My father, Les, was born in May 1910, I became his first-born child in March 1947, my first child was born in October 1967, and my first grandchild was born to my oldest son, in April 2002.
That’s four generations born within 92 years and this Fathers’ Day, it started me thinking about the changes that have happened since my father, that is my children’s grandfather, my grandchildren’s Great-grandfather, was born.
So, what was life like in 1910?
Well, it was four years before “The Great War”; Doctor Crippen had just murdered his wife and had fled on the SS Montrose, an ocean-going liner, bound for America. He was subsequently arrested through an early use of the telegraph (no, not the newspaper – although Boris Johnson could possibly be open to that), was tried, found guilty and hanged at Pentonville, all in the first year of my father’s life. Criminals underestimating the power of forensic technology even then.
The first Labour Exchange opened – we now call them Job Centres but not much else has changed in the interim; there was a lot of political, social and industrial unrest; battles between the Houses of Commons and Lords, which resulted in two general elections that year with the final one giving the Liberals and the Unionists (as the Tories were then known) 272 votes each! Labour and the Irish Nationalists had the balance of power. Echoes of such unrest run right through to today!
Similarly, Manchester United lost 3-4 to Liverpool at their newly opened Old Trafford Ground, not much change there either.
There were strikes by miners, resulting in long lock-outs and the Tonypandy Riots in Wales, and some really significant and shocking pit disasters during the year.
It wasn’t all bad though, because this was the last time that only men were allowed to vote, mainly because the Suffragettes and Suffragists were cutting up rough during this time, and women in the midlands successfully went on strike seeking a minimum wage. Sad to think that around half of us can’t be bothered to turn out to do it these days.
King Edward VII fell ill and died to be replaced by George V after some huge right royal gatherings for the funeral and subsequent coronation. I wonder if the great and powerful of that huge European family firm foresaw what would happen a few short years later as they squabbled over manorial rights.
It seems really strange for me to think that my dad was alive while all this stuff was kicking off. I really regret not ever having spoken to him about how his world had changed during his lifetime.
Flights of fancy?
For example. it seems incredible that the year of his birth saw someone complete the Daily Mail’s London to Manchester air race in under 24 hours! Blimey! You can usually do it by train in that time now, even on a Bank Holiday.
In that year Charles Rolls became the first man to make a return non-stop flight across the channel although he unfortunately became the first aeronautical fatality later in the year by crashing at another event. What a pioneer! Is that what they mean by a double first? I don’t know, I never even graduated.
I guess it is fair to say that my dad and aviation shared an infancy.
So what else was happening?
Double-decker buses were being introduced, and well before his second birthday horse-drawn buses were removed from service in London, thus saving the capital from dire warnings of disappearing under a mounting pile of horseshit so there are some upsides to the infernal combustion engine. Other possible positives were The London Palladium, Westminster Cathedral, and the Girl Guides which all opened their doors for the first time in 1910.
On the less salubrious side, The Siege of Sidney Street took place in January 1911 when a group of Latvian anarchists screwed up a robbery in London and shot three policemen. That part of town was pretty rough and full of Anarchists/Socialists/Aliens (the terms were often used interchangeably by the press). In fact, one paper referred to “the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil” – ring any bells?
Talking of ringing bells, the telephone network wasn’t nationalised until 1912/13 so there wasn’t much of a phone system either.
Incidentally, I remember seeing the film of The Seige of Sidney Street with my dad in The Ritz in Balham in 1960 which was not many years before he died. I thought it was a great film.
Anyway back to 1910. Newspapers were pretty much the only way to get information in those days. Broadcasting wouldn’t even start for another ten years so imagine life without radio (or wireless when it came in), Television, computers, telephones, and so on. Urgent messges were sent by telegram which involved taking your message to an office, electronic transmission by telegraph & probably morse code, with human intervention for the final delivery.
No Mobile phones, no internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, instagram, or blogs like this….