Today in history: ‘The only ironies were that the drama was more sophisticated than the playwright’

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Here’s what happened: following the Great Fire of London, people cleared away burnt-out goods, including stock from London Market. The stock to a regional power station, which was set to be built in the new year, was burnt, and debris from the fire was dumped in the riverside. Preceding research into the effects of the fires, supported by the archives, indicates that the solidifying of muddy soil may have been a precursor to the growth of silica that causes hair and nails to curl.

Suspected of spraying effluent from the fire down the drain, one of the dockers, Dennis Harkins, was taken to court where he denied the charges. The court heard of a chink in his record, for assaulting an officer, during an antisocial behavior arrest. His acquittal by the judge sparked anger among dockers, a lack of sympathy from residents and the launching of a general strike against the proposed power station.

Power generation, transport and communication were disrupted. The ramifications extended throughout the country. The industrialists “must take the rap for the discontent in London,” declared the transport minister, while a waiter at the Tavern of the Angels, a hired luncheon room at the Tower of London, denounced him “as a gallant lizard, an animal much regarded by men, whose mere existence is an insult to God”. The power station and its construction were put on hold, of which the writer Robert Wyndham Whitley commented “the only ironies, in all this, was that each day as I went past the power station, I found the various intrigues more elaborate”.

Recalling the events a century ago at a roundtable discussion on the ramifications of these events, the historian Robert Grieve said: “It could take even more than 300 years before we completely understand how relations between people and nature changes as they become more automated and automated processes, both environmentally and in terms of people’s responsibilities to life and people. The future of work has never looked so bright, or so ominous.”

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