What was the price of gunpowder in Victorian England

What was the price of gunpowder in Victorian England

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What was the price of gunpowder in Victorian England? Any quantity will do.

From Sketch of the Mode of Manufacturing Gunpowder at the Ishapore Mills in Bengal: Published in 1862.

The English service powders cost 5£. upwards for the 100 lbs say 50 rupees. The best sporting powders sell in London about 2s to 3s per lb, 10£. to 15£. the 100 lbs. Blasting powder is sold by dealers at from 50s to 75s per 100 lbs.

The entire book discusses the manufacture of powder, and the facility is in India, but it mentions prices in London, so they should be relevant.

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

Every 5 November in Britain on Guy Fawkes Day, we remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes and fellow Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament and assassinate James I of England.

Everyone knows how Fawkes was caught in the act, imprisoned and tortured at the Tower of London and that he and most of his fellow conspirators suffered a traitor’s hideous death in Westminster. But who was the real Guy Fawkes, the man behind the mask?


“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

Who was the real Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was born in York in 1570, the son of Edward, a church lawyer and prominent Protestant in the city, and Edith, whose family included secret Catholics. He had two brothers, John and Christopher. At that time, it was dangerous to be Catholic: many plots and rebellions against Elizabeth I were led by Catholics, which led to severe reprisals. Priests who were caught leading secret services were tortured and executed.

To all outward appearances, the Fawkes were a law-abiding Protestant family, until Edward Fawkes died when Guy was 8 years old. His mother remarried, this time to a Catholic, Dionysius Bainbridge. The young Guy was drawn strongly to his stepfather’s religion, and although he knew of the dangers, he converted to Catholicism. At the age of 21, the passionate young man set off to Europe to fight for Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers in the Eight Years War.

The A-Z of British gangs and gangsters

In the years before the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603, gangs from reiving families like the Armstrongs would regularly descend on isolated farms on the Anglo-Scottish border and carry away loot, livestock and hostages. In 1583, Willie Armstrong of Kinmont led 300 men of his clan on a raid across the English border, ransacking the farms of the Tarset Valley and murdering eight of its inhabitants.

He returned ten years later, this time in an alliance with the Elliots of Liddesdale. In 1596, even though there was an immunity from arrest so that border families could attend a meeting, Armstrong was seized by the English and incarcerated in Carlisle Castle. Undeterred, 80 of his supporters broke into the castle at night and brought their leader safely back to Scotland.

B… is for Basingstoke

The small town of Basingstoke in Hampshire seems an unlikely location for mass civil disobedience, but in 1881 matters there had got so bad that they were even debated in parliament. At the time, Basingstoke boasted 50 pubs and a reputation for drunkenness, so when the Salvation Army turned up in 1880 to preach temperance the new arrivals enjoyed the backing of many leading inhabitants. But Basingstoke also had a large brewing industry, whose employees were alarmed that their livelihoods were under threat. Egged on by their employers, they formed a mob with the express aim of disrupting the Salvation Army’s activities.

The Massaganians, as they called themselves (because they would ‘mass again’ if dispersed), began with heckling and jostling, but as time went on their activities escalated into-full scale rioting. Troops had to be deployed before order was restored.

C… is for Cock Road Gang

Not all gang violence was townbased. The Cock Road Gang was an infamous gang of robbers and protection racketeers which flourished in Bitton (outside Bristol) in the late 18th century. Led by the Caines family and operating from their base in the Blue Bowl Inn at Hanham (the pub is still there), they preyed on travellers and demanded protection money from their neighbours until 1815, when a night raid by the authorities netted 25 prisoners.

D… is for Damned Crew

No 16th-century Londoner wanted to get on the wrong side of the ‘Damned Crew’. e crew in question was a bunch of gentleman louts who would swagger drunkenly through the streets of the city, causing trouble and picking fights. Chief swaggerer was Sir Edmund Baynham, a ne’er-do-well who later narrowly escaped execution after joining Essex’s Rebellion of 1601, against Elizabeth I. Four years later he was implicated in the gunpowder plot and spent the rest of his life roaming Europe as an exile.

E… is for Elephants

One of London’s most effective criminal gangs was the Forty Elephants, an all-female crime syndicate, which operated out of Southwark in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although they indulged in a wide variety of criminal activities, a particular speciality of theirs was shoplifting, which they often carried out wearing coats equipped with extralarge or hidden pockets and hiding places for stolen items sewn in their underclothes.

F… is for Folville

Today it’s a quiet Leicestershire village, but in the 14th century Ashby Folville was the lair of the dreaded Folvilles, a gentry family that terrorised the county for 20 years. Led by Eustace Folville, they carried out acts of violence – sometimes for themselves, sometimes at the behest of others. In 1326, they assassinated Roger de Beler, the right-hand man of the hated Hugh Despenser and four years later they kidnapped the judge sent to arrest them and held him to ransom.

G… is for Glasgow

Like most major cities, Glasgow has spawned its share of violent gangs over the years. One of its most infamous was the Bridgeton ‘Billy Boys’ – a Protestant gang set up by William ‘Billy’ Fullerton in the 1920s to challenge what it claimed was an influx of hostile Irish Catholic immigrants. The gang grew into a small army, and is remembered in We are the Billy Boys, the controversial song sung by some Glasgow Rangers fans before matches until it was banned in 2011.

H… is for Hawkhurst Gang

Of all the smuggling gangs of the 18th century, the Hawkhurst Gang was by far the most formidable. Between 1735 and 1749, the gang established a smuggling network that stretched from the Thames estuary to Dorset, and protected its interests through intimidation, violence and, on occasion, murder.

Smuggling gangs often enjoyed a good deal of local support, but the brutality of the Hawkhurst Gang turned many people against them. In April 1747, the inhabitants of Goudhurst formed a militia and defeated an attempt by the gang to storm the village. But the Hawkhurst Gang wasn’t finished yet.

Later that year, they raided a government Custom House in Poole and recovered a large stash of contraband that had previously been seized from the gang. A few months later the gang kidnapped an elderly customs officer and the witness he was taking to identify a captured smuggler, and brutally murdered them. For the authorities it was the final straw. Within a year nearly all the leaders of the gang had been arrested, tried and executed.

I… is for Ice Cream Wars

The 1980s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars was a turf dispute fought between rival criminal gangs who were using ice cream vans to sell drugs and stolen goods. Van operators were frequently subjected to violence and intimidation and in 1984 one driver, Andrew Doyle, and five members of his family were killed in an arson attack. Two men were wrongfully convicted for the crime and were only released in 2004 after spending 20 years behind bars.

J… is for Jock Elliot

Jock Elliot was a border reiver whose family rivalled the Armstrongs in criminal activity. In 1566, the Earl of Bothwell – the future husband of Mary, Queen of Scots – mounted a major sweep against local reivers from his base, the grim border castle of Hermitage. Bothwell finally caught up with Elliot and, pulling out his pistol, shot him from the saddle. But when he leaned over to inspect what he thought was Elliot’s lifeless body, the wounded reiver jumped up, set about Bothwell with his sword and made good his escape. Bothwell’s men took their bleeding leader back to Hermitage, only to find that the reivers they had already rounded up had taken over the place. They were forced to promise to allow the reivers to leave before Bothwell was allowed back into his own castle.

K… is for Kray twins

Probably the best-known gangsters in British history, twins Ronald and Reginald Kray headed an underworld empire that ruled the East End of London by fear in the 1950s and 1960s. The Krays courted celebrity, regularly entertaining actors, pop stars and sportsmen in Esmeralda’s Barn, their Knightsbridge gambling club. But there was darkness behind the glamour. The Krays’ fortune was based on a protection racket imposed by threats and defended by acts of violence.

