British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors, Brits at their Best.com, English country scene

June 21, 2011

Swan's lightbulb and yours

Physicist Joseph Swan was eclipsed by Thomas Edison in the lightbulb and public relations departments. American Edison takes the credit for the first lightbulb, but Swan received the first patent for an incandescent lightbulb in 1878, and his house was the first in the world to be lit by a lightbulb. Edison based his lightbulb on Swan's. Indifferent to glory, Swan let Edison do what he liked in America.

We have all benefitted from the lightbulb. Now, however, the EU and the US Congress have issued a "light bulb directive" to save the world. You will have to leave the lovely, luminous light of the lightbulb for the low energy substitutes which fail to illuminate, though surely illumination is the first task of a light?

You could stock up on the increasingly rare and expensive lightbulb. Whether it's spelled as two words or one, there is only one lightbulb to see by.

We have high hopes that a collective lightbulb will go off in American and British heads.

The eurozone on the verge of collapse

David Cameron has just promised to fight 'very hard' in Brussels to ensure that British taxpayers do not shoulder the cost of European bailout of Greece. Based on previous British retreats in Brussels, you may have your doubts.

It's a terrible thing when a PM's promise means little. Who could forget David Cameron's "cast-iron" promise to the British people that they would be able to vote on leaving the EU. He kept that promise, didn't he?

We write about the EU because it sucks so much money from Britain. That money could be spent on the NHS or schools or the Armed Forces or old-age pensions, but since billions and billions of pounds have already been sent to Brussels and more is heading that way. . .British services have to be cut. This is not something which you will hear discussed on the BBC, and you will have to decide why that is.

Annoyingly, perhaps, the collapsing eurozone is discussed in America.

Link thanks to Instapundit.

June 18, 2011

St Paul's restored

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"The restoration of Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral cost £40m, took 15 years, and was the first time that Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece was comprehensively restored inside and out." It is "sparklingly beautiful".

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And yet, this is the way we will always see it in our heart, surviving Nazi German bombing during World War II and giving hope to freedom-loving people everywhere. Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 306-NT-3173V

Beginning

In 1668, Christopher Wren thought he had the commission to build the new cathedral of St Paul's after the old cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A cathedral had stood on the site since AD 604.

Wren planned to build a new St Paul's at lightning, rather than the usual cathedral, speed. Given the need to rebuild shattered London, he had good cause to hurry. However, he had not counted on the large obstacles which stood in his way.

Trying to get it right

Born in 1632, Wren had become Professor of Astronomy at Oxford and an expert in mathematics, mechanics, surveying, microscopy and architecture. A natural bridge builder between mathematicians, inventors and scientists, he helped to found the Royal Society.

Wren worked on three designs for St Paul's with brilliance, verve, and speed but a committee of judges and clergymen rejected each one of them. Too Italian, insufficiently English, they had their reasons. Wren would rebuild more than fifty churches all over London, but he could not seem to get St Paul's right.

Finally in 1675 his revised design was approved, and construction began. The design was striking, but not as sensational as it would become. And another obstacle loomed. Pressing on London's weak clay soil, the cathedral's foundations were sinking. Wren would have to make adjustments to his design and his great dome.

Getting the dome up

Wren had designed St Paul's cathedral in the shape of a cross, with the dome rising above the intersection of the arms - the crossroads. As building continued over the next thirty years, he made many alterations to the dome so it would not fall down. It is 364 feet high and 65,000 tons in weight.

To pull off this feat, Wren placed three domes inside each other. Edward Rutherfurd writes in London -

"Between the domed ceiling seen from the interior and the metalled exterior roof which rises fifty feet higher, there was, not exactly a dome, but a massive brick cone, almost like a kiln." That cone supports the lantern on top and holds everything else in place as well. Around the base of the dome is a great double chain and all the way up the inner cone are bands of stone and iron chains "which hold everything tight, like the metal hoops round a barrel." Eight great pillars support the dome.

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Christopher Wren in 1711

Wren was in his seventies when the dome was being built. He used to be pulled up in a basket every week so he could inspect progress.

The men who had approved the design and who still survived must have been astonished. Charles II had told Wren he could make "ornamental changes", but the finished St Paul's looked spectacularly different from what had been outlined.

