On this page you can view photographs and read accounts of some of our events and thoughts.
The Wool Trade
Wednesday 5th February 2020
Martin Collisson spoke to the club about the wool trade across the centuries.
The early days BC to 11th century
During the Bronze and Iron Ages, weaving was generally carried out on a vertical frame. The woollen thread was spun onto a spindle from a distaff, which is low German for a bunch of flax. Early sheep resembled a variety known as Soay Sheep which produced approximately 10% of the wool yield of a modern sheep. Soay sheep were still found on St. Kilda in the 20th century.
Mediaeval England post 1066 the 12th 13th and 14th centuries
Merchants trading in wool, or the Staple as is was known were very active in the Cotswolds and Wiltshire. The trade in wool represented 50% of the income of the crown at that time. The labour needed to shepherd sheep was much lower than that needed to manage arable land and as such, sheep farming flourished. When wool was transported through England, tolls needed to be paid by the merchants at every town the wool consignment passed through. There is little mention of the wool trade in the Doomsday Book as it is mainly a book of taxation, and at that time sheep grazing was a common right.
Interestingly Richard I's release ransom was paid as a wool tax, and wool featured in foreign policy negotiations with Flanders. In the 13th century there were estimated to be 7 million sheep, and some 33,000 sacks of wool (about 60% of the yield) was exported.
Early taxation focused on the property created from wool profits and English wool had an enviable reputation in Europe. The main wool centres were in the Cotswolds and at Ludlow. The Bishop of Winchester was reputed to have owned 29,000 sheep.
In the 14th century, England established horizontal looms for weaving. Prices and taxes increased, and profits declined. The importance of wool to the country was recognised by Edward III (1327-1377) who insisted that The Lord Chancellor, should sit on a sack of wool in The House of Lords. During the last century when The Wool Sack was refurbished it was found to be filled with horsehair but was subsequently refilled with wool from around the Commonwealth.
Interestingly, at that time, wool tax was at 33% and yet cloth tax was only 2%. This led to many producers turning to production, which resulted in more income and less tax paid. But cloth could only be made in areas with good waterpower such as the Cotswolds, and the eastern side of the Cotswolds was more advantageous. It was also a source of Fullers Earth, a substance needed to clean the wool and aid cloth production. Also, in the 14th century, cloth production flourished, but rules were imposed that meant that people could only turn wool from sheep grazed locally into cloth.
In the 15th century, the economic centre of Europe was at Northleach which had a population of some 400, and today it’s still about 400. The name Northleach means Northern Stream.
The Wool Merchants and Taxation
Wool merchants generally had their own marks. Richard Cely and his 3 sons are reported to have made £300 each (£500,000 today) in one year from dealing in wool from England to Calais. With these profits they diversified into wine, salt and grain. Another wool merchant, William Midwinter left some £11,000,000 in today’s money for the benefice of some 21 churches in the Cotswolds. And many examples of large churches in small hamlets can be found in the Cotswolds and Wiltshire. Edward I was shown how wool taxation worked when he made a visit to Sicily in 1273. On his return he levied taxes on both wool and leather earning him considerable wealth. The Company of the Staple of England (The Merchant Staplers) is the oldest mercantile corporation of England, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1319. Scissors (hand shears) are the symbolic mark of the wool traders. It held a monopoly and was responsible for collecting taxes, but its influence declined as England started to export cloth from Southampton to Europe mainly by sea. The ships bringing back dyestuffs. Under Elizabeth I, the wool export trade collapsed, and cloth exports were sluggish. By the time of James I, increasing volumes of wool were imported from Ireland and Spain.
A mediaeval fleece weighed about 2lb and the fleece from a modern breed is about 22lb. The term Bellwether, which means a good thing to follow, was taken from the fact that the lead packhorse (the most experienced horse) on a team of pack horses use to transport the wool had a frame on its saddle with bells and thus the term Bellwether was a good thing to follow.
Iceland: land of Ice and Fire
Wednesday 15th January 2020
David Head spoke about Iceland: land of Ice and Fire. Iceland, at only 103,000 square km in area, is the smallest country in Europe. It is also the most sparsely populated country with only 350,000 inhabitants, most of whom live in the South of the island.
The first to colonise the land were the Vikings who landed there in 874 AD. At that time it was one of the world’s last uninhabited islands. The Viking leader was Ingolfr Arnarson, who initially could not decide where to land and settle, so he took two staves and threw them into the sea. It took two years for them to come ashore at what is now Reykjavik, but in the interim, he had settled there anyway. There are records that a few Irish monks landed there but did not settle.
Between 1262 and 1814 Iceland was ruled by Norway and Denmark and was only granted independence on the 17th June 1944. It was once occupied in an act of war by the United Kingdom when HMS Berwick was sent there on May 10th 1940 to secure the island. This was principally because Iceland wanted to trade with Germany and when Norway and Denmark were invaded by Germany the UK intervened to stop a coalition between Iceland and Germany so that the sea routes in such proximity to the UK would remain in Allied control. Reykjavík (which was earlier called Keflavik) airport was built by the UK and extended by the UK and during the war both UK and US troops were stationed there.
The Capital Reykjavík means bay of smokes and there are still underground vents from which steam and gasses rise around the bay. Today 85% of Icelanders have Viking DNA. The population of Reykjavik is only 8% none Viking, with a few Poles, Filipinos and Danes. Over the years Iceland was spared the worst of the early European wars due to its remoteness but unfortunately, not natural disasters such as the plague, as during medieval times Iceland still traded with Europe. It is also regarded as having the first Parliament in the world and this was brought together when the Vikings considered changing their religion from Paganism to Christianity in the 10th century. They reasoned that whilst they were trading with Christian nations, they thought they would be viewed as out of step if they were perceived as barbaric and therefore changed to Christianity.
The interior of Iceland is a place of sand, lava fields, mountains and now only two glaciers. The island itself is fairly young in geological terms being only 16 to 18 million years old and has 150 volcanoes. It is an island of spectacular scenery, glaciers and waterfalls some of the more famous are Gullefoss or Golden Falls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Iceland is expensive. Fishing in Thingvallavatn rift valley lake can cost $14,00 per day, but it boasts some of the world’s largest trout. It is also Iceland’s largest lake. Iceland has only one natural resident animal, the Arctic Fox. And some 75% of the population still believe firmly in Trolls, Elves and Witches.
Heating and power on the island are from geothermal sources, heating and power are free but taxes are very high and VAT is 24%. Water is from glacier ice melt. There is a concern that this may all be gone within 50 years if the glaciers continue to melt at the current rate.
In Reykjavík there is the Hallgrimskirkja church, and Iceland was the first country in Europe to have a lady Bishop.
Iceland is situated on top of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fault line running north-east to south-west which separates on the western side the North Atlantic tectonic plate and on the eastern side the Eurasian tectonic plate. These two plates are separating at about 2 cm a year.
In the 1970s the third Cod war broke out between the UK and Iceland. A dispute Iceland firmly won by the simple expediency of stating, that if the UK did not agree to the Icelandic fishing exclusion zone, they would simply leave NATO and allow the Russia to build a naval base in Iceland. That brought the negotiations to a fairly swift and agreed ending.
The Lighter Side of the Law
Wednesday 4th December 2019
Heather Wannell and Steven Pipe of Awdry, Douglas Baily, Solicitors provided a light-hearted canter through some of the stranger things that have appeared in wills over the years. Both Heather and Steven specialise in Taxation, Wills and Power of Attorney. Heather, the Head of Private Clients for the firm, hails from Wootton Bassett and has a fleet of vintage fire engines, an 80-ton steam roller called Jimmy. She also plays brass instruments, is a campanologist and sings.
If a person dies without making a will then they have died intestate, in which case the government will decide who are the beneficiaries of the will. This could entail the estate being disposed of in a way that the deceased may not have wanted.
In one will a woman had asked that her ashes to be scattered in a Sainsbury’s supermarket so her daughters would be with her at least twice a week. It is possible to have your ashes moulded into mourning jewellery or put in a rocket for a spectacular display. An American heiress wished to be buried in her lace night dress and inside her pale blue Ferrari. In order to ensure this, she gifted $2 million to her brother if he complied and nothing if he did not. One person had his ashes put into frisbees so that friends could play with him after he was dead. Gene Roddenberry, author of Star Trek, wished for his ashes to be catapulted into the last frontier; space. I think NASA obliged. Napoleon requested that his head be shaved, and his hair given to family as keepsakes.
The talk then covered the executors and no, a beneficiary cannot sign a will. Sometimes wills contain specific legacies i.e. giving a treasured vehicle or steam train to somebody; there was even one businessman who donated a lemon to the HMRC with a note that read now squeeze on this. Nicolas Edwards gave money to whoever was in power at the time of his death, however during the coalition government of Nick Clegg and David Cameron nobody could agree where the money should go and in the end it was given to the NHS - which is probably more in keeping with his intentions.>/p>
The founder of Nokia, whilst it was still a Wellington Boot Company gave, on his death, shares in the business to residents of a care home. Later when the company expanded into electronics, they became rather rich. In Canada one deceased person bequeathed his entire fortune to the woman in the city where he lived who gave birth to the most children from the time of writing his will until his death. In the end this was split between four women who had given birth to 9 children each. There was also a case of one wealthy businessman bequeathing thermal underwear to the Jesuits.
In the UK we enjoy testamentary freedom which means you can give your estate to whoever you want. However, there are provisions under the Beneficiaries and Families Act and to ensure that families cannot be unreasonably cut out of a will. There was one rich lady who had to have her signature witnessed, but it was a very cold day so she sat inside her carriage and just wiped enough condensation from the inside of the window so that the servants who were made to stand outside could witness that she had actually signed the will. This was later held to be admissible by the courts. Due to pressures of work the NHS has declared that no staff member can witness the will of a patient in hospital.
The talk continued with Steven Pipe who described the difference between lasting power-of-attorney and enduring powers of attorney which is the old form. He recommended that if you have the old form it is better to move to lasting power-of-attorney as there are less traps for the unwary. There was a discussion about undertaking documents of this nature yourself whilst this is perfectly feasible; both Heather and Stephen would always advocate that professional advice is sought to avoid unintended abnormalities in execution of the will and power-of-attorney.
The Cambridge Traitors
Wednesday 6th November 2019
Paul Booy talked about The Cambridge Traitors. The four traitors were, Donald Maclean (1913 to 1983), Guy Burgess (1911 to 1963), Anthony Blunt (1907 to 1983), and Kim Philby (1912 to 1988).
Who did they betray?
Well basically their country; that is all of us, and they all held high ranking official posts in government departments.
Why did they betray?
At the end of the First World War there was a depression and an apparent collapse of capitalism with consequential unemployment. The unemployment was mainly in steel, shipbuilding, and coal mining, but the electrical sector and car industry were doing well. In Russia, Karl Marx had stated that without doubt, capitalism was going to crash due to something known as ‘Surplus Value’, (that is the profit made on transactions) and due to this people will not receive the full value of their labour. As such it was inevitable that capitalism would collapse, it was not in doubt, and the losers would be the working class.
The depression of 1921 was taken as evidence that Marx was right. Lenin had declared that if you are a Communist then you owe all your loyalty to the Communist party and not to any country. However, following the revolution there was now a Communist party in the Soviet Union and consequentially, if you are a Communist you now owe all your loyalty to Russia. In the 30’s, to young people, it all looked reassuring and true and the rise of Hitler, and fascism, first in Italy and then Germany, set this in contrast. But history shows it was not democratic capitalism that fell but communism.
Historians estimate that Stalin had somewhere between 20 million and 30 million Russians killed and whilst visiting Russia Malcolm Muggeridge saw through the factious patter and bogus statistics to see that Russia was a vicious dictatorship. But still, highly educated and mainly young men from the UK went to Russia and believed in the propaganda they were shown. The Russian propagandists were branded as ‘Useful Idiots’ by Lenin.
At that time there was a Russian secret service master plan to target future leaders of Britain whilst they were still at university, and lead them from dissident to treasonous activities, for one day they might be in positions of power. The most successful at this was Arnold Deutch who saw exploitable links between Politics, Sex, and Idealism. The idea was to have people making policy under the control of the Russian secret service. By way of interest Deutch had Chippenham connections as a relative was the owner of the Gourmont cinema.
Guy Francis De Moncy Burgess was a predatory homo-sexual and believed that as such it made him a better spy as he needed to separate his personal life from his public life and to keep it under cover. He became an agent of influence at the BBC.
Donald Maclean became an open Communist and declared he wished to teach English to Russian workers. His spy masters dissuaded him from such open declarations and to become more conventional. He did so and entered the foreign office in 1934, later becoming third secretary to the Paris Embassy. He had a gift for drafting reports, and would often stand in for colleagues giving him access to an increased volume of secret material.
Kim Philby came from an anti-establishment background and was sent to prison for suspected espionage. Whilst in prison he was visited by Burgess and was recruited. By the end of the First World War he was head of control of counterespionage operations in Western Europe. In 1949 he was sent to Washington DC as chief MI6 officer and top liaison officer between the British and the US intelligence services. It was later found that he passed over 900 secret documents to Russian intelligence.
Anthony Frederick Blunt was recruited as a talent spotter for Russian intelligence. In the post-war era he takes up various posts in the art world, the most important being at the Courtauld. Whilst there he is instructed to infiltrate neutral embassies and to study and improve counterintelligence techniques. Later he became assistant to Guy Liddell, Director of section D in MI5. This was the main section dealing with Russian Intelligence. He did have some weak royal connections and was sent to Germany to a Schloss being used as a rest facility for US soldiers, but which housed many treasured art works and secret Nazi papers, the most important being documents about Hitler and the Duke of Windsor. He managed to retrieve these and was then released from duties by MI5.
The traitors had extensive access to much sensitive and secret material.
Who did they betray?
The 1930s saw the Communist party decimated by Stalin through trumped up charges. Millions were condemned to Gulags across Siberia. And there was the man-made famine in the Ukraine. The traitors would have known about all these and other oppressive events. Orwell and Muggeridge also saw this happening including the publishing in Izvestia, on the 8th of April 1935, of the official decree setting the death-penalty at 12 years and above.
The flight of Burgess and Maclean
They were discovered when VENONA decryptions were carried out in the USA. These were investigations into messages between New York Washington and Moscow. The traitors had slipped up as they had reused a one-time encryption pad. They escaped with days to spare before being arrested. Later, Philby was arrested but was let off and was sent to Beirut from where he fled.
Blunt was exposed by Michael Whitney Straight; he was investigated and confessed but was not prosecuted. Later an author wrote a fictitious account of the spying with a loose and obvious connection to Blunt. Blunt saw through this and that he was exposed. Blunt then tried to stop publication of the book, but the author went to see the Prime Minister, who was at that time Margaret Thatcher who revealed all in The House. That ended Blunt’s activities.
In the end the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
Tools For Self-Reliance
Wednesday 2nd October 2019
Dick Mather spoke to us about Tools For Self-Reliance which is a program of collecting old and unwanted tools, refurbishing them, and sending them out to communities in South Africa.
Dick’s background was in engineering, working for the Ministry of Transport on vehicle inspection, he later moved into carpentry, at which he is still very skilled, and on moving house he needed to dispose of rather a lot of items. On taking these to the tip he was surprised to see may good tools just going for disposal. Concerned about this he found a number of tool recycling organisations and eventually joined Tools For Self Reliance as they not only refurbished tools, but also provide business training to the recipients in Africa.
Based in Bristol at the Kingswood Heritage Museum in Warmley, the local centre is staffed by volunteers who take in tool items refurbish them to a workable standard before packing them into boxes which comprise a trade kit for start-up businesses in South Africa, in particular; Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia.
The organisation was started by Glyn Roberts who, whilst working in Africa, found that his tools were constantly being stolen. Initially he felt that it was probably part of doing business there, taking the view, that if they were going to a good home someone was benefitting. On returning to the UK, he was emptying a relative’s house and on a visit to the tip he saw that there were lots of tools just going to waste. Feeling that they could be useful in Africa he started Tools For Self Reliance which became a charitable organisation in 1980.
Glyn has written two books It’s No Good If The First World Tells The Third World What To Do and Questioning Development. The organisation prefers to operate with NGOs in African countries and particularly specialises in tools for the motor industry, garages and clothing manufacturing businesses. Further history can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tools_for_Self_Reliance.
In 2018 the organisation helped 4,000 people in Africa and supplied some 25,000 tools.
They do from time to time come into possession of items that cannot be sent to Africa and those items are traded on to other organisations or sold on the Internet. They were recently donated a set of feeler gauges which happened to have Rolls-Royce 20 hp engraved in the holder and these sold for circa £200 on the internet providing much-needed funds. It costs £3,000 to ship a container of tools to Africa.
Twice a year the organisation holds an open day at the Kingswood Heritage Museum (Tower Lane, Bristol BS30 8XT), one in May on the Douglas Motorcycle Day and one in September on Bristol Open Doors Day. Anybody wishing to donate tools can do so to a local collector or directly to the Heritage Museum on any Tuesday.
Probus members may have several suitable tools in the garages, and if they wish to pass these on John Else has offered to collect them at the next meeting on 6th November 2019. He will take them round to Dick Mather. Suitable tools would be metric (poor old Whitworth) tools for motor vehicles, other vehicle maintenance tools and sewing machines. The organisation currently does not send gardening tools or electrical equipment to Africa.
The early beginnings of the GWR
Wednesday 18th September 2019
The club welcomed Michael Turner for his talk about the early beginnings of the GWR.
The GWR was the brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and although born in Portsmouth he began to develop strong links with Bristol after he submitted designs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge and designs for the re-ordering of the Docks.
A railway company would have required an Act of Parliament before construction began as this would give the company compulsory purchase rights over land designated for the route. It was common for railway companies to seek to negotiate with land owners without resorting to compulsory purchase and although there were appeal boards and procedures, many is the land owner who lost out at appeal for a higher price as the Appeals Board would often settle at a much lower land value price than originally offered by the railway company.
In 1833 a bill was prepared for submission to parliament, but too few potential shareholders could be found, and the funds raised were only enough for two sections of line, one between Reading and London, and one between Bath and Bristol. In the end the bill in Parliament was lost as it was considered not to be a railway as it was not a continuous line. Interestingly, in the original bill the London end of the railway was to share tracks with the Birmingham and London railway into Euston.
In 1834 a second bill was prepared which received Royal assent in 1835 for the full 118 miles of railway. There was much controversy as Brunel did not use standard gauge but a 7 feet broad gauge which was later eased out to 7 feet and a quarter inch to stop wheel squeal on certain curves. Brunel also changed to London terminal from Euston to Paddington. He also proposed new sleepers under the tracks. These were longitudinal sleepers not the transverse sleepers that we see today. The rail used was wrought iron and called a bridge rail (see photograph).
A section of Brunel’s Bridge Rail
Due to the size of the project a single contractor could not be found for the whole length and therefore Local contracts were set for four main tranches of works. The first contract, numbered 1C was set for the part from Chippenham towards Box tunnel and it specifies the length of works as being between Box tunnel and fields 18 and 19 in Chippenham.
The section of line between London and Maidenhead was completed first and the last section from Chippenham to Bath was completed in 1841. Much of the route does not follow the traditional coaching route and misses several towns. This was because Brunel saw his railway as predominantly a fast passenger service from London to Bristol.
During construction many stagecoach companies ran new routes from towns to the rail head. But the last stagecoach ceased operating within two years of the route being fully open, with a corresponding dramatic effect on the trade of these companies, coaching houses and suppliers.
Interestingly much of the current terminology used on railways goes back to the days of stagecoaches. For many people employed on the railways, the track is called a road; on a stagecoach, a guard would sit on top, and train sets still have coaches. A stagecoach would go up to London and today on a railway the up line is the line going towards London.
The wagon rail works at Swindon is at the highest point on the track line between London and Bristol and it is where engines were changed as the gradients are steeper on the Bath side than on the London side. This meant that lighter engines could be used for the Swindon to London stage.
The gradient through Box tunnel is 100:1 from Bath to Chippenham and it is dead straight. At the time it was not uncommon for passengers to stop at Corsham station and take a coach over Boxhill to Box station and catch the next train as many people are afraid of the entrance to the dark tunnel.
It is one of the reasons why the eastern portal on Box tunnel is so large and high to try and dispel the fear of passengers.
During the construction of the railway there were two committees one in Bristol and one in London. The one in London was not very keen on embellishments but the one in Bristol was keen on embellishments. Brunel was in favour of that and as such exercised greater architectural flair in the design of buildings nearer Bristol. There is still an original Brunel station at Bradford-on-Avon. Many buildings close to London were lost when the number of tracks between Didcot and London were increased from two to four. But many of Brunel’s buildings survive at the western end.
By the mid 1800’s most railways in the country were running on standard gauge (4 feet 8.5 inches) with broad gauge section lines having 3 rails to accommodate both gauges. A last section of broad gauge between Exeter and Truro existed until 1892 when it was converted to standard gauge over one weekend.
At Bath station there was a walkway from the platform to the first floor of the Bath hotel opposite. Although now demolished, evidence could be seen on the left-hand side of the station building of the entrance door to the walkway.
The Discomforts of Bath
Wednesday 6th March 2019
The club welcomed Dickon Povey, for his talk on the life and people in Georgian Bath. Dickon had been a tour guide in Bath and had collated much of the information from one of his walks into this talk. He illustrated his talks with slides of paintings and cartoons and with quotations from Smollett’s ‘Expeditions of Humphry Clinker’ which was a reflection on the spa towns and inns of the time.
The city of Bath had become the social and fashion capital of the country, with an increase in popularity after Queen Anne took the waters in search of a cure for her gout. Following her example, many others came mostly from London when the only way to travel was either on horseback or by a three day journey in coaches, which were extremely uncomfortable and were always in danger of overturning. If you were famous, the bells of the abbey would be rung to announce your arrival in Bath, although, of course, this also had a cost.
A typical day for those of high society in 18th Century Bath consisted of going to the baths usually by sedan chair, a public breakfast, morning ride, a promenade along the North Parade, taking the waters at the Pump Room, dancing lessons and a concert or ball in the Assembly Rooms. Bath became so popular that people had to buy tickets from the master of ceremonies, the most well-known being Beau Nash, in order to visit the library, bathe, attend the pump rooms, and dances. Master of Ceremonies even decided on matters of dress and etiquette and the programme for the day.
There were two types, of sedan chair one of which was a special bathing one where the chair was brought to your bedroom and you travelled from there directly to the baths. Taking the waters either meant drinking it or bathing. It was probably best not to think about the source of the drinking water.
At the Roman baths men used the main bath and women another, with voyeurs trying to get a glimpse of them in their clinging shifts. Unless you were there early in the morning after the water had been changed it would have been very unpleasant as the baths were crowded with people having open sores, ulcers and other skin complaints.
Dickon then spoke briefly about toilet facilities which were practically non-existent. There were earth closets at the end of gardens but at dinners and other functions people used pots often hidden behind screens and with gazunders under the bed. During Jane Austen’s time toilet facilities were being built onto the backs of houses and one can still be seen in a house off Gay Street. He then spoke about the extreme fashions including the pannier dress which was so wide and difficult to wear that ladies were forced to go sideways through a door. It could take them two or three hours to get dressed. He also illustrated the elaborate hair styles of both men and women. Many of the cosmetics in use at the time were lead or mercury based and this resulted in many early deaths including that of the renowned beauty, Maria Gunning.
