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Meetings in 2024

PROBUS TALK 15.02.2024

Our speaker on 15th February was David Ella whose subject was 500 years of Worcestershire maps. The first was Christopher Saxton’s in 1577. He explained why it was produced, who did the survey and what the map shows us.

Worcestershire was formed from the Hwicce sub-kingdom of Anglo-Saxon Mercia which existed from c.600-800 AD. As a county it dates from c.1000AD. The Anglo-Saxon charters described the boundaries in clauses based on perambulations, the parish boundaries being similar to those in current use. Most of Evesham Vale was monastic land belonging to the Abbeys of  Evesham, Pershore and Gloucester. Worcestershire consisted of 1200 hides, Gloucestershire 2400. An earl was responsible for each region or county. The boundaries of 1000-1061 were redrawn in 1931 and 1964, making the Four Shires Stone on the A44 near Moreton-in-Marsh which marked the meeting point of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire redundant, although as a historic monument it can still be seen.

David outlined Saxton’s predecessors in producing maps whose methods were empirical, such as undertaking journeys and asking people. Many were produced by monks who were, of course, the only educated people. A notable common factor (apart from their inaccuracy) was that they were orientated to the east, as were churches, i.e. towards Jerusalem.

Saxton was given a Royal Warrant by Elizabeth 1 to enter any high place to facilitate production of his map. The survey was based on triangulation from a base line and took five years to produce. The reason for producing the map was for defence and administration purposes. There were many subsequent maps produce by William Camden (1551-1623), Robert Morden (1695) and John Speed who produced the first street map of Worcester in 1610, Michael Drayton’s map Poly-Olbion of 1622, the Dutchman, Joan Blaeu who produced a  map of Worcestershire and Warwickshire in 1646 and is famous for his eleven volume Grand Atlas of the world c.1662 and John Carey (1689). Of interest was that there was no copyright law until 1710. Each map was a development of the previous efforts  – Morden included roads and several scales  as the definition of a mile still varied from place to place, despite the fact  there had been a statute mile laid down in 1593.  Emanuel Brown published his Atlas of Britain in 1767. Isaac Taylor produced a 1inch to the mile map in 1772 with many details, but it was inaccurate.  The last large county map was that of Chrisopher Greenwood in 1822.

An initial Ordnance Survey was carried out by Robert Dawson in 1811. In 1827 the first OS map of Worcestershire was  produced and in 1831 the first one inch series map with the county boundary. David showed  6 inch street maps of Worcester and Evesham, also an archaeological map based on an aerial survey. The word “Ordnance” of course denoted that this work was done by the Army for defence reasons, exactly the same reason that Speed produced his maps in the !6th Century.

David took several questions such as how did the Romans achieve straight roads across the country when later cartographers had such trouble in producing accurate surveys. It was simply that such expertise had been lost during the so-called “Dark Ages” following the collapse of the Roman Empire. David also mentioned Ptolemy’s maps produced about 150 AD.

Our thanks go to David for a very interesting talk and bringing several examples from his collection of historic maps for us to peruse. Modern maps still have great value in the age of the satnav.



Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 08.02.2024


On 8th February our member Bob Turner gave a talk cryptically entitled “A Voice in the Wilderness.” It turned out to be about the architectural critic Ian Nairn who railed about the visual aspect of Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, the result of poor planning and architecture.

He had no architectural qualifications -  he was a mathematics graduate and a pilot in the RAF, flying Meteor jets. From the air, urban sprawl was, of course, only too apparent. He became the man who fought the planners and wrote two controversial books, Outrage and Counter Attack which were originally articles in the Architectural Review. He also wrote two unconventional guides about London and Paris. Outrage was a wake-up call about the wasteful use of land (the supply of which is finite!). He undertook a 400-mile journey from Southampton to Carlisle, avoiding most urban and industrialised areas. He ranted about lampposts, street furniture and roadside advertising, “municipal rustic” in rural areas, unnecessary duplication in signage, advocating high density and small-scale developments. He coined the phrase “subtopia” to describe urban sprawl.  Counter Attack was his plan of action for removing clutter from towns, don’t waste space, reduce sprawl, don’t concentrate on standard typeface for signs, be more sympathetic in the treatment of town trees.  In the 1950s nobody was listening.  One scheme he did approve of was the high density achieved by the 1955 housing development at Roehampton in SW London.

Nairn left the Architectural Review and became a journalist. He gained more acceptance of his ideas in the 1960s. His 1964 book England Revisited was mainly photographs illustrating his criticisms of endless identical suburbs up and down the country, unnecessary road signs, inappropriate “municipal” flower beds, particularly in rural areas, and the classic planning error of Peacehaven, a housing estate built on the edge of the cliffs between Brighton and Seaford.

