Prince William dies in a plane crash, Magna Carta is invalidated, tramways are introduced to the UK and the Mini is revealed to the world!

This Week in British History is my Youtube and Podcast series for 2020. However for this week, instead of a video and podcast, circumstances have meant this week its coming to you in a blog. A change is as good as a rest as they say! This week I'm covering some of the events which happened between the 24th and the 30th August.
  • ✈️ Prince William of Gloucester dies in a plane crash
  • 📜 Magna Carta is invalidated
  • 🏃‍♂️ Sebastian Coe breaks the record for running a mile, the 3rd time it has been broken in 10 days!

  • 🚃 Tramways are introduced to the UK and
  • 🚗 The Mini is revealed to the world!

24th August 1215 - Pope Innocent III declares the Magna Carta invalid

Back in June, I did a Magna Carta Special to coincide with the 15th June, the anniversary of the creation of the first edition, the original, Magna Carta. I took you to Runnymede where King John had reluctantly put his seal to the document.

[Watch that episode now]

Magna Carta thumbnailIn that I also talked about John’s reluctance to assent to the document and that his sudden acceptance of it, in its probably unfinished state, was down to him having little, if any, intention of sticking to it. I can expand further now because on 24th August Pope Innocent III after an almost immediate appeal from John, annulled Magna Carta. 

John had taken the Crusader's Vow and as such the Pope was his protector as well as Overlord of John’s kingdom. He’d already sent letters to the Barons berating them for having forced John into agreeing to an agreement that was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people”.

On 24th August 1215, a mere 70 days after it was created, Pope Innocent III declared Magna Carta “null, and void of all validity for ever”. It wasn’t a successful order otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it still today, over 800 years later. Perhaps no copies would exist and we would have been lucky to have a mention or reference to it in other surviving documents but not know its detailed contents. Yet we do, with 4 surviving copies of the 1215 charter, available for people to visit and view; two at the British Library, one at Salisbury Cathedral and one at Lincoln Cathedral. 

Its initial survival is down to two factors; the determination of the Barons of England to hold John to this hard fought for agreement and therefore its rapid reproduction and dissemination across the country quickly alerting the population to its existence and the principles contained. The other, more significant, is the unexpected death of John the following year. His son, Henry III, was only 9 years old and it was relatively easy to start anew for, the sins of a father could not be brought to bear upon the son! Now came a shrewd move by Henry’s protector and regent whilst he was a minor, William Marshall. He reissued the document, with a few amendments as a Crown issued document. In other words he reversed the premise of the original, which had been a list of demands from the land owning elite on the king to a document created and issued by the king and the crown.

26th August 1959 - The launch of a British Icon, the Mini

British Motor Corporation introduced the world to the Morris Mini-Minor, designed by Alec Issigonis on 26th August 1959. It was only 10 ft long but seated 4 passengers. The Mini became an icon of the 1960’s and of course had a main role in the 1969 film, the Italian job starring Michael Caine.

By Mark Brown from Hampton New Brunswick Canada 1959 Morris Mini Minor CC BY SA 2.0 https w index.php curid10651797With its design leaving 80% of the space available for passengers, it is credited with influencing subsequent car design. It was affordable, economical, practical but with a wheel at each corner “took bends like it was on tracks” and was incredibly fun to drive.

The Mini was produced in the UK but also abroad, being manufactured in 13 countries worldwide. It had a number of different names over time so you may also have heard of it as the Austin Mini, Leyland Mini or Morris Mini among others. The car continued to be produced along similar lines until BMW bought the Rover Group in 1994, sold off most of it but retained rights to the Mini name. 

Now, the original shape and sized mini is referred to as a classic to distinguish it from what it has become more recently, a quite large family car!

28th August 1972 - Prince William dies in a Plane Crash

Prince William of Gloucester died on 28th August 1972, aged just 30, in a plane crash at Halfpenny Green Aerodrome near Wolverhampton whilst taking part in the Goodyear International Air Trophy. Prince William, a licensed pilot and keen competitor in amateur air show races was also President of the British Aviation Centre.

Prince William of Gloucester visiting Tywyn 2 1549704 cropped

Prince William was flying a yellow and white Piper Cherokee Arrow along with co pilot and sometimes rival in competitions, Vyrell Mitchell. Soon after take-off, the plane banked sharply hitting a tree and plummeted to the ground. Three young boys who had been watching the race, attempted a rescue but were beaten back by the heat from the flames. Firefighters who got to the scene a few minutes later were also unable to rescue the pair from the burning wreckage. It took them 2 hours to get the flames under control. The bodies were identified by dental records the following day.

William was a bachelor and 9th in line to the British throne at the time of his death aged. He was the son of the Queen’s uncle Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of George V and Queen Mary. His mother, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester later wrote in her memoirs that “I was completely stunned and have never been quite the same since, though I have tried to persuade myself that it was better to have known and lost him than never to have had him at all.” She also admitted to not telling her husband who was in frail health. Duke Henry died only 2 years later having outlived one brother and one child.

Some of the documents relating to this crash will be kept secret for 100 years from the crash, not due to be opened until 1st January 2073! At the time an appeal was made to any amateur photographers to submit any cine film they may have of the accident, to incident investigators. The Royal family went into mourning from the time of the accident to the funeral. The Queen and Princess Anne both cancelled their planned visits to the Munich Olympics. The Duke of Edinburgh, who was already in Munich, returned earlier than planned in order to attend the funeral. Both are buried at the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore.

[Watch the Prince William Air Crash on YouTube]

28th August 1981 - World Record for the mile broken for the third time in 10 days!

For the third time in 10 days, a world record in the mile run was set. Sebastian Coe, who broke Steve Ovett's record on August 19th and lost it to Ovett on August 26th , broke it again - by a full second - in Brussels, Belgium. Coe's new record time was 3:47.33. Even knowing the outcome I couldn’t help but get excited and even well up a bit when you saw the “Coe kick” at the end. Incredible!

[Watch Coe's record-breaking run]

30th August 1860 The first British tram opens in Birkenhead

On the 30th August the first tram to run in the UK opened, it was a horse drawn tram at Birkenhead. The concept was brought to the UK by American entrepreneur George Francis Train (seriously - that was his name). Train set up a horse tramway company in Birkenhead on the Wirral. He possibly knew the area well as he had already made a fortune in merchant shipping, Birkenhead (near Liverpool) being a major dock for imports and exports to and from the USA.
Birkenhead Tramway - photo credit Alan Murray
This wasn’t a world first of course, trams had been operating in New Orleans and New York throughout the 1950s. In March the following year, Train established a line in London which ran between Notting Hill and Marble Arch. The 6 month trial in Birkenhead was a success and it ran for 77 years, closing just before the outbreak of World War II. George Francis Train is well worth even a cursory glance, he seems a very interesting character. Not only was he a one time independent Presidential candidate, his travels and possibly he himself was the inspiration for Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 days’ and its protagonist Phileas Fogg.
George Francis Train


Magna Carta Special -
Prince William Air Crash -
Seb Coe Mile -

Sources, Further Reading:

Magna Carta
Prince William of Gloucester
Tram in Birkenhead

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