In 1966, Ronnie shot George Cornell, a member of the rival Richardson gang, in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel for calling him a ‘fat poof’. The following year they lured an unmanageable associate – Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie – to a Stoke Newington basement flat where Reggie stabbed him to death. Scotland Yard had been on the trail of the twins for years and now they struck. The Krays were arrested and in March 1969, sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that they serve at least 30 years in prison.

John Bennett delves into the dark history of disorder and lawlessness in London’s East End – from Jack the Ripper to the Kray twins

L… is for Liverpool

The citizens of 1880s Liverpool lived in fear of gangs of organised robbers – real or imagined. One such group was The Cornermen, whose members would supposedly wait on a street corner for a victim to pass by before they pounced. Even more feared was the High Rip Gang. If the papers are to believed, they were an organised and ruthless gang that announced their existence by murdering a Spanish sailor in 1884. They then went on to prey on sailors, dockers and shopkeepers. Such was the public obsession with the High Rip Gang that virtually every violent crime was attributed to them and their criminal exploits were luridly emblazoned across the front pages of the local newspapers.

M… is for Mohocks

Deriving their name from the Mohawk people – an Iroquoian-speaking North American Indian tribe – the Mohocks were allegedly a gang of aristocratic ruffians who terrorised the streets of early 18th-century London, attacking and disfiguring men and sexually assaulting women.

Lurid accounts of the Mohocks’ outrageous exploits began to appear in broadsides and pamphlets, and poet and dramatist John Gayeven wrote a play about them. Others, like essayist Jonathan Swift, questioned whether such a gang even existed at all – he argued that the panic surrounding them was a form of mass hysteria. To many historians, it seems likely that if such attacks ever did take place, they were few and certainly not the work of an organised gang.

N… is for Narcotics

Although more and more gangs are getting involved in activities such as gun smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering, a great deal of organised crime in the UK is bound up in the control and supply of drugs. A hundred years ago this would have been unthinkable, as most drugs weren’t illegal and were readily available, but a series of laws have pushed the supply of recreational drugs off the counter and into the hands of racketeers.

One of the first such laws came in 1916, when concern over drugs taken by off-duty soldiers led to an amendment to the Defence of the Realm Act. The drug was cocaine, and the law restricted its sale and possession to “authorised persons”

O… is for Outlaws

Mention the word ‘outlaw’ and there’s a good chance people will think of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. But did Robin Hood ever exist? The first known mention of such a figure comes in 1225 when a fugitive called Robert Hod is reported to have failed to appear before the York assizes. Evidence suggests that by the second half of the 13th century Robin Hood (or variants of that name) was being used as a nickname, applied to other criminals, and the man of the legend was actually based on a number of people, all merged together under a single name.

P… is for Peaky Blinders

Thanks to the BBC series, Birmingham’s Peaky Blinders are now a household name but while the TV series is set in the years after the First World War, by that time the Peaky Blinders had been supplanted by another Birmingham gang.

The real Peaky Blinders gang operated from the end of the 19th century until the start of World War I, fighting other Birmingham gangs for dominance over territories in the city. Their signature outfit included tailored jackets, silk scarves and, of course, peaked flat caps.

Andrew Davies discusses the Birmingham gangsters who inspired the BBC drama, and explains how late-Victorian society contributed to a rise in gang violence

Q… is for Quadrophenia

Based on the 1973 album by The Who, Franc Roddam’s 1979 film Quadrophenia tells the story of Jimmy, a sharply-dressed scooterriding Mod from the 1960s. The film focuses on the events of the summer of 1964 when, according to the media at least, gangs of Mods battled it out in Britain’s seaside towns with their mortal enemies, the leather-jacketed, motorbike-riding Rockers.

R… is for Richardsons

The South London gang, led in the 1960s by Eddie and Charlie Richardson, was at least as prolific as that of the Krays and certainly more violent. Operating from behind the cover of a scrap metal business they controlled a criminal empire involving protection racketeering and drug dealing. Anyone ‘taking a liberty’ with them risked a painful encounter with their enforcer, ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser.

The pair were arrested in 1966 following a murderous brawl in Catford, and at their subsequent trial accounts were given of the tortures Fraser had inflicted on those who had crossed his bosses. These included electric shocks and the painful use of pliers. Because Charlie Richardson’s custom was to give his bloodied victims a clean shirt to go home in, a beating from the Richardsons became known amongst the criminal fraternity as ‘taking a shirt from Charlie’.

S… is for Scuttlers

In the 1870s, people in Manchester watched in horror as ‘Scuttlers’ – neighbourhood gangs of young, working-class men – fought ferocious battles with each other using fists, knives and belts. Like many youth groups, the Scuttlers developed a distinctive appearance, wearing colourful neckerchiefs and long fringes. Scuttling was largely brought to an end by the establishment of lads’ clubs, which offered young boys who might become the next generation of Scuttlers an alternative form of competition – football.

T… is for Arthur Thompson

Arthur Thompson senior was one of Glasgow’s most feared gangsters. Though he was reputed to have made a vast fortune from protection rackets, he was never convicted of any serious offences and always referred to himself as a ‘Glasgow businessman’. Although he’s now often called ‘the Godfather’ of Scottish crime, any newspaper that did so during his lifetime could expect a very rapid communication from his lawyers. “ompson survived numerous murder attempts, including a car-bomb which killed his mother-in-law (his son was also gunned down outside the family home) and at least two shootings. He died in his bed from natural causes aged 61, in 1993.

U… is for Undercover

In a bid to gather the evidence needed to convict criminal gangs, members of the police force have often gone ‘undercover’. In 1977, the police seized the largest LSD haul in history largely thanks to the efforts of one of their officers, who spent two and a half years posing as a hippy in order to infiltrate the gang producing and distributing the drug. Efforts have also been made to infiltrate gangs of football hooligans – an extremely risky job requiring an in-depth knowledge of the football team in question. One such operation, codenamed ‘Red Card’, successfully infiltrated a gang of Birmingham City hooligans and led to a number of convictions in 1987.

V… is for Victorian

In Victorian times, the big cities of London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham were not the only places to be plagued by gangs of fighting youths. The completion of Cobden Bridge over the River Itchen at Southampton in 1883 almost immediately led to a series of pitched battles between the ‘townies’ of Kingsland, Northam and St Deny’s, and those from the new estates across the river.

W… is for Weapons

Did the Peaky Blinders really sew razor blades into their flat caps and use them to slash the foreheads of their enemies, causing blood to pour down into their eyes and blind them? Almost certainly not. Razor blades were still a novelty when the Blinders were plying their trade. One item of clothing that was regularly used as a weapon, however, by the Blinders and by many other gangs, were the thick leather belts they wore. Their buckles could be sharpened to produce a deadly flail.

X… is for Xenophobia

Hatred of foreigners has often led to mob violence. One early example is the Evil May Day Riots of 1517, when mobs of Londoners rampaged through the streets, looting and destroying all property they suspected to belong to foreigners. Hundreds of rioters were arrested, but only 13 were executed. The rest were pardoned, largely thanks to Henry VIII’s Spanish queen, Catherine of Aragon, who begged her husband to show mercy.

Y… is for York

York was the birthplace of a member of one of the most famous gangs of all – Guy Fawkes of the gunpowder plotters. An experienced soldier, his job was to light the fuse that would blow the Houses of Parliament sky-high in 1605. He was captured before he could do so and, under torture, revealed the names of his accomplices. Sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold and broke his neck before the full horrors of the execution could be inflicted.

Z… is for Zulus

Football hooligan gangs of the 1970s and 1980s frequently had names. Chelsea had the Headhunters, Millwall the Bushwackers, while Birmingham City’s had the Zulus. That’s because, whereas the gangs they came up against were predominantly white, theirs had members of various ethnic backgrounds.

