On this day in 1870 the Tower Subway opened. The world's first 'tube' railway (the underground Metropolitan Railway, which had opened seven years prior, was built using a 'cut-and-cover' method of digging up the road to the lay the track), it ran underneath the Thames between Tower Hill and Pickle Herring Stairs just off Tooley Street. Described by a contemporary as being a "great intestine", it first operated as a railway carriage pulled on a rope, but was soon converted into a toll-paying pedestrian subway. After nearby Tower Bridge opened in 1894, the subway was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company, and today it contains water pipes and fibre optic cables.
The Tower Subway entrance on Petty Wales
On this day in 1870 the British Red Cross was founded, six years after its Swiss equivalent. At a meeting at Willis' Rooms on Piccadilly, chaired by Colonel Loyd-Lindsay - a veteran of the Crimean War and Victoria Cross recipient - a resolution was passed to form "a National Society be formed in this country for aiding sick and wounded soldiers in time of war and that the said Society be formed upon the rules laid down by the Geneva Convention of 1864." Originally titled the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War, it was renamed the British Red Cross in 1905, and was granted its Royal Charter three years later.
Sorting bandages at the office of the British Red Cross, September 1870
On this day in 1675 Charles II laid the foundation stone of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The purpose of the observatory was to find a way of calculating the longitudinal position of ships, which had long eluded mariners. The longitudinal problem was finally solved in 1773 by an obscure Yorkshire clockmaker named John Harrison; his first four marine chronometer prototypes, H1 to H4, are on display at the observatory’s museum. In 1833 a five foot diameter red time ball was installed on the roof of the observatory: at 12:55 the ball begins rising to the top of the pole, reaching the summit at 12:58; at 13:00 it then makes a sudden drop. Being atop a hill in Greenwich Park, the ball was in view of the Thames, and so allowed mariners, clock makers, and the general public to accurately record the time and set their watches accordingly.
The Royal Observatory as it looked in 1824
On this day in 1896, Britain's first recorded case of a pedestrian killed by a car occurred in Crystal Palace Park. Forty-four-year-old Bridget Driscoll was walking over a road in the park with her daughter and friend when she became rooted to the spot and "bewildered" at the sight of a car careering towards her, holding up her umbrella as a signal for it to stop. A witness later testified that the car had been "as fast as a fire-engine – in fact, as fast as a horse can gallop"; the driver claimed that its speed had been restricted to 4.5mph, and even without that restriction, its top speed would have been only eight. Most likely, the pedestrians present were simply dumbfounded by the new contraption, of which there were only around twenty examples in the entire country. The coroner, rather optimistically, said that he hoped "such a thing would never happen again".
Bridget Driscoll, circled, Britain's first pedestrian killed by a car
On this day in 1305 William Wallace was executed at Smithfield. A Scottish noble and knight, he was a military leader in the wars against England. Wallace was tried at Westminster Hall and found guilty of treason against King Edward I of England. He was taken to the Tower of London, then dragged naked behind a horse to Smithfield where he was hanged, drawn and quartered: strangled by hanging until almost dead, cut down whilst still alive, emasculated, eviscerated, his bowels burned before him, beheaded, then his body sliced into four parts. At no point during those proceedings was Wallace in any fit state to shout the word "freedom" at the top of his voice as he does at the end of Mel Gibson's highly fictionalised 'Braveheart'.
The William Wallace memorial in West Smithfield
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