Old British News

Television Starts – Where Will It End? 1936

the-era-wednesday-04-november-1936-header-pdf2nd November 1936 – regular television broadcasting commenced from make-do BBC studios at Alexander Palace in North London.  The corporation had already tackled the question of whether to employ the mechanical system invented by John Logie Baird or the fast progressing EMI electronic system.

By 1936 it became clear that Baird’s system was greatly inferior to that of EMI.  However the BBC did test both systems with a trial.

So on the 2nd of November 1936 regular broadcasting of the BBC television service (the first in the world) started with an audience of about 300.

Media reception to this new-fangled form of entertainment was, to say the least, mixed and predictions of it’s future, cautious.

This report from The Era – Wednesday 4th November 1936 is typical.

Television Starts
Where will it end?
“Era” special

Television for domestic purposes is like a home movie with sound.  In a typical Baird receiver the images are thrown on to a mirror about the size of a woman’s handkerchief.

They are brilliant miniatures, especially when a film is being used, and there is a slight suggestion of eye strain at this stage.  The images behave unexpectedly, as did the early films, but are surprisingly free from atmospheric interference, though the coil ignition systems of the passing cars are liable to throw a few flashes on the mirror.

Lord Selsdon, who, in presence and manner, to say nothing of experience, seems to cut out to be a television star, made the important announcement at the opening ceremony last Monday, that people who bought receiving sets now could be assured that there would be no radical change in receiving sets for at least two years, and after the affective range of the Alexandra Palace station was 20 miles, with local variations that might reach much further.

The price of the Baird television set, manufactured by Bush radio, on which we saw the demonstration, was 85 guineas.

There is a population of 10,000,000 within the area covered by the Alexandra Palace station, equal to, say, 2,500,000 families.  If only one family in one hundred purchases a set of some kind, there is obviously a considerable immediate market for the new attraction.

It will be a tremendous boon to such aspects of broadcast entertainment as “Music Hall”, travel interludes, the news bulletins and “In Town To-night” – simple, direct things –but it is unlikely, at first to affect the course of radio drama.

Its power, as a rival attraction to other entertainments, depends largely on the amount of money spent on it, and it would appear that the BBC has already pawned it’s shirt to provide the not very elaborate entertainment now been broadcast from the Alexandra Palace.

We are unable to see that television increases the menace of radio as a rival to existing forms of entertainment, though it may do something to arrest the decline in the entertainment appeal of radio.

Television calls for much fixation of attention that an hour at a time is likely to be the limit of the average man’s endurance.

On the whole, it seems to us that the entertainment professions should congratulate themselves on the birth of an entertainment from which they will be able to extract substantial fees, leaving posterity to decide whether television is to be a comprehensive umbrella for all forms of entertainment.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Dangers of building the Princetown Railway – 1882

What became the amazing Princetown Railway over Dartmoor from Yelverton to Princetown was fraught with danger during it’s creation.

During it’s building phase there were news stories of danger caused by the weather or those constructing it.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 29 December 1882 reported an event of a ‘riot’ by some navvies which cost the nose of a Police-Constable:

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Friday 29 December 1882“TAVISTOCK. A Prisoner Rescued.—On Wednesday morning, while Sergt. Richards, of Tavistock, was conveying a prisoner from Princetown to Tavistock Police-station several navvies made an attack upon him, seizing the conveyance and overpowering the police-sergeant and driver with clubs, &c. The mob rescued the prisoner, who was got away. Forty navvies afterwards made their way to Horrabridge to intercept any police who might be sent for. All the police in the district were summoned, and twelve of the warders the Convict Establishment, by the permission of the Governor, volunteered their services. Firearms were served out to them and to a large force of police. The riot arose out of an assault on Police-constable Vanstone, made on the previous evening on his apprehending escaped prisoner. Vanstone had his nose almost bitten off, and Richards was severely cut about the head and face”.

The Princetown Railway was one of England’s most spectacular lines and was opened in August 1883. It sadly closed 73 years later in March 1956.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Princetown Prison – 1845

Western Times - Saturday 30 August 1845

Western Times – Saturday 30 August 1845

The horrors and cruelty that prisoners of war endured at the original Princetown Prison on Dartmoor are recalled in this brief item in the Western Times – Saturday 30 August 1845.