Julian Humphrys is a historian and author specialising in battlefields. His books include Enemies at the Gate (English Heritage, 2007)

Anne Boleyn, Beefeaters, Guy Fawkes and the princes: a brief history of the Tower of London

One of the most iconic historic sites in the world, the Tower of London was not just the backdrop but the lead actor in some of the most momentous events in British history. Exploring its long and fascinating history reveals a cast of characters from the well-known (such as Anne Boleyn and the princes in the Tower) to the more unexpected (spies, jewel thieves and polar bears). Here, author and historian Tracy Borman investigates

This competition is now closed

Published: October 6, 2020 at 9:50 am

The Tower of London was founded by William the Conqueror after his famous victory at Hastings in 1066. Using part of the huge defensive Roman wall, known as London Wall, William’s men began building a mighty fortress to subdue the inhabitants of London. A wooden castle was erected at first, but in around 1075–79 work began on the gigantic keep, or ‘great tower’ (later called the White Tower), which formed the heart of what from the 12th century became known as the Tower of London.

Although it was built as a fortress and royal residence, it wasn’t long before the tower took on a number of other – more surprising – roles. In 1204, for example, King John established a royal menagerie there. Upon losing Normandy that year he had been given the bizarre consolation prize of three crate-loads of wild beasts. Having nowhere else suitable to keep them, he settled for the tower.

John’s son, Henry III, embraced this aspect of the tower’s role with enthusiasm, and it was during his reign that the royal menagerie was fully established. Most exotic of all Henry III’s animals was the ‘pale bear’ (probably a polar bear) – a gift from the King of Norway in 1252. Three years later, the bear was joined by a beast so strange that even the renowned chronicler Matthew Paris was at a loss for words. He could only say that it “eats and drinks with a trunk”. England had welcomed the first elephant in England since the invasion of Claudius.

It was also during the 13th century that the tower embraced another function that might not be expected of a fortress. Determined to keep the production of coins under closer control, Edward I moved the mint here in 1279. His choice was inspired by the need for security: after all, the mint’s workers literally held the wealth of the kingdom in their hands. So successful was the operation that it would remain at the tower until the late 18th century.

At around the same time that the mint was established, the tower also became home to the records of government. For centuries the monarch had kept these documents with them wherever they travelled, but the growing volume forced them to be stored in a permanent – and very secure – space. During Edward I’s reign, the tower became a major repository of these records. Purpose-built storage for the records was never provided there, however, so they competed for space with weapons, gunpowder, prisoners and even royalty. As with the mint, they would remain there for many centuries to come.

Rebel invaders

It was said that he who held London held the kingdom, and the tower was the key to the capital. It is for that reason that it was always the target for rebels and invaders.

One of the most notorious occasions was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which was prompted by the introduction of a new ‘poll’ tax by Richard II’s government. Under the leadership of the charismatic Walter (or Wat) Tyler, in June 1381 20,000 rebels marched on the capital and headed straight for the Tower of London. The king agreed to meet them, but as soon as the gates were opened to let him out, 400 rebels rushed in.

Ransacking their way to the innermost parts of the fortress, they reached the second floor of the White Tower and burst into St John’s Chapel, where they found the despised Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, leading prayers. Without hesitation they dragged him and his companions to Tower Hill and butchered them. It took eight blows of the amateur executioner’s axe to sever the archbishop’s head, which was then set upon a pole on London Bridge.

Meanwhile, inside the tower, the mob had ransacked the king’s bedchamber and molested his mother and her ladies. The contemporary chronicler Jean Froissart described how the rebels “arrogantly lay and sat and joked on the king’s bed, whilst several asked the king’s mother… to kiss them”. Steeled into more decisive action, her son rode out to meet the rebels again and faced down their leader, Wat Tyler, who was slain by the king’s men. Without his charismatic presence, the rebels lost the will to fight on and returned meekly to their homes.

The princes in the Tower

Despite such dramatic events as this, it is the Tower of London’s history as a prison that has always held the most fascination. Between 1100 and 1952 some 8,000 people were incarcerated within its walls for crimes ranging from treason and conspiracy to murder, debt and sorcery.

One of the most notorious episodes involved the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Upon the death of Edward IV in 1483, his son and heir Edward was just 12 years old so he appointed his brother Richard (the future Richard III) as Lord Protector. Richard wasted no time in placing the boy and his younger brother Richard in the tower, ostensibly for their protection. What happened next has been the subject of intense debate ever since.

It is now widely accepted that some time during the autumn of that year the two princes were quietly murdered. At whose hands, it will probably never be known. The prime suspect has long been Richard III, who had invalidated his nephews’ claim to the throne and had himself crowned king in July 1483. But there were others with a vested interest in getting the princes out of the way.

The two princes had apparently disappeared without trace, but in 1674 a remarkable discovery was made at the tower. The then king, Charles II, ordered the demolition of what remained of the royal palace to the south of the White Tower, including a turret that had once contained a privy staircase leading into St John’s Chapel. Beneath the foundations of the staircase the workmen were astonished to find a wooden chest containing two skeletons. They were clearly the bones of children and their height coincided with the age of the two princes when they disappeared.

Charles II eventually arranged for their reburial in Westminster Abbey. They lie there still, with a brief interruption in 1933 when a re-examination provided compelling evidence that they were the two princes. The controversy surrounding their death was reignited by the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in Leicester in 2012 and shows no sign of abating.

Angry Tudors

The Tudor period witnessed more victims of royal wrath than any other. This was the era in which a staggering number of high profile statesmen, churchmen and even queens went to the block. The fortress came to epitomise the brutality of the Tudor regime, and of its most famous king, Henry VIII.

The most famous of the tower’s prisoners during the Tudor era was Henry VIII’s notorious second queen, Anne Boleyn. High-handed and “unqueenly”, Anne soon made dangerous enemies at court. Among them was the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, who was almost certainly responsible for her downfall. He drew inspiration from the queen’s flirtatious manner with her coterie of male favourites and convinced the king that she was conducting adulterous affairs with five of them – her own brother included.

Cromwell had them all rounded up and the queen herself was arrested on 2 May 1536. She was taken by barge to the tower, stoutly protesting her innocence all the way, and incarcerated in the same apartments that had been refurbished for her coronation in 1533.

Anne watched as her five alleged lovers were led to their deaths on Tower Hill on 17 May. Two days later she was taken from her apartments to the scaffold. After a dignified speech she knelt in the straw and closed her eyes to pray. With a clean strike, the executioner severed her head from her body. The crowd looked on aghast as the fallen queen’s eyes and lips continued to move, as if in silent prayer, when the head was held aloft.

Anne’s nemesis, Thomas Cromwell, had been among the onlookers at this macabre spectacle. His triumph would be short-lived. Four years later he was arrested on charges of treason by the captain of the royal guard and conveyed by barge to the tower. He may have been housed in the same lodgings that Anne had been kept in before her execution.

The Gunpowder Plot

The death of Elizabeth I in 1603 signalled the end of the Tudor dynasty, but the Tower of London retained its reputation as a place of imprisonment and terror. When it became clear that the new king, James I, had no intention of following Elizabeth’s policy of religious toleration, a group of conspirators led by Robert Catesby hatched a plan to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of parliament on 5 November 1605. It was only thanks to an anonymous letter to the authorities that the king and his Protestant regime were not wiped out. The House of Lords was searched at around midnight on 4 November, just hours before the plot was due to be executed, and Guy Fawkes was discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder – more than enough to reduce the entire building to rubble.

