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Probus Meetings 2023

President's Christmas Party
14.12.2023

The last meeting of our fiftieth anniversary year was held on 14th Decemberv2023 when we had the President’s Christmas Party. Steve Swarbrick tested our memories with one of his famous music quizzes and Tony Fowler wrapped up a clock and for a small fee we had to guess at what time it had stopped. This raised £42 for charity. As is traditional, a photograph was taken of all those wearing Christmas apparel.

We then enjoyed an excellent buffet by Suzie who was given a present to thank her for her superb cheerful service and helpfulness throughout the year.

It only remains for me to wish you all a happy Christmas and New Year. We meet again on 4th January 2024.

 

Alan Smith  

Probus Talk 07.12.2023
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Our speaker on 7th December was our member Tony Fowler who gave us a talk about his life, principally about his varied career. He was born in 1936 and lived at Dagenham on the Becontree estate which was the largest estate in Europe when built.  His father was in the RAF and served in both world wars. His schooling started in Dagenham but  his father was moved to Stafford and Hereford so he had to move schools. He was taken to his first football match in 1946 and has been a West Ham supporter ever since.
He started work in 1952 at the paint manufacturer Jenson & Nicholson in Stratford E15 as a lab assistant. After two years he was called up for National Service and joined the RAF, his first posting being at an airfield near Calne in Wiltshire where he served as a radar mechanic on Lancasters and Mosquitos. His final posting was at RAF Wittering where four Valiant V bombers were based which saw active service in Malta during the Suez conflict.
The end of his National Service coincided with the end of hostilities in Egypt and he returned to Jenson & Nicholson. He then applied for and got a job at Fords to work on computers handling paybills and also had six years with NCR. He ran through the various computer systems he worked on. In 1967 he moved to Barclays Bank, again working on computers in the City and at their computer centre at Willesden then as manager of their computer centre at Gloucester. He then changed to Management Services at Poole.
Unfortunately, Tony ran out of time before he could end his talk but his career ended when he took early retirement in 1994. His was an interesting example of how you can radically change your career and succeed in another quite unrelated field.

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 30.11. 2023
CANBERRA AIRCRAFT

Our speaker on 30th November was Kenneth Pinfield from Pershore Probus Club on the subject of Britain’s most successful military aircraft, the English Electric Canberra. 1352 were built in total and there 40 variants. Its genesis was in 1944 when a jet replacement for the wartime Mosquito light bomber was planned by the Government. The contenders were English Electric, Vickers, Handley Page and Avro. The contract for  the first jet bomber was won by English Electric and the first prototype flew in 1949. It was demonstrated at the Farnborough Air Show later that year. Such was the demand that production was also  undertaken by Avro, Handley Page and Shorts.

Interest was shown by Australia and the plane was named Canberra. 1n 1951 the aircraft entered squadron service with the RAF. The photo reconnaissance and trainer versions entered service in 1952, the latter remaining in service until 2005.

In 1954 Canberras saw active service in Malaya, based in Singapore, also the Suez operation when one was shot down over Syria when undertaking photo reconnaissance. The B(I)8 night intruder high altitude bomber version, 25 of which were built in Belfast, entered service in 1955. The last Canberra was retired from service in the RAF in 2006.

USA

After being demonstrated in America, Martin obtained the right to build the Canberra under licence for the US and Canadian Air Forces and 403 were built, known as B57. They were used in Vietnam and retired in 2013. Some were transferred to NASA and three are still used, based at Houston.

Australia

48 B20 Canberras were built under licence in Australia and used in Malaya,

Sales abroad

The Canberra had the best sales abroad of any British military aircraft and was bought by sixteen air forces  worldwide. It saw active service in Korea, Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistan war, Iraq and Afghanistan. The photo reconnaissance version also saw service  in Northern Ireland, Falklands and over western Russia and taking air samples over atomic bomb test sites in Australia in the 1950s

Meteorological Research

The Canberra was used for improving weather forecasting as it was capable of reaching high altitudes. The NASA Canberras are used on this work amongst other duties.

World Records

The Canberra held world several world records:-

1951 first non-stop unrefuelled jet flight across the Atlantic

!952 first double crossing of Atlantic by a jet

1953 winner of Christchurch Air Race in 23 hours 51 minutes at average speed of 515 mph

1957 holder of altitude record of 70,310 ft.

The longevity of the Canberra was unrivalled-  XH131 entered service in 1958 and was not retired until 2006. Apart from the NASA aircraft, ten airworthy Canberras are in private hands

This comprehensive survey of a notable British achievement in the competitive world of aviation was well told. English Electric was one of the  most successful  British companies and apart from the skill of the engineering design staff, the quality of the management was demonstrated by its lack of industrial action.

 

Alan Smith

 

 

 

PROBUS TALK 23.11.2023

Our speaker on 23rd November was Peter Crump whose subject was Japan, an account of what he found on his visit there in 2008.

After a potted history of modern Japan starting with 1570, the year the Portuguese became the first Europeans to visit the country and finishing with the end of General Macarthur’s military control in 1952, Peter went on to describe the Japanese as very traditional with standards of behaviour being handed down over the generations. Outside the capital it is common to see traditional dress such as the kimono. Geisha girls are still part of life. Like the Chinese, the Japanese are great gamblers. The tourist sites are listed so that the lesser sights do not get the same attention.

Japan is larger than the UK and its population is over double. The country is very mountainous, with numerous active volcanoes, it has high annual rainfall and, as the upland areas are subject to landslides, all habitation is concentrated in the coastal plains, so it is more densely populated than the UK.

98.5% of the population practises Shinto although there are also Buddhist shrines. 30 million people live in Tokyo so the subway map was impressively complicated. Although signs in English are displayed in the capital this does not apply outside Tokyo.

It was interesting to see the interior of Japanese houses which have minimal furniture, which makes British houses seem rather cluttered. You eat on the floor from a very low table. The gardens have no flowers the emphasis being on shapes and textures.

A visit to a market revealed the amount and variety of fish available. With the limited amount of land available agriculture is small scale and most food is imported although the country is self sufficient in the staple food, rice.

We saw a selection of other big cities including, of course, Hiroshima and the port of Nagasaki the targets of the first and second atom bombs in 1945. Oddly, the memorial at the latter place is much more impressive than that at Hiroshima.

This was a most informative presentation, much more than just the tourist sights, from a most perceptive observer.

 

 Alan Smith

PROBUS Anniversary Lunch 16.11.2023

To celebrate the founding of The Probus Club of Evesham in 1973 a Golden Anniversary Lunch was held at the Evesham Vale Golf and Country Club on 16th November. The role of MC was ably performed by our Vice President, Phil Bawn. Our President John Cotton welcomed everybody and mentioned those members who were unable to attend.

Oliver Lister, the President of the Rotary Club of Evesham, was a guest and he reminded us that the Evesham branch of Probus was founded by a member of Rotary and he expressed the wish that the two organisations should develop closer links, a sentiment which was echoed by our President.

Our former President, Clive Allen, gave us a short reminder of past events.  The 40th anniversary was unusually held on a Sunday night, as that was the only time the guest speaker, Alastair McGowan, could manage. All the guests the Club could muster such as local councillors were invited for maximum publicity purposes.  Bob Young’s term as President finished with a very successful Burns night. Clive also mentioned the 25th Anniversary when Ronnie Barlow, a founder member, spoke about the Club’s aim to broaden knowledge and make friends, which I think many members would agree it fulfils admirably. Clive also mentioned the move from the BBC Club to the present venue, Evesham Rowing Club, which facilitated free and easy access and made meetings more sociable, also more members stayed after the meeting and patronised the bar. For his exceptional work over the years Clive was presented with The Probus Club of Evesham Gold Award.

Our guest speaker was the President’s brother, Bob Cotton OBE, who outlined his career in the hotel business rising to the top of the hospitality sector, becoming a government adviser on tourism. One aspect of his career he mentioned was that how much luck plays a part and how important it is to be able to recognise and take advantage of opportunities, when they arise.

In response to a toast to the ladies, Christina Ireland said how much partners enjoyed the social events and outings and the fact that widows of past members were also invited.

Entertainment was provided by The Harvington Haulaways who gave a rousing rendition of sea shanties.

In his closing remarks our President thanked the Committee for organising such a successful and enjoyable event to mark the significant milestone of fifty years, the Golf Cub for providing an excellent meal and for the fact that we meet weekly. As his family lived remotely from Evesham he regarded the Club as his family and it was reassuring to know that if members were ill somebody contacted them and widows of former members were not forgotten either.

This was an occasion  to remember and we now look forward to the Christmas party.

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 02.11.2023

PROBUS TALK 02.11.2023

 

The speaker on 2nd November was our member Grenville Burrows with an account of his stay at his second home in South West France last year. With a nod to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with A Donkey in the Cevennes” his talk was entitled “Travels with a Škoda”. The car dates back to 1977 and had given no trouble…. until this trip.

The talk was divided into three sections:-

  1. Triumph of Fabia, 2. Fabia’s easy summer and 3. Trials of Modestine. Fabia is the model of his car and Modestine was the name of Stevenson’s wayward donkey.

Grenville started with a description of the journey south via Newhaven-Dieppe, with a look at the some of the places en route, Rouen, Dreux (twinned with Evesham), Chartres, Limoges, Rocamadour and Cahors. He mentioned the sign indicating Le Pays d’Oc which marks the boundary between Northern and Southern France, once a linguistic boundary.

Chateau Grenville as he called it, is in Dondas, a small commune near Agen. He described the village and the life of the area, including a mobile fish and chip van! Thanks in part to the French Revolution there is little historical record of such places surviving, in contrast to the plentiful material available in this country.

As it was very hot Grenville’s travels were restricted to local trips, hence Fabia’s easy summer. Among the places featured was Nérac on the Baïse which is almost certainly the place described in Joanne Harris’s novel, Chocolat.

The trials of Fabia started towards the end of Grenville’s return to Dieppe when he noticed the engine racing and the clutch slipping. At Rouen the inevitable happened and Fabia turned into Modestine and refused to go any further. This was on 5th September. The company who managed the motorway towed him away after being assured that he had insurance cover and he was taken to a hotel in Rouen. He was able to spend a few days sightseeing, which included the place where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake and a Son et Lumière show on the west front of the cathedral. After having to change hotels he was then taken by taxi to Dieppe and he caught the ferry back to Newhaven and so back to Evesham on 10th September. Four days later he was advised the car had been repaired. On 17th September he returned to France to collect his car - by train to Newhaven, ferry to Dieppe and train to Rouen.

We have all had some problems on holidays abroad but this was in a category of its own. Our thanks to Grenville for showing us some of the attractions to be seen in France and hearing of his travails.

 

Alan Smith  

The speaker on 2nd November was our member Grenville Burrows with an account of his stay at his second home in South West France last year. With a nod to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with A Donkey in the Cevennes” his talk was entitled “Travels with a Škoda”. The car dates back to 1977 and had given no trouble…. until this trip.

The talk was divided into three sections:-

  1. Triumph of Fabia, 2. Fabia’s easy summer and 3. Trials of Modestine. Fabia is the model of his car and Modestine was the name of Stevenson’s wayward donkey.

Grenville started with a description of the journey south via Newhaven-Dieppe, with a look at the some of the places en route, Rouen, Dreux (twinned with Evesham), Chartres, Limoges, Rocamadour and Cahors. He mentioned the sign indicating Le Pays d’Oc which marks the boundary between Northern and Southern France, once a linguistic boundary.

Chateau Grenville as he called it, is in Dondas, a small commune near Agen. He described the village and the life of the area, including a mobile fish and chip van! Thanks in part to the French Revolution there is little historical record of such places surviving, in contrast to the plentiful material available in this country.

As it was very hot Grenville’s travels were restricted to local trips, hence Fabia’s easy summer. Among the places featured was Nérac on the Baïse which is almost certainly the place described in Joanne Harris’s novel, Chocolat.

The trials of Fabia started towards the end of Grenville’s return to Dieppe when he noticed the engine racing and the clutch slipping. At Rouen the inevitable happened and Fabia turned into Modestine and refused to go any further. This was on 5th September. The company who manged the motorway towed him away after being assured that he had insurance cover and he was taken to a hotel in Rouen. He was able to spend a few days sightseeing, which included the place where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake and a Son et Lumière show on the west front of the cathedral. After having to change hotels he was then taken by taxi to Dieppe and he caught the ferry back to Newhaven and so back to Evesham on 10th September. Four days later he was advised the car had been repaired. On 17th September he returned to France to collect his car - by train to Newhaven, ferry to Dieppe and train to Rouen.

