Captain Webb: Facts About the First Person to Swim the English Channel

Here are some facts about Captain Webb.

  • Captain Matthew Webb was a British professional swimmer. He was the first person to swim across the English Channel, the body of water between England and France.
  • Captain Webb was born in Shropshire in 1848, one of 12 children. He joined the merchant navy when he was 12, and learned to swim in the River Severn near his home.

  • Webb tried to rescue a man overboard by diving into the Atlantic Ocean, while sailing from New York to Liverpool. He was given a medal and £100 although the man was never found.
  • He swam from Dover to Calais in just under 22 hours on the 25th August, 1875. Two weeks earlier, he gave up on his first attempt because of strong winds.
  • Webb covered himself in porpoise fat before entering the water.
  • Because the currents blew him off course, he ended up covering a distance of about 64 km.

Captain Webb

  • After his success, Captain Webb made the most of his fame. His name appeared on a brand of matches, and he also endorsed books, pottery and various other products.
  • He gave up his naval career to focus on swimming. He competed in swimming competitions all over the United States, beating the current champion in a competition at Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts.
  • Webb also took part in several stunts, including floating in a tank of water for 128 hours. He wrote a best-selling book called The Art of Swimming and enjoyed world wide fame.
  • In July, 1883 Captain Webb tried to swim through the Whirlpool Rapids near Niagara Falls. He died while attempting the dangerous swim and was buried in nearby Oakwood Cemetery.
  • A memorial to Webb in his home village of Dawley, Shropshire reads — Nothing great is easy.
  • The Captain Webb pub in Telford is named after the famous swimmer.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians by visiting our Victorians resources page.

Flora Sandes: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Flora Sandes.

  • Flora Sandes was the only British woman to officially fight as soldier during World War I. She was a Sergeant Major in the Serbian Army and a Captain after the war.
  • Flora was born in 1876 in Yorkshire. She often wished she had been born a boy and as a child she learned to drive, shoot and ride a horse.

  • While working as a secretary, she spent her spare time training with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps, a women only military unit. She learned to march, give first aid, and signal.
  • She lived in London for a while although she had a passion for travel. By age 18 she had been to Egypt, Canada and the United States where she supposedly shot a man in self defence.
  • She travelled to Serbia a week after World War I broke out. She worked in military hospitals, became fluent in the local language and joined the Serbian Red Cross.

Flora Sandes

  • Flora Sandes joined the Serbian Army and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant within a year.
  • In November, 1916 she was seriously injured by a grenade and spent 2 months recovering in hospital.
  • She was awarded Serbia’s highest military award, the Order of the Star of Karadorde.
  • While on sick leave in England, she raised money to help the Serbian army.
  • After the war, Flora Sandes lived in Paris and Belgrade and married an officer in the Serbian army.
  • She worked at Paris’ famous Folies Bergere nightclub and as the first taxi driver in Belgrade.
  • When Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 (World War 2), Sandes was too old at 65 to join the Yugoslav army. The Germans arrested her but released her soon afterwards.
  • Flora Sandes returned to England after the war and died in Suffolk in 1956. She wrote two autobiographies describing her exciting experiences in the army and elsewhere.

Dorothy Lawrence: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about Dorothy Lawrence.

  • Dorothy Lawrence was an English woman who wanted to be a journalist. When World War I broke out in 1914, she disguised herself as a man to report from the front lines.

  • She was born in October, 1896 in north London although she did not know for sure who her parents were. When she was a baby, she was adopted by a church member.
  • When war broke out, Lawrence went to Paris in an attempt to report on World War 1 as a freelance correspondent. She was told that the job was too dangerous for a woman to do.

Dorothy Lawrence

  • She made friends with two British soldiers in France, who helped her disguise herself as a man. She had her hair cut short, darkened her pale skin and learned how to walk differently.
  • Her forged identity papers said she was Private Denis Smith.
  • She lasted almost 2 weeks in the British trenches, spending time with a division placing land mines. She slept in a nearby derelict cottage and lived on food smuggled to her.
  • Dorothy Lawrence gave herself up after 10 days. At first she was declared a prisoner of war and was also ordered not to write about her experience.

