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Evesham Probus Club Meetings in 2024

Talk on 06.06.2024

 This week’s talk was about the charity ShelterBox and was presented by David Foster, a longstanding volunteer now living in Harvington.

ShelterBox started in 2001 as a mechanism to provide essential shelter and equipment to families after a disaster. Rotary International was involved from the initial stages. The 2001 earthquake in India that destroyed 340,000 buildings and killed over 20,000 people was the catalyst.

Many of the essential items required such as tents, blankets cooking implements and tools were packed into a plastic box and delivered straight to families affected by the disaster. Over 2500 boxes were distributed in the first 4 years. The cost of each box was estimated at £590.Customs and border problems with sealed boxes has now resulted in a more accessible approach using pallets etc.

One of the original organisers developed the concept further called ShelterBoat in which the basis of a dingy could be constructed from the box and its contents only requiring additional wooden planks. This home-made vessel sailed down the Avon from Stratford to Tewkesbury in 3 days and raised £3500. A further voyage is planned on the Thames this July and is termed ShelterBoat 24.

David took us through his long walk from the most easterly point of England to the most westerly point of Wales. This walk took David 36 days passing through some beautiful scenery and hills that provided a considerable challenge but also encountering many public footpaths that were overgrown or totally impassible.

His 425-mile walk raised over £10,000 for ShelterBox.

Not satisfied with this achievement David is now contemplating a north/south walk

from Lands’ End to John O’ Groats in 2025.

Members were impressed with the dedication of the ShelterBox team and provided contributions for the forthcoming ShelterBoat24 voyage on the Thames in July.

 

Bob Turner (Covering for Alan Smith)

Probus  Talk on 30/05/24

This week’s talk was about Simon de Montfort presented by Howard Robinson. Howard reviewed the complex history and involved ancestry of Simon de Montfort and his involvement with King Henry III in a clear and informative fashion.

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester was a leading figure in the Barons war between the monarchy (King Henry III) and the major landowners in England, the Barons.

He was of French origin arriving in England in 1229 with lineage going back to William the Conqueror. He married Eleanor of England, the daughter of King John and sister of Henry III in 1238. Initially Montfort had a close relationship with King Henry III; they were of similar age. But the relationship faltered leading to Montfort leaving for France and joining several crusades followed by close involvement with the French monarchy interspersed by several spells back in England.

On his return to England Montfort continued his stance against the King and called a Parliament in Oxford in 1258 which stripped King Henry III of his unlimited authority and forced the King to govern according to the advice of a council of Barons.

A second Parliament was called in 1265 by Montfort and this included for the first-time ordinary citizens from towns. For this reason, Montfort is regarded as the creator of modern parliamentary democracy.

Needless to say, the King was not pleased with these developments and restrictions on his authority and sought to remove them. Recognising future problems, the Barons started to join together, and Montfort was selected as leader with the aim of restoring the form of government decided at the Oxford parliament.

Initial victories by the Barons were achieved in the battles against the King and Simon de Montfort in some respects became the de facto ruler of England. He played a major role in establishing commoner input into parliament.

Further conflict between the King and Barons was inevitable and culminated in the Battle of Lewes in 1264 where the King was captured. This was the highpoint of Montfort’s career.

Discontent amongst some of the Barons in association with the future King Edward I led to a second battle this time at Evesham in 1265. Montford and his Barons lost and Montfort’s body was cut into pieces on the battleground and widely distributed. The remains that could be found were buried beneath the alter of Evesham Abbey church, since destroyed.

The Battle of Evesham was more of a massacre with vastly superior Royalist forces twice the size of the Baron’s easily overwhelming the opposition.

These short notes can only skim across the surface of this topic which our members found interesting and fascinating, especially with the Evesham connection.

 

Bob Turner (Covering for Alan Smith)

Probus Talk on 23/05/24

This week’s talk was organised by longstanding member Chris Donough. It focussed on Evesham and how the town is viewed. Reflecting on recent coverage in the press of the most depressing towns in the UK.

Fortunately, Evesham did not feature in this report but the article stimulated thinking into how club members viewed Evesham.

Is it a depressing town or not?

To consider this topic members were segregated into tables focussed on either viewpoint i.e. either it is depressing or it isn’t and fill out their views with reasons for that opinion. Since most members had not been born and bred in Evesham this would tend towards an external view.

The points raised are summarised below, first from the viewpoint that Evesham isn’t depressing:

  • Evesham has a good central location between the Cotswolds and the Malverns

  • The riverside parks and abbey ruins are of historic value and well cared for.

  • The very old buildings in the town (Almonry, Round House, Tower) are becoming more appreciated and better presented but there is still some way to go with this

  • The local councils, both Wychavon and Evesham Town are supportive of developments in Evesham

  • The town still benefits from a local hospital and a Minor Injuries Unit

 

Now turning to some of the reasons for Evesham being regarded as a depressing town.