The Club has recently changed its membership to include ladies and all members present soundly endorsed the vote of thanks to Dickon proposed by Mike Stone.
The Role and Organisation of the Royal Navy
Wednesday 20th February 2019
The Royal Navy Presentation Team is a small team of Officers, Sailors and Royal Marines who tour the country talking to the general public about the role and the importance of the Royal Navy. Members were pleased to welcome two members of the team, Lieutenant Theo. Shomnyibia and Marine Zac Wellock, for the presentation.
Members of the Team are seconded to it from active duties and they each told the members and their guests about their front-line service to date and the plans when their secondment ended. With the use of a numbers of slides and videos they then described the structure of the Navy and its role in the World today.
The Navy has six different arms namely the: Surface Fleet, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Submarine Fleet, Fleet Air Arm, Navy weapons. Theo and Zac took turns in telling us about each of these and the part they play in the Navy’s overall operational role including the recent conflicts around the World. These included operating either as individual units of collectively in a Task Group. They also spoke about the part the Navy currently plays in protecting the Country’s interests abroad and ensuring that the World’s sea trading routes are kept open.
They then told us about two new Aircraft Carriers. HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently deployed to the east coast of the United States for her maiden F-35 Lightning flying trials. In 2020 the second carrier HMS The Prince of Wales will also be joining the fleet. Theo told us about the way these carriers function in conjunction with other Navy vessels and the Fleet Air Arm.
The numbers of Navy personnel has reduced over the years but Theo and Zac told us that the Royal Navy’s training and standards would ensure that the Senior Service would continue as an integral and vital part in the UK’s defences.
Kevan, on behalf of all those present, expressed thanks to Theo and Zac for a most interesting and informative presentation which had provided an insight into how the Navy’s role continued to evolve to cope with an ever changing demand.
Reflections of a Police Dog Handler
Wednesday 16th January 2019
Dave Williams introduced his talk by telling us that the precursor of the present MOD Police force was that instigated by Samuel Pepys in 1686 who had created a force of civilians to protect the Royal Navy Dockyards. In 1834 the Dockyards were given their own uniformed police service. In the late 1960’s, the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force were controlled by separate departments: the Board of Admiralty, the Army Board and the Air Ministry respectively, each with its own police force. In that year it was decided that the three services and their police forces should be placed under the Ministry of Defence and this took place in 1971.
Dave then told us of his own career in the MOD police when in 1974 he had been accepted on to a course at the Royal Army Veterinary Corps which has responsibility for procuring and training of Military Working Dogs (MWD) and their handlers. Dave told us about his first work with dogs which initially had to be shared with another handler. He then moved on to talk in detail about each of his dogs in his career stretching over 30 years.
He illustrated his talk with photographs of each dog and explained that the character of some of the dogs meant that they could not always be used. He explained the training routines and described the requirements for dogs to apprehend offenders and that for sniffer dogs.
Dave told us about some of his experiences during his career and told us that he had been very fortunate with one dog in particular when he had been successful in many handling competitions including winning at National level. A highlight of his career had been an appearance at the Royal Tournament in the presence of the Queen.
Kevan expressed the thanks of the members to Dave for a most interesting talk about his career and especially on the use of dogs as an invaluable aide to the MOD Police force.
Tuna Fishing and the Making of Sushi
Wednesday 2nd January 2019
Our President, Kevan Leach, introduced our programme for 2019 with a talk on tuna fishing and then on the making of sushi. He told us that there were five major species of Tuna – Skipjack, Yellowfin, Albacore, Big Eye and Bluefin. Both Big Eye and Bluefin have been over fished leading to a significant reduction in fish stocks. He told us of the size and weights of the five species and the way to measure them. Kevan showed us maps illustrating the various ocean temperatures and the main fishing areas for tuna and informed us of the main source for Tuna sold in the UK.
The Indian Ocean is one of the main fishing areas and the next part of Kevan’s talk focussed on this and in particular the fishing by inhabitants of the Gulf States. He described the small dows and skiffs used by the local fishermen, their storage methods and the fish markets, both old and new.
Kevan then told us about the method used to catch tuna including purse seining, trolling, long lines and pole-and-lines. In order to sustain tuna fish stocks the preferred option in line fishing which is usually indicated on tinned tuna bought in the UK.
Tuna is a significant ingredient in the Japanese dish, Sushi, which comprises specially prepared rice combined with vegetables and fish such as Tuna or, sometimes, meat accompanied by pickled ginger (gari), wasabi, and soy sauce. Although originating in Japan Sushi is now widely available in the West including the UK and the USA . Kevan told us about the different types of Sushi dishes and illustrated a number of them with their Japanese names.
He then concluded his talk by describing the industrial method for cooking and preparing the rice and for the production of particular sushi dishes.
Wednesday 5th December 2018
Bjorn Watson has visited us on a number of occasions and joined us again for this meeting to tell us about the Chindits and their activities in Burma in World War 2.
The Long Range Penetrations Groups or the Chindits were special operations units of the British and Indian Armies created by Brigadier Orde Wingate to function deep behind Japanese enemy lines. The name Chindits was based on the name of the Burmese mythical beast which guards Buddhist temples. Half of the force were British with the other half being from the Indian Army comprising Gurkhas or Burmese troops now included with the Indian forces.
Bjorn then told us of Operation Longcloth when 3000 men had advanced into Burma in an attempt to destroy the railway. Two columns of troops in the south had partial success but one column was ambushed with only half of the force returning to India. Five other columns had proceeded east and Bjorn gave us details of the two commanders, ‘Mad Mike’ Calvert (who Bjorn had worked with after the war) and Bernard Ferguson. They had some success with demolition work but were under constant attack and eventually broke up into smaller groups. Only two thirds of the 3000 returned to India with the others being killed, dying from disease or taken prisoner. However this operation was still regarded as a success and Churchill took Wingate with him to the Quebec conference and this was instrumental in the establishment of a similar American force.
Bjorn then took us through some of the other work of the Chindits in 1943 and early 1944 including helping the American forces under General Joe Stilwell. This led on to Operation Thursday when the Chindits entered Burma to create three base camps with fortified airstrips and Bjorn described the ferocious conflicts and hardships endured by the force during this Operation.
Wingate was killed in March 1944 and the Chindit command passed on to Brigadier Lentaigne who had been highly critical of Wingate. The next major change in command came in May when Stilwell, who had a very low opinion of British forces, was handed command of the Chindits by General Slim. Stilwell decided to use the Chindits as front line troops rather than guerrillas and they were ordered to attack well defended Japanese positions. Activities continued up until August 1944 when the last of the Chindits, who had suffered heavy casualties, left Burma.
Bjorn also told us of the gallantry awards including four Victoria Crosses (two posthumously) which had been made to members of Chindits and the circumstances under which the awards had been made.
He concluded his talk by reflecting on the post-war views of the Chindits whereby there was criticism of the whole Chindit concept by some, whereas others, such as Mike Calvert, were firm defenders of Wingate and his methods.
Our president, Kevan Leach, expressed the thanks of members to Bjorn his most informative talk.
From Russia with Love
Wednesday 21st November 2018
Our speaker for this meeting was one of our own members, Phil Redyoff, who told us about the House of Fabergé and in particular, the famous Fabergé eggs. Phil introduced us to the history of the House of Fabergé which was founded in St.Petersburg by Gustav Fabergé in 1842. Gustav’s family were Huguenots who had moved from France to Germany and then on to Russia. Their name had then changed from Favry to Fabergé.
His sons had followed him into the business and in 1885 Peter Carl Fabergé was charged to make the first Fabergé egg by Tsar Alexander III as a gift to his wife. Fabergé was then appointed Goldsmith to the Imperial Crown and then made an eggs for the Tsar in each year until his death in 1894. Tsar Nicholas II continued with this tradition but commissioned two eggs each year - one for his wife and one for his mother. This continued until the Revolution of 1918.
Phil then illustrated his talk with pictures and photographs of all the known eggs and described a number of their features including the secret that each egg revealed when opened. He told us where each egg is located and price some of them fetched when sold.
He concluded his talk by telling us of the subsequent history of the House of Fabergé following it’s nationalisation in 1918. Peter Carl’s two sons opened a Fabergé company in Paris in 1924 making similar jewellery under the name of Fabergé, Paris. This company was sold in 1937 and then manufactured perfume. It was then sold on to the cosmetics company Rayette and was then resold on again with jewellery being added back into production. The brand is now again only used for jewellery items.
Kevan expressed the thanks of the members to Phil for a most interesting talk on a subject which we have all known about but without the detail Phil provided.
The Arctic Convoys
Wednesday 7th November 2018
We welcomed David Head to us again for his talk which this time was on the Arctic Convoys during the early years of World War 2. He introduced his talk by telling us that it was only in 2012, following a 16 year-long campaign; that a medal, The Arctic Star, had been instituted and awarded to those who had served on the Arctic Convoys.
The convoys of merchant ships delivered supplies to the northern ports in the USSR under the lend-lease arrangements with the USA. They were escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and later the USA.
Initially the convoys ran from Iceland, and later Scotland, twice a month from September 1941 until their suspension in September 1942. The route was around occupied Norway and was particularly dangerous due to the nearby German Air and Submarine forces and not least, the hazardous weather conditions.
About 1400 merchant ships took part in the convoys with over 80 being destroyed together with over 30 allied warships. The policy was to keep the ships in close formation with the destroyers and other warships providing cover from air and submarine attack.
However in February 1942 there was a change in this procedure when there were fears that Convoy PQ17 would be intercepted by the German Battleship Tirpitz which was stationed in a Norwegian fiord. This convoy was the first joint Anglo/American naval operation under British command. The order was given for the escort vessels to move away and for the merchant ships to scatter. In the event Tirpitz was not engaged but 24 of the 35 merchant ships were lost from German attacks and this resulted both in the suspension of the convoys for a time and a deterioration in Anglo/American relations.
It was not until September 1942 that the convoys restarted but with a revised defence pattern. David then told us of the Battle of North Cape in December 1943 when the German Battleship Scharnhorst, which was on an operation to attack the convoys, was sunk by Royal Navy ships. Tirpitz was later sunk in November 1944 by British bombers.
Kevan thanks David for his most interesting and informative talk which was enhanced with many photographs and a number of short films. The members look forward to welcoming David back again in July to tell us about the Arctic and the weather.
Chippenham People in War and Peace 1789-1945
Wednesday 17th October 2018
Mike Stone was to have taken us through the next chapter of the London Story but, because of a bout of illness, had been unable to finalise his talk. Instead he recounted to us the impact on the people of Chippenham of conflicts from the Napoleonic Wars up to and including World War 2. Mike illustrated his talk with a selection of photographs and other pictures which had been collected at the Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre.
During the Napoleonic Wars there were a large number of clothing factories in Chippenham involved in the production of uniforms for the forces. Mike then spoke about the role of the Wiltshire Yeomanry during the Tisbury riots in 1830.
The main elements of his talk, however, was on activities in Chippenham during the two World Wars. He described various aspects of life in Chippenham during WW1 including: the employment of many more women in the various factories such as Saxby and Farmer because many men had enlisted in the forces, the provision of food supplies to the troops by Nestlé, the fire at the clothes factory in 1915, the export of horses from the Chippenham area to the front, and the use of the Neeld Hall as a hospital.
Moving on to World War 2 Mike said that Chippenham had been largely unaffected by enemy attacks apart from the bombing of The Folly area possibly by an aircraft returning from a raid of Bath and an attack in the Bath Road area. Mike also referred to the unexploded bomb which had been discovered on the east of the town in the 1970s and which had then been the subject of a controlled explosion.
Kevan thanks Mike on behalf of the members and we look forward to Mike’s next talk on London which will be programmed later in 2019.
My Journey to the Weakest Link
Wednesday 3rd October 2018
In the introduction to her talk Linda Dowsett told us that any fee was used to support Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Both Linda and her husband were critically ill in 2011 and when Gordon, her husband, died Linda became determined to raise funds for Guide Dogs in his memory.
Initially Linda raised £5,000 to train guide dog “Gordon” but has since raised over £50,000 and in the process funded the training of four other dogs with one more now being trained.
Linda then moved on tell of her experience as a contestant on The Weakest Link. Linda had been spurred on to apply by her grandson and, with many anecdotes, she took us through the procedure of appearing on the show. This included the completion of a 26 page questionnaire, an initial visit to London and then a screen test.
When Linda appeared on the show she reached the last five and had only two wrong answers including forgetting the surname of Henry Cooper.
Following her TV appearance Linda was invited to apply for the Great British Bake-Off but was unsuccessful at the initial interview. She was also interviewed on the Radio by Graham Rogers and, as a local celebrity, opened the Village Fete.
Our president, Kevan Leach, thanked Linda for a most amusing and entertaining talk which was greatly appreciated by the members.
Reminiscences of a Concorde Test Pilot
Wednesday 19th September 2018
Following the visit of some members to Aerospace Bristol and Concorde a week earlier it was appropriate that the talk this week was by Alan Smith who took us through his career as a pilot for over forty years and, in particular, his time as a test pilot for Concorde from its early beginnings up to its use for commercial flights. Alan had over 50 years’ experience as a pilot flying from 1948 to 1998 logging around 18,000 hours for 50+ airlines and on over 75 different aeroplanes.
Alan was an ATC Cadet in 1950, joining the RAF thereafter, he flew Meteor NFX1's with 68 Sqn in Germany. He was employed by BAC as a Training Captain (latterly Chief Training Captain) flying a variety of aircraft including Concorde, BAD 1-11,VC10 and HS 125. Alan also wrote the simulator and flight programmes for the Concorde and took part in a number of test flights but did not achieve sufficient flying time to complete the course for a pilot-in-command.
The British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner Concorde was first flown in 1969 and operated commercially from 1976 until 2003. It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound with seating for between 92 and 128 passengers.
Alan told us of many of his experiences flying Concorde and then related to us the story of the disastrous French Concorde accident in 2000 which led to the grounding of all Concordes for a period of time pending investigation. The crash - the only fatal accident in Concorde's history - marked the beginning of the end for the Concorde with the final flight to Bristol occurring in 2003.
Kevan Leach thanked Alan for a most interesting and informative talk which was much appreciated by the members.
Visit to Aerospace Bristol and Concorde
Wednesday 12th September 2018
A group of members recently enjoyed a guided tour of Aerospace Bristol to see the exhibition ranging from the early days of powered flight up to modern day technology used in space exploration.
The first exhibit was a tram of the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company whose chairman George White with his brother and son, then founded the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company (subsequently renamed Bristol Aircraft) in 1910.
The exhibition took us to the early aircraft of the First World War into the pioneering planes of the 1920’s and 30’s, though the second World War and then into the post war years with a range of aeroplanes, helicopters, missiles, satellites and engines.
We were also told about the evolvement of the company and then the merging with several other aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).
BAC went on to become a founding component of the nationalised British Aerospace, now BAE Systems.
Members also viewed Concorde Alpha Foxtrot which was the last Concorde to be built and was the last to fly with the final journey finishing in Bristol.
Our visit to Aerospace Bristol and Concorde
Joseph Priestley in Calne
Wednesday 3rd September 2018
Our speaker this week was Norman Beale, a retired Calne GP, who told us about the life and career of Joseph Priestley and, in particular, his time living in Wiltshire.
Priestley was born in Yorkshire in 1933 and was a long-life dissenter and an ordained member of the Unitarian Church.
Following time as a minister in Suffolk and Cheshire, Priestley became a tutor at Warrington Academy where he combined his interests in theology and chemistry.
As a result of a meeting with Benjamin Franklin he also developed in interest in electricity and conducted many experiments which he described in one of his published papers.
He moved then returned as a Minister to Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds where he continued with his experiments especially on the properties of gases and leading to his discovery of a number of new gases including Nitrogen, Nitrous Oxide and Ammonia.
He was then invited by Lord Shelbourne to become the librarian at Bowood where he stayed for the next seven years with a house in Calne. Norman told us of the marital issues during this time during which his wife returned to Yorkshire but on her return brought a companion who then married a butcher whose business became, in due course, the Harris Pork and Bacon Factory.
Norman described the various chemical experiments Priestley conducted during his time in Calne during which he discovered dephlogisticated air. He described his experiments to Antoine Lavoisier who conducted his own experiments and then recognised its importance in the atmosphere and gave it the name Oxygen.
Priestley was an advocate for civil and political liberties and expressed support for both the French and American revolutions. The opposition to his views resulted in his fleeing to America. Norman conclude his talk with a description of Priestley’s final years in America up to his death in 1804.
Dr.Beale’s informative and entertaining talk about this philosopher and scientist was greatly enjoyed by the members who warmly endorsed the President’s vote of thanks.
Air Traffic Control: A Woman in a Man’s World
Wednesday 4th July 2018
The final talk in this year’s programme was by Lynn Hildich who entertained us with stories of her life as an Air Traffic Controller in the early 70’s and later, in the 90’s. This included spells at a number of British Air Fields and then time in Cyprus and Kosovo.
She started her career as an officer in the Women’s Royal Air Force when the number of trades open to women was far more restricted then now. She had opted for General Duties Ground which included Air Traffic Control. She described her training and then told us of the various stations where she had served and the aircraft which were in use at that time including the Harrier Jump jet/
She left the service in 1973 to raise a family but then re-enlisted in 1984 and spent time in Cyprus and then in Kosovo. By then several new types of aircraft were in use and there had been significant changes in the operation of air traffic control including upgraded radar detection.
Lynn also told us of a number of individual events that had occurred during her service including sadly crashes and other disasters. Lynn then told us that the Women’s Royal Air Force had merged with the Royal Air Force in 1994.
Our President expressed his thanks to Lynn for a most interesting, amusing and informative talk and this was warmly endorsed by the members.
Milk and Cheese
Wednesday 20th June 2018
We were enthralled by an illustrated talk given by Kevan Leach on the history of dairy and cheese making from early beginnings some 5,000 years BC to the present day. Cheese products in the form of simple and salted curds have been used by humans as a preserved source of protein for millennia.
Early legends cite Arabian traders putting milk into pouches made from sheep's stomachs before setting out on long journeys. The heat of the day and the rennet found in the stomach lining would cause the milk to separate in whey and curds. There are also early records to be found in India circa 5,000 BC and also in Egyptian records from circa 2,000 BC. Other early examples and depictions are to be found on an early Sumerian frieze and on a scene in a Rameses tomb circa 100 BC.
And in the UK, impressions of baskets found at Windmill Hill are of the type still used in for draining whey from curds in some parts of the world. Regional cheese varieties developed across Europe and the Middle East. In 1805, Owen Evans invented refrigeration and by the mid 1870's when commercial refrigeration plants became more widely used, the science of cheese making started to develop. In 1878, Sir Joseph Lister isolated the milk bacterium and around the same time, Hansen in Denmark marketed a commercial rennet material. These changes led to the manufacture of cheese on a wider scale.
The speaker gave details of the minerals and vitamins in milk and the products made from milk. The commercial production of butter and the commercial production of cheeses were covered in some detail including how regional varieties gain their distinctive differences; and how blue cheeses are made.
The talk ended with a description of the process for making processed cheese and milk powder.
Data Protection Regulations and The History of the Pyramids
Wednesday 6th June 2018
The President gave a report on the implications for the club on the new data protection regulations. The members endorsed his report which required some changes to the club’s constitution and membership requirements.
Mike Stone then gave us a talk on the history of the pyramids in Egypt. Well over one hundred have been discovered and they were built as tombs for the pharaohs and their consorts with most being located on the west bank of the Nile. The earliest tombs were single story structures or mastabas until the architect Imhotep conceived the notion of stacking them in decreasing sizes to create the pyramid. Mike finished his talk with a discussion on the construction techniques required to move the large stone blocks.
The Wiltshire Air Ambulance
Wednesday 16th May 2018
Douglas Looman told us about the origin and history of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance, described the helicopter that is now in use and about the crew comprising a pilot and two paramedics. The Air Ambulance which is part of the South-West Ambulance Service has just moved into its new base at Melksham. Douglas finished his talk by telling us about the work of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Trust and in particular the need for donations from the public to keep the helicopter operational.
The Civil War in Wiltshire
Wednesday 2nd May 2018
Dr Chris Scott gave us a talk about Wiltshire’s involvement in the 17th Century Civil Wars between the forces of the Crown and those of Parliament.
They are known as the English Civil Wars but Chris pointed out that they also affected Wales, Scotland and Ireland, so should more properly be called the British Civil Wars.
He described the power struggle which led to the conflict and told which side the County’s MPs and other dignitaries supported. He then told us of conflicts in Wiltshire including the Battle of Roundway before finishing with stories of various uprisings both during and after the wars.
Remains of a Revolution
Wednesday 18th April 2018
Geoff Hobbes, one of our members, spoke about the buildings and engineering structures which played an integral part in the industrial revolution and which could still be seen around the country.
His illustrations, which included many of his own photographs, showed how new technologies developed in the 18th and 19th Centuries had changed the landscape. These ranged from the large factories used in the textile industry, the kilns used in the potteries and the water mills and windmills which created the energy. The processes also led to the replacement of charcoal by coke.
Geoff then went on to talk about the changes in the transport systems which the new industries needed. This included the technology to build locks for the new network of canals, the bridges for canals and railways and the systems of railway tracks.
The resurgence in interest in the canals in the 20th Century had led to two significant canal engineering structures, the Anderton Canal Lift in Cheshire and the Falkirk Wheel.
One of earlier meetings this year had been on airships and Geoff was able to link into this by showing us a photograph of the large hangers at Cardigan which had been built for them.
Many of the larger industrial buildings had been converted in the 20th Century for residential, retails and other uses. Public interest in this era of our history, however, had also led to the creation of industrial museums such as the Swindon Steam Museum and other visitor sites such as Ironbridge and Beamish.
Kevan Leach thanks Geoff for a most interesting and informative talk about the industrial archaeology which could still be seen around the country.
Unusual Antique Items – 4th April 2018 & Annual Dinner – 11th April 2018
The guest speaker at the first meeting in April was Alan Truscott who presented each member with one of the more unusual items from his collection of antiques. They were then asked to describe it and suggest a possible use before Alan provided more information on its provenance and purpose. Some of the more unusual items were early bicycle lamps, Roman scent bottles and toddy lifters. Alan also spoke about other items in the various collections which he and his wife have accumulated over the years.
The members greatly enjoyed the discussion with Alan on each item and warmly endorsed the thanks of Kevan Leach, the President, for a most entertaining and informative afternoon.
The meeting was followed a week later by the Club’s Annual Dinner at Chippenham Golf Club. As well as their enjoyment of the meal the members and their guests were required to tax their brains over dinner to find answers to a quiz prepared once again by the President.
The Wilts and Berks Canal Trust
Wednesday 21st March 2018
The speaker at the Club meeting was Alan Lank from the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust.
Alan emphasised that the official name of the canal was not the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal but the Wilts and Berks Canal as this was the name in the Act of Parliament creating it.
The canal is 70 miles long from Semington to Abingdon and Alan told us about the history of the canal from its completion in 1810 up to its abandonment in 1914. This was due in part to loss of trade to the Railways with the collapse of the Stanley Aqueduct in 1901 hastening its demise. It was closed in 1914 with the passing of the Act of Abandonment. The canal then fell into disrepair with some parts especially in Melksham and Swindon being built over.
In the 1970’s the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust was formed with the long term objective of restoring the canal to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource for people and wildlife. The total estimated cost of the renovation was half a billion pounds.