Nairn made a major contribution to The Buildings of England, the epic series of volumes by Niklaus Pevsner.

In 1967 Nairn published Britain’s Changing Towns. featuring sixteen towns. Nairn found Huddersfield was a mixed bag, the 18th Century Cloth Hall having been demolished and the portico re-erected in a park, the classical station restored, the main shopping street mundane.. In Birmingham the car was king, but he did discover the hidden canals. He liked Newcastle, particularly the passageways up the gorge from the river to the town centre and the varied bridges over the Tyne. Plymouth town centre, severely bombed during the war was unimaginatively redeveloped.

In addition to the written word there were many TV programmes culminating in thirty films for the BBC, Nairn across Britain, in 1967/8. He did like some modern buildings which featured in these programmes and Bob showed striking examples such as the multi-storey car park with bus station underneath at Preston which is now a listed building and which the Council considered demolishing, also the Guildhall entertainment centre at Preston which is currently closed and at one time the Council also wanted to demolish. At Halifax is the stunning 18th Century Piece Hall, once the trading centre for the woollen industry, now converted for multiple uses and a tourist attraction. Also at Halifax was the then HQ of the Halifax Building Society, closed by Lloyds in 2022 and now subject to possible demolition. Bolton’s 19th Century Market Hall, now a shopping centre, is a striking example of a sympathetic conversion of an impressive building. Bob’s home town of Wolverhampton features the major shopping centre, the Mander Centre. Another amazing example of modern architecture, since demolished, was a pub on the A5 near Dunstable.

Although he had always liked a pint, because he thought himself a failure he lapsed into alcoholism and died in 1983, aged 52. His legacy included contributing to the campaign to save St. Pancras Station and its hotel, the classic art deco1930s London Underground stations such as Uxbridge, the M&S store in Oxford Street (still under threat), Hastings Pier (bought by a charity and restored). There were however failures such as the demolition of the Doric Arch at Euston, the ceremonial entrance to the first main line station in the world.

Out thanks go to Bob for an illuminating presentation about a subject on which we all have opinions, featuring someone whose ideas are still very relevant and although a pioneer, perhaps his contribution to the improvement of our environment is now overlooked.


Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 01.02.2024

Instead of the usual talk our member James Love showed us a film about the population crisis which he prefaced with one of Disraeli’s most famous aphorisms “there are lies, damned lies and statistics,” which he suggested should be amended to “lies, damned lies and those who misuse statistics.”

The film was of a lecture given by Dr. Hans Rosling the Swedish physician. His theme was that despite the doom and gloom about the burgeoning world population, analysis of the statistics showed encouraging trends in such countries as India, Bangladesh and China. The birth rate in such developing countries is reducing. Improved medical facilities means that fewer children are dying, a fact which encourages families not to have so many children.

Literacy rates are increasing which means people are better informed. On the question of climate change and the necessity to reduce dependence on fossil fuels Dr. Rosling emphasised that developing countries are naturally resentful about being lectured by advanced countries about what action they should take when those same rich countries are the main contributors to pollution. The need to grow more food is essential and the condition of the soil is paramount as we learned from last week’s talk. The amount of land used to grow animal feed needs to be reduced which means our consumption of meat must be cut.

The message of the lecture was “Don’t panic” which was portrayed in the use of data  and innovative graphics. This was a thought-provoking film, demonstrating how statistics need to be carefully  qualified.


 Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 25.01.2024


Our speaker on 25th January was Margaret Oliver, Professor at Reading University in the Department of Soil Science, the only such department in the country. Her subject was “The Relation between Soil, Agriculture and Human Health”. Margaret is known to our President, John Cotton, and he introduced her by suggesting the answer lies in the soil which turned out to be right. As you might imagine, the subject is highly complex and Margaret had the difficult task of keeping it simple, at the same time as being comprehensive. The structure of the environment was defined as being divided between atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, biosphere and lithosphere.  Agriculture can be traced back to Neolithic times, about 10,000 years ago and there are Chinese records of soil classification from 2000 BC.Soil degradation is caused by overuse and poor management. The well-known Dust Bowl in the USA was caused by drought and poor water management. Soil is created by the breakdown of rock by lichens, organic matter from dead plants, weathered materials plus help from animals. The mineral content of soil is 45%, primarily quartz (sand grains), silt and clay, 20-30% is water, the ideal soil being silty loam. Organic matter breaks down to humus and improves water holding capacity. This stabilises the soil and aids food production. Agriculture depends on good soil, air and water. Minerals weather in the soil; most plants like acid soil.Soil and land are finite so the implementation of Precision Agriculture is essential so that chemicals are only added where needed which is determined by Electro Magnetic Induction Survey. Human health is dependent on sufficient food and this can be affected by deficient or toxic trace elements.. The lack of trace elements such as iodine, iron, selenium and zinc is a cause of under-nutrition. Microorganisms can benefit plant growth but they can also be pathogenic  and produce  pollutants. Medicines can be obtained from soil microbes. There is a huge potential for new drugs such as antibiotics.In response to a question about the effect of the standing water on land Margaret said waterlogged soil kills microbes and damages soil. Grenville contributed the comment of Charles Darwin in response to a question as to which was the most important animal on earth and stated it was the worm. Margaret confirmed the humble worm is indeed vitally important to keeping the soil healthy.On such a complicated subject it would have been easy to have been “blinded by science” but our speaker’s presentation was in terms we could understand. When we next venture into the garden we shall be better informed about what lies under our feet.


Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 18.01.2024

Our speaker on 18th January was Nigel Thompson who gave us Part 2 of his talk about the two Roosevelt  Presidents of the USA, this time perhaps the better-known Franklin who occupied the White House from 1933 until his death in 1945, shortly before the end of the war.

Franklin was fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt who was President from 1901-1909. He was born in 1882 into a well-off family in New York City and was a Democrat , whereas his predecessor had been a Republican. He spoke French and German and went to Harvard and Columbia. He practised law but got tired of that and stood for the New York Senate where he was successful in 1910. Woodrow Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary to the Navy.

His wife Eleanor bore him six children but she didn’t enjoy sexual relations and Franklin had several mistresses. In 1921 he became paralysed from the waist down with polio but this did not impede his career and he became Governor of New York State in 1928 for a four-year term.

The 1920s were a turbulent decade. Following World War 1, there was the Spanish Flu epidemic. In 1920 legislation prohibiting the production and sale of alcohol was introduced which drastically reduced Government revenue although it was reckoned that more alcohol was consumed during this period than before. The purchase of shares became a popular way of making money but many could only do so by borrowing which was unsustainable. High tariffs on imported goods put pressure on the dollar and led to the Wall Street Crash in 1929. This led to isolationism and the rise in gangsterism, Al Capone being the most notorious.

Hoover, the Republican President in 1928 did nothing to deal with the crisis and in !932 Roosevelt won a landslide victory and became President. He launched the New Deal which increased social security benefits, lifted tariffs and ended Prohibition. The Tennessee Valley Authority was set up to build the Hoover Dam, a Civilian Conservation Corps was set up which planted three billion trees and built new roads. 100 million acres of farm land were lost in the Dust Bowl, owing to drought and poor farming methods. Support was given to those farmers affected.  With the popularity of home radios, the President was able to give talks directly to the people.

Although the USA still pursued isolationism, legislation to set up Lend Lease passed by one vote.  This provide much needed equipment to the UK and the Allies but it had to be paid for, the UK’s last payment being in 2006.

The principal events of WW2 were outlined. The shock raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941 caused the USA to declare war on Japan and then Germany and Italy declared war on the USA.  Roosevelt attended the famous conferences such as Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in February 1945. He died in April 1945 at the age of 62 just before the German surrender.

Although Franklin Delano Roosevelt was autocratic he is adjudged one of the best US Presidents. He served for 12 years which would not now be possible as the President can only serve for two terms.


Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 11.01.2024


Our first meeting of the new year should have been on 4th January but the Rowing Club was flooded so the talk on 11ith January was our first.

After a Special General Meeting to agree amendments to the Constitution to cater for internet banking, use of bank cards etc. Our member Clive Allen gave his talk “My Village Story” about Harvington, where several members live.

Clive has lived in Harvington for nearly thirty years, the longest he has ever lived in one place. Although in Worcestershire it is close to the boundary with Warwickshire. It was first mentioned in 709 AD  and has had a number of name changes over the years. The parish Church, St. James the Great is a focal point. Like so many churches it underwent a major restoration in Victorian times. The broached spire was added to the Norman tower as part of the work. Originally clad with wood shingles it is now sheathed with copper. Various other buildings in the village were mentioned, including the Manor, the old rectory, the pubs, the school, and the railway station (now in use as a house). Another interesting point was that a house has been built under the bridge which carries a byway, Anchor Lane, over the former railway. It leads to the River Avon and the weir.

Clive made reference to our member, Phil Bawn’s booklet about transport in Harvington - the two garages in the village which operated coaches and a firm building caravans.

Clive served as a Parish Councillor and at his first meeting was elected President! This was a fascinating insight into one of our local villages.


Alan Smith

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