  • Closure of shops in the town centre

  • Difficult car parking and impossible for coaches

  • Scaffolding on the Round House for many years and nothing to show for it

  • A moribund and empty shopping arcade adding to general town centre gloom

  • The town centre at night is not safe

  • Traffic and congestion – need I say more!!!

  • Few employment opportunities for skilled and hi tec jobs

Discussions on the topic went on at length and members thanked Chris for organising this talk and making us think critically about Evesham.

Perhaps we should invite a Wychavon or Town council member to a future meeting to consider our views and receive their opinions and knowledge of future plans for the town?

Bob Turner (Covering for Alan Smith)

PROBUS TALK 16.05.2024

On 16th May we had a presentation about lighthouses by Fraser Gunn, a pharologist, i.e. someone who studies the subject and a member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. He was born in St. Ives, Cornwall and recounted what sparked his interest in the subject. He was offered a trip to Godrevy Lighthouse ten miles along the coast. A rough sea prevented the return passage and he had to spend the night there, returning the next day by lifeboat – quite an adventure for a young boy. As a yachtsman he once sailed from Fowey to Falmouth when fog descended, and the satellite system broke down which proved that lighthouses are still needed.

Lighthouses are maintained by several bodies: - Trinity House for England and Wales, Northern Lighthouse Board for Scotland, the Commissioner for Irish Lights for the whole of Ireland and 21 independent harbour authorities. There is also one at Happisburgh, Norfolk, maintained by a local Trust, which obtained an Act of Parliament to become a lighthouse authority when Trinity House declared it redundant in the face of local opposition. Light dues are levied on all ships entering ports, based on the net registered tonnage of vessels, the rate being set by the Department of Transport..

The oldest recorded lighthouse was in the Bosphorus in 660 BC. A 455 ft. lighthouse was erected at Alexandria, Egypt in 261 BC which could be seen 29 miles away; it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1323. The oldest existing lighthouse is at A Coruna in Spain, a Roman structure dating from 2nd Century BC. The second oldest is near Wexford, Ireland, built in 1172.

The various means of providing the light were described, ranging from braziers, candelabra, oil and acetylene gas and from 1960, electricity, also the types of reflectors and Fresnel lens (still used today). Those at sea had turntables so the light could be seen in all directions. There are so many lighthouses in Cornwall that their rhythmic flashing sequences are different to each other. In addition to lighthouses there are lightships permanently moored. All lighthouses and ships are now automated in the UK.

Fraser recounted many stories attached to various lighthouses such as Longstone in the Farne Islands the scene of Grace Darling’s famous lifeboat rescue, the death of a keeper at The Smalls, Pembrokeshire whose body was suspended from the lighthouse which drove the remaining keeper literally mad and he was eventually committed, the case at Flannan Stand, Outer Hebrides where in 1900 two keepers went outside and when they didn’t return the third went to look for them and he disappeared as well.

Supplying many lighthouses and relief of keepers was a hazardous business undertaken by boat, a hazardous process as we saw from a video of la Jument in Brittany. The first helicopter used for the purpose was in 1948. Wolf Rock lighthouse off the Scillies was the first to have a helipad.

Fraser took us on a tour of lighthouses around the world including many famous ones in Britain such as the Roman Pharos at Dover and Eddystone,12 miles off Plymouth. A selection of other notable lighthouses featured included one at an altitude of 2045m. in Switzerland, marking the source of the Rhine, a replica of the one at Hook of Holland at the mouth of the Rhine. A lighthouse in Denmark was moved inland on rails to avoid being engulfed in sand. The world’s highest lighthouse is at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,133m above sea level. Lighthouses are not confined to coastal locations as was demonstrated by the photogenic one at St Joseph’s on Lake Michigan, shown in the summer and encased in ice in winter when, of course, shipping is at a standstill.  Probably the most remote lighthouse is in the Westman Islands in Iceland, 112m. above sea level.

This was an absorbing presentation and it easy to see how you could get hooked on the subject.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS OUTING 09.05.2024

Our first visit of the year was to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford. We had a comprehensive and leisurely tour behind the scenes, including The Other Space where the costumes are stored. We learned the history of the building and how many times it has been rebuilt since a fire destroyed the original Memorial Theatre financed by Edward Flower, the Stratford brewer. The current building was designed by Elisabeth Scott, a distant relative of the celebrated architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. She was the first lady architect to be awarded a major job and it opened in 1932. The internal arrangements of the theatre were drastically altered by alteration of the conventional auditorium into a “thrust stage auditorium” with seating on three sides and the provision of improved catering facilities. The theatre we see today dates from 2010.