Listen: Hannah Greig and John Cooper explore the story of the 1605 attempt to blow up the king and parliament, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:

Fawkes was taken straight to the tower, along with his fellow plotters. They were interrogated in the Queen’s House, close to the execution site. Fawkes eventually confessed, after suffering the agony of the rack – a torture device consisting of a frame suspended above the ground with a roller at both ends. The victim’s ankles and wrists were fastened at either end and when the axles were turned slowly the victim’s joints would be dislocated. The shaky signature on Fawkes’ confession suggests that he was barely able to hold a pen.

Fawkes and his fellow conspirators met a grisly traitor’s death at Westminster in January 1606. It is said that the gunpowder with which they had planned to obliterate James’s regime was taken to the tower for safekeeping.

The Tower of London was again at the centre of the action during the disastrous reign of James’s son, Charles I, when the country descended into civil war. After Charles’s execution, Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of the crown jewels – the most potent symbols of royal power – almost all of which were melted down in the Tower Mint. But upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II commissioned a dazzling suite of new jewels that have been used by the royal family ever since. They are now the most popular attraction within the tower.

Although the Tower of London subsequently fell out of use as a royal residence, it remained key to the nation’s defence. The Duke of Wellington, who was constable of the tower during the mid-19th century, stripped away many of its non-military functions, notably the menagerie, and built impressive new accommodation for its garrison, which became known as the Waterloo Block. This is now home to the crown jewels.

By the dawn of the 20th century it seemed that the Tower of London’s role as a fortress and prison was a thing of the past. But the advent of the two world wars changed all of that. One of the most notorious prisoners was Hitler’s right-hand man, Rudolf Hess, who was brought to London in May 1941 after landing unexpectedly in Scotland, possibly on a peace mission. He was kept in the Queen’s House at the tower and spent a comfortable four days there before being transferred to a series of safe houses.

The last known prisoners of the tower were the notorious Kray twins, who were kept there in 1952 for absenting themselves from national service.

The Tower of London today

The tower remains very much a living fortress, adapting chameleon-like to its changed circumstances while preserving centuries of tradition. It is still home to the world-famous Yeoman Warders, or ‘Beefeaters’, as well as to the ravens – at least half a dozen of which must stay within the bounds of the fortress or, legend has it, the monarchy will fall.

In 2014, to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, the tower’s moat was filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each one representing a British or colonial military fatality during the conflict. ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ rapidly became one of the most iconic landmarks in London, visited by millions of people from across the globe.

Although no longer subject to bombardment from invaders, the tower is nevertheless prey to the steady encroachment of the city’s new high-rise buildings. Yet still it stands, a bastion of the past that is instantly recognisable across the world.

Tracy Borman is joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that looks after the Tower of London (among other sites), and is author of The Story of the Tower of London (Merrell, 2015).

This article was first published by HistoryExtra in March 2016


English Reformation Edit

The Act of Supremacy issued by King Henry VIII in 1534 declared the king to be "the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England" in place of the pope. Any act of allegiance to the latter was considered treasonous because the papacy claimed both spiritual and political power over its followers. It was under this act that Thomas More and John Fisher were executed and became martyrs to the Catholic faith.

The Act of Supremacy (which asserted England's independence from papal authority) was repealed in 1554 by Henry's devoutly Catholic daughter Queen Mary I when she reinstituted Catholicism as England's state religion. She executed many Protestants by burning. Her actions were reversed by a new Act of Supremacy passed in 1559 under her successor, Elizabeth I, along with an Act of Uniformity which made worship in Church of England compulsory. Anyone who took office in the English church or government was required to take the Oath of Supremacy penalties for violating it included hanging and quartering. Attendance at Anglican services became obligatory—those who refused to attend Anglican services, whether Roman Catholics or Protestants (Puritans), were fined and physically punished as recusants.

Elizabethan regime Edit

In the time of Elizabeth I, the persecution of the adherents of the reformed religion, both Anglicans and Protestants alike, which had occurred during the reign of her elder half-sister Queen Mary I was used to fuel strong anti-Catholic propaganda in the hugely influential Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Those who had died in Mary's reign, under the Marian Persecutions, were effectively canonised by this work of hagiography. In 1571, the Convocation of the Church of England ordered that copies of the Book of Martyrs should be kept for public inspection in all cathedrals and in the houses of church dignitaries. The book was also displayed in many Anglican parish churches alongside the Holy Bible. The passionate intensity of its style and its vivid and picturesque dialogues made the book very popular among Puritan and Low Church families, Anglican and Protestant nonconformist, down to the nineteenth century. In a period of extreme partisanship on all sides of the religious debate, the partisan church history of the earlier portion of the book, with its grotesque stories of popes and monks, contributed to anti-Catholic prejudices in England, as did the story of the sufferings of several hundred reformers (both Anglican and Protestant) who had been burned at the stake under Mary and Bishop Bonner.

English anti-Catholicism was grounded in the fear that the Pope sought to reimpose not just religio-spiritual authority but also secular power over England, a view which was vindicated by hostile actions of the Vatican. In 1570, Pope Pius V sought to depose Elizabeth with the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, declaring her a heretic and dissolving Catholics' duty of allegiance to her. This engendered a state of war between the Pope and England, escalating to extended hostilities and culminating in a failed 1588 invasion by Spanish forces.

Elizabeth's resultant persecution of Catholic Jesuit missionaries led to many executions at Tyburn. Priests like Edmund Campion who suffered there as traitors to England are considered martyrs by the Catholic Church, and a number of them were canonized as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. In the 20th century, a "Shrine of the Martyrs at Tyburn" was established at the Catholic Tyburn Convent in London. [1]

Later several accusations fueled strong anti-Catholicism in England including the Gunpowder Plot, in which Guy Fawkes and other Catholic conspirators were found guilty of planning to blow up the English Parliament on the day the King was to open it. The Great Fire of London in 1666 was blamed on the Catholics and an inscription ascribing it to 'Popish frenzy' was engraved on the Monument to the Great Fire of London, which marked the location where the fire started (this inscription was only removed in 1831). The 'Popish Plot' involving Titus Oates further exacerbated Anglican-Catholic relations.

The beliefs that underlie the sort of strong anti-Catholicism once seen in the United Kingdom were summarized by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England:

As to papists, what has been said of the Protestant dissenters would hold equally strong for a general toleration of them provided their separation was founded only upon difference of opinion in religion, and their principles did not also extend to a subversion of the civil government. If once they could be brought to renounce the supremacy of the pope, they might quietly enjoy their seven sacraments, their purgatory, and auricular confession their worship of relics and images nay even their transubstantiation. But while they acknowledge a foreign power, superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they cannot complain if the laws of that kingdom will not treat them upon the footing of good subjects.. — Bl. Comm. IV, c.4 ss. iii.2, p. *54

The gravamen of this charge, then, is that Catholics constitute an imperium in imperio, a sort of fifth column of persons who owe a greater allegiance to the Pope than they do to the civil government, a charge very similar to that repeatedly leveled against Jews. Accordingly, a large body of British laws such as the Popery Act 1698, collectively known as the Penal Laws, imposed various civil disabilities and legal penalties on recusant Catholics.

