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284188.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 5:33 am Reply with quote

The world’s first bird reserve (probably) was run by Saint Cuthbert, 7th century AD, on Inner Farne off the coast of Northumberland; his retreat is now owned by the National Trust.

The first nature reserve run in Britain for recreation was (probably) that of Squire Charles Waterton, of Walton Hall near Wakefield. The Squire began work on it in 1817, banning shooting throughout his 260 acres, threatening to “strangle his gamekeeper” if he shot any owls, and banning boating on his lake during the wildfowl breeding season. He surrounded the entire property with a wall to keep out people and dogs. Foxes and badgers found on the property were “trapped and deported.” He was in favour of weasels, though, despite their egg-eating activities, because they killed the Hanoverian rats.

He wrote to a pal in 1849 that he was particularly proud of his kingfishers; but for his wall, he boasted, “their race would be extinct in this depraved and demoralized part of Yorkshire.”

The Squire put up nest boxes, encouraged the growth of ivy, and sued a neighbouring soap works for polluting his lake (he won, but was awarded derisory damages). For all his fascination with natural history, he despised museum workers, calling them “closet naturalists.” He was a keen collector of birds himself - shooting only the males, because they had the brighter colours. His party trick was to scratch the back of his head with his foot.

In those days, the whole purpose of having a big estate was so that posh tossers could shoot birds on it - so the Squire was considered thoroughly eccentric. He recorded 122 species on his reserve - but when he died, his estate was bought by a more conventional thinker, who put it back to a proper, “tidy” state, thus destroying the Squire’s entire life’s work.

The first recorded bird feeder was (probably) John Freeman Dovaston; first to feed them for their own sake, that is, rather than, eg, to eat them. He invented the ornithotrophe in c.1825. This was some sort of bird table, or feeding station, erected outside a window of his home, to which he attracted 23 species on one snowy day.

Bird feeding didn't take off, though; another amateur ornithologist, Rev F.O. Morris, wrote to the Times in the 1850s urging people to feed the birds - but Victorians, keen on the virtue of thrift, could not put out spare food for the birds, because that would mean admitting that they had food over, which would mean they were wasteful in their habits.

That changed quite suddenly in 1890, when a terrible winter seems to have moved large numbers of Britons, especially city-dwellers, to put food out for the desperate wild birds. By 1910, Punch was talking of bird-feeding as a national pastime, and a small industry grew to supply the requisite items of hardware.

In the winter of 1916-17, Sophia Stuart was taken to court for feeding bread to the birds in her garden in Woking. A policeman who witnessed the awful crime collected up half a pound of bread as evidence. She was charged with wasting food during wartime. She was an old woman, her only son dead, and she told the court “the birds are my children, I have nothing else to love,” and that the bread she put out was only “unclean crusts,” and that food given to one’s fellow creatures could not be called wasted. She was found guilty and fined £2.

(As Soper points out, even on practical grounds she was clearly in the right: birds are valuable to human food production as pest controllers, so by keeping them alive she was actually aiding the war effort ...)

(Fairly sure I’ve posted the Sophia story before, but can’t find it via the search function. Apologies for any repetition.)

S: “Tony Soper’s Bird Table Book’ (David & Charles, 2006).

Links: Feathers, Flight, Follies, Felonies

284310.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 7:21 am Reply with quote

posh tossers

Mat's back, everyone!

Now we just need Bunter to use the phrase "the Great Unwashed" and we'll have as full an account of political and social history in Britain as we could wish for.

284389.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:12 am Reply with quote

The first person to ring birds for scientific research (ring as in put a ring around their legs, that is, not as in “phone a friend”) is thought to have lived “somewhere around the 12th century”, possibly in Germany. He is reported to have fixed a parchment to a swallow’s leg carrying the message: “O swallow, where do you live in winter?” and to have received a reply the following spring: “In Asia, in home of Petrus.”

Since 1937, ringing in Britain has been run by the British Trust for Ornithology; they reckon 32 million birds have been rung in that time, of which 600,000 have been reported back. Every ring carries this return address: “Brit. Museum London SW7”.

