A hundred years ago, the weapons research facility know as Porton Down came into being. This will hardly see cause for much celebration due its nature, but is it something Britain still needs, or instead a grim relic of the past which should be confined to history?
Why did Porton Down come into being in the first place, though? Well, in response to the worldwide threat imposed by Germany’s use of chemical weapons during the First World War, in 1916, the UK government sanctioned the opening of a specialist investigative team known as the War Department Experimental Station, in London. The main purpose of this group of secretly operating scientists was to test and research the effects, and the possible future uses, of the terrifying nerve shattering chemicals, mustard gas, chlorine and phosgene on human beings.
By 1918, this research concentrated on the development of gas masks and respirators for the soldiers on the front line. The scientists work had become too extensive to be carried out in a heavily populated area, so the whole enterprise, now known as the Royal Engineers Experimental Station, was moved to a remote location on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire; Porton Down.
After the end of the First World War, it was decided to keep up work on the base. Now however, the work not only concentrated on defence, but also on how to use chemicals for weapons of our own. The staff at Porton, then as now, operated under the strictest secrecy. Bound by the official secrets act, very few of the scientists on site were/are allowed to talk about their work. This makes discovering what goes on behind closed doors difficult.
However, over the last century of investigation, Porton is known to have altered its approach to its work. Whereas it began by working on how to prevent and develop chemical, and then biological, weapons (in particular an anthrax bomb which – had it ever been used- would have cased death on a massive scale), its primary function now is to help with the destruction of all the chemical weapons made in the past, and to develop ways to treat those affected by exposure to such weapons, as well as extensive medical research.
In the 1980’s Porton Down was the subject of large scale and very public animal rights demonstrations in response to the number of animals used in the medical and weapon testing departments on site. Such was the public outcry when it was discovered just how much livestock was subjected to horrific experimentation in the name of science, that strict government guidelines were imposed. Now, government inspections at Porton Down are frequent, and occur without warning.
The ethos at Porton Down, 100 years on from its birth, has changed from the development of weapons to the treatment of those affected by chemical and nerve attacking agents, and on to in-depth research into worldwide medical emergencies. For example, in 1976, when there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa, the first samples for testing were sent to Porton Down.
Now split into two major departments – known as the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and the Defence Science and technology Laboratory (Dstl) – the work at Porton Down remains topical. Although the use of chemical weapons was banned as part of the Geneva Convention, they are being used more than ever before by terrorist groups and some governments – particularly in Syria. In 2013 Porton became the base from which to test the samples of Sarin (a horrifying nerve attacking chemical) after it was used against hundreds of civilians in there.
A hundred years on, the journey of Porton Down’s development is far from over. Working hand in hand with Public Health England, Porton has recently expanded beyond Salisbury Plain into premises once belonging to the pharmaceutical group, GlaxoSmithKline. By 2024, this new base in Harlow is likely to be the main base for Porton’s scientific future.
We will never know everything that goes on behind the closed doors of Porton Down. We do know however, that it has weathered its deep unpopularity of the 1980’s, and has developed military equipment and fail-safes that have saved many lives. The unknown scientists’ continuing medical research into the treatment of major viruses and pathogens is in my opinion indeed vital, as is their continued disarming of the chemical weapons that were made many decades ago both here and across the world.
February 2018 brings with it the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 being granted the right to vote. As such, it was the first step towards all women being awarded equal status to men in political society. Without women like Millicent Garrett Fawcett, though, even the initial allowance might not have been so forthcoming, let alone equality for all.
In 1867, at the age of only 19, Millicent helped form the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She even served on its executive committee.
Born at Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1847, Millicent was one of ten children. She was most influenced by her elder sister Elizabeth, who in the early 1860’s became the first woman to qualify in Britain as a doctor.
It was also Elizabeth and her friend Emily Davies who in 1866 organised the first mass female petition to Parliament, asking for women to be given equal status to men. Although they were too young to sign the petition themselves, Millicent and her sister Agnes contributed significantly by going around the streets of Aldeburgh collecting signatures from the poor, ensuring they were represented as well as the areas wealthy women.