A change of attitude was eventually signalled by the Papists Act 1778 in the reign of King George III. Under this Act, an oath was imposed, which besides being a declaration of loyalty to the reigning sovereign, contained an abjuration of Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender to the British throne, and of certain doctrines attributed to Roman Catholics (doctrines such as those stating that excommunicated princes may lawfully be murdered, that no faith should be kept with heretics, and that the Pope has temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction in the realm). Those taking this oath were exempted from some of the provisions of the Popery Act. The section as to taking and prosecuting priests were repealed, as also the penalty of perpetual imprisonment for keeping a school. Catholics were also enabled to inherit and purchase land, nor was a Protestant heir any longer empowered to enter and enjoy the estate of his Catholic kinsman. However, the passing of this act was the occasion of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots (1780) in which the violence of the mob was especially directed against Lord Mansfield who had balked at various prosecutions under the statutes now repealed. [2] The anti-clerical excesses of the French Revolution and the consequent emigration to England of Catholic priests from France led to a softening of opinion towards Catholics on the part of the English Anglican establishment, resulting in the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 which allowed Catholics to enter the legal profession, relieved them from taking the Oath of Supremacy, and granted toleration for their schools and places of worship [3] The repeal of the Penal Laws culminated in the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

Despite the Emancipation Act, however, anti-Catholic attitudes persisted throughout the 19th century, particularly following the sudden massive Irish Catholic migration to England during the Great Famine. [4]

The forces of anti-Catholicism were defeated by the unexpected mass mobilization of Catholic activists in Ireland, led by Daniel O'Connell. The Catholics had long been passive but now there was a clear threat of insurrection that troubled Prime Minister Wellington and his aide Robert Peel. The passage of Catholic emancipation in 1829, which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament, opened the way for a large Irish Catholic contingent. Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885), a prominent philanthropist, was a pre-millennial evangelical Anglican who believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, and became a leader in anti-Catholicism. He strongly opposed the Oxford movement in the Church of England, fearful of its high church Catholics features. In 1845, he denounced the Maynooth Grant which funded the Catholic seminary in Ireland that would train many priests. [5]

The re-establishment of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy in England in 1850 by Pope Pius IX, was followed by a frenzy of anti-Catholic feeling, often stoked by newspapers. Examples include an effigy of Cardinal Wiseman, the new head of the restored hierarchy, being paraded through the streets and burned on Bethnal Green, and graffiti proclaiming 'No popery!' being chalked on walls. [6] Charles Kingsley wrote a vigorously anti-Catholic book Hypatia (1853). [7] The novel was mainly aimed at the embattled Catholic minority in England, who had recently emerged from a half-illegal status.

New Catholic episcopates, which ran parallel to the established Anglican episcopates, and a Catholic conversion drive awakened fears of 'papal aggression' and relations between the Catholic Church and the establishment remained frosty. [8] At the end of the nineteenth century one contemporary wrote that "the prevailing opinion of the religious people I knew and loved was that Roman Catholic worship is idolatry, and that it was better to be an Atheist than a Papist". [9]

The Liberal party leader William Ewart Gladstone had a complex ambivalence about Catholicism. He was attracted by its international success in majestic traditions. More important, he was strongly opposed to the authoritarianism of its pope and bishops, its profound public opposition to liberalism, and its refusal to distinguish between secular allegiance on the one hand and spiritual obedience on the other. The danger came when the pope or bishops attempted to exert temporal power, as in the Vatican decrees of 1870 as the climax of the papal attempt to control churches in different nations, despite their independent nationalism. [10] His polemical pamphlet against the infallibility declaration of the Catholic Church sold 150,000 copies in 1874. He urged Catholics to obey the crown and disobey the pope when there was disagreement. [11] on the other hand, when religion ritualistic practices in the Church of England came under attack as too ritualistic and too much akin to Catholicism, Gladstone strongly opposed passage of the Public Worship Regulation Bill in 1874. [12]

Benjamin Disraeli, the long-time Conservative leader, wrote many novels. One of the last was Lothair (1870)--it was "Disraeli's ideological Pilgrim's Progress". [13] It tells a story of political life with particular regard to the roles of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. It reflected anti-Catholicism of the sort that was popular in Britain, and which fueled support for Italian unification ("Risorgimento"). [14]

Since World War II anti-Catholic feeling in England has much abated. Ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics culminated in the first meeting of an Archbishop of Canterbury with a Pope since the Reformation when Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher visited Rome in 1960. [15] Since then, dialogue has continued through envoys and standing conferences.

Residual anti-Catholicism in England is represented by the burning of an effigy of the Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes at local celebrations on Guy Fawkes Night every 5 November. [16] This celebration has, however, largely lost any sectarian connotation and the allied tradition of burning an effigy of the Pope on this day has been discontinued – except in the town of Lewes, Sussex. [17] The "Calvinistic Methodists" represented a militant core of anti-Catholics. [18]

As a result of the 1701 Act of Settlement, any member of the British royal family who joins the Catholic Church must renounce the throne. [19] The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 allows members to marry a Roman Catholic without incurring this ban.

Ireland's Catholic majority was subjected to persecution from the time of the English Reformation under Henry VIII. This persecution intensified when the Gaelic clan system was completely destroyed by the governments of Elizabeth I and her successor, James I. Land was appropriated either by the conversion of native Anglo-Irish aristocrats or by forcible seizure. Many Catholics were dispossessed and their lands given to Anglican and Protestant settlers from Britain. However, the first plantation in Ireland was a Catholic plantation under Queen Mary I for more see Plantations of Ireland.

In order to cement the power of the Anglican Ascendancy, political and land-owning rights were denied to Ireland's Catholics by law, following the Glorious Revolution in England and consequent turbulence in Ireland. The Penal Laws, established first in the 1690s, assured Church of Ireland control of political, economic and religious life. The Mass, ordination, and the presence in Ireland of Catholic Bishops were all banned, although some did carry on secretly. Catholic schools were also banned, as were all voting franchises. Violent persecution also resulted, leading to the torture and execution of many Catholics, both clergy and laity. Since then, many have been canonised and beatified by the Vatican, such as Saint Oliver Plunkett, Blessed Dermot O'Hurley, and Blessed Margaret Ball.

Although some of the Penal Laws restricting Catholic access to landed property were repealed between 1778 and 1782, this did not end anti-Catholic agitation and violence. Catholic competition with Protestants in County Armagh for leases intensified, driving up prices and provoking resentment of Anglicans and Protestants alike. Then in 1793, the Roman Catholic Relief Act enfranchised forty shilling freeholders in the counties, thus increasing the political value of Catholic tenants to landlords. In addition, Catholics began to enter the linen weaving trade, thus depressing Protestant wage rates. From the 1780s the Protestant Peep O'Day Boys grouping began attacking Catholic homes and smashing their looms. In addition, the Peep O'Day Boys disarmed Catholics of any weapons they were holding. [20] A Catholic group called the Defenders was formed in response to these attacks. This climaxed in the Battle of the Diamond on 21 September 1795 outside the small village of Loughgall between Peep O' Day boys and the Defenders. [21] Roughly 30 Catholic Defenders but none of the better armed Peep O'Day Boys were killed in the fight. Hundreds of Catholic homes and at least one Church were burnt out in the aftermath of the skirmish. [22] After the battle Daniel Winter, James Wilson, and James Sloan changed the name of the Peep O' Day Boys to the Orange Order devoted to maintaining the Protestant ascendency.

Although more of the Penal Laws were repealed, and Catholic Emancipation in 1829 ensured political representation at Westminster, significant anti-Catholic hostility remained especially in Belfast where the Catholic population was in the minority. In the same year, the Presbyterians reaffirmed at the Synod of Ulster that the Pope was the anti-Christ, and joined the Orange Order in large numbers when the latter organisation opened its doors to all non-Catholics in 1834. As the Orange order grew, violence against Catholics became a regular feature of Belfast life. [23] Towards the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century when Irish Home Rule became imminent, Protestant fears and opposition towards it were articulated under the slogan "Home Rule means Rome Rule".

Scotland Edit

In the 16th century, the Scottish Reformation resulted in Scotland's conversion to Presbyterianism through the Church of Scotland. The revolution resulted in a powerful hatred of the Roman Church. High Anglicanism also came under intense persecution after Charles I attempted to reform the Church of Scotland. The attempted reforms caused chaos, however, because they were seen as being overly Catholic in form, being based heavily on sacraments and ritual.

