I am not entirely sure how it happened but a few weeks ago The Times gave me a free two month subscription to their Archives. The Times Archives is a wonderful dusty old digital place where you can happily waste endless hours flicking through a collection which includes every copy of The Times (The London Times that is) from 1785 until 1985. The free subscription is about to run out but I have been trying to make the best of it by reading The Times each day from exactly 100 years ago. So my post today briefly looks at a few stories which appeared in The Times on the 17th August 09 (1909 that is)
Unemployment was in the news. The sophisticated statistics we have today were not available but one article attempted to give an estimate of unemployment by using statistics provided by trade unions. The article reports :
"As compared with a year ago there was some slight decline in employment in the engineering and shipbuilding trades, but in most of the other industries there was an improvement. In the 416 trade unions, with a net membership of 693,848, making returns, 64,877 (or 7.9 per cent.) were reported as unemployed. at the end of July, 1909, or the same percentage as at the end of June, 1909, and July, 1908".
We may have more sophisticated statistics these days but we are no better in combating unemployment. Just a few days ago the Office of National Statistics reported that unemployment had increased by 220,000 in the three months to June 2009. And the best estimate of unemployment in the UK at the moment - 7.8%!
Some things have changed however. Back in 1909 the frequency of motor car accidents was such that they tended to warrant detailed coverage in the national newspapers. Here's a report, again from the 17th August 1909 :
"An accident to a motor-car and party occurred on Sunday evening, shortly before 8 o'clock, at the foot of George Hill, Morden. Mr. Ovenell, of Lewisham, Mrs. Ovenell, and their two daughters were returning to Lewisham from an afternoon trip to Sutton and Dorking. Mr. Ovenell was sitting by the side of the driver, while the ladies were in the car. Suddenly at the foot of the hill the steering gear went wrong, with the result that the two front wheels ran into a ditch at the side of the road, and the car turned completely over. The driver and Mr. Ovencll were thrown into the roadway, Mr. Ovenell sustaining serious injuries. Mrs. Ovenell and the Misses Ovenell were not thrown out of the car, but were badly shaken and severely bruised. Another motor-car, which was passing at the time, came to the assistance of the party, and conveyed Mr. Ovenell to Merton, where his injuries were attended to. He was afterwards accompanied home by his wife. The car was badly damaged"
You might notice that whilst the fate of the Ovenell family is arefully reported upon there is no mention about what happened to the poor driver.
THE PRINCIPLES OF EQUALITY
My final extract comes from a report of a Parliamentary debate. These are the words of Arthur Balfour MP as they are reported under the somewhat dubious heading "The Principles of Democracy" :
"All men are from some points of view equal, but to suppose that the races of Africa are in any sense the equals of men of European descent, so far as government, as society, as the higher interests of civilization are concerned, is really I think an absurdity, which every man who seriously looks at this most difficult problem must put out of his mind if he is to solve the problem at all".
In case you might think that the views of Mr Balfour were the views of some extreme individual, it should be pointed out that he was the ex Prime Minister and, at the time of this speech, Leader of the Opposition. It would be nice to think that the intervening 100 years had swept away all such prejudice and ignorance. But sometimes, on a Monday morning, when the days are getting shorter, and when I am feeling depressed, I fear that it isn't so.