S: Tony Soper’s bird table book by Tony Soper (David & Charles, 2006).

Links: Feathers, Flight

284431.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:32 am Reply with quote

This isn't useable, but I had to post it, just because it’s so odd ... a man was murdered in a Bristol pub last Christmastime, by being hit over the head with a pool ball in a sock.

“Police said it was the first time anyone in Britain had died as a result of being struck over the head by a snooker [sic] ball.”

(S: Western Daily Press, 20 Feb 08).

I’m amazed that the police keep track of such things - and even more so that they see fit to announce it, Guinness Book of Records-style.

Molly Cule
289899.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 5:44 am Reply with quote

Philo Farnsworth was an American inventor from Utah who helped develop the television. In 1928 after years of research he successfully broadcast the first image in the history of American television; the dollar sign.

This was during a press screening, people had been asking Farnsworth when he would make money from his invention so he choose to broadcast a dollar sign.

He said he had his idea for how to create a totally electronic television when he was only 14.

Farnsworth became interested in technology when he moved into a family home as a child which was wired with electricity, he was excited by being able to talk to a relative on the phone, then discovered a stash of technology magazines left behind in the house by a previous owner. He converted the families washing machine into an electrically powered one himself. At school he already had novel ideas, one of the sketches he did on a blackboard had to be recreated by his chemistry teacher for a patent legal case between Farnworth and RCA.

He also developed a process for passing radio waves through milk to sterilize it, a fog-penetrating beam for ships and airplanes as well as the baby incubator, electron microscope and was involved with developing radar, atomic energy and nuclear fusion.

He told his wife, when watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, that that moment, watched by millions of viewers, had made it all worthwhile.

Dr. Farnsworth said: "There had been attempts to devise a television system using mechanical disks and rotating mirrors and vibrating mirrors--all mechanical. My contribution was to take out the moving parts and make the thing entirely electronic, and that was the concept that I had when I was just a freshman in high school [in 1922, at age 14]." When Moore asked about others' contributions, Dr. Farnsworth agreed, "There are literally thousands of inventions important to television. I hold something in excess of 165 American patents."

290683.  Wed Mar 05, 2008 7:10 am Reply with quote

Not a First, but a last ...

Sparky, Britain’s last remaining deep-pit pony, died aged 36 at a retirement home in Wakefield, in April 2007. He had been retired since 1994.

S: Morning Star, 5 Apr 07

291829.  Fri Mar 07, 2008 5:29 am Reply with quote

Q: What’s this (Stephen brandishes rolled-up newspaper)?
A: The world’s first stethoscope.

In the 1950s, I found that asking an elderly person whether they'd had their bowels opened today was pretty embarrassing if I had to shout so loud that everyone could hear it all the way down a 20-bed Nightingale ward. One way round this was to roll up a newspaper and speak through that, directly into the best ear.
That was exactly how the stethoscope was born in 1816, when French physician Rene Laennec first listened to a patients' breathing and heart sounds through a rolled paper tube. This was soon replaced by a turned boxwood trumpet, which is still used by many midwives to listen to the unborn baby's heart. By the 1850s, this simple tube evolved into the binaural stethoscope used today, a Y-shaped tube with a bell or diaphragm at the bottom end and ivory or plastic earpieces at the top. With this instrument reversed, so that the patient uses the earpieces and the doctor speaks to the bell or diaphragm, it is almost always possible to hold a quiet conversation even with almost completely deaf people.


293131.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 7:26 am Reply with quote

The first novel to be adapted for TV was The Man with a Flower in his Mouth. Clearly, this set the cheerful tone for TV plays evermore, as it is apparently “essentially a philosophical dialogue in a cafe between a man with a cancerous throat and a businessman who has just missed the train to work and has time to kill.”

Transmission was on 14 July 1930.

The restraints of the technology meant that only one actor could appear at a time. Sound and vision could not go out together: viewers first saw the actor mouthing his words, and then heard the words themselves, while watching a dark screen. (The BBC website quoted below seems to dispute this version; it appears to suggest that this had been the case, but by the time of this broadcast, simultaneous sound and vision had been achieved).

