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Spanish Flu in London 1918-1919

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As I was born a Londoner,, my thoughts have been turning in the pandemic, to how Londoners coped with Spanish Flu in 1918. My grandfather returned from WW1, having been gassed in the trenches. He resumed running his grocery business in Hampstead High Street. My grandmother, who was asthmatic, gave birth to her youngest son in 1918.

Whatever their personal circumstances, no word of Spanish Flu causing any problems or deaths, has been passed down through the generations in my family. The Imperial War Museum has a collection of documents bequeathed to the museum by historian and journalist Richard Collier. The collection was made in the 1970s and comprises approximately 1,700 accounts of first hand witnesses of the pandemic. In 1918 half of the population of London was infected with the disease and 2.5% of the population died of it. 

As I researched it, gradually it became clear that Londoners went about their business much as usual.  The flu was not mentioned in Parliament until October 1918 and central plans for dealing with it throughout Britain were not in place.
There was no NHS to protect and hospitals were overwhelmed.  There was some disinfecting of public places and some mask wearing, but no instructions on social distancing, compulsory face covering and general lockdowns in force in 1918. This was despite the horrific effects of the flu, on those who were terminally ill, who turned blue and finally black through suffocation.
       
 Schools were kept open, unless forced to close through the absence of teachers. Public transport was running, with advice to catch later trains, and Churches were open for services. It is unlikely therefore, with this lack of Government action, that my grandfather was wearing a mask while serving his customers,  or restricting the numbers of people from entering his shop at any one time. 
 
Perhaps he went to some public celebrations of Victory of the War, which were held, with no thought to the certainty of spreading the virus.  As was the case in 2020, the Prime Minister of the day, Lloyd George caught the virus and survived. 
Throughout the country, more women died than men, ascribed to it being women who nursed the sick. The Nursing profession suffered heavy losses.  Younger people in their twenties and thirties had more fatalities from the disease than older people, which was thought to be caused by continuing to work when ill.  It is possible though that H1N1A, the Spanish Flu virus provoked an overreaction in the strong immune systems of the young, which led to their deaths. (With Covid 19, the elderly population is the most vulnerable group for contracting severe illness and women have a higher survival rate than men).
 The first published cases in the BMJ came in the form of a case series of the first fifty cases at the Central Royal Air Force Hospital, Hampstead from July 1918. By 1919 228,000 people in Britain had died from H1N1A. Gravediggers throughout the country, worked twenty-four seven to bury the dead. For whatever reason, there was no public memorial in the UK to the 1918-1919 pandemic.
 
In 2021 Covid 19 has already killed over 117,000 people, despite lockdowns, mask wearing and social distancing. The hope is that the vaccines will enable us to overcome it. 

In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.

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archeology

An important archaeological discovery in Pompeii

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After almost 2000 years a tomb of a freedman, Marcus Venerius, whose body rested semi embalmed was discovered this week.

To the east of the ancient city, at the necropolis of Porta Sarno, archaeologists found the intact burial of Marcus Venerius Secundio . A very special tomb, because at the time in the city the bodies were incinerated, while that of Marco Venerio is a tomb and his body is inside, lying in a corner, with the nape covered with white and semi-mummified hair. His body was kept inside a cell which allowed its preservation.

Marco Venerio, was over 60 when he died and was a freedman which means a former slave who had gained his freedom. He had been the guardian of the Temple of Venus, protector of the city of Pompeii, minister of the Augustals and then, after the liberation, Augustale, or member of a college of priests of the imperial cult. What is amazing of all this is the fact that a former slave could make enough money to buy himself a posh tomb.  Two cinerary urns were found externally in the tomb enclosure, one belonging to a woman named Novia Amabilis, probably  Marco Venerio’s wife. Specialists are also analysing what remains of the funeral tunic, which was made of asbestos, which may have contributed to the preservation of the body. Asbestos was often used for embalming

This new discovery is very important as it contains many details of life at the time while at the same time adding a few unanswered questions.

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History

What is that spire outside Charing Cross station in London?

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What is that spire outside Charing Cross station in London? thumbnail
Maybe you don’t know what that kind of gothic spire is in front of Charing Cross station in London. Don’t worry we explain everything here. Edward I was a king of England in the thirteenth century and was known for his lavish lifestyle. He loved to spend money and had a fondness for extravagant items such as jewellery and tapestries. His wife, Eleanor of Castile, died in 1290 advertisement Harby near Lincoln. Charing Cross is one of twelve crosses called Eleanor Cross that the king had built to mark where his wife’s funeral procession stopped.

The cross was destroyed in the year 1647 by the Puritans during the English Civil War. After the construction of Charing Cross station in 1865, a reproduction of Eleanor Cross was created and placed outside the station and not in its original place in Trafalgar Square where the equestrian sculpture dedicated to Carlo.

The reproduction was created by the architect EM Barry himself who built the railway station. He used uncommon images available from the original. at the top, there are eight images of Eleonora, 4 as a queen, with imperial symbols and 4 represented as a Christian. Below are curved angels and shields with royal weapons and those of Ponthieu, Castile and Leon, all copied from still extant Eleanor Crosses who were at Waltham Cross and Northampton.

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archeology

What is special about King Tut’s brooch?

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King Tutankhamun was the last of his family to rule Egypt 1334 – 1325 BC. He is famous because of the discovery of his treasure, together with his mummy, in his tomb, by Howard Carter in 1922. On the breastplate  of the mummy, there was a winger scarab broach, fashioned from yellow glass. 
 
Scarab beetles were worshipped in Egypt, as symbols of death and rebirth. They are active at night, finding their way by the distant rays of light from the Milky Way, rather than by bright stars. The scarab broach, belonging to King Tut, has itself an amazing connection to the cosmos.
 
It was discovered that the glass used, could not have been produced at the time of his death. Investigation revealed that it is desert glass, that originated in the Sahara desert. It is formed from  the impact of a comet that fell to Earth, twenty eight million years ago! The discovery of the remains of a comet, a black pebble, found during excavations in the desert, was an astronomical first. Only dust fragments of comets, had been  found before then.
 
So King Tut’s brooch is indeed a very special broach, as it was made from glass formed by the impact of a comet that fell to earth millions of years ago, an  archaeological as well as an astronomical first.

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