Dorothy Lawrence as a soldier

  • After the war ended, Lawrence wrote a book about her experience which received good reviews. However, because of censoring by the War Office it was not the big seller she hoped it would be.
  • By the early 1920s she had no money and was living in a London mental hospital. She spent the last 40 years of her life in various different hospitals and asylums.
  • Dorothy Lawrence died in 1964 and was buried in New Southgate cemetery, London. The cemetery contains the graves of over 200 soldiers and German prisoners from World War I.
  • She is slowly being recognized for her achievement. The 100th anniversary of World War I in 2014 saw a book about her life, as well as a small exhibition in London’s Imperial War Museum.

Frida Kahlo: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about Frida Kahlo.

  • Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter. She is best known for her work showing women and experiences relating to women, and for her self portraits, often painted in naïve or primitive style.

  • She was born in July, 1907 in Mexico City. At an early age she developed polio which meant that one of her legs was slightly longer than the other.
  • The Mexican Revolution began on July 7th, 1910. Frida Kahlo later stated that her birth date was the same day, so that she could claim to be born on the same day as modern Mexico.
  • In 1925, a tram collided with the bus she was on. Because of the accident, she had over 30 operations during her life and was never able to have children.
  • In 1939, some of her paintings were exhibited in Paris. She was the first 20th century Mexican artist to have one of her paintings bought by the Louvre Museum.

Frida Kahlo

  • In 1929, she married the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera, divorced him in 1939 and married him again in 1940. Their differences in size – Diego was over 6 ft tall and Frida was 5′ 3″ –   meant that they were sometimes called the Dove and the Elephant.
  • Kahlo’s work was strongly influenced by Mexican culture. Her paintings often had monkeys in them, a widely used Mexican motif, which she used to symbolize protection and tenderness.
  • She was also influenced by primitive art, Surrealism and Christian and Jewish imagery. Almost half of her 143 paintings are self-portraits.
  • Frida Kahlo died in 1954, although the cause of death was never fully confirmed. Her ashes are kept in an urn dating from pre-Columbian times in her former home.
  • The house where she grew up has been a museum and popular tourist attraction since 1958. The Russian leader, Trotsky, stayed in the house in 1937 when he first visited Mexico.

Nicholas Winton: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Nicholas Winton.

  • Nicholas Winton is a British humanitarian who saved many Jewish children from the Holocaust.
  • Just before World War II started, he devised a plan to rescue 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia.

  • Winton was born in London, in 1909. He was the son of Jewish German parents, and the family changed their name from Wertheim to fit in.
  • Winton was working as a stockbroker in London when his friend rang him from Czechoslovakia asking for his help.
  • When he returned to England from Czechoslovakia, he often worked late at night on his plan. He formed a committee, which consisted of himself, his mother, some volunteers and a secretary.
  • He contacted the governments of several countries to ask them if they would take the children. Only the UK and Sweden said that they would help.
  • The first group of children left Czechoslovakia on March 14, 1939. They flew to the UK, although 7 other groups travelled by train and boat across Europe and the English Channel.
  • Nicholas Winton didn’t tell anyone outside of the committee what he had done, until after the war.
  • His wife found a scrapbook with all the details, and 1988 he talked about his achievement on television.
  • Today, the rescued children call themselves ‘Winton’s Children’ and they often visit his house to thank him.
  • Further groups of children were scheduled to leave on September 1st, 1939 but they were stopped by the German invasion of Poland.
  • Winton celebrated his 100th birthday by flying in a small plane piloted by the daughter of one of the rescued boys.
  • In September, 2009, a special Winton train travelled from Prague to London.
  • Nicholas Winton has been awarded the OBE and the Pride of Britain Award. There is a Czech school named after him, as well as a small planet.

King Louis XIV: Facts About the Sun King

Here are some facts about King Louis XIV.