Alan took us through various sections of the canal and the work necessary to renovate it including the need to divert its path through or around Melksham and Swindon. We were also informed that the Trust had recently acquired the Peterborough Arms pub at Dauntsey as the Trust HQ. It also hoped to include a small museum and reopen it as a pub.
Alan completed his talk by showing us photographs of much of the work on the stretches between Melksham and Chippenham including the Pewsham locks and some of the new canal on the edge of Swindon.
The Trust is always looking for volunteers to assist in its work and details can be found on the Trust’s web site www.wbct.org.uk.
Our president thanked Alan for a most informative and interesting talk demonstrating the scale of the work to bring the canal back into use.
Hugo Eckener – Master of Airships
Wednesday 7th March 2018
Our latest speaker was Barry Dent from Malmesbury who told us about the development and history of airships and in particular the Zeppelins.
The first Zeppelin was built at the end of the 19th Century with the first flight in 1900. Two of the other three built by 1908 were destroyed either by storm or fire but support from the German public enabled the Zeppelin enterprise to continue. A Zeppelin Construction Company was established followed by an associate company DELAG which commercialised Zeppelins for commercial flight.
Barry then introduced us to a journalist, Hugo Eckener, who joined the company in 1908 and was a key figure in the development and use of Zeppelins. During Wold War 1 Eckener was Director of Airship Training to the German Navy and trained crews for Zeppelin bombing raids.
Two British airmen received the Victoria Cross for shooting down Zeppelins. Lt. Warneford over Belgium in 1915 and then Capt. Leefe Robinson over Hertfordshire in 1916. The downing of five other airships in 1916 curtailed the use of Zeppelins for this use.
After the war Eckener persuaded the allies to allow the Company to build a new airship to be delivered to the USA. The transatlantic flight was a success both for airship construction and for Eckener personally and this enabled the Company to construct the most successful airship, the Graf Zeppelin and then the Hindenburg.
Flights by the Graf Zeppelin under Eckener’s command included transatlantic crossings, an exploration flight to the North Pole and then a Round the World voyage in 1929 followed by a scheduled passenger, mail and freight service between Germany and Brazil from 1929 to 1937. Many of the journeys were largely funded by souvenir mail with stamps showing the airships. The airships had to use hydrogen as a lifting gas as the USA would not allow the export of the safer Helium.
The Hindenburg disaster in 1937 was effectively the end of the Zeppelin era as the Graf Zeppelin was grounded following its last commercial flight a day later.
Barry concluded his talk by completing the story of Hugo Eckener’s later life and, following questions and discussion with our members, he was thanked by our President for a most informative talk.
A Walk Along the Thames Path from Marlow to Runnymede
Wednesday 21st February 2018
Bill King described a walk along a further section of the Thames Path from Marlow down to Runnymede.
Bill has visited the Club on a number occasions over the past three years to describe various sections of this walk which started at the Tunnel Inn north of Cirencester and has then progressed through Oxford and Reading to this latest stretch of the Path.
In this part of the walk Bill told us of the historic houses and other places of interest to be encountered as well as the bridges, locks and weirs on the Thames itself. Two of the bridges were designed by Brunel including Maidenhead Railway Bridge when at the time the brick arches were the longest in the World.
Bill was able to tell us the story behind many of the places seen including Cliveden House and Bray Studies, the location of many Hammer Horror Films.
He finished this part of the walk at Runnymede which is not only the location for the signing of the Magna Carta but also the sites of both the Air Force Memorial and the John F Kennedy Memorial which is sited on an area of ground gifted to the USA by Britain.
Kevan Leach expressed the thanks of members to Bill for his most interesting talk which was enhanced by many photographs and other illustrations. It is hoped that Bill will be back with us some time next year to takes us further along the path down to Hampton Court.
The Golden Age of Mountaineering and Exploration
Wednesday 17th January 2018
Our speaker was Martin Collisson who took us through significant mountaineering and exploring stories from the mid-19th Century up to the present day.
He told us, firstly, of the attempts to scale the Matterhorn and the first successful ascent by Whymper’s party with the sad death of four of his party on the descent.
Martin then moved on to the exploration of the Arctic and the Antarctic and highlighted the stories of Cook and Peary in the Arctic and Nannsen, Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton in the Antarctic. He described the expeditions of both Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole and, in particular, the differences between their planning strategies and the equipment and clothing used.
He moved back to the Alps with the attempts on the Eiger and then told us about the expeditions to conquer Everest which are now in the thousands. These included the ill-fated Mallory attempt, the first successful ascent by Hillary and Tensing and more recently many other successful climbs including the first women, the youngest and oldest and the fastest.
Martin’s fascinating talk which included his own climbing stories was illustrated with many contemporary and other photographs and was greatly appreciated by the members who warmly endorsed the President’s vote of thanks.
Wiltshire Buildings Record
Wednesday 3rd January 2018
Dorothy Treasure, Principal Buildings Historian at the Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre came to our meeting to tell us about the work of the Wiltshire Buildings Record.
Wiltshire Buildings Record investigates historic houses and charts their evolution. It now has over 18,000 records since it started its work in 1979.
Many properties undergo major changes every hundred years or so because of new owners, family growth or so-called modernisation to reflect current trends.
Dorothy illustrated her talk with photographs and plans of a number of houses which are now in the records and described how an examination of the building materials and other features such as roof structures allied with documentary evidence enables them to establish the age, history and evolution of the properties. These could include the use of curved timber cruck beams or the use of roofing or other building materials which would be from local areas until transportation became easier with the development of canals, etc.
She demonstrated this by showing us a number of examples including the Rose and Crown in Chippenham, Bolehyde Manor at Allington and a property in St. Mary Street, Chippenham where there had been an attempt in the 17th Century to establish Chippenham as a Spa town.
Wiltshire Buildings Record is a charity based in the Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre and offers members the opportunity to participate in their work which might be visiting and recording individual properties or researching at the History Centre. Details of their work can be found on their web site.
Our president thanked Dorothy for a most interesting and informative talk on the heritage of Wiltshire buildings and this was warmly endorsed by the members.
Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF)
Wednesday 6th December 2017
At the latest meeting of the Club members had a talk by John and Mary Porter on the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).
John started by telling us about the five missionaries working with the fellowship who had lost their lives to natives in Ecuador during Operation Auca. He then went on to talk about the history of MAF and its development and expansion over the last 60 years.
MAF began in the mid 1940’s with several World War II pilots who had a vision for how aviation could be used in Missionary work and has since expanded to a charity providing aviation support to many humanitarian organisations in their work across the World.
Mary then told us about some of the detailed work of the Fellowship ranging from individual medical airlifts and evacuations, especially in the more isolated areas, to assisting with greater disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal.
MAF receives very little in Government funding with most of its resources coming from individual donations or legacies.
They concluded their talk by showing two short films about MAF and then answering questions from members.
The speakers were warmly thanked by the President for a most interesting talk about MAF’s work in providing help and support to individuals and communities.
The Search for the North West Passage
Wednesday 15th November 2017
At today’s meeting of the club the President and members expressed their congratulations and best wishes to David Affleck who was celebrating his 99th birthday.
Our speaker was Ken Ingamells, a former Met Office weather forecaster, who told us about the expeditions to find the North West Passage. The earliest known journeys were by the Vikings in about 1000AD who established settlements in Greenland. A great numbers of expeditions were made in the time of Elizabeth I by explorers such as Baffin, Henry Hudson and Frobisher which are commemorated by many place names on the Canadian eastern coast such as Baffin Island and Hudson Bay. The main reason for these was to find an alternative trading route with China avoiding the southern sea routes dominated by the Spanish and Portuguese.
Ken described for us the various unsuccessful efforts to find a navigable route but one outcome was an effort to find a North Eastern route up to Murmansk which led in due course to the development of trade with Russia.
Ken then took us through the ill-fated expeditions of John Franklin in the 19th Century. His third expedition in 1845 in two well-equipped ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, ended when following the earlier deaths of Franklin and 23 other crew members the surviving crew abandoned the ships for a march across the ice. Subsequent search expeditions discovered abandoned equipment, clothing and some human remains, but without finding either the majority of the crew or an explanation for the disaster.
The first successful traverse of the North West Passage was by Roald Amundsen in 1905.These early expeditions are in sharp contrast to the present day when many cruises along the Passage are commonplace.
Ken concluded his talk by telling us of recent expeditions in which he had been involved when the remains of one of Franklin’s ships had been discovered. They had also found the bodies of three of Franklin’s crew who had been buried in the permafrost and thus preserved to a remarkable extent. Ken was able to share photographs of these and also some of the documents which had also been found.
The last Franklin expedition had included a large supply of tinned food and post mortems on the bodies had determined that the cause of death was probably lead poisoning from the tin manufacture. Another possible cause however was botulism from the food itself because of the extreme lack of hygiene when the food was prepared and canned.
Following questions from members our President, Kevan Leach thanked Ken for a very detailed and most interesting talk.
The Great Klondike Gold Rush
Wednesday 1st November 2017
David Head has entertained us with a number of his talks over the past few years and did not disappoint on this his latest visit.
David’s subject was the Great Klondike Gold Rush which started when an American prospector – George Carmack accompanied by Dawson Charlie and Jim Skookum Mason – two members of the Tagish tribe – discovered vast quantities of gold nuggets in Rabbit (or Bonanza) Creek – a tributary of the Klondike River. Robert Henderson, a Canadian prospector, had suggested that location with gold found on 16th August 1896. George Carmack registered four claims on behalf of him and his two First Nation friends.
Other early prospectors travelled by ship to Seattle and San Francisco with vast quantities of gold and this resulted in a frenzied stampede of up to 100,000 people to the Yukon. The majority were American, partly because of the economic recession in the States at that time, but others came from all over the World. It also generated mass staff resignations including many of the Seattle Police Force.
Other fortunes were made by people supporting the prospectors with sea and other transport and the provision of goods and provisions.
David then described the various routes to the gold fields including the ill-fated route along the Klondike River and the routes from Dyea and Skagway over the mountains. In particular he highlighted the journey over the White Pass trail which necessitated several trips to transport the ton of equipment and supplies which each prospector had to carry. At that time the Canadian Mounted Police Force was in the process of being disbanded but the influx of people resurrected it and it established a border control between Canada and Alaska at the top of the White Pass. He also told us of the arduous living and travel conditions. Many prospectors suffered from a range of ailments including scurvy caused by the lack of fresh vegetables.
David also outlined the rapid expansion of Dawson City from a First Nations camp into a town of 40,000 by 1898 and then, once the gold rush finished, back down to 8000.
Of the 100,000 who had set out for the Klondike it was estimated that only 40,000 reached it with about half that number becoming prospectors. Vast fortunes were made by a few but many were unsuccessful.
The Gold Rush petered out in 1899 when most of the loose gold had been found and gold was discovered in other areas.
David then finished his talk by describing some of the prospectors and other characters such as saloon owners, gamblers and dancers including Klondike Kate. He also told us of Sir Samuel Steele who was the Head of the Yukon detachment of the RCMP during that time.
Kevan thanked David for yet another of his informative and entertaining talks and this was warmly endorsed by the members.
Along the River Kwai
Wednesday 18th October 2017
Our speaker this afternoon was Denis Cartwright who told us about the development of Japan from the late 19th Century up to its involvement in WW2.
Japan was allied to the European nations in the late 19th Century during the conflicts with China – the Boxer Rebellions and during WW1. The country became dominated by Right wing militarism during the early part of the 20th Century and Japan began to expand its borders particularly in China with the Sino-Japanese Wars. This included the massacre of up to 400,000 people in Nanking which was then the capital of the Republic of China.
Denis then explained the factors leading up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour and invasion of Malaya. This included the trade embargo imposed on Japan by the allies because of its territorial campaigns.
The rapid land advance of the Japanese through Malay had been totally unexpected as the allies had anticipated the attack coming from the sea at Singapore. The superiority of the Japanese air force was also a crucial factor culminating in the sinking of HMS ships Prince of Wales and Repulse by Japanese torpedo bombers and land bombers.
Singapore surrendered in February 1942 and the Japanese then seized control of Burma. It then became necessary for them to transport supplies from Malaya to Burma and in order to avoid the hazardous sea journey around the Malaya peninsula put into effect plans for a railway from Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma, linking up with existing railways at both places.
Denis moved on to tell us about the construction of the railway itself and the working and living conditions. A great number of workers from Burma, Thailand, Malaya and other occupied territories were employed and there was a high death rate among them. The worst living and working conditions however were those endured by the Prisoners of War who were transported from Singapore and Malaya.
The first stage of the new railway was the construction of a bridge over the Mae Klong River immortalised by Pierre Boule in his book “Bridge over the River Kwai” despite it being the Mae Klong and not the Kwai.
Denis described the various stages of the Railway’s construction which followed the path of the River Kwai and highlighted the problems encountered at each stage and the extremely arduous working and living conditions of the POWs. It is estimated that about 12,000 of the 60,000 POWs working of the railway died from illness or execution.
The railway was completed in October 1943 and the POWs relocated. The allies subsequently bombed the railway and the bridge several times before the end of the war and its use as a supply route was very short-lived.
Denis then took us through the events leading up to the surrender of Japan in September 1945 including the bombing of Tokyo and Okinawa, the Potsdam talks and then the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In conclusion Denis told us that his brother – who was six years older than him – had been captured at the fall of Singapore and had worked on the railway during the course of its construction. Denis shared with us letters and telegrams from his brother together with other items of family history.
The member showed their appreciation to Denis in the usual way endorsing Kevan Leach’s vote of thanks.
The London Story: Pre-History to Romans and King Alfred
Wednesday 4th October 2017
Mike Stone’s talk this afternoon was probably the first in a series on the history and archaeology of London. This talk took us through the pre-history of London up to its occupation in Roman times and then its later occupation in the time of Alfred the Great.
He started by informing us that London, which in effect was made up of three conurbations (London, Westminster and Southwark) was probably the most excavated city in the country. It was from all of the archaeological excavations that much of its early history could be determined.
Mike told us that London in prehistoric times was merely a collection of scattered rural settlements. Spear heads and weapons from the Bronze and Iron Ages had been found around the Thames.
It was the Romans who were responsible for the city we know today as London. They invaded Britain in AD43, and soon afterwards founded the small city of Londinium.
In AD60 Queen Boudica or Boadicia of the Iceni tribe led a rebellion against the Romans, who fled the city which was then burned to the ground. However, the Romans eventually regained control and rebuilt London, this time adding a Forum (market) and Basilica (a business centre), and slowly building a wall around the city to protect it from further invasion. The area inside the defensive wall has become known as The Square Mile or The City.
Mike then told us about the Mithraeum, or the Temple of Mithras, Walbrook, which was discovered during a building's construction in 1954. The entire site was relocated to permit continued construction and this temple of the mystery god Mithras became perhaps the most famous 20th Century Roman discovery in London. Mike showed us slides of a number of artefacts from the temple and the recreation of the tiled floor.
The Roman occupation of London ended in 457AD when they were defeated by the Saxons. The city then fell into disrepair until King Alfred’s decision to reoccupy the walled area in 886 when new harbours were also constructed and the Roman walls were fortified and rebuilt in some areas He then told us about the bridging of the Thames which opened up waterfront and greatly facilitated trade.
New archaeological discoveries continue to be found in London. The London blitz had uncovered many sites and they were still coming to light from time to time including those found during Crossrail construction.
Kevan Leach thanked Mike for another fascinating talk which he was sure would be followed in due course by another episode in the archaeological story of London.
Wednesday 20th September 2017
Our speaker this week was Liz Froud who told us about the new Hospice for the Care of Children which opened a few months ago in Devizes.
The requirement for a Hospice was first identified by Julia Perks, who was a paediatric nurse from Great Ormond Street Hospital, finding there was no support for parents in the Dorset area for children with life limiting and life threatening illnesses.
Fund raising began to this end, unfortunately Julia passed away with cancer before this could be achieved. The batten was taken up in her memory by Michael Wise, who with much help and encouragement raised the necessary funds to open the first Hospice in Poole, Dorset in 2003. Initially this consisted of two nurses doing house visits and it was not until 2006 that the first actual home was converted into a fully-fledged unit, and in memory of Julia Perks was named Julia's Hospice. This now caters for over a hundred families in the Dorset region providing home assistance, along with day respite and for stays of a few days enabling parents that ability to have support for their children.
When parents from the Salisbury area started to apply for admission to the Poole centre it was realised that a need in Wiltshire existed for a similar unit. Again fund raising was undertaken with the necessary funds being obtained, so that a property in Devizes could be bought for Hospice use. This began in 2016 with two disused Council offices being obtained and converted for the specific use. The new building finally opening in May 2017.
Already in the short time scale of opening the Hospice is catering to the needs of forty families in Wiltshire, with a staff of six nurses and ten carers, they can again provide home care or day care in Devizes, occasionally children can sleep over as there are three bedrooms, but it is not a residential facility.
The unit can take up to eight children each day and is fitted with many high technical built in facilities which enable the staff to offer the best support to children with varying degrees of disability, and certainly not available to parents at home. There is a high tech bathroom, floors that interact with the children, lights and televisions that operate through eye movement to name only a couple. It also allows parents to interact with others in similar situation and the children also to meet and play with youngsters of similar ages.
The Hospices cater for children from birth up to eighteen years of age, and during day visits it is arranged so that similar age groups are brought together at the same time. It has been discovered that often the only way that some of the children can communicate is through play, and to this end one of the nurses full time role is to identify through play which suits an individual to achieve their best goals. An outside area gives additional usage, weather permitting, to stimulate the children's abilities.
Liz concluded her talk by stating that currently all the day to day running costs at Devizes are raised through voluntary contributions. In the Dorset region they get a 6% grant from Government, meanwhile Devizes receives no help at present, though they hope to remedy this in the future. Therefore all donations are gratefully received and the Club’s donation and more especially the generous members’ additional donations were very much appreciated by the speaker.
The President gave a vote of thanks and it was roundly echoed by all members and their partners present.
The Tunnels under Swindon
Wednesday 6th September 2017
Mike Smith last visited us in 2015 when he spoke about the Box Tunnel and freemasonry. His talk this time was still about tunnels but this time the network of tunnels under Old Swindon and also those tunnels which had been constructed during the short life of the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway Company.
Michael said that his interest in the Old Swindon tunnels had started when he was a teenager and had seen the trapdoor in the floor of the old Limmex hardware store in the High Street. He had discovered that this led to the network of tunnels which had reputably been built by the local monks in the 18th Century. These tunnels linked the various public houses and other large properties in Old Town and were said to have been used for smuggling. There was an argument that Swindon rather than Devizes was the location for the Wiltshire Moonrakers story.
Mike described his various exploratory sorties into the tunnels and outlined the links to other properties such as Villets House (Townsends) and the Lawns, the home of the Goddard family from the 16th Century until 1927. Many of these tunnels have now been partially filled in or blocked but some are still being discovered.
As part of his talk Mike outlined the various components of the Swindon coat of arms which encompassed both elements of Old Swindon and also the New Swindon railway story.
In the second part of his talk Mike told us about the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway which opened in 1881 with a line between Swindon and Marlborough with a new station being built in Old Town. The station was due to be built to the east of the eventual station, with a tunnel to be built under the hill on which Old Swindon sits. Mike told us about some of those early excavations. However, money ran out and the line was realigned to run south of the hill. The GWR line with its new station was located some one and a half miles north of Old Swindon.
In 1882 the SM&A line was extended northwards from to a junction with the Great Western main line at Rushey Platt, and services were started between the two Swindon stations. These ceased in 1885 because of the high charges the GWR imposed. Mike then took us through the subsequent history of the line before its eventual closure in the 1960s.
Following a number of questions the members showed their appreciation to Mike in the usual way for a fascinating and most informative talk.
Air Operations in Afghanistan
Wednesday 7th June 2017
Paul Morris visited us to talk about his experiences as an RAF Navigator during the Afghanistan conflict.
He told us that he had started his RAF career in the ranks and had then been commissioned as a Navigator mainly on Hercules aircraft to eventually being the Squadron Leader in charge of RAF Squadron 70 at Lyneham.
He had left the RAF in 2002 but later re-joined as a Flight Navigator on the VC10s on refuelling flights in Afghanistan. He emphasised that the role of the RAF was as part of a Joint Combined Force involving air, land and sea troops from a large number of NATO supporting nations.
The use of ships in battle in a largely land locked country might be surprising but aircraft carriers operating in the Arabian Sea were able to provide air support to ground forces. Paul’s use of maps set this part of the talk in context.
Paul then outlined for us the role of the different types of aircraft which were operating in Afghanistan including the Nimrod, Tornado, VC10 and the Chinook and Merlin helicopters. He illustrated this part of the talk with photographs other illustrations and also showed us a couple of short videos of aircraft in action.
His participation at this time was as a navigator on VC10s. These aircraft were initially used for freight and personnel transport but were then converted as air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Paul told us about his time spent on a number of these missions and showed us a video of an actual refuelling.
One of the major problems experienced during these missions was the loss of radio contact between aircraft because of jamming procedures employed by the Taliban. This accentuated the possibility of aircraft collisions and Paul emphasised this with a number of diagrams and maps showing the number of aircraft that could be in the airspace at the same time. He told us about the use of Air Tasking Orders which listed air sorties for a fixed 24-hour period, with individual call signs, aircraft types, and mission types.
On a personal note Paul outlined some of his own experiences during that time including coping with the high temperatures in which they had to operate.
Paul ended his talk by showing us a slightly longer video including occasions when his plane was fired on from the ground and another of a fighter aircraft ditching into the sea.
His talk was greatly appreciated by the members as was shown in their conversations with Paul and in the vote of thanks by Kevan which was soundly endorsed by them.
Avebury Manor Reborn
Wednesday 17th May 2017
Brian and Ann King visited us to talk about Avebury Manor and in particular its restoration by the BBC for the programme “The Manor Reborn”.
The major part of the talk was by Ann who has been a volunteer guide at the Manor for the past ten years. She told us firstly about the history from its original building in the 12th Century and then through various owners including William Sheringham, William Dunch and John Stowell before its acquisition by Alexander Keiller in the 20th Century. Keiller was heir to the Keiller marmalade fortune and restored many of the Avebury stones. We were told that there had been at least 13 owners of the Manor over time.
Over this period of time the house had many extensions and changes with the final addition being the West Library which was added by the Jenner family in the early 20th Century.
Ann then told us of the ill-fated attempt by Ken King to turn the Manor and its surrounds into a theme park in the late 1980’s which foundered because of the cost, the opposition of Avebury residents and the planning regulations. It was then bought by the National Trust which rented it out to tenants because the cost of renovation wasn’t available.
In 2011 the National Trust collaborated with the BBC in the making of a television programme when the Manor was refurbished by a group of experts to show different rooms in the house restored to four distinct periods in the house’s history – Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian. The programme was presented by Penelope Keith and produced by Paul Martin. Ann’s husband, Brian, was involved in this work and contributed to this section of Ann’s talk.
Ann then took us through each room with slides to show the style of decoration and the various items of fittings, pictures and furniture used to recreate each era. The first rooms were the Tudor Parlour and the Tudor Bedroom as they would have been during the occupation by William Dunch. Ann drew our attention to the tapestries in the Parlour which were copies of those in Hampton Court.