When she was 20, Millicent married Henry Fawcett, a radical Liberal MP for Brighton and professor of political economy at the University of Cambridge. Henry helped further her education, and within a year Millicent had published her first article, The education of women in the middle and upper classes. Later, in 1870, she wrote a second book, Political Economy for Beginners.
On 20 May 1867 Millicent was present in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons when John Stuart Mill MP campaigned for an amendment to the Representation of the People Bill. He wanted to replace the word ‘man’ with the word ‘person’, so that women could be included on the electoral register. His suggestion was defeated by 81 votes, but it inspired Millicent to campaign further for women’s right to vote.
In July 1869, at a time when it was unusual for women to be allowed to speak on a public platform, Millicent spoke at the first public meeting held by the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. The Brighton Herald recorded her performance: ‘She is a lady of small stature, and of fragile but very pleasing appearance; perfectly collected in her manner, and with a very clear, distinct, emphatic delivery, not at times without a sense of humour.’
Millicent continued to engage in public addresses including one on 10th May 1872, when she addressed a packed central London suffrage meeting. She spoke against speeches that had been delivered in the House of Commons on 1st May which had been anti the Second Reading of the Bill for the Removal of the Electoral Disabilities of Women.
On 6th May 1880 Millicent made a very personal speech during a large London meeting. She spoke about how, when she and her husband were making their wills, they saw how unfair the law was. She realised that if her husband died she could not become their daughter’s guardian unless he had appointed her to the role. Nothing she owned, including the books she had written, legally belonged to Millicent in the eyes of the law. Everything automatically belonged to her husband.
When her husband did pass away several years later, Millicent took a break from public life, but by 1886 she was touring as a public speaker again. In 1888 she became honorary secretary of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. By this time, more and more suffrage groups were forming across the country, and Millicent began to help the different groups unite; In 1893 she became the president of the Special Appeal Committee, which ensured all suffrage societies had the same goal.
Millicent continued to campaign until 1896, when she presided over a meeting which would, the following year, lead to the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Ten years later she became the group’s president. This was a position she held until 1918, when she finally saw her life’s ambition realised, securing the first votes for women, and giving her a place in social and political history as the person most responsible.
We’re in winter now, and some of us may be feeling the chill. But it could be worse. It has been worse. And it will be worse again…
Throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion years, there have been five big ice ages, some of which lasted hundreds of millions of years. The most recent major ice age occurred in the Pleistocene period, about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Researchers are still trying to understand how often these periods of deep winter happen and how soon we can expect another one.
Across various periods of time, a quarter of our planet’s history has been held in the grip of a major ice event.. In between these ice ages, there have also been many smaller ice ages called glacials, and therefore some warmer periods, called inter-glacials.
The last mini ice age, which scientists call the Maunder Minimum, plunged the northern hemisphere into a series of bitterly cold winters between 1645 and 1715. It was caused by incredibly low solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum, the River Thames froze solid. The ice was so thick that the people of London could walk or skate from one side to the other without needing a bridge (as depicted above). However, although the winters were much colder than average, they were not life-threatening as they would have been in a ‘big’ ice age; If the citizens of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth century could survive the extreme cold without any form of central heating, then the next mini ice age will not be deadly for the human race.
It is a steady, severe drop in levels of sunshine that brings on a mini ices age. Solar expert Piers Corbyn, of forecasting group WeatherAction, warned that the Earth faces another mini ice age. “We are now in a decline of solar activity… This can cause a shift in the jet-stream, making it move further south and as a result it turns very cold in temperate latitudes including Europe, Britain and North America. We are anticipating temperatures to drop leading to ocean water freezing and ice drifts washing up around the coasts in Europe – we expect the next mini ice age.”