  • King Louis XIV was the King of France from 1643 until 1715. He reigned for 72 years, making him the longest ruling monarch of any major European country.
  • He was born in France in 1638 and became King at the age of 5, following the death of his father.

  • It was considered a privilege for the wealthy to watch the young Louis eat, bathe and sleep.
  • In 1661, King Louis XIV astonished his court by deciding to rule without a minister to advise him.
  • He chose the sun to symbolize his power and strength, and became known as the Sun King.

Louis XIV

  • Louis XIV built the spectacular palace at Versailles, one of the largest in the world. It has over 700 rooms, including the famous 73 metre long Hall of Mirrors.
  • He fought wars with several other European countries, but managed to gain more land for France.
  • The American state of Louisiana is named after him.
  • Louis appreciated the arts, literature, theatre and music and was friends with many famous artists and writers. He also enjoyed hunting every day in the grounds at Versailles.
  • King Louis XIV is said to have had his bed linen changed several times a day. He also bathed regularly in his own Turkish bath and often disinfected his skin.
  • Only his hairdresser was allowed to see him without a wig. Wearing one of his 1,000 wigs made him look much taller than his 162 cm.
  • Louis commissioned over 300 portraits of himself, many of which survive today. He also ordered 20 statues of himself to stand in Paris and other French towns and cities.
  • King Louis XIV died of gangrene in 1715, just before his 77th birthday, and was succeeded by his 5 year old grandson. He was buried in Saint Denis basilica in northern Paris, alongside other French Royalty.

J. M. W. Turner: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about J. M. W. Turner.

  • J. M. W. Turner is one of the most famous British painters. He is known today for his romantic landscapes and seascapes, and is often seen as one of the earliest modern artists.

  • He produced over 500 paintings, over 2,000 watercolours and over 30,000 drawings during his career. His famous works include Rain, Steam and Speed, The Fighting Temeraire, and Fishermen At Sea.
Rain Steam and Speed
Rain, Steam and Speed
  • Turner was born in London around 1775 and at the age of 15 had a watercolor painting accepted by the Royal Academy. A few years later, his first oil painting was on display there.
  • His full name was Joseph Mallord William Turner.
  • Turner had a painting accepted for showing at the Royal Academy every year for the rest of his life.

J M W Turner

  • At age 18, he was successful enough to have his own London studio.
  • He loved to paint storms, rough seas and fires. He rushed to the Houses of Parliament when he heard that it was on fire, to capture the flames in a painting.
  • Many of Turner’s paintings have dramatic effects of light and shadow. His use of light influenced the famous Impressionist artists who were painted at the end of the 19th century.
  • J. M. W. Turner kept his strong London accent for all his life. At the time, it was fashionable for artists to develop a posher and more upper class accent to help their career.
  • Turner often drank a lot, sometimes drinking several pints of rum in a day. He sometimes applied stale beer to his paintings, and even spat on them to make them look more realistic.
  • J. M. W. Turner travelled a lot in France, Italy and Switzerland. He found ideas for paintings in Venice, and one of his most famous works is The Grand Canal Venice, painted in 1835.
  • Turner died in 1851, in London. As he requested, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, along with many other famous writers, poets, artists and scientists.
  • The Turner Prize, awarded annually to a visual artist under the age of 50, is named after J. M. W. Turner. Some past winners include, Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry.

Gregor Mendel: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Gregor Mendel.

  • Gregor Mendel was a 19th century Augustinian monk and scientist.
  • He is famous for his plant experiments which helped to establish some of the now accepted laws of heredity.

  • Mendel was born in July, 1822 on his family’s Austrian farm (although its location is now within the borders of the Czech Republic).
  • He did well at school and university, where he studied mathematics and physics. He made extra money from tutoring.
  • Mendel graduated from university in 1843, despite abandoning his studies several times because of depression. Against his family’s wishes, he studied to be a monk.