What stood out was the scale of the facilities needed to put on a performance and the care and attention to detail. No wonder tickets cost so much! You couldn’t help wondering what Shakespeare would have made of it all, particularly since his plays were never performed in Stratford, all taking place in London. He would also have been surprised by the respectful audiences , which was far from the case in his day.

This was a most informative tour and our thanks go to Bob Turner for organising it and the weather for our afternoon free in the town to enjoy the darling buds of May.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 02.05.2024

Our speaker on 2nd May was Martin Gower on the NHS. After a career in the media he started a second career from 2009 to 2020 as a Board member of two NHS Trusts, adviser to the Care & Quality Commission and non-executive director of the Strategic Health Authority. He was expected to receive a background briefing, but a courier delivered 375 pages in a lever arch file. A lesson from Toyota was that if there is a problem ask the person on the shop floor, the person who has to do the job, i.e. bottom up not top down. The most important person in the NHS is the patient.

The NHS was founded by Nye Bevan in 1948, although the initial idea was Beveridge’s. Its initial budget was £13 billion (at current prices) in 1948 but the budget in the current year is £163 billion. In that period there have been 38 Secretaries of State in control of the Health Service.  The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world and uses 6822 GP practices (GPs being self-employed). In an average day 1.2 million people consult a GP, 260,00 attend hospital outpatients, there are 37,000 999 calls, 44000 attend A&E and of those 675 go into hospital. Healthcare costs are the sixth highest in the world per head of population. In 1950 there were 450,000 hospital beds compared with 150,000 in 2020. The principle now is to treat the patient at home, if at all possible.

In reviewing the Covid Enquiry, Martin was very critical of the predictive modelling employed during the Covid crisis which overstated the number of likely victims, the details of the lockdown instructions, the provision of Nightingale hospitals which couldn’t be staffed, the cost/benefit of the Test, Trace & Isolate procedures, and the cost of the furlough scheme. However, some members pointed out the immense benefit of hindsight.

There has been a massive increase in mental health referrals and the number of people on anti-depressants. Avoidable mortality is higher in the UK.

The NHS is funded out of general taxation and is one of the few countries where this is the case, whereas in France and Germany people pay into an insurance scheme which is a hypothecated tax, i.e. ring-fenced and can only be spent on healthcare. Martin advocated a local healthcare system, geared to local needs and the decommissioning of the NHS. It would be funded by a Health & Social Care Tax. Time did not permit an examination of how this would actually work and how it would avoid the current criticism of a “postcode lottery”, the standard of healthcare you receive dependent on which area of the country you live in. Most people would agree with him that politicians should be kept out, but of course they control the funding. He briefly mentioned that privatisation has been mooted but strongly advised against it, citing the case of the USA, the world’s most expensive health system but with poor outcomes for the money expended.

Martin demonstrated that the sheer complexity of the NHS is mind-boggling and the task of streamlining procedures and cutting down bureaucracy is a mammoth task. This was certainly an informative and thought-provoking talk about a subject on which we all have opinions because we are all “customers” at some time or another, particularly at our time of life.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 25.04.2024

 

On 25th April we had a return visit of Peter Petrie, a fellow Probus member of Cheltenham No. 1 branch. His subject “Death of a King” was about Edward II, 1284-1327? The question mark about the date of his death is because there is doubt about whether he died when he was reported to have died of natural causes, whether he was murdered or whether he escaped from captivity and sought refuge abroad. In fact, the talk could have been subtitled “an unsolved mystery”. Peter is a tour guide at Gloucester Cathedral where there is a splendid tomb of the King, one of the finest medieval shrines.

Edward was born at Caernarvon Castle. He was married to Queen Isabella of France in 1308. She was engaged at the age of 7 and married when 12. They had four children, including the future Edward III. He was an unpopular monarch, in constant dispute with the barons, not helped by the fact he was almost certainly homosexual and was greatly influenced by his favourites. His close companion, Piers Gaveston, was murdered  in 1312 by the Earl of Warwick after the barons revolted. His second favourite was Hugh Despenser which led to another civil war in which Mortimer rebelled. The battle with the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314 ended with the English forces being routed, a victory which is still celebrated in Scotland as it achieved independence. This defeat only exacerbated the King’s unpopularity amongst the barons.

