Monday, August 17, 2009

I Fear That It Isn't So

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.

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.


  1. Very interesting Alan. Especially the comment at the end. Things haven't changed much when we consider diplomatic attitudes to third world countries. As for employment figures, I'd really like to know how ours are calculated. It's either from those claiming unemployment benefits or worse, and even more unreliable, based on the number of job advertisements post it. And . .whilst I haven't been 'unemployed' since being made redundant, I'm technically not in full time employment yet our unemployment rate has remained static through this so-called recession . .another case of lies and damned statistics? I wonder.

  2. So much has changed and yet so little! The archives must be fascinating - I don't want free access, I would be there all day!!

    As for unemployment statistics, the figure of 7.8% does not give any indication of actual unemployment. I did some research on this recently through the Office of National Statistics website and discovered that people are considered "employed" if they are working more than one hour a week... After trying to pin down some figures on how many people actually FOUND work over a 3 month period, I acquired no answers, a large headache, and gave up...
    Despite the lack of statistics available 100 years ago, I think that the figures are no less accurate! Good post.

  3. Several years ago I subscribed to's newspaper archives. I had the best time finding articles about our ancestors. The best one was about WT's grandfather's delivery truck being held up at gunpoint in rural Missouri in the early 1920's. The bandits made off with several crates of cigarettes! LOL

  4. There really isn't anything new, is there! I can see why you are enjoying your free subscription so much!

    A 'runabout' is a fun name for a car! And my...they sure did go into detail about that accident. Good point about the driver...poor man...what happened to him?

  5. Baino & Kabbalah : You both pick up on the point about the accuracy of current unemployment figures and quite rightly.
    Willow : Love the story about WT's grandfather. There is such a wealth of on-line historical source material these days it is a wonderful treasure trail.
    Betsy : I suppose cars are still called "runabouts" by certain people in this country as in "it will make a nice little runabout".

  6. That made interesting reading, Alan. I don't endorse the cigarette ad as being a revelation though. Lucky you being able to delve into the past in such a way.
    Didn't know you were a Facebook man. I might see you around.

  7. Val : Are you on Facebook? If so contact me. I find it OK but limited in its ability to do half the things a good blog can do. Still, got to move with the times and it does get my blogs out to many of my younger friends.

  8. Fascinating stuff--too bad your free subscription is running out; this would make a great blog series.

  9. Alan, it took me a while to understand Facebook... I was better with blogging. I'll look out for you next time I visit. I use it mainly to advertise the WI blog.

  10. I fear we all too often look upon the events of the past through today's enlightened eyes and attribute our ancestors with all manner of nasty vices. Had we lived then, we'd have been equally racist, homophobic, or misogynist.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...