We have all had some problems on holidays abroad but this was in a category of its own. Our thanks to Grenville for showing us some of the attractions to be seen in France and hearing of his travails.

 

Alan Smith   

PROBUS TALK 26.10.2023

Title: On the Road to London – Presented by David Ella

Local resident David Ella gave us an interesting and detailed talk on how roads developed in England from rough tracks to Turnpikes, concentrating especially on the Cotswold area.

Back in AD700 local paths were controlled by the Abbey under local charters. Right back to Roman times the transportation of salt was important and one of the major sources was Droitwich. This type of salt was much saltier than sea salt from salt pans etc and was in great demand. Around 1000 tons/year were being transported from Droitwich in Roman times; increasing to 3000t/yr. by the 17th century. This traffic produced the Salt Roads some of which are still recognisable across the Cotswolds. It was important to keep the salt dry so many of these roads were on high ground avoiding the damp valleys.

The power to transport the salt initially came from horses with a load capability of 100kg then wagons capable of 6t. Road gradients, particularly at the Cotswold Edge, were a problem and ideally were limited to 5% or 7% compared to a walking limit of 20%. Additional horses were required to climb the gradients.

Early maps covered the geography of the area but failed to show any roads. Roads were first shown on maps around 1700 on Gough’s Map of Britain, while in 1570 Saxton’s Map had showed river bridges but not roads? The first fold up map was produced in 1644 and again roads were omitted.

1675 saw the publication of the world’s first road map produced by John Ogilby. This map did not show a route through Evesham and had some rather odd standard routes such as London to Montgomery and London to Aberystwyth. 1671 saw the first mail coach from London to Oxford, calling at many locations to change horses.

The Evesham Roads Act was passed in 1728 and proposed a new turnpike road to run from the top of Broadway Hill (which was not yet called Fish Hill), Evesham decided travellers should pass through the town rather than skirting it on the old roads, choosing a route direct from Broadway through Wickhamford, to Bengeworth, and then across Evesham Bridge into the town. Once in town the turnpike route turned north up Greenhill before turning left onto The Squires, ending at Stonebow Bridge north of Pershore where it met the Worcester Turnpike.

Pershore was upset by Evesham’s proposal, claiming their own route through Childswickham and Hinton was the best road to London. Pershore published a pamphlet and immediately submitted a petition to the House of Commons stating their point of view. A compromise was finally agreed.

Local landowners set up the Vale of Evesham Road Club in 1792 to encourage road building and maintenance. Up to the late 17th Century, the busiest road from London to Worcester did not run through the town of Evesham. This road ran from Moreton-in-Marsh to Broadway, where it forked left to run through Childswickham, Hinton Cross, Little Comberton and Pershore. Up to the early 1800s most roads were a mixture of stone and mud which became very difficult to travel on. The introduction of McAdam in 1811 followed by Tarmac in 1904 transformed the road surface dramatically improving the accessibility.

The opening of Evesham’s railway station in 1852 was the death knell for the coaching business. Rail was three times faster and a third of the cost. Coach companies closed overnight.

David illustrated his talk with many interesting maps that showed the development of paths, ways and roads in this area. Some of these maps are held in the Ashmolean and Bodleian Oxford museums. Later this year an exhibition on roads will be opened at the Broadway Museum so members will be able to delve further into how and why the road system was created in this area.

Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 19.10.2023

Probus Talk 19.10.2023

As part of the Club’s 50th anniversary, instead of a speaker, nine former presidents were invited to say a few words about their term as President. The session was introduced by the member with the longest membership, Peter Penney, himself a former President, supported with photos by Clive Allen, also a former President.

In chronological order of service Bob Young (2013) started, mentioning the time when Alastair McGowan came to speak and impersonate members. As a native of Evesham, his father had been a member. A Burns night was held which was a great success. Bob also noted the move to informality in the Club so far as dress was concerned.

Jim Cox (2014) praised the fact that the Club was able to meet weekly. He also commented on the fact the former venue, the BBC Club (now Ecgwins) was more intimate.

Brian Melville (2015) mentioned that at the BBC Club everybody had their usual seats and woe betide anybody who sat in “their” seat. He commented on the variety of people the Club attracts and finished by saying the Club should not solely concentrate on the past but look forward.

Brian Ireland (2016) recalled previous members and also read out a list of members who joined during his term, which included myself.

Grenville Burrows (2018) recalled that, when he joined, he was one of only two not wearing a tie. His philosophy was that we should be judged on what we are, not what we have been. He was introduced to the Club by George Bourne (President 2017), a figure prominent in local affairs and, with a nod to Groucho Marx, thought if George was in the Club he’d also like to be a member.

Bill Underwood (2019) recalled Cecil Slocombe whose name is commemorated by the cup presented annually by the Club to a member of Prince Henry’s School. He also told of the time when he had to start the meeting when no speaker was present but was assured by Steve Swarbrick not to worry. At the due time he introduced a belly dancer which must have shocked some members. There were two crises during his term, the resignation of George Bourne over the Committee deciding it was unable to contribute to Shopmobility (George eventually rejoined) and the possibility of being without a Secretary as Clive was thinking of giving up but was persuaded to continue.

Peter Penney (2020) had an unfortunate term as he became President two weeks before Covid Lockdown. He also mentioned that when he joined few members used email and how things had changed since the 1990s. One of the talks he recalled was by a lady whose profession was a thatcher, which enabled the Club to report that a lady thatcher had visited Evesham.

Clive Allen (2021) thought that sometimes he was fated. Today both his hearing aids had failed. He reported that Club membership went up and down but increased when Chris Donough was Press Secretary. Prior to becoming President he passed the Secretaryship to Christian Lang who by general consent had made an excellent job of it.

Finally, we heard from the inimitable Nigel Jenkins (2022) whose weekly stories of everyday farming folk made the Archers look pretty tame and are sorely missed. Nigel made the very valid point about people talking to each other, which is not easy as members tend to sit at the same table with the same people each week. He cited the late Cliff Blackborrow who did his utmost to get members to move around. On a personal note, I well remember Cliff as it was he who made me feel welcome when I first arrived, not knowing what to expect. Other tentative members had a similar experience.

The session ended with our current President echoing the theme of friendship, particularly important when you lose your partner.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 12.10.2023

On 12th October our speaker was David Shannon, a retired judge talking about Humour in Court. He quoted various examples of amusing incidents in Court many of which he admitted verged on black humour. My favourite was the barrister who noticed one of the jurors had fallen asleep and asked the judge whether he should wake him. The judge said you sent him to sleep, you wake him.  He admitted to two complaints to the Lord Chancellor about him, one of which related a mobile phone ringing in court, despite an order being given at the start of the session to turn them off. The culprit was warned that a repetition would be a contempt of court. It rang again and the person was escorted to the cells. Unfortunately, David forgot about him until he received a call that night about when the person should be released and this delay prompted the complaint.

David broadened his theme into a series of other anecdote and jokes about relationships and human foibles which are the bread and butter of court proceedings.

On a more serious note, David emphasised that the reduction in funds involving closure of courts forcing clients to travel further and the reduction in legal aid was affecting the dispensing of justice, proving the old adage that justice delayed is justice denied. He also mentioned that the prisons were overcrowded and that many offenders should not be there, but the judiciary had to sentence offenders in accordance with the legislation laid down by Parliament.

This was an informative and entertaining talk, much appreciated by members.

 

Alan Smith

Visit to RAF Museum Cosford 05.10.2023

Our Probus Group enjoyed a visit to the Royal Air Force Museum located in Cosford
Shropshire. This museum is dedicated to the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force in
particular.
The Cosford Museum was opened at RAF Cosford in 1979, On opening, the museum
initially exhibited airframes which had been used for technical training at RAF Cosford. In
the following years additional aircraft were added to the collection, and in 1980 it was
agreed that the British Airways Collection be displayed at Cosford. In June 1998 four
additional galleries were opened, housing art, temporary exhibitions and other aviation
subjects.
The Cosford site includes several developmental aircraft such as those that led to the
English Electric Lightning and the second prototype of the BAC TSR-2. A lot of the aircraft
are very rare, such as the only Boulton Paul Defiant in the world and one of only two
surviving Vickers Wellingtons left in the world.
The Museum includes the National Cold War Exhibition opened at Cosford in February
2007. This exhibition houses the museum's V bombers and other Cold War aircraft in a
newly constructed 8,000m2 exhibition building.
Our Group had a guided tour covering the highlights of the museum including the
Supermarine Spitfire and other WW11 aircraft alongside their armaments.
An interesting and reflective day for us all.
Bob Turner

PROBUS MEETING 28.09.2023

 Title: Charlie Chaplin Part 2

This was the second part of the presentation by Paul Murphy on the Amazing Charlie Chaplin. The first part was presented in July.

Paul picked up the story with Charlie arriving in the USA in 1913 as part of the Fred Karno troupe. Charlie was at the time earning £7/week increased when in the USA to $25/week.

He was spotted by Max Sennett of Keystone Cops fame who offered Charlie $150/week. However, his early days with the group did not go well with Charlie being cast as a dark sinister person giving no opportunity to use his comic talent.

While making a Keystone Cops film – “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” Charlie was sent back stage to change into something more suited to comedy. Charlie chose the now well-known attire of tight jacket, bowler hat, walking stick and small moustache that we now instantly recognise.

Coming back onto the set with his funny walk and walking stick everyone stopped work and laughed, his talent for comedy was now obvious to all.

17 films, all 1-reel 20mins long and silent, followed in the next 2 years.

A new company Essanay Films formed in 1907 managed to tempt Charlie away from Keystone offering him an initial fee of $10,000 and $1250/week as well as his own production unit. 12 films were made in the next few years and Charlie regarding this as his happiest times. His weekly wage increased to $10,000!

Interestingly his understudy was Stanley Jefferson (who became Stan Laurel) who had accompanied Charlie at part of the Fred Karno team over to the USA.

Charlie was meticulous in his film directing, an example being the retaking of the famous “eating the sole of his shoe” scene from The Gold Rush film, retaken no less than 22 times!

Charlie wanted the freedom of his own production company so formed United Artists in 1919 with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks He carried on making silent films while the rest of the industry was developing talkies; but Charlie’s performance didn’t really need words it was excellent visual comedy.

Approaching more challenging topics he made “The Great Dictator” in 1940, which was his first sound film. The US Government didn’t appreciate the black comedy alongside their intentions to keep out of WW2. But apparently Hitler enjoyed it!

Rampant McCarthyism in the late 40s caused great difficulties for the film industry in the US but Charlie having his own United Artists company avoided most of the restrictions.

In 1951 he made Limelight now regarded as one of his best films. Charlie wrote, produced and directed this film as well as being the leading actor and composing the musical score.

Charlie had never applied for American Citizenship and while in England in the 1950’s his visa was rescinded by the US due to concerns about communism. Rather than attempting to go back to the USA Charlie moved to Geneva setting up home in a spectacular mansion on the lakeside.

He continued making films right into the 1970’s and received an honorary Oscar in 1972. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975.

He died in his sleep on Christmas Day 1977, his death was covered by front page banner headlines right around the world.

The scope of his talent spread to more than great films. He also composed hit songs performed by leading artists such as Petula Clark and Nat King Cole.

An amazing life indeed!

Bob Turner

PROBUS MEETING 14.09.2023

KILIMANJARO

 

On 14th September David Morgan made a welcome return visit with his wife Jackie to talk about their 1968 ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Situated in Tanzania, very near the Kenyan border, it is known as the Roof of Africa. This is not a rock climb, just a long walk, the main difficulty being the altitude which defeats many aspiring to reach the summit as oxygen is not used. A week was spent at 5000 ft. to acclimatise before the ascent was tackled.