In 1326 the French and English forces clashed on the border with Aquitaine, an English possession. Isabella went to talk with her brother, the King of France. She had a romance with Mortimer and hatched a plot to get rid of Edward. A small army was formed and landed at Felixstowe, Suffolk. Edward went west to Wales and Despenser was arrested, then hung drawn and quartered in 1326. Edward was taken prisoner at Kenilworth Castle and forced to abdicate. His son took over, aged 14, as King Edward III, with Isabella and Mortimer as Joint Regents. Edward II was kept prisoner at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire for a year in the custody of Sir Thomas Berkeley. In a letter to the King in Lincoln in 1327 it was announced Edward had died. The body was then wrapped in linen, like a mummy, including the head which meant that nobody could positively identify that the body was that of the King. There was some dispute as to where Edward should be buried but he was accepted by Gloucester Abbey (now the cathedral) as they were short of money and a royal tomb was a great way of attracting pilgrims.

Various disjointed happenings were then reported. The Earl of Kent said Edward was in Corfe Castle, Dorset under the custody of Sir John Pecche. The Earl was then executed by order of Mortimer. In 1330 the Archbishop of York  wrote to The Lord Mayor of London telling him to look out for Edward in London. In the 1330s Edward was reported to be in Koblenz, Germany, to be installed as of the Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire. He had assumed an alias, William de Galeyes, a real person.

In about 1336 Fieschi, a papal official, wrote a letter which was not discovered until the late nineteenth century. This alleged the King had escaped, took refuge in Corfe Castle under the care of the Governor then went to Ireland. Once Mortimer had been killed he left Ireland and subsequently travelled to France, living as a hermit, reaching Avignon where one of the two Popes at the time was living. He then went to Paris and on to Cologne Cathedral and the tomb of the Three Kings at Koblenz where he met his son Edward III. He then went to Italy where, at Mulazzo Castle near Genoa there is a plaque recording his residence. Finally he retired from the world at the Abbey of San Alberto at Butrio, north east of Genoa where he died c.1343. Some of Fieschi’s cousins were distantly related to Edward II.

There are twenty chroniclers’ accounts of Edward’s death at Berkeley Castle, all different.. Dr. Ian Mortimer has studied the flaws and irregularities in the cause of death. The first reference to the King’s murder was in 1340. Adam of Murimuth, Canon of Exeter Cathedral, stated there was rumour about the King’s death and the stories multiplied like Chinese whispers. In 1330 Sir Thomas Berkeley said it was the first time he had heard that the King had died in his castle. In 1330 Edward III stormed Nottingham Castle to get rid of Mortimer and Isabella. Mortimer was executed and Isabella was sent to Castle Rising in Norfolk where she was held in relative comfort, but in custody.

Many questions about Edward II remain unanswered such as why he restored lands, money and titles to various people. Is the body in the tomb at Gloucester Cathedral really that of the king? The tomb was opened in the 19th Century but the actual body was not exhumed. Although his reported death was in September, he was not buried until December. Much research is currently being undertaken in Italy about the Fieschi letter.

The riddle of Edward’s death has not been resolved so Peter asked his audience “What do you think? This was a most interesting and well-presented talk about a controversy which in view of the lapse in time may never be satisfactorily concluded.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 18.04.2024

Our speaker on 19th April was Flt. Lt. Les Hatcher to talk about flying the English Electric Lightning. His father was in the RAF and he always wanted to be a fighter pilot, although his teacher told him he wasn’t clever enough. He spent his Saturday mornings on the Link Trainer Flight Simulator, joined the Air Cadets and spent time at RAF Halton helping to launch gliders, eventually managing to get airborne. Despite hitching lifts there every weekend he received no encouragement but eventually got accepted into the RAF, starting at Biggin Hill, first flying in a Jet Provost trainer. He flew the Gnat and at Chivenor the Hunter, graduating to the Lightning at RAF Coltishall at the age of 25.

The Lightning supersonic aircraft was first considered in 1947. It had two engines mounted in the fuselage, one above the other which caused leaks of fuel from the top engine to the other and so was a fire risk. Les considered it heavy to control. It had limited radar range and its supersonic speed and limited fuel capacity meant it also had limited range, although both these deficiencies were addressed in later variants. With a top speed of Mach 2.3 it was faster than many planes flying today. It also had a higher ceiling than other aircraft, reaching a record 88,000 ft. Another problem was vibration from shock waves which led to design alterations. The Lightning entered operational service with the RAF in 1960 and remained in front line service until 1988.

We saw some spectacular photos of accidents, from some of which pilots escaped by ejection, but many caused deaths. Les said when on duty in Germany during a period of bad weather there was no such thing as a routine flight. Despite the many difficulties  encountered in flying the Lightning, apparently every pilot was willing to meet these challenges.

This was a fascinating inside story of one man’s experience of flying a pioneering aircraft.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 11.04.2024

On 11th April Ken Ingamells made a welcome return as speaker, this time with a marathon presentation about Iceland. Geologically it is the youngest island in the world. As a weather forecaster serving on weather ships in the Atlantic for six weeks at a time, he made regular trips to the country starting in 1952. When Princess Elizabeth visited the island in 1950 there was no suitable accommodation, so the mother ship for the British trawler fleet was refurbished and the shower was floored with teak and mahogany.  The captain decided after the visit that this was too good to be soaked with water, removed it and had it made into coffee table. He could then boast that that the Queen (as she became in 1952) had stood naked on his table!