Only heads and shoulders were shown - though close-ups of the hands were also used, to provide some variety. It wasn't possible to fade smartly from one actor to the other; instead a “chequered fading board” slid into view as the next actor took his place in front of the camera.

Viewing figures were “a few hundred,” which included Marconi (watching with other special guests from a tent - in high winds - on the roof of the Baird building), and the Prime Minister, who watched from 10 Downing Street, Baird having given him a “televisor”.

The director was famous radio documentary maker, Lance Sieveking, whose son is now editor of the Fortean Times.

The new technology developed quickly: in 1939, the BBC transmitted “a three-hour musical from a West End theatre using an OB unit, and was regularly showing 90-minute live studio productions with filmed inserts for exteriors.”

There was a general belief that this marked the end of the novel as a viable form - why would people go to the trouble of reading a book, if they could just have it acted out in front of them in their own homes instead? Though presumably, they’d already been through all that nonsense when cinema started. Nonetheless, they went through it again, and then again when domestic VCRs became available, and again when broadband started, and ...

(What people forget nowadays is the horror with which people greeted the advent of the novel itself: it too was a new technology which would destroy everything good and decent, exactly like computer games: it would end conversation, church-going, obedience to parents, and would lead to rampant sexual incontinence amongst young women. Some of us are still waiting on that promise ... )

S: ALCS News Spring 2008

Links: Films

293972.  Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:47 am Reply with quote

Anatol Josepho was a Russian who invented the photo-booth (in the USA).

He opened his first Photomaton on Broadway in 1925. As many as 7,500 people a day would queue up to pay 25 cents for their strip of 8 photos: the place was called “Broadway's greatest quarter-snatcher.” Customers were guided to the booth by a white-gloved attendant, which is rather splendid, who would tell them to “look to the right, look to the left, look at the camera.”

In 1927 he sold the US rights to his invention for one million dollars. He gave much of this away to the poor of New York City, which made him very unpopular: to the press, it was obvious that only a filthy communist would do something like that.

In the 1950s, Woolworth’s in the US decided to remove the curtains from their photo booths, because of lewd behaviour: women were often caught exposing themselves inside the booths, and couples were also known to engage in disgraceful acts before the camera.

When Andy Warhol made art out of photo booth pictures, he would try various different booths before settling on the one he liked; the difference was that “The more a photobooth was used, the more exhausted the chemicals would be. If the chemicals were going bad, the photbooth pictures would become greyer and seemingly out of focus.”

In the 1950s, the company that ran photo booths in the US tried to market a portable model on wheels, which could be used during riots and protests “so that people could be photographed and tagged on the spot.” The booths weighed 800lb, though, and the scheme never really took off.

Photo-Me booths are now digital, and “the most frequent request” at their Texas head office is from people desperate to get hold of the negatives from pictures they took last night. The company is able to reassure them that no negatives exist ...

S: Sunday Telegraph, 9 March 08.

294065.  Tue Mar 11, 2008 12:23 pm Reply with quote

Jean Baptiste Fourier, a French mathematician, first postulated in 1827 that increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide had been responsible for previous warm periods on Earth.

S: Morning Star, 3 May 07

295253.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 8:14 am Reply with quote

The first popular gardening book is often said to be Thomas Hill’s “The gardener’s labyrinth” (1577). Many of Hill’s oddest recommendations, having been ridiculed for centuries, seem to be gaining respectability in the light of modern research.

He advocated hanging “river crevisses” (crayfish) in the branches of orchards, to repel deer. This apparent superstition is now better understood; rotting marine life gives off hydrogen sulphide. Sulphur is the modern deer-repellent of choice; tests show it to be more effective than any alternative. Because the crayfish is shelled, it would have rotted slowly, and been less vulnerable to birds, thus providing long-lasting protection.

Also promoted by many modern horticultural researchers is one of Hill’s ways of getting rid of caterpillars, “wormes,” and other small pests: gather up some of the type you are troubled by, “seeth them” (ie, boil) with dill, and spray the crops with the cold liquid.

