Old Times Cuttings

18 August 2011
When troops were on English streets
The Times 17/8/1911

Liverpool, 100 years ago:

Rioting has begun again to-night in the “danger zone.” A crowd was smashing the windows of tramcars in Burlington-Street, and troops were sent to disperse them.  The crowd was not disturbed by the mere display of force, but when the Infantry were ordered to kneel in the attitude for firing they hurriedly scattered.

Some thoughts and observations:

  • Amazing how quickly food supplies dried up.  In much the same way plasma TVs did last week.
  • Heartening what Lloyd George has to say about the elementary duties of the state: “to protect life and property”.  Has Cameron said that?  Does Cameron even know that?
  • The parallels are interesting ie a big riot, calls for the troops to be deployed etc but is that as far as it goes?  You can’t blame police incompetence, light sentencing and the welfare state for these riots.
  • A hundred years ago they were bâtons not truncheons.  Also employés rather than employees.

Oh my God, there’s going to be a war in 3 years’ time!  Are these two things related?  War as a way of uniting a divided nation, perhaps?

20 March 2011
Wholemeal bread

I always thought the fad for wholemeal bread was a new thing.  Apparently not:


More than that - it is a cure for constipation and its attendant evils and will do more to maintain health than all the medicines ever sold.


From The Times 20th March 1911.

17 March 2011
Political correctness 1911-style

From the judge’s summing up in the Clapham Common murder trial:

People of certain nationalities, if they had a good case, because they were convinced that perjured evidence would be brought against them they, on their side, procured perjured evidence.  If the jury came to the conclusion that the alibi was false they must not judge it so strictly against the prisoner as they would if it had been produced by an Englishman.

Stinie Morrison was found guilty of the murder of Leon Beron and sentenced to death.

The Times, March 16 1911.

29 August 2010
The seeds of the Second World War?

I’ve always been rather disappointed by 50-years-ago, 100-years-ago-type columns.  They always seem to be compiled by someone who just doesn’t like history.  Or just doesn’t get it and so can’t put it into context.  Or, maybe, does get it but can’t put it into context because in point of fact that particular day’s edition didn’t have anything particularly poignant.

So, I’ve always tended to think of it as a pointless exercise.  Until, that is, a bored few moments a few days ago when I thought it might be fun to look at the world of a century ago through the pages of the Times.  Even if it was the silly season.  A worthwhile exercise as it turned out.

In the silly season of 1910 there was none sillier than the Kaiser.  Here he is inspecting the German colonies in Poland.  The what!?  Colonies.  Sounds awfully like an early version of Lebensraum.

And here (warning: you may need to hit zoom to read it) he is appearing to proclaim the divine right of kings.  In NINETEEN TEN FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!  Remind you of anything, like the Führerprinzip, for instance?

And here is a by-election in Germany in which the socialists defeat the anti-semites.  Yes, that’s electable anti-semites.  Long before Hitler got going.

Which makes me think you may not be able to see the seeds of the First World War in August 1910 but you can certainly see the seeds of the Second.

27 May 2009
"Owing to its benign character it was at first, together with its victims, the subject of much good-natured badinage and pleasant writing in the newspapers. To-day the complaint has passed the joking stage."

He can say that again.  And probably did.  This was the first Times report (that I can find) to cover the Spanish Influenza.  At the time (2 June 1918) it had killed 700 people in 10 days and there were well over 100,000 sufferers.

The disease would appear pretty much everywhere over the next few weeks, go away again over the summer and come back with a vengeance with the onset of winter.  It peaked at about exactly the same time as the signing of the Armistice and ended up killing perhaps 20m people.

And people are worried about swine flu.  Call that an epidemic?  This is an epidemic!

12 May 2009
“It would become an object of desire to adventurers of a low class…”


I found this in The Times of 13 March 1906, a time when MPs didn’t so much as receive a salary let alone expenses.  A W.S.Lilly quotes J.S.Mill on the subject:

The occupation of a member of Parliament would thereupon become an occupation in itself, carried on, like other professions, with a view chiefly to its pecuniary returns, and under the demoralizing influences of an occupation essentially precarious.  It would become an object of desire to adventurers of a low class, and 658 persons in possession with ten or twenty times as many in expectancy, would be incessantly bidding to attract or retain the suffrages of electors by promising all things, honest or dishonest, possible or impossible, and rivalling each other in pandering to the meanest feelings and most ignorant prejudices or the vulgarist part of the crowd.


29 April 2008
The horrors of legal drugs
Chinatown in London

One of the things my library membership allows me to do is to read old editions of the Times online.  This is fantastic.  I especially like looking through articles from before the First World War.  Things were so different in those days.

One of the ways things were different was that drugs were legal.  Though that was about to change.  In 1912 the Hague Convention (strangely enough opposed by Germany, Austria and Turkey) committed the signatories to banning the opium trade.  This process was halted by the First World War but the leading states re-committed themselves to the ban in the Treaty of Versailles.

The really weird thing was the motivation.  It emphatically does not seem to have been worries about the dangers of opium to the civilian population.  At least, not in the West it wasn’t.  The whole concern seems to have been with China and the prevention of its use there.

This is a point underlined by this article from the 25 November 1913 edition of the Times in which the author tours the opium dens of Limehouse.

We may call these places “dens” for all that they are so clean and orderly and so little withdrawn from public gaze.  We may deplore the injurious physical effects which follow overuse of the drug however small the proportion of cases of definitely traceable injury may be either to the number of smokers or the Chinese population.

...all the “dens” in these two streets together will not furnish from one month’s end to another any such spectacle of “degradation” or rowdyism as may be seen nightly in almost any publichouse.

Not exactly a problem was it?