The Whispering Gallery runs round the interior of the dome. It acquired its name when it was realized that a whisper against its walls was audible on the opposite side of the dome.

looking up into St Paul's dome

Looking up into St Paul's dome.

"A sea of carving"

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The first service in St Paul's was held on 2 December 1697 in the Quire, the part of the building where construction began. This is where the wood carvings of Grinling Gibbons can be seen – "a sea of carving. . .Spreading leaves and sinuous vines, flowers, trumpets, cherubic heads, festoons of fruit. . ." (London)

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John Evelyn, who wrote a classic book on trees, saw Grinling Gibbons through a window, carving by candlelight. He introduced him to Christopher Wren.

Image: Historic Royal Palaces

"There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers" (Horace Walpole) - or the softness of a sleeping child. Gibbons and his assistants carved several tons of oak with the greatest delicacy and inventiveness.

Parliament called St Paul's finished on December 25th, 1711, but Parliamentary statements being what they have been and are, construction went on for some years after that.

Still, the cathedral was done before Wren died at the age of 91. The renovation and cleaning have left the cathedral looking newborn. Wren would be pleased.

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Members of British and American forces who gave their lives defending Britain and liberty during World War II are remembered here.

Horatio Nelson and Alexander Fleming are buried in St Paul's. Winston Churchill's funeral service took place here.

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There has been a choir singing at St Paul's for over nine centuries. Evensong is sung every day. On Sundays there are three choral services - Matins, Eucharist and Evensong.

Image: St Paul's Cathedral

Christopher Wren died on the 25th of February 1723, and was buried in the crypt of his cathedral. His son wrote a true epitaph -

Lector, Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice" - Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.

The cathedral "points beyond ourselves. . ."

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13

Harry Potter comes to an end

The last of the seven-book series becomes the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

The recently released final trailer looks a bit hectic.

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Someone said, "continuing to love in the face of death" is author JK Rowling's overarching theme. We would not want to live were it not so.

June 16, 2011

The A272

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Drove across country on the 272 the other sunny day. Beginning only 40 miles outside London, the road ran along fields, through woods, towards church spires, past the dappled deer of Petworth House (and the Turners, Blakes and Grinling Gibbons stashed inside), zigzagged through the ancient market town of Petworth and sped under great purple beeches. No time to pause for refreshment at The Fox Revived. Sports cars with their tops down raced back from Le Mans, farmers trundled in tractors, and an older motorcyclist sat beside his bike in the long grass. Past the gardens of Hinton Ampner dove the 272, up, up to the top of Cheesefoot Head, and down, down, plunging toward Winchester and home.

Ascot at 300

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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Ascot.

"It is 300 years since Queen Anne found a clearing in Windsor Forest, arrived with a picnic, declared it suitable for a spot of horse racing and a few old hunters lined up for Her Majesty’s Plate and the princely sum of 100 guineas.

From those not altogether humble roots, Royal Ascot, which still mixes the best of pageantry, fashion, the social scene and, most importantly, racing, has evolved."

June 15, 2011

NSO says mini ice age likely

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"What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

"The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun's recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin.

You may recall that we suggested as much on January 31st 2008:

Sun's low magnetic activity may portend an ice age

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Frost fair on the Thames, 1683

The Canadian Space Agency's radio telescope has been reporting Flux Density Values so low they will mean a mini ice age if they continue, according to CSA project director Ken Tapping with whom we just spoke.

Like the number of sunspots, the Flux Density Values reflect the Sun's magnetic activity, which affects the rate at which the Sun radiates energy and warmth. Tapping calls the radio telescope that supplies NASA and the rest of the world with daily values of the Sun's magnetic activity a "stethoscope on the Sun". In this case, however, it is the "doctor" whose health is directly affected by the readings.

According to NASA, "early, well-documented records indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century" from about 1645 to 1715, during the Maunder Minimum.

"This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the Little Ice Age when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes." It was called the Maunder Minimum, after Edward Maunder, a British accountant who saw a sunspot "like a tack in the Sun" while he was walking home, and subsequently made counting and analyzing sunspots, rather than money, his life's work. There have been other Minimums. The Dalton Minimum of 1800 to 1810 was that period when Napoleon had his unfortunate encounter with the Russian winter.

This is because when the magnetic activity is low, the Sun is dimmer, and puts out less radiant warmth. If the Sun goes into dim mode, as it has in the past, the Earth gets much colder.

