At shortly after 9.30 p.m. on Friday 3 December 1926, Agatha Christie got up from her armchair and climbed the stairs of her Berkshire home.
She kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, aged seven, goodnight and made her way back downstairs again. Then she climbed into her Morris Cowley and drove off into the night.
She would not be seen again for eleven days.
Her disappearance would spark one of the largest manhunts ever mounted. Agatha Christie was already a famous writer and more than one thousand policemen were assigned to the case, along with hundreds of civilians.
For the first time, aeroplanes were also involved in the search.
The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, urged the police to make faster progress in finding her.
Two of Britain’s most famous crime writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, were drawn into the search. Their specialist knowledge, it was hoped, would help find the missing writer.
It didn’t take long for the police to locate her car. It was found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner near Guildford.
But there was no sign of Agatha Christie herself and nor was there any evidence that she’d been involved in an accident.
As the first day of investigations progressed into the second and third – and there was still no sign of her – speculation began to mount.
The press had a field day, inventing ever more lurid theories as to what might have happened.
It was the perfect tabloid story, with all the elements of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. Close to the scene of the car accident was a natural spring known as the Silent Pool, where two young children were reputed to have died.
Some journalists ventured to suggest that the novelist had deliberately drowned herself.
Yet her body was nowhere to be found and suicide seemed unlikely, for her professional life had never looked so optimistic. Her sixth novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was selling well and she was already a household name.
Some said the incident was nothing more than a publicity stunt, a clever ruse to promote her new book.
Others hinted at a far more sinister turn of events. There were rumours that she’d been murdered by her husband, Archie Christie, a former First World War pilot and serial philanderer. He was known to have a mistress.
Arthur Conan Doyle, a keen occultist, tried using paranormal powers to solve the mystery. He took one of Christie’s gloves to a celebrated medium in the hope that it would provide answers. It did not.
Dorothy Sayers visited the scene of the writer’s disappearance to search for possible clues. This proved no less futile.
By the second week of the search, the news had spread around the world. It even made the front page of the New York Times.
Not until 14 December, fully eleven days after she disappeared, was Agatha Christie finally located.
She was found safe and well in a hotel in Harrogate, but in circumstances so strange that they raised more questions than they solved.
Christie herself was unable to provide any clues to what had happened. She remembered nothing. It was left to the police to piece together what might have taken place.
John Cadbury (1802-1889) was born in Birmingham to Richard Tapper Cadbury, who was from a wealthy Quaker family that moved to the area from the west of England.
As a Quaker in the early 19th century, he was not allowed to enter a university, so could not pursue a profession such as medicine or law. As Quakers are pacifist, a military career was also out of the question.
So, like many other Quakers of the time, he turned his energies toward business and began a campaign against animal cruelty, forming the Animals Friend Society, a forerunner of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Meanwhile, Cadbury’s manufacturing enterprise prospered, his brother David joined the business in 1848 and they rented a larger factory on Bridge Street.
Two years later, in 1850, the Cadbury brothers pulled out of the retail business, leaving it in the hands of John’s son, Richard Barrow Cadbury. (Barrow’s remained a leading Birmingham store until the 1960s.)
Benjamin and John Cadbury dissolved their partnership in 1860. John retired in 1861 due to the death of his wife, and his sons Richard and George succeeded him in the business. I
n 1879 they relocated to an area of what was then north Worcestershire, on the borders of the parishes of Northfield and King’s Norton centred on the Georgian built Bournbrook Hall, where they developed the garden village of Bournville; now a major suburb of Birmingham. The family developed the Cadbury’s factory, which remains a key site of Cadbury.
The district around the factory has been ‘dry’ for over 100 years, with no alcohol being sold in pubs, bars or shops. Residents have fought to maintain this, winning a court battle in March 2007 with Britain’s biggest supermarket chain Tesco, to prevent it selling alcohol in its local outlet.
Robert Owen, the son of a saddler and ironmonger from Newtown in Wales, was born on 14th May, 1771.
Robert was an intelligent boy who did very well at his local school, but at the age of ten, his father sent him to work in a large drapers in Stamford, Lincolnshire.
After spending three years in Stamford, Robert moved to a drapers in London. This job lasted until 1787 and now aged sixteen, Robert found work at a large wholesale and retail drapery business in Manchester.
It was while Owen was working in Manchester that he heard about the success Richard Arkwright was having with his textile factory in Cromford. Robert was quick to see the potential of this way of manufacturing cloth and although he was only nineteen years old, borrowed £100 and set up a business as a manufacturer of spinning mules with John Jones, an engineer.
In 1792 the partnership with Jones came to an end and Owen found work as a manager of Peter Drinkwater’s large spinning factory in Manchester.