Flying pests can be dealt with by gathering powdered hartshorn, brimstone and acrid herbs, forming them into balls with strong vinegar, drying them, and burning them, at which point “All creeping vermine will either hastily forsake the ground, or die there incontinent.” The above recipe contains ammonia from the horn, and sulphur from the brimstone, and something very similar is used as a Fumigant in vineyards today.

Seedballs are a late 20th century invention - credited to Masanobu Fukuoka - by which seeds are encased in red clay or compost to increase germination; “they have been slungshot into derelict city lots and dropped from helicopters over mountain ranges to rejuvenate marginal terrain.” But Hill was there before Fukuoka: to get salads “of a marvellous form,” he advised, roll a mixture of lettuce, radish, cress, basil and rocket seeds in a little goat dung, dry the pills, and store them until needed in linen cloths.

He insisted that parsnips would grow much fatter if their leaves were regularly trodden on - and was in favour of digging up any crop halfway through its life and transplanting it. Recent research on thigmo-morphogenesis suggests he might be right.

He didn't get everything right though: he also believed that old seed germinated better than fresh seed; that wheat turns into oats after three years; and that if you accidentally swallow a serpent (Damn! Not again!) you can expel it by inhaling the smoke of a burnt shoe.

S: John Yeoman (a very interesting writer, worth googling) writing in Organic Gardening magazine, Winter 08.

Links: Fish, Fertilisers, Fumigants, Folklore

295288.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 8:54 am Reply with quote

Much good stuff there. I like the photo-booth particularly as it's the kind of thing that's quite likely to set off an anecdote.

295338.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 9:31 am Reply with quote

Britain's first openly atheist MP was, as I'm sure everyone knows, Charles Bradlaugh. When elected to parliament by the good burghers of Northampton in 1880, he stirred up controversy by insisting on the right to "affirm" allegiance to parliament, rather than (as was required at the time) swearing an oath to God. The right to "affirm" rather than swear an oath in court cases was granted in 1869, but this behaviour was deemed unsuitable for parliament.

Since he wasn't allowed to "affirm" and had been refused permission to take the oath "as a matter of form" (i.e. presumably without taking it seriously), the speaker decided that he should be expelled from The House. Bradlaugh tried to take his seat anyway, and was arrested and imprisoned in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster (just under Big Ben). Apparently the last person to be incarcerated there, he was released for fear of turning him into a martyr.

Since he was prevented from taking up his seat, Northampton was without an MP. This caused a by-election the following year, which was promptly won by Charles Bradlaugh. The same thing also happened in 1883 and 1884. Throughout these years, Bradlaugh continued to stir up trouble. In 1883 he took his seat in The House and managed to vote three times before someone noticed him and he was thrown out and fined £1,500 for voting illegally.

Finally, after the 1885 General Election, Bradlaugh was permitted to take the oath by a new speaker in January 1886, although technically, since he presumably took the oath with his fingers crossed or something, he was at risk of prosecution under the Parliamentary Oaths Act. He was finally able to rest easy when he managed to steer the 1888 Oaths Act through parliament which enshrined in law the principle of universal affirmation as an alternative to the oath.

I did hear a story once that he was only able to take up his seat in 1886 because the speaker swore him in first, before any of the other MPs, thus ensuring that nobody could object, but I've found precious little evidence of that story online.


295346.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 9:40 am Reply with quote

I've got a couple of books on Bradlaugh, Bob, I'll have a look.

Tony Benn's case in the following century had similar features (fittingly, as Benn is a great admirer of Brad.). Benn has inherited a peerage on the death of his father (who had been a Labour MP, made a peer on his retirement) - Benn, too, kept getting elected by the stubborn voters of Bristol, until eventually the House had to change the rules to let him in ... or just give up on the whole pretence of democracy altogether!

296041.  Fri Mar 14, 2008 9:57 am Reply with quote

According to his diaries, what was the first thing (future Cabinet Minister) Alan Clark did, on hearing of the Labour landslide in 1945?

Smash the windows of his local co-op shop.

S: Co-operative News, 11 Dec 07.


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