(Most recent first. Click on the titles for fuller descriptions).
7th December 2021
At this, our last meeting of 2021, we were challenged by our speaker, club member Don Mackenzie, to guess the identity of an author who was the subject of his talk. Throughout the course of his presentation, Don provided clues such as the author’s family history, his friends and associates, and his amazing career. Although a couple of the audience had deduced the name of this author at a fairly early stage, it was only towards the end of the talk that the majority were able to unravel the mystery.
The speaker started with an outline of the author’s family background, his birth (in 1884) and his schooling, first in Windermere and later at Rugby. On leaving school, he started a course in chemistry at Yorkshire College in Leeds but abandoned his studies after a year in order to pursue his ambition to become a writer.
In 1913, the author went to Russia to study its folklore. The following year, on the outbreak of World War I, he became a foreign correspondent for the radical Daily News newspaper and covered the war on the Eastern Front. He also reported on the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and came to sympathise with the Bolshevik cause, becoming personally close to some of its leaders, including Lenin and Trotsky. By 1919, he was so well regarded both in Russia and its neighbour, Estonia, that he was entrusted to convey a message suggesting an armistice between these states which subsequently resulted in Estonian independence. To carry out this hazardous mission, he had to cross the battle lines – in both directions.
On returning to Britain, he settled in the Lake District where he wrote the series of books for which he is most famous. They relate to the adventures of a group of children and, in spite of being penned as long ago as the 1920s and 1930s, remain popular with today’s readers. They are the Swallows and Amazons series. And the mystery author? – Athur Ransome, of course!
Peter Stubbs and Don Mackenzie
16th November 2021
At a meeting held by video conferencing earlier this year, the speaker, club member Christopher Jewitt gave the first of a two-part presentation on the subject of hallmarking, which is the method by which the purity of goods made of precious metals (such as gold and silver) is certified by an independent body known as an Assay Office. On this occasion, Christopher gave the second part of his talk in the more traditional way by addressing his audience face-to-face at our new meeting venue, the Cavendish Club at Edensor.
In his first talk, the speaker had outlined the history of hallmarking from its inception in the fourteenth century to the present day, and he had explained how the metals are tested and stamped (or etched by laser) with a series of identification marks. He also described how modern law in respect of assaying and hallmarking was established by the Hallmarking Act of 1973 which made business transactions involving unmarked metals illegal. In the UK, testing and marking of these metals can only be carried out at one of the four Assay Offices in London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Birmingham.
His second talk examined the ways by which the relevant laws and standards are enforced and regulated. Although the Assay Offices set the standards to be followed, the enforcement of these is carried out in conjunction with Trading Standards Officers.
One of the consumer protection requirements of the Hallmarking Act 1973 is that all dealers supplying precious metal jewellery (or other items made of precious metal) shall display a notice explaining the approved hallmarks. Failure to do so can result in a £5,000 fine. As for the Assay Offices themselves, they are regulated by the British Hallmarking Council which is comprised of nineteen people representing the Assay Offices and, for central government, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. With these protections in place, the consumer can have confidence in the quality and value of the goods purchased.
2nd November 2021
Somewhat overshadowed by its larger neighbours of Sheffield and Chesterfield, the town of Dronfield is probably little known outside the local area but this does not mean that it is an insignificant place. The story of its history and development was the subject of this illustrated talk by Club member, Roger Taylor.
The speaker opened his talk by describing how he had come to live in the Peak District in the early-1970s when he had become the manager of a hotel in Sheffield. An unclear strategic direction on the part of the then current owners encouraged Roger to see if he and his wife could succeed in the hospitality industry ‘on their own’. After scouring the area for suitable premises, they decided to relocate to Dronfield to open a restaurant. This move awakened a new interest in Roger’s life – the study of the lives and residences of the Dronfield elite through the ages.
The lead industry in the town was a key factor in establishing a number of merchants who prospered to become local dignitaries. Substantial properties were a good indication of their commercial success and associated wealth. The speaker listed and described the architecture of various local halls, mansions and farm houses, and how the ownership of these buildings passed from one family to another over time. To an outsider it was surprising how many of these people and properties there were in what was a relatively small town. As has occurred throughout history, new occupants taking up residence in an existing property have wanted to make changes to suit their own requirements, and this is what happened in Dronfield. With his deep knowledge of the area and a keen eye for detail, Roger guided his audience through these changes. It was a fascinating presentation.