Tapping, who was originally from Kent, says that "Typically as you go through the ten or eleven year solar activity cycle you see the numbers go up or down. The lowest number is 64 or 68. The numbers 71 or 72 are very low, but they usually start to go up. We are at the end of a cycle, but the numbers still haven't gone up. We have been joking around coffee that we may be seeing the Sun about to shut down". . .

If the Sun's magnetic activity does not increase, and it goes dim for an extended period, it will get quite chilly. In the meantime the Canada Space Agency, the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the US Air Force Solar Optical Observing Network are all keeping an eye on the Sun.

So now there is growing scientific evidence that sunspot activity has been very weak, and appears to be weakening. Brrr. . .

News link thanks to Instapundit.

Defending Magna Carta

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On this day in 1215, Magna Carta was carried to Runnymede on the bank of the Thames by an army of old men and young men, Londoners, bishops, barons and knights. They forced King John to set his seal to the Great Charter as the law of the land. "To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice."

On this June 15th, almost 800 years after Magna Carta was established, it's astonishing that its basic rights and liberties are still desperately needed in many parts of the world today, and are on the defensive in the England which first nurtured them.

The rights and liberties enshrined in Magna Carta include

The right to trial by jury.

The right to habeas corpus - we cannot be arrested and kept in prison indefinitely without being charged and tried under the law of the land.

The right to own property, which cannot be taken from us without due payment or process of law.

The right not to be fined so heavily as to have our livelihood destroyed.

The right to reasonable taxation levied only with the general consent of the kingdom.

The right of the Church to be free from government control.

The right of London and other cities, towns, and ports to have all their liberties and customary freedoms.

The right to travel freely in and out of the country except during war.

These rights to be observed not only by the king but by all men.

Magna Carta's creation of an advisory council, which could check the king and provide redress, planted the seed of representative government. The American tribute to Magna Carta at Runnymede has warmed our hearts.

Winston Churchill wrote: "In subsequent ages when the state swollen with its own authority has attempted to ride roughshod over the rights and liberties of the people it is to this doctrine that appeal has again and again been made and never as yet without success."

The time is coming, may almost be at hand, when that appeal will fail, and the people will have to defend Magna Carta.

June 13, 2011

Travels in the Shire

We've seen the Shire in Hampshire. Tacitus2, a fellow doc, has found it in the Northumbrian countryside.

Link thanks again to the indispensable Instapundit.

The Archbishop in hot water again

Peter Hitchens writes, St Paul was not fond of spongers, Archbishop..

Jonathan Derbyshire defends the Archbishop.

We observe that the British people have taken Christ's teachings deeply and seriously, and have helped those in need for at least fifteen hundred years.

The Archbishop never throws himself into a lukewarm bath.

Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

Tragic and astonishing, War Horse wins five Tony awards

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Image: Graeme Robertson

"War Horse has won five prizes including best play at the Tony Awards. Briton Mark Rylance won the top acting award for Jerusalem."

Michael Morpurgo's children's story of a boy trying to find his horse on the battlefields of World War One left some critics unimpressed, and moved audiences to tears. The Handspring Puppet Company created completely natural, magical and heartbreaking horses.

Michael Billington of the Guardian wrote, "The joy of the evening, however, lies in the skilled recreation of equine life and in its unshaken belief that mankind is ennobled by its love of the horse."

The author, who is the son of the actor Tony Van Bridge, is another amazing Brit. Born in St Albans in 1943, he and his wife have established Farms for City Children so urban children can spend a week in the countryside. So far, 85,000 children have.

Trooping the Colour in pictures

The Telegraph has published photos of this year's Trooping the Colour at The Queen's official birthday parade. The Red Arrows flew over Buckingham Palace, and the great crowd of people watching below.

Trooping the Colour is an ancient tradition. In the confusion and carnage of battle, British soldiers rallied to the colours, to defend them with their lives. They met and defeated the armies of despots. They met their own freedom-loving cousins in America, and were defeated by them.

June 11, 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor - Hero, historian, traveller & writer

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Patrick Leigh Fermor played a suspenseful and successful role behind the lines during the Battle of Crete in 1941. In subsequent yearshe became famous for his travel literature. With the face of “a hawk with a sense of humor”, he was cool in a crisis and dangerously capable. He had an admirable capacity for both self-sacrifice and pleasure.

