The beginnings of British aeronautics; 1909 – 2009

January 29, 2009


On the 19th June 1909 the magazine Flight published the official rules concerning the £1,000 Daily Mail Flight Prize. 

Rule 1: The flight shall be accomplished by means of a machine which is not in any manner supported by a gas lighter than air’ 

Rule 4:  ‘The distance to be travelled will not be less than 1 mile on a course round a mark half a mile distant from a prescribed starting line….’

Rule 11: ‘Each competetor agrees to waive all claims for injury either to himself or his apparatus…’

The Wright brothers had demonstrated to the World  sustained powered flight in December 1903 using the Wright Flyer , and in 1907 British aviator and ‘famous aeroplanist’  Henri Farman  won  the Archdeacon Cup for flying over 3,000 feet over 492 feet.   A year later in 1908 , in England, the Aero Club held an exhibiton of model flying machines at Olympia, and the Wright brothers showed their plane in France,  which attracted enormous interest.

Flying caught the public imagination. Both Bleriot [the first man to fly across the English Channel in July 1909] and Farman later appeared in newspaper and magazine phamaceutical adverts for products such as ‘Phosferine; the greatest of all tonics…and the remedy of kings’ .  The adverts quote Bleriot as saying…

  ‘For anyone, no matter what capacity, I can with confidence, recommend Phosferine as a bracing nerve tonic and preventative against fatigue and a resorative for loss of vitality..’

Several successful short flights in 1909 helped  British flying to gather momentum.  In March 1909 the English aviator Lord Moore- Brabazon flew three miles at Chalons Camp in France at a height of fifteen to twenty feet, using an eight cylinder motor in his plane and it was Moore-Brabazon who won the £1,000 Daily Mail Flight Prize, flying a British built Short No 2 biplane,  in the Isle of Sheppey. Moore-Brabazon later flew the first live freight aircraft, by strapping a large basket to the wing of the aircraft, containing a small pig [named Icarus ll], before flying off.

The success of aviation in the UK sporned several local competitions, such as aeroplane point-to-point races, competitions for the longest distance of flights, longest duration of flights, carrying an aviator alone, carrying a pilot and passenger, flying a closed circuit of an aerodrome or flying in a straight line.  As an expensive sport for wealthy gentlemen [and ladies such Ireland’s first aviatrix Lilian E. Bland and France’s  Baroness Raymonde de la Roche] pilots were also invited to join the Hurlingham Club which  had held a ‘hare and hounds’ balloon race in July 1909. 

For more information on the history of British aviation you may like to visit these resouces.

Aviation on Sheppey

Sky Sheppey 2009

Flight Magazine Archives

Daily Mirror Archive

The Times Digital Archive

Pioneer  aviation picture gallery

Departmenf of  Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University



Obituaries on Wikipedia

January 27, 2009
Sabrina's Stash

Copyright: Sabrina's Stash


Following the mistaken publication of a premature obituary in the New York Journal, Mark Twain cabled his publishers to tell them that “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” (June 2 1897)

Now that Wikipedia has issued two such obituaries, the user-generated site is to review the regulations governing contributions.

This is after pages on Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd had been edited incorrectly to state that they had both died. Senator Kennedy has a malignant brain tumour and collapsed during an inaugural lunch for President Obama on 20 January and was later reported to be recovering in hospital. His entry on the site read that “Kennedy suffered a seizure at a luncheon following the Barack Obama presidential inauguration on 20 January 2009. He was removed in a wheelchair and died shortly after”. A similar mistake was made on the entry for Senator Byrd.

Both errors were corrected in a very short time but now Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales wants a new users’ changes to be vetted by an editor. At present very few topics are subject to this process – the most famous example being the Israel / Palestine conflict which is subject to continuous review.  Extending the editing process is opposed by some contributors who claim that such a process would lead to backlogs and the loss of the site’s reputation for speed. Mr Wales says that 60 per cent of his users are in favour of the scheme however he is  faced with a barrage of protest from other Wikipedia editors.