Iceland’s history is relatively short. It is thought the Vikings first saw it about 500-600 AD but did not settle there at that time. There was trouble in Norway about 860 as the Vikings were under the Norwegian king’s authority, so they sought independence by settling in Iceland, calling in at the Faeroes and Scotland en route to pick up slaves. They decided they would settle where a wooden pillar with icons of Norse gods was washed up after they had cast it into the sea. The site was called Smoky Bay which is what Reykjavik means. As they did not want royalty, they established a people’s parliament nearby about 1000 AD, known as the Althing, which met annually with a Speaker in control. It decided punishments and can claim to be the oldest democratic parliament in the world.

Eric the Red was banished and landed in Greenland and his son Leif went one better, going further west to land in what is now Newfoundland, Canada where a settlement was founded called Vinland, although it didn’t last. He was the first European to land in North America, 500 years before the continent was “discovered” by Columbus.

There is little arable land in Iceland and when Denmark controlled Scandinavia, trade took place, supplying foodstuffs to the island. As Denmark was Christian so the Icelanders converted to Christianity as they owed allegiance to Denmark. At the Reformation Denmark became Protestant, adopting Lutheranism so the Icelanders followed suit and executed the Catholic bishops. There is now religious freedom in the country. Women have equal status with men, except in land tenure, as being physically weaker they are not able to look after as much land. 

The tradition of the country is that family names are not passed on, sons taking the suffix “son” e.g. Magnus Magnusson, and daughters the suffix “dottir”. Tracing family history must be difficult! Living in a place of long nights, time was spent on recording on skins the complete history of the country. Iceland is famous for its sagas.  Bad weather in the Middle Ages meant widespread starvation and there was a 40% drop in population but by the early 1900s, the population was about 100-200,000 and Iceland was largely autonomous, rather like the British Crown dependencies. In WW2 Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany and the movement to complete independence was a natural progression, effected in 1944. Iceland was the first country to have a woman president.

Ken now turned to the topography of the country, illustrated by his stunning photographs. Iceland sits on the European/American tectonic plate and as a result is splitting apart. It is dominated by earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers (an Icelandic word), glaciers and hot springs. In 2010 the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and caused major disruption to world aviation. The country makes good use of its natural resources with hot water piped to Reykjavik and the rivers dammed for hydroelectricity. As result, not having to use fossil fuels for power generation, Iceland is a very clean country.  As 85% of the 300,000 population lives in Reykjavik light pollution is non-existent over much of the island, giving spectacular views of the Northern Lights. Owing to felling, the island became treeless but in 1970 reafforestation started, fenced off to stop nibbling by sheep. Wildlife includes the Icelandic horse which a relic of the Viking horse and has a different gait. Eider ducks’ nest in mounds of seaweed and the down from their nests is used for bedding. Puffins are eaten by islanders as are sharks washed up on beaches after they start to rot. Fishing is a staple part of the economy as was whaling which is still carried on a small scale despite international conventions. Former whaling boats are now used for tourists. It was surprise to learn that for such a sophisticated country 50% of the population believe in the existence of “the little people”.

This was a comprehensive survey of Iceland by someone who knows it intimately and was much appreciated by members. It is a popular tourist destination but very expensive, particularly alcohol which, as in most Nordic countries, is highly taxed.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 4-04-2024

Our speaker on 4th April was our secretary Christian Lang.  The title of his talk was to have been “Can You Keep a Secret?” but owing to a broken memory stick it turned out to be about genealogy and family history, a subject he has spent 23 years researching.

The oldest family photo was of Robert Frankyn Lang 1765-1828. We also saw a very rare  group photograph of three generations of the family as many had  served in India. Christian’s grandfather was a vicar in England and had seven children and his father died in 1956.

Christian then set the scene by saying genealogists establish the pedigree, extracting evidence from valid sources. Family history disturbs the dead and irritates the living. One of his forebears was Sir Richard Dobbs, his 14th great grandfather who died in 1556 and was Lord Mayor of London, member of the Skinners’ Company and one of the founders of Christian’s school, Christ’s Hospital in London (now Horsham), established to enable children of poor parents to receive an education and thereby better themselves. He came from the Parish of Hemingbrough, Yorkshire, owned five houses, one of which was a mansion. Christian showed Lady Alice Dobbs’s will.

Individual pedigree is normally traced over six generations. Consanguinity is the fact of being descended from the same ancestor. A complication can arise over dates as the Catholic Church replaced the Julian calendar by the Gregorian in 1582 and this was adopted by Britain in 1752, the start of the new year also being altered from 25th March to January 1st.