Corbyn and his colleagues have predicted that between now and 2020, the decrease in sun spots will continue. This fall in temperature will trigger the next Solar Minimum, which scientists think could last approximately 15 years. Work by the UK’s Met Office goes on to report however, that the effect of this mini ice age will be offset by an increase in global warming. This means that, rather than being faced with rivers that are frozen from top to bottom, and harsh temperatures that will keep us huddled around the fire, we will merely have to face winters that are much colder than we have become used to- so don’t rush out and buy those ice skates just yet.
On 29th October 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was executed after being accused of plotting against King James I. His fortunes, once well in favour with the royal court, had fallen to the chopping block. During the Tudor times in which he lived, such dramatic reverses were not uncommon.
To begin with Raleigh, if you look at his earlier life at court, his eventual fall from grace once seemed unthinkable. Born to a well-connected gentry’ family at Hayes Barton in Devon in 1552, Raleigh was a renowned explorer. In 1578 he made his first exhibition to America, and in 1585 he attempted to set up the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island (now North Carolina). This attempt failed, as did others, but Raleigh was successful in introducing both potatoes and tobacco back to Britain.
Raleigh became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I in 1580, after helping to suppress an uprising in Ireland. He was knighted and appointed captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587. However, in 1592, Raleigh was to trigger his own downfall when he secretly married one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton. The queen was intensely jealous, and threw both Raleigh and his wife into the Tower of London. After eventually gaining a plea for release, Raleigh soon set off on another expedition, this time to find the fabled land of gold, El Dorado. The trip inevitably failed, doing little to improve his standing in court.
When Elizabeth’s successor, King James I of England and VI of Scotland, came to the throne, it was clear that he and Raleigh would never get on; unsurprisingly, this would have worse consequences for Raleigh. In 1603 James accused him of plotting against him and sentenced Raleigh to death. The sentence was not immediately carried out, though, and he spent the next 12 years back in the Tower of London. Indeed, the need for funds then saw King James releasing Raleigh on the understanding he would try to find El Dorado again. However, Raleigh went against James’s orders and attacked the Spanish instead. Raleigh’s death sentence was reinstated, and after his recapture, on 29th October 1618 he was executed.
Sir Walter Raleigh was not the first Tudor favourite to be the most popular member of the Royal court one minute and in fear of their lives the next. One of the most famous falls from grace of all has to be that of Anne Boleyn. After a spectacular rise to prominence, her presence brought about both the divorce of the king, Henry VIII, from Catherine of Aragon, and the dissolution of the monasteries. Again there were to be grave consequences, including Anne’s decline from favour, which was to be no less dramatic than her rise.
Towards the end of January, 1536, Anne Boleyn miscarried a child, only three months into her pregnancy. Henry complained, ‘I see that God will not give me male children’ (Doran, 178). This statement signalled the beginning of the end of the royal marriage, and coincide with Henry moving his latest mistress, Jane Seymour, into the royal apartments.
Anne’s fall was ensured when she began to involve herself in political matters, particularly the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne argued with Thomas Cromwell, the man who was trying to organise the dissolution for the king. Cromwell insisted on filling the King’s depleted coffers with church money, while taking a cut for himself. Anne however, advocated that revenues taken from the church to be distributed to charitable and educational institutions. Unfortunately for Anne, she couldn’t deliver on her political promises or expectations, and Henry used this, as well as rumours of an affair she probably wasn’t having, to dispose of her. Ironically, it was only a matter of time before Thomas Cromwell himself also fell from grace.
After his skillful handing of making sure Henry could divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell gained high favour with the king. He became Principal Secretary in 1534, and in July 1536, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal; one of the most influential and trusted positions in court. However, only four years later, Cromwell was arrested for treason- a crime historians can find no evidence of him committing. It is uncertain what happened to spark Cromwell’s demise. It is possible that it was triggered after he arranged Henry VIII’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was meant to help form a closer alliance between England and the Protestant princes in Northern Germany. Although it was a disaster, Henry made Cromwell the Earl of Essex to thank him for arranging it for him. Unfortunately, the influential Duke of Norfolk took exception to a commoner being made an earl; Norfolk appears to have orchestrated Cromwell’s end by introducing his niece, the nineteen year old Catherine Howard, to Henry. Her beauty beguiled the king, and soon Catherine was providing the Duke of Norfolk with greatly increased influence in court.