One said “Our future depends on those ignorant of Wikipedia’s potential stumbling on an article, fixing it and getting hooked. Flagged revisions throw a wrench into that process”. Jimmy Wales has asked the opposition to make “an alternative proposal with seven days, to be voted upon fourteen days after that.”

This is not the first time that Wikipedia has issued incorrect information about the passing of public figures.When the disgraced Enron chief Kenneth Lay died suddenly in 2006,  the news agency, Reuters decided to monitor the way his death was described on the website. Lay’s death, six weeks after his fraud conviction, was variously attributed to an apparent suicide at 10.06am, two minutes later it was a “heart attack or suicide”, at 10.11am “the guilt of ruining so many lives finaly (sic) led him to suicide” and then a few minutes after that, “a doctor” stated that the stress of the trial had probably led to his death.  Getting information right would lead to delays in publication of entries however since Wikipedia claims to be a reference work not a news network, this should not be seen as a problem.


The Gr8 Deb8

January 27, 2009

Copyright: Crickee

The Library has recently acquired David Crystal’s new book on the phenomenon of texting ‘Txting: the Gr8 Deb8’
A lot of opinion makers think that texting is ruining the English language, the BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphreys has argued that those who text are “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped”
Crystal argues that since the invention of printing – said to be an instrument of the devil because it filled people’s minds with false notions – pundits have been scaremongering about the consequences new technology will have on language. Texting has caused the most controversy. A lot of stories in the press have given the impression that young people write in abbreviations all the time. In 2003 a teenager was supposed to have written an essay entirely in text which her teacher could not decipher. Parts of it appeared on the Internet and it was used in many tabloid articles on texting but since no one was ever able to find a source for the whole essay, it was decided that it was likely to be a hoax.
A number of researchers have produced reports on text messaging from many points of view – sociological, psychological and linguistic. The evidence shows that the ability to write well is not adversely affected by the texting habit.
Texters like to break grammatical rules, use phonetic spellings (wot instead of what) and abbreviations but they know that they must be understood so are careful not to use forms that will render their messages incomprehensible. An American study found that only 20% of messages studied included abbreviations and a Norwegian study found there were even fewer – 6%.
There are elements of text messages which are thought to be innovatory but in fact date back a hundred years or more. One of the most obvious is the use of single letters, numbers and symbols to stand for words or parts of words e.g. c for “see” and 4 instead of “for”.  These are known as rebuses; in the
Oxford English Dictionary the first recorded use of the word was in 1605. A favourite pastime in the 1700s was to write rebus letters in which people drew as many symbols to represent parts of words as they could think of.
The use of abbreviations has existed since phonetic script came into being and, paradoxically, increased with the growth of literacy between the 15th and 17th centuries. Children of military men often talk of how their fathers used to speak almost entirely in abbreviations when talking to the colleagues – AWOL (absent without leave, 2IC  (second in command)and NTR (Nothing to report).
The linguistic innovation in texting is to conflate rebuses and abbreviations as in LtsGt2gthr (lets get together) and T+ (think positive).   Texters use  letters, symbols and words without any spaces, a practice which was unknown before in the use of alternative writing systems.
Crystal says that many texts are linguistically complex and  that texting enables people to have fun with language.
In 2007  T-Mobile set up a competition to find the first “Txt laureate”  and offered a prize for the best romantic text poem.
The runner up, Eileen Bridge, a 68 year old grandmother from Accrington dedicated her poem to her husband: “O hart tht sorz, My luv adorz, He mAks meliv, He mAks me giv, Myslf 2 him,  As my love porz”.
Five years of research is underway hoping  to contradict the belief that texting stops children learning to read and write.  Beverley Plester and Clare Wood of Coventry University undertook some research to find if the habit of texting adversely affected children’s literacy. They tested thirty five eleven year olds and found that the children who were the best at using textisms were also found to be better writers and spellers.