“Dartmoor – It is reported that the Prince-town Prison – those fearful dungeons which proved the grave of so many of our gallant enemies during the war, are to be sold. The building is of vast extent, and accommodated at once ten thousand prisoners of war, and the soldiers who guarded them.

Its strength is incalculable, and language cannot describe the gloomy desolation of the spot, where the poor captives, far from their own sunny land of wine and olives, were immured to die amid the horrors of a Dartmoor winter.

The place is worth seeing before it is closed to the public”.

Later items of value were auctioned in Plymouth – Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Saturday 30 May 1846:Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 30 May 1846

A Device for Recording Sound – 1888

One of the many thrills of living the life of a Victorian must have been the development of the ability to record sound and therefore to mechanically (later electronically) reproduce the human voice. Several ideas and inventions were put forward including this one from Charles Sumner Tainter in 1888 reported in The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough:

Old British News

Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough – Thursday 30 August 1888

Another instrument for recording sound has been brought over from America, known as the Tainter Graphophone, the inventor of Mr. Charles Sumner Tainter. In the essentials of construction this latest sound a writer is practically the phonograph under a new name.

Speech or song of communicated to it and threw a mouthpiece which is attached to the diaphragm. The latter vibrates in exact and really wonderful accord with the voice –much as the tympanum of the ear must do –and a minute steel point cuts on the waxen surface of a cylinder a curved hair line which also accurately corresponds to the diaphragm.

So fine are the lines traced the at 160 of them, with equal spaces between, would lie within an inch; and yet with such nicety are they traced that when the motion is reversed and the stylus again goes over the curve, the diaphragm is once more set in vibration precisely as before, and he gives back to the ear the same sounds as was sung or spoken into.

Mr. Tainter claims to have been the first to employ wax instead of tinfoil or some other metallic surface –and this is the most important element in the recent marked improvement in the art of sound recording.

You can read more about Charles Sumner Tainter here.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

The real ‘Peaky Blinders’

Gang trouble, particularly in Birmingham, started to appear in the newspapers in the early 1870s with reports of “slogging gangs” causing huge disturbances with considerable violence. The media were describing them as large bodies of “roughs”. In 1872 about 400 of them made their appearance “to great consternation of the inhabitants”. The reports in the Victorian press were of great disturbances and considerable violence particularly against shopkeepers in the area. This terrorising became more organised with the development of what became known as the “peaky blinders” and other gangs. These Birmingham based gangs remained in the media until up to about the First World War. After about 1919 coverage in the media begin to fade and by the mid twenties very little is reported of them.

By 1900 the “peaky blinders” were part of the Birmingham reporting scene. He is a typical news report from The Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Friday 26 October 1900:

“Peaky Blinder” Terrors

Exemplary Sentences

Old British News

Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Friday 26 October 1900

At Birmingham Quarter Sessions, yesterday, arising out of a disturbance which occurred in Barford Street on June 26, there were two youths of the peaky blinder class in the dock on charges of stabbing police officers.

Henry Attwood (18), polisher, was alleged to have wounded police Constable James Macauley, and Percy Langridge (16), labourer pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding police constable Barker. Attwood pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Mr. Dominik Daly.

In opening in the case for the prosecution against Attwood, Mr Stubbins stated that it was felt advisable by the magistrates to send these prisoners for trial because, for a considerable time before this affray, there had been complaints of disorderly behaviour in this neighbourhood. In fact, so serious did the disturbances become that the Chief Of Police was compelled to send his officers there in couples on account of the danger which they ran from the behaviour of these youths who went by the name of “peaky blinders”.

On this occasion Macauley was sent into Barford Street with two other officers, Hunt and Barker, to keep order. They found it necessary to take two men into custody in consequence of their bad language, and this seemed to have aroused the feelings of other members of the crowd, who made a demonstration against the police. Suddenly Attwood rushed at Hunt and struck at him, cutting through his hat with some sharp instrument. He at once ran on towards Macauley, who turned his head on a warning shout from Hunt in time to see Attwood rush up behind him. The officer felt a blow in the back with a knife, and shouting out, “I’m stabbed.” he handed over his prisoner to another policeman who gave chase to Attwood, but was unable to catch him. As he was bleeding from the back, he returned to the station, and had his wound rest at the hospital.