The next rooms were the Queen Anne suite decorated in the Jacobean style which reflected the story that Queen Anne may have stayed at Avebury on her way to Bath. Ann pointed out the marbling throughout the room which was, on close examination, wood which had been painted using a technique used in the Het Loo palace in Holland.
We then moved on to the Dining Room which had been refurnished to reflect the Georgian era as it would have been during the occupation of yet another owner, Sir Adam Williamson, who was Governor of Jamaica at the end of the 18th Century. The BBC had been able to use the house’s inventory of effects from that time in its design.
The final rooms were the Kitchen and the Billiard Room (the former Library) which shows how they may have looked at the beginning of the 20th Century and during Alexander Keiller’s occupation.
Ann drew our attention to the skills of the designers and craftsmen in this project and also to the all of the volunteers involved. The total cost of the project funded by the BBC was close to £250,000 but this had been recovered by the BBC selling the rights to the programme.
On completion of the work the Manor had been reopened to the public by the National Trust but it was with a hands-on approach whereby members of the public are encouraged to sit on the furniture and touch and explore the use of all of the other items. The only exception being the hand painted Chines wallpaper in the Dining Room which will be damaged if touched.
Brian and Ann then answered a number of questions from members when they pointed out the need for more volunteers which was also a need in many more National Trust properties especially with the extended opening hours which the Trust is introducing. They also spoke about the gardens and the various plants that are now being introduced. Unfortunately the Box hedges are now suffering Box blight and extensive work is being undertaken to manage and reduce the effects of this.
Our president, Kevan Leach thanked Ann and Brian for a most interesting and informative talk which, he was sure, would encourage members who have not been to the house recently to do so again. The members supported Kevan in his thanks by the usual acclamation.
Whales and Dolphins - an introduction into their World
Wednesday 3rd May 2017
The recent talk to our members was given by Bernard Purrier of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), whose head office is based in Chippenham. It was explained that Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises are classified as Cetaceans and are mammals not fish. The differences being as follows, mammals have warm blood, give birth to live young, breathe through their lungs and have vertical tail movements. Whereas fish are cold blooded, lay eggs to produce their young, breathe through gills and have horizontal tail movements. The current theory is that Cetaceans originate from a Mesonychid some 55 million years ago and believe it or not was a wolf like creature.
We were informed that because they have to breathe to survive, so constantly coming to the surface for air, they therefore do not sleep. It has been shown and discovered that they rest on the surface where they can breathe through on air hole, while at the same time closing down half of their brain to recuperate. Much of this information is coming to light from an extensive study programme on a group of up to 150 Dolphins in the Murray Firth in Scotland, which is the longest running study in the world.
It is disturbing to be told that the Whales are still under threat from hunting by Japan, Iceland and Norway, for so called scientific research. This is strange as the younger population in these countries are consuming less of the meat. All Cetaceans also suffer from water and noise pollution, though it now appears that the capture of animals for captivity in zoos and theme parks is on the decline, with more interested in observing the creatures in the wild, which is also generating income for local populations. Bernard discussed the way some animals strand themselves on beaches, which is now thought to happen because the matriarch of the group is either disorientated or ill and the rest follow their leader. It has now been proved that the only way to stop this recurring is to take the matriarch about 5 miles out to sea, otherwise as soon as the beached ones are re floated they just return to their leader.
He reported that the smallest Cetacean is the Hector dolphin from New Zealand, commonly nick named the "Mickey Mouse" dolphin. The largest being the Blue Whale, also the largest creature on the planet, which can reach up to 33 metres in length and have the same body dimensions of an A320 aircraft. These huge animals live solely on krill which they consume in vast quantities, but sadly it is now coming to light that the Chinese have taken a liking to consuming krill and will soon have 10 ships out on the oceans which hover up krill in equally huge amounts. The WDC are monitoring this situation but fear it does not bode well for the future of marine life in general as many other sea life depends on the krill.
Bernard's illustrated and informative talk was well received by those present and following a vote of thanks by Mike Stone received the normal response from all members.
Bees and Beekeeping
Wednesday 19th April 2017
Our speaker was Richard Rickett from Corsham. Richard is the Education Co-ordinator of the Melksham and District Beekeepers Association. He has been a beekeeper for about 20 years and is one of over 500 licenced beekeepers in Wiltshire.
There are lots of different types of bee in the UK – around 250 species! There are 24 species of bumblebees, around 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee species. Bumblebees look quite different from honeybees and solitary bees. Richard’s talk this focussed on keeping and caring for the honey bees and the production of honey.
Richard told us that bees probably evolved at much the same time as flowers. There was evidence of beekeeping by the Egyptians several centuries BC. They were kept in skeps or baskets which were placed upside down and then plastered in mud. These evolved over the years into the more traditional looking hives. The origin of the standard stacking hives mainly in use today is credited to Lorenzo Langstroth, an American Apiarist of the 19th Century.
Langstroth constructed his hives so that the frames, in which the bees were to make their combs, could easily be separated from all adjacent parts of the hive - the walls of the hive, the floor of the hive, the cover of the hive, and other frames within the hive. Langstroth is credited with being the first person to have found a use for the bee space, allowing us to have what were called "moveable frames" in a box. "Bee space" is a term that is given to a gap that bees create in a natural nest to enable them to pass freely around their nest. The preferred size of this space is 8mm as the bees are unlikely to seal this space with propolis (or bee glue) nor fill it with a comb.
The three categories of bees in a hive are the Queen whose function is to lay eggs and populate the hive, the worker bees which collect pollen of their back legs as food for the hive and nectar through their proboscis which is stores in wax cells and produces honey; and the drones whose primary role is to mate with a fertile queen. We were told that in order to produce a pound of honey it was estimated that the worker bees would have flown up to 50,000 miles in total and visited up to 2 million flowers He also told us of the mating procedure when she is mated in succession by a number of drones which die after mating.
Richard described for us the swarming process by which a new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees.
Richard then told us of some of the problems faced including infestation by mites, bee diseases, pesticide losses and colony collapse. He also stressed that danger of hives being infected by bees taking impure honey back which could lead to all of the hives needing to be destroyed.
In conclusion Richard told us that throughout the summer he was called upon quite often to collect swarms of bees which nested in locations found for them by so-called scout bees. These could be anywhere from trees to buildings. Richard finished by showing us a short film of one of his colleagues collecting a nest from a tree.
Kevan thanks Richard on behalf of the members who then had the opportunity to acquire for themselves some of the lime honey produced in Richard’s hives.
The Battle of Waterloo
Wednesday 5th April 2017
Our talk by Gerry Churchard this afternoon took us through the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo and then the various phases of the battle itself. Gerry illustrated his talk with maps, diagrams and factual information and also included a number of extracts showing battle scenes from the 1970 film “Waterloo” starring Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington.
This period known as the 100 days of Napoleon’s rule (although in fact 116 days) took us from his escape from Elba, his journey through France to Paris and then the various campaign battles culminating in his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
In 1814 following a number of defeats Napoleon had abdicated his throne and had been exiled to the island of Elba off the Tuscany coast. However in February 1815, while the Governor (Sir Neil Campbell) was in Italy and the guard ships also absent, Napoleon escaped to the French mainland with some 1000 men and proceeded on a journey through France towards Paris. He had gathered troops on the way and this included the troops of Marshall Ney who had been sent to arrest him but had instead sworn allegiance to Napoleon. He entered Paris in March 1815.
During that time the Congress of Vienna (comprising Austria, Prussia, Great Britain and Russia) declared Napoleon an outlaw and mobilised troops. All of the major powers pledged troops for the campaign although Great Britain had to pay subsidies to other countries to make up their troop numbers as their numbers were deficient as its troops were scattered around the globe.
Gerry then proved a detailed breakdown of both army’s composition and disposition. The coalition forces comprised the Anglo-allied army of 83,000 led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Army of 119,000 led by Prince Blucher. The Russian army was still moving across Europe and the Austrian army was still mobilising so none of these forces played any significant part in the campaign. Gerry also pointed out that most of the experienced British troops were engaged elsewhere so much of Wellington’s force were second-line British or poorly equipped and experienced Dutch forces. Napoleon’s forces, the so called Army of the North, of 198,000 men were in the main far more experienced.
Gerry also provided a summary of the leading general in the two armies including Marshalls Net and Grouchy leading the French forces and Generals Picton, Paget and Ponsonby for the British.
Napoleon decided to fight an offensive campaign before the coalition forces could be fully mobilised and led his army to the Belgian border where he met the allied forces. Two early battles in June were at Quatre Bras which was inconclusive and at Ligny where the French defeated Blucher.
Gerry then took us on to Waterloo which is now in Belgium but was then in the Netherlands. He described for us the topography of the land and the disposition of the two armies. The Waterloo position consisted of a long ridge bisected by the main road to Brussels with a deep sunken lane along the crest of the ridge.
The main Battle was on 15th June 1815 and we were told in detail how the Battle progressed. Firstly there was the battle for Hougoumont farmhouse where the French tried unsuccessfully to take it from British forces. The main Battle started the French bombardment followed by the first French Infantry attack with General Picton being killed during the counter attack. The British Heavy Cavalry was then ordered to attack but after initial success they were then defeated and there was a disastrous retreat during which most of the Scots Greys including their commander General Ponsonby were killed.
The French Cavalry were then ordered to attack but despite several charges were repelled by the British infantry which had been formed into squares. The battle continued with the second French infantry attack and in the meantime the French were successful in capturing La Haye Sainte which occupied a key position but this success was too late to affect the outcome of the battle.
The tide of the Battle was in favour of the French but the arrival of Blucher’s Prussian forces including their capture of Plancenoit then turned it in favour of the Allied forces. One of the final elements was the unsuccessful attack of the French Imperial Guard and the last stand of the Old Guard who refused Wellington’s offer to surrender.
The French forces then withdrew in disarray and Napoleon returned to Paris abdicating just over a week later. He was eventually exiled to St. Helena where he died in 1821.
In conclusion Gerry told us of the scale of the French and Allied losses in the Battle and provided some other information including the Newspaper reports at the time.
Kevan expressed the thanks of the members to Gerry for a most interesting and informative description of the events leading up to and following the Battle and of the Battle itself.
Carrots, Courtesans and Culture: A History of Covent Garden
Wednesday 15th March 2017
Our planned speaker for this day was unable to attend but Martin Collisson kindly agreed to give us this new talk which he had only given once before.
The land occupied by Covent Garden was in the ownership of the Abbey of Westminster until the Reformation when Henry VIII acquired it. Edward VI then granted ownership to the Earl of Bedford and it remained with the Bedford family until 1918 when it was sold for £2m and then passed on to the Beecham Estates. It is now owned by Coven Garden Estate.
The Earl of Bedford commissioned Inigo Jones to design and build the Italianate square which was the first in London together with a number of the houses surrounding it.
The reference to carrots arose from its early use as market gardens and orchards under the Abbey’s ownership and then as a small open-air fruit and vegetable market in the 17th Century.
Gradually, both the market and the surrounding area fell into disrepute, as taverns, theatres, coffee-houses and brothels opened up. By the 18th century it had become a well-known red-light district. The vice trade in London was one of the major businesses in London with the Covent Garden area being one of the main locations. This was highlighted in “Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies” published from 1757 to 1795, was an annual directory of prostitutes then working in Georgian London which at one time had a circulation of 8000.
Some of these ladies or courtesans such as Kitty Fisher and Lavinia Powlett - who married the Duke of Bolton - were able to rise up in society but many of them sank down the ladder with many finishing in Prison or dying from disease. Hogarth’s series of paintings “The Harlot’s Progress” illustrated this.
Martin was able to illustrate this part of his talk with paintings of some of the ladies and pictures of Covent Garden at that time to show some of the houses including Hummums Hotel.
In the 18th Century following an Act of Parliament intended to curb these activities the neo-classical building with the roof over the square was built along with a number of other classical buildings.
This led us to the final section of Martin’s talk which was also illustrated with drawings and photographs - Covent Garden as a cultural centre. Theatres in the area include the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. There are also another dozen or so other theatres in the vicinity and Covent Garden itself is licensed for street entertainment, and performers audition for timetabled slots in a number of venues around the market. Another area of interest is the London Museum of Transport which occupies the building designed and built as a flower market in the 19th Century. It is also a very popular meeting and dining area with a great many restaurants and bars, many of them in listed buildings.
Kevan thanked Martin for an interesting and informative talk which demonstrated the decline of the market area before its restoration and development into the present day visitors’ attraction.
History of the Railway In Chippenham
Wednesday 1st March 2017
Our planned speaker for this day had sadly passed away earlier in the year but Mike Stone kindly stepped in with a talk about the history and development of the railway in Chippenham which he illustrated with a number of maps, pictures and photographs.
Mike introduced us to the history by referring firstly to the population of Chippenham in the early 19th Century and to a number of public meetings including one in Chippenham in 1834 to discuss the line of the Great Western Railway. The route through Chippenham was agreed and the line opened in 1841.
The two key figures in the history of the railway in Chippenham were Roland Brotherhood and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Brotherhood was an Engineer with contracts for building parts of the Great Western Railway and in 1841 he moved to Chippenham and began the production of railway fittings and developed an iron works on land north of Chippenham station. The business expanded in the 1850s and 1860s, with more land purchased to the north and east. Contract work for the GWR continued until 1861 when there was a dispute with that company; from 1861 to 1869 Brotherhood built components for railways and bridges across the world, together with wagons and a small number of locomotives. In 1869 the business closed until the site was bought by Saxby and Farmer, railway signalling manufacturers, later becoming the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company. Brotherhood was also involved in sinking shafts for the Severn Tunnel. Mike then told us about the more recent history of Westinghouse including its separation into various departments and their relocation off site.
Brunel’s main involvement in Chippenham was the Railway Station which was built to his design and opened in 1841 and the viaduct over New Road. Mike illustrated this part of his talk with drawings and maps which showed both the land around the station and the station itself which at one time had a complete roof. Brunel also had a site office at the station.
As part of his talk Mike also spoke about the ill-fated Seend Iron Works which entered business in the early 1850’s to extract and smelt the local iron ore. Initially the ore was sent to Wales for smelting using barges and small sailing craft across the Bristol Channel. Once Seend had its own furnaces a broad gauge railway was built to transport the iron and connect to the Great Western Railway. The business eventually closed in the 1880’s and the works were demolished.
Mike concluded by telling us of the plans for the development of the Chippenham station.
Kevan expressed thanks to Mike on our behalf for a most interesting talk especially as he had filled this gap in the programme at such short notice.
Mutiny on the Bounty
Wednesday 15th February 2017
Most people’s perception of Captain Bligh is usually influenced by Charles Laughton’s portrayal of him in the 1930’s film in which Clark Gable played Fletcher Christian.
Ned Barham in his talk about the Mutiny and the subsequent events involving Bligh told us that although he may have been a strict disciplinarian he was probably nowhere near the cruel tyrant depicted by Charles Laughton.
In introducing Bligh to us Ned took us through his early years from his birth in Devon on to his joining the Royal Navy at the age of seven and then his time as a Midshipman before being appointed as Sailing Master of the Resolution for Captain Cook’s third (and final) voyage to the Pacific.
Bligh then had several more years in the Royal Navy during which he saw active service in a number of sea battles. This was followed by some time in the Merchant Navy.
In 1787, Bligh took command of HMAV Bounty with the objective of sailing to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then sail to the Caribbean, where breadfruit was wanted for experiments to see whether it would be a successful food crop for slaves there. Bounty was a small merchant ship acquired by the Royal Navy for this purpose and had no officers other than William Bligh who had the rank of Lieutenant. Bligh asked Fletcher Christian, who had served with him on a number of other ships, to join him on the voyage with the rank of Master’s Mate.
Ned then told us about the difficulties that had been encountered on the voyage culminating in a five month’s stay on Tahiti waiting for the breadfruits to ripen. The Bounty then started on the next leg of its voyage towards the Caribbean but in April 1789 the mutiny by Christian led to Bligh and sixteen crewmen loyal to him being set adrift in a small launch. We were then told about their 6700 km and 47day voyage to Timor. There were several deaths among the crewmen before they were able to return to Britain.
In the meantime Christian and the other crew members had settled on Pitcairn. The next phase of the talk was about Captain Edwards and the HMS Pandora which was charged with finding the mutineers and returning them for trial. Most of the mutineers were found but Pandora subsequently ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, with the loss of 31 crew and 4 prisoners from Bounty. The 10 surviving detainees reached England in June 1792 and were court martialled; 4 were acquitted, 3 were pardoned, and 3 were hanged.
Christian's group remained undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, by which time only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. Almost all his fellow mutineers, including Christian, had been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. No action was taken against Adams. Descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts live on Pitcairn into the 21st century.
Ned was able to illustrate the talk with lists of both the loyal crewmen and the mutineers and their fate.
The concluding part of the talk was about the career of Captain Bligh following his court-martial acquittal over the loss of the Bounty. This included service on various RN ships during which he saw action in a number of battles and culminated in a disastrous spell as Governor of New South Wales during which he was imprisoned by colonists in the so called “Rum Rebellion”.
Bligh died in 1817 and Ned finished his talk by showing us a picture of his tomb topped by a breadfruit in St.Mary’s, Lambeth.Kevan Leach thanked Ned for his most interesting and informative talk which was endorsed by members in the usual way.
Wednesday 18th January 2017
Our speaker this week was Tony McAleavy from the Malmesbury History Society telling us about the history of Malmesbury Castle and in particular its role during the Anarchy - as the war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda is known.
The castle was built early in the 12th Century by Bishop Roger of Salisbury during the reign of Henry I and changed hands several time over the next century until its demolition in 1216. There is now no trace of the castle despite several archaeological excavations although it is thought to be located on or near the site of the Bell Hotel.
Tony then outlined the causes of the conflict between Stephen and Matilda, the rival claimants to the English throne during which the castle played an active part. He had been assisted in this research by tracking down and obtaining a translation of a document in France which detailed an account of the castle’s role in the conflict.
Henry I wanted to install his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor but on his death in 1135, his nephew Stephen of Blois had seized the throne. This led to the civil war known as the Anarchy.
Neither side had a decisive advantage in the early years with Matilda controlling the South-West of the country, Wales and much of the Thames Valley while Stephen controlled the South East.
At the start of the war the castle was under the control of Stephen but in 1139 the local baron Robert Fitzhugh, loyal to Matilda, had captured it and then lost it again shortly afterwards when it was recaptured by the King’s forces with the sacking of the town. It remained loyal to the King whereas most of the surrounding countryside was loyal to Matilda.
Robert of Gloucester – Matilda’s half-brother – unsuccessfully besieged the castle. Matilda eventually returned to France but her son – Henry Plantagenet – continued with the war against Stephen.
The castle then it remained in Royal hands until 1153 when the warden of the castle changed his allegiance from Stephen to Henry Plantagenet.
The war ended in 1154 when Stephen and Henry negotiated a peace settlement with Henry being accepted by Stephen as his heir. Henry II acceded the throne on Stephen’s death the following year.
A few years later the castle was sold to the Abbey’s monks who promptly demolished it with permission from King John.
In proposing the vote of thanks Mike Stone told us that he had been involved in some of the unsuccessful archaeological digs to determine the castle’s location.
Taking the Biscuit
Wednesday 4th January 2017
During the talk by our Vice-President, Kevan Leach, we were able to enjoy a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits as he told us about the history and manufacturing processes for biscuits.
The old French word Bescuit was derived from the Latin words bis (twice) and coquere, coctus (to cook, cooked), and, hence, means "twice-cooked". This term was then adapted into English in the 14th century with the Middle English word bisquite, to represent a hard, twice-baked product.
The use of biscuits can be traced back to their use in ships with the Romans having a type of biscuit called “Buccellum”. This source of food reduced the need to take live sources of food on long journeys. Early physicians also believed that biscuits were good for the digestive system. Kevan then took us through the 20th Century history of British biscuits from Crawfords, Jacobs, Penguins, Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes. This included the need to ensure that ginger nuts are not too hard or digestive biscuits too soft.
He then highlighted the difference between biscuits and cakes whereby biscuits soften with age whereas cakes harden. This difference had been the subject of a court case in 1991 when McVities had to prove that Jaffa Cakes were cakes – which are exempt from VAT - rather than biscuits which are not. McVities proved this by making a 30cm Jaffa Cake which hardened when stale in the manner of a cake.
We were also told about the reason for holes in biscuits especially crackers which allow the dough to cook and also keep crackers flat and not risen. It is important to ensure that the holes are the correct distance apart. We were told about the relative fats content and calories in various British biscuits.
Kevan then moved on to talk about the manufacturing process for biscuits and the types of machinery in use for the four main processes – mixing, forming, baking and cooling. He illustrated the type and size of machinery that may be used for each process. In particular a one-ton dough mixer and the production line for Jaffa Cakes, which is three quarters of a mile long. He explained the laminating process and the shaping of biscuits either through cutting or moulding. The next stage is the baking where radiation, convection and conduction give the biscuits the right colour and volume. The final stages are the cooling and then the packaging.
The talk concluded with an explanation of the process for making half-coated or fully coated chocolate biscuits and the packaging process whereby despite appearances the chocolate on McVitie’s half coated is on the top and not the bottom of the biscuit.
The Thames Path (Part 3): From Pangbourne to Marlow
Wednesday 7th December 2016
Bill King visited us to take us on the third leg of his walk along the Thames Path.
The journey through the Goring Gap started in Pangbourne where the River Pang, a tributary of the Thames was thought to be the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”. Whitchurch Bridge is one of the only two remaining toll bridges over the River Thames with the toll currently being 5p. The Swan in Pangbourne was the final destination of Jerome K Jerome’s journey in “Three Men In A Boat”.
The next place visited was Mapleduram where the WaterMill is the only one on the Thames still working and producing high quality stone-ground flour. This Mill was one of the action settings in the film “The Eagle Has Landed”. Here can also be seen Mapleduram’s large Archimedes Screw Turbine which was installed in 2011.
The journey then went on through Tilehurst and then through and round the large town of Reading onto Sonning and Sonning Eye where the small islands in the River are known as Eyots. Local features include Sonning Weir and lock and Sonning Mill Theatre.
On then through Wargrave with its mile long footbridge and Shiplake to Henley-on-Thames, the location of the famous Henley Regatta. Among other features Bill highlighted the River and Rowing Museum with statues of Redgrave and Pinsett, the Glorianna Barge, the practice of Swan Upping and the temple on Temple Island which is the starting point for the Henley Regatta races.
Bill then took us through Hurley and Hambledon (on Thames and not the Hambledon of cricketing lore) taking in Danesfield Mansion where Constance Babington Smith carried out much of her work on the interpretation of wartime photographs.
The path then followed on the Temple and Bisham where Bisham Abbey is the home of the National Sports Centre.
This part of Bill’s journey finished in Marlow where he pointed out Marlow Suspension Bridge and the Compleat Angler Pub.
Mike Stone expressed the thanks of the members for yet another episode of Bill’s Thames Path journey and we look forward to welcoming Bill for a talk next year taking us still further along the Path.
A Decade in Gascoigne
Wednesday 16th November 2016
John Clark has visited us several times over the past few years with talks which have included the Engineering of the Pyramids and the Aqueducts of the Roman Empire.
His talk on this occasion was on a completely different subject when he told us of the time spent by him and his wife in the Gascoigne area of France including the purchase and renovation of a small cottage and the scenery, history and people of the area.
