This Month in UK History - July

17 July 1981


Humber Bridge opened by the Queen

The Humber Estuary Bridge, the world's longest single-span structure, was officially opened by the Queen. The Humber Bridge at 2220 metres long held this record for 17 years until the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge was built in Japan.

480,000 tonnes of concrete were used and 11,000 tonnes of steel wire, 43,000 miles if put end to end, enough to go around the world 1.5 times. The River Humber Estuary is in north east England.

28 July 1858


Fingerprints first used as a means of identification

Fingerprints were first used as a means of identification by William Herschel, who later established a fingerprint register. Herschel was a British official living in India where he had the locals place their finger prints on legal documents. The idea was that the solemn ceremony of physically touching the document would deter cheating. He realized quickly that fingerprinting could be used as a method of identification for both criminal and civil affairs. Doctor Henry Faulds was the first man to solve a crime using finger prints at around the same time in Japan.

29 July 1588


The Spanish Armada was defeated by the English fleet off Plymouth

The Armada consisted of 131 ships and 17, 000 men. It was supposed to pick up a further 16,000 men in France to invade England.

When the Armada docked in France, Drake sent fire ships into the anchored Spanish ships panicking them into sailing into the English Channel. There the English, with smaller, faster ships, were able to pick them off. The remnants of the Armada fled north to regroup but were destroyed in a storm off the Irish and Scottish coasts. 67 ships and 20,000 men were lost, England lost no ships and only 100 men.

25 July 1978


The first test-tube baby in Britain was born

The first test-tube baby in Britain was born - Louise Joy Brown, at Oldham General Hospital, Lancashire. Her mother had been told that she would never be able to bear a child.

The successful birth was a result of collaboration between gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and two Cambridge doctors, Roberts Edwards and Barry Bavister. They developed a technique by which an egg taken from a women’s ovary could be fertilized in a test-tube and then returned to the womb to grow.

Famous Birth


28 July 1866 - Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter was born in London but her stories were inspired by her visits to the country with the family from an early age. The Tale of Peter Rabbit first appeared in 1902 with 25,000 copies printed.  Since then the World of Beatrix Potter has become some of the most loved children's literature in the world and has been so for over one hundred years.  The books have sold over one hundred million copies world wide and have been translated into over 30 different languages. The books are reknowned for their quailty colour illustrations which were all done by Beatrix Potter.

Famous Death


29 July 1833 - William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce, slavery abolitionist dies aged 74. Born in Hull in 1759, a wealthy merchant's son, Wilberforce went to Cambridge University. On graduation he was elected to the House of Commons as a Tory. He started campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade in 1784 but his first bill was easily defeated in 1791. Not easily beaten his bill was finally passed in 1807. The total abolition of slavery in the British Empire, not just the trade, came in 1833, a month after his death. It was another 32 years before Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in the United States of America in 1865.