Government records of the population started with the Census of 1841 and covered marriage, death, divorce, adoption and immigration. Held every ten years, they are available to the public until 1921, but not for Ireland as they were destroyed. In addition, a Register was set up in 1939 to record where everyone was. Other sources of information are Probate, Pensions/Social Security, Passenger Lists, Voter Registration, Taxes such as Hearth Tax, Window Tax, Land Valuations and religious records – Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage Funerals etc. There are numerous other sources of information such as telephone directories, workhouses, courts, deeds, conscription records, obituaries, school and university records and wills.

Historically, the Parish was the centre of local administration and in 1538 each parish church  had to have a chest to store records, with three locks, each key to be held by a different person. This lasted until 1837 when County records began with civil registration of births, marriages and deaths.

Now, of course, the internet is a prime source of information with Ancestry.com, Find my Past etc. Forces records are available including casualty lists of both World Wars, also newspaper archives. The East India Company kept comprehensive records from 1600 to 1833 when the Government took it over. The Lang family had many connections with India.

The Lang family website covers thirteen generations. Christian ran through the family website on the internet and demonstrated what could be done with photographs, including enhancing, colourizing and making them talk! The latter included a video of his great grandfather Edmund Edward Meyrick talking and moving, all done by AI, of course.

The subject of DNA arose and Christian explained how the longest segment of our DNA confirms the closeness of two persons’ relationship. He showed how this introduced him to two second cousins who he knew nothing about and now he has family he never knew existed.

Many people now undertake family research with varying degrees of success but this talk demonstrated what is possible, given time and infinite patience and the need to double-check information.

 

 

Alan Smith

P

PROBUS TALK 28.03.2024

Grenville’s talk on 28th March entitled “A background to our Lives” turned out to be about British light music. A Radio Times of 1948 set the scene with radio programmes divided between Home Service, Light Programme and Third Programme. TV was then in its infancy and few people possessed sets until the medium received a boost with the Coronation in 1953. Desert Island Discs first appeared in 1948.

We heard various signature tunes regularly used on the Light Programme such as Jack Strachey’s In Party Mood for Housewives’ Choice after the 9 o’clock news. On Saturdays, in the same slot, Edward White’s Puffin’ Billy heralded Children’s Favourites, Eric Coates’s Calling all Workers was used for Music while you Work, Charles Williams’s The Devil’s Gallup for the thriller Dick Barton, Ray Martin’s The Marching Strings for Top of the Form and Haydn Wood’s Horse Guards, Whitehall for Down your Way on Sunday afternoons and Vivian Ellis’s Alpine Pastures for My Word.

Light Music has a history going back to the eighteenth century with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and in the nineteenth with Arthur Sullivan. Light music developed with radio and led to the genre of film music specifically tailored to reflect the dramatic  and emotional aspects of the film. The emphasis was on melody and was mainly performed by orchestras and small ensembles. It had a thoroughly composed style and was programmatic.

Finally we heard various examples of light music :- the self-taught Elgar’s engagement present to his wife, Salut d’Amour, excerpts of work by Robert Farnon who wrote music for over forty films, Charles Williams who wrote music for fifty films, Haydn Wood’s Paris (Montmartre) and his most popular song , Roses of Picardy and Vivian Ellis’s Coronation Scot used for Paul Temple. Eric Coates’s Halcyon Days was used for The Forsythe Saga. It was the first movement of The Three Elizabeths. The photo sequence accompaniment was The Youth of Britain. (Princess Elizabeth the future Queen Elizabeth 11.

This was the usual thoughtful presentation we have come to expect from Grenville and brought back memories of the radio programmes of the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 21.03.24

Our speaker on 21st March was Sally Ferrers whose subject was Inigo Jones, Britain’s first  significant architect and Anthony Van Dyck, the Flemish baroque artist who became court painter to Charles1st.

Inigo (the name is Welsh) Jones was born in 1573, i.e. in the reign of Elizabeth 1st at a time when domestic buildings were commonly built of timber and infilled with wattle and daub. Even larger buildings were built the same way, as demonstrated by Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire. In Tudor times brick was used for palaces such as Hampton Court. Inigo Jones studied in Italy in 1603 and was the first to introduce classical architecture to England, based on the work of Andrea Palladio, whose Villa Capri of 1592 he had seen. Sally showed the  three column capitals, based on Greek architecture – Doric, Corinthian and Ionic and their use in Jones’s St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden which, when built ,overlooked a square as in a piazza in Italy. He also designed the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall which was used for hosting elaborate masques. In 1613 he was appointed Surveyor General of the King’s Works and embarked on theatrical work such as stage design in collaboration with the playwright Ben Jonson and inventing the proscenium arch. In 1625 James 1st died and was succeeded by Charles 1st.