John’s interest in the area had started with an advertisement for a small property for sale in Vic Fezensac which is a small town about 40 miles from the Pyrenees within the Gers area of France and is in the triangle of country bordered by Bordeaux, Biarritz and Toulouse. John told us that the area had a very low population density and although popular with tourists during the summer months this is only until the end of September.
He and his wife had travelled down the town in their camper van to see the property and, although not buying the initial property, had been so taken by the area that they had bought another cottage requiring substantial renovation.
The next few years had been spent bringing the cottage up to standard including the creation of a small roof garden. John shared with us a number of before and after photographs and also told us of his experience in obtaining the necessary permission from both the local Council and, more importantly, the mayor.
He was able to tell us of the complications of French inheritance laws whereby property is passed down to the eldest sons. This is one aspect of the inflexibility of the French legal system which extends to social care and employment laws.
John and his wife had spent their mornings working on the cottage and had then freed up the rest of the day to enjoy the town and the Gascoigne area. That area of France had remained relatively unspoilt by conflict and a feature of the town was the old Colombage buildings with the half timbered frames. The timbers in some of them in the market square had been plastered over including a large building used as the Nazi HQ during the war and his photograph showed where the large swastikas had been located.
Another feature of the town is the bullfighting ring which is one of the few in France where the bull is still killed. One aspect of this is that the bull is owned by the local butcher who then has the meat from the carcase to sale reputably enhanced by the bull’s adrenalin.
John told us of the friendly relationships he and his wife had built up over the sixteen years sent there including the sharing of cooking skills with the local baker.
His cottage adjoined the house of the Priest – l’Abbe and they had developed a firm friendship with him. This had included time when John had been in the intensive care ward of Princess Margaret Hospital and had received a telephone call from him.
Sometime later John had been informed of the Priest’s death and it was only when attending the funeral that he had been made aware of his friend’s involvement in organising and running one of the escape routes across the Pyrenees for refugees and allied forces during the Second World War. The funeral had been attended by many members of the French Resistance and by a number of escapees.
In conclusion John told us that after sixteen years they had sold the cottage to the family of the adjoining properties but still visited the area from time to time.
John then answered a number of questions from members before Mike Stone expressed the appreciation of the members with his vote of thanks.
Wednesday 2nd November 2016
Mike Stone’s talk this week was to have been on “The London Story” but unfortunately due to a bout of illness he had been unable to complete all of the research for this.
He therefore replaced this with a talk about the history and culture of the Vikings including some common misconceptions about them.
Vikings are traditionally known for their fighting, their ships and their raiding but equal consideration should be given to their trading and their role in exploration.
They originated in Scandinavia but their trading and exploration took them as far as Constantinople in the east and to Iceland, Greenland and North America where Leif Erikson set up short-lived settlements in what is now Newfoundland. Rollo, a Viking, was created the first Duke of Normandy in 911 AD.
Mike described for us the clothing, armour and weaponry of the Vikings which had been determined through archaeological evidence and, in particular, pointed out that the Viking helmets did not have horns.
He then took us through the various Viking settlements in Britain including Chippenham and the major settlement in York (Jorvik) with a description of the York quayside. One of the earliest recorded raids to Britain was on Lindisfarne in 793 AD.
The early Vikings were pagan and Mike told us about their gods including Odin, Thor and Loki but there was a gradual conversion to Christianity.
Evidence about Viking life is found on the Standing stones found all over Norway, Denmark and in particular Sweden. These are covered in intricate carvings and runes showing the runic alphabet.
Mike was thanked for his talk by Rod Allam and we now look forward to Mike’s talk on London which will now be included in next year’s programme.
Consumer Rights and Scams
Wednesday 19th October 2016
Our speaker this week was Sue Wilkin from Wiltshire Council. Sue is the Senior Public Protection Officer in the Trading Standards department of the Council and discussed with us ways of identifying scams and the steps that can be taken to avoid them.
Scams can come in many guises which include postal, telephone, on the doorstep, internet and email.
The main features of postal scams are competitions requiring you to pay money to win money or where you have to buy goods to enter. In the latter case the purchases may be small to start with but increase as you progress through the competition stages. Trading Standards have been able to restrict those emanating from the UK but have been less successful with those originating overseas.
Sue then described a couple of doorstep scams and distraction burglaries which had involved her department. She highlighted the need to check all doorstep callers and be especially wary about inviting them into the house.
Other doorstep callers could be rogue traders quoting cheap prices for work such as paving or roof repairs which may be unnecessary in any case and could result in poor quality work and requests for more payment.
The main purpose of many telephone scams is to obtain your personal or bank information and Sue emphasised the need to be wary of any calls you have not requested and are not expecting. These can include calls relating to PPI, car accidents or phoney consumer surveys.
Sue drew our attention to a leaflet produced by her department providing more advice on recognising scams and ways to be safe in your home and in particular the availability of the Consumer Advice service which provides confidential and impartial advice and information on consumer issues.
Sue finished her talk by describing a case where she had been able to confront the perpetrator face to face and successfully recover the money for the elderly householder.
Kevan Leech thanked Sue for a very helpful and informative talk. It is hoped that most of us will recognise a scam when we see it but unfortunately it is the more vulnerable elderly who may struggle to recognise one and sadly it is they who may fall victim.
The Khyber Pass, or Bust
Wednesday 5th October 2016
Peter Berry came to us last year to tell us about the tour he and a number of other photography and railway enthusiasts had made on the railways in Zimbabwe.
On this visit Peter told us about the Khyber Pass railway which had been opened in 1925. After the independence of Pakistan it had run a weekly train service until 1982 when it finished - as it was not commercially viable. A private tourist train had then been started with the cooperation of Pakistan Railways. A television programme about the Railway had prompted him and a small party of like-minded friends to charter one of these tourist trains.
He then took us on the train journey with the carriages having two vintage steam engines which pulled and pushed the carriages from the rear and the front. The engines which had been built by the Vulcan Foundry in the UK had been converted from coal to oil-fired.
The area was the location where the Talban had started and in the past there had been problems with local tribesmen. A condition of the trip was the need to have to armed guards on the train.
The journey started in Peshawar and covered a total of 52 miles until it reached Landi- Koti. It climbed more than 3,900 feet and such was the terrain that, at times, sections of the railway were built above other sections. At a number of places the train had to be reversed to progress onto the next section.
Peter described for us the various places on the route including his visits to some of the local markets and his experiences riding on the front of the engine for some parts of the journey.
Features of the trip included the small green signs found all over the country pointing to Mecca, the highly decorated lorries used by the locals, the large Regimental badge for the Khyber Rifles carved into the hillside and the bisecting of the Peshawar Airport runway by the railway tracks.
In conclusion Peter told us that the railway had closed in 2006 after a flood washed away bridges and large sections of the track and because of its deterioration, would almost certainly never open again.
He felt that he had been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to travel on the train and to experience such a memorable journey.
Unfortunately Peter had to leave us before the end of the meeting but the members had already been able to express their appreciation for yet another most interesting talk.
Life in the East End - Story of a Fancy Box Cutter
Wednesday 21st September 2016
Martin Collison based his talk on the life of his grandfather who was born in the East End and worked at various times as a busker and trawler man before spending much of his life making fancy boxes for the perfume industry.
Henry Collison was born in 1860 and had three wives – one of whom might have been married bigamously as the marriage seemed to have taken place whilst the second wife was still alive.
Martin was able to weave a story around his grandfather during which he described the difference between an East Ender and a Cockney, the origins of many Cockney rhyming slang words and the history of the Pearly Kings and Queens.
He then described for us the life in the East End including the Poplar Workhouse, the poor living conditions and, in particular, the annual exodus of East Enders to the countryside for the hop picking.
Over the years the East End of London has been the journey’s end for many immigrants including Eastern European Jews, the Huguenots who were instrumental in the silk trade, the Chinese and the Irish weavers.
Another industry was the manufacture of matches at the Bryant and May factory but, until the danger from phosphorus was recognised this led to many incidences of so-called ‘Phossy Jaw’ until safety matches were introduced.
Martin then talked about life in the First World War and reminded us of ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ which were the three WW1 campaign medals - The 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal respectively. He also told us of the 1917 Silvertown explosion when a munitions factory in the East End exploded causing not only many deaths and injuries but also destroying a large number of the houses in the area.
He then touched upon other features including the three major markets at Petticoat Lane, Billingsgate and Whitechapel, life in the docklands, gin alley as depicted in Hogarth’s painting and the entertainment in the area including the National Standard Theatre.
We were also reminded on the many famous and infamous people originating from the East End ranging from William and Catherine Booth, John Barnardo, Sylvia Pankhurst, Osbert Mosely and more recently the Kray twins.
Mike Stone concluded the meeting by thanking Martin, on behalf of the members, for a most interesting and enlightening talk. Martin had certainly broadened our knowledge both of the history of this area of London but also of the lives of those living there.
SS Great Britain
Wednesday 5th September 2016
Ian Caskie, an enthusiastic volunteer and guide with the SS Great Britain Trust gave us a most informative talk on the history of the SS Great Britain including its building, its roles as a passenger liner, troop ship and cargo vessel and then its sad demise as a wreck in the Falkland Islands. The second part of his talk then concentrated on the efforts to retrieve it, bring it back to the UK and then restore it in Bristol to its former glory where it is now an extremely popular visitor attraction.
In 1838 The Great Western Steamship Company appointed Isambard Brunel in charge of the design team to build a new cross-Atlantic liner. The initial design was for a wooden hulled paddle steamer but this was changed by Brunel once he had seen the iron-hulled packet The Rainbow and then the screw propelled SS Archimedes. Brunel persuaded the Company that the new liner should be iron-hulled and screw propelled and thus the first and largest of this design.
Ian then outlined the problems following the initial launch by Prince Albert in 1843 when the ship was stranded in Bristol harbour as the locks had firstly to be deepened and the second lock widened to enable the ship to pass through a year later for fitting out.
He then went on to describe its history as a luxury passenger liner across the Atlantic for two round trips until she was wrecked on the Irish coast on the third trip, her subsequent sale and conversion into a liner taking immigrants to Australia following the discovery of gold there, her use as troop ship during the First World War and then her conversion into a coal carrying cargo ship and ultimately, following damage in a storm, a floating warehouse in the Falklands until 1933 when she was scuttled in Sparrow Bay.
Members were then told about the efforts, beginning in 1969 to bring her back to the UK. Several large donations facilitated the “SS Great Britain Project” which undertook a feasibility study and then set in place the recovery operation. The ship was righted and, once a large crack in the structure had been filled including the use of mattresses donated by the Islanders, sailed back to the UK on a submersible pontoon.
Ian then described the work to restore it as a historical landmark including the work necessary to prevent and stop further corrosion of the hull by the use of humidifiers under a glass plate at the level of her water line.
In conclusion Ian told us about the current project to create a museum adjoining the ship devoted to Brunel’s life and work to be opened as Being Brunel in March 2018.
Mike Stone, in thanking Ian on behalf of the members, told us that there was a Chippenham connection to the early life of the ship as a party of navvies working on the railway here had been sent to Bristol to undertake the widening of the locks.
Women of the Great War
Wednesday 15th June 2016
Our speaker was Peter Donovan. At the beginning of the Great War the involvement of women at the workplace was limited to certain industries such as the clothing works. However it soon became evident, that with so many men enlisting to fight in the war, women were needed to fill the gaps in many sectors left by the departing men.
One of the main industries women were to make a marked involvement was in the manufacture of munitions, where they attained the name of Munitionettes. Vast quantities of weapons and ammunition were quickly required, which saw the rapid construction of large arsenals across the country. In one such facility at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire during the war in excess of 19 million shells were made. In these establishments women took on an increasing role in the manufacturing process. The working conditions were very poor and led to the women suffering many illnesses, especially due to the poisonous explosives, which could cause a potentially fatal condition called toxic jaundice, indicated by the skin turning yellow.
At this time an organisation came into force entitled the Women Police Volunteers. Their role being to maintain discipline and monitor women's behaviour around the factories and hostels where they often lived. Also carrying out searches before and after entering work to ensure no harmful items taken in and nothing of value removed. This work force later turned out to be the forerunner of today's modern Women's Police Force.
The obvious employment that women moved into in large quantities was the medical field. Many hospitals were set up at home and abroad requiring many more nurses and orderlies. In this area women made a notable contribution joining organisations such as initially the French Red Cross, which in 1915 was then formed into the British Red Cross. Also others joined the Queens Alexandra Nursing Service, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY's) and the Women's Hospital Corps. Many famous women became involved as they felt something was needed from the upper class to demonstrate support to the war effort. Millicent Duchess of Sutherland and Constance Duchess of Westminster both were active in their own rights. The later attempting to raise moral by parading through the wards dressed in her finest dresses and wearing a tiara escorted by her Irish wolfhound. Whether this had the required effect on the wounded is open for debate!
The Suffragettes became involved as Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst who set up the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. During the war they supported war efforts and did not carry on with their demonstrations. However their sister Sylvia Pankhurst decided along with her supporters to carry on the struggle, which resulted in the passing of the Cat and Mouse Act in Parliament. This enabled authorities to release women who had gone on hunger strike and were very ill to be let out of prison to recover, then when better to be arrested again and returned to prison. The Act was not popular with the general public.
Women also became prominent in the Transport sector where they became bus drivers, ticket collectors porters, etc. all jobs mostly previously carried out by men. The Post Office employed some 35,000 women during the war period. Work in the Dockyards and Heavy Industrial units also became an area which saw large employment opportunities open up to the women. Katherine Lady Parsons was instrumental in encouraging women into this field.
This was a most interesting talk given by Peter and enjoyed by members and their partners present, the talk was followed by a Q&A session. After a vote of thanks was given by Kevin, our stand-in President for the day, it was roundly endorsed by all members.
Escort Carriers of World War Two
Wednesday 1st June 2016
Peter Jinks who came to us this week to talk about air support for naval convoys in WW2, is, at the age of 95, one of the oldest, or probably the oldest guest speaker we’ve had.
Peter started his talk by telling us of the work of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust which displays heritage naval aircraft at Air Shows in tribute to those who have died in naval aviation service.
He then reminded us of the difficulties faced when the country had lost many of its aircraft in the early years of the war and was also dependent on imports shipped by convoys from Gibraltar, New York and Halifax.
The number of Naval combat ships able to provide support to the merchant convoys was limited and this led to the development of escort carriers from which support combat aircraft could operate.
The first measure was the conversion of merchant ships to carry a single fighter aircraft usually a Hurricane which could be fired off using a catapult. The plane could not land back on the ship and therefore had to find another landing site or else ditch in the ocean.
The next phase was the conversion of a number of merchant ships into carriers from which the aircraft could be launched and then land back on using arresting wires. A number of these vessels had plied their trade from the West Indies and were known as Banana Boats.
The main aircraft used in this ships initially were the American Grumman Wildcats, initially named the Martlet by the Fleet Air Arm, until the name Wildcat was formally adopted later in the war.
He mentioned, in particular, one pilot of the Martlets, Lt. Eric Brown, who was awarded the DSO for his service in shooting down enemy aircraft whilst flying from the escort carrier HMS Audacity. This ship was torpedoed and sunk in 1941 and Eric Brown was one of the survivors despite spending the night in the water.
Peter then moved on to describe his own experiences as a rear gunner and observer in Fairey Swordfish Anti-Submarine bombers in which he first flew in 1941. Peter illustrated this part of his talk with many of his own photographs taken while on operational duties.
He described the long daily reconnaissance tours and the procedure for landing back on the Merchant Aircraft Carriers which were bulk freighters – grain ships or tankers – carrying their almost full cargoes, but fitted with small full flight decks and miniature combined bridges and "islands".
The rear gunner was isolated from the other two crew members and was nowhere near as protected from the cold as them. He told us of a number of failed landings including one where, despite catching one of the arresting wires, nevertheless a Swordfish had been instructed to take off again thereby ditching into the sea. He also described the difficulties faced by rear gunners in getting out of the aircraft when it did need to ditch especially bearing in mind that the plane might still have its two torpedoes on board.
He also told us the story of a Swordfish from HMS Archer which made history in 1942, as the first aeroplane to land on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. This was later commemorated in a series of stamps.
Peter himself had numerous reconnaissance sorties without seeing any combat but did experience several crash landings including one into the sea when he lost his beloved camera.
The members greatly enjoyed Peter’s stories of his war time career and he was warmly thanked by Rod Allam, our President, when proposing the vote of thanks.
A Walk Along The Thames Path (Oxford to Reading)
Wednesday 18th April 2016
Our meeting this week was graced by the presence of our ladies who were invited to hear Bill King talk again about his journeys along the Thames path.
Bill was last with us in June last year when he explored the path starting from its source and then up to Radcott. Bill had originally been invited to talk on “Archaeology in the Home” but such was the interest in Bill’s first talk on the Thames path that he had been invited instead to continue describing the walk.
This part of the journey started North West of Oxford passing through Wolvercote where J.R.R. Tolkien is buried in the local cemetery. The burial places of a number of other notable literary figures were also passed later in the journey. These included Kenneth Grahame of Wind in the Willows fame buried at Holywell in Oxford, George Orwell at Sutton Courtnenay and Agatha Christie at St. Mary’s Church, Cholsey.
The path then followed on to Godstow where Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of Henry II, retired to Godstow Abbey when their affair ended, and then past the large area of common land known as Port Meadow which was an RFC landing place during World War I.
Bill also drew our attention to a number of hostelries providing refreshment during the walk especially the Trout Inn at Wolvercote and the Perch Inn at Binsey.
The path then passed through Oxford where that part of the river is known as the River Isis. Bill drew our attention to several features within Oxford including the Castle which was the location for the court of Charles I during the Civil War.
The path then passed through Iffley Lock and then past Sandford-on-Thames and Radley before it reached Abingdon. Bill suggested that Abingdon Town Hall and Museum was well worth a visit on this part of the walk.
He then took us on through several other villages before concluding this part of the walk at Dorchester-on-Thames.
Bill’s next visit to us will be in December with his third talk on the Thames Path entitled “Oscar Wilde to King John” when our ladies will again be invited to join us.
The members warmly endorsed Mike Stone’s vote of thanks and showed in the usual way their appreciation their enjoyment of Bill’s talk.
An ABC of British Churches
Wednesday 4th May 2016
David Seviour took us on an alphabetical tour of British churches from Aldworth in Berkshire to Zennor in Cornwall. The alphabetical significance of each church was either in its geographical location such the A in Angle (Pembrokeshire) or in the name of the church e.g. the M in St.Martins, Wareham.
The talk which was illustrated by David’s own photographs ranged from the North of England with the Chapel built by Italian Prisoners of War on Orkney to the South of England and the church on the Isle of Wight where Queen Victoria and other members of the Royal family worshipped.
Points of interest or architectural features of each church were highlighted. These included the burial places of Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) and four of the Mitford sisters, the birthplace of Nelson and a plaque commemorating the execution of three levellers (or deserters from Cromwell’s Army). Stained glass windows included one with an anti-aircraft gun and one with an angel playing the bagpipes.
Unfortunately David had not been able to include an “X” church in Britain in his tour but in order to complete the alphabet had included instead St. Xavier in Tucson. The total tour comprised 44 churches located in 25 counties (and one in the United States).
The Rev. Brian Pettifer continued the ecclesiastical theme in his vote of thanks by mentioning nearby Chapel Plaister in Box and also the 119th psalm which, in the Hebrew text, is divided into 22 sections each starting a separate letter of the Hebrew Alphabet.
The vote of thanks to David for a most interesting and informative talk was endorsed by the members in the usual way.
WHOTT’s It All About
Wednesday 20th April 2016
The latest talk given by one of our own members, Geoff Hobbs, gave an insight into the West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT'S).
The Trust aims to preserve our commercial road transport history, for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations. Their period of interest extends from the late 19th century to the present day, though vehicles in its current collection cover a period between 1929 and 1994, and the talk to-day mainly covered the omnibus industry.
Geoff began his talk, which was illustrated using slides, by explaining all the various routes, depots used and multitude of vehicle operators covering the West Country areas. Operators mentioned included Bristol Tramways, Western National, Devon General, Black & White, Midland Red, Wilts & Dorset, many names which no longer are heard, being now amalgamated into the National coach set up during the 1970's.
He also spoke at length of the design improvements to bus and coach vehicles over the years, from the early basic machines which were virtually converted lorries to the later, in comparison, more luxurious offerings. The changes in engine and transmission layout, from the front of the bus by the driver to the rear and under the floor slanted horizontally, allowed the builders to lower the vehicles floor levels making it easier for entry especially for people with disabilities.
He spoke of the various chassis builders such as Daimler, Leyland, AEC, Bedford amongst many. Then how the chassis was driven often across country to have the body fitted by other manufacturers one mentioned in Lowestoft on the East coast.
The Trust also run numerous rallies throughout the year, where the public get the chance to enjoy journeys of bygone years. Vehicles applicable to the routes are used and the runs relive memories of that not to be forgotten era, including journeys from Bournemouth to Birmingham and Cheltenham down to the West Country, a trip from Warminster to Imber Church across Salisbury plain, the Exeter twilight run over Remembrance weekend, being only a sample of the trips which are offered annually.
WHOTT'S owns many of its own vehicles but also supports private individuals who have an interest in preserving these machines. The ultimate aim of the Trust is to have its own museum where it can display vehicles and associated archive material and memorabilia applicable to the transport industry. This is like other enthusiasts have achieved over the years such as museums at Wythall, Nr Birmingham, Long Hanborough, Nr Oxford and Weybridge in Surrey. The latter where they concentrate on London Transport vehicles.
To this end Geoff had very recently received some news hot off the press, that the Trust was in the process of negotiating the use of some facilities within the Cold Harbour Working Wool Museum at Uffculme in Devon. This museum currently operates both using water and steam power, so the addition of a transport section could hopefully be advantageous to both parties. It is currently in the early stages of arrangements but Geoff was very enthusiastic about the possible outcome for the future. It is hoped that a repair facility could be set up to allow the public to view vehicles in various stages of restoration, as well as conduct trips out around the local area in the Trust's vehicles.
Geoff wound up his talk with an enthusiastic Q&A session from the members present. He was then thanked in the normal fashion with a vote of thanks from Mike Stone, our Secretary.
Chernobyl : What Really Happened
Wednesday 6th April 2016
Our talk this week was by Rob MacLachlan from Malmesbury Probus Club who spoke about the events leading up to the Chernobyl reactor disaster thirty years ago.
He introduced his talk by describing the nuclear power plant incident in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The accident was a result of equipment malfunctions, worker errors, and design related problems that ultimately led to a partial core meltdown and a small release of radioactivity. Although no deaths occurred the incident was the worst in United States operating history. It highlighted the need for changes in emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, and radiation protection. It also prompted several upgrades in the maintenance and building of US nuclear power plants and significantly changed the approach to regulation.
However this approach was not the case in the USSR where most of the senior people in the Nuclear Energy industry were political appointments with little nuclear knowledge and the state policy was that nuclear energy was 100% safe. This philosophy meant that there was little sharing of information or collaboration within the industry.
The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Pripyat, in Ukraine. The disaster began during a systems test on 26 April 1986 at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant. There was a sudden and unexpected power surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, an exponentially larger spike in power output occurred, which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of steam explosions.
The subsequent explosions and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, with the plume spreading over much of the western USSR and Europe. The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles, carried by the smoke, as the reactor had not been encased by any kind of hard containment vessel.