19th October 2021
At last! Having conducted the previous thirty-three meetings by video conferencing, we were able to meet face-to-face for this meeting, which was held at a new Chatsworth venue, the Cavendish Club, Edensor. On this occasion, the speaker was club member, Ainslie Kelly who had taken the topic of beer, brewing and pubs as the theme for his illustrated talk.
He described how his lifelong interest in the subject had developed from the time when, as a 17 year-old, he and a friend had plucked up the courage to enter a public house near to his home and order their first pint. Although known by the landlord to be underage, the teenagers were duly served and told to sit down quietly to drink it. As has been the experience of countless first-time drinkers, Ainslie did not much enjoy the taste but he persevered and, in time, became the connoisseur of beer that he now is.
Having learned to appreciate the product, it followed that he then studied the process and evolution of brewing. Historically, beer has been made from a range of grain crops (e.g. millet, wheat, corn, rice, sorghum), but from its early origins, over 2,000 years ago in Sumeria and Mesopotamia, barley was the predominant grain used in brewing. In the Middle Ages, it was safer to drink beer than to drink from the often polluted water sources, and so it became common for brewing to be a domestic activity. If there happened to be an excess, this would be sold to neighbours or even the public in general, thus giving rise to the development of inns and taverns. Public houses, in the form that we now know them, came relatively late on the scene in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The speaker then outlined the skills needed to handle, store and serve beer correctly and he was happy to give examples of pubs in the local area where best practice is followed. Fortunately, not only are we well provided with these outlets but we are also favoured by having as many as nineteen local breweries in and around the Peak District.
This was a most entertaining talk on a special occasion which also happened to be the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Club at which the Chairmanship was handed over from Malcolm Cameron to Peter Stubbs.
5th October 2021
In a departure from the usual arrangement in which a member of the club presents the talk, a guest speaker, Adele Metcalfe from the Peak District National Park Planning Office, was invited to address us at this meeting (held by video conferencing).
The speaker explained that it is a legal requirement for all planning authorities to review their local plan, which is a set of documents containing the planning policies in a local authority area, in this case, the Peak District National Park. These are very important when deciding planning applications. It is the purpose of the review to check whether the existing policies have performed well, and whether they are still fit for purpose given the new pressures, challenges and changes in government guidance. Established in 2019, this is a 5-year process which involves not only the PDNPA itself but also local residents, businesses, and other interested parties.
Having carried out a number of surveys and consultations, the PDNPA has amassed much information about the state of the district under its control. It has looked into all aspects including housing, agricultural buildings, shops and community facilities, cultural heritage, recreation, the economy and, not least, biodiversity. The Authority will continue to gather more evidence, consult with stakeholders and write policies that will ensure a sustainable and thriving future for this very special National Park.
7th September 2021
Even though few members of the public have actually seen an oil rig in position at sea, most of us have seen photos of them and have been impressed by their size and complexity. Of course, what is visible is only part of the picture. Apart from the drilling and oil/gas extraction equipment hidden from view below water there is, in the case of semi-submersible rigs, an array of ropes anchoring the structure to the sea bed. The challenges associated with the use and handling of these massive ropes employed in the offshore oil industry were the subject of this illustrated talk (by video conferencing) by Club member Richard Chaplin, Emeritus Professor of Engineering Sciences (University of Reading).
As Richard explained, in offshore applications, most equipment is big, heavy and expensive. The risks are high, and there are lots of unknowns and uncertainties, not least the weather conditions. In spite of this, however, safety has to be of paramount importance and it is essential that measures are taken to prevent damage to any ropes that are safety-critical. The types of problem that occur include corrosion, overloading and misuse. To illustrate the effects of these, the speaker showed several photos of ropes which had suffered damage in one way or another, many of them through the rope becoming twisted and kinked after being relieved of its load. He then discussed the many maritime applications, other than for oil rigs and platforms, in which ropes are an essential component. The installation of undersea pipelines is one such.
Finally, Richard described the more recent developments in rope technology including light-weight polyester ropes for offshore moorings. These make it possible to produce oil in deeper water.
