Randolph Churchill – a summary

Randolph Churchill, father to Winston, exerted a profound influence on his son in a number of ways which he perhaps would not have envisaged. First, their difficult personal relationship, characterised by Randolph’s high expectations and Winston’s initial failure to meet them, clearly left its mark. Second, Randolph’s political career can be summarised as one of unmet potential. This too, coupled with Randolph’s early death, influenced his son. Close to his own death, Winston was to confide to his daughter Mary that his one regret was that his father had not seen him make a success of his life.

Randolph Churchill 2Active in the Conservative Party from a young age, Randolph Churchill entered Parliament in 1874, shortly after his marriage. Within a few years he had a reputation as a trouble-maker – sharp tongued, and as critical of his own party as he was the Liberals. He was impatient with what he saw as the elitism and naivity of the Conservatives. Randolph was anxious for change, arguing that the party needed to represent the ordinary members of society or face permanent opposition. Liberal reforms should be considered on merit, rather than rejected out of hand. This series of ideas coalesced into what he termed ‘Tory Democracy’, and initially made him few friends. Arguably, his most important legacy was to shift the party’s centre of gravity in this direction.


In 1877, however, his career was almost derailed when Churchill was implicated in a scandal involving the Royal Family. He had fallen out with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, whom he threatened to expose as an adulterer. In those times, such behaviour from a public figure was completely unacceptable. He was marginalised by Prime Minister William Gladstone, being sent to work as Viceroy in Dublin for the next four years.


But by 1885 Churchill could no longer be ignored. He was brought into government as Secretary of State for India. Within a year he was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House – more or less dictating his own political terms. It seemed nothing would stop Randolph Churchill; here was a prime minister in the making.

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Victoria and Albert’s Children

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. Within weeks of their wedding, she was pregnant. Between November of that year and April 1857, the royal couple had nine children; four princes and five princesses.

Victoria and Albert and childrenAlthough she was besotted with Albert, maternal affections did not always come naturally to Victoria, who expected unswerving obedience from all her offspring in both infancy and adulthood. The family was nevertheless very close and the premature death of Albert on 11 December 1861 devastated all of them. Eight of the children went on to marry members of other prominent royal families and collectively they provided Victoria with forty grandchildren, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.

(Pictured: Victoria and Albert, and children, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846).

Victoria, Princess Royal
Born: 21 November 1840
Married: Prince Frederick William of Prussia
Died: 5 August 1901

Writing about the birth of her first child, Victoria remarked that she and Albert were ‘sadly disappointed’ to have a girl rather than a boy, though they were grateful that the child was in good health. Known as Vicky, the Princess Royal’s full name was Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. She was highly intelligent and her father doted on her. Vicky married Frederick of Prussia (Fritz) at the age of 17, an alliance that was by no means without political motivation, though the couple were very much in love. Both Vicky and her mother were prolific letter-writers and exchanged around 8,000 letters in their lifetimes. Vicky and Fritz had eight children, the eldest of whom became Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Albert, Prince of Wales
Born: 9 November 1841
Married: Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Died: 6 May 1910

King Edward VII as a boy

Unlike his older sister, the Prince of Wales was not endowed with superior intellect as a child and was often unfavourably compared to her. Bertie, as he was called, had a brief affair with a prostitute called Nellie Clifden in 1861, a scandalous occurrence which subsequently led his mother to blame him for the death of his father later that year. Nevertheless, a match was made with Alexandra of Denmark and the young couple married in 1863. They had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Bertie undertook numerous foreign tours as the heir apparent to the throne and was widely praised for his diplomacy. Following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, he ascended the throne as King Edward VII.

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Frederick Roberts – a summary

Known by his men as ‘Little Bobs’, Frederick Roberts was, unusually for a soldier, short, frail and partially sighted in one eye. Born in Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in India on 30 September 1832, Frederick Sleigh Roberts spent forty-one years on active service in India before transferring to South Africa.


Frederick RobertsJoining the army of the British East India Company aged nineteen in 1851, the following year he was appointed aide to his father. The two men were strangers to one another, having met only the once, when Roberts Sr was on leave in England.

Frederick Roberts first saw action during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and was involved in the capture of Delhi following a 106-day siege and the relief of Lucknow and Cawnpore. The following year he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his “marked gallantry”.


In 1878, now a Major-General in the British Army proper, Roberts led the occupation of Kabul during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

On 27 July 1880, news arrived that 300 miles from Kabul, outside the city of Kandahar, near a village called Maiwand, the British had fought and suffered a humiliating defeat to a force of Afghans. 969 British and Indian soldiers had been killed and almost 200 wounded. (Today Afghans still raise a toast to the victors of Maiwand.) Chased back to Kandahar, the British survivors from the Battle of Maiwand came under a sustained siege.

