The 1875 Great Whiskey Fire of Dublin killed 13 people, all of which died from alcohol poisoning

In 1875 a fire broke out at Malone’s malt house and store house on Chamber Street in Dublin. The fire ignited over 5000 barrels of whiskey which exploded and left the contents pouring into the streets. The incident claimed the lives of 13 people, however, no one died due to the flames or smoke inhalation – all 13 people died from alcohol poisoning.

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Why do we have Christmas trees?


The roots of why we put up trees in our living room and decorate them with trimmings stems from old pagan rituals and not from Christianity. German pagans used to decorate their houses with evergreen conifer tree branches during the winter solstice to remind them of the Spring to come.

The Ancient Romans also used to decorate their temples during the winter solstice at the festival of Saturnalia (the Roman predecessor to Christmas) with branches of fir trees. As they have green needles all year round, evergreen trees were used in multiple old religions around the world to symbolise eternal life including ancient Egyptians, the Chinese and Hebrews.

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The Worlds Only Cornish Pasty Museum is in Mexico


In the Mexican mountain town of Real De Monte, over 4500 miles away from Cornwall and the home of the Cornish pasty, exists the worlds only museum dedicated to the savoury snack.

The Cornish pasty came to Mexico in in 1824 when miners and their families from Cornwall came across to assist with the local silver mining industry. When they moved across they not only brought their mining expertise and equipment but also brought their keen taste for pasties and the knowledge of how to make them, which caught on quickly with the local community. Cornish wives would teach their maids how to create the pasties who in turn made their own for their own family.

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Food History

Why was Margarine Pink in the USA?


Most houses today have a tub of margarine in the fridge, but what is margarine, where does it come from and how is it different to butter?

Butter is created from cream which rises to the top of milk when it sits for a period of time, this is usually gathered from cows. Through the process of churning the cream, a chemical reaction takes place which makes the cream begin to solidify and turn into butter. This process has been around for over 4000 years.

Margarine came along around 150 years ago, Napoleon III wanted a cheap butter substitute to supply to his troops and to provide to the poorer population in France. Hippolyte Mége Mouriès patented a lower priced form of butter in 1869, it was made primarily from from beef tallow (fat from cows). He named the new substance margarine from the Greek margarite meaning “pearl like” after its white, pearlescent look.

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Food History

Canned Food was Invented 48 Years Before the Can Opener

Can Opener

The idea of storing food in airtight containers came from a French chef named Nicolas Appert, when in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000  Francs to anyone who could help them preserve food to be transported to their soldiers on the front line. Appert, however, didn’t use metal cans, he used air tight glass bottles which he then boiled which killed any bacteria inside the container.

Appert’s method was simple and worked well, the technique spread across France and into Britain where an inventor named Peter Durand patented his own method, this time not using glass bottles but using metal cans which was granted by King George III of England in 1810. He followed the same techniques except he enclosed the food in tin cans, he arranged his cans to sail with the royal navy for 4-6 months and when opened and examined they were completely preserved.

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The Pope was once Elected by Accident


The procedure for choosing the new head of the Catholic church has been the same for centuries, the College of Cardinals, which is currently made up of 199 cardinals of the church around the world, hold a meeting at the Vatican called the “Papal Conclave” where they separate themselves from the rest of the world, hold discussions and then vote  individually for who they would like to see as the new Pope. This process repeats itself every day until at least two thirds of the Cardinals vote in the same way, then whoever the majority voted for is named Pope.

In the past it was not uncommon for members of the College of Cardinals to waste their first vote on a throw-away candidate, someone who they considered could never be voted into the position of Pope, they did this to find out who the other cardinals were voting for to try and gauge which way the College was swaying. This wouldn’t be much of a problem today, as the chances of 132 of the cardinals all voting for someone who they didn’t want to be Pope would be fairly slim. However this wasn’t the case in the year 1334, where there were only 16 members of the College of Cardinals.

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A Chemist Accidentally Discovered Purple When Looking for a Cure for Malaria


Purple dye originally came from the mucus glands of a snail. The discovery of the dye is often attributed to the mythological Greek God; Heracles, or rather his dog, who was eating snails off the coast of the Levant and returned with a mouth stained a deep purple colour. From a biological point of view the snails use the purple mucus as a defence mechanism to spray predators and make their escape, they also use it to catch their own prey and protect their eggs.

The colour purple was incredibly rare at the time, it is unlikely that those who discovered the snails had ever seen another purple plant, animal or living thing, as such the colour was vastly sought after. However it was a very slow and costly process to create dye from the mucus produced from the snail, it required over 12,000 of the shellfish to extract just 1.5 grams of the dye, enough to colour a handkerchief. Purple quickly became incredibly valuable and even worth more than gold, by 300 BC a pound of purple dye was worth 3 times a bakers annual wage.

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Daylight Savings Time Was First Introduced by the Germans in the Great War


Before 1840, all the towns in Britain had their own separate time zones, these were set by their town sun dials where the time would be told as the sun moved across the sky and created a shadow. As a result of this method of telling the time, all the towns were on slightly different times, for example Bristol was 10 minutes out from London due to how much further west it was.

With the introduction of the rail-road system in the 20th Century, it became much quicker and easier to travel from town to town, what previously took days and even weeks of travel time was now reduced to mere hours, this caused disruption and inconvenience due to the difference in time. This accumulated in the introduction of a universal time in the country, this was called Railroad Time. The time was set by the observatory at Greenwich and was implemented as the universal time across all towns in the British isles.  This was met with backlash though, as some towns were keen to keep their own time zones.

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Animals History

The Tower of London Was Home to a Polar Bear

polar bear

The first record of wild animals at the Tower of London was in 1210 during the reign of King John. The monarch would receive the animals as gifts from other powerful rulers at the time, often to impress others or to show the wealth and strength of the ruler. The exotic animals were sent to London from all over the world and kept in the Tower of London as a symbol of power as well as for the curiosity and entertainment of the court.

King Henry III was particularly credited with establishing the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. In 1235 he was given 3 lions as a wedding gift by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III, he was also presented with a polar bear from King Haakon of Norway in 1251, the bear was given a particularly long leash to enable him to swim and catch fish in the Thames river. One of the more unusual animals was a large male African Elephant which was presented to King Henry III from King Louis IX of France in 1255, being the first of its kind to reach the shores of Britain, this large and unusual creature was said to cause quite a stir and the people of London flocked to catch a glimpse of the giant grey beast.

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The Real Winners of the Falklands War, Were the Penguins


The 19th Century was a popular time for the whaling industry, particularly on the Falklands Islands. Whalers needed fuel in order to render whale blubber into whale oil, which would then be sold. But a lack of trees in the area meant that using wood to keep a fire going would not be not a sustainable option. However, there was another plentiful resource that made a suitable fuel; penguins.

This is an unfortunate truth. Penguins have highly flammable fat under their skin and they are quite docile in nature, making them easy to catch. Whalers burned them by the thousands, and the population of penguins in the Falklands Islands plummeted until there was a devastating change to their environment in the 1980’s; the Falklands War.

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