13 weird historical facts

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What are history’s most weird and wonderful facts? The past is full of curious stories, from a 1930s chastity belt to Boston’s ‘toffee apple’ tsunami. And did Mary really have a little lamb? We round up the most surprising history facts

Here, author and journalist Eugene Byrne rounds up 13 of the most surprising facts from history…

1. The first proposal for space travel in English history was made by Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law

Theologian and natural philosopher John Wilkins (1614–72), who married Cromwell’s youngest sister Robina, was a polymath of great learning and curiosity, and would be one of the founders of the Royal Society. In two books he explored the possibility of “flying chariots” to carry men to the moon.

He believed, as did many others, that the moon and planets were inhabited, and that we should meet these people and trade with them. People were anchored to the earth by a type of magnetism, and if it were possible to reach an altitude of just 20 miles, travellers would be free to fly, or rather sail, though space. Breathing wouldn’t be a problem as the astronauts would soon grow accustomed to the purer air breathed by angels.

Wilkins appears to have experimented in building flying machines with Robert Hooke, in the gardens of Wadham College, Oxford, in the 1650s. Some years later, however, with growing understanding of the nature of vacuums, he realised that space travel was much more complicated than expected.

While his Cromwellian connections reduced him to poverty after the return of the monarchy, Wilkins’s fortunes were gradually restored and he ended his life as Bishop of Chester.

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