Gregor Mendel

  • In 1854, Mendel began studying hereditary features in plants. Looking at pea plants, he concluded that all living things, including humans, passed on their characteristics to their children in predictable ways.
  • Gregor Mendel also experimented on mice and bees. He referred to the bees as his ‘dearest little animals’, although the other monks found them annoying and asked him to get rid of them.
  • Mendel grew and tested almost 30,000 pea plants during 8 years of research. The results of his work were criticized at the time, but are now considered to be very important.
  • Mendel came up with the terms recessive and dominant, to describe types of genes that are passed down through generations. He published his work in 1866, although, at the time, it did not attract much attention.
  • He founded the Austrian Meteorological Society in 1865, and studied astronomy and the weather. Many of his scientific ideas were not widely accepted until after his death.
  • Gregor Mendel died in January, 1884 at his monastery in the Czech Republic. The Abbot who replaced Mendel burned many of his research papers to try to avoid arguments over taxes.
  • In 1900, several other scientists found his 1866 research papers and verified much of it was accurate. A lot of the research carried out into genetics and DNA over the next few decades was because of Mendel’s work.

Robert Hooke: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about Robert Hooke.

  • Robert Hooke was a 17th century English philosopher and architect. He is best known for Hooke’s Law which addresses the relationship between force and distance in physics.

  • Robert Hooke was born on the Isle of Wight in 1635 and was fascinated by drawing and by mechanical devices.
  • He attended London’s Westminster School, and studied mechanics, Latin and Greek.
  • In 1655, Hooke moved to Oxford and became assistant to the chemist Robert Boyle.
  • In 1662, he became Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society, a post he held for 40 years.
  • Aged just 30, in 1665 Robert Hooke published one of the most important science books ever, the Micrographia. It described his experiments with telescopes and microscopes.
  • Hooke suggested that a pendulum could be used to measure gravity. He was also the first person to realize that light rays could bend, and that matter expands when heated.
  • Hooke was a keen astronomer and tried to measure the distance to various stars. He was one of the first to see the Rings of Saturn, and he also studied moon craters.
  • He invented the iris type diaphragm for cameras, and the balance wheel used in watches. He also discovered that all life is made up of cells and how they affect physical appearance.
  • Robert Hooke also worked as an architect, and made more money from architecture than science. He helped to design many buildings in London after many were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666.
  • During his later years, Hooke often argued with other scientists, especially Isaac Newton.
  • He died in 1703 and was buried in a pauper’s grave in St Helen Bishopsgate Church, in London.

Robert Hooke

  • Nobody knows for sure what Robert Hooke looked like, as there is no portrait known to be of him.
  • A likeness of Hooke was on a window in a London church, but was destroyed in 1993.

Georges Braque: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Georges Braque.

  • Georges Braque was a French painter, printer and collage maker. He is considered to be one of the most important Cubist painters of the 20th century, along with Picasso.
  • Braque and Picasso created Cubism, one of the most influential 20th century art movements. The Cubists were interested in geometry and trying to show an object from different angles.

  • He was born near Paris in 1882 and, like his father, trained to be a house painter. However, he also spent several years studying painting during the evening at a Paris painting school.

Georges Braque

  • Braque’s early paintings were in the Fauvism style, a term that translated as wild beasts.
  • In 1907 some of his paintings were shown at the Society of Independent Artists, in Paris.
  • Braque and Picasso worked together painting and making collages from 1908 to 1914. Their paintings were often very similar, and many people could not tell them apart.
  • The term Cubism was invented in 1908 when an art critic saw one of Braque’s paintings. He described it as looking like dozens of small cubes painted to look like an object.
  • Georges Braque joined the French army when the First World War began in 1914. He was injured in the head the following year, and he took a long time to recover.
  • After the war, he moved to Normandy, France and started painting again. He met the artist Juan Gris and created a lot of still life paintings of fruit, musical instruments and cooking utensils.
  • Georges Braque died in 1963, in Paris. He was buried in the church of St. Valery in Normandy, northern France, whose windows he had helped to design.
  • Georges Braque’s paintings are on display in most of the world’s major art museums. His famous works include Ace of Clubs, Woman With a Guitar, and The Houses at L’Estaque.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous artists.