The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties. It is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers. During the accident itself, 31 people died, and long-term effects such as cancers are still being investigated. Most of the fatalities were power station workers or emergency workers who had not been issued with any protective clothing. Another 50 emergency workers died soon after the accident from acute radiation syndrome and there have been some deaths of children from thyroid cancer some of which might have been avoided by early iodine treatment.
Over the next few years over 300,000 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Estimates of the number of deaths that will eventually result from the accident vary enormously.
An area originally extending 30 kilometres in all directions from the plant is officially called the "zone of alienation". It is largely uninhabited, except for about 300 residents who have refused to leave. The area has largely reverted to forest, and has been overrun by wildlife because of a lack of competition with humans for space and resources. Even today, radiation levels are so high that the workers responsible for rebuilding the sarcophagus are only allowed to work five hours a day for one month before taking 15 days of rest.
In 2011 Ukraine opened up the sealed zone around the Chernobyl reactor to tourists who wish to learn more about the tragedy that occurred in 1986. Rob concluded his talk with a question and answer session with the members which touched on a number of nuclear related subjects including the proposed rebuilding of the Hinckley Point Station.
The members endorsed the vote of thanks to Rob proposed by Our Vice-President, Kevan Leach, for a most interesting and thought provoking talk.
Controversy of the Bombing of Dresden
Wednesday 16th March 2016
David Sweet visited us for the third time over the past three years to discuss with us the controversy over the bombing of Dresden during the Second World War.
The strategic bombing of German cities had been advocated by Lord Cherwell who was a close friend of Winston Churchill who appointed him as the chief scientific adviser to the Government.
The Luftwaffe had begun bombing cities following its invasion of Poland and this policy which continued with the blitz of British cities was also adopted by the allies with the first bombing raids by the RAF in 1940. Lord Cherwell had suggested that civilian areas should be targeted to break the spirit of the people and although in the RAF initially bombed military sites this was extended later in the campaign to include industrial sites and eventually civilian housing.
During the early years of the war the distance that could be covered by the allied bombers was restricted by the inability of the supporting fighter squadrons to fly long distances. Dresden with its baroque architecture was known as The Florence of the Elbe and is located on the River Elbe near the Czech border and was at that time beyond the range of the bombers.
Thus for much of the war Dresden escaped the bombing which was inflicted on many of the large German cities. However by 1945 the capacity of the allied bombers and fighters had been greatly extended and this brought Dresden within range.
David then spoke about Operation Thunderclap which was a plan envisaging a massive bombing attack on Berlin to shatter German morale. This plan was dropped but in early 1945, following the Yalta Conference the allies agreed to bomb a number of cities along the Eastern front to aid the Soviet advance. Between 13th and 15th February 1945 over 1000 RAF and USAF planes dropped nearly 4000 high explosive bombs and incendiary devices on Dresden. The bombing and the resultant firestorm destroyed much of the city centre with fatalities in excess of 25,000. The impact of this was evidenced by several harrowing accounts from some of the population of the City.
By the end of the war Churchill was questioning the effectiveness of the bombing campaign and this was reflected in the memoirs of Sir Arthur Harris.
Nevertheless a straw poll of the Probus members present at the meeting demonstrated that the majority still felt that the bombing campaign was effective in leading to an earlier conclusion of hostilities and the eventual defeat of Germany.
Mike Stone thanked David Sweet for a most enlightening and thought provoking talk.
Setting Up and Running an Independent Theatre
Wednesday 2nd March 2016
Ann Ellison, Artistic Director of the Mission Theatre in Bath, visited us to talk about the creation of the Next Stage Theatre Company and eventually finding its home in Bath.
The first part of Ann’s career was as a drama teacher but her vision was the establishment of a theatre company with its own theatre to provide cutting edge drama such as that Alan Ayckbourn provided by an amateur drama group.
She outlined her efforts and perseverance in establishing contacts which led eventually to the establishment of the Next Stage Theatre Company some 21 years ago.
The first production was 'Educating Rita' in 1994 with a cast of two with Ann as Director and her future husband, Andrew Ellison, as Stage Manager.
At that time productions were in the Kingswood Theatre in Bath and financing them was an ongoing problem. The commitment of both Ann and Andrew was evidence by their willingness to mortgage their houses to find funds.
The financial situation was eased when Ann’s determination led to the Company being given a slot at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall in 1998. The regular bookings there, together with sponsorship from generous donors, have enabled the Company to remain in the black.
Ann also spoke about her contact and subsequent friendship with Sir Alan Ayckbourn which has resulted in him becoming the Company’s patron.
The Company still required a permanent home and Ann then spoke about the efforts to acquire and convert a derelict grade II listed chapel in Corn Street Bath into a theatre. She spoke about the long negotiations with the Council and the various encouragements and then disappointments along the way which eventually led to the Mission Theatre being opened in January 1994.
Even the planned opening was not without its difficulties including the delay in obtaining a public performance licence which was only forthcoming a day or so before opening but the production was a success and this has continued up to the present day.
Ann reminded us again that Next Stage Theatre Company continued to be an amateur company with some of the original members still being involved. The Company is also blessed with an active youth group which, together with the generous donors including the Friends of the Mission Theatre, has ensured the continuing success of both the Company and the Theatre.
A number of club members have already been to productions at the Theatre and Kevan Leach, in thanking Ann for her most interesting and encouraging talk, felt that her enthusiasm and commitment would result in visits to the theatre by other members.
The ‘V’ Force in the Cold War & the Falklands Conflict
Wednesday 20th January 2016
We welcomed David Head for his third visit over the past three years to talk this time about the ‘V’ bombers and their role both during in the Cold War and then in the Falklands Conflict.
These bombers known as the ‘V’ force composed the UK’s strategic nuclear strike force during the 50’s and 60’s all had names starting with V namely the Valiant, the Vulcan and the Victor.
David had been a pilot on both the Vulcans and Victors during the Cold War years and had been involved in a number of campaigns. He graphically described to us both the highlights of flying at high attitude, including the views of space, and also the perils faced from the temperature, the lack of oxygen and the air pressure necessitating the use of self contained flying suits.
Both aircraft carried a crew of five and he also described the difficulties faced by the rear crew in escaping from the aircraft in an emergency. The rear crew of the Vulcan were on a lower level than the flight crew and this proved a major problem which was overcome by all of the crew in the Victors being on the same level.
At one time the Vulcan could out fly any fighter in the world and was capable of low level flying under the radar which was a great advantage when tested again US planes in an annual bombing competition. They could also be airborne within two minutes.
David then told us about the involvement of the Vulcans and Victors during the Falklands Conflict in 1982 in the Operations Black Buck.The Vulcans were due to be completely replaced during that year but a number were brought back into use to provide conventional bombing support to the British land forces.
They were based on Ascension Island but the flight from there to the Falklands Island required a number of Victors to refuel both the Vulcans and other Victors which would then continue en-route to provide additional refuelling to the Vulcans.
These flights were, at the time, the longest-ranged bombing raids in history only surpassed during the Gulf War by the USAF Boeings flying from the mainland USA.
There were seven such flights and David described each of them to us and the effect they had on the conflict.
Mike Woodberry had been a RAF colleague of David Head and was warmly supported by the members present when he expressed his thanks to David for a most interesting and enlightening talk.
The Roman Baths at Bath
Wednesday 6th January 2016
The history and geology of the Roman baths and the bathing practices and etiquette of the Romans were all covered in the talk by Bernard Purrier.
Aquae Sulis as the City of Bath was called by the Romans was established in the early part of the first century (AD) and was probably built around the large natural hot spring which had been a shrine of the Celtic Britons. This was one of the early settlements established during the Roman invasion of Britain which had been instigated by the Emperor Claudius.
Bernard showed a map of Bath which delineated the position of the Baths and all of the surrounding temple and other buildings and then introduced us to a timeline of the Roman Occupation.
The water in the baths are provided by the only naturally hot spring in the UK with a temperature now of about 46.5 degrees centigrade. It estimated that the water flowing now fell on the Mendip hills some 8 to 10 thousand years ago.
Much of the pipework in the original baths was lead which was also a substance widely used by the Romans for cosmetic purposes hence being one of the causes for the low life expectancy.
The baths were dedicated to the goddess Sulis by the Celts and in turn were then dedicated to the goddess of Minerva by the Romans. A statue of Minerva is one of the artefacts to have been discovered during archaeological excavations.
The bathing techniques of the Romans was similar to current use of saunas whereby they would work up a sweat before moving into the warm bath (tepidarium) and then the hot bath (caldarium).This was intended to get rid of the body’s dirt. A slave would then rub olive oil into the skin and scape it off with a strigi (a scarper resembling trowel) then back to the tepidarium then the frigidarium (cold bath) before relaxing in the main pool.
In Georgian times the custom was not only to use the baths for bathing but also to drink the water which was located in the Pump room. It was not until fairly recently that the water for drinking was provided from a separate supply rather than from the baths themselves.
The Baths have been the subject of substantial restoration in recent years and one significant benefit has been the use of the water to heat the Abbey.
Many of our members have visited the Baths in the past but Bernard’s talk provided a great deal of information not only of the history but also of the various archaeological discoveries and the bathing etiquette. They warmly supported Mike Stone in his vote of thanks to Bernard for his most interesting talk.
Box Tunnel and Freemasonry
Wednesday 2nd December 2015
Mike Smith started his talk by introducing us to the original Board of Directors of the Great Western Railway including Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Daniel Gooch and to Minard Rea, the Works Manager, all of whom were in various Freemason Lodges.
He then went on to discuss early history of the Great Western Railway and the construction of the Box Tunnel but before doing so described his involvement in removing and replacing the keystone at the western end of the tunnel which had revealed a number of hieroglyphics including date, quarry mark and registration mark.
The construction of Box Tunnel was proposed in the Great Western Railway Act of 1835 to enable the completion of the Bristol to London railway and led to the establishment of the Railway Works at Swindon by Daniel Gooch. During the early days Daniel Gooch offered freemason reduced railway fares.
The Box Tunnel was designed by Brunel. Mike then took us through the construction process including: the sinking of eight shafts to establish the structure of the rock, the appointment of the two main contractors (George Burge and Lewis and Brewer), the employment of over 1200 Railway Navvies increasing to 4000 in the final year to achieve the Tunnel’s completion, the atrocious working condition with dangers from explosions, flooding and gas, and the number of deaths. He also touched upon the amount of explosives used and the vast amount of material extracted during the construction.
The Tunnel was eventually completed in April 1841 with construction from both the east and west ends. It was a testament to Brunel’s design and the skill of the contractors that there was only a two inch alignment between the two ends when they met.
Mike then went on to talk about other uses of the Tunnel Workings including the Aircraft factory under Box Hill in 1940, wartime storage and the Burlington project which re-created the Government’s Emergency War Headquarters in Box Quarry and would be the Government’s alternative seat of power outside of London.
Following a question and answer session members then supported Geoff Hobbs in his thanks to Mike for a most informative and entertaining afternoon’s talk.
A Year on a Tall Ship
Wednesday 18th November 2015
Operation Drake which was launched by Colonel John Blashford-Snell and Prince Charles in 1978 ran youth projects from ships circumnavigating the globe, to develop self-confidence and leadership.
It was succeeded in 1984 by Operation Raleigh which had two renovated ships - Sir Walter Raleigh and Zebu – taking young venturers on a phased circumnavigation expedition around the world.
Peter Taylor was the Engineer on the Zebu – a converted cargo brigantine – and was responsible for fitting out the ship and then serving on it for the first year of its four year voyage.
Peter started his talk with a rendition of the sea shanty “The Shellback Song” and then went on to describe the layout of the ship and to introduce us to the various crew members.
He described the journey from London through Tower Bridge down to Southampton where it then set sail on the first year of its voyage which would eventually cover 69,000 miles with visits to 41 countries.
The first part of the voyage was enlivened by a Force 8 gale off Cape Finistere and the fracturing of an oil line which necessitated a lengthy stay in Villamura for an engine strip down and rebuild.
Peter then described the trip across the Atlantic to the Caribbean which included a gathering of tall ships at Santa Cruz in Tenerife and windsurfing whilst tethered to the ship.
Time was spent on Antigua, the Turks and Caicos Islands including a three month reef survey by the venturers, and Nassau where they were able to see the Space Shuttle “Discovery” passing over them on its initial launch. Other encounters included Rastafarian Horse Breeders on Jamaica and a US Navy Diving Team.
One disaster involved one of the venturers suffering a major head injury whilst on one of the smaller islands which needed him being taken off by a US airplane which had only just enough runway length to land. He eventually made a full recovery but was hospitalised for nearly a year. The final part of Peter’s journey was through the Panama Canal which necessitated the Zebu, which was dwarfed by many huge ships, being tethered to a Canal Tug for its voyage through the canal locks.
Following the four year circumnavigation by the “Zebu” and the “Sir Walter Raleigh” (which was the support ship for the expedition) Operation Raleigh had continued in 1988 with land based expeditions and in 1992 became Raleigh International because of the diversity of expedition volunteers.
Peter finished his talk which was enlivened by a couple of other sea shanties “Paddy Lay Back” and “Leave Her Johnny” by telling us that the Zebu had recently sunk at its mooring in the Liverpool’s Albert Dock but had been raised during the past week.
The members greatly appreciated Peter’s talk which provided an insight into the early days of Raleigh International which continues to work with young people proving help to impoverished communities throughout the world.
The Terracotta Warriors
Wednesday 4th November 2015
Lew Lawton started his talk by introducing us to the development of the Chinese alphabet and written characters over the centuries, the significance of the various months in the Chinese calendar and then the time-line of the various Emperors and dynasties.
The main topic of his talk, however, was the discovery and history of the terracotta sculptures of the army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor of the Unified China). These were buried with the Emperor in about 250BC and were intended to protect him in the afterlife.
They were first discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well and following intense archaeological excavation have become one of the major Chinese tourist attractions. The site has been called the eighth wonder of the World and became a World Heritage site in 1987.
The Army comprises over 8000 warriors together with many horses and chariots. The warriors are life-sized each with unique features and armour whereas the metal chariots are half life-sized. The warriors were armed with real weapons.
The Terracotta Army is part of a much larger area surrounding the Emperor’s tomb mound. Some parts of it were destroyed during the time of the Han dynasty which succeeded the Qin dynasty and there has also been further looting over the centuries.
Some of the warriors and other objects were displayed in the British Museum in 2007/2008 and there is currently a small exhibition in Dorchester.
Lew concluded his talk with a short video of the Army and site.
Some of our members have visited the site and Lew strongly recommended the visit to those members who are able to do so.
This was Lew Lawton’s third visit to our club over the past couple of years and we look forward to him coming again in the not too distant future to talk on another subject.
Bowls and Theatre
Thursday 29th October 2015
During the morning eight of our members enjoyed a game of bowls against members of Barrs Court (Bristol) Probus Club. Each club had two rinks of four players each and the game was played at North Wilts Indoor Bowls Club. The game resulted in each club winning one rink but it was a victory for Barrs Court on points. It is hoped to arrange another game in January.
In the evening more of our members enjoyed a trip to the Mission Theatre in Bath. The play was “Haunting Julia” by Alan Ayckbourn. It is a ghost story performed by just three characters apart from the voice of Julia who died some nine years earlier.
The Mysteries of Oxford
Wednesday 21st October 2015
The talk, to which partners had been invited, was by John Russen, one of our members. Over the past few years John has taken members on walking tours of Oxford and opened the meeting by showing a photograph of members on the last walk.
In the first part of his talk John touched upon a number of facts relating to the city including: the naming of that section of the River Thames flowing through the city as the River Isis, the Bridge of Sighs, the Frank Cooper Marmalade factory, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) who held a number of posts at Christchurch College and a daughter of the Dean (Alice Liddell) was the inspiration for the “Alice” books. The main character in the Colin Dexter's Oxford-based books was named Morse which was the name of a friend of the author (the Chairman of Lloyds Bank). Oxford was also the location of the court of Charles I during the civil war.
John reminded us that the University of Oxford comprise 36 separate colleges each with their own unique characteristics. He highlighted a number of architectural and historic features of various colleges and of the Bodleian Library which is one of the largest in Europe and the Ashmolean Museum which was the first University library. Green College was named after Cecil Green, the founder of Texas Instruments and is the location of the renowned Radcliffe Observatory.
John then spoke about the medical aspects of the city including: the history of the John Radcliffe Hospital, the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Churchill Hospital, the Oxford University Press and its home to Lord Nuffield’s motor industry (which he developed from a cycle repair shop in Longmoor Street).
Other features covered in John’s talk included the foundation of Oxfam, the Oxford Movement, the plaque outside Balliol College marking the location of the burning of the Oxford martyrs, the mosaics of Keble College and the covered market.
Mike Stone in thanking John for his talk said that it had highlighted for members those aspects of the city which they may well wish to follow up in any future visit to Oxford.
Routine to Abnormal in the Blink of an Eye
Wednesday 16th September 2015
The meeting had the best attendance for some time with a new member being welcomed.
Cyril Mannion is a former Airline Captain, Fighter Pilot and Flight Navigator. He visited us some eighteen months ago when he spoke about Alcock and Brown’s first direct trans-Atlantic flight. At this visit he recounted a number of stories of accidents and incidents in airplanes which were overcome by the rapid response and skill and abilities of the pilots and other crew.
Pilots were, at times, asked whether they found their jobs boring but the nature of the job was always to expect the unexpected. This ability was summed up in the quote “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that would require the use of his superior skills”. Captain Mannion summarised a number of situations which included: the stalling of a Boeing 747 whilst taking off from Johannesburg, a fuel imbalance on an A330 Air Transit from Toronto to Lisbon which had resulted in a landing in the Azores, a flight deck intruder on a Boeing 747 who was eventually overcome by the pilot and other crew members. The pilot, Bill Hagan, and the two first officers received the Polaris Award which is the highest decoration associated with civil aviation, awarded by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations. A collision between two Tornado fighters over the English east coast, the rupturing of a small section of the roof of on an Aloha Airlines Boeing 747 flight from Hilo to Honolulu when the resulting explosive decompression tore off a large section of roof, and the explosion of a portable oxygen cylinder on a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne causing a fuselage rupture and decompression of the aircraft.
All of these situations demonstrated the ability of the pilots and other air crew to take immediate action to cope with the unexpected.
Ivan Carey expressed the members’ thanks to Cyril Mannion for a stimulating talk which had provided an insight into the very limited time available to deal with such situations.
Latest Advances in Space and Technology
Wednesday 16th September 2015
Professor Richard Holdaway has been involved in the UK space industry for over 40 years and outlined the ways in which it affects our lives and the leading role the UK has in the development of space technology. He has been involved in many missions in Space science working with NASA, the UK national programme and with other nationalities including China and Russia.
In introducing his subject, Richard reminded us of the estimated ages of the Universe, of our own Sun and of Earth itself. He then moved on to discuss the use of geostationary satellites which rotate around the Earth at the same speed as the Earth’s own rotation. These are now widely used as telecommunication relays, a concept which was advanced by Arthur C Clarke and published in Wireless World in 1945.
Responsibility for the UK civil space programme rests with the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) which is based locally in Swindon. The UK space industry now employs nearly 40 thousand people and has a turnover of almost £12 billion and has a target to achieve £40 billion. Its importance is also recognized by the 45 UK Universities which now offer space courses.
Members were told that the UK now leads the USA in many space initiatives and such research and development is very expensive but nevertheless has led to many modern day benefits ranging from worldwide television and communications coverage, weather forecasting, GPS and disaster monitoring.
Professor Holdaway concluded his talk by discussing the Hubble space telescope which was launched in 1990 and has provided extensive information about the location and formation of galaxies. It is now coming to the end of its life but other initiatives in the pipeline will extend still further our knowledge of space.
Rod Allam expressed the members’ thanks to Richard Holdaway for his talk which had provided a fascinating insight into the role and importance of the UK in space exploration.
Zimbabwe Steam Safari
Wednesday 2nd September 2015
Peter Berry opened his talk by confessing his love of steam engines and photography and this was evidenced in his talk illustrated by many of his own photographic slides about a visit he made to Zimbabwe accompanied by his wife and a number of other railway enthusiasts. The purpose of excursion in 1994 was to see the locomotives and other rolling stock in use in Zimbabwe and to then take a railway journey to see some of the other attractions of the country.
Peter’s first trip was from Harare to Bulawayo to see the Engine sheds and the Garratt locomotives in use in Zimbabwe. At one time these steam locomotives were widely used throughout Africa, the Middle and Far East and Australasia but Zimbabwe is now one of the few places where they are still operating.
His extensive slides showed many historical and botanical features of the Country and these were further developed during the train excursion he and his fellow passengers made to the Zambia border taking in the Victoria Falls, Harangi Safari Park and the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe. Their enjoyment of this trip was enhanced by the willingness of the passengers to undertake the re-coaling of the tender on one occasion when they moved over seven tons of coal.
Peter concluded his talk by speaking about the current situation in Zimbabwe. One feature of this is the deterioration of the railway stock where only two locomotives are still in use with the other stock being cannibalised to provide parts. The talk was accompanied by a small exhibition of more of Peter’s photographs of the Railway stock and wildlife.
The vote of thanks for Peter’s most interesting talk made reference to the local role of the Westinghouse factory in the manufacture of the engines in use in Zimbabwe.
My Times in Russia Over the Years
Wednesday 1st July 2015
The talk by our President, Rod Allam, was about his involvement and collaboration with Russian scientists and engineers since the early 90’s. Rod opened his talk by showing us a map of Russia to show its size and the distances between the various cities and then followed this with a number of photographs of Moscow.
Following the period of Glasnost and the end of communism, Rod’s company had decided to take advantage of the greater freedom in Russia, by exploring opportunities for greater collaboration with some of the Russian research establishments. Most of these institutions were located in Novosibirsk, which is now the third largest city in Russia but was only founded in 1893 as a site of a Trans-Siberian Railway bridge crossing the River Ob. Rod then showed us a number of photographs of the city and spoke about the extreme climate and geography, the flora and fauna and the many scientific and engineering development achieved there.
His main contact had been with the Institute of Thermal Physics with work on various distillation systems using the mathematical expertise which he had been gained on a number of other projects. As part of the collaboration his company had been able to re-equip the institution with its computers.
Rod then moved on to talk about the Global Energy Prize for which he had been one of the recipients in 2012. The Prize, which recognizes scientific innovations and solutions in global energy research, was founded in 2002 by a number of Russian energy companies and has since become a leading international global energy award. Rod’s own award was for the development of new processes and equipment for the production of gases and cryogenic liquids and on the production of electricity in power systems. The prizes are presented at an Awards ceremony in St. Petersburg and Rod showed a number of photographs not only of St.Petersburg itself but also of other prize winners, the awards ceremony and other events he attended including dinner with the British Ambassador.
He then explained the lengthy nomination and selection process for the main Prize with the final decision resting with the International Awards Committee of which he is currently the Chairman. There are also a number of other awards and projects such as Energy of Youth and Energy of Word.
Rod concluded his talk by outlining the work and achievements of a number of other Global Prize laureates including the two winners in 2015 for their work on LED lighting technology and on Insulated Bipolar Transistors. The members greatly enjoyed Rod’s talk about his work and experiences in Russia and endorsed, by their applause, Mike Stone’s vote of thanks.
The Quest for Speed
Wednesday 17th June 2015
Barry Dent was welcomed to the club for his talk on speed and speed records on water, land and air.
