This Month in UK History - October

6 October 1769


English naval explorer Captain James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, landed in New Zealand

Captain Cook, born in Middlesborough in 1728 was given command of the HMS Endeavour in 1768.

Venus was due to pass in front of the sun in 1769, a rare event which gave an opportunity to measure the distance of the sun from the earth. The Endeavour was chosen to sail to the Pacific with astronomers on board to record the transit of the planet.

After witnessing the transit in Tahiti, Cook sailed south to New Zealand, formerly discovered by Abel Tasman. The rest of the voyage was spent charting New Zealand and the east coast of Australia.

Cook was a practical seaman and discovered the importance of vitamin C, at the time many men died of scurvy during long sea voyages. Sailors were given vitamin C in the form of Limes, hence the American nickname for the English, ‘Limeys’. Cook was clubbed to death by natives in Hawaii in 1779.

13 October 1884


Greenwich adopted as the universal time meridian of longitude.

For years the French and the British were rival Meridian Line candidates but the British won world backing when an international conference in Washington USA voted Greenwich as the centre of time in 1884.

The reason for this being that nearly all maps, except those made by the French, were based on 0°0’0” longitude going through Greenwich Royal Observatory. The Observatory was built in 1675 to improve navigation at sea and find a way of measuring longitude.

After a sea disaster in 1707 with the loss of 2000 men, a prize, 2,000,000 in today’s money, was offered to the person solving the problem. It was nearly 60 years until the prize was claimed by a clockmaker, John Harrison.

14 October 1066


The Battle of Hastings, King Harold slain as William the Conqueror's troops routed the English army

This was the last time Britain was successfully invaded by a foreign conquering army. Both the Saxons of Britain and the Normans were descendants of the Danes who had settled in Britain and later in northern France.

Both Harold and William Duke of Normandy claimed that before childless Edward the Confessor died he told each one that he would be king. It was Harold that was elected king so the angry William decided to invade.

Unluckily for Harold a Danish invasion force landed in the north so he marched his army to meet them and defeated the Danes at the battle of Stanford Bridge. On receiving news of the Norman invasion they marched south again. The exhausted army was beaten by the Normans, Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye and William made king.

18 October 1922


The British Broadcasting Company (later Corporation) was officially formed

The BBC was formed by a consortium and made its first radio broadcast from the roof of Selfridges department store in Oxford Street.

August 20 1929 saw the BBC’s first experimental transmission using John Logie Baird’s 30 line TV system and the first TV broadcast was made on July 14 1930. The television service was suspended during WWII but the radio service played a major part in the war effort by bringing news to Nazi occupied Europe.

Since then the BBC has gone on to be the World’s most respected broadcaster and now has 4 TV channels, 10 national radio stations and 46 local stations. BBC World Service TV began in 1991 and November 15th 1998 saw the launch of the BBC’s digital service.

Famous Birth


13 October 1925 - Margaret Thatcher, Grantham England, (Tory) British PM (1979-90)

She was the first woman to become leader of the conservative party and the first woman prime minister of the UK, a position she held from 1979 to 1990.

She was nicknamed the Iron Lady by the Russians for her hard-line stance during the Cold War. She was famous for privatizing loss making nationalized industries and, by using the police to crush the miner’s strike of 1984, broke the power of trade unions in Britain.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands She dispatched a task force of Britain’s armed services to the South Atlantic to defeat the Argentineans, a policy hugely popular back home. Thatcher enjoyed a ‘special relationship’ with US president Ronald Reagan during the Cold War and went on to become the UK’s longest serving 20th century Prime Minister.

.... and famous death


25 October 1400 -Geoffrey Chaucer (Poet and writer).

Widely considered the father of English literature, Chaucer was born around 1343 to a wealthy wine merchant.

His most famous book is ‘Canterbury Tales’ and thought to be the first book ever printed in English. It is a collection of stories told by different people whilst on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the tomb of Thomas Becket. Chaucer was primarily a civil servant in the service of different kings so he only completed 24 of the originally planned 120 stories.

After the overthrow of his patron, Richard II, Chaucer vanishes from historical record. He died of unknown causes and there is even speculation he was murdered by enemies of Richard II. Chaucer is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.