Over the course of later medieval and early modern history violence against Catholics has broken out, often resulting in deaths, such as the torture and execution of Jesuit Saint John Ogilvie.

In the last 150 years, Irish migration to Scotland increased dramatically. As time has gone on Scotland has become much more open to other religions and Catholics have seen the nationalisation of their schools and the restoration of the Church hierarchy. Even in the area of politics, there are changes. The Orange Order has grown in numbers in recent times. This growth is, however, attributed by some to the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic football clubs as opposed to actual hatred of Catholics. [24]

Historian Tom Devine, who grew up in a family with Irish Catholic roots in the west of Scotland, described his youth as follows: [25]

Among my own family in a Lanarkshire town in the 1950s it was accepted that discriminatory employment practices against Catholics were endemic in the local steel industry, the police, banking and even some high-street shops. And until the 1960s in some of the Clyde shipyards, the power of the foremen with Orange and Masonic loyalties to hire and fire often made it difficult for Catholics to start apprenticeships.

However, although Devine accepts that anti-Catholic attitudes do exist in some areas of Scotland, especially in West Central Scotland, he has argued that discrimination against Catholics in Scotland's economic, social and political life is no longer systematic in the way it once was. Devine cited survey and research data collected in the 1990s which indicated that there was little difference in the social class of Catholics and non-Catholics in contemporary Scotland, and highlighted increased Catholic representation in politics and the professions, describing the change as a "silent revolution". Devine has suggested that a number of factors are responsible for this change: radical structural changes in the Scottish economy, with the decline of manufacturing industries where sectarian prejudices were ingrained the increase of foreign investment in high-tech industry in Silicon Glen and the post-war expansion of the public sector the construction of the welfare state and growth of educational opportunities, which provided avenues for social mobility and increased interfaith marriages with Catholics. [25]

Although there is a popular perception in Scotland that anti-Catholicism is football related (specifically directed against fans of Celtic F.C.), statistics released in 2004 by the Scottish Executive showed that 85% of sectarian attacks were not football related. [26] Sixty-three percent of the victims of sectarian attacks are Catholics, but when adjusted for population size this makes Catholics between five and eight times more likely to be a victim of a sectarian attack than a Protestant. [26] [27]

Due to the fact that many Catholics in Scotland today have Irish ancestry, there is considerable overlap between anti-Irish attitudes and anti-Catholicism. [26] For example, the word "Fenian" is regarded by authorities as a sectarian-related word in reference to Catholics. [27]

In 2003, the Scottish Parliament passed the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 which included provisions to make an assault motivated by the perceived religion of the victim an aggravating factor. [28]

Northern Ireland Edit

The state of Northern Ireland came into existence in 1921, following the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Though Catholics were a majority on the island of Ireland, comprising 73.8% of the population in 1911, they were a third of the population in Northern Ireland.

In 1934, Sir James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, said, "Since we took up office we have tried to be absolutely fair towards all the citizens of Northern Ireland. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State."

In 1957, Harry Midgley, the Minister of Education in Northern Ireland, said, in Portadown Orange Hall, "All the minority are traitors and have always been traitors to the Government of Northern Ireland."

The first Catholic to be appointed a minister in the Northern Ireland was Dr Gerard Newe, in 1971.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland were characterised by bitter sectarian antagonism and bloodshed between Irish Republicans, a majority of whom are Catholic, and Loyalists the overwhelming majority of whom are Protestant. A Catholic church in Harryville, Ballymena was the site of a series of long-lasting protests by Loyalists in the late 1990s. Church services were often cancelled due to the level of intimidation and violence experienced by those attending. Some Catholics were injured when trying to attend mass and their cars parked nearby were also vandalised. [29]

Some of the most savage attacks were perpetrated by a Protestant gang dubbed the Shankill Butchers, led by Lenny Murphy who was described as a psychopath and a sadist. [30] The gang gained notoriety by torturing and murdering an estimated thirty Catholics between 1972 and 1982. Most of their victims had no connection to the Provisional Irish Republican Army or any other republican groups but were killed for no other reason than their religious affiliation. [31] Murphy's killing spree is the theme of the British film Resurrection Man (1998).

Since the ceasefire, sectarian killings have largely ceased, though occasional sectarian murders are still reported and bad feelings between Catholics and Protestants linger. [32] [33]

4. Six Million People visited 13,000 exhibits

Lasting six months, the average daily attendance at the exhibition was 42,831, with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October.

One third of the entire population of Britain visited the Great Exhibition.

Whilst the western half of the building was occupied with exhibits by Great Britain and her colonies and dependencies, the eastern half was filled with foreign exhibits, with their names inscribed on banners suspended over the various divisions.

The Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851. The Foreign Nave by Joseph Nash. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London The United States exhibit – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London The Canadian exhibit – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London Guernsey, Jersey, Malta, Ceylon – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London The China exhibit – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London Holland section. Visitors are examining stalls showing goods of Dutch deisgn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London The Turkey exhibit – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Italian Court – Dickinson’s comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London ‘Part of the French Court, No. 1 (Sèvres)’, with a display of porcelain by the Sèvres factory visible in the background. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Frequently bought together


Review from Dangerous Talk: "Readers will come away well informed about just how colourful the language of the English people, at their boldest and most deliberately subversive, has been over the centuries." ―Anthony Fletcher, Times Literary Supplement 04/02/11

"A splendid catalogue of outspokenness . this engaging book opens a window into the social history of pre-modern politics." ―John Spurr, BBC History March 2010

"[Cressy's] meticulous research into unruly tongues touches upon village scandal, bawdy gossip and rumours, with colourful cases ranging from cursing in a Cheshire village to a row between Cambridge academics." ―Jenny Uglow, Financial Times 18/01/10

"Scholarly in nature and light in tone, Dangerous Talk is an intriguing glimpse into the private thoughts and public punishment of neighbors in pre-modern England." ―Lauren Puzier, Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

"An important and convincing story, and David Cressy makes many useful reflections along the way upon the nature of early modern popular culture. In all respects this is another solid achievement from a reliably good historian." ―Ronald Hutton, History

About the Author

David Cressy is George III Professor of British History and Humanities Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University. A social and cultural historian of early modern England, concerned with the intersections of elite and popular culture, central and local government, and official and unofficial
religion, he has also written on literacy, kinship, calendar customs, book-burning, and the man in the moon.

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Guggenheim Fellow, and recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, David Cressy is a frequent visitor to England, where he has held visiting fellowships at Churchill College, Cambridge, and at Magdalen, St. Catherine's and All Souls
Colleges, Oxford.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Great Western Railway

Britain now lavishes the same care on its industrial heritage as it once reserved for its castles and cathedrals. Honour, too, is now paid to its creators. Telford, a 'new town' in Shropshire, records the name of the founding father of modern civil engineering. But Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) is honored, not by the name of a town but of a university, a unique distinction in Britain. Fittingly, Brunel University is renowned for its technological departments. Also fittingly it is located on the western edge of London, for one of Brunel's most significant achievements was to link the Capital with the West.

Historians disagree about when we should date the first 'true' railway but most accept it to be the Liverpool and Manchester, which opened in 1830, linking one of Britain's biggest ports with the nation's largest textile manufacturing centre. The Surrey Iron Railway (1803) and the Stockton and Darlington (1825) might vie for this title, but the Liverpool and Manchester was the first to carry passengers and freight solely by the of steam power. The practical and financial success of this venture plunged the country into a railway mania that by 1850 had established a national network covering more than 6,000 miles and joining together all the major cities and ports.

