On this day in 1936 the 'Battle of Cable Street' took place. Up to five thousand Blackshirt-uniformed members of the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, planned to march from Tower Hill to the East End, holding open-air rallies along the way. At least 100,000 protestors clashed with the BUF and the police, with a barricade erected on Cable Street where hand-to-hand fighting occurred. The police instructed Mosley to leave the East End, and the BUF instead marched to Hyde Park in the west. Following the disorder, the Public Order Act 1936 outlawed the wearing of political uniforms.
The Battle of Cable Street
On this day in 1884 at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC, the meridian passing through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was voted to be the international meridian for longitude - thus adopting Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the universal standard. The French, being French, refused to adopt the Greenwich meridian as the beginning of the universal day until 1911; even then they would not use the name "Greenwich", instead using the term "Paris mean time, retarded by 9 minutes and 21 seconds".
The Greenwich Prime Meridian [image credit: rmg.co.uk]
On this day in 1828 the St Katharine Docks were opened. Costing £2m - around £135m today - the docks had two linked four-acre west and east basins. Steam engines maintained the water level in the basins at four feet above the level of the Thames, and one-and-a-quarter-million square feet of warehousing was constructed. Originally founded as a hospital in the twelfth century and known as the Liberty of St Katharine, by the early nineteenth century the area was a mass slum, and over one-thousand homes were demolished to make way for the docks. Suffering devastation during the Second World War, the docks were rebuilt by the 1990s as a marina with homes and restaurants.
St Katharine Docks in 1829
On this day in 1666 French watchmaker Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn after confessing to starting the Great Fire of London. Hubert, however, was either insane or enjoyed the notoriety: he initially claimed he'd started the fire in Westminster, which the blaze didn't even reach; upon learning that the fire had started at Thomas Farriner's bakery on Pudding Lane he changed his story to say that he'd thrown a crude firebomb through Farriner's window, despite the bakery having no windows and Hubert being too crippled to throw said bomb; and it was later discovered that Hubert didn't arrive in London until two days after the fire began. Despite Hubert clearly not being the culprit, a convenient scapegoat was required to satisfy the public, and being a foreign Catholic he fit the bill; the judge and jury at his trial clearly did not believe Hubert was responsible, but he was convicted due to his own confession.
Robert Hubert receiving a firebomb in the 1667 Pyrotechnica Loyalana
On this day in 1618 statesman, soldier, writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was executed at the Palace of Westminster. Convicted of treason in 1603 against the newly acceded James I, the king commuted Raleigh's punishment from death to life imprisonment at the Tower of London. Raleigh was pardoned in 1617 and conducted an expedition to South America in search of the fabled city of gold, El Dorado; whilst there however his men attacked a Spanish outpost, in violation of the peace treaty between England and Spain. Upon his return to England the Spanish ambassador demanded Raleigh's execution, which James had little choice but to agree to. Beheaded in Old Palace Yard, amongst Raleigh's final words to his executioner were, "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear"; when the executioner hesitated, Raleigh admonished him, "What dost thou fear? Strike, man, strike!"
A nineteenth century sketch of Sir Walter Raleigh's execution
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