The mountain is a dormant volcano and has two peaks, Kibo and Mawenzi, Kibo being the higher at 19,340 ft. above sea level. On the trail are three huts for overnight stays. There were four in the party, accompanied by a guide, assistant guide and eight porters. The start is in an area of intense cultivation (coffee etc.) passing up through more sparse vegetation into the forest belt. The first hut is at 9000 ft. followed by rain forest then grassland. It was a gentle walk but exhausting because of the thin air. The second hut is at 12,000 ft by which time it was quite cold. On Day 3, all water has to be carried as it was now alpine desert, the saddle between the two peaks, and frequent rests were needed. The last hut at 15,000 ft. was near the Tanzania/Kenya border. Day 4 started at 4 a.m. over scree. in total darkness, the only light being the guide’s paraffin lantern. The crater at 18,652 ft. was covered in snow, although there is less snow now and the glaciers are receding. When the summit, Uhuru, was reached it was misty. It was snowing on the descent before they reached the rain forest. We saw some spectacular photos of the icy conditions as well as some aerial shots of the mountain taken from an airliner.

David finished with an account of his subsequent connection with Tanzania through the twinning of Redditch with the Tanzanian port of Mtwara near the Mozambique border. David is the Publicity Officer for Redditch One World Link.  Assistance is given to schools in the area to provide porridge so that children can start the day with a meal. In addition to the usual aims of sharing cultures, developing friendships and arranging exchange visits, ROWL provides support with health, trade and training.

It was inspiring to learn that foreign travel and adventures should have led David and Jackie to help a developing country in this practical way.

Alan Smith

PROBUS MEETING 31.08.2023

FROM RICHES TO RAGS

Enigmatic titles for talks have the habit of springing surprises and our Vice-President Phil Bawn’s presentation on 31st August was no exception.

It was about India and was prompted by the report of the death in January 2023 of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mukarram Jah. He was born in 1933, educated in UK and inherited the title in 1967, becoming the eighth Nizam. By then the post was titular and in 1971 he lost his titles and privy purse.  His grandfather, the seventh Nizam was said to have been the richest man in the world.

Mukarram Jah had a fleet of vehicles including Rolls Royces, six palaces, an extensive collection of jewellery and owned the Golconda diamond mines. He married five times, had 140 children, 42 concubines and a huge number of retainers. With all the claims on his wealth (including divorces and failed business ventures) the palaces deteriorated and it is not surprising that his wealth gradually evaporated.

In 1973 he went to Australia and purchased a sheep station which never made any money. He sold it in 1996 and moved to Turkey where he died in penury in 2023.

The Golconda diamond mines produced the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond which was first  recorded in the 17th century. It was one of the largest cut diamonds in the world. Possession passed to Britain under the Treaty of Lahore in which ended the Anglo-Sikh war. It was formally presented to Queen Victoria in 1849. Prince Albert decided it should be cut which was done in 1852. It now forms part of the Royal Collection.

Phil’s final subject was Clive of India who was a hero at the time but whose reputation rapidly declined when the scale of his fortune acquired in India became widely known.  Robert Clive was born near Market Drayton, Shropshire in 1725 where, as a teenager, he ran a protection racket threatening local shopkeepers with vandalism unless they paid up. As he was out of control his father obtained a position for him with the East India Company. He sailed for India in 1744 and worked as a clerk for two years but studied to improve his education. At the time that area of India was under the rule of local viceroys including the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Europeans in India were in competition for trade and treaties with the viceroys and had armies to protect their interests. Clive joined the East India Co.’s army and despite lack of military training he was very successful.

Clive married in 1753 and returned to England for two years becoming a MP. When he returned to India in 1755 he lost a fortune when one of the ships in the convoy sank. (The hoard of gold coins was recovered in 1977.) The British lost control of Calcutta in 1756 and 123 of the 146 British prisoners perished in the famous Black Hole prison. With naval support, Clive recaptured the city. Clive’s next victory was over the Nawab of Bengal at Plassey in 1757, fought in a monsoon. This established British control of Bengal. The Nawab’s treasury was appropriated and Clive personally benefited, as was the custom at the time. Clive was appointed Governor of Bengal and corruption was widespread.

In 1760 Clive returned to England for health reasons. He had acquired a fortune. He was awarded an Irish peerage and sat as a MP. He returned to India in 1765 and tried to reform the East India Co. which had become the de facto government of Bengal but was mired in corruption. He left India in 1767 and faced corruption charges but was exonerated stating “he was astonished by his moderation”! The company was however reformed. Robert Clive died in 1774, possibly by suicide, as he was in excruciating pain from gallstones.

Our thanks go to Phil for this presentation which entailed a lot of research.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS MEETING 24.08.2023

On 24th August we had a relaxing break from intellectual speakers when Ray Pettit organised a game “Higher or Lower”, ably assisted by Brian Stephens. Ten cards were set up and the first was placed face up and the idea was to guess whether the next card was higher or lower. Each table formed a team and took it in turn to guess. A score was kept but a small prize was given to each team anyway.

At the end of the game the President said he had never heard so much laughter at a Probus meeting. Everybody enjoyed the morning, particularly your scribe as he had an easy task for once.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS MEETING 17.08.2023

On 17th August we had a presentation by visiting Probus member Nigel Thompson on Theodore Roosevelt, rated as one of the top five US presidents, a champion of the people and an embodiment of the American ‘can do’ attitude. He was larger than life so a short account of his life was a difficult task.

The son of Dutch immigrants, he was born in 1858. As a child he witnessed Lincoln’s funeral procession. He had a sick childhood but was an avid reader with a keen interest in zoology which is hard to equate with his later reputation as a big game hunter. He overcame his asthma by concentrating on vigorous outdoor activities. He was able to write in French, German, Italian and Latin. From a young age he wrote on natural history and his account of the naval war of 1812 is regarded as a classic. He was indeed a polymath (and an Anglophile).

He started law school but dropped out. He started on his political career as a member of the New York State Assembly in 1882, then becoming Commissioner on the US Civil Service Commission, President of the New York Board of Police Commissioners, Assistant Secretary to the Navy and Governor of New York State. He left politics in 1884 for a time after his first wife and mother both died on the same night and following an unsuccessful bid to be a candidate in the Republican election campaign. The election was won by Democrat Grover Cleveland. He started ranching in North Dakota but a severe winter wiped out his herd of cattle and he lost a lot of money. (He had inherited a fortune when his father died).

He was appointed Secretary to the Navy at the time when the US was at war with Spain following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Bay in 1898.  This may have been nothing to do with Spain but it provided the USA with an excuse to drive the Spanish out of the Caribbean.  Theodore then resigned and formed a volunteer cavalry division and fought in two battles against the Spanish army. After the cessation of hostilities the US acquired Cuba, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

As Governor of New York he took on the ‘Robber Barons’ – the industrialists Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Carnegie and Vanderbilt in his famous ‘Square Deal’ campaign to break the monopolies of the great corporations whose policies he described as ‘enslavement of the people’.

In November 1899 Theodore became Vice-President to McKinley, the previous Vice-President having died. McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and so Theodore stepped up to the top job to become the 26th President. He initiated legislation to set up National Parks and Forests and the Antiquities Act to preserve ancient monuments. He brokered a peace deal at the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 with Czar Nicholas II giving Russia an ice-free port in the Pacific, Port Arthur in Manchuria, leased from the Chinese, which led to ant-American riots in Japan.

The French had attempted to build a canal in Panama which would have been vital to American trade but had been defeated by horrific losses of the workforce from malaria. Theodore supported Panama’s independence from Colombia and negotiated a deal whereby the land for the canal became US territory (the Canal Zone). With improved medical facilities in place the USA completed the canal which opened in 1914.

Theodore did not stand at the 1908 election which was won by William Howard Taft for the Republicans. Theodore then went on safari to east and central Africa during which over 11000 animals were killed which were brought back, mounted and displayed at the Smithsonian and the New York Museum of Natural History. This was followed by a European tour during which discussions were held which eventually led to the formation of the League of Nations.

In the meantime there were severe tensions developing in the Republican Party. As he had not served two full terms as President, Theodore stood again but failed to win the Republican nomination.  He left the party and formed the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party. At a campaign meeting he was shot but survived and incredibly he completed his speech before receiving treatment. Although Theodore received more votes than Taft, the election was won by the Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Theodore then left politics and went on safari to South America in 1913.  He contracted tropical fever complicated by the infection from the bullet which was still lodged in his body and came close to death. He completed the expedition and returned to America in 1914. He never fully recovered his health and he died in his sleep in 1919.

After a selection of Theodore’s memorable quotes such as “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, Nigel summarised his life and achievements including a photo of him at dinner with an African American man which at the time was shocking, segregation and racial prejudice not being confined to the southern states.

This was a most informative talk and we look forward to Nigel’s next presentation on another Roosevelt who became a distinguished President, Theodore’s cousin Franklin.

 

Alan Smith 

PROBUS MEETING 10.08.2023

Instead of our usual format of having a speaker, our member Chris Donough introduced a discussion on the topic of “There but for the grace of God go I”. The standard definition of this phrase is when you have narrowly escaped a disaster, such as missing a flight and finding out later the plane had crashed. Chris started off with an account of visiting Job Centres in South Devon as part of his work. The next day, 3rd October 1974, a man had entered the office in Torquay, one of those he had visited, and shot dead three members of staff.

Other members had been asked to contribute their experiences. Bob Young recounted driving along the A74 from Glasgow on 19th December 1988 and seeing a major fire near Lockerbie and the traffic being held up. It was, of course, the ill-fated Pan Am flight 103 brought down by a terrorist bomb. Not only did all on board perish but also several people on the ground. The incident caused major disruption as the emergency services closed all roads except for the emergency services. As Bob was familiar with the area he was able to find an alternative route and continue to his journey to Macclesfield where he then lived.

Jin Cox recounted an incident when he was a flying instructor in the RAF. In low cloud the pupil was returning to RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire and was informed he was No. 7 in the queue to land. It was then realised they were low on fuel and would have make an emergency landing which was done on a field close to the A46. They ploughed through a hedge and landed safely. When the site was examined next day it was found there were two elm trees in the hedge either side of the aircraft which they had not seen at the time.

Dirk Doorduyn, Tony Fowler and Clive Allen recounted road accidents they had been involved in which could easily have been fatal.

Peter Marshall’s contribution was rather different as it had a beneficial outcome, in fact it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. There had been a problem with the heat exchanger at a nuclear power station and there was pressure from the Government to put it right. Peter was about to be made redundant by Rolls Royce after it went bust in 1971 three months after he had joined AI Ltd but because of the heat exchanger contract he kept his job. He did a presentation on what he had done to solve the problem and, unknown to him, two medical researchers who attended copied the equipment. The ultrasonic equipment, now one tenth the size, but with the same specification, is being used by most health services around the world to inspect the inside of the human body and for the imaging of the unborn child.

James Love recounted scuba diving in Malta in 1966 and making a 120ft. dive with an aqualung with full face mask. He entered a hole in a rock and had to back out slowly by which time he had no air and then couldn’t return to the surface too quickly to avoid “the bends”. A near escape!

Bob Young returned to recount another experience, this time during his apprenticeship. He was making boiler stays for a steam locomotive when he had an accident and very nearly killed someone.  He wasn’t sacked as he was convinced he would be, but naturally the incident haunted him.

The aim of Chris in devising the meeting was the laudable one of enabling members to know each other better. It certainly set me thinking later about various incidents such as the time when I used Kings Cross underground station every day for work. Returning home one evening (18.11.1987) my blood ran cold when I heard about the disastrous fire and loss of life at the station I had passed through only an hour or so earlier.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 03.08.2023

Tim Barney was our speaker on 3rd August, the title of his talk being “Mad, Bad and Dangerous”, the subject being military ideas and inventions that failed to make the grade. It was a catalogue of errors, misplaced confidence and wishful thinking. Another common factor in military projects was the lack of exhaustive testing because of the pressure to put the product into service, especially in wartime. As Tim said, you can’t make things foolproof as fools are ingenious.  Space precludes describing all the projects he covered but here is a selection.

The Christmas Bullet biplane designed by Dr. Christmas, an American medical doctor with no aeronautical experience, was described as the worst plane ever constructed. Both prototypes crashed, killing the pilots. The B2c biplane was used extensively by the RAF for reconnaissance over the Western Front in WW1 but was outclassed by German aircraft and was easily shot down. In WW2 the Germans used an extraordinary rocket propelled interceptor aircraft, the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. It had a very limited range and was dangerous to fly on account of the volatile nature of the propellant used to power it. It took off from a dolly as it had no undercarriage and landed on a skid both of which were fraught with risk. The XF84 was an experimental turboprop development of the F84 Thunderstreak jet. It was nicknamed Thunderscreech as it was the loudest aircraft ever built and the shock waves produced by the sonic boom of the propellers were so powerful as to be hazardous to the health of ground crews. It also had many technical problems and was unstable.