The Duke of Norfolk convinced Henry that Cromwell was plotting to bring in a full version of Protestantism to England despite knowing that the king was adamantly against this. Believing himself in love with Catherine, and wanting to keep in favour with her family, Henry no longer listened to Cromwell. So, after further persuasion from Norfolk, Henry had Cromwell arrested, and only one month later, on July 28th 1540, he, like Raleigh and Boleyn, was executed.
Raleigh, Boleyn and Cromwell were only three of the era’s many high status figures who found favour and distinction one moment, and the executioner’s block the next. In a time filled with paranoia and treachery, it was a brave man or woman who aimed to rise to the top.
On the 15th October 2017 the people of the UK had their last chance to spend their old style one pound coins. Over the past year the Royal Mint has updated, not just our pound coins, but also our five and ten pound notes, as well as updating the designs of our fifty pence pieces. The reason behind this large scale updating of much of our sterling is an old one- the race to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters; criminals who produce fake money.
The crime of counterfeiting is as old as the making of money itself. Archaeologists working in the Greek city of Lydia, for example, have found evidence from around 600 B.C. of the counterfeiting of coins which involved mixing base metals with gold or silver. It was about this time when the practice of clipping came into being- when the edges of a coin were clipped off, collected, and used to make fake coins. Clipping remained a problem across the world until early this century.
It isn’t just metal cash that has been subject to forgery from the moment of its conception. In China, in the thirteenth century, when paper money was first made from the wood of mulberry trees, access to the trees was protected by guards stationed around the forests in which they were most common. Counterfeiters who still managed to find a way to make fake money were punished by death. This harsh punishment was adopted across the world as the standard penalty for faking any form of money and cheating the mint of the country in question, and it remained in force up until as recently as the twentieth century in the Western world. However, there are still some countries still do enforce the death penalty for the crime.
The Bank of England (pictured) and Royal Mint claim that the UK’s new one pound coin, which resembles the old three-penny-bit in shape, will be “the most secure coin in the world…. the new coin will reduce the costs of counterfeits to businesses and the taxpayer.” The coin is thinner and lighter than the previous round pound (2.8mm thick and weighing 8.75g to be exact), its bimetallic construction similar to the existing £2 coin. The outer ring is gold-coloured (in fact, nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver (nickel-plated alloy). The reverse of the new coin shows one of four different images; the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock emerging from one stem within a royal coronet.
Prior to the introduction of the new pound coin was that of the new polymer five pound note, and then last month the new polymer ten pound note. These notes outraged vegans as they contain animal fats in their production. Although these notes will not be withdrawn, the Royal Mint are currently working on using either coconut or palm oil in the production of the new twenty pound notes, when they are replaced in 2020.
The notes, like the new coins, are much harder to fake, and very difficult to damage or destroy, so not only should the forging of money decrease, but so should the high cost of replacing old and out of service damaged notes.
Any old notes or coins you have left now may only be valuable for antiquity, or you could see if your bank may take them in exchange for the new tender. But time must be running out, if it hasn’t already!
Ever since Leonardo Da Vinci and then Isaac Newton first came up with the idea of a car, man has had a love affair with it. We’ve built cars that are faster, bigger, cheaper, smarter and more economic ever since.
The first real cars were built at the end of the nineteenth century by classic car makers such as Daimler and Benz. There was a time when the top speed was 12mph ( ironically, these days the top speed in many of our congested cities is not far off that! ). But it wasn’t long before cars got faster. Between 1894 and 1914 a car’s top speed rose to 120 mph. And in the true spirit of adventure, as with scaling mountains, exploring space and diving down into the oceans, so too man has continued to advance his quest for greater speed. This ambition has been measured in various ways, and times, so to speak, have changed; It’s 4,500 miles from New York to Los Angeles, but whilst in 1903 it took a fast car 63 days to travel this distance, the current record time is just over 28 hours ( but don’t ask about speed limits ).
