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1 January: New Year's Days from London's history

Pepys, Amazing Grace, The Times, Frankenstein, Joe Orton, The Beatles, mobile phones and more.

To celebrate New Year's Day 2024, here is a selection of 15 First of Januarys with a London connection. Happy New Year!

1660 Samuel Pepys, London's most famous diarist in history, began his diary. He wrote it daily in a form of shorthand until 1669, when he stopped as he was worried that his eyesight was failing.

1752 England adopted 1 January as the first day of the year (catching up with Scotland, which did so in 1600, and much of the rest of Europe, which did so in 1582). Previously, the start of the year was 25 March (the Feast of the Annunciation).

1772 The first traveller’s cheques were issued, by the London Credit Exchange Company. They were accepted in 90 cities and guaranteed against theft.

1773 The first public appearance of the hymn that would become known as Amazing Grace took place in Olney, Buckinghamshire. It accompanied a sermon by John Newton, who wrote the words and spent 16 years as a priest there. He then served for 28 years as Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London from 1979. A captain of slave ships in his early life before his conversion, he campaigned against the slave trade while at St Mary Woolnoth and lived to see its abolition in 1807.

St Mary Woolnoth (architect: Nicholas Hawksmoor)

1785 John Walter published the first issue of The Daily Universal Register, the oldest UK daily newspaper that is still published (although under its new name adopted three years later).

1788 The Daily Universal Register was renamed The Times.

1818 Mary's Shelley's Frankenstein was published anonymously by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones of Finsbury Square. Her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, negotiated the publishing contract to preserve her anonymity. the book was first offered for sale at The Temple of the Muses, a vast book emporium built in Finsbury Square in 1791 by bookseller James Lackington, a former meet pie salesman and shoemaker's apprentice. Mary Shelley's mother was the writer and of women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.

1876 The UK's Trademark Registry opened in London and Bass Pale Ale’s ‘Red Triangle’ became the first registered trade mark in Britain.

1933 Joe Orton was born. Although a native of Leicester, Orton trained as an actor at RADA in Bloomsbury and found fame as a playwright in London. He shared a flat in Islington's Noel Road with his partner Kenneth Halliwell from 1959 until his murder by Halliwell in 1967.

1944 Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens died in Marylebone (he was born on 29 March 1869 in Kensington). One of the UK's leading architects of the early 20th century, he designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall and War Graves in France and Belgium after World War II. He also designed many buildings across the country and in New Delhi. The Ned, now a hotel and members' club in the City of London, but originally designed by Lutyens in 1924 as the headquarters of Midland Bank, is named after him (Ned was his nickname).

The Ned, 27 Poultry, named after architect Sir Edwin Lutyens

1946 Ownership of Heathrow Airport was transferred from the military to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the inaugural civil flight took place (although the full opening ceremony took place on 25 March).

1962 The Beatles auditioned for Decca Records at its West Hampstead studio. After a 10 hour road trip from Liverpool, they arrived in London the night before "in time to see the drunks jumping in the Trafalgar Square fountains", according to John Lennon. The band, still with Pete Best on drums (Ringo Starr replaced him later that year), recorded 15 songs for the audition, many more than was customary. Decca turned them down, but the tape of the session was later heard by George Martin at EMI's Parlophone label and played a part in his decision to sign The Beatles in June 1962. (If you are interested in The Beatles, you may also like to read this post, which looks at how London became their backdop and stage).

1964 The first episode of BBC TV show Top of The Pops was aired. Although it was first broadcast from studios in Manchester, it moved to London in 1966 and its home remained in the capital until the last show on 30 July 2006. It became the world's longest running TV music show.

1985 Britain's first ever mobile phone call was made by Michael Harrison from London's Parliament Square. He rang his father, Vodafone chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, just after Big Ben had rung in the New Year. He used the new Vodafone network and an 11lb (5kg) Vodafone Transportable VT1 (built by Nokia).

Parliament Square

2000 The Millennium Dome opened to the public after a private New Year's Eve celebration attended by Queen Elizabeth II the previous evening. It housed the Millennium Dome Show throughout the year and was eventually renamed The O2 in May 2005.


For more London festive trivia, there's still time to try the London On The Ground London Christmas Quiz 2023. Please email your answers before 6pm UK time on 1 January 2023 to, with "Quiz Answers" in the subject line. Please include your name and where you live in your email, as I know London On The Ground has readers in many towns and countries in addition to London. I trust you not to look up the answers on the internet before sending them!


I will do my best to publish the answers and announce the winner in a post on this blog on 2 January.

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