Charles invited portrait painters to England. Rubens painted the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall and was feted for his work but as he didn’t get paid for two years he returned to Antwerp. Van Dyck also came to London and was appointed Court Painter. He was acquainted with Inigo Jones as, of course, both worked for the King. Sally showed us pictures of the many imposing buildings comprising Maritime Greenwich of which the Queen’s House in Greenwich Park was the first classical building in England, dating from 1616. Its striking feature is the Tulip staircase, the first unsupported staircase in Britain. Many of the other buildings at Greenwich were designed by Jones’s successor Wren, such as the Royal Observatory on the hill above the Park and the Royal Naval College which replaced the waterside Royal Palace.

In 1642 Charles’s insistence on The Divine Right of Kings which relieved him of the need to seek Parliament’s permission to raise taxes led to his untimely demise after a punishing Civil War which led to the defeat of the Royalist forces by Cromwell’s New Model Army. Inigo Jones’s property was confiscated like that of many others but returned to him later. He died in 1652. He was unmarried and it seems he was devoted to his work. Van Dyck painted Inigo Jones amongst his many royal  sitters.

Van Dyck was born in 1599 and became a successful artist in his late teens. He studied in the studio of Rubens. He was invited to London where saw Titian’s work. Sally showed us many examples of Van Dyck’s work including numerous examples of the royal family and other notables demonstrating his extraordinary skill. In 1639 he married Lady Mary Ruthven and went to Paris where Queen Henrietta had sought refuge. He died in 1641, aged 42 and was buried in  St. Paul’s Cathedral which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, to be replaced by Wren’s classical masterpiece.

This was an illuminating talk about a pioneer in architecture and one of the greatest artists to have worked in Britain. Many of the works of both men can be seen today.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 14.03. 2024

Our speaker on 14th March was Nigel Thompson on the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nigel has already given us talks on the two Roosevelts, both US Presidents.

Dwight was born in 1890, one of seven sons, all of whom were nicknamed Ike. Dwight was keen on hunting, fishing and cards, also military history, his favourite subjects at school being arithmetic and spelling. After graduation he entered West Point where he played football. Graduating from the military academy in 1915 he was one of 59 students who became general officers. In 1916 he married Mamie. He became an accomplished portraitist and landscape painter as well as a keen poker and bridge player. In WW1 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant but saw no active service. Appointed Major in 1919 he saw the future lay with mechanised warfare and, when an exercise was held to drive tanks across America from Washington DC to California, he was appalled to fine that the average speed attained was 5mph. He therefore advocated a major programme to provide a national road network which eventually materialised as the Interstate Highway System, justified on security grounds with the need to move military equipment round the country.

His career stalled in the difficult conditions of the1920s and 1930s. So called “Hoovervilles” grew up on the outskirts of the capital, created by those who had lost everything in the Great Depression. Many of these destitute people were WW1 veterans and the Army was ordered by President Hoover to clear them away. He thought market forces would solve the problem of the Great Depression, which was wishful thinking. The bitterness of the camps was exacerbated by the fact that most residents of Washington were Government employees and had not suffered from the Depression. General MacArthur was all for being heavy-handed and Ike’s antipathy to him dated from this time. Hoover was not re-elected, being replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ike learned to fly when an adviser to the Philippines Government, obtaining a pilot’s licence.  In 1941 Ike was appointed Brigadier-General and Asst. Chief of Staff to General George Marshall. Ike appointed Patton i/c the Eighth Army in North Africa over Monty. In 1942 Ike was appointed C in C American forces as Lt. General. In 1943 Monty’s victory at El Alamein was the turning point in North Africa and Rommel’s forces surrendered in 1943. 250,000 troops were taken prisoner, many of whom were held in America. After Italy’s total surrender in 1943 Ike became Supreme Commander Europe and oversaw Operation Overlord, the planned invasion of Europe in 1944, delayed from 1943. His elevation to this job was due to his ability to get people to work together, even Monty, who had opposed his appointment because he had never seen action.

Nigel played an excerpt from Ike’s speech to the invasion forces on 6th June 1944. Monty made the final plans. When the European war was concluded, Ike insisted that a detailed photographic record be made of Nazi atrocities so that no one could belittle the scale of what went on in the concentration camps (holocaust denial). Ike met Stalin in Moscow and became military commander of the US Zone in Berlin where he ensured the non-Nazi civilian population were looked after and not penalised. He had not agreed that the Allied forces should press on to Berlin and prevent the Russians from entering the city. In 1945 Ike was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army. He disagreed with the decision to use atom bombs against Japan but, as Supreme Commander of NATO, containment of communism was the aim as Ike had concluded that Stalin was worse than Hitler. Although Stalin died in 1953, and there were signs of improvements in the USSR, in fact the extension of the Communist system continued and the Cold War intensified.