In the twentieth century one family dominated the ‘speed news’- Donald Campbell and his father Malcolm. Between them they achieved 10 land speed records. Donald also attempted to break speed records on water. Tragically he died during one of these attempts, with famous news footage of his craft – the ‘Bluebird’ ( as portrayed above) – bearing witness to the accident. At the time Bluebird was seen as a triumph of British engineering but ultimately it was beaten to its final record by an American car called ‘The Spirit of America.‘ There are all sorts of measures of speed – and cost. The fastest production car is said to be a Bugati which was featured in an episode of ‘Top Gear’, travelling at quite ludicrous speeds.
The car with the fastest acceleration takes 2.3 seconds to go from 0 – 60 mph. The world’s most expensive car, meanwhile, costs a staggering £ 4.8 million. The most recent ‘fast car’ is in fact a prototype for a jet plane. The ‘Bloodhound’ has been unveiled recently in Cornwall and put through its paces at a ‘cruising’ speed of 200 mph. It’s a cooperative venture between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain and the idea is to prepare it to go much faster. It will soon be “unleashed” in South Africa, where it will attempt to break the current land speed record of 800 mph – And to go beyond that!
It would be good to think that projects The Bloodhound will help us continue international cooperation as well as to make progress with scientific, engineering and maybe even ecological research.
Radio 1 launched 50 years ago this week, at 7am on September 30, 1967. This new station followed hot on the heels of the implementation of The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, which closed down pirate radio stations, such as Radio Caroline and Radio London, in August 1967.
Pirate radio sprang up because large sections of the younger audience had become frustrated by the BBC, who they saw (or heard) as not moving with the times- especially with the type of music they were playing. Unlicensed stations, the most famous being Radio Caroline, began illegally broadcasting on medium-wave frequencies from ships off the UK coast and disused seaports, to fill this gap in the listening market. The pop music played and conversation recorded on these pirate stations was unlike anything that had been heard on radio before. It immediately struck a chord with listeners, particularly those under thirty, and thousands of people were soon regular listeners to these illegal stations. David Clayton, former editor of BBC Radio Norfolk, who listened to Radio Caroline as a teenager said, “As listeners we didn’t care. They were playing our favourite records.”
As soon as these stations began running smoothly, attempts to disable them began; The government of Britain claimed the stations were blocking radio frequencies which would be required if the country was ever plunged into an emergency. By the time laws were passed to make the broadcasting of pirate radio illegal, however, over 22 million people were regular listeners. The BBC realised it needed to do something to accommodate this vast band of listeners, especially as the public outrage to the closing of the pirate stations was enormous. Their answer was to create Radio 1. Wisely, they invited many of the DJ’s from Radio London, Caroline and the other broadcasting ships, to join their presenting staff. Tony Blackburn, Johnnie Walker, Kenny Everett and John Peel were soon favourite Radio 1 stars, all moving onto Radio 2 (bar Kenny Everett, who died in 1995) in their later years.
Tony Blackburn was the first DJ to air on Radio 1, launching the station with his new programme Daily Disc Delivery with Robin Scott, then Controller of Radio 1, keeping watch to make sure he behaved. The first record played was Flowers in the Rain by The Move, followed by Massachusetts by the Bee Gees. In the Radio Times, Radio 1 was billed as ‘The Swinging New Radio Service’.
The popularity of Radio 1 was demonstrated in the year following its launch, when record sales increased by 10%. It wasn’t just Radio 1 that was created after the fall of the pirate radio stations, either. The network radio changed almost entirely on the morning of Saturday, September 30th 1967 with the birth of Radio 2, which took over from the previously known “Light Programme”. The classical “Third Programme” was renamed Radio 3, and the speech based Home Service became Radio 4.
Fifty years on, radio is a popular as ever, with Radio 1-4 pulling in tens of millions of listeners every year.