He reminded us that none of these could come near to matching the speed either of the Earth’s rotation or its orbit around the sun.
An early pioneer was Charles Algernon Parsons best known for his combined steam turbine. He exhibited this in 1897 in his turbine-powered yacht, Turbinia, which surpassed the speed achieved by the fastest Royal Navy ships using other technologies. This quickly led to its installation in both merchant and Royal Navy ships including passenger liners and the first turbine powered battleship, HMS Dreadnought.
Another person of note was Charles Ranlett Flint the founder of the company which then became IBM. His interest in the work of the Wright brothers and his involvement in the sale of their aeroplane is seen as the start of the airplane industry.
Barry then moved on to speak about water speed records including the Donald Campbell and Bluebird disastrous attempt and the current record of over 300 mph achieved by Ken Warby in 1978 in his speedboat “Spirit of Australia”.
The other record of note for speed on water was that for the westbound crossing of the Atlantic by as passenger liner in regular service “The Blue Riband”. This record was first acknowledged in the early 1800’s but there was no formal trophy until Harold Hales commissioned and donated the Hales Trophy in 1935. The last Atlantic liner to hold the trophy was the “United States” for its maiden crossing in 1952. The Hales Trophy can be won by any type of commercial surface vessels including catamarans and hovercrafts and the record has been broken several times in since 1970.
We were then introduced to speed on the railway as illustrated by J.M.W. Turner’s painting “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway”. This part of the talk covered the records achieved by many historic railway engines including “The City of Truro”, “The Coronation Scot” and “The Mallard”. We were also reminded of the documentary film “The Night Mail” narrated by John Grierson with the poem by W.H.Auden and the music by Benjamin Britten (also the theme music for the “Paul Temple” radio series). Other rail speed records included that of the Shanghai-Nanking bullet train and the later development of rocket sledges.
Early aircraft records include that of Alberto Santos who made the first powered heavier than air flight in 1906 and the Deperdussin Monocoque which was the first winner of the Gordon Bennett Trophy. Other records included that for sea planes ("The Schneider Trophy”). The development of faster aircraft during the 20th Century encompassed the WW2 planes including the Spitfire and Hurricane, the development of the Jet Engine, the greater speeds of commercial aircraft culminating in the Concorde, and the Lockheed SF71 Blackbird.
Barry then moved on to talk about the land speed record currently held by Thrust SCC, the Bugatti – the fastest street legal car and the work of Louis Zborowski on the early development of racing cars. Incidentally Zborowski was said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We were also reminded of the exploits of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell who between them held 9 land and 4 water speed records.
The development of bicycles especially with the development of pneumatic tyres and the achievements of modern cyclists including Sir Bradley Wiggins and others was the concluding topic in a most interesting and fact filled talk for which members showed their appreciation in the usual way.
A Walk Along The Thames Path
Wednesday 3rd June 2015
Bill King visited us two years ago when he spoke about “Dad’s Other Army (The Auxiliars)” following which our President expressed the hope that Bill would come and talk to us again.
Bill’s talk this time was about the stretch of the Thames path for about 40 miles from its source(s) in Gloucestershire to the edge of Oxford.
Trewsbury Mead on the edge of Kemble is usually regarded as the source of the Thames and the length of the Thames from there to the Thames Flood Barrier is 184½ miles. However, we were told that the nearby site known as Thames Head was also regarded as the source as was Seven Springs some eleven miles further north. Seven Springs is the source of the River Churn, a tributary of the Thames that joins at Cricklade and thus could seen as the ultimate source.
Our journey which was illustrated by photographs and maps started at The Tunnel Inn near Cirencester where the Thames and Kennet Canal passes through Sapperton Tunnel which was completed in 1796 and opened by the Prince Regent. The opening chapters of C.S. Forester’s “Hornblower and the Atropos” describes the hero’s passage through the tunnel in order to hasten his journey to London for Nelson’s funeral.
The canal joins the Thames at Lechlade and Bill then took us along the course of the river passing a number of villages and small towns including Somerford Keynes, Ashton Keynes, Cricklade, Castle Eaton, Lechlade, Inglesham, Buscot and Radcot.
During the journey Bill spoke about and illustrated a great number of architectural and other features and points of interest. These included the Duck races at Ashton Keynes, St.Sampson’s Church at Cricklade, the church at Kempsford where John of Gaunt was married, the deconsecrated church at Inglesham and Halfpenny Bridge in Lechlade.
Lechlade is also the location both of St.Lawrence Church which was made famous by Shelley who stayed at the New Inn in 1815 and wrote “Stanzas in St.Lawrence Churchyard” and of St.John’s lock which is the furthest upstream lock. The next location is Buscott where the lock is the smallest on the river. Buscott was also famous for the production of brandy with the distillery located on Brandy Island.
The path then progresses to Radcott where the bridge was originally built by Alfred the Great and was one location for his battle against the Danes.
Bill reminded us that the Thames forms a natural barrier to opposing forces of the north and the south not only in the time of Alfred the Great but also in Roman and Norman times and during the Civil War. The second war pill boxes that could be seen along the river brought us more up to date.
Bill concluded his talk in this location and was warmly thanked by our Secretary, Mike Stone, who expressed the hope supported by our members that Bill would visit us on a future occasion to continue along the next stretch of the path.
In the meantime Bill will be visiting us again next May for a talk on “Industrial Archaeology in our Gardens and Attics”.
Trails of Wiltshire Treasure
Wednesday 20th May 2015
John Clark gave us a talk about the successful finds he, along with two very good friends and with the agreement of local farmers, has made while metal detecting in the locality for over 20 years.
They map out the area where the detecting is carried out with great precision, and often find that an individual item will then lead possibly to a larger hoard. The artefacts discovered are from a period between 264BC - 1100AD, in three areas of Wiltshire, namely Cricklade, Wanborough and Chiseldon.
The Cricklade site which is located adjacent to the A419, which in Roman times was Ermine Street, has yielded a bronze coin from Carthage in Zeugitana (now modern day Tunisia) estimated to be worth £1,000 together with a number of other coin, Roman bronze dolphin brooches, so named because of their shape and two Roman fertility rings. One of the rings was in silver and expensively made for somebody of substance, the other cast in a base metal being for the lower classes and affordable to more people.
At Wanborough, a town more important than Cirencester in its day, the site was again situated on Ermine Street, at a location classed as a Roman toll house. Even in those days travellers were charged for using the roads, cost being determined by the expense involved to build either a bridge or length of straight road. The normal toll being one Denarius, which was collected by the soldiers on duty.
On the subsequent dig a hoard of 162 Denarius coins were discovered, with 17 different Roman governors depicted on the coins. As yet the value of the hoard is still under review and it is currently located in Swindon Museum.
On the Chiseldon site a grave was unearthed containing the bones of a very important Saxon warrior. He had been buried with a sword, two spears and a shield. The sword was found to have been made in Germany. These items again are displayed in Swindon museum. The bones however reside in the speaker’s garage, as no museum wishes to display them, and John is unable to obtain a licence to rebury them! Other items found included a Saxon silver pendant, a bronze ring with emerald stones and decorated with gold bands, originally made in Russia, and two gilt cloak brooches.
At the end of his talk John passed around a variety of objects from his digs, which were greatly appreciated by the members. This evoked much discussion and questions to the speaker. One question being who decides on the monetary value of items found. It was explained that a three member panel is set up, comprising one each from an auction house, an art historian and a museum representative.
Our President gave the vote of thanks supported by the normal response from all members present.
My Small Share (February 1919)
Wednesday 6th May 2015
The talk by one of our members, Bryan Pettifer, was about his father’s time as a member of the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) and Hospital Administrator, during the last two years of World War One and the first couple of months of peacetime.
Bryan’s father, Ernest, who was born in 1882 and grew up in Newbury, was a Magistrate’s clerk in Doncaster prior to the war and a member of the local meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers). With the outbreak of war he tried to enlist in the forces but was turned down at the Medical probably because of his age. He then joined the Friends Ambulance Unit at the age of 33 and diarised his experiences at the time. After the war he collated the diary entries and illustrated the diary with postcards, photographs and newspaper articles. Bryan has since had the diary published entitled “My Small Share: A Quaker Diary from WW1”.
The principal settings for Ernest’s diary were two hospitals in the Dunkirk area. The first hospital was Queen Alexandra Hospital which was one of the largest military hospitals where he served during 1917 and then a new and less vulnerable sited hospital in formerly enemy occupied territory. Bryan shared a number of diary entries not only about the effects of the constant bombardment of the area from land, sea and air, but also of his father’s exploration of the surrounding areas and the resilience of much of the civilian population seeking to survive the trauma. Bryan used a number of illustrations from the diary to show the damage from the attacks but also the proximity of the hospitals to the front line.
The diary concluded with Ernest’s return to his home town of Newbury in February 1919. Bryan told us that his father then returned to his post as Magistrate’s Clerk and completed 45 years in the post before his retirement. The final entry in the diary was “So finishes my very small share in the European War after three years and 10 weeks” hence the source of the book’s title.
Members were also able to peruse copies of the printed books as well as Ernest’s medals and other certificates and documentation.
Mike Stone thanked Bryan for sharing the diary entries of his father during the Great War which illustrated vividly the life experienced by combatants and civilians so close to the battlefields.
100 Years from String to Wing
Wednesday 15th April 2015
Peter Donovan gave us a talk, illustrated by slides, on the advancement in aviation from the early days of flight, when people such as the Wright brothers and Bleriot took to the air in very flimsy machines, to the current widespread use of air travel.
The initial thinking that aviation was only suited to the civilian market was dramatically changed by the First World War. The ability to provide aerial reconnaissance, and then bombing, resulted in many countries looking at the aircrafts’ role in a different light and led to aerial combat for the first time, with much effort put in to have air domination.
The period following the war led to the conversion of military aircraft into civilian use, with the formation of airlines operating around the globe. People were then able to travel greater distances in much shorter time than previously taken by steamships.
Enthusiasts of air races were encouraged to modify planes to achieve much higher speeds, leading in due course to the fore-runners of planes such as the Spitfire and the Hurricane.
The superiority of aircraft was highlighted with the outbreak of the Second World War with many battles dominated by air power in an effort to control the skies. During this time the developments in aircraft design also brought about the jet engine which attained speeds unbelievable to those early pioneers.
Since then there have been a great many improvements in aircraft design with greater speeds, the ability to cover much longer distances and larger sizes. This has ultimately lowered the price of flying and has led to a rapid expansion in the civilian market and enabled many more people to experience air travel.
The military role has not been neglected with many countries experimenting with advanced designs for new planes to overcome detection from defending countries.
The talk concluded with an interesting and enthusiastic Q&A session and was brought to an end with a vote of thanks to the speaker who had clearly presented his subject with a great knowledge and love of the topic.
Physics, Philosophy and the Authors of Russia
Wednesday 1st April 2015
Professor Tony Briggs started his talk by showing us a photograph of Earth as seen from Saturn to remind us of our insignificance in the vast Universe.
A number of leading scientists both of the present and the past have stated that science has solved and is capable of solving all of life’s mysteries. These views were challenged by a number of Russian writers and Tony Briggs went on to demonstrate how the philosophy of the authors could be supported.
His talk focussed firstly at a macro level on the complexity and size of the Universe and secondly at a micro level on the composition of atoms and the building matter of everything on earth.
The first philosophical thought he remembered was, as a teenager, looking at the Milky Way and wondering what lied beyond it and how far it stretched. This was but one question which remained unanswered and he went on to outline many others to which no answer has been found.
Scientific knowledge continues to grow, as evidenced by the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, but this growth in knowledge has been matched and exceeded by the ever increasing unresolved questions about our existence.
In summary the statements that all mysteries could be solved by science demonstrated hubris on the part of the leading scientists. It was a concept which, as suggested by the Russian authors, fell a considerable way short of being acceptable.
Tony Briggs spoke to us last year on the Poems of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and, although at first glance, this new talk on a completely different subject seemed very daunting and likely to tax our understanding, his enlightening style of presentation resulted in yet another entertaining and thought-provoking afternoon.
The members by their applause supported Brian Pettifer in his vote of thanks.
The British Navy and Slavery
Wednesday 18th March 2015
Our speaker, Paul Booy, outlined the history of slavery and the slave trade from ancient times up to the past century.
He spoke about the Triangle Trade whereby Slave Traders from Europe travelled to Africa to acquire slaves and then transported them to the Americas. Over 11 million slaves were transported initially by Portugal and Spain and then by Britain and some other European Countries. The majority were taken to Brazil, other South American colonies and the West Indies. Only a relatively small number went to the USA where slaves flourished when compared to the other countries. Many of the slaves were already in captivity in Africa as a result of inter-tribal wars. The victorious tribes then bartered the slaves to the traders. Many of the slave ships were financed by joint stock companies with investment by many members of the British aristocracy and higher members of society.
By the end of the 18th Century an anti-slavery movement to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire had begun among the British public. A number of legal precedents had already established that slavery was unsupported by common law. Parliament then passed the Slave Trade Act 1807 which outlawed the Slave Trade but not slavery itself.
The passing of the Act did not stop the slave trade. Responsibility for enforcing the Act then lay with the Royal Navy which established two Anti-Slavery squadrons. One to patrol the Americas and the West Africa Squadron to patrol the African Coast. Initially only British slave ships could be stopped but over the years various treaties established the right of the Squadrons to intercept ships flying other countries’ flags. Over 1000 slave ships were apprehended and over 150,000 slaves freed. However the death rate among the crews of the Anti-Slavery ships was far higher than the Home Fleet. The speaker also drew attention to efforts of the slavers to avoid capture in many cases by throwing slaves overboard.
William Wilberforce and a number of other Anti-Slavery activists who were involved in the anti-slave trade activities then went on to establish the Anti-Slavery Society. This was instrumental in the passing of the Anti-Slavery Act of 1833 which abolished slavery in Britain. The USA abolished slavery in 1865 with the last country in the western world taking this action being Brazil in 1888. Brazil had by far the largest number of imported slaves. Slavery was not abolished throughout the world until 1970 when Oman was the final country to make it illegal.
It was recognized however that slavery still continued in some parts of the world and more particularly in recent times with the current warfare and activities in the Middle East.
The President thanked Paul for a most enlightening and thought provoking talk.
Wednesday 4th March 2015
Our speaker had us out of our seats for this talk. Jolyon Livingstone, who has been an Osteopath for over 33 years emphasised the need to get up and move around on a regular basis to avoid inactivity which can exacerbate back problems.
When he first started his career, osteopathy was not seen in a very good light by other medical professions, but over the years had gained far greater acceptance.
His talk focussed on the healthy spine, things that might go wrong and then what could be done to alleviate them. He demonstrated, with aid of a skeleton, the bone structure of the spine and then spoke about the other components such as the spinal cord, discs, muscles (which governed movement), and ligaments (which held the spine and other bones in place).
A key component to any treatment was the case history of the patient including occupation and hobbies and it was also important to ascertain whether there were any issues which might affect the mental wellbeing which could well impact on the physical condition. It was essential that sufficient time was allocated for the initial assessment of at least 30 minutes.
Jolyon emphasised the need to maintain a good posture and then demonstrated a number of simple exercises which if undertaken on a regular basis would go some way to maintaining a healthy spine. He also emphasised that other regular gentle exercise such as walking, swimming and cycling and the maintenance of good Vitamin D levels through sunlight and a healthy diet greatly improved the condition of the spine as well as other health benefits.
He highlighted that sudden bending and twisting movement was the main cause of back problems but in answer to questioning also spoke about whiplash injuries.
In summary the key to his work was the identification of the problem whether through the initial assessment or other diagnostic aids such as X-rays, MRI Scans, etc. but then the next step was to assist in getting the back into shape which might well involve gentle manipulation. In many cases however, this would only be the first step in recovery which would then be followed by self-repair which would be greatly helped by the simple exercises demonstrated by Jolyon and the need for other regular gentle exercise.
The applause which followed Mike Stone’s vote of thanks demonstrated that the members had greatly appreciated this talk and had given us much to think about when we contemplated the back problems to which many of us are subject.
Wednesday 18th February 2015
Malcolm Nelson talked to us last year about his career in the customs service, and we looked forward to his return visit to talk about the various methods they use to hide their contraband, primarily drugs.
The first case he related concerned a woman from Nigeria who had a large suitcase containing what Malcolm took to be bananas, but which the woman said were plantains. Close inspection revealed that each had been slit along its length, filled with cannabis resin (a total of 42 kilos), and ‘sewn up’. Inexplicably, the jury at the crown court found the woman not guilty.
The second case was a ‘businessman’ who had in his luggage a box containing 20 coconuts. Six of them were found to have been carefully sawn in half, filled with heroin, and stuck back together. This offender went to prison for eight years.
Three other cases involved hiding drugs in ‘doctored’ suitcases, all of which resulted in successful prosecutions.
Malcolm has an engaging style of presentation, and his humorous anecdotes make a potentially dry subject interesting and entertaining. We will certainly be inviting him back for another talk in his series ‘Forty Years of Catching Smugglers’.
History of the Telephone
Wednesday 21st January 2015
After 30 years in the Royal Corps of Signals and five years with BT, Lew Lawton is eminently qualified to talk on the subject of communications, and this talk was interesting, informative and entertaining. Using pictures and pieces of communications equipment dating back many decades, he took us through the development of telecommunications from the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell right up to the present day with computer based systems and fibre optic cables. Most of us were surprised to learn that there are now more mobile phones (80 million) in Britain than land lines, and that 18% of homes have only mobile phones. Lew also played a number of recordings to illustrate the impact that the telephone has had on popular music over the years.
This was a return visit by Lew who talked to us just over a year ago on ‘The Inca Trail’. We are now looking forward to his next visit towards the end of this year, when he will talk about the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an.
Going to Blazes
Wednesday 7th January 2015
John Craig gave us a wonderfully entertaining talk on his career as a firefighter, from an 18 year old recruit in Leicester to Chief Fire Officer for Wiltshire, a post he held for 14 years until his retirement.
His anecdotes included having to go into an outdoor swimming pool at a farm in mid-winter to put a sling under a horse so that it could be lifted out; discovering that the ice-covered lake he was crawling over gingerly to rescue a frozed duck in an area unfamiliar to him was actually a Tesco car-park; and trying to convince the steward of a workingmens’ club, whose members were reluctant to abandon their beers even though flames and smoke were billowing from a third storey window, that he really ought to evacuate the premises. Ken Harrison’s vote of thanks was warmly endorsed by the members.
Wonders of Westonbirt
Wednesday 17th December 2014
For our last event of 2014 well over 80 of our members, partners and friends met for a convivial and highly sociable lunch at Chippenham Golf Club. After lunch we were taken through the interesting history of Westonbirt Arboretum and then went through the colours and events of the whole of the year. This provided all of us, many who may have been 'Friends of Westonbirt' for some years, with so much information that was new to us. For example we did not realise that there are accessional conducted tours of the house to bring alive this historical gem situated on our doorstep. We are grateful to Brian Marsh and The Arboretum for such an interesting afternoon. Below is a photo of a picnic and concert attended by thousands of people to a wonderful summer evening over 10 years ago.
End to End
Wednesday 3rd December 2014
The title of the talk had us all guessing, but Denis Hedges soon explained. In September 2013 he set out to cycle from Lands End to John o’ Groats. He was accompanied by a friend who drove Denis’ car, not always in view but in touch by mobile phone. Denis described his route from Cornwall through English and Scottish counties to the north Scottish coast, staying overnight at B&Bs and Travelodges. He started out on a £1000 carbon road bike but found that the bike was causing him some pain and discomfort, so he swapped it at Church Stretton for a more traditional bike that he bought for £120 from the Salvation Army. Denis’ body fuel during his epic ride comprised McVities Go Bars, energy gels, tins of Aldi rice-pudding and Complan.
Illustrating his talk with anecdotes and tales of the people he met, and their generosity, Denis kept us entertained and attentive throughout a very interesting presentation.
Denis completed a journey of 914 miles at an average of 81 miles per day, and raised £4500 for the charity Make a Wish which had paid for a holiday in Florida for his grandson. Grandson? Yes, I forgot to mention, Denis was 80 years old when he did the ‘End to End’.
The vote of thanks was given by Probus member and fellow cyclist John Else who, along with another member, had also done the ride (but at a much younger age).
Before and After the Hercules
Wednesday 19th November 2014
Brian Poulton treated us to a wonderful afternoon of entertainment with his lighthearted review of the Transport Aircraft of the RAF from the Hastings via the Hercules right up to the latest Airbus A400M to be called the Atlas. For the technically minded this was a feast of precise information superbly illustrated and made infinitely digestible for all with Brian’s personal experiences and with his great sense of humour.
The comprehensive list of RAF peace keeping and relief operations over the years was a revelation to us all when shown in one sequence. The short video clip of flight refueling of a Hercules from an RAF tanker with Brian’s descriptive commentary was particularly exciting to watch and hear.
Brian served in the RAF at Hullavington, Lyneham and finished as the station Commander at RAF Brize Norton so his knowledge of the skies around our area was considerable. He even showed the delivery to the RAF of the first operational Airbus A400M to Brize Norton with the photo shown here taken just 2 days before his talk
This was an outstanding talk by a speaker in total command of his subject and with a style of presentation that ensured our interest and attention throughout. The vote of thanks by our President was enthusiastically endorsed by the members.
Mobile Phone Forensics
Wednesday 5th November 2014
Tony Sykes is an electrical engineer who specialises in IT and communications. For the past 25 years he has been an ‘expert witness’, regularly retained by both prosecution and defence teams to give testimony in criminal trials. This talk concentrated on mobile phones and the part they can play in providing evidence to the courts.
He began by explaining how data held in the memory of a mobile phone is not really lost when the user ‘deletes’ it – only the access details are lost. It is possible, using software, to recover the data. Tony believes he was probably the first person in the UK to ‘undelete’ a text message.
Data gathered by mobile phone masts, or cells, is retained by the phone companies for a year, and this contains details of the location from which calls are made and text messages sent.
Using examples ranging from gangland rivalry in the northeast of England to multiple mobile phone shop burglaries in Kent, Tony demonstrated how he was able to use data from both mobile phones and the phone companies’ records to show exactly where the defendants were at the time the offence was committed.
This was an interesting, informative and very well presented talk on a subject that was new to us all and was very much enjoyed and appreciated.
The Falkland Islands and South Georgia
Wednesday 1st October 2014
David Fletcher gave our members a highly informed account of this area of the world, which is so remote from all of us and far from the memories that many of us have of the conflict with Argentina in the early 1980’s.
The highly complex nature of the ownership history which alternated over the years through England, France, Spain and Argentina changing more than once between these countries. His fluent description of the terrain, the economic and political factors together with the wildlife, which abounds in both territories, were absorbing and served to extend our knowledge far beyond all of our previous boundaries. His illustrations of the extensive wildlife and terrain of South Georgia in particular raised in some of us a desire to visit a region, which we would not have previously contemplated.
David has clearly spent considerable time there and the depth of his knowledge was demonstrated as he replied to some searching questions from our members who all confirmed we had enjoyed a most entertaining and informative afternoon through this highly professional talk.
We are very pleased to record that our numbers are increasing strongly as a result of efforts to achieve that objective being effectively carried out by our members.