About the same time Barker was stabbed by Langridge, and the officers were stoned by other “Peakies.” An hour or so afterwards Macauley identified Attwood, who had been arrested in the meantime, as the man who had stabbed him.

The only extraordinary feature of the case was that Langridge, who pleaded guilty to wounding Police-constable Barker, declared from the first that it was he who had stabbed Macauley, and in this he was supported by Attwood and other of his friends. The police witnesses, however, declared emphatically that this was not so, and he pled they would have not have been mistaken in Attwood.

The jury found Attwood guilty, and in passing sentence upon him and Langridge, the Recorder remarked that such grave assaults on the police must be repressed with a strong hand. Each of the prisoners would be sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

By the 1920s infamy and indeed the coverage of these “peaky blinders” had all but disappeared and The Gloucester Citizen – Thursday 09 May 1929, were reporting their almost disappearance.

Police Chief And Race Gangs

Old British News

Gloucester Citizen – Thursday 09 May 1929

The Chief Constable of Birmingham (Sir Charles Rafter) at a meeting of the Watch Committee there, stated that the racing gang called the Birmingham gang did not belong to Birmingham. Its members lived elsewhere.

A comparative statement of crime in the city from 1899 to the present time showed a very remarkable diminution. He added that since the early a year the “peaky blinder” had almost disappeared, as also had the gangs.

A drama series depicting the “Peaky Blinders” is receiving considerable success on BBC Two (UK) telling the post First World War story of Thomas Shelby and his fictitious gang. More here.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Eclipse captured with moving pictures – 1898

Hartlepool Mail – Saturday 11 December 1897

The late 1800’s and Edwardian era were a time of great technological adventure and ‘world firsts’. Here The Hartlepool Mail are reporting that the forthcoming eclipse will be filmed using a process of moving pictures.

Eclipse and Cinematograph

For the first time in the history of eclipse observation a cinematograph will be used (for?) the total solar eclipse of January 21st 1898.

The Rev. J.M. Bacon, who has charge of the bulk of the members of the British Astronomical Association Eclipse Party, will take out a very powerful cinematograph (furnished and adapted by Mr Nevil Maskelyne), which will enable five or six photographs per second to be taken.

If this instrument will only give successful results the most complete series of photographs ever procured in an eclipse will be obtained, and these moving pictures should throw great light on the phenomena afforded by the sun’s eclipse.


The Reverend Bacon and Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S (inventor and magician) collaborated with several electronic experiments during this era. Maskelyne (1863–1924) “was a competitor and public detractor of Guglielmo Marconi in the early days of radio (wireless). On one occasion he hacked into Marconi’s demonstration of wireless telegraphy, and broadcast his own message, hoping to make Marconi’s claims of “secure and private communication” appear foolish.” His father, John Nevil Maskelyne  (22 December 1839 – 18 May 1917), was the inventor of the pay toilet, along with many other Victorian-era devices.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Betrayed By A Lifelong Friend – 1905

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 27 May 1905

In a divorce report in 1905 Edwardian readers discover that Christopher Gibson was seriously let down by his trusted friend. Victorian and Edwardian Newspapers were full of contemporary scandal and stories of this nature. They are a great resource for historians looking for names of relatives mentioned in the news.

Here is such a story reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser in May that year:

Betrayed By A Lifelong Friend.
Wife Who “Acted On Impulse.”

On Tuesday, in the Divorce Court, the sad sequel to a friend’s visit to a family was told, and Mr. Christopher Gibson, a chemist’s assistant at Exeter, was granted a degree nisi because his wife had eloped with his old schoolfriend and lifelong companion, Geoffrey Owen Godfrey Laurence.

Laurence had accepted an invitation from Gibson to pay him a visit, and remained seven weeks. Mrs. Gibson one day left to visit her parents at Reading, and one week later Laurence left, taking some of Gibson’s clothes.

The pair are went to America, and Laurence subsequently wrote to his old schoolfriend, stating: “It worries me to think how deeply I have wronged you. Is there anything on this earth I can do to make a reconciliation between us? You and I have always been the best of friends –in fact, more like brothers –and I tell you it worries my heart out to think of the awful crime I am guilty of.”