In the naval sphere the loss of HMS Captain in 1870 was result of the design being changed to the extent that the ship was unstable with insufficient freeboard to withstand heavy seas. In a Force 9 gale off Finisterre she sank with the loss of nearly 500 crew. Although righting tests had been carried out the results were not known when the ship sailed. Steam powered submarines do not sound a good idea and the K class designed in 1913 proved that. 40 taps and valves had to be closed before it could submerge which took 30 minutes. It was said that K stood for calamity or killer. None were lost in enemy action but six of the 17 built were lost in accidents. During WW2 the failure rate of US torpedoes was 50%, largely due to limited testing having taken place before they were put into service. The naval authorities refused to investigate, blaming the submarine crews. Eventually sense prevailed and one submarine expert identified the faults and modifications were made which improved the success rate dramatically. In 1864, during the American Civil War, a Confederate submarine recorded the first successful sinking of an enemy warship by torpedo, the USS Housatonic.

An amphibious tank seems an unlikely concept, but the DD Sherman was quite successful, provided the water was shallow and not too rough. It was extensively used in the D Day invasion of Europe but seas that were rougher than predicted, vehicles launched too early in deep water, as well as enemy action caused much loss of life, particularly on Omaha Beach.

Two British aircraft used by in WW2 proved to be useless – the Boulton Paul Defiant and the Blackburn Roc. The Defiant was so long in development that by the time it entered operational service it was outdated. The Roc was largely used by the Royal Navy and proved to be a poor performer and was soon withdrawn. It was too heavy and two slow. In the category of great expectations was the V2 rocket which had no strategic value. It was a stunning technical achievement but swallowed up a great deal of resources at a late stage in the war when Germany could ill afford it. With one ton of high explosive descending from high altitude at 3000 mph it was unstoppable and intended to be a terror weapon to destroy the morale of the civilian population. In this it failed as the British population had survived the blitz. Compared with the simple and cheap V1 flying bomb it was an expensive mistake.

The nuclear nightmare is a well-known scenario, but Tim mentioned some projects which were incredible. A tactical nuclear weapon, the Blue Danube was deployed by the US in Europe and Korea, akin to a bazooka mounted on a jeep or used by infantrymen. It was never used in combat. A derivation, the Blue Peacock was the first British nuclear weapon, a mine. To keep the triggering mechanism warm when the device was buried in winter it was proposed to place three chickens inside with food and water to last a week, after which the mechanism would be inoperable. The project was cancelled before deployment. Possibly the most horrifying doomsday weapon designed was the American Pluto (which was never deployed) which would descend from high altitude to treetop height to wreak destruction along its path. It was nicknamed the “Flying Crowbar”.

In the category of wishful thinking came the 1930s idea that the bomber would always get through. This theory was disproved when daytime raids proved this was not so. Even at night the success rate of bombing within five miles of target was only one in five. Precision bombing was a fiction. When the controversial policy of city bombing was adopted with the aim of destroying the morale of the civilian and reducing the enemy’s workforce this too proved ineffective. Churchill was not convinced about this policy, but it was doggedly pursued by ‘Bomber’ Harris who headed Bomber Command. The losses of aircraft and crew were enormous.

This was along and well-prepared presentation and was of great interest to members, several of whom had served in the forces and could probably quote many more examples of equipment that didn’t come up to expectations.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 27.07.2023

On 27th July Anthony Gerrard gave us a comprehensive overview of the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, probably much more varied than many of us had thought. The presentation started off with some dramatic footage of the attempt to rescue the crew and passengers from a stricken Dutch vessel off the Cornish coast on 19th December 1981. The Penlee lifeboat was launched in a Force 12 storm (hurricane force) but the conditions were were too severe. The 8 man crew of the lifeboat lost their lives as did all aboard the ship. The whole disaster was witnessed by a rescue helicopter which was unable to assist as the rotor was in danger of striking the ship’s mast in such extreme conditions.

The origins of the RNLI can be traced to the late 18th Century. Although the Government was not interested, the present organisation was founded in 1824 and gained the Royal prefix. Its aim was to save everyone regardless of nationality, in war and in peace.

The trend of incidents attended by the Institution is ever upward, partly due to the  increasing participation in water sports. Today it manufactures most of its own lifeboats of which it has 258, based around the coast of the British Isles, including Ireland and extending from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man to the Shetlands, as well as the tidal Thames. In addition to lifeboat crew it also has lifeguards, some of which are paid. It runs an education programme on water safety, including abroad, focussing on those countries with high death rates from drowning.

The Institution has a budget of £188m., all of which is funded by the public, including by means of legacies. It is entirely independent of Government which probably accounts for why it is held in such universal regard. Trading and investments account for just 6% of income. The organisation relies on 35,000 volunteers. Only 5% of the workforce is paid which includes lifeboat crews on the Thames in London where it would be impossible to provide voluntary cover on a 24 hour basis.

The various types of lifeboats were described ranging from the £2.4m Shannon down to inshore craft, also hovercraft which can rescue people from mudflats. A full outfit for a lifeboat crew member costs £3520 and all waterproof clothing is provided free of charge by Helly Hansen on the basis that adoption by the RNLI is the best recommendation there is. New ways are always being explored to deal with rescues such as the use of drones to find boats in rough seas which can be notoriously difficult to spot.

The recruitment of volunteers is always a challenge, a particular problem being the increasing number of second homes in seaside villages which reduces the number of full-time residents available to man lifeboats.

Anthony, being a volunteer, did not charge us a fee for speaking but members were invited to contribute to fund this vital service and I’m sure we all responded generously.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 20.07.2023

Title: Timber Framed Houses – Presented by Ian Lloyd-Oswell
Probus Club of Evesham member Ian Lloyd-Oswell gave us a very interesting and excellently researched presentation on the use of timber in house construction across the years. Starting with early cruck construction using curved beams in the 14th/15th centuries right up to Victorian times.
Oak was the main wood used in house construction and Ian explained how oak trees were tethered to provide the curved beams for this style of construction. Curved beams were also required by the ship building industry and often beams from old vessels were subsequently used in buildings. Wooden joints were meticulously prepared using tree nails (trenails) to bring together the two sides of the joint often the holes being set deliberately out of alignment so that the trenails when hammered in would bring the two sides of the joint together to provide a secure joint. When assembled each Cruck would be numbered and laid on the floor ready to be raised to form the roof.
Side walls were often box frames using a series of wooden beams infilled with wattle and daub a warmer solution than using brick. Wind braces were added to provide rigidity against the weather.
Ian outlined the range of tools that were used by builders at that time and had some examples to inspect. Interestingly many of these tools were in use in Roman times but in the period following were lost from memory
Many examples of wooden buildings were shown with Ian pointing out the salient features and how the use of wood in the buildings had changed over the years; particularly when extra floors or new windows were required. The Avoncroft open air museum in Bromsgrove provided the opportunity to view some of these building techniques first hand.
Cholstrey Court Barn built in the 16th century, was a good example of a building now at Avoncroft (originally in Leominster) where cruck framing had been used. The hammer-beam roof in Westminster Hall was still impressive nearly 1000 years after construction.
Many other examples were shown some local such as the Market Hall in Ledbury, Church St Tewkesbury and Lower Brockhampton House near Bromyard and some afar like Wealden House in Kent and St William’s College in York.
Ian completed his talk with reviewing church porches and doors showing how iron and wood blended together in the structures,
I’m sure that members will look more closely at timber framed buildings visited in the future following this insight into their construction.
Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 13.07.2023

Our speaker on 13th July was our member and past president Clive Allen who posed the question “What If?” by outlining a number of events in world history and leaving us to consider what would have happened if the outcome had been different.    Probably the most often discussed is Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain in 1940. To say his talk covered a broad canvas would be an understatement.

The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701BC was unsuccessful, probably due to an outbreak of plague. Had it succeeded the future of Palestine might have been different.

At the Battle of Teutoberg Forest in 9AD the Roman army was soundly defeated which put paid to the Emperor Augustus’s plans to expand the Roman Empire and ensured that most of what is now Germany was never ruled by Rome.

Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice in 55 and 54 BC and was defeated both times. In 41AD another invasion took place under the Emperor Claudius, this time successfully. The Roman occupation lasted until 410 AD by which time it was no longer possible to defend it owing to pressing needs elsewhere in the Empire. The legacy of the Roman occupation was substantial and without it the country it would have been a very different place.

The Synod of Whitby in 664 is famous for determining the date on which Easter is celebrated but it also decided that of the two Christian traditions in England the Roman should have precedence over the Irish (or Celtic). The Romans had adopted Christianity in 330 AD and the church was part of Government. Augustine was the Pope’s missionary to England. He landed in Kent and travelled to London but he was rejected which is why the ecclesiastical capital of England is Canterbury. Had the decision of the Synod supported the Celtic tradition what would have happened in HenryVIII’s time?

With the departure of the Romans the Anglo Saxons invaded and settled in the country whereas the Vikings were a warlike race who were great seafarers, even reaching North America and all parts of the Mediterranean, as well as travelling overland through Russia to the Black Sea. Eventually they also settled in Britain. These immigrants had a profound effect on what became the English language, making it Germanic rather than Celtic or Latin-based.

The most famous date in English history is 1066 when the Normans achieved the last successful invasion of England and imposed an iron rule. Their takeover of England was comprehensive. The Domesday Book was compiled which listed all property in England and formed the basis of tax collection.

Henry VIII’s defiance of the Pope in obtaining a divorce led to him (and the country) being excommunicated and Spain’s ambition to invade England and recover the country for Catholicism led to the Armada setting sail. Their inferior ships were not. able to cope with contrary winds, thereby enabling Drake to chase them up the Channel and deploy fire ships. They were caught by a storm off the East Coast and dispersed, losing the majority of their vessels. An invasion was therefore prevented and as a result England developed into a  Protestant country.

The Crusades to the Holy Land to recover Jerusalem from the Moslems was set up by the Pope and the Knights Templar were created to accompany the pilgrims, not to fight. A lot of treasure was obtained but the beneficiary was the Church. Such a wide-ranging war instituted by Christians may still have repercussions on our relations with Moslem countries.

The Spanish plundering of South American gold and silver is well-known but a by product was the discovery of the potato as a staple food which was adopted in Europe and was invaluable in Britain during WWII when imports were interrupted.

Clive finished with a quotation by IBM in 1932 that there was no future in computers and Einstein’s prediction that nuclear energy would never be obtainable because the atom would need to be shattered. Now there is a debate as to whether it is wise to pursue the development of AI. The final pressing question of our age is the speed of global warming and whether Governments will have the courage to take decisive action before the scale of environmental disasters overtakes us and we pass the point of no return.

What would have happened had the outcome of the various events described turned out differently is a matter of conjecture which makes it even more thought-provoking as to what might be the result of the action taken, or not taken, to resolve the major problems of our own time. Out thanks to Clive for the amount of preparation he put into this presentation.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 06.07.2023

Our speaker on 6th July was Paul Murphy with Part 1 of a talk about “The Amazing Charlie Chaplin”.

Chaplin was born in 1889 and his childhood was like something out of Dickens. From an inauspicious start he became the highest paid actor in the world. Although a blue plaque on a house in East Street, Walworth, South London, records it as his birthplace, it seems he was born on a gipsy encampment near Birmingham. There is no birth certificate, which he would certainly have had, had he been born in London. The family rented three rooms in the house in Walworth. His father was an alcoholic who left home very early in Charlie’s life and did not support the family. His mother Hannah was a singer and performed in pubs, theatres and in music halls, of which there were 200 in London at the time. She was well-paid but her voice failed in the middle of a performance and at the age of four Charlie was pushed on stage. Without a regular income, times were hard with two boys to support and as happened to families in that predicament they had to go to Lambeth Workhouse where Charlie, then aged seven, was separated from his elder brother. Charlie was educated at a paupers’ school in Hanwell.  Eventually his mother scraped up enough money to buy him out for half a day a week and eventually altogether and they then moved into one room in a house in Walworth. Hannah was then committed to a mental asylum at Cane Hill, south of Croydon.