Kabul to Kandahar

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Indian Mutiny – a summary

On 10 May 1857, the Indian Mutiny, as it became known, erupted in the town of Meerut in northern India. Discontent among the native Indian soldiers, the sepoys, had been simmering for months if not decades but the violence, when it came, took the British completely by surprise. History In An Hour looks at the causes of the Indian Mutiny.*

Indian SepoyBy 1857, the East India Company, the monolithic, monopolising commercial company that conducted trade in India and had become the de facto rulers of the country on behalf of the British government, ruled two thirds of India. The remaining third was overseen by Indian princes who paid tribute to the British. That the East India Company could maintain its authority was down to the might of its huge army, consisting of 45,000 Europeans and 230,000 Indian sepoys. While most sepoys were glad and even proud to serve in the army, their loyalty to it always took second place to their religion

Religious sensibilities

Sepoys of all faiths were concerned for their respective religions. The prospect of being made to serve overseas, for example, alarmed Hindu sepoys as travelling over water was a compromise of caste. (Similar grievances led to a much smaller rebellion, the Vellore Mutiny, in 1806).

Their fears were not without foundation – there was among the British an evangelical element keen on converting the Indian masses to Christianity and to persuade them to turn their backs on the ‘monsters of lust, injustice, wickedness and cruelty’, to use William Wilberforce (1759-1833)’s phrase to describe Hindu divinities. In the early nineteenth century, the British had outlawed various religious traditions, and were now spreading their influence, building Christian schools and snatching orphaned Indian children to be brought up as Christians. (A Western education, the British believed, would eventually lead to greater responsibility and equip the Indian for eventual self-rule.)

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The Irish Famine – a summary

The Irish famine was without doubt the worst humanitarian crisis to hit the Victorian world. Over a million people starved to death whilst two million more fled the Irish shores forever creating the beginnings of the huge Irish diasporas which still exist in today North America, Canada, Australia and also, of course, London.

A Land of Poverty

Irish famineIreland by the middle of the Nineteenth Century was a land of tenant farmers, agricultural labourers and small holders known as cottiers. Many cottiers were “bound” tenant farmers, who in return for working other farms, would be “paid” by being allowed to grow potatoes on tiny strips of land known as conacres. The diet of these people, who spoke Gaelic and worshipped a Catholic God, consisted almost solely of potatoes with a tiny bit of milk, buttermilk or sometimes fish as their only other source of nourishment. It was estimated that the average cottier or labourer ate around twelve to fourteen pounds of potatoes a day. The diet was boring but it was also filling and nutritious, and until the 1840s, reliable but then blight arrived on Irish shores having already swept across Europe devastating potato crops in its wake.

The blight

Historians aren’t certain where the blight that caused the Irish famine came from but it’s believed this new fungus probably arrived on ships from Peru or even North America. The blight – Phytophthora infestans – grew on the under surface of the potato leaves and consisted of an extremely fine filament ending in thousands of minute spores.  Ireland’s climate of endless rains and strong winds, meant the fungus was able to spread extremely rapidly devastating the potato crops, season after season, causing a humanitarian catastrophe on an epic scale. But its effects were severely worsened by the actions (or perhaps we should say, inactions) of the British government, headed by Lord John Russell, in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852.

One million dead, another two million fled

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Victorian London – Overground, Underground

‘Necessity is the mother of Invention’.  If ever there was a phrase which summed up the London of the Victorian era, surely this one would be it.  Certainly, given the many problems which confronted it during this time, it is little wonder that the 19th century city responded by becoming a febrile hub of creativity and innovation – it could hardly have been otherwise if the metropolis was to avoid falling victim to its own success.

The ever-expanding city

London UndergroundThe root of city’s problems lay in the fact that the population of Greater London had, quite simply, exploded.  From 1801 to 1850, the number of people living in the city more than doubled from one million to 2.5 million, and by the turn of the century, that number would increase to an extraordinary 6.5 million inhabitants.

Unsurprisingly, such a rapid increase put London’s already poor infrastructure under severe strain, with the most obvious problem being transport, or more precisely, the lack of it.  Continuous urban sprawl had seen the city’s boundaries move ever outwards, and by the mid-1800s, once rural villages like Hampstead and Highgate had been voraciously swallowed up.  As such, improved transport links became a necessity – the increased distances and the sheer volume of demand meant that traditional modes of conveyance like stagecoaches and hackney carriages would no longer suffice.

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A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

19 December 1843 witnessed the publication of one of Charles Dickens’ most popular and well-loved stories, A Christmas Carol. Published by Chapman and Hall, its initial print run of 6,000 copies sold out within days and within three months the story had been adapted for the theatre at least eight times.