17th August 2021
Drains! – an essential feature of civilised living but one that is all too often taken for granted. We flush our lavatories and empty our sinks with little thought about what happens to the resulting waste beyond the fact that (usually) it is no longer our concern. But, as the speaker, club member Tony Byrne, explained at this meeting (by video conferencing), things were very different before efficient sewerage systems were developed in the rapidly-growing cities of the nineteenth century.
Using London as an example, Tony described how a huge increase in population together with the introduction of flushing water closets caused water consumption to rise dramatically. The resulting waste was simply drained into the nearest convenient stream which, in its turn, discharged into the River Thames, creating one huge open foul sewer. As a consequence, outbreaks of cholera were frequent and the stench arising from the river became so bad that, in the warm summer weather of 1858, conditions in the Houses of Parliament (alongside the Thames) became almost intolerable. Being directly affected themselves, the nation’s legislators rapidly passed a Bill that provided the money and authority for works to begin on a major sewerage system for the city.
At this point, the name of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, entered Tony’s narrative, for it was this engineer who devised a scheme whereby a number of major sewers were built, flowing from the higher land in the west of the city towards the east. At various locations, pumping stations were needed en route to the final outfalls into the Thames, downstream of the metropolitan area. Altogether, this was a massive undertaking which included the construction of the Victoria Embankment on the north shore of the river. In total, the cost of the whole system was £4.2 million (equivalent to over a billion pounds today) and was completed in only six years (1859-1865) proving, yet again, the abilities, resourcefulness and determination of Victorian engineers.
3rd August 2021
Older readers may remember a TV series, Tomorrow’s World, first broadcast in 1965 and continuing throughout the following couple of decades. These programmes focussed on contemporary developments in science and technology, some of which later proved to have been almost prophetic whilst others were destined to become heroic failures. It was in the spirit of these programmes that the speaker, club member David Catton, gave this talk.
In his professional capacity, David had been tasked with reviewing and evaluating a number of projects that had been presented to the E.U. Commission for investment and development. During a four year period, he had studied more than two hundred such projects and, for this talk, he had selected several of the more promising as examples of those which he had evaluated. One such was a method of converting human waste into usable products (biogas and fertiliser) by means of relatively simple technology that should be used all over the world – one university study estimated that if all human faeces was converted into biogas it could provide electricity for almost 140 million homes! On a similar theme, another project examined how to tackle the recurring problem of blockages caused by accumulations of fat and other solids in sewers. By removing these ‘fatbergs’, an otherwise useless and damaging material can be processed in a factory to produce usable gas for cooking and heating.
Turning to less unsavoury subjects, David described techniques to replicate, artificially, the apparent ‘stickiness’ of geckos’ toes and creating super-strength silk by feeding silk worms on carbon or graphene. The resulting products could have many applications in manufacturing and engineering.
Drones have become a familiar feature in recent years and one of the projects discussed by the speaker was the development of collaborative drone technology in which, by communicating with each other, a group of drones can perform tasks beyond the capabilities of a single one acting alone. This ability to carry out complicated coordinated manoeuvres has many potential military and agricultural uses but, as was demonstrated at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, they can also be used in the field of entertainment by creating spectacular light-shows.
20th July 2021
Do we really need embassies? This was the question asked by today’s speaker, Club member Ian Johnston. In spite of having posed the question, Ian was well qualified to answer it himself because, during his varied career, he had spent two years in the diplomatic service as Labour Attaché on the staff of the British Ambassador in Brussels. He explained that embassies are the responsibility of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and their purpose is one of supporting, enabling and influencing government policy, supporting British citizens abroad, promoting prosperity and helping to protect national security. This latter role includes activities such as collecting intelligence on the host country, not necessarily by covert ‘James Bond’ figures but more usually as part of the duties of the accredited diplomatic staff.
Describing his own experiences, Ian’s work in Brussels involved researching the social policies and industrial relations of not only Belgium but also the neighbouring countries (Luxembourg and the Netherlands). It was his job to cultivate working relations with trades union officials and government officers and, correspondingly, to assist visiting representatives from the British government and unions. He admitted that, with a generous expense account at his disposal for entertaining, his tour of duty had been most enjoyable. He had benefitted from being provided with free accommodation, along with diplomatic immunity if he had ever fallen foul of local laws, and of course got to know well Benelux and its people. All this at the British taxpayers’ expense!
