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In which Captain Cook travels to the Pacific, the British Museum opens its doors and Romanticism is born (and the French have a revolution)

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1752: Gregorian Calendar adopted

The Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII who decreed its use, was a modification to the earlier calendar where the average year was a bit too long. The switch involved the deletion of ten days from the calendar and the use of leap years. The Pope had decreed this change in 1582 and it was gradually adopted by European countries, with Britain being one of the last.

1754: The Cabinet-Makers Director

The Gentleman And Cabinet-Makers' Director is a compilation of fashionable English furniture design by Thomas Chippendale.

1755: Dictionary Of The English Language

Samuel Johnson finally completes his dictionary, a labour of love which had taken him nine years with only six assistants to help him. It contains the definitions of more than 40,000 words, with a couple of jokey ones thrown in for good measure. It was a crucial milestone in the development of the English language.

1756: Black Hole of Calcutta

A number (how many is disputed) of soldiers of the East India Company die in appalling conditions while imprisoned by the Nawab of Bengal. The Nawab was showing his power by trying to drive the English out of his territory. The incident was the trigger for the East India Company to move from being traders to rulers in India. (see 1757)

Jan 1757: Robert Clive captures Calcutta

On a tide of British outrage, Clive retakes Fort William from the Nawab and replaces him with his uncle, who allows the East India Company to raise taxes on his lands. Clive is a national hero and is instrumental in establishing British rule in India (despite the best instincts of Pitt, the Minister of War and the East India Company themselves).

28 Nov 1757: William Blake born

Blake was born in Soho, London, and had an unconventional childhood which encouraged his passion for art. Blake was apprenticed to an engraver and illustrated his poetical works later in life.


1758: Smallpox vaccination invented

Edward Jenner noticed that having cow pox, a mild version of small pox, protected against the deadlier version. From this observation he expounds his principles of vaccination.

25 Dec 1758: Halley's Comet sighted

A comet is sighted, as predicted by Halley and therefore named after him, returning every 75-76 years. It is this comet that is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry, as being a sign of impending change before the Battle of Hastings. (see 1066).

15 Jan 1759: British Museum opens to the public

From its inception, when Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection to George II on the understanding it was for public display, the British Museum was a new type of institution. It is governed by a body of Trustees responsible to Parliament, its collections belong to the nation and admission is free and open to all. The Museum houses treasures such as the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, artefacts which promote understanding of the great cultures of the world. It was the first national, public and secular museum in the world.

1760: George II succeeded by George III

George III was the grandson of George II. George's notorious madness was, it is now thought, caused by the disease porphyria.

1763: Wedgwood appointed Court Potter

Josiah Wedgwood gets his first commission from Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. The cream-coloured earthenware was called Queen's Ware - an early example of celebrity endorsement!

1764: The Spinning Jenny invented

Hargreaves' invention the Spinning Jenny revolutionises the textile industry and paves the way for the Industrial Revolution.

1764: Blenheim Gardens get a revamp

Lancelot "Capability" Brown designs the gardens at Blenheim Palace. Brown was an extremely influential landscape gardener whose work on the great country estates can still be seen. His most famous innovation was the introduction of artificial "serpentine" lakes.

1765: HMS Victory launched

This famous flagship is launched at Chatham Dockyard.

1765: Newbery a commercial success

John Newbery's The History Of Little Goody Two Shoes tells the story of a female Dick Whittington character and became a bestseller. Newbery was the first publisher to make writing children's books a commercial enterprise.

Alice In Wonderland

1767: Tristram Shandy completed

Laurence Sterne's enormous, stream of consciousness novel, The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman took eight years to be written and published. It is a remarkably experimental book that was ahead of its time but due to its cheeky narrator and good humour enjoyed great contemporary success.

1768: Cook sets sail in The Endeavour

Captain James Cook sails out of Whitby on his expedition to explore the Pacific. On this first of three voyages he surveys New Zealand, Australia (naming Botany Bay during his visit), Hawaii and Tahiti.

1769: The New Peerage published

Published by John Debrett, this was a genealogical guide to the British aristocracy. It is still published today under the name Debrett's Peerage And Baronetage. In the 20th century, acknowledging that not only members of the aristocracy are worth knowing about, the publishing house additionally produced Debrett's People Of Today. Debrett's also publish the New Guide To Etiquette And Modern Manners and calendars for the English social season.

September 1769: Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee

Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee celebrations turn Shakespeare into an icon and Stratford-upon-Avon into a tourist attraction.