After a lawless youth bumping around schools in which he studied classics but from which he never earned a degree, Leigh Fermor became a nomad. Like his 19th century predecessors, he was brilliant at languages, and he enjoyed exploring countries and peoples and slipping under their skin. Before he was twenty he had walked across Europe.

But as the Nazi menace grew, the "time of gifts" ended. Known to friends and acquaintances alike as Paddy, Leigh Fermor became a gentleman warrior who parachuted into Crete. A major in Special Operations Executive, he harassed Nazi German forces with hazardous guerrilla operations during the Second World War. His daring brought him to the brink of capture, torture, and death.

in 1944 Leigh Fermor and several Cretan and British operatives disguised themselves and kidnapped Major General Karl Kreipe, the German commander, on a dark bend of road. They bluffed their way through more than twenty checkpoints and three weeks later, escaped Crete with their prey. They had brilliantly elevated Cretan morale without bringing down German reprisals.

During these hectic events, Paddy took time for literature, for its “incantatory music” and its “body of accumulated wisdom. . . .His delivery of poetry has a brisk, practical air that makes a sonnet seem as indispensable as a decent suitcase or a pair of binoculars – part of the well-made equipment that a gentleman should be expected to carry” (Anthony Lane,"The Englishman Abroad", May 22, 2006 New Yorker).

After the war, with “a commanding modesty,” and “a perennial fear of boredom”, Leigh Fermor lived half the year in England and half the year in southern Greece with his wife of fifty years. An Englishwoman, Joan was his "boon companion". Sometime during those years, he instilled in himself the discipline of writing. Like Xenophon, who had also been a warrior, Leigh Fermor lived in the Peloponnese. He wrote about this ancient Greece in Mani.

Paddy had "a virtuoso skill with words, a robust aesthetic passion, an indomitable curiosity. . .and a rapturous historical imagination” (Philip Toynbee, The Observer). As a hero he was dignified, polite, amused, and capable of rising to desperate challenges.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Leigh Fermor returned to the past to describe his journey on foot across Europe in 1933. Two beautiful classics resulted: A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), both reissued by the New York Review of Books.

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elisabeth hasselbeck Earlier, he had written A Time to Keep Silence, a study of his monastic experiences in 1952. Visiting several French monasteries, to find the quiet he needed to finish a book, Leigh Fermor found a doorway into contemplation. He took pleasure in “the rigor of the regime that the monks espouse and the tranquility that it breeds in their character”.

Leigh Fermor liked to drink whisky and wine, and he loved his friends. His code of honour impelled him to avoid “the use of that which should be loved and the love of that which should be used.”

He was awarded a military OBE in 1943, and appointed a Companion of Literature in 1991. He received a knighthood in the New Year's Honours List in 2004.

He died on June 10th at the age of 96.

The Telegraph obituary is here.

Ave atque Vale.

June 10, 2011

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Happy Birthday, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

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Prince Philip in 1992

Image: Allan Warren

A Telegraph tribute to the Prince on his 90th birthday.

The paper neglects to mention the Duke's exemplary and intelligent service during World War II. Also unmentioned, the Duke's remarkable leadership of the World Wildlife Fund, which protects endangered wildlife and environments, and his creation of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards to encourage young people to develop skills for work and life.

His loyalty to The Queen and his support as her "liege man" is well-known.

It has just been announced that The Queen has bestowed the title of Lord High Admiral, a title which HM held, on The Duke.

HRH in pictures here. You can't help but smile at the sunny one-year-old.

We leave to others the parsing of the Duke's famous, politically incorrect one-liners.

We wish him well.

Dartington Hall

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Image: dynamic adventures

From the Telegraph:

Few places are more conducive to literary discussion than Dartington Hall. It sits amid bosky south Devon lanes, which wind for miles – and many wasted miles if you miss the unprepossessing turning by the church, which becomes the long drive to the hall. Vestiges of a long-gone moat mark the entrance to a serene oval courtyard, where the medieval Great Hall presides over a gaggle of subsidiary buildings. The atmosphere is collegiate but friendly. This is hallowed ground, trodden by some of the most famous artists – dancers, actors, painters, potters, musicians, philosophers and poets – through the long decades of the 20th century. . .