Horseback Through Outer Mongolia
Wednesday 16th April 2014
On a sunny afternoon when we sadly had to close the curtains to keep out the bright light we were all entertained with an account by Mick Ponting of his travels in Outer Mongolia as part of Operation Raleigh, some 20 years ago. Mick was there for 4 months helping to enable young people to learn self sufficiency in a wild environment with very few people around them.
We discovered how little we knew about the country with a population of only 3 million in the size of Europe and with 1.5 million living in the capital we were able to see how sparsely the country is occupied. Mick travelled over 800 miles in 2 separate journeys on the back of his favourite horse; whilst as a qualified vet he tended to many sick animals which he encountered on the way. His captivating and relaxed talk was funny at times and illustrated with some truly fine photographs of breathtaking views of this wild place, to the enjoyment of all members present.
Come Fly with Me
Wednesday 2nd April 2014
Cyril Mannion took us on a flight, but with the legendary Alcock and Brown on the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. The aviators had survived action in the air during WW1, both ending the period as prisoners of war. In 1919 they joined 4 other British crews in Newfoundland, each team hoping to be the first to complete the flight and win the race. After preparation in appalling conditions Alcock, with navigator Brown, were the first to successfully take to the air in their specially converted Vickers Vimy.
The navigation instruments were minimal, rudimentary and not very practical in the dense cloud encountered. However, after 16 hours in a cramped open cockpit, they completed the 1800 mile journey only 20 miles from their intended destination of Galway. A green field near Clifden turned out to be a bog, so the aircraft ended up at an undignified angle. The heroes, were relatively unscathed and feted as heroes, collecting the £10,000 prize and knighthoods.
The details and background to this exploit, offered by Cyril, confirmed his opinion that this flight was to be compared to the first moon landing.
History and Power of the Longbow
Wednesday 19th March 2014
Brigadier Ian Shapter gave us a facinating and informative talk on the history of the longbow. He said the earliest known example of the weapon had been found in the Somerset Levels and dated at 1,800 years BC. He explained why longbows were always made from Yew, because of the wood’s unique characteristics, and how, throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, imported Yew was used – partly to conserve the English trees, and partly so that import tax could be levied. He used slides to show the stages in manufacturing a bow, from the cutting down of the tree to the fitting of the horns at either end to take the bowstring. He also showed several examples of arrowheads.
He told us how archers were trained and the levels of accuracy and rate of fire they had to achieve. He also explained the tactics used to deploy the archers at Crecy and Agincourt to maximum effect, and how, during a lull in the battle, ‘volunteers’ would be despatched to retrieve the arrows for re-use.
An archer at the time of Agincourt was paid 6d per day. However, when he returned from a six month campaign, the pay he received would be enough to build a house, buy a small-holding and stock it with animals.
The President gave a vote of thanks that was warmly endorsed by the members, and we will almost certainly be asking Ian to come back to give us another talk in the series.
The Most Noble Order of the Garter
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Angela Panrucker gave an excellent and authoritative talk on the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Angela gave a brief outline of the history of the order, from its founding in 1348 by Edward III (based largely on his fascination with the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table) up to the present day. Membership of the order is in the gift of the monarch, the government and parliament having no influence on who is appointed. There are 25 knights, and lady members are a 20th century innovation.
Angela concentrated her talk on the annual Garter Day Ceremony, usually held in the second week of June. She described the parade of the Garter Knights, accompanied by other orders of chivalry and the military. The ceremony is open to members of the public, but attendance is by ticket only, and tickets, which are free, are allocated by ballot. Amazingly. Angela has been successful in the ballot no fewer than 29 times!
This was an fluent and polished talk, and the President’s vote of thanks was warmly endorsed by the members.
The Inca Trail
Wednesday 20th November 2013
Lew Lawton’s visit to Peru began with a 400 kilometre cycle ride in aid of Mencap and continued with a 4 day trek to Machu Pichu. He explained that the Inca Empire flourished from 1438 to 1532, during which time a population of 40,000 grew to 20 million. The Incas had their own language, although it had no written form, and communication throughout the empire was by means of relays of runners. Many relics of the empire exist, including remains of buildings constructed of stone with no mortar, but with a system of ties to bind stones together. In 1532, Spanish conquistadors, following up on rumours of vast treasures of gold and silver, came to Peru and, with a force of only 62 cavalry and 106 infantry, were able to bring about the fall of the Inca Empire, whose people had no answer to the invaders’ fire power.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham mounted an expedition to find the lost Inca city of Vilacabamba, which had been founded by the last Inca ruler. What he actually found was Machu Pichu (he apparently invented the name, which is in the Inca language, Quechua, and means large mountain). Visitor numbers to Machu Pichu are strictly limited in order to protect this unique site.
Lew’s talk was illustrated throughout with excellent diagrams, maps and photographs, and his lively presentation style and tremendous enthusiasm for his subject left us wanting to hear more. We will certainly hope to book one of his other talks next year!
Wednesday 6th November 2013
John Bailey, a retired cardiac surgeon, spoke with authority and passion on butterflies, covering their life cycle from egg, through caterpillar, chrysalis on to buttefly. He explained that butterflies had been a lifelong hobby, and he illustrated his talk with photographs and amazing film that he had taken using 35mm lenses with a CCTV camera. We saw caterpillars attaching themselves to twigs and branches before turning into chrysalises, then chrysalises shedding their skins before finally emerging as butterflies. This was one of the best talks we have had, from a man clearly in love with his subject.
Wednesday 2nd October 2013
There is always something a bit special when our speaker is one of our own members and this talk proved to be a sheer delight. Ken Harrison researched his subject with meticulous care and illustrated the magnitude of the ships which carry people, cargo and fuel around the world with truly absorbing statistics. Also he showed that there were many areas of further research open to anyone taking the trouble to look for the information, which is readily available on the Internet.
He demonstrated the size and complexity of these monsters of the sea and raised many questions in our minds as to how the world of cruise holidays and the transportation of the comforts and necessities of our lives today are conducted. For example Ken informed us that liquefied natural gas tankers carry enough gas to supply the UK's needs for about 6 hours. Pictures such as this served to enhance Ken’s interesting story rather than being the centrepiece of the entertainment of our afternoon. This included telling us precise locations of various ships illustrated at the time of his talk.
The LNG ship Zarga carries enough gas to supply the UK's needs for about 6 hours
My Life as a Working Farrier
Wednesday 18th September 2013
Members enjoyed an excellent talk by Bernard Tidmarsh who has spent 51 years as a working farrier, having been apprenticed to his father in the family business in Crudwell after leaving school. He told us how, having learned the basics of his trade, he broadened his experience by entering competitions and learning from other farriers. His early years coincided with the march of the tractor over England’s farmlands and the disappearance of heavy horses from the landscape. Many towns and villages lost their farrieries, so he found himself having to travel further and further from home to meet small pockets of demand, first to Calne and Bath, and later to Wales and Cornwall. In a career that brought him into contact with the Royal Family and the nobility, he shod horses for Princess Anne, the Prince of Wales, various polo clubs and, for 34 years, the Beaufort Hunt.
In an hour-long talk that kept us attentive throughout Bernard related a number of interesting anecdotes. He met his wife when she was working as a groom for the Prince of Wales and had to obtain the Prince’s permission to marry her. He told us how, on his wedding day, he was up at 3:00am shoeing polo ponies; he later explained to his wife, ‘I felt I couldn’t waste the whole day!’ He also told how, at the Burleigh World Championships, he shod the horses for both the English and American teams, and received some chilly looks from the English riders after the Americans won the event. In answer to a question from a member, he explained the use of aluminium shoes for racing, saying ‘An ounce off the foot is a pound off the back.’
President Mike Stone gave a vote of thanks that was warmly echoed by all present.
Wednesday 17th July 2013
With temperatures around 80 degrees but the shade of big trees to provide a cool refuge 65 members and their guests enjoyed the invitation of Rod and Mavis to come and enjoy their lovely garden deep in the Wiltshire countryside. In other years we have enjoyed this privilege but with an eye fixed on the clouds fleeting above us but not so this time.
Our President Mike Stone greeted all and we were encouraged to start things off with a traditional drink of Pimms. With the ladies in their prettiest dresses it was a colourful sight for all to enjoy and in the heat of such a fine day, even persuaded a few of our members to come along in their shorts which I think may have been a first!
Some gentle games of boules and crocket were played by some whilst others wandered around to see and smell the fragrance of the many flowers and shrubs and some just to chat together in such a great opportunity to socialise. The ladies of Kington St Michael church served a lovely afternoon tea, which was concluded with ice cream and strawberries to finish off a lovely afternoon together.
We meet next on September 3rd to hear Hamish Orr-Ewing tell us about the Engines of the Titanic.
Chippenham Probus Club members and guests of Rod and Mavis Allam
Adventures in the Third Sector
Wednesday 3rd July 2013
Our President Mike Stone was pleased to welcome a new member to our club, Ken Scott of Kington Langley.
We always enjoy talks given by our own members and today was another example of just how interesting these can be. Henry Miles told us of his varied career, starting as a newly qualified solicitor working in a Manchester practice. Thence he went into local government moving from Prestwich to Swindon, on to Elmbridge in Surrey and finally to North West Wiltshire District council where he was to become chief executive for many years. He enjoyed telling us that all of these authorities have ceased to exist for one reason or another and Henry claimed no responsibility for this. As may be imagined there were many events during this journey, which kept the audience of 42 members entertained for our last formal meeting before our August break.
On his retirement from local government Henry made a significant contribution in service to the community through working in the voluntary sector with intensive periods with the long established Wiltshire Blind Association, then in an active adviser role with the Citizens Advice Bureau where his long experience with the law and local government helped many in need and finally a period with Volunteer Action Kennet. Questions followed our tea break and the meeting closed with thanks again provided on behalf of our members present by Maurice Palfrey.
On Wednesday 17th July we are looking forward to our annual garden party as the guests of Rod and Mavis Allam where we hope for a sunny afternoon to fully enjoy an afternoon in their extensive gardens. We will gather at circa 2:00pm for a few games of skill, social chat and afternoon tea in this truly beautiful setting.
Dad’s Other Army
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Following the evacuation of the remainder of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, and the abandonment of one million tons of arms, ammunition, vehicles and equipment in France, the threat of invasion was very real. Winston Churchill tasked Colonel Gubbins of Army Intelligence with setting up an underground organisation of people trained to carry out a range of activities designed to impede the advance of the enemy and to restrict their freedom of movement. This organisation was the Auxiliars. Some 3,000 people, organised in teams of 7-10, were trained at Coleshill House in explosives, demolition techniques, booby-trapping buildings, mapping, communications, weapons handling and one-to-one combat. Each team was an independent unit whose members had all signed the official secrets act and who did not know where the next nearest team was, or who its members were. Each team built, or more usually excavated, an operations ‘room’, where they had bunks and rations for two weeks.
Bill King has spent 30 years researching the history of the Auxiliars and has met many former members. His talk was illustrated with photographs and facsimile copies of letters between Duncan Sandys and Churchill, and a translation of Adolph Hitler’s written orders for the invasion of England, which he code-named Operation Sealion.
Bill’s subject was one that was new to every one of us, his presentation was lively and fast-moving, keeping all of us interested and attentive throughout. In his vote of thanks, our President expressed the hope that Bill will come and talk to us again in the future.
Government Underground Activities in Corsham
Wednesday 5th June 2013
It is no surprise that on a glorious sunny day in early summer if our meeting attendance is down a little, but not so for this talk where 42 members found the outing very well justified.
Most of us have had adventures as a youngster but few can compare with the story given with such enthusiasm by our speaker today. Nick McCamley told us of his explorations of the underground workings in the caverns beneath Corsham with a friend at the age of 17. This huge area was transformed in the 1930’s and 40’s by the Ministry of Defence into storage and production facilities created to ensure that military supplies were secure against bombing by Nazi aircraft.
The way in which the massive caverns, which were created by years of cutting Bath stone from far below ground were utilised as secure storage for armaments and as a production facility for Bristol Aero engines. This told us in great detail of something most of us have heard fragments of over the years but Nick was able to graphically describe and illustrate with some very good photos. He went well over the allotted time and still we sat spellbound as the tale continued. After the tea interval questions came thick and fast with expert answers provided to satisfy all until our President had to call the meeting to a close.
From Cadet to Commodore
Wednesday 15th May 2013
We were entertained to a story that is rare these days. A life spent at sea with a single employer, progressing from entry into the P&O Steamship Company as a cadet and rising to the top of the organization. This included many years as the captain of the Canberra which we all remember serving such an important role right in the heart of the Falklands conflict.
Commodore Gibb demonstrated a style of recounting his experiences of such an absorbing life with humour, candor and fluency of delivery all being delivered without a note. The story emphasized his first hand inter action with people at all levels of society and kept us eagerly awaiting the next anecdote or reflection of his experiences with eager anticipation. The normal interruption for our tea break was a little delayed and nevertheless seemed to be a needless interruption of an account, which we didn’t want to come to a conclusion.
The answers to member’s questions after the tea break were just as interesting and gave us all a great afternoon together, thanks to our fine speaker.
Our speaker Commodore Ian Gibb with President Mike Stone
Politics and the Media
Wednesday 1st May 2013
Paul Wilenius started his career as a journalist on a local newspaper in the North East of England. He moved, first to Swindon and later to Fleet Street where he was Political Editor on the Today Newspaper. After that newspaper closed he moved into radio with the BBC’s ‘On the Record’, where he worked with John Humphrys and Andrew Marr. When that programme was replaced as part of the BBC’s move to introduce younger presenters, Paul set up his own company to teach people how to appear on TV.
Paul explained that the media encompassed newspapers, radio, television, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter – indeed, any medium by which information is disseminated. He said that politics is all about presentation – getting ‘the message’ across. Politicians want to look bright, tough and vital – image and appearance are key. Paul told us about the lobby system – how selected journalists are invited to the daily briefing at No 10, and how they in turn hold a briefing in the House of Commons at 4pm each day for staff members from No 10. He also mentioned lunch and dinner clubs where senior journalists entertain politicians, and said that spin doctors and script writers were nothing new. Essentially, the media wants stories, and politicians want to control the stories they get to publish.
Paul’s talk was interesting, informative, entertaining and, with the Leveson Inquiry still going on, very timely. He was thanked by the President and warmly applauded by his audience.
Life in the Midwest of the United States
Wednesday 17th April 2013
David Sweet gave us an absorbing description of life in the Midwest of the United States in the early 20th century. He showed how the prairies had been fundamentally changed which had prevailed for many centuries when the Indian tribes hunted the millions of bison.
With the encouragement of farmers to inhabit the Mid Western States by federal government policies he showed how the bison had been removed and were steadily replaced by cattle which were less able to withstand the severe winters. The policies of the day witnessed price distortions for grain. These first created apparent wealth for farmers compared to other industries.
However in the 1930’s a giant dustbowl formed covering several states following years of drought. At the time of the Great Depression there were thousands of bank failures. We heard of the devastating effect of all of this on small farming communities and the poverty arising from it.
David described the various attempts taken to lessen the ruin and starvation brought to peoples lives. He illustrated his talk with some photos, which brought the effects of his narrative home to us all with stark reality. Most of us had not appreciated for example how the topsoil was removed and transformed into huge dust storms which were later deposited many miles away.
The Greatest Injustice in English Literature?
Wednesday 3rd April 2013
From the title of this talk we had little clue as to the direction of the subject but in fact we were treated to an absorbing examination of the Poems of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as translated by Edward Fitzgerald.
Our gifted speaker Professor Tony Briggs gave this talk in such an interesting way with humour and such deep perception of his subject that it proved to be a revelation to a full gathering of our club as he described this gem of English Literature. Few I think realised the extent of the impact of Fitzgerald’s work and how this has been the basis of such a mass of editions following the modest publication of the original in 1859 and also the base for many translations into so many other languages.
You may recall the following:
The Moving Finger writes: and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it
Take to the Skies
Wednesday 20th March 2013
Cyril Mannion’s talk followed an unusual and very interesting format. He began by giving us a brief outline of his RAF career, first as a navigator and then as a pilot. He flew a number of aircraft types, and was involved in the introduction of the Tornado into the RAF. However, his ambition from an early age was to become an airline pilot, and this was to form the main body of his talk. After covering the business of obtaining his civil licence, he based his talk on a specific flight that he undertook as captain of a Boeing 777 on a flight from Mumbai to Heathrow. Beginning with greeting his fellow crew members, he took us through every detail of the flight. He showed video clips of the take-off and landing, and illustrated his talk with many still photographs.
In response to questions from the audience he explained how crews are allocated to routes by different airlines, and how seniority was a very important factor, with more senior pilots getting the pick of the routes. He said that, since ‘nine eleven’, the practice of inviting passengers into the flight deck had ceased. However, when he was asked if pilots ever became bored because the autopilot was running the aircraft, he said that, if you could observe the crew and they did look bored, you should be content – because a busy crew would probably mean that something was not as it should be!
A vote of thanks given by Maurice Palfrey was followed by warm applause. We were left wanting to hear more from Cyril, and have booked him to speak to us again in June 2014.
A Transport of Delight
Wednesday 6th March 2013
One of our members Geoff Hobbs gave us a talk on the age of steam. This was illustrated with some fine photos, which he had taken in the later days of the steam train period. The whole talk was utterly absorbing and gave so much detail and demonstrated a close study of the subject and a love of the legacy which the British engineers have given to the world in the field of steam powered locomotion.
Geoff spoke with great authority on the equipment design as well as the rivalries between the companies, which took place during the 1930’s when amalgamations were directed to bring about the four remaining companies the GWR, LMS, LNER and SR. This was so much more than a talk to give us the detail of the equipment which of course it did, but it also revealed his vast knowledge of the systems operation for signaling, goods service and passenger operation which made the talk a study in professional presentation.
Taken at Ropley by Geoff Hobbs in September 2012
Annual General Meeting
Wednesday 6th February 2013
The Annual General Meeting was attended by 39 members. Officers were elected for the coming year and reports of the past year were given. A highlight was to celebrate the 90th birthday of our senior Past President, John Bartlett and in this picture you can see John lighting the candles on his celebration cake which we all enjoyed with our tea after the formal proceedings were complete. Also present in the picture is our President Mike Stone.
Celebrating the 90th birthday of our Past President, John Bartlett
Mail and Stagecoaches in Georgian Wiltshire
Wednesday 16th January 2013
Our club was treated to a feast of Georgian history in the West Country as Professor Tim Travers-Healey gave us an insight into the extensive research which he has conducted to reveal the network of routes served by the mail and stagecoaches of the 18th century between London, Bristol and Exeter and of course including Wiltshire, Chippenham and Devizes. This was a display of intensive factual information including the operational logistics, which was fully illustrated to bring the subject alive to us all and which would have been impressive in any circumstance.
The Club is very fortunate in using Kington Langley village hall for their twice monthly meetings. The hall has just installed a high definition projector mounted in and lowered from the ceiling. This is a facility, which we used at this meeting for the first time and it truly brought these fine pictures to life making the whole experience more enjoyable than otherwise would be the case.
If you are not already a member see the programme and make contact with us and arrange to come along to one of our meetings to say hello!
Who Discovered America?
Wednesday 2nd January 2013
David Seviour began by explaining that he was not going to give us a history lesson, but to challenge our thinking on the subject.
It all started with the Norwegian Erik the Red who, following an incident in which he killed some people, was exiled to Iceland, towards the end of the tenth century. His son, Leif Eriksson, was born there and he, in turn, was subsequently banished following similar misbehaviour. He sailed to Greenland where he established two settlements.
In 1000AD, Leif sailed north from the southern tip of Greenland, then went south along the coast of Baffin Island down to Labrador, and then landed in what is now called Newfoundland, where he again established settlements. It is likely that an earlier explorer, Bjaarni Herjulfsson, had sighted Newfoundland first, but he did not land there. Leif returned to Greenland in the Spring of 1002 and later succeeded his father as leader of the Norse colony there.
David’s talk was warmly received, and we will almost certainly be asking him to return to give another of his talks.
Wednesday 19th December 2012
The annual Christmas Miscellany was held in the lovely decorated Kington Langley village hall, which can be seen in the first photograph. This year followed a slightly different format from previous years. Mike Stone our President had invited a group from Corsham to come along to entertain us. Thus we were able to enjoy the many musical talents of three generations of the Reynolds family with grandfather, Terry, his daughter Amy Rose and granddaughter Julie with Rob. This can be seen in the second photograph.
Mike Stone further recalled some more of his vast store of the history of Chippenham with a short but very interesting talk for us.
In the third picture you can see the ladies of Kington St Michael church preparing a most appetising afternoon tea for us all to enjoy as we socialised with wives and partners to complete a lovely relaxed afternoon together for our final meeting of 2012.
The lovely decorated Kington Langley village hall
The Reynolds family entertains
The ladies of Kington St Michael church
Wednesday 5th December 2012
Our speaker on the subject of ‘Narrowboat Art’ was Jane Clements. The precise origins of this well-known style of decorating canal boats is unknown, but it began to flourish about two hundred years ago, when economic circumstances forced boatmen to give up their houses on the land and move their families onto their boats, where they lived in extremely cramped conditions.
Jane explained that the primary subjects of canal boat art were flowers (mainly roses) and castles. She began her demonstration by showing the various brushes that are used to produce different parts of the designs, and she explained that the consistency of the paint is crucial – too thick and it doesn’t flow, too thin and it runs. She then used a series of prepared boards to produce a beautiful design featuring roses of different colours. What really amazed us was that, while drawing the elements of the design with her various brushes, she was holding the board so that it was clearly visible to her audience, rather than having it in the more customary position, facing the artist. Jane’s commentary during the demonstration was fluent, interesting and very informative; she held our attention throughout, proving to be one of our most popular speakers to date.
Jane set up a sales table featuring a range of items decorated in canal boat style, and a number of members took the opportunity to do a bit of impromptu Christmas shopping.
Past Reports on Presentations given to the Club
Visit to Ironbridge on 20th June 2009
A coach load of members and guests travelled north to the Ironbridge Gorge area. Light refreshments were served and greatly appreciated on the outward journey. The first stop was at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron which exhibits magnificent cast iron statues, fountains and furniture made by the famous Darby family. After reboarding the coach the tour continued to the famous Iron Bridge and Tollhouse. In the afternoon a most interesting and enjoyable time was spent at the Blists Hill Victorian Village. We were free to meet the Victorians and explore their various shops and workshops including blacksmiths, candlemaking as well as some of their homes. It was fascinating to see the school children parading through the street, two by two, to the school. Some of the group enjoyed the Fried Fish Dealer's products of fish and chips. On this occasion we were blessed with good weather and the rain set in as we rejoined the coach for the return journey. It is any area where one could spend much more time to view all the places of interest. Full credit and thanks must be given to Alison and Chris Shackell for organising such a superb day out.
Visit to Bletchley Park
The National Codes Centre at Bletchley was the destination of the Club's recent outing during May with partners and friends. The centre provided a fascinating insight into the now declassified details of the development of code breaking equipment.
A demonstration of the Bombe machine, a major step in the mechanisation of code breaking in World War Two, was extraordinary, as was the rebuilt version of the Colossus, the world's first electronic digital computer. In addition to these, there were many examples of telecommunications equipment along with tableaux and items of current use in World War Two. Particularly appreciated was an excellent museum devoted to Sir Winston Churchill.The day was ably arranged by Chris Shackell and his wife Alison, who organised refreshments and resources on the coach. Their efforts were roundly applauded.
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