Yesterday I ran an article on the history of tea in the UK and the US, the first of two to try and determine which of these drinks is the more popular in Britain today: traditional tea or the seemingly more modern coffee. Today we’re talking coffee.
With the rising popularity of coffee shop chains such as Costa, Starbucks, Cafe Nero and more, you might wonder: can the UK today even be considered as much a coffee drinking country as America, its long-associated home?
Believe it or not, coffee became a popular drink in the UK before tea did. The first coffee house opened in England in 1651, and they quickly became the most popular places to be seen in society. These coffee houses multiplied into chains of cafes, and become forums for discussion to the extent that they were dubbed “penny universities” (one penny was the price of a cup of coffee). At this same time, in a young and growing America, coffee was also gaining a strong commercial foothold. By 1668, coffee had replaced beer as New York City’s favourite breakfast drink, while in Britain, gin houses were beginning to suffer from lower sales thanks to the popularity of their coffee-serving competitors. Yet whilst it would remain most popular on the west side of the Atlantic, in Britain there would be a decline – see my previous article for more on that story.
Fast forward to today and The UK Tea and Infusion Association argue that, despite a huge surge in the popularity of drinking coffee in the last decade, the number of cups drunk in Britain every day is estimated at a mere 70 million, as opposed to 165 million cups of tea. However, coffee remains the most popular drink worldwide, with around two billion cups consumed every day. And despite the lesser actual consumption statistics, The British Coffee Association documents that in the UK alone, 80% of households buy instant coffee. The renaissance of coffee shop culture has seen s massive rise in consumption, with 80% of people who visit coffee shops doing so at least once a week, and 16% of us going on a daily basis.
Coffee grows in more than 50 countries and is the second largest export in the world after oil. Central and South America produce approximately two thirds of the world’s coffee supply, with Brazil contributing about 30% of the world’s total bean supply.
Putting our own coffee habit aside, you might be surprised to hear a few more statistics relating to America’s affection for it; Whilst the US has been linked to coffee drinking for hundreds of years, is it really as obsessed with it as we think? Research done by The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/here-are-the-countries-that-drink-the-most-coffee-the-us-isnt-in-the-top-10/283100/) online newspaper in 2014 found that compared with Scandinavia and The Netherlands’ the US hardly drinks coffee at all! That year, the The Netherlands were drinking per-capita 2.4 cups a day, almost the same as the US, UK, Spain, and France combined.
It is hard to imagine Americans not drinking coffee, however. Such is the nation’s dedication to the drink that, also in 2014, their astronauts in the International Space Station were given their first espresso machine in space, meaning they could have a decent cup of coffee, even in space. And unlike here, over there you often get refills.
So overall the stats say tea is still our favourite drink. But as you often hear said, sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story. It may be that one day coffee takes its place. As I hope I’ve shown, tastes and times change.
The top two bestselling hot beverages in the UK and America are tea and coffee. But does the quintessentially English association with the cup of tea still hold true? And do Americans, usually associated with coffee, ever drink tea? I’m going to have a look at the history of each drink in each country to try and get an answer. I’ll talk about coffee in a second article soon, but first, it’s time for Tea…
The cup of tea was something of a latecomer to the shores of Britain. The custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China, but it was not until Portuguese and Dutch traders first imported tea to Europe in the 17th century that it appeared in England. And it wasn’t for another century that the biggest tea trading organization of the Industrial Revolution, the East India Company, began to make money out of tea’s rising popularity. Somewhat ironically, it was the London coffee houses that were responsible for introducing tea to England. Coffee house merchant Thomas Garway sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. Three years later he issued a broadsheet advertising tea as “making the body active and lusty”, and “preserving perfect health until extreme old age.”
By 1700 over 500 UK coffee houses were selling tea as well as coffee. By 1750 tea was outselling coffee and had become the lower classes’ most popular drink, being cheap and easily available.