The boys (Charlie was then 8) then moved in with their father in North London, a time which he later described as the worst in his life. When his father beat his new partner unconscious, Hannah, having been discharged from the asylum, took them back and taught Charlie to sing, dance and act. Aged ten, he joined a clog dancing group known as the Eight Lancashire Lads touring the country and getting paid half a crown a week. At the age of 13 he had given up education and supported himself with various jobs. Hannah was then declared insane again and the two boys lived independently for a short time, unknown to the authorities. After various acting and other jobs, he signed up with the top impresario Fred Karno and after a week in Paris he went to the USA in 1908, performing on the vaudeville circuit. His understudy was Stan Laurel (who later became famous when paired up with Oliver Hardy). Charlie was able to pay for the best treatment for his mother and remained devoted to her for the rest of her life.

Charlie returned to England in 1912 and this marked the end of Part 1 of this incredible Rags to Riches story and we look forward to Part 2 which Paul will present in September.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS LUNCH 22.6.2023
AND TALK 29.6.2023

 

Our summer lunch was held at the Karma Salford Hall Hotel on 22nd June and members and partners enjoyed an excellent meal in good company which is what Probus is all about. Past President Peter Penny was presented with a certificate to mark his 25-year membership (half the life of the branch!).

On 29th June our member Bill Underwood gave a talk entitled “The Human Element” which turned out to be about the highly specialised and complex subject of railway signalling. Bill concentrated on three accidents which demonstrated two things. Firstly, the principle of signalling is to minimise the ability of signalmen to make mistakes. Secondly, every such accident is investigated to ascertain the cause and to make recommendations for improvement to safety systems. In fact almost all such improvements have been as a result of Government inspectors’ reports. Despite the glowing accounts of Victorian railways virtually every improvement in safety was rejected by the companies as unaffordable and lessening the responsibility of the staff.

All three accidents covered occurred in the twentieth century but it was apparent that the biggest improvement in safety would have been the introduction of track circuits which by running an electrical supply through the running rails give an indication to the signalman of the exact position of every train in the area under his control. A white diamond on the signal post indicates to train crew that the signalman has that information and that they are exempt from having to go the signal box after three minutes to remind the signalman of their train’s presence in accordance with what was Rule 55. At the time of these accidents installation of track circuiting was still rare although it had been invented several years previously.

The accident at Hawes Junction (now Garsdale) on the Midland Railway’s Settle & Carlisle was at 0549 on 24th December 1910. The steep gradients on the line necessitated the provision of banking engines which after finishing one job had to be fitted in with other trains to return to their start point to assist the next train.  Two bankers were waiting on the main line and were run into by an express with 12 casualties. The signalman had accepted the express forgetting about the two bankers. A collar on the relevant signal lever would have prevented this accident but was not used. The banking engine crews were also at fault by not complying with Rule 55.

The accident at Quintinshill on the Caledonian Railway in Scotland at 0645 on 22nd May 1915 was the worst disaster ever on the British rail network. 226 staff and passengers lost their lives. There were many factors affecting the causes of this accident but I can only give a short summary. It happened after the 0600 shift change but the relieving signalman was late on duty, a regular occurrence apparently, which was covered up by the night turn man writing the train movements down to be copied by his relief and entered in the train register when he came on duty to give the impression that he was on duty. There were several train movements in this time. A local passenger train was shunted onto the up line in order not to delay a down express as freight trains were occupying both loops. No lever collar was used although one was provided. The crews from two trains were in the signal box in accordance with Rule 55 although they did not carry out their duties correctly. There was therefore the possibility of distraction at a time when concentration was essential. An up troop train was inexplicably accepted and ploughed into the local train and a down express ran into the wreckage. The death toll was exacerbated by wooden bodied passenger coaches and the use of gas lighting (also a factor in the Hawes Junction accident). The resultant conflagration was caused by the fire on the locomotives igniting the gas. The signalmen were solely blamed for the disaster and were jailed. This accident never received a lot of publicity as it was in the middle of WW1 and also the fact that a troop train was involved at a time when there were horrendous casualties on the Western Front.

The third accident was on 26th January 1921 on the Cambrian Railways at Abermule in Central Wales on the single line between Welshpool and the Cambrian Coast. Bill explained the working of the Tyer’s single line tablet instrument which, until a tablet had been replaced in one of the instruments another tablet could not be withdrawn. He had used such a system when a volunteer signalman on the Mid Hants Railway. The system used at Abermule was on odd one in that tablet instrument was not in the signal box but on the station. The station master was at lunch and the tablet instrument was used by unauthorised junior staff. To cut a complicated story short, the seemingly foolproof system of only one tablet in use for one section of single line had been circumvented by slack working and not examining the tablet to ensure it was the correct one for that section of line. The crew of the stopping train did not examine it either and hence collided with an express on the single line causing 17 deaths. The tablet instrument was subsequently moved to the signal box and other safety improvements introduced.

To conclude his talk Bill sang the praises of the signal engineers in their task of eliminating the human element. It should be noted that railway signalling as provided a century ago bears very little relation to today’s signalling, although the mechanical signalling with semaphore signals used on heritage railways can still be seen on Network Rail locally at Worcester Shrub Hill and Droitwich Spa.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 15.06.2023

On 15th June we were pleased to welcome back Dr. Tim Brain a regular and popular speaker whose subject was Ralph Vaughan Williams. His reason for choosing this composer was a very simple one – because he liked him, also that he was born in his own county of Gloucestershire. Described as our greatest symphonist (he composed nine compared with Elgar’s two) Tim pointed out that some of his music always appears in Classic FM’s top 100.

Born in 1872 he had a privileged upbringing and an early interest in music nurtured at Charterhouse, the Royal College of Music and Cambridge. He played the piano, organ and viola. At the time, there was much music in Britain but not much composing compared with Germany. Hubert Parry declared Vaughan Williams “should continue to write as an Englishman and a democrat”, although his Cambridge Mass of 1899 was more in the style of Brahms.

He travelled the country collecting folk songs as did Cecil Sharp.  Some of these were used for Christmas carols such as ’O little town of Bethlehem.’  Although not a religious man (he declared himself a Christian agnostic) he became organist at a church in Lambeth, South London, because he liked church music. He became musical editor of The English Hymnal, including some of his own such as Sine Nomine (For all the Saints…). Perhaps in contrast to his Englishness it was a surprise to learn he studied with Ravel. Tim ran through some of his principal works up to the outbreak of war – the choral Sea Symphony, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and the London Symphony.

A conscientious objector, he volunteered for war service (aged 42) and served in the Ambulance Corps as a driver and on casualty clearance. He was later commissioned and became a lieutenant in artillery, responsible for transport. After the war he continued to be a prolific composer with the Pastoral Symphony (an antidote to war?), the 4th Symphony which reflected the unease at the rise of the Nazi Party and their crimes and a ballet which he called “Job, a Masque for Dancing”. One feature of his work starting in 1940 was film music, a 1948 example of which was for Scott of the Antarctic, on which the 7th Symphony was based. The last of his several operas, “Pilgrim’s Progress” appeared in 1951. He composed music for the Coronation in1953. His 9th and last symphony appeared in the year of his death, 1958. Following his death his second wife discovered more works which were then published.

This was a meticulously researched talk as we have come to expect from this speaker, complete with musical excerpts, I am sure we now know a lot more about this grand old man of music and will listen more attentively whenever we hear his name mentioned.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 08.06.23

Nobody can complain about the variety of subjects covered by speakers at the Probus Club of Evesham. On 8th June Stratford Probus member Mike Bill gave us an account of a trip from Redhill to Singapore in 1980. This was by a Bell 212 helicopter piloted by himself, accompanied by an engineer. Helicopters are slow, fly at low altitude and have a limited range. This was therefore an epic journey and required the use of additional fuel tanks so that enough was carried to enable 5-600 miles to be covered between refuelling stops. As the craft has no toilet, a four hour lap was the average which meant that the journey would take twelve flying days.

Mike outlined the complexities of planning such a trip. In Europe a flight plan has to be filed but through the Middle East and beyond diplomatic consent is required. He showed us an aviation map which had a mass of detail including radio beacons and where radio masts were  situated. Unlike airliners which fly at high altitude a lot of navigation was done by sight and looking out for landmarks. In India the famous bureaucracy caused delay and there was a drama in Burma. Having flown over what appeared to be a deserted airfield he landed and searched for staff, only to be surrounded by soldiers. Then, as now, the country was under military rule. Nobody spoke English until an officer turned up. There had also been a problem with excessive fuel consumption which was diagnosed as being caused by salt adhering to the blades to which was added the dust experienced over India. A thorough wash solved the problem.

Considering the problems which could have arisen the trip seemed to be remarkably trouble free and Singapore was reached in twelve flying days as planned. As credit cards were not in general use at the time all payments were in dollars which of course amounted to a lot of cash. This was hidden behind the radios, as the amount of cash carried had to be declared on entering each country and this amount would no doubt have exceeded the limits on cash allowed to be brought in.

This was an extraordinary trip, prompting members to query whether it would have been better to use other means to deliver the helicopter but Mike assured them the urgent need for the machine meant that this method was the most expeditious. Out thanks go Mike for  his presentation of a most unusual way of travelling to Singapore.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 01.06.23

 

On 1st June we welcomed back Dr. Kate Bellamy, a regular and popular speaker whose subject was “Fun Facts about the Brain”, delivered in her usual engaging and down to earth style. However much we absorbed from this talk, it certainly gave us food for thought.

It is often said that the brain is a computer but it works in a quite different way. We are impressed by the memory capacity of a mobile phone but the brain’s capacity is almost infinite in comparison. We only have to consider the thousands of tasks we do every day without too much thought because the way we do them is embedded in our memory. When we pick up a book we automatically read from left to right, unless we read Hebrew, in which case we do the opposite. However, we all have different memories which is why police separate witnesses so each person gives their version of events without hearing other witnesses’ statements which might persuade them to vary theirs.

One point on which several members challenged the speaker concerned the fact that the hippocampus is not formed until you are five years old and therefore you cannot remember anything from before that age. Several members quoted instances of things they remembered from before they were five but were told that they had been told of this later and that is what is in their memory.

As an example of the capacity of the brain to cope with emergency situations the famous landing of an airliner in the Hudson River, New York, in 2009 was mentioned. The inboard computer directed the pilot to turn back to a nearby airport which he knew from his experience and training to be impracticable. Although both engines had been shut down by a bird strike, the computer had only been programmed to consider the loss of one engine.

Kate offered a prize to whoever defined reality. Richard Johnson had the answer – reality is an illusion. This was a half serious quote from Einstein but is the subject of a continuing debate between neuroscientists and quantum physicists.

There is a current debate about the dangers of AI (artificial intelligence) but Kate quoted an example of an antibiotic being devised by AI in 1½ hours which would have taken scientists ten years.

Kate’s final troubling point was this country’s appalling record in dealing with mental health. Dementia is a symptom of various diseases but present tests are unsatisfactory and research into treatment is given no priority despite it being a distressing condition affecting many people, not all of them elderly.

Having such an accomplished speaker makes Probus membership worthwhile and keeps our brains active, very necessary in our advancing years.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 18.05.2023

Our speaker on 18th May was Elizabeth Tebby Germaine whose subject was the travails which befell her Aunt Marian in China in the turbulent years of the 1920s and 1930s up to 1943. She was 23 when she went to China in 1926 to live in the International Settlement area of Shanghai. Although Dr. Sun Yat Sen had replaced the Emperor in 1916 this was the era of warlords. The Nationalist Chiang Kai Shek vowed to exterminate the warlords but was opposed by the Communists who ultimately achieved victory under Mao Tse Tung in 1949 when Chiang Kai Shek’s forces retreated to the island of Taiwan. Chiang’s forces were trained by Germany who perpetrated a massacre in Shanghai in 1927. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria but of course the Chinese were busy fighting each other not the invaders. In 1937, the year the Japanese attacked Shanghai, Marian married the Rev. Joe Leach, a Christian missionary, in Shanghai Cathedral.

The Red Army undertook the famous Long March west, pursued by the Nationalists (the Kuomintang) who moved their HQ to Chongqing. The situation was untenable for Westerners and mass evacuations were organised using trucks and American planes which included the perilous crossing of the Himalayan Hump. Eventually the Leaches and their children reached India and travelled to Bombay to catch a boat to Liverpool via the Suez Canal. On arrival they had no money and had to borrow the train fare to Bradford from the Station Master! This is the barest summary of the events justifying Elizabeth’s title of Scary and Startling.

