8 December 1542

Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian. She was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise.


8 December 1691

English Puritan church leader and theologian Richard Baxter died in London aged 76. His nonconformist beliefs and activities, although moderate, frequently landed Baxter in trouble with the authorities, notably with the infamous Judge George Jeffreys.

8 December 1858

South Foreland Lighthouse at St Margaret's Bay, Dover, becomes the first ever lighthouse to be lit electrically as a carbon arc lamp developed by Frederick Hale Holmes goes into operation.

8 December 1859

Death in Edinburgh of Manchester-born writer, literary critic and opium addict Thomas de Quincey.

8 December 1932

The garden designer Gertrude Jekyll dies in Surrey.

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8 December 1980: Crazed fan murders John Lennon

The world mourns the death of the former Beatle

For musician John Lennon, the last day of his life began much the same as any other. The former Beatle had a photo shoot with the American photographer Annie Leibovitz in his apartment at the Dakota Building, New York, then an interview with a San Francisco disc jockey. Shortly before 6pm, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, left for the recording studio. On their way out, Lennon stopped to sign autographs for fans, as was his custom. Among them was a 25-year-old security guard from Hawaii, Mark Chapman, who wordlessly handed over a copy of Lennon’s latest album. “Is this all you want?” Lennon asked, as he scribbled his name.

It was almost 11pm when Lennon’s limousine reappeared outside the Dakota Building. Almost as soon as the musician got out, he glanced towards the shadows, perhaps recognising the man he had seen earlier. And at that moment, Chapman opened fire. The first bullet missed; the next four all hit their target.

As Lennon lay bleeding, Chapman dropped his gun. By the time the police arrived, he was clutching a copy of JD Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye.

That day was a Monday and, bizarrely, it was the ABC commentators on the evening’s American football game who broke the news of Lennon’s death. Within moments the news had spread around the globe: thousands of fans gathered outside the Dakota Building while millions mourned across the world. Six days after the murder, some 30,000 people paid tribute in Liverpool, while a further 225,000 gathered in New York.


Chapman, a college dropout who had been a big Beatles fan before being born again, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He has had eight parole hearings since 2000, none of which have been successful. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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