According to the UK Tea and Infusions Association (https://www.tea.co.uk/tea-faqs), the British drink 165 million cups daily, amounting to 60.2 billion per year. Although China, India and Kenya produce the most tea in the world (China produced 2, 230,000 tonnes in 2015), it is the Republic of Ireland that drinks the most tea per head of population, followed by Britain. Of all the tea drunk in Britain, 96% is brewed by using a tea bag rather than tea leaves, and 98% of all tea made is served with milk rather than black with lemon, honey or single infusion.
In America, it is coffee that is considered the national beverage. It poses the question, why haven’t they embraced tea in the same way as the UK? America was introduced to tea at the same time as the British discovered the country, after all. However, the War of Independence between Britain and America that erupted shortly afterwards meant that trade routes providing tea were restricted. Britain controlled the shipping routes to and from America and so very little tea reached the US, making it hard to get, and therefore expensive. As a result, during this time a lot of Americans switched over to drinking liberty tea, which is mainly made from a goldenrod plant. When the American Revolution was over, the shipping lines did return, and Americans did go back to drinking tea, but a new war broke out in 1812 and the lines closed again. It meant that the next generation of Americans had grown up during the American Revolution and spent a lot of their formative years not drinking tea. And because they’d grown up without much of the drink, they didn’t consider it as important as the British did.
Today, tea is a popular drink in the US, especially in the American South, but they usually drink it iced rather than hot. Although cold or iced tea is drunk in the UK, it has had little impact on the traditional hot cuppa, whether served in a cup and saucer, a mug, or a takeaway beaker.
The development of the beach-side town as a popular leisure resort began in the 18th century when members of the aristocracy were encouraged by doctors to visit the seaside often for restful recreation and for the benefits that sea air gave to their general health.
One of the earliest of these resorts was Scarborough in Yorkshire. Although it had been a popular spa town for some time, where the wealthy had “taken the waters,” in 1720 the beach also started to become a popular location for seaside visitors. And in 1735 its sands became the site of one of the first bathing machines (large machines on wheels in which the wealthy could sit and bath in the seawater in safety and privacy).
It was with the dedicated opening of a seaside resort at Brighton, under the patronage of King George IV, that the seaside stopped being a place just to improve health but also a destination to escape daily worries and enjoy a holiday. It wasn’t just King George who endorsed the seaside resort, either; Queen Victoria also established the Isle of Wight as a popular holiday destination during her lifetime.
The development of the railways in the 1840’s meant the seaside holiday industry grew further, and this time they were within the means of the middle classes. Cheap and affordable rail fares alongside low cost guest houses meant more people could escape to the beach for a few days a year. This development saw Blackpool’s rise, becoming one of the fastest growing resorts in Britain. As more visitors arrived by rail each year, so too did a huge demand for new accommodation and entertainments on the beachfront. By the 1850’s, a multi-million pound holiday industry was born. Hence came the statement from writer John K. Walton in his paper The Seaside resort: a British cultural export, that “The seaside resort became the fastest-growing kind of British town in the first half of the nineteenth century…”
After the development of the seaside resort came the rise of the holiday camp. The first holiday camp had in fact been built back in 1894, on the Isle of Man. Called the Cunningham Camp, it only allowed men to stay and offered merely basic tent accommodation with a little food. Not something which would have much to recommend it, you might think. However, in the years after the Second World War, people craved open spaces and the freedom to travel wherever they liked, so the affordable and now much improved holiday camp idea gained popularity; it bridged the gap between the resort holidays the wealthy and middle classes could afford and what the working class could afford. The new camp’s prices were reasonable, food was good, and entertainment was provided, even when it rained.
Billy Butlin, possibly the name most associated with holiday camps, opened his first camp at Skegness in 1936. Unlike the popular seaside boarding and guest houses, where visitors had to stay out of their accommodation during the day whatever the weather, he built camps where people could come and go. Far bigger than any holiday camps that had come before, he could accommodate up to two thousand guests at a time; not only providing holiday locations, but a huge number of job opportunities for those in the area as well.
Over eighty years later, the British still enjoy a seaside holiday, even with our highly erratic weather. And despite the easy availability of flights abroad, camps such as Butlin’s remain very popular.