Bayham Street

A Christmas CarolIn 1822, the Dickens family had lived at 16 Bayham Street in London. Situated in the less genteel suburb of Camden Town, Dickens described it as having a ‘basement, two ground floor rooms, two on the first floor, a garret and an outside wash-house.’ When describing the Cratchit family home in A Christmas Carol, it was to Bayham Street that Dickens looked for inspiration. Home to his parents, four siblings, his relative through marriage, James Lamert, and an orphan brought from the Chatham Workhouse, the house must have felt extremely cramped and considerably less comfortable than any previous family home.

It was not, however, a love of Christmas that inspired A Christmas Carol. The true inspiration came from the Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, published in 1842. This expose shocked the nation with its graphic depictions of the poverty and cruelty faced by children employed in factories and mines.

A Christmas Carol was followed by a further four Christmas tales in the 1840s: The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846),and The Haunted Man (1848). These stories became instant favourites among the public and created a link between Charles Dickens and Christmas that endures to this day.

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George Hayward – Echoes of the Great Game in Central Asia

The history of the Great Game, writes Tim Hannigan, offers a fine stock of ripping yarns.

At the start of the 19th century some 2,000 miles of turbulent Central Asian territory – deserts, mountains and unstable Muslim khanates – separated Britain’s Indian territories from the edge of the Russian Empire; a hundred years later these same frontiers were just a few miles apart.  The “Great Game” was the cold war of exploration and espionage, fought out in the ever-contracting space between.

Every foreigner who stepped into Central Asia during this period was playing the Great Game, whether he wanted to or not.  There was no such thing as an apolitical expedition, and men who went to survey mountains and map passes found that the charts they drew were handled like dynamite by politicians in Calcutta, London and St Petersburg.  There was derring-do, endurance, betrayal, triumph and tragedy.  This is the stuff that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s tales, Kim and The Man Who Would Be King

The players of the Great Game were a motley crew of spies, soldiers and charlatans, running the gamut from bristling imperial archetypes to unhinged Anglican missionaries, and over the subsequent decades many of their tales have been told in books by authors such as Fitzroy MacLean, John Keay and Peter Hopkirk.

But there was one Great Gamer who always seemed to stand a little apart from the crowd, a gaunt and ill-omened young man by the name of George Hayward. Continue reading

The Dawn of Forensics

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, “A Study in Scarlett,” published in 1887, Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson “I have found a reagent which is precipitated by haemoglobin and nothing else.”

And so, writes DE Meredith, began the brilliant stories of Sherlock Homes which, almost single-handedly, introduced the British public to the idea that science could be used to solve even the most heinous of crimes.

Forensic science is now common parlance and despite a number of technical flaws along the way and the occasional, terrible miscarriage of justice, on the whole we believe in this science and because of programmes like “CSI” and “Waking the Dead” we are also hugely entertained by it.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Death and all his hideous crew

Here is a description of a nineteenth century morgue by the composer Hector Berlioz:

When I entered that fearful human charnel-house, littered with fragments of limbs, and saw the ghastly faces and cloven heads, the bloody cesspool in which we stood, with its reeking atmosphere, the swarms of sparrows fighting for scraps, and the rats in the corners gnawing bleeding vertebrae, such a feeling of horror possessed me that I leapt out of the window, and fled home as though Death and all his hideous crew were at my heels. It was twenty-four hours before I recovered from the shock of this first impression, utterly refusing to hear that words anatomy, dissection, or medicine, and firmly resolved to die rather than enter the career which had been forced upon me.

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Mary Seacole – a summary

This is how the story goes… Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in 1805, in Kingston, Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish soldier: ‘I have good Scots blood coursing through my veins,’ as she wrote on page one of her memoir. Her mother, a freed black woman, kept a home, or a boarding house, for wounded soldiers (many of them British soldiers suffering from yellow fever) and installed in Mary a love of nursing and medicine.

Mary SeacoleA keen traveller, the young Mary journeyed widely with her parents, including two trips to Britain, expanding her medical knowledge.

In 1836, she married Edwin Horatio Seacole, a former guest at her mother’s boarding house. Edwin Seacole was believed, without substance, to have been either an illegitimate offspring of Lord Nelson and his mistress, Lady Hamilton, or Nelson’s godson. A sickly man, he died eight years later in 1844. Despite several offers, Mary never married again. As a couple, the Seacoles had maintained the boarding house established by Mary’s mother and, as a widow, Mary Seacole’s work intensified in 1850 when a cholera epidemic struck Jamaica, killing over 30,000 inhabitants.

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