The times were brought to life by graphic photographs and the few surviving letters from Marian. The life of a missionary in China was not a happy one. There are still Christian communities in China who, while not overtly persecuted, are kept under surveillance as are all citizens who don’t support the party line.

Any accounts of world events which are witnessed first hand by one’s relatives are much more vivid than mere accounts recording facts. Members were appreciative of this presentation of the massive upheavals in China, a vast country which has transformed itself into a major economic powerhouse but unfortunately keeps a tight rein on personal liberty.

 

Alan Smith

Visit report - Blists Hill - 11.05.23

Probus members and their family and friends visited Blists Hill Victorian village at the
Ironbridge Gorge Museum.
The Ironbridge Gorge is regarded as the cradle of industrialisation where new techniques in manufacturing were developed including the world’s first iron bridge which was built using the new material “cast iron” over the River Severn in 1779.
This pioneering structure marked a turning point in English design and engineering; after it was built, cast iron came to be widely used in the construction of bridges, aqueducts and buildings.
The Iron Bridge's story began in the early 18th century, in the nearby village of
Coalbrookdale. Abraham Darby pioneered the smelting of iron using coke, a process that
was a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. It was Abraham Darby III who cast the ironwork for the bridge that still stands today, using the same techniques developed by his grandfather. The bridge was so successful that it gave its name to the spectacular wooded valley which surrounds it, now recognised as the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
The Victorian Town at Blists Hill recreates a town set in 1900 with many shops, houses,
cottages, workshops and industrial factories. There is even a pub which members found to be a very welcoming place to eat the excellent fish and chips served from the nearby shop.
Even more impressive bearing in mind that most of the buildings have been relocated here “brick by brick” from the surrounding area.
You can also pay for items using 1900 currency with an exchange rate of 1 old penny
equivalent to 40p now thanks to inflation!
The many volunteers added significantly to the visit showing a range and depth of
knowledge helping to put each item in context.
Fortunately, the rain didn’t start till the afternoon so most of us managed to get around this large site and view most of the items on display before the rain.
The visit was enjoyed by all.


Our next visit will be to the RAF Museum at Cosford on 5th October.


Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 04.05.23

Title: Global Warming – Presented by Ken Ingamells

Ken Ingamells a meteorologist for over 30 years gave an interesting talk today looking at the facts and fiction of global warming to provide us with a better appreciation of exactly what is happening.

The starting point is radiation from the Sun which is received by the Earth as short-wave radiation which has the energy to penetrate deep into the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of this radiation is reflected back as long wave radiation into space by clouds and oceans while some is absorbed by the Earth causing it to increase in temperature. This is a finely balanced process which if out of balance would cause the Earth to warm or cool.

Greenhouse gases blanket the Earth slowing down the reflected radiation, this process is good since it is the main source of heating the planet. Various gases in the atmosphere affect this process:

Water vapour is the most important and is not really affected by mankind.

Ozone absorbs UV light protecting the earth.

Carbon Dioxide is the source of the carbon fundamental for life on Earth. The amount in the atmosphere had not changed from around 800,000 years ago till 250 years ago – the start of the industrial age.

CFC11 & 12 – These chlorofluorocarbons attack ozone and have been banned from use since 1994, but will only gradually be removed from the atmosphere over the next 150 years.

Methane – A vigorous part of the atmosphere more potent than Carbon Dioxide, produced by cattle, rotting vegetation and elsewhere.

Nitrous Oxide – Used in fertiliser but not too much of a concern

Nitrogen Dioxide – 1000x more vigorous than Carbon Dioxide; produced by diesel engines which we were encouraged to adopt but are now out of favour.

Sulphur Hexafluoride – Man made replacement for CFCs but 2500x more vigorous than Carbon Dioxide

Other factors affecting Earth’s temperature include the movement of tectonic plates affecting the land/ocean balance where land absorbs heat while oceans reflect .Solar energy is not constant; the Earth’s orbit is on a 100,000-year cycle with tilt on a 40,000-year cycle and wobble on 22,000-year cycle. This complicated mix results in the Earth being in a cold spell for 88000 of the last 100,000 years while warm for only 12,000 years

The last warm period ended 7,000 years ago and Earth should now be getting colder not warmer. 7000 years ago, the Earth’s temperature was 2 degrees warmer than today but figures of 1.3 degrees now illustrate that the planet is not cooling as it has done previously.

These findings are supported by examination of glaciers that can shed light on Earth’s climate 800,000 years ago. These findings are supported by the fact that 9 of the warmest years were in the last 10 years!

Effects on the flow of the Gulf Stream also can result in major climate change and a decrease in the salinity of the oceans affecting the flow.

What is to be done?

Solar power, wave power, hydro power, wind power and nuclear fission followed eventually by nuclear fusion – all will have their part to play. But we need to be active now!

And finally, Ken introduced us to a new element to worry about – global dimming, where debris and pollution blanket the planet reducing the sun’s radiation.

A very complex topic and compelling conclusion made clearer by Ken’s presentation.

Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 20.04.23

Title: Trafalgar, Nelson & Emma Hamilton – Presented by Sally Ferris
Sally took us back to the 18th Century and particularly Nelson’s family background and naval engagements and then moved onto the 19th Century with the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805; highlighting the crucial role Nelson played and his interaction with others especially, Emma Hamilton.
Napoleon had become obsessed with the thought of invading England and drew up many fanciful plans including a tunnel under the channel. In response to this potential threat England built several Martello Towers along the Kent coast to act as coastal forts. Although this invasion never took place it radically changed British naval strategy.
Nelson was born in Norfolk, a small man 5’ 6” tall and was 1 of 11 children. An uncle introduced him aged 12 to the British Navy appointing him Midshipman on HMS Raisonable.
Nelson must have prospered in this role since he became a captain at 20 and an Admiral at 29. He was a highly experienced officer who had been blinded in one eye during fighting in Corsica in 1794 and subsequently commended for his capture of two Spanish ships of the line at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent in February 1797. In July 1797, he lost an arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and had been forced to return to Britain to recuperate
In 1798 Nelson met Emma Hamilton and started an affair that lasted the rest of his life. Her photo was always at his side. Emma came from a humble background and became mistress to the Earl of Warwick and subsequently married Sir William Hamilton - taking the title Lady Hamilton. Nelson was married at the time to Fanny Nisbet but Emma was his true love. Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia on 29 January 1801.
Nelson took command of his flagship HMS Victory in 1803, this was a vessel of 100 guns.
At Trafalgar Nelson adopted a new naval strategy forming his ships into two lines and approached the French fleet head on. Fighting subsequently took place in very close quarter with English and French ships side by side. 60 ships were involved (27 English and 33 French). This was the time for Nelson’s famous signal to his fleet – “England expects that every man will do his duty”.
During the close fighting a cannon ball hit Nelson puncturing his lungs, severing arteries and possibly causing paralysis. Captain Thomas Hardy took over command and witnessed Nelson’s last words – Kiss Me Hardy. By the afternoon the battle was won and Nelson was dead realising just before death that he had done his duty.
Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 13.04.23

The Real War Horse – Presented by Robin Hill
Many of us will have seen the 2011 Spielberg film “The War Horse”, but what was the real
story of the horses active in World War 1? Worcestershire’s’ County Museums Officer
Robin Hill gave us an insight into the intensive and demanding process of ensuring that
horses were available to the British Army in the quantity and with the skills needed.
At the start of WW1 the Army had around 100,000 horses in the cavalry and few motor
vehicles. While in farming there was over 1 million horses. The three years of the Boer War had provided vivid lessons of the vital role played by horses in the army. In that conflict over 377,000 horses perished. The Army realised that to fight an effective war many thousands of horses would be needed and quickly set about the means of obtaining these.
Initially a horse registration scheme was set up which could obtain suitable horses from
farmers and landowners and would pay 10 shillings per annum for each horse. This
process quickly increased the stock from 27,500 to 165,000 in just 3 weeks in August 1914.
Imports where then developed initially from Canada and the USA who supplied 700,000
horses and subsequently horses and mules from Australia, Spain and elsewhere were
included in the process.
Transporting such large numbers of horses provided a challenge, stables were set up on
the open decks of ships; where docking facilities allowed these animals could be readily
disembarked. At other ports cranage, horse by horse, was required.
In total 1.2million horses (and mules) were processed and allocated to the most suitable
tasks i.e., riding, light haulage or heavy haulage etc. Feeding and caring for this large
number was demanding, typically feed of 20-30lbs per day per horse (mules needed only
half that amount so were preferred in some areas). This inevitably resulted in a lot of
manure which was readily accepted by French farmers as fertilizer.
Horse welfare was most important; 1300 Vet officers were employed with assistance from 27,000 other ranks. And don’t forget the farrier - 60 million horseshoes were required, Horse fatalities were approx. 15% per year and during the war 530,000 died, only 25% of these from enemy action. At the end of WW1 the Army had 800,000 horses many were then sold on the open market. Officers were given a guarantee that their mount could be repatriated to the UK.
Members had many questions on this interesting and enlightening talk and also reminisced on their own time spent with horses in their youth.
Perhaps not quite the Hollywood drama of “The War Horse” but a fascinating insight into
how horses were active and cared for during the war.
Bob Turner

PROBUS TALK 06.04.23

If you wondered how anybody could talk about a small village like Charlton for an hour then Julian Hawley, a member of Pershore Probus Club provided the answer. Having lived there for 43 years, he has amassed an impressive array of illustrations depicting its history, the people who lived there, the buildings and prehistoric earthworks and artefacts. If you are prepared to delve, it is amazing just how much information is available.

The principal building was the Manor House which was used as such until 1938. After use by the Land Girls in 1940, it became a PoW camp then fell into disuse and was demolished in 1972, the only reminder being the dovecote. The site is now a housing estate. Julian ran through the inhabitants of the manor who proved to be a motley collection and the story included a witch ducking, adultery, beating and imprisonment of wives, murder and subsequent hanging and the well-known Mayor of Evesham, Henry Workman. Prince Rupert, leader of the Royalist army during the Civil War stayed there in 1643 and there was a skirmish nearby. (The family were Royalists who secretly kept to the Catholic faith but later changed sides when the Parliamentarians seemed to be winning.)

The village was part of the parish of Cropthorne where the parishioners had to go to attend church. All the monuments of the inhabitants of the Manor can be seen there. Although there was a Baptist chapel in the village Henry Workman converted a threshing barn into a church and for a period of nearly fifty years it was a parish church but in 1931 the parish again became part of Cropthorne.

For many years the village relied on varied agriculture. It still has several thatched timber buildings typical of Worcestershire which, although they look picturesque, would not have had running water or toilets until fairly recently.

The village pub, the Gardeners Arms, is still a focal point of the village and it was interesting to see an old photograph showing the brewers were Evesham Ales, whose brewery can still be seen in Brick Kiln Lane, now converted into apartments.

This was a fascinating picture of an unremarkable village, a story which can probably be replicated for every historic village in the country. The talk prompted personal recollections from several members and we are grateful to Julian for sharing his extensive research.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 30.03.23

Dr. Gillian White was our speaker on 30th March (the tenth time, so she told us, she had given us a talk). This one was up to her usual standard and was about the Elizabethan Country House. The background to the innovations of the Elizabethan Age were outlined giving rise to the increased affluence of the nobility and their ability to combine art and architecture into social history by building sumptuous houses which were the first not to be fortified.

The first example was Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire built in the early 16th Century which was organic, not planned, but demonstrated that the nobility lived like princes.

Longleat in Wiltshire was built on a monastic site, church land transferred into secular ownership, courtesy of Henry VIII. The house owed nothing to its previous use, unlike Buckland Abbey in Devon where minimum work was done to convert the abbey into a house. English and French master masons were employed at Longleat to create a house with classical Renaissance features. The final stage was the building of a facade round the house by Robert Smythson. The projecting bays cast varying shadows as the sun moved round as well as acting as buttresses. It demonstrated the pride and confidence of an Elizabethan courtier.

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, dating from the 1580s was also by Smythson but he had to work to his employer’s instructions and it shows.  Although in the Elizabethan style, the decoration at the top resembled a wedding cake. The interior was a nod to the past demonstrating the owner’s lineage with heraldic emblems and a fake hammerbeam roof.

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire was yet another of Smythson’s, built in the 1590s. It is the least altered of the Elizabethan houses, a monument to Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury.