Mousie, thou art no thy lane

January 21, 2009




Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an chase thee,
Wi murdering pattle

On turning her up in her nest, with the plough, November, 1785


Ayrshire farmer, lover, Freemason, flax-comber, drunk, Excise Officer, Royal Dumfries Volunteer and poet, Robert Burns remains Scotland’s National Bard, and 2009 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.   

Debt and love affairs dogged Burns’s colourful life. The first Scottish Poems by Robert Burns were published on 31 July 1786  by John Wilson of Kilmarnock, in a limited edition of 600 copies,  a copy of which is on display at  Robert Burns House, Dumfries and may have been published in order for Burns to emigrate and escape his problems. 

Burns’ life was in constant flux but by 1786 his success by writing made him consider himself  ’in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas à Kempis or John Bunyan’ , earning at one time a guinea per copy for the second edition of his poems, as well as receiving money from sponsors such as Lord Glencairn and Patrick Miller, who both enjoyed Burn’s poetry. In a letter to John Ballentine, a friend and banker from Ayr, in December 1786, Burns worried that, as a ‘rustic bard’…

 ‘I was first honoured with your notice, too obscure; now I tremble lest I should be ruined by being dragged too suddenly into the glare of polite and learned observation.‘

Burns travelled through the lowlands, central and the highlands of Scotland, and collaborated in the publication of Scottish ayrs with James Johnson in 1787. In 1786, with mounting money troubles and family scandal,  Burns was undecided as to whether to leave Scotland and travel abroad to Jamaica, or stay in Scotland, and in a letter written around October 1786 to Mr Robert Aikin, a writer friend in Ayr, Burns seemed to find himself in the same situation as the mouse in the poem, with nowhere to run. Burns wrote in a letter …

‘I have seen something of the storm of mischief thickening over my folly-devoted head…… I saw myself alone, unfit for the struggle of life, shrinking at every rising cloud in the chance-directed atmosphere of fortune, while, all defenceless, I looked about in vain for a cover.’    

Hard work, hard living, debauchery and disease gradually deteriorated Burns’s health.  His prodigious writing of over 600 items made Burns famous and considerably more than just a ‘rhymer like by chance’, but his life seemed to be constantly unsettled, both finacially and emotionally.  Even a few days before his death he wrote..

 ‘After all my boasted independence, curst necessity compels me to implore you for five pounds. A cruel wretch of a haberdasher, to whom I owe an account, taking it into his head that I am dying, has commenced a process, and will infallibly put me into jail.’

Robert Burns died a premature death, at the age of 37, but as a member of the Royal Dumfries Volunteer he was given a military funeral on the 21 July 1796. 


For more information on Robert Burns, the following resources are available

Literature online – full text drama and prose

The National Burns Collection

The Official Robert Site

For a web-guide to Robert Burns click here , and a BBC guide is also available. 

The letters of Robert Burns are available through the Robert Burns Archive  and the Gutenberg Project  

The Lincoln Bible

January 20, 2009



“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”



Although taking office does not require the new President of the United States to be sworn in using a Bible,  Barack Obama has chosen to use the Lincoln Inaugural Bible, used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. 


The burgundy velvet covered Lincoln Inaugural Bible, published by Oxford University Press in 1851, is part of a collection of the rare book collection of the Library of Congress. 


 At the back of the bible can be seen the blue seal of the Supreme Court, with a note from  William Thomas Carroll, the clerk of the court, writing…

 ‘I, William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the said court do hereby certify that the preceding copy of the Holy Bible is that upon which the Honble. R. B. Taney, Chief Justice of the said Court, administered to His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, the oath of office as President of the United States … “

You can see the Lincoln Inaugural Bible at the  ‘National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition’ , on 12 Febuary 2009, at the Library of Congress, and the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress are freely available online to search.

If you would like to know more about the history of US Presidential inagurations click here  


To find out more about current exhibitons at the Library of Congress, click here

The Pinter Archive

January 13, 2009


Contemporary British literary manuscripts usually end up in the care of Harry Ransom Center at  the University of Texas at Austin. The papers of  A.A. Milne, Olivier Manning, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene are among the many writers whose papers have been sold to the Center. So it was with great relief that the British Library announced on December 11th 2007 that the Pinter Archive had been saved for the nation.

