This Month in UK History - December

1 December 1987


Digging begins to link England & France under English Channel

The Channel Tunnel (French: le tunnel sous la Manche) is a 31 mile (50.5 km)-long rail tunnel beneath the English Channel at the Straits of Dover, connecting Folkestone, Kent in England to Coquelles near Calais in northern France. A long-standing and very expensive megaproject that saw several false starts, it was finally completed in 1994. It is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world, with the Seikan Tunnel in Japan being longer, but the undersea section of 24 miles (39 km) is the longest in the world. It is operated by Eurotunnel. Before and during construction it was widely known by the nickname Chunnel, but today it is normally known as the Channel Tunnel.

4 December 1829


Britain abolished "suttee" in India (widow burning herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre)

Although not widespread it was estimated that some 600 women died by sutee between 1813 and 1828. The women were supposed to jump willingly into their husbands’ funeral pyres but there is clear evidence that they were often forced into the flames or lashed to chairs that were placed on the pyre before being lit. Although the custom was banned by the British and occurrences dropped significantly, it is still practiced to this day in remote parts of India with cases being recorded as recent as 2004. The following quote is said to be from an officer of the British army of the time General Napier. “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours”.

5 December 1952


Killer fogs begins in London England, "Smog" becomes a word.

The sky was clear and the weather colder than usual. As a result Londoners were burning large amounts of coal and smoke bellowed from the chimneys. The winds were light and the air near the ground was moist, conditions ideal for formation of radiation fog. The fog was not particularly dense, however when nightfall came the fog thickened and visibility dropped to a few metres. Road, rail and air transport were brought to a standstill. But, most importantly the smoke laden fog that shrouded the capital brought the premature death of an estimated 12,000 people and illness to many others. This "pea soup" smog stayed for five days as more and more pollution entered it before winds from the west blew it down the Thames Estuary and out into the North Sea. Now thanks to Pollution legislation (Clean air Act 1956) which resulting in the banning of caol fires in London ‘pea-soupers’ have long been a thing of the past.

29 December 1170


Archbishop Thomas Becket murdered

Beckett was an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury when his talents were noticed by Henry II and the two became good friends. On Theobald's death in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop thinking he would have a strong ally in the church. However, Becket took the job very seriously, much to the king's surprise and soon their friendship was put under strain when it became clear that Becket would now stand up for the church in its disagreements with the king.

On return to England after several years in exile in France, Becket was murdered by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral. One of them had heard the King mutter "Who will rid me of this turbulent preist?".

Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became an important focus for pilgrimage.

Famous Birth


30 December 1865 - Rudyard Kipling - Author

Kipling was born in Bombay, India and named after a lake in Staffordshire where his parents first met. At 5 years old he was sent back to England to boarding school, an unhappy experience for him though one that inspired much of his future writing.

At 16 years old he was back in India and on his way to a job as assistant editor at a small local newspaper in Lahore (now Pakistan). He wrote several short stories and poems during his time in India but in 1889 left for San Francisco and travelled extensively across the USA before returning to England.

After a world trip he and his wife lived in her home state of Vermont. It was here that he wrote one of the most famous childrens' stories, The Jungle Book.

In 1896 the couple moved to England where he continued to write stories and poetry, one poem in particular which has became Britain's favourite, simply entitled "If".

Famous Death


8 December 1980 - John Lennon (former Beatle) in New York

John Lennon was shot four times in the back by Mark Chapman who had asked the former Beatle for his autograph only hours before he laid in wait and killed him.

Chapman pleaded guilty to gunning down Mr Lennon and is currently serving life in Attica prison near New York. In October 2004 he failed for the third time to secure his release. He said he had heard voices in his head telling him to kill the world-famous musician. Even years after his death millions of fans pay tribute to John Lennon in his home town of Liverpool and in New York on this day.

With the death of George Harrison in 2001, only two Beatles remain alive, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.