Reflecting upon his time in Brussels, Ian concluded that, nowadays with improved communications and social media, much of the work of embassies developing contacts has little practical use. He did however recognise that it was by the contacts made between British diplomats and the Russian double-agent, Oleg Gordievsky, that a first-strike nuclear attack by the Soviets upon NATO forces carrying out war-games was avoided in 1983.
There were lots of questions from his audience at the end of his talk and several members related their experience of British Consulates in emergencies.
6th July 2021
Whether royalist or republican, people throughout history have been fascinated by stories of scandalous behaviour by royalty, not only by the monarch in person but also by lesser members of the royal family. Such was the case during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century after the British monarchy had passed to the House of Hanover on the death of Queen Anne in 1714. The third of the Hanoverian kings was George III and it was his sons, George and William, who were the subjects of this talk by Vice Chairman, Peter Stubbs.
As Peter explained, George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte made sure of the succession by producing fifteen children including nine sons, the eldest of whom was George, Prince of Wales, known as ‘Prinny’. This heir to the throne, like others before and since, found himself with no role, no job and no responsibilities but instead (thanks to generous financial allowances) embarked upon a life of dissipation and extravagance involving heavy drinking, gluttonous eating, and many mistresses. In spite of these excesses, he was known to be a witty conversationalist, a linguist fluent in several languages, and had good but expensive taste when it came to furnishing his palaces. Probably the most scandalous of his liaisons was with a twice-widowed Roman Catholic, Mrs. Fitzherbert, with whom Prinny was completely infatuated. Such a profligate lifestyle inevitably resulted in huge debts and his parents despaired of him. Friction between father and son continued until George III’s death in 1820 when Prinny finally succeeded to the throne as George IV.
The speaker then related the story of George III’s third son, William (known as ‘Billy’). Breaking the tradition of royal sons serving in the army, Billy joined the navy as a 13-year old midshipman in 1778. At his father’s insistence he was treated no differently from his fellow sailors and it is this experience which gave him the common touch with people. Rising through the ranks, he was finally appointed Lord High Admiral in 1827. Like his older brother, Prinny, Billy was a man of considerable sexual appetite and he formed a relationship lasting twenty years with an actress, Dorothea Jordan. During this time, they produced ten children, all illegitimate. By 1830, when George IV died, Billy was heir to the throne and was crowned King William IV. Living another seven years, he survived just long enough to see his niece, Victoria, reach the age of 18, at which point she would be free to reign independently of her domineering mother and advisers.
15th June 2021
There can be few people who have never felt the need to take remedies for pain relief but how many of us have sufficient knowledge to decide which of the many products that are available we should use? Obviously, we rely on the skills of the professionals (doctors to prescribe for us or pharmacists to advise us) but, when it comes to making an off-the-shelf choice for ourselves, we are in much more uncertain territory. Then, having a particular medication in our possession, we are urged to read the accompanying leaflet listing, among other things, the possible side-effects and potential risks, some of them worrying or even alarming, associated with taking the drug. Hence, there is a need for clarity in the matter of communicating the necessary information about these therapies.
This was the subject of this talk by club member, Kim Rainsford, who is Emeritus Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Sheffield Hallam University and is an internationally recognized expert in the field of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs. He started by describing the evolution of these drugs, from those derived from natural products, such as aspirin, through to the later generations of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids. As he explained, all new drugs can bring problems and he stressed the importance of communicating accurate facts and interpretations from complex clinical and scientific studies. Barriers to such communication can be linguistic, cultural, regulatory or legal differences between various countries or regulatory bodies such as the European Medicines Agency or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Throughout his career (which now spans more than 50 years) Kim has been involved in researching the safety and efficacy of these drugs and their side-effects. It has been in communicating his findings to fellow professionals and, correspondingly, listening to theirs that he has travelled widely to address conferences, meetings and university forums. He concluded his fascinating talk by describing some unexpected, or even alarming, incidents which he has experienced during his travels.
1st June 2021
Seldom out of the news is the subject of housing in all its aspects, whether cost, availability, quality or one of many other factors. This was the theme of the speaker, Club member Tony Crook who, as Emeritus Professor of Town & Regional Planning at Sheffield University, is a recognized expert in this field.
