5 July 328

On the border between modern-day Romania and Bulgaria, Constantine the Great watches the formal opening of one of the ancient world’s longest river bridges, reaching almost 8,000 feet across the Danube.


5 July 1641

The English Long Parliament abolished the Court of Star Chamber, which it saw as an instrument of arbitrary royal power.

5 July 1810

Birth in Connecticut of American showman, businessman and politician PT Barnum. ‘Attractions’ exhibited by him over the years included the 25-inch General Tom Thumb, Jumbo the elephant and Jenny Lind, the singer known as the Swedish nightingale.

5 July 1913

Former colonial secretary Alfred Lyttelton died of an abscess after being struck in the stomach by a cricket ball. He had represented Cambridge University at five sports and was the first man to play both cricket and football for England.

5 July 1942

American submarine USS Growler attacked three Japanese destroyers off Kiska, Alaska, sinking one, and severely damaging the other two.

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5 July 1948: The NHS is launched

Free-to-access healthcare changes the lives of millions

On a July morning in 1948, health minister Aneurin Bevan strode through the corridors of Manchester’s Park Hospital to meet one very special patient. Her name was Sylvia Diggory, a 13-year-old suffering from acute nephritis, a dangerous kidney condition. She was propped up on pillows in her hospital bed when Bevan arrived, and exchanged just a few hopeful words with him before he ambled away. Although their interaction was brief, she later recalled knowing there was “a great change coming about”.

Diggory was the first patient to be treated by the National Health Service (NHS). The creation of this groundbreaking institution was spearheaded by Bevan, who described it as “a great and novel undertaking” – the first service to give all British citizens access to healthcare, free of charge at the point of use, from birth until death.

The journey towards this moment had been relatively short. In 1942, economist Sir William Beveridge had published a report on the state of the nation that identified disease as one of five “great evils” to be tackled in the UK. Over the following five years the government set about designing a free healthcare service, latterly under Bevan’s direction. Significant compromises were made to implement his plans, including giving GPs the right to run their practices as private businesses.


The public uptake was overwhelming. Despite warnings by postwar prime minister Clement Attlee that there were “bound to be early difficulties with staff, accommo- dation and so on”, 94 per cent of the population had registered as NHS patients by the day of the launch. On 5 July, when the service officially opened, 2,751 British hospitals – plus doctors’ surgeries, dentists and opticians – were part of the NHS. Today, the service treats millions each year. | Written by Helen Carr

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