On Saturday, a former army chaplain who became better-known recently for being Britain’s oldest man, died at his Staffordshire home, aged 110 years and 63 days.
It was discovering stories such as Reg Dean’s that led me to develop the storyline for ‘I Stopped Time’, a novel that sees model-turned-photographer Lottie Pye reflecting on her long life as it nears its end. Born at the turn of the twentieth century, she would have witnessed the same events and changes as Reg. In 1902 alone, the year of his birth, these new stories featured in the headlines.
- The sale of alcohol was banned at music halls.
- John Christie, perhaps best known for starting the Glyndeborne Opera Festival, was sitting next to the Queen during the opera, when he removed his glass eye, cleaned it, put it back in its socket and then asked the Queen whether it was in straight.
- The British Brothers’ League, a British anti-immigration group, was formed in east London in response to waves of immigration from Eastern Europe. Founding member Captain William Stanley Shaw and its 45,000 members adopted the slogan ‘England for the English.’
- On board the Discovery, Scott sighted Antartica for the first time. Together with Shackleton and Wilson, he would reach beyond 82 degrees south, the furthest yet attained.
- During the game in which Bobby Templeton won his first international cap for Scotland, the newly-built West Tribune Stand at Ibrox Park collapsed. Twenty-five spectators were killed and 517 injured. Play continued and bodies recovered from the wreckage were laid out along the touchline. Incredibly, it was claimed that Templeton was partly responsible for this disaster: he had the ball on the wing at the time and the vast crowd swayed to see his dribbling skills.
- Leon Serpollet’s ovoid steam car Oeuf de Pâques (Easter Egg) reached a speed of 75.06 mph over the flying kilometre on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, , taking the longstanding land speed record from Camille Jenatzy driving La Jamais Contente.
- 31st May 1902 – Peace Day – saw the end of the Second Boer War. Thousands of men in bowlers, boaters and flat caps crammed into the square around the Mansion House to celebrate. First World War veteran Alfred Anderson’s remembers returning men, so glad to be home that they picked him up and carried him on their shoulders. Considered a great victory at the time, it was only later that the war came to be seen as a shameful episode in British History. The so-called ‘last of the gentlemen’s wars’ was anything but. In a bid to control guerrilla tactics of the warring Afrikaners, Lord Kitchener’s troops herded almost a quarter of the entire Boer population into overcrowded concentration camps (the first use of the term), leading to almost 26,0000 deaths.
- The Midwives Act made it illegal to practice as a midwife without training.
- S F Edge driving a Napier scored an unexpected victory over the French in the Gordon Bennett Cup.
- Greenwich Foot Tunnel opened. Its original purpose was to replace the horse ferry, enabling the residents of South London to work at the docks on the Isle of Dogs.
- Edward VII’s coronation took place with all the pomp and circumstance he had planned. Having looked at the history of the monarchy he recognised the need to deliver impact – something his mother had failed to do since the death of Prince Albert.
- The aeronaught, Stanley Spencer, steered the first English airship on her maiden voyage from Crystal Palace to Harrow.
- Italian anarchist Gennaro Rubino attempted to assassinate King Leopold II of Belgium. Rubino fired three shots into the King’s carriage which formed part of a royal cortege travelling from a memorial service for the late Queen Marie Henriette. The shots missed and Rubino was immediately arrested.
- Raising the issue of divorce in the House of Lords, distinguished barrister and convicted bigamist Lord Russell proposed trial separations. He argued that the law as it stood encouraged immorality because unhappily married people were denied release.
Times change, but many of these items seem to have very familiar undertones!