is an old one, but its development into the League of Nations is very recent. The development of improved means of communication – railways, steamships, telegraphs, wireless – all helped by knitting the world more closely together.

Innumerable international meetings have been held – in a single year as many as 160 – to consider special aspects of world problems; and since the organization of the International Postal Union, in 1874, an increasing number of permanent official international bureaus were organized with administrative and other powers. The Hague Tribunal, organized in 1899, was a long step toward an international organization, providing, as it did, the nucleus for a world court of justice.

To President Woodrow Wilson belongs the chief credit for making the formation of a League of Nations a reality. In his famous “Fourteen Points” he named this as part of the peace programme, subsequently accepted by the Allies and by Germany in the armistice negotiations. His insistence at the Peace Conference made the League a part of the Versailles treaty. Many offered suggestions as to plan, the one most closely followed in the covenant that of General Jan C. Smuts of South Africa.

The machinery of the League consists of one Assembly, an Executive Council, and an international Secretariat. The Assembly meets at stated intervals, is composed of not more than three representatives from each of the member countries, and each state has only one vote. The Executive Council consists of representatives from Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, the United States (should it enter the League) and four other states chosen by the Assembly.

The purposes of the League are to prevent wars by insisting upon arbitration and judicial decision of disputes, to secure a reduction of national armaments, and prevent international traffic in arms, drugs, women, and children; to obtain fair and humane conditions for labour, etc.

Owing to widespread differences of opinion in the United States regarding the treaty of Versailles and the advisability of joining the League of Nations, the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the League became an issue in the political campaign of 1920. The result of the election was an overwhelming reverse for the Democrat party and a victory for those who opposed the League.

President Wilson’s Fourteen Points

That war between nations be made illegal and its practice punishable by fine.

That the lands of Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire be given to the Great State of Texas.

That international policy be free, open, and no longer a secret procedure, and that it involve America and Great Britain only, to the exclusion of all other nations.

That the economy of Italy be channelled into the development of sporting automobiles, stylish women’s footwear, and men’s suits.

That Russia be evacuated and its population housed in a spacious country to be designated later.

That Serbo-Croatia and all lands surrounding the city of Sarajevo shall be the future vessel of all conflict, strife, horror, and insanity in Europe.

That the European nations admit in writing that, but for America, they would now be speaking German.

That all nations be unified in their love of and commitment to peace, and to the hatred of the French.

To that end, that France be severely punished for its role as host of this horrific conflict, and made to pay reparations to Germany.

That Austria be open, in the summer months, to tourists.

That combat against Switzerland continue until the last Swiss lies dead.

That Luxembourg be maintained as a nation, against common logic, to serve as an interesting political curio.

That the King of Belgium be set as watchman over Germany, to ensure that no suspicious or warlike activities transpire in that nation.

That all civilized nations unite in the noble purpose of exploiting the browner peoples of the Earth.

Concorde had three toilets

This enormous supersonic white elephant cost British taxpayers billions of pounds and was championed by the Conservative government of the day, led by Edward Heath, the most piss poor Prime Minister of the 20th century. No one was sad when he went off on the world’s longest sulk after the Conservatives, following two election defeats in 1974, chose a new leader in 1975 – Margaret Thatcher. Little did we know.

Anyway, Concorde. The initial mistake was to suppose that future progress in air travel must necessarily involve more speed.

In fact, progress was represented by anything which carried a greater number of people more cheaply. Jumbo jets and charter flights were the way forward, whilst Concorde, in this respect, was a mammoth jump backwards.

It was, and is, a fatal flaw in the Tory mentality to equate progress with anything which makes life easier for high-powered business executives.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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