Britain was unified as never before. The tyranny of distance had been smashed. A cheap national system of postage, national daily papers and the general adoption of Greenwich Mean Time (essential for the co-ordination of timetables) were unlooked-for benefits of this revolutionary new form of transport. National unification may have been the outcome of the establishment of Britain's railway system. But profit rather than unity was the aim of the railway promoters and there was precious little system about their methods. If it was an age of bold engineers and even bolder capitalists it was also an age of bogus 'experts' and unscrupulous speculators. Fortunes were lost as well as made as bands of railway promoters jostled one another parliamentary committees whose approval was essential for the construction of any new line.

Liverpool was one of England's great Atlantic ports. Bristol was the other. And the merchants of Bristol feared permanent eclipse at the hands of their upstart rival unless they too could obtain the benefits of the new technology. But they looked not to a link with the nearby manufacturing centre (there was none nearby comparable to Manchester) but with London itself, which would mean building a railway some four times as long as the Liverpool and Manchester, a feat of construction on a scale never attempted since the age of the pyramids. They sought an engineer to oversee this stupendous task. They found him -- Isambard Kingdom Brunel, not yet 30 years old.

Brunel the engineer was the son of Brunel the engineer. Brunel senior, a royalist, had fled the French Revolution to become, briefly, official engineer to the city of New York, and then, having settled in London, a consultant engineer to the Royal Navy. Educated and trained in both French and English schools and workshops, Brunel junior served his practical apprenticeship assisting his father in the building of the first tunnel under the Thames. (It now carries the Underground between Wapping and Rotherhithe.) Twice the young engineer came within seconds of death when the workings collapsed and hundreds of tons of debris and water came crashing down on the construction gangs. The second collapse brought an end to all work on the tunnel for seven years. Convalescing, Isambard dreamed of the day when he would 'at last be rich, have a house built, of which I have even made the drawings. be the first engineer and an example for future ones.' What he feared most was what he thought most likely: 'a mediocre success -- an engineer sometimes employed, sometimes not--£200 or £300 a year and that uncertain.'

Years of frustration were to follow as Brunel busied himself with a bewildering variety of projects, from an experimental chemical engine to supersede steam power to the supervision of routine coastal drainage works. Public recognition came at last with dramatic success in the competition to design a bridge to span the mighty Avon River gorge at Bristol. Ironically, the bridge was not to be completed until after Brunel's death but the commission brought him into contact with the promoters of the projected Bristol to London railway and thus set him on the road to his first great work.

Appointed in March 1833, Brunel was required to complete a preliminary survey of the route by May. With characteristic ingenuity he designed what he called his 'Flying-Hearse,' a streamlined carriage with built-in drawing-board and extending seats which doubled as office and bedroom -- and also housed a monster case for 50 cigars. But even the demonic Brunel confessed to an assistant: 'It is harder work than I like. I am rarely much under twenty hours a day at it.'

Six months later final plans were completed and in March 1834 the bill needed to incorporate the company which would build the new railway was referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny and approval. Here the promoters would be required to do battle with all those vested interests who opposed the venture. Some were landowners who either objected to railways for the simple reason that they were new or because it was alleged that they would terrify their livestock others hoped to bid up the price of the land the railway would need. But the most vociferous opposition came from rival transport interests: coach companies, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and rival groups of railway promoters. The contest lasted for an epic 57 days and ended in defeat for Brunel and his backers.

Undeterred, the directors of the Great Western Railway submitted another bill in 1835 and entrusted the youthful surveyor with the task of presenting their case. His cross-examination went on for 11 days. An eye-witness later paid tribute to what can only be called the performance of a lifetime.

He was rapid in thought, clear in his language and never said too much or lost his presence of mind. I do not remember ever having enjoyed so great an intellectual treat as that of listening to Brunel's examination.

The inquiry lasted 40 days and ended, in August 1835, in final victory for the G.W.R. -- at the cost of £90,000 in legal fees and 'parliamentary expenses.' On 26th December 1835 Brunel sat alone in his London office, recording his reflections in the diary which two years of frantic work had obliged him to abandon:

When I wrote last in this book I was just emerging from obscurity. I had been toiling most unprofitably at numerous things. The Railway is now in progress. I am their Engineer to the finest work in England -- a handsome salary--£2,000 a year -- on excellent terms with my Directors and all going smoothly.

When Brunel began to work on the G.W.R. he was 30 years old, had no previous experience of railway construction, and no trained assistants to guide him or rely on. His achievement, therefore, was to be as much a managerial as a technical one. But technical challenges intrigued him and his solution to one of them was to have consequences that would endure for a generation after his death. He was determined to build not just a railway, but the railway. Once while traveling on the Liverpool and Manchester, he had written prophetically:

I record this specimen of the shaking of the Manchester railway. The time is not far off when we shall be able to take our coffee and write while going noiselessly and smoothly at 45 m.p.h. -- let me try.

The route surveyed by Brunel from London to Bristol is one of the flattest in England. There are few gradients and those mostly gradual ones. Determined to take the best advantage of this Brunel rejected the already-established gauge of 4 feet 8 ½ inches worked out pragmatically in the hilly north-east by George Stephenson, the 'father of Britain's railways.' Instead, he opted for a 'broad gauge' of 7 feet, which would accommodate larger, more powerful engines, traveling at unprecedented speeds but also with greater stability than ever before. Brunel was certain that the technical superiority of his system -- proved in numerous trials -- would eventually lead every other line to convert to it. He was wrong. The 'battle of the gauges' was to be temporarily resolved by laying a third rail inside the broad gauge tracks from lines running on the standard gauge. The G.W.R. only completed its full conversion to standard gauge in 1892.

The first completed section of the G.W.R., from London to Maidenhead on the Thames, opened on 4th June 1838. By March 1840 the route had been extended to Reading. The Bristol end involved major technical challenges, with Temple Meads Station being built 15 feet above ground level and requiring an arched wooden roof span of 72 feet, four feet wider than Westminster Hall, the largest medieval roof-span in England. Bath Station, similarly elevated, required a 73-arch viaduct approach. And between the two stations, it was necessary to build another viaduct, four bridges, and seven tunnels. Nevertheless, this section was opened on the last day of August 1840. All that remained was for the most difficult section of all, from Chippenham to Bath, which would involve more viaducts, a crossing of the River Avon, the diversion of the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the construction of the Box Tunnel, which Brunel's critics were to call 'monstrous and extraordinary, most dangerous and impracticable.'

At two miles long it was by far the longest tunnel ever attempted. Every week for two and a half years it accounted for a ton of candles and a ton of gunpowder. It also accounted for the lives of 100 men of the 4,000 who worked on it. In December 1840, four months after the tunnel should have been completed, Brunel took personal charge of the site. By June 1841 the entire route was completed. It had cost £6,500,000, more than double the original estimate but it was indeed 'the finest work in England.'

The ultimate accolade came just one year later when, for the first time ever, the young Queen Victoria graciously consented to travel by rail. Ensconced in a magnificent Royal Saloon, specially built at Swindon on the orders of the directors of the G.W.R., and with Brunel himself and Daniel Gooch, the 26-year-old Superintendent of the Locomotive Department, riding on the footplate, the Queen traveled the dozen miles or so from Slough, near Windsor, to Paddington in just 25 minutes. Railways had now, in a social sense, finally come of age.

But it was to be another decade before the London terminus to acquire a full-fledged station building worthy of its importance. Brunel wrote to the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt to invite his collaboration on the project. The letter reveals a curious mixture of impatience, decisiveness, and sensitivity so characteristic of the man:

I am going to design, in a great hurry, and I believe to built a station after my own fancy. such a thing will be entirely metal. it is a branch of architecture of which I am fond, and, of course, believe myself fully competent for but for detail of ornamentation I had neither time nor knowledge. I trust your knowledge of me would lead you to expect anything but a disagreeable mode of consulting you. If you are disposed to accept my offer, can you be with me this evening at 9 ½ pm? It is the only time this week I can appoint, and the matter presses very much.