 Harold Pinter, one of the foremost British playwrights of the twentieth century died on Christmas Eve. He will be remembered as a dramatist, poet, actor, director and political activist.  His archive will be become fully available for consultation at the MSS Reading Room of the British Library on February 2nd 2009. Anyone who has a reader’s pass will be able to view items from the collection.  Only one of the volumes is classified as ‘select material’; a file which contains personal letters to Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond and Joe Brearley. To read these items, it will be necessary to have a letter of recommendation as well as a reader’s pass.

 The Archive consists of 150 boxes of manuscripts, scrapbooks, letters, photographs, letters and emails and will be a valuable resource for researchers and scholars of Pinter’s work for the theatre and cinema. Highlights of the collection include his correspondence with Samuel Beckett, some manuscripts which detail his working relationship with the film director Joseph Losey, an exchange of letters with Philip Larkin and the draft of an unpublished account of his early life “The Queen of the Fairies”.

 There is an interesting blog  on the British Library website about the cataloguing of the archive by its curator Kate O’Brien which details the conservation problems associated with preserving ephemeral materials. Pinter’s scrapbooks contain newspaper cuttings which have yellowed and become brittle with age and some of the modern paper types in them such as faxes, photocopies and inkjet printouts are not likely to survive too long.  The archivist cannot remove a page from a scrapbook to preserve it in a box because then the integrity of the whole item would be lost. The solution will probably be to put the whole scrapbooks in boxes which will protect them further damage.

1911 Census

January 13, 2009
Copyright gjenkin

Copyright gjenkin

The records of more than 27 million people in England have become available online today at  At 6.30 am this morning  the site had already recorded forty thousand hits had  so the National Archives is hoping that there won’t be a repeat of the website crash that occurred in 2002 after the launch of the 1901 census. Since the compilers of the site are expecting the highest demand to be three times greater than it was for the 1901 records, they have prepared twenty six servers to cope with the traffic.

The 1911 census was the first for which the population’s completed forms were kept and important information was recorded on them for the first time: the name, age, address, place of birth, marital status and occupation as well as each person’s relationship to the head of the household.

The returns reflect the preoccupations of the time. Mary Howey, an artist and suffragette wrote “Votes for Women” on her return. Another activist refused to fill in her form and then wrote on it :  ‘If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent enough to put a cross on a voting paper.’

Among the more idiosyncratic entries, a pet cat is listed as a servant (nationality Persian) and one househoulder annotates his form with some information about his human servant: “This woman calls herself  ‘about forty’ and refuses to say any more. She looks 60. She leaves my service tomorrow”.

  As well as researching their own families, it is expected that some searchers will be looking for some famous people and the ancestors of some current celebrities. Virginia Woolf is listed under her maiden name of Adeline Virginia Stephen, she was then 29 years old and describes herself at this time as a journalist. The records also include details of important historical figures : the future Prime Minister David Lloyd George and the then Prime Minister H.H. Asquith.

Ancestors of celebrities include Amy Winehouse’s great-great grandfather Abraham Grandish, a Russian immigrant living in Spitalfields and David Beckham’s great grandfather John who worked as a scavenger for Walworth Council.

The 1921 census results will be the last to go online for many years and they will not be opened early. It appears that the 1911 results have avoided the legislation which prevents viewing until a hundred years have elapsed.

The 1931 records were destroyed in a fire in 1942 and the census  was not taken in 1941 because of the second world war.

Earlier census data is available from the National Archives census page which provides links to their commercial partners’ databases. While it is free to search these sites, you will be charged to view and  to download images of individual census entries.

Family Search also known as the International Genealogical Index provides listings of Church records around the world. It is a large database maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day saints.  It is useful but not always a reliable source of data.

Anonymised census data for 1981, 1991 and 2001 is available from the Census Dissemination Unit  You will need to register for this service and to use your Athens username and password each time you access it.