15 March 1091

Shropshire born historian Orderic Vitalis was ordained subdeacon at the monastery of St Evroult in Normandy . The Ecclesiastical History he wrote there took over 25 years to complete and is considered a valuable account of the Anglo-Norman world.


15 March 1672

Charles II issued his Declaration of Indulgence, allowing Protestant nonconformists to worship together if they obtained licences and Catholics to worship in private. He was forced to withdraw it the following year.

15 March 1810

The 28th and last issue of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Friend was published. Issued from the Lake District, the publication had received little attention, leading him to describe it in later life as "a well-kept secret”.

15 March 1813

Birth in York of English obstetrician, epidemiologist and public health reformer John Snow. A pioneer in the use of anaesthetics, he administered chloroform to Queen Victoria during the births of two of her children. Snow was sceptical of the popularly held belief that diseases such as cholera were transmitted by foul air. During an outbreak of the disease in Soho in 1854, Snow traced its cause to a community water pump that drew water from a contaminated well.

15 March 1848: Revolution ignites Hungary

A mob marches on the governor to demand change

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Like all good revolutions, the Hungarian uprising of 1848 began in a coffeehouse. The place’s name was Pilvax, and it looked exactly as a Pest cafe should: pillars, arches, newspapers, men smoking in the corners. And it was here, on 15 March, that Sándor Petőfi and his fellow radicals gathered, wearing red-white-and-green ribbons on their lapels, to mark their support for Hungarian freedom.

For Petőfi, a 25-year-old poet, Hungary had chafed for too long under the rule of the remote Habsburg emperor. The radical had co-written a list of 12 demands, including a devolved Hungarian government, a free press, a national bank and a national army. In a nod to the French Revolution 60 years earlier, the document ended with the powerful words: “Equality, liberty, brotherhood!”

As the young revolutionaries left the cafe, they carried copies of these Twelve Points. Ranging across the city, they forced printers to run off more copies, so they could read them to the crowds. Soon hundreds of people were joining them, then thousands. At last they reached the newly built National Museum, and here Petőfiseized his moment.
Before a giant crowd, he began to recite his most recent poem, National Song:

“On your feet, Magyar, the homeland calls!
The time is here, now or never!
Shall we be slaves or free?
This is the question, choose your answer!
By the God of the Hungarians
We vow,
We vow, that we will be slaves
No longer!”
Needless to say, the crowd loved it.

A little later, the huge throng surged across the Danube via a pontoon bridge to Buda, then a separate city. Here they gathered outside the Habsburg governor’s office, demanding that he acquiesce to the demands. The governor was no fool; he said yes. More good news followed two days later, as the emperor agreed that Hungary could have its own government.

So far, not a single drop of blood had been spilled. It didn’t last. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

15 March 1898

Inventor and engineer Sir Henry Bessemer dies in Denmark Hill, South London. In 1855 he developed the steel-making process that bears his name – the use of blasts of air to remove carbon from molten pig iron.

15 March 1909

American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge opens a new department store in London's Oxford Street.

15 March 1927: Female rowers battle it out at the first women’s boat race

Enthusiastic spectators line the riverbanks, but a head-to-head competition is forbidden

Amid all the dizzying novelties of the 1920s, few seemed more alarming than the advent of women rowers. Yet almost a hundred years after the young men of Oxford and Cambridge had contested the first university boat race, their female counterparts were ready to stake a claim to sporting immortality.

The first women’s boat race, contested on the Isis in Oxford, was not quite accurately named, since the two crews did not actually race each other at all. As the Manchester Guardian told its readers: “The heads of the women’s colleges had forbidden a proper race, and the contest was decided on points for style and speed, each crew rowing down stream for style and back again for speed.”

Even the sceptics, however, had to admit that it was a colourful occasion. As if determined to confirm their killjoy reputation, the heads of the women’s colleges had scheduled the race for 1.15pm, “in order to avoid a large body of spectators”. All the same, the banks were packed with “enthusiastic undergraduates, flinging confetti over the river, and blowing toy trumpets”.

Such was the excitement, in fact, that one of the two judges, cycling along the towpath alongside the boats, twice fell off his bicycle and had to pedal hard to catch up. As for the crews themselves, the Guardian thought that “the Cambridge ladies were decidedly virile”. Not only did their captain shout: “Row like hell, chaps!” but after the race “they called loudly for cigarettes”, much to the amusement of some spectators.


It did them no good, though. Victory went to the ladies of Oxford, who apparently “looked very smart in their white jerseys and dark blue shorts”. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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