In 1952 he stood for President with Nixon as his running mate to combat isolationist policies and reduce federal deficits. The expression ‘I like Ike’ was coined for the campaign. He won despite having held no previous political office. Despite having a heart attack in 1955 he stood again, successfully, in 1956 and was the last President to serve who had been born in the nineteenth century. The Constitution was amended to restrict a President to two terms. Ike had proposed Atoms for Peace but Kruschev was opposed to the necessary inspections. The open skies policy fell apart when Gary Powers, flying a high-altitude spy plane, was shot down. The launching of Sputnik space satellite was a profound shock to America and NASA was founded in 1958 to boost the US space programme, although Ike thought the notion of a putting a man on the Moon was “nuts”. Ballistic missiles such as Polaris were introduced which led to escalation of the Arms Race with the aim of Mutual Assured Destruction, appropriately known by the acronym MAD.

The Korean War ended in 1953 with an Armistice and the country remains divided to this day. Taiwan was confirmed as the legitimate government of China which also is the USA’s position today, however unrealistic that might appear. The battle for supremacy in French Indo China led to the USA’s disastrous intervention in South Vietnam in 1953 which tore America apart. In the Middle East the USA supported a military coup to achieve the return of the Shah of Iran in order to safeguard oil supplies, another policy which backfired. The UK, Israel and France were forced to withdraw from the Suez operation.  Ike opposed segregation and Civil Rights were enforced by deployment of Federal troops. McCarthyism continued, even the nuclear scientist Oppenheimer being accused of being a Soviet spy.

In 1956 the Interstate Highway system was eventually initiated, a personal hobby horse of Ike’s for over 35 years.

Despite his long military career, Ike commented on the cost of the military, coining the phrase “military-industrial complex” and warning that it could endanger personal liberties. Ike had increased health problems, no doubt exacerbated by being a heavy smoker all his life. He died in 1969, widely respected as one of the world’s greatest leaders and one of the top ten US Presidents.

Nigel’s presentation was a comprehensive  account of Ike’s life and achievements. His varied military and political career demonstrated he could be described as “A Man for all Seasons”.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 07.03.2024

Our speaker on 7th March was Kate Bellamy, a regular and popular speaker at the Club whose subject was The Joy of  False Memory. She quoted from Sir Frederic Bartlett’s book of 1932.  He was the first Professor of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge and the forerunner of cognitive and cultural psychology. He asked the question “how do we remember?” and undertook a scientific study into whether memory recall was accurate. He found by experiments starting in 1914 that our recall was dependent on gaps filled in with the aid of previous experience, cultural and personal habits rather than direct recollection of past events. Recall is therefore highly inaccurate which is why eyewitness accounts in courts are given low priority these days, particularly as cases are now taking so long to reach court. Scientific evidence such as DNA and fingerprints take precedence. People always see different things. Kate quoted the study which asked a group to watch a video and count how many passes were made at a basketball game. In the background was a gorilla but no one noticed!

Professor Elizabeth Loftus, expert on memory, said that if you don’t use your memory you use lose it. If that happens, you embellish it and suggestions from others can make you change your memory. Some people can’t recall true memory and have false recall.

Kate gave us a personal example concerning the 25th Challenger space shuttle launch in 1986. She was very keen on astronomy and space travel and bunked off school early to watch it. Her memory was that it was a beautiful summer’s day in England whereas it was in fact in January, but of course at the launch site in Florida there was blue sky. She pointed out that it was a troubled time for her, being at the awkward age of 13, her parents divorcing, losing her beloved dog to her father, also the fact that one of those on board the shuttle was a female teacher. She immediately gave up the idea of being an astronaut.  All these factors caused the false memory. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is now treated by removing the bad memory.

In answer to a question as to whether the media’s questioning of witnesses to an event contaminates evidence, Kate agreed and pointed out that after the 7/7 Underground bombing in 2005, the media were kept well back.

This was the usual thought-provoking presentation we have come to expect, delivered with humour and in a way that is always accessible, an art many teachers would do well to adopt, particularly for such a difficult subject. Kate’s talks are always looked forward to, but it seems that this may well be her last for us . If so, we shall miss her.

Alan Smith

Annual General Meeting

The AGM scheduled for 22nd February was postponed because of the threat of flooding so was held on 29th February.

At the AGM, Phil Bawn succeeded John Cotton as President. Christian devised a quiz to test our memories of last year’s Probus events, in place of the usual entertainment which it was not possible to re- arrange at short notice. We then enjoyed a buffet lunch laid on by Suzie.

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