Kirby Hall in Northants was finished by Sir Christopher Hatton.  A Renaissance house it is now a semi-ruin. Not content with this house he built a second, Holdenby House with the express intention of entertaining the Queen. He vowed never to go there until she did. As she didn’t go, he never saw it!  Its south side had a 360 ft. glazed façade. After the Civil War  only a fragment of this house remains.

Finally we saw Kenilworth in Warwickshire, owned by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who demolished medieval buildings and erected buildings to accommodate the Queen whom he wished to marry. In this he was unsuccessful but as he was a favourite courtier at least she stayed – on four occasions. Again, many of these buildings are in ruins following the Civil War.

This was a masterful (or should that be mistressful?) presentation in Gillian’s inimitable blend of erudition laced with humour which held our attention. We look forward to a repeat visit.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 23.03.23

On 23rd March we heard a talk by Winchcombe Probus member Paul Clark about walking the Camino, the pilgrimage trail from France across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. When he moved to Winchcombe he started walking the Cotswold Way which sounded impressive until he said it took him six months.

The Camino is a well-known and popular long distance trail and people undertake it for various reasons:- religious, spiritual, life-changing, to cope with loss or bereavement, as a sponsored walk or simply as an epic experience. In Paul’s case it was the last as he considered he hadn’t achieved or done anything out of the ordinary. The opportunity arose when his daughter needed support from her mother when she was having trouble getting pregnant.

Paul was 66 at the time and he ran through his preparations for it. As a Cotswold Warden he led walks to ensure his physical fitness and mentally prepare himself. He planned what he would do each day (15 miles) and also showed us exactly what he would carry in his backpack, the weight of which was restricted to 10%  of his body weight (presumably his weight when he set off!). The route is well-provided with hostels at 8-10 euros a night, hotels, paradors, cafés and campsites. You obtain a map which is stamped at every stop which entitles you to stay overnight and ensures you are not using a car.

The 500 mile route from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago is very varied and includes many considerable climbs although he assured us it didn’t cause him any problems. The end is the cathedral of Santiago containing the tomb of St. James the Great the Apostle and is famous for the huge swinging censer of incense.

Although we saw a selection of views along the route including the historic cities of Pamplona, Burgos and Leon this presentation was much more than the usual tourist selection, because it was such a personal account (and yes, his daughter became pregnant!). Members were very appreciative that Paul shared his experience with us.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 16.03.23

Our speaker on 16th March was Richard Osler on the subject of RAF Bomber Command during WW II. Richard served in the RAF and later at GCHQ. He also holds a private pilot’s licence.

Bomber Command was formed in 1936 and eventually comprised 126 squadrons of which 32 were non-British i.e. Canadian, South African, New Zealand, Australian, French, Polish and Czech. The mortality rate was 50% with a death toll of 55,573.

Richard showed us the types of bomber in service when the war started : the Fairey Hendon, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and the Handley Page Hampden. The Vickers Wellington was a development of the Whitley and was produced in quantity.  The Short Stirling was a poor performer as was the Avro Manchester which led to the Avro Lancaster which became the backbone of Bomber Command. The Handley Page Halifax was another heavy bomber.  Light bombers early in the war were the Bristol Blenheim and Fairey Battle but the great success story was the de Havilland Mosquito. The USA contributed such aircraft as the Liberator, Flying Fortress and Boston.

The Luftwaffe was equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Junkers Ju 88, one of which was flown to Dyce in Scotland by a crew opposed to Hitler. This enabled its radar systems to be examined and by 1943 the German radar was rendered ineffective. That said, the 88mm flak guns and powerful searchlights were formidable defences.

When the war started only military installations were targeted despite the blitz on British cities in 1940, but this changed in 1942 when area bombing was initiated by the newly appointed head of Bomber Command, ‘Bomber’ Harris. After thirty missions six months’ leave was granted to bomber crews. Stressed crews were accused of lack of moral fibre and demoted to menial duties (shades of WW 1 and the treatment of shell shock victims). The top aviators were designated Pathfinders and flew 45 missions before leave and then a second tour of 20 missions.

The policy of carpet bombing was controversial at the time, particularly at the end of the war when Germany was facing certain defeat. Even Churchill had reservations but Harris stuck to his policy which continues to be discussed today. As a result, memorials to the achievements and sacrifices of the bomber crews were late in materialising - Harris’s statue in the Strand was erected in 1992 and the memorial in Green Park in 2012. Even now they are regularly daubed with red paint. A statue of a Lancaster is to be erected at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire.

Our thanks go to Richard for a most informative talk about events which are so much a part of our recent history that it is hard to believe they took place seven decades ago.

 

Alan Smith

Probus Talk 09.03.23

Today one of our longest standing members, Clive Allen, gave us a talk on his Home Town – West Hartlepool.
West Hartlepool, as Clive made very clear, does not now exist being subsumed into Hartlepool in the county reorganisation of 1974 that placed it in the new county of Cleveland.
West Hartlepool was developed in the Victorian era and took its name from its position to the west of Hartlepool; it was formed in 1848 as a base for the railway and docking facilities required to export the coal from local mines. Instrumental in the founding of the town was Ralph Ward Jackson who went on to become managing director of the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway in 1848. The area has always had a reputation for plain speaking and not easily influenced by outsiders. This trait came to the fore when a man dressed as a monkey was voted in as the local mayor much to the consternation of the other political parties! But West Hartlepool has an equally colourful past being attacked by Anglo Saxons in 640 AD and more recently targeted by the French in the Napoleonic wars and the Germans in WW1. Famous sons of the town in addition to Ward Jackson are Andy Capp and Brian Clough. Nowadays the town is a tourist destination attracted by its history and attractive coastline. During questions Clive brought us up to date on why he left West Hartlepool and how he ended up in Evesham. An interesting story that we might hear from Clive at a later date.
Bob Turner

Probus Talk 02.03.23

Our speaker on 2nd March was Pamela Holland, whose subject was The Bard’s Italy. Shakespeare is, of course, associated with Stratford, although he spent most of his time in London. Very little is known about Shakespeare’s early life and nothing at all about “the lost years” 1585-1592. Such is his detailed knowledge of Italian customs and way of life that it has been suggested that he visited Italy but there is no evidence to substantiate this. Although Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo & Juliet immediately spring to mind, in fact a third of 37 plays are either derived from Italian stories or have an Italian connection. Many of the stories on which some plays were based had been translated into English.

Pamela explained that in Shakespeare’s time Italy was not one country but ruled by powerful  city states such as Venice which was the international trading place between east and west. She then treated us to a tour of the cities of Italy which featured in the plays such as Padua, Verona, Florence, Siena, Messina in Sicily, Venice and Rome, with particular attention being paid to Verona and Venice.

Romeo and Juliet being set in Verona has spawned an industry in the city, writing replies to lovers. The walls of the building with the famous balcony are covered in love letters and the more recent fad of padlocks, symbolising unbroken love. Venice needs no introduction, famous for its elaborate Carnival and the wearing of masks which enabled the classes to mix, a device which Shakespeare used in his plays to great effect, giving rise to hilarious cases of mistaken identities. The other point is that women did not go the theatre without wearing masks, neither did women appear on the stage until 1611. Venice also had a large Jewish community confined to the area named Ghetto. They had to be identified  by yellow armbands and distinctive clothing. This, of course, is the subject of The Merchant of Venice.

The story of Othello, Admiral of the Fleet would have scandalised Elizabethan audiences as he was a Moor in love with a white woman. This was a fascinating talk highlighting an aspect of Shakespeare which probably members had not appreciated before and our thanks go to Pamela for her presentation.

 

Alan Smith

Vermeer's View of Delft

Vermeer's View of Delft

PROBUS TALK 09.02.23
 
On 9th February our member Dirk Doorduyn presented a comprehensive picture of his home town of Delft, situated between Rotterdam and Den Haag (The Hague). A sixteenth century map of the town showed there were seven gates of which only one survives, also only one windmill. Founded in the eleventh century it grew into a market town and achieved prominence as the seat of the House of Orange. In 1648 when the Spanish left the country Delft became the capital of the independent United Provinces.
Dirk showed the principal historic buildings of the town as well as the house where he grew up. The university is the oldest and largest in the Netherlands with 26,000 students on a new campus outside the city centre. It now specialises in technology.
Delft is famous for its 17th Century artists such as Vermeer, Fabritius and Pieter de Hooch, the intellectual Grotius and the scientist Regnier de Graaf, the father of microbiology. The town is also famous for its blue and white hand painted pottery, Delftware.
An interesting fact arose from the view of Delfshaven, the port on the River Maas which was where seagoing vessels handling trade for Delft were berthed. The famous Pilgrim Fathers who emigrated to Virginia did so from here. To escape religious persecution in England they had already sought refuge and settled in the Netherlands but decided to try their luck in the New World and sailed to Southampton where they joined others on the Mayflower for their historic journey across the Atlantic.
In contrast to all the historic buildings, the railway and station platforms have now been placed underground and the passenger facilities on the surface are a striking example of modern architecture.
Like most Dutch towns Delft has a lot to offer – what a place to call your home town!
 
Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 02.02.23

 

Our speaker on 2nd February was our member Grenville Burrows whose talk was about Rodgers and Hammerstein, subtitled third time lucky, as on his previous two attempts the computer said no. Even on this occasion it was reluctant to play but eventually it decided to co-operate and we were able to listen to a number of excerpts from the well-known musicals such as the pioneering Oklahoma! which broke the convention of musical comedies by dealing with serious themes and situations. South Pacific followed, a tribute to WW2 forces, based on the French islands of New Caledonia.

The King and I was based on the memoir of Anna Leonowens who was employed by King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) as governess to educate his children as a first step towards modernising his country. The Russian emigré Yul Brynner played the king for 4625 performances, the co-star originally being the difficult Gertrude Lawrence who had acquired the rights to the book.

The Flower Drum Song featured the problems of immigrants to the USA and was based in San Francisco. (The 1927 musical Showboat had highlighted the racial problem in America and reflected Hammerstein’s hatred of racism). We heard “I enjoy being a girl” sung at the Last Night of the Proms. Carousel was set in New England and concerned a fairground barker. Again, it was far from a musical comedy as it featured suicide and spousal abuse. The Sound of Music was the last Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp. It was also performed at the Last Night of the Proms and included Edelweiss, the very last song composed by Hammerstein.

This was a very nostalgic evening for many members and was much appreciated. John Doyle mentioned he had sung in several of the shows as a member of Evesham Operatic & Dramatic Society. Our thanks go to Grenville for persevering with getting the show on the road.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 26.01.23

Our speaker on 26th  January was our member Brian Stephens whose subject was The London Hydraulic Power Company, a public utility company founded in 1883. He first took an interest in the subject of hydraulic power at the age of seven when being taken to the department stores in Kensington which had hydraulic lifts, rope-operated by an attendant.  The water was pumped through pipelines at 800 lbs/sq.in laid under roads throughout London as well as elsewhere in Britain and in other cities abroad. The system was an interim between steam and electric power, although the pumping stations were initially powered by steam boilers, supplemented by accumulator towers containing vertical pistons with heavy weights to maintain pressure.

A patent for the system was taken out by Joseph Bramah, a prolific inventor, in 1821. One of the uses was to power cranes particularly in the docks. One engineer to use them was Sir William Armstrong for Woolwich Dockyard. Other uses were for railway turntables, revolving stages at theatres and for raising cinema organs. The Savoy Hotel used the principle for powering a vacuum cleaning system.  Urban scale systems were pioneered  by Edward Ellington In Hull.

The London Company had 8000 customers and was in competition with the electricity companies which had 36 power stations in London, all DC but operating at different voltages. This lack of standardisation made the hydraulic system more competitive as businesses were unwilling to use electricity until they knew which voltage would become the standard. There were 200 miles of high pressure pipelines under London streets.  The system was 90% efficient and the rates charged were cheaper than for electricity. Bomb damage in World War II marked the beginning of the end and the London system ceased operation in 1977. Many relics of the system such as accumulator towers and power stations (the latter converted to alternative use) can be seen in London and elsewhere.

Mercury bought the London company and used the pipeline ducts to lay fibre optic cables thereby inheriting the right to dig up the road.

The force of a burst water main carrying water at high pressure can be seen at Geneva where the Jet  d’eau is the successor to a pressure relief valve for the city’s hydraulic system.  When the system was abandoned there was public demand for a substitute which is now a well-known attraction on Lake Geneva.