He added that he thought Gibson was partly to blame for his wife’s rash act.

Mrs. Gibson wrote seeking forgiveness, and stating if she had not “acted on impulse” it would not have happened.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

The Plight of Victorian Youngsters

Morning Post – Tuesday 07 October 1845

The Morning Post on Tuesday, the 7th of October 1845 was reporting a significant number of accidents involving children. It highlighted only too well the plight of youngsters during this era and how their lives were quite frequently endangered by the lack of care, attention or action from adults around them. Articles like this, apart it’s historic social value, also provide historians and researchers with crucial detail such as names and related places.

Numerous Accidents

During Saturday and Sunday the following numerous and serious accidents occurred, and the persons injured were admitted to St. Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals: – the first case was that of Harriet White, aged five years, his parents resided in Three Tun Court, Borough. She had accompanied them to Malling, in Kent, for the purpose of “hopping”, and whilst they were busily employed had their work she approached to nearer fire which had been kindled in the open air to prepare their food, when the windblown all the flames towards her, and her clothes became the ignited, and she was burnt all over her body in a frightful manner.

The second case was that of Jane Murphy, five years of age, residing at number 12, Holland street, Blackfriars road, who having been left in the care of two children younger than herself whilst her father and mother were out drinking, opened the second floor window and endeavoured to get hold of a piece of line which hung outside, and in so doing fell headlong to the pavement below, from a height of thirty feet, causing a severe concussion of the brain and several internal injuries.

The third was that of Eliza brown, aged nineteen, who, whilst quarrelling with some of her companions in the street, was pushed off the kerb, and by her fall dislocated her shoulder bone.

The above were conveyed to St. Thomas’s Hospital. At Guy’s the following were also received:- with Ian Jones age of seventeen years, in the employ of Mr. Dalton, Potter, High Street, Lambeth, who, whilst superintending the delivery of some goods in his master’s warehouse, inadvertently stepped backwards and fell through a trap door in the floor which have been left open, and fractured his shoulder.

The last case was that of John Johnson, of Cornwall road, Lambeth, who was attending to some pigeons on the top of a high house, when his foot slipped and he was precipitated from the roof to the street, whereby he sustained a concussion of the brain and other injuries.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Road to War – 4 August 1914

World War One news research service: www.oldbritishnews.com tracing relatives and communities – no charge or fees for this special voluntary service.

Hull Daily Mail – Wednesday 05 August 1914

Full page Old British News images here. Updated on a regular basis.

Here are the main points of daytime, 4th August 1914:

  • Serbs ban the sending of press dispatches
  • German ambassador in Brussel delivers German response to Belgian reply at 6 AM
  • 8:02 AM Germans invade Belgium
  • 9 AM King Alfred meets with Belgian parliament
  • German troops cross French border near Mars-La-Tour and Moineville
  • Joffre leaves for the frontier
  • Riots in Paris
  • King Alfred appeals to Britain and France for military support regarding Belgian neutrality
  • British Cabinet meets at 11 AM after hearing of Belgian invasion and issues ultimatum to expire at midnight
  • Whitehall filled with crowds in support of British intervention in war
  • British ultimatum transmitted to Berlin and British Ambassador prepares to leave Berlin
  • German Government appeals to Italians to honour treaty go unheeded
  • Reichstag opens; speech by Kaiser (morning), stops for church services, reconvenes for German Chancellor speech (3 PM); Reichstag support of war and votes for war credits then adjourns (Socialists agree to set differences aside and vote in support).
  • (circa 2 PM and concurrent with Bethmann-Hollweg in Reichstag) Asquith announces to House of Commons that he has a message from King Mobilisation proclamation and reads terms of British ultimatum to Germany.
  • 1900hrs British ultimatum (two parts) becomes known in Berlin; British Ambassador presents it to Bethmann-Hollweg
  • About 2100hrs British intercept German message from Berlin that Germany considers itself at war with Britain the moment the British
  • Ambassador asked for his passport (during delivery of British ultimatum)
  • Canadian Cabinet meeting and mobilisation of Canadian Expeditionary Force begins; reservists sail
  • Message of appreciation sent to Canada by King George
  • Rival warship off Port of New York; Foreign consulates in U.S. busy with returning nationals