After the Great Western Railway came the Great Western, a steamship intended to link Bristol and America as the railway had linked Bristol and London. The Great Western was followed by Great Britain, the first all-iron, screw-driven steamship, which can still be seen in its homeport of Bristol. Not that Brunel's interest in ships meant any lack of interest in other projects, which included a vastly expensive and ultimately abortive series of experiments to develop a railway run on compressed air, the construction of a bridge over the 1,100-foot-wide river Tamar and the design of a standardized prefabricated hospital for use in the Crimean War. His last and greatest project was the construction of the Great Eastern which, at 20,000 tons, was six times larger than any ship ever previously built. Brunel lived just long enough to see it launched. Daniel Gooch extolled his former master in a most fitting epitaph:

By his death the greatest of England's engineers was lost, the man with the greatest originality of thought and power of execution, bold in his plans but right. The commercial world thought him extravagant but although he was so, things are not done by those who sit down to count the cost of every thought and act.

Dutch invasion

The Anglican campaign against James II’s religious policies went no further than passive resistance. But a number of English peers including the earls of Danby and Halifax, and Henry Compton, Bishop of London, went further, making contact with the Dutch leader, William of Orange.

Two factors moved James II’s opponents to urge William to intervene militarily. Firstly, after years of trying, James’ Catholic second wife finally fell pregnant. The birth of a healthy male heir, James Edward Stuart, on 10 June 1688, dashed hopes that the crown would soon pass to James’s protestant daughter Mary.

Secondly, William’s co-conspirators believed that the parliament James planned to summon in the autumn would repeal the Test Acts.

William’s main reason for interfering in English affairs was pragmatic – to bring England into his war against France.

The grave danger posed to the Protestant succession and the Anglican establishment led seven peers to write to William on 30 June 1688, pledging their support to the prince if he brought a force into England against James.

William had already begun making military preparations for an invasion of England before this letter was sent. Indeed, the letter itself mainly served a propaganda purpose, to allow the prince of Orange to present his intervention as a mercy mission.

In fact, William’s main reason for interfering in English affairs was essentially pragmatic – he wished to bring England into his war against Louis XIV’s France and a free parliament was seen as more likely to support this.

The forces that the prince of Orange amassed for his invasion were vast, the flotilla consisting of 43 men-of-war, four light frigates and 10 fireships protecting over 400 flyboats capable of carrying 21,000 soldiers. All in all, it was an armada four times the size of that launched by the Spanish in 1588.

What was the price of gunpowder in Victorian England - History

[Part 1 of A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers , which the author has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web . Readers who wish to check out the original site can find it by clicking here.]

The title page to the Treatise . The drawing on it is full of Masonic symbolism.

George Price's 1,000 page book , Treatise On Fire And Thief-Proof Depositories And Locks And Keys was published in 1856 by E. and F.N. Spon. Charles Chubb had already written a Treatise on Locks , but George's was much more detailed. It was highly praised, although some bankers called it "The Burglars' Bible" because of the scores of detailed diagrams of locks. George Price argued in the book that progress would be speeded up if expertise were freely shared amongst competitors. But the locksmiths and safe manufacturers -- including himself -- were just as ruthless as any burglar, forever stealing, sometimes patenting, each others' ideas.

An illustration from the Treatise, showing a device for picking Bramah locks.

The Cleveland Works went from strength to strength, specialising in building strong rooms in the basements of the great banks being built up and down the country, as well as manufacturing a great variety of specialist safes with very fancy names:

  • the Super XB Commercial Safe,
  • the Merchant's Hold Fast Bent Steel
  • Commercial Coffer Safe,
  • the Everybody's Bent Steel Safe,
  • the Al Quality
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The war against Milner

After the publication of his Treatise , George Price set up fire resistance demonstrations again and went on to be involved in more spectacular challenges between safemakers to demonstrate that gunpowder could or could not be inserted into the keyholes of their safes. This son of a pious churchwarden had become quite a showman.

In his second treatise Price is careful to describe this as "Milner's Phoenix Escutcheon, engraved from the one on the safe blown up in Burnley".

But tragedy struck in 1860, in Burnley. After one of these gunpowder challenges, one of Milner's foremen packed the lock of an old out-of-date Price safe with gunpowder and trundled it back into the yard while the crowds was dispersing. He then lit the fuse, the safe shattered and a little boy was killed by one of the shards piercing his head.

At the inquest the Coroner expressed his view that things had got out of hand and the challenges were a public danger. Both George and Milner were full of remorse.

However, George soon invented another way of getting at Milner. He set up his agents all over the country to inform him every time a Milner safe was successfully burgled by one of the gangs of increasingly violent and skilful robbers who were roaming the country. On hearing of "successful" robberies, he planned to rush to the scene of the crime, if he could, to denigrate Milner's name and to advertise his own products as superior.

In 1860 George published his second treaties "A Treatise on Gunpowder-Proof Locks, Gunpowder-Proof Lock-Chambers, Drill Proof Safes, &c, &c, &c.."

The Masonic symbolism from the first treatise is missing but there is a quotation from Robert Blair: "Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it holds that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed to some one object, exclusive, in a manner, of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that, whatever it may be. The rays must converge to a point in order to glow intensely".

This claim to superiority of knowledge may be a suggestion that he knew more about this matter than anyone else - including Milner.

In January 1863 a gang using skeleton keys entered the warehouse of a woollen mill in Batley, Yorkshire. They tried breaking into the mill safe, which contained a large amount of gold. They partially succeeded but then lost patience with their implement, described as "the largest burglar machine ever constructed", and began bashing the safe with a crowbar.

They left their machine behind when the millowner disturbed them. It was so massive that seven men had been needed to carry it in pieces, to be attached to the safe at the scene of the burglary.

Delighted with this find, the Dewsbury Constabulary put the machine together and displayed it in the police station. As soon as his agent told him of this, George Price contacted a Dewsbury company, who had one of his safes, and arranged for it to be tested in public with this great implement. It survived the test without even a dent and George's order book swelled again.

A drawing, from the second treatise, showing "The burglars' drilling, boring and cutting machine".

He eventually published in 1866 a short, vindictive book entitled "Forty Burglaries of the years 1863-45", recording the regular cracking of Milner safes. But, he boasted, when burglars drilled a hole in the roof of a provision dealer in Kirkgate, Leeds, and saw a George Price safe, they left without bothering to touch it. He recorded with glee a spectacular jewellery robbery from a shop in Cornhill, London -- from a Milner safe, of course. The safe was advertised as "Holdfast" and "Thiefproof" and the shop owner, Mr. Walker, sued Milners, his case being that it was neither.

A baby, safe and sound, after a fire. Presumably a fanciful notion -- the baby would have suffocated and been steamed.

A well-known cracksman, who George refers to as "Convict Caseley", gave evidence that he could open a similar safe in half an hour. "He is a man of keen wit, coarse in quality and inexhaustible in quantity, that bubbled up like bad petroleum". He showed "the instinct of an actor for effect the craving of an orator for applause the delight of an artist in flattery." Caseley described himself as "one of the dangerous classes who society had found out and locked up". The cleverest men at the bar, says George, were those most struck with the cleverness of the uneducated Caseley. Indeed, it was a pity he could not be employed in Scotland Yard -- a thief set to catch thieves. But Mr. Walker lost his case, with the judge ruling that he should have employed a watchman to watch his shop. Presumably Convict Caseley's claim was not accepted, and the judge commented that it took twenty four hours for the thieves to break into the safe, proving it was "strong enough". The press took up the judge's comments to condemn companies who did not employ watchmen to watch the safes and called for an increase in the pay of policemen.

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