Out thanks go to Brian for enlightening us on a novel engineering concept which probably few of us knew much about.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 19.01.23

Our speaker on 19th January was Mike Aggleton from Gloucester Probus branch whose subject was TV and radio hoaxes. He concentrated on three.

The first was a broadcast on radio by the British Broadcasting Company (soon to become a corporation operating under Royal Charter) which went out on 16th January 1926. A programme was interrupted with the news that a violent revolution by Bolsheviks was under way in London with serious damage to a number of famous buildings. This was eight years or so after the Russian Revolution and at a time of much labour unrest as a result of unemployment and the uncertain economic situation. A General Strike was being planned which took place later that year. The BBC was run by John Reith (later ennobled) as a public service broadcaster with the prime object of education, a duty which he took very seriously. It is therefore surprising that he allowed such a programme to go ahead.

There were a couple of clues in the broadcast that it was not factual – a mention of the Ministry of Traffic which did not exist and the Society for the Abolition of Theatre Queues which was obviously spurious. The programme ended when the BBC HQ was stormed by the mob but they stopped and sat down to read the Radio Times! Authenticity was lent by the fact that the narrator was the Reverend Father Ronald Knox from Edinburgh. As the programme was at 7.40 pm on Saturday night, a time after the Sunday papers had gone to press, nothing was reported until Monday. By coincidence it was a weekend of heavy snowfall so many papers destined for the provinces had not reached their customers who still thought the capital was under siege.

The second example was the famous adaptation of HG Wells’s pioneer science-fiction book “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in the USA by Columbia on 30th October 1938. This was not, of course, a hoax. Although the original was set around the author’s home town of Woking, the broadcast used American settings. Although it was billed as a fictional drama, the realism of the narrative by the young Orson Welles convinced many listeners it was actually happening. The stories of mass evacuations were probably exaggerated by the newspapers who regarded the radio as a competitor. It was reckoned only 1% of the population actually listened to the programme.

The third example was the BBC television programme Panorama on1st April 1957 (bit of a clue there!) about the harvesting of spaghetti in Switzerland. The difficulties encountered in making it look convincing were explained but the clincher was that the narrator was Richard Dimbleby, the voice of authority who reported on state occasions such as the Coronation. The speaker described him as somewhere between the Queen and God. It was seen by 8 million people and had a mixed reaction.

Mike raised the question as to whether hoaxes would work today. Perhaps there is no need as some of the news is so unbelievable you couldn’t make it up.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 12.01.23

The speaker on 12th January was our member Richard Johnson. His subject was “The Glory of Steam” which was a comprehensive account of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway.  He has worked as a volunteer on this heritage railway for over forty years, became a director in 2014 and has been chairman since 2017.

The GWSR was part of the Great Western Railway’s main line from Birmingham to south of Gloucester opened from Honeybourne to Cheltenham in 1906 and completed from Stratford to Birmingham in 1908. This gave the GWR a route from the West Midlands to Cheltenham although their trains still had to pass over the Midland Railway to reach Bristol and so regain the GWR lines to the West Country. The justification for the extravagance of building a duplicate main line is therefore hard to see. Passenger services ceased in 1968 and freight was brought to a sudden halt in 1976 when a major derailment took place in 1976 near Winchcombe. Such was the track damage that BR could not justify repairs, trains were diverted, the line was closed and the track lifted.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway PLC was set up in 1981 to restore the line from Stratford to Cheltenham. Track laying began in 1981 and the first train ran in 1984 along a quarter mile section at Toddington hauled by Cadbury No. 1 (ex-Bournville). Many of the stations had been demolished and therefore had to be replaced. Use was made of various items and buildings from other closed stations. By 2003 the line had been restored to Cheltenham Racecourse and was opened by Princess Anne. The original line had not been built to a high standard particularly in respect of drainage and maintenance is therefore a continuing problem.  A major landslip occurred in 2021 near Winchcombe at the exact location of the 1976 derailment and cost £¾ million to repair, a job carried out by a contractor as it was beyond the capabilities of volunteers.

In addition to the civil engineering infrastructure a railway needs signalling and telecommunications and to fulfil its role as a heritage railway this means mechanical signalling, i.e. semaphore signals and manual signalboxes. Much has been acquired from other locations although some signal boxes have been built from scratch. As with other maintenance functions this department has its own dedicated team.

In addition to the infrastructure a railway has to have rolling stock, most of which was acquired from BR. It takes an average of 18 months to restore a 1950s coach, involving complete stripping out, rewiring, renewal of upholstery, wooden panelling and bodywork and finally painting and varnishing. Locomotives are generally owned and maintained by groups and are hired for ten years. The owners are paid a daily fee (guaranteed 60 days a year). Many of the steam locomotives came from Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry in South Wales where, after withdrawal by BR, they languished in the sea air for decades in some cases before money was raised to purchase them. The railway also has a number of diesels, both locomotives and multiple units.

The railway was honoured in 2015 to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Richard pointed out around 20% of volunteers were ladies who undertake a variety of duties including working on the footplate. The railway currently has around 900 volunteers and only ten paid staff, not all of whom are full-time. The railway has an annual turnover of £25m.+ and around 120,000 visitors p.a. Like all heritage railways its operations come under the supervision of the Office of Rail & Road just like the main network and it has its own rule book to ensure safe operation. In addition to the revenue from ticket sales the railway stages many events such as wartime evacuation days, the capture of a wartime spy which are marketed as “living history” for schools. Christmas brings Santa Specials and Winchcombe station becomes “North Pole”.

After fifteen years of running between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse the GWSR was extended north to Broadway in 2018 although  Hayles Abbey Halt had been restored in 2017. Broadway is now the current terminus. This original station was closed in 1960 and completely rased so building the present station is a remarkable achievement. The GWSR is now about 15 miles long and is not likely to be extended further.

Finally, Richard raised the question of coal, a vital commodity if steam operation is to continue. With limited supplies available from the closed mine in South Wales at £180/ton coal is now imported from Colombia at £550/ton, a threefold increase. As 600-700 tons of coal a year is used this a major addition to the railway’s operating costs.

Richard’s presentation certainly spelled out that running a railway is a complex and expensive business and the fact that it relies on volunteers and donation, such as legacies, to supplement revenue is a tremendous achievement.  Many Probus members have travelled on the railway. They were encouraged to do so again and bring their friends as well. The interest in the subject can always be measured by the number of questions asked and Richard certainly got his fair share!

 

Alan Smith                                            

PROBUS TALK 05.01.23
 
We started 2023 in fine style with a quiz presented by Grenville Burrows. He didn’t compile it as it was the questionnaire in which potential citizens of the UK have to achieve a 75% score to achieve citizenship. It is headed “Life in the UK” and 25 minutes are allowed to complete it. The test is revised monthly and former tests are available on the internet. Each stage of the whole process has a cost attached to it. To take it you have to have been resident in the UK for three years. In 2021 there were 148,000 applications.
We all dutifully sat the test and eyebrows were raised at the relevance of some of the questions (not to mention some of the answers!).
The top scorer was Bob Turner but it has to be said the majority of members failed to achieve the requisite number of marks. What that tells you about the membership or the validity of the test is a matter of debate, but there was general agreement that it was difficult to see how such a test could measure a person’s suitability to become a British citizen. It also begged the question on what it is to be British on which there was some debate.
Our thanks go to Grenville for hosting a thought-provoking exercise.
 
Alan Smith                                                                             

PROBUS TALK 08.12.22

Our ex-President Clive Allen gave a presentation on 8th December about his time doing National Service 1952-1954.

Hr began with his time at West Hartlepool Grammar School and the tragic death of his mother when he was thirteen. He started employment with the Works Department of the Borough Council and studied to become a Cost Accountant at night school in Middlesbrough for two years. He was called up in June 1952 and started with six weeks square bashing at Oswestry. He then started training as a surveyor based at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. He passed the course and was transferred to Germany travelling via the Harwich ferry to Hildesheim, not far from the, then, East German border, although apparently he didn’t know that at the time. Here, Clive was put in charge of the map library, issuing maps to those on winter manoeuvres. The task was to locate enemy positions using radar and microphones.

Clive missed the parades to mark the Coronation in June 1953 as he was in hospital with an injured ankle sustained through playing hockey. He started driving in a jeep until the camshaft broke, then continued in a Bren Carrier. He undertook guard duties and navigating for officers, keeping them away from the border. He was then transferred to Osnabrück on exercises which had the advantage of being a long way from HQ. As relaxation he had a skiing holiday in the Harz Mountains.

In September 1953 he was told two surveyors had to go to Korea and that it would be decided by the toss of a coin. Much to his relief, Clive won. He was put in charge of the officers’ mess at the substantive grade of Bombardier (equivalent to sergeant) and had the luxury of his own room.

His final posting was to Aldershot where he had no duties except to await the completion of the bureaucratic procedures for his demob which was in 1954, after which he was in reserve with the TA for two years.

The value of National Service is still debated: it depends on the individual’s experience whether it was a good thing or not.

 

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 1.12.22

Our speaker on 1st December was Peter Berry who, with great enthusiasm, took us round the world in 80 images, courtesy of Cunard Line. His title said it all.

Starting with Queen Mary 2 in New York, we visited Barbados, the Norwegian Arctic on the Russian border, Gloucester Docks (tall ships), South Africa, Ruanda, Tanzania, Moscow, Rome, Venice, Athens, Bucharest and Transylvania (Romania), Egypt and Jordan, India, China, Thailand, Alaska, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, USA (Alaska, California, Colorado and New York City)  then finishing with fireworks over the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol in 2006, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Brunel’s birth.

This sounds like a whirlwind tour but it wasn’t as Peter gave us time to absorb each picture each of which was brilliantly selected to portray less touristy aspects. It would be invidious to pick out highlights but here goes – the Northern Lights in Norway, wildlife in Africa, the cremations on the bank of the Ganges at Benares in India, sunset and sunrise at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, the villages in China doomed by the Yangtze Dam project and the launch of a space shuttle at Cape Kennedy. As he is a railway enthusiast he was very restrained by only including two steam trains!

This was a memorable presentation of great variety and much appreciated by members.

 

Alan Smith

PROBUS TALK 24.11.22

On 24th November, our member Bob Turner went one better than Dickens with his Tale of Three Cities which turned out be those served by the Oxford Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway, the subject of his talk.

The railway was known the Old Worse and Worse and Bob gave a comprehensive account of its history and the various railways connected to it. It is now known as the North Cotswold line because it no longer serves Wolverhampton. It was financed by manufacturers in the Black Country to transport their products to London as an alternative to the London & Birmingham Railway. It was supported by the GWR as a way of extending Brunel’s broad gauge to the Midlands and on to the north. It was a railway of two halves -industrial in the north and rural in the south. After a dispute, the GWR severed its connection with the company in 1851. There were construction difficulties, a recalcitrant landowner south of Charlbury who eventually agreed a price for his land and the completion of Campden Tunnel near Mickleton. A contractual dispute arose here which led to the famous battle with the contractor’s workforce pitched against Brunel’s superior force. The contractor was forced to withdraw and Brunel was left to finish the work. He resigned as Engineer the following year.

Although Oxford was part of the OWWR’s title it never actually reached the city, joining the GWR’s Paddington to Birmingham line at Wolvercot Junction, a few miles north of Oxford . Just north of this junction was a connection to the London & North Western Railway line to Bletchley which enabled OWWR trains to run to Euston.

Although the OWWR was planned as a broad gauge line, it was built as mixed gauge and the broad gauge was never used except for the day the line was inspected by the Board of Trade. It was surrounded by standard gauge railways so once broad gauge lines were laid with mixed gauge there was little point in retaining the outer rail.

Bob showed photographs of all the principal towns served by the OWWR – Evesham, Worcester Shrub Hill, Stourbridge Junction and both stations at Wolverhampton (LNWR and GWR) both of which it used in turn. What was very apparent was how the extensive layouts and facilities of the past have been reduced. He also mentioned Worcestershire Parkway station which opened in 2020 and criticised its poor design and poor train service, not a very good advert for our fragmented rail system.

This is a very brief synopsis of a very detailed presentation and Bob is to be congratulated on the work he put into it. Members’ interest in the subject was evident in the number of questions asked.

 

Alan Smith

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