The White Hart, "fettered by a golden chain and coronet, was discovered during the restoration in 1925, and seen as a good omen by the homesick American heiress Dorothy Elmhirst, then making Dartington her new home". At the time, Dartington lay in ruins, but its history could be glimpsed in the "tiltyard terraces", jousting once being a favourite occupation. . .

Dorothy was a philanthropist who helped to found the New Republic. Her husband Leonard was an ardent and determined practitioner of rural reconstruction in India and the United States.

He "revived the farming and forestry of the run-down estate, launching weaving (with wool from their own sheep), cider-making and building enterprises, as well as the mixed, progressive school. Dozens – and later hundreds – of jobs, along with homes, shops and social centres, were created".
And Dartington welcomed artists, philosophers and musicians.

After Dorothy and Leonard died, Dartington began to die. Then trustees drew once again on Dartington's "aura of ideas, inspiration and beauty".

June 09, 2011

Who were the first people in Britain?

Some years ago Stephen Oppenheimer published an article in Prospect which described the first people in Britain after the last Ice Age. He also dissolved the usual storyline of Celts wiped out by Anglo-Saxons. The headline of the article is the magazine's, and it's inaccurate. The article is worth reading.

In the many reader comments, to which Oppenheimer responds, Christine Peace writes -

Interestingly, Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, developed a theory about early settlement of these islands similar to Stephen Oppenheimer’s. Graves’s evidence is based on early literary sources, mythology, local tradition and the archaeology known at the time of writing.

The mysteries of early people. . .

Support science

The brilliant history of British science - theoretical and applied science with thousands of terrific inventions - appears in our Science Timeline.

Now Hugh Jones has written urging support for applied science. My co-editor asked what the role of government is in a post yesterday. Perhaps it's support for applied science. We'd like to see it happen somehow.

Three recommendations from Hugh -

. . .3. Make substantial funds available for the restructuring of British based applied research in every branch of science and technology and stick with that policy through thick and thin.

4. Explore and then encourage the re-establishing of applied research centres relating to industry and be big with the money and don't cut it off in midstream AGAIN! Remember there are plenty of jobs for the best elsewhere and good people see an international market for their capabilities. Recall the deaths of AEI, Mullard Labs CEGB labs and so on.

5. You real competitor now is China - and they are not only good they are brilliant - keep your second rate flat bottoms under control - applied science does not need them - it needs inspired first class people who do difficult things for the challenge - but they don't want administrive crud gumming up the works.

June 08, 2011

The purpose of government - health care

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Ilya Shapiro posted on the Obamacare Lawsuit: From the Courtroom in Atlanta:

ATLANTA — In the most important appeal of the Obamacare constitutional saga, today was the best day yet for individual freedom. The government’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, spent most of the hearing on the ropes, with the judicial panel extremely cautious not to extend federal power beyond its present outer limits of regulating economic activity that has a substantial aggregate effect on interstate commerce.

. . .This legal process is not an academic exercise to map the precise contours of the Commerce Clause or Necessary and Proper Clause — or even to vindicate our commitment to federalism or judicial review. No, all of these worthy endeavors are just means to achieve the goal of maximizing human freedom and flourishing. Indeed, that is the very reason the government exists in the first place.

And the 11th Circuit judges saw that. Countless times, Judges Dubina and Marcus demanded that the government articulate constitutional limiting principles to the power it asserted. And countless times they pointed out that never in history has Congress tried to compel people to engage in commerce as a means of regulating commerce. Even Judge Hull, reputed to be the most liberal member of the panel, conducted a withering cross-exa. . .

I realize this doesn't seem to have anything to do with Brits, but limiting the power of government was a great British ideal for centuries. In the British Liberty Timeline, men and women are in a constant struggle to limit the power of government and defend their freedom.

It's always going to be a struggle because there are always people who are going to want to take it away - sometimes for what they think or pretend they think are the most beneficent reasons.

One of the more paradoxical lessons of history is that the more government tries to "take care of you", the less freedom you have and the less you flourish.

You might well wonder why some Americans are so resistant to establishing a health system which resembles Britain's NHS.

Continue reading "The purpose of government - health care" »

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June 07, 2011

IMF tells Britain to cut taxes to boost economy

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Cut taxes to stimulate business to create jobs; for the same reason get rid of thousands of unnecessary EU regulations which are stifling business.

Though we agree with the prescription, we find it disturbing that an international agency thinks it can boss around the free people of Britain. . .

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