As manager of Drinkwater’s factory, Owen met a lot of businessmen involved in the textile industry. This included David Dale, the owner of Chorton Twist Company in New Lanark, Scotland, the largest cotton-spinning business in Britain. The two men became close friends and in 1799 Robert married Dale’s daughter, Caroline.
With the financial support of several businessmen from Manchester, Owen purchased Dale’s four textile factories in New Lanark for £60,000. Under Owen’s control, the Chorton Twist Company expanded rapidly.
However, Robert Owen was not only concerned with making money, he was also interested in creating a new type of community at New Lanark. Owen believed that a person’s character is formed by the effects of their environment. Owen was convinced that if he created the right environment, he could produce rational, good and humane people.
Owen argued that people were naturally good but they were corrupted by the harsh way they were treated. For example, Owen was a strong opponent of physical punishment in schools and factories and immediately banned its use in New Lanark.
New Lanark Cotton Mills.
David Dale had originally built a large number of houses close to his factories in New Lanark. By the time Owen arrived, over 2,000 people lived in New Lanark village.
One of the first decisions he took when he became owner of New Lanark was to order the building of a school.
Owen was convinced that education was crucially important in developing the type of person he wanted.
The journalist, George Holyoake, became a great supporter of Owen’s work in New Lanark: “At New Lanark he virtually or indirectly supplied to his workpeople, with splendid munificence and practical judgment, all the conditions which gave dignity to labour…. Co-operation as a form of social amelioration and of profit existed in an intermittent way before New Lanark; but it was the advantages of the stores Owen incited that was the beginning of working-class co-operation.
His followers intended the store to be a means of raising the industrious class, but many think of it now merely as a means of serving themselves.
Still, the nobler portion are true to the earlier ideal of dividing profits in store and workshop, of rendering the members self-helping, intelligent, honest, and generous, and abating, if not superseding competition and meanness.”
This is one of the most intriguing stories that I have read for a long while. Read on at the Smithsonian.
For nearly four decades, anyone driving down Route 16 near Fayetteville, West Virginia, could see a billboard bearing the grainy images of five children, all dark-haired and solemn-eyed, their names and ages—Maurice, 14; Martha 12; Louis, 9; Jennie, 8; Betty, 5—stenciled beneath, along with speculation about what happened to them.
Fayetteville was and is a small town, with a main street that doesn’t run longer than a hundred yards, and rumors always played a larger role in the case than evidence; no one even agreed on whether the children were dead or alive.
What everyone knew for certain was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army).
Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again.
George had tried to save them, breaking a window to re-enter the house, slicing a swath of skin from his arm.
He could see nothing through the smoke and fire, which had swept through all of the downstairs rooms: living and dining room, kitchen, office, and his and Jennie’s bedroom.
He took frantic stock of what he knew: 2-year-old Sylvia, whose crib was in their bedroom, was safe outside, as was 17-year-old Marion and two sons, 23-year-old John and 16-year-old George Jr., who had fled the upstairs bedroom they shared, singeing their hair on the way out.
He figured Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty still had to be up there, cowering in two bedrooms on either end of the hallway, separated by a staircase that was now engulfed in flames.
Photo: Famed blues guitarist B.B. King in a 2009 performance (Wikimedia Commons).
Riley B. King was born on 16 September, 1925 and died 14 May, 2015, on a cotton plantation called Berclair, near the town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers Albert and Nora Ella King.
He considered the nearby city of Indianola, Mississippi to be his home. When Riley was 4 years old, his mother left his father for another man, so the boy was raised by his maternal grandmother, Elnora Farr, in Kilmichael, Mississippi.
While young, King sang in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. King was attracted to the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ because of its music. The local minister lead worship with a Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar.
The minister taught King his first three chords. It seems that at the age of 12 he purchased his first guitar for $15.00, although another source indicates he was given his first guitar by Bukka White, his mother’s first cousin (King’s grandmother and White’s mother were sisters).
In November 1941 “King Biscuit Time” first aired, broadcasting on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. It was a radio show featuring the Mississippi Delta blues. King listened to it while on break at a plantation.
A self-taught guitarist, he then wanted to become a radio musician.
In 1943, King left Kilmichael to work as a tractor driver and play guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi, performing at area churches and on WGRM in Greenwood, Mississippi.
In 1946, King followed Bukka White to Memphis, Tennessee. White took him in for the next ten months.
However, King returned to Mississippi shortly afterward, where he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit, and returned to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948.
He performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, where he began to develop an audience. King’s appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the Memphis radio station WDIA.
The radio spot became so popular that it was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.
Initially he worked at WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, gaining the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy”, which was later shortened to “Blues Boy” and finally to B B.
It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker. King said, “Once I’d heard him for the first time, I knew I’d have to have [an electric guitar] myself.