1773: Harrison awarded Longitude Prize

After years spent battling for recognition, John Harrison finally receives the Longitude Prize for his chronometers. These are extraordinary clocks which can keep precisely accurate time even on sea voyages, helping sailors to establish their longitude in relation to the port they sailed from. This was a crucial development in navigation and revolutionised the safety of sea travel all over the world. Dava Sobel's book of this amazing story, Longitude, was a surprise bestseller.

1773: Sir Joseph Banks at Kew Gardens

Banks was one of the most important botanists to shape Kew Gardens as we know it today. He learned botany on voyages with Captain Cook sailing from Whitby Harbour.

1773: The Boston Tea Party

The "Sons of Liberty" dump 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbour

A Cup of Tea

1773: Blake's first original work of art

This drawing is entitled Joseph Of Arimathea Among The Rocks Of Albion. Blake is already engaging with ideas of Britain's mythical heritage .


1775: First performance of The Rivals

Sheridan's first play is still one of his best-loved. It's a glittering comedy which introduced the world to Mrs Malaprop, a woman who tries to use long words without understanding them - hence the term "malapropism", meaning the ludicrous misuse of a word, confusing it for a similar sounding one - for example, "He is the very pineapple of perfection," instead of "pinnacle".

1776: Declaration of Independence

America declares independence from England

1778: HMS Victory receives commission

HMS Victory receives her commission and is in active service for the next 32 years. She is best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar.

1779: Iron Bridge built

World's first cast iron bridge built at Ironbridge, Shropshire

1780: Gordon Riots

Riots against Catholics in London led by General Gordon

1781: End of American War of Independence

British surrender to American and French forces at Yorktown, Virginia

1785: The Times founded

Initially called The Daily Universal Register, it changed its name to The Times in 1788. Reporting and printing of newspapers took a great leap forward under the editors of this new paper, John Walter Snr and Jnr.

1788: First convicts transported

First convicts transported from England to New South Wales, Australia

1789: Bathing machines in Swansea

A fleet of bathing machines was bought for use on the beach by Swansea Corporation. To protect bathers' modesty you could change inside these huts on wheels and be pulled right up to the sea! The innovation caught on as a result of the bathing for health craze.

14 Jul 1789: Storming of the Bastille

The storming of the Bastille prison in Paris marked the beginning of the French Revolution. This caused panic among the English aristocracy, thinking that the same thing would happen here. In contrast, many English intellectuals and artists were profoundly inspired by the ideals behind the Revolution.

1790: Willow Pattern's first appearance

Josiah Spode designed the famous Chinese-inspired blue-and-white pattern which became familiar on teatime crockery. The story that the Willow Pattern depicts is very romantic but very tragic - do you know it?

A Cup of Tea

1791: Thomas Paine's The Rights Of Man

Published in two parts, this was Paine's reflection on the new constitutions of both France and America. Far-sighted and clear-thinking, it is a seminal political text.

March 1791: Albion Flour Mills burn down

The Mills stood on the south bank of the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge. Powered by steam engines, they could produce 6,000 bushels of flour a week which put small-scale millers out of business. Blake would have walked past the building when he walked from his home into the city.


1792: Mendoza: Boxing Champion of England

Daniel Mendoza was a Sephardic Jew and one of England's most famous bare-knuckle pugilists (boxers). He pioneered a new way of boxing, more "scientific", less reliant on brute force and was regarded as a "complete artist". Ballads were written about his fights and there are three pictures of him in the National Portrait Gallery.

1792: Vindication Of The Rights Of Women

A Vindication Of The Rights of Women, written by Mary Wollstonecraft, argues against educational restrictions for women and the idea that they are born to please men. Wollstonecraft was one of the first feminists.

1794: Hints On Landscape Gardening

Sketches And Hints On Landscape Gardening: Humphrey Repton publishes his seminal text.

1795: Songs Of Innocence And Experience

William Blake publishes Songs Of Innocence And Experience: Shewing The Two Contrary States Of The Human Soul. These poems are illustrated by him and include "Little Lamb, who made thee?" and "Tyger! Tyger!"


1797: First Impressions rejected

Cadell, a London publisher, refuses the novel First Impressions written by a young lady called Jane Austen. It does find a publisher eventually (see 1813) with the new title, Pride And Prejudice.

1798: First edition of Lyrical Ballads

This collection of poems by Coleridge and Wordsworth consciously defined English Romantic poetry and was the beginning of a new age in literature. The simplicity of their language and celebration of nature were ridiculed as well as admired.