Tuesday 27 January 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day

Each year the atrocities that took place under the Nazi regime are remembered on the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th, commerates the loss of life in genocides not only during the Second World War but also in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Find out more about Holocaust Memorial Day and show your support by lighting a candle to remember those who have been victims of genocide.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Cholera, John Snow and the Broad Street Pump!

There is no mistaking the fact that London was a very dirty place in the 19th century-filth and rubbish was everywhere! The above cartoon, aptly called 'A Court for King Cholera', published in Punch magazine in 1852 outlines just some of the horrid conditions experienced by people in the 1800s.
Conditions were so bad at this point due to rapid population growth as a result of industrialisation. Growth was so quick that towns could not cope with the need to house people and provide them with water and facilities to remove their sewage. In these conditions, nasty and devastating diseases spread very quickly.
The first case of widespread cholera hit Britain in 1831-it was a 'shock disease' that killed quickly. Sufferers would have to endure sudden and prolonged bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting-death as a result of cholera was swift, painful and unpleasant. It was because of these dreadful symptoms that cholera was the most feared disease during this time.
Of course at this time people did not understand that germs caused cholera, as Pasteur's Germ Theory was not published until 1861. People had all sorts of explanations for disease-punishment from God, Miasma or 'bad air', and the movement of the planets.

In 1832 many people studied the cholera epidemic of that year and, after careful observation of the disease, they deduced that there was a link between cholera and water supply. Obviously, this could not be explained because Pasteur had not discovered germs yet!
In 1854 Dr. John Snow made a breakthrough in proving that there was a link between cholera and water supply. Snow used meticulous research, observation, and house-to-house interviews to build up a detailed picture of a limited cholera epidemic which hit one particular area of London.

Within 10 days of the cholera outbreak around Broad Street in London, 500 people had died of the disease. Snow's research led him to discover that all of these deaths occurred within 250 yards of the water pump on Broad Street. Snow started to investigate the surrounding area of the pump and what he found led him to request that the council disable the Broad Street pump-once this was done no more deaths occurred in that same area.
Snow had found a link between the people who were getting their drinking water from the Broad Street pump and the people dying from cholera-it was mostly people using this pump that were falling victim to the terrible disease.
Cholera is spread by infected water and it was later discovered that a cesspool, one metre away from the pump, had a cracked lining allowing the contents to seep into the drinking water.
Unfortunately, John Snow, who was one of the more forward thinking surgeons of his time being one of the first to champion the use of chloroform, didn't live to see why his theory about cholera being linked to water was correct. Snow died in 1858 as the result of a stroke, three years before germs were discovered.

Friday 2 January 2009

Victoria...an unlikely Queen

Queen Victoria was never meant to be Queen of Britain. Born to the Duke of Kent on 24th May 1819 she was the fourth in line to the throne. Needless to say, Victoria's birth did not send shock waves through the country. The most that was expected of her was to make a good marriage.
However, Victoria was born during a time when the Royal Family were experiencing a succession crisis. George III's five surviving daughters and seven sons were middle aged and had had only one legitimate heir between them by 1817. The legitimate heir was Princess Charlotte-the whole country were pinning all their hopes on her producing a male heir. When Princess Charlotte and her hubby, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, were expecting a child the country breathed a sigh of relief. But after an extremely long and difficult labour, Charlotte produced a still born baby boy. If this was not enough bad luck for the Royal family, within hours of the birth Princess Charlotte contracted a fever and died. A wave of panic came over the Royal family and the country because of the lack of an heir.
The panic started what can only be described as a competition between the Dukes to see who could produce an heir first. The Duke of Kent (below) married Prince Leopold's sister, Victoire, and started the race to produce an heir.

Victoire soon became pregnant and the Duke of Kent was elated-he had won the race. The Prince Regent was not elated-he was so unhappy that he was determined to put a dampener on things.
The Prince Regent only allowed a handful of people to attend the christening of the new member of the royal family. The Duke and Duchess had planned to name their daughter Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Alexandrina Victoria. However, the Prince Regent, who was one of the baby's godfathers, refused to allow his own name (George) or his late daughter's name (Charlotte Augusta) to be bestowed upon this possible future queen. He announced that the baby would be named Alexandrina after her other godfather, Russian Tsar Alexander I. When Edward suggested Elizabeth as a second name, the Prince Regent shook his head and declared, "Give her the mother's name also then". Victoria was christened Alexandrina Victoria, although her mother preferred to call her Victoria.
At aged 8 months, Victoria's father died after taking to his bed with a chill. This left Victoria and her mother in a dire situation. They had little money and needed help. Prince Leopold persuaded the Prince Regent to allow Victoria and her mother to live in Kensington Palace. He begrudgingly obliged. The day Victoria and the Duchess moved into Kensington Palace King George III died-the Prince Regent was crowned George IV. Victoria was now third in line to the throne.

Victoria's mother and her close friend, Sir John Conroy, were convinced that Victoria would become Queen and so made sure that they conditioned Victoria for that result. Everything Victoria did was monitored-she was seldom left alone at any time-even all of her food was tasted before she ate anything.
As Victoria grew her Uncles remained childless. The Duke of Clarence came close to producing an heir but the two daughters he had both died in infancy. When Victoria was 11 King George IV died and the 64-year-old Duke of Clarence became King William IV. Victoria was now heir to the throne of Britain. Victoria's mother began to flaunt Victoria around all over the country-her daughter was sure to be Queen!
The politicians of the day thought that the name Victoria to be unsuited for a Queen and tried to get her mother to change Victoria's name to something more suitable, like Elizabeth or Charlotte. After some thought, the Duchess refused-the thought of her daughter bearing her name as Queen was far too appealing to change. Just imagine if the Duchess had agreed to the name change-we would have no great 'Victorian Age' but something else entirely! It just would not be the same would it?