Tony had given his talk the title, ‘Housing markets and policy: from our grandparents to our grandchildren’ and he discussed the changes over these five generations that had already occurred and that, in future, may (and, indeed, should) happen. Starting with a general overview, he described how those living in the late-19th/early 20th centuries had largely rented from private landlords, whereas the following generation in the mid-20th century had opportunities to rent from their local council or to buy their own homes.
Homeownership then tended to become the norm as local authorities reduced their building programmes and housing stocks. Towards the end of the last century and into this one, there has been a decline in social rented housing coupled with higher costs of home ownership. It is to be expected that the future market will find private landlords returning on a large scale while those wishing to buy will face very high house prices compared with incomes.
With the use of graphs and other visual aids, the speaker showed these trends in housing tenure and he illustrated how and why we now find ourselves in the current situation of a housing shortage. This presents particular difficulties for people wishing to rent properties (at rapidly increasing prices), and for first-time buyers who are faced with house prices that, in some areas, are approaching ten times average earnings. To address these problems, Tony offered a number of actions that need to be taken. These include the easing of planning constraints, the construction of well-designed new towns, bigger grants for housing associations and, in order to reduce the debt burden on the young, reform of university finance by cutting fees.
As may be expected in view of the topicality of the subject, there was much input from the audience at the conclusion of this talk.
18th May 2021
When the expression ‘consumer protection’ is used, we tend to think of laws or regulations that have been introduced in fairly recent times, but a system that has been in use for seven centuries was the topic of this talk given (via video conferencing) by club member, Christopher Jewitt.
In the first of a two-part presentation, the speaker discussed the history of hallmarking, which is the method by which the purity of goods made of precious metals (such as gold and silver) is certified by an independent body known as an Assay Office. With these goods being of high value (because of the metals of which they are made) but such that their purity cannot be determined by visual inspection, the need for a method of analytical verification of purity was recognised at an early date. In fact, the history of hallmarking can be traced back to the foundation of the Goldsmiths’ Company in 1327, the word ‘hallmarking’ being derived from the fact that the precious metals were officially inspected and marked at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London.
Modern law in respect of assaying and hallmarking was established by the Hallmarking Act of 1973 which made business transactions involving unmarked metals illegal. In the UK, testing and marking of these metals can only be carried out at one of the four Assay Offices in London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Birmingham.
The speaker described how the metals are tested, and he explained the system whereby the tested items are stamped (or etched by laser) with a series of marks that identify the sponsor of the test, the material, its purity, the Assay Office and the date of testing.
Turning to the history of our local Assay Office in Sheffield, Christopher explained that this and the one in Birmingham were set up by Act of Parliament in 1773. In Sheffield, the Office has been located in a succession of premises, most recently in the state of the art Guardian’s Hall in Hillsborough. Here the Assay Office has developed an Analytical Services Division which is internationally recognised as a prestigious independent testing laboratory for metals.
4th May 2021
Coming after such a long period of international travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid pandemic, this talk (by video conferencing) served as a reminder of what we have all been missing. At this meeting, Club member Chris Shepley described a trip which he, in the company of one of his friends, had made in 2019 to one of the remotest parts of the planet, Antarctica.
Having flown from Heathrow, via Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, the southernmost city of Argentina, he and his travelling colleague embarked on board the purpose-built exploration cruise ship ‘MS Fram’. Here they joined 180 other passengers, representing 20 nationalities (mostly German, British and American) for a voyage that was to take them on a journey first to the Falkland Islands and then to South Georgia, the South Shetland Islands, and down through the Antarctic Peninsular before returning through Drake’s Passage to Ushuaia; a round trip of over 3,800 nautical miles. Included in the on-board crew was a team of professional ‘explorers’ who acted as lecturers and guides at the various ports and points of interest en route. These included Port Stanley on the Falklands, and a number of the sites on South Georgia and Elephant Island associated with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous boat journey of 1916.
With the aid of dozens of interesting photographs and video clips, the speaker showed examples of the remarkable scenery, bird and animal life of the region. As he pointed out and as was abundantly clear from the evidence of his pictures, the weather throughout most of the voyage was exceptionally calm with blue skies; not conditions that may be expected so close to the polar regions. As some members of the audience who had also visited Antarctica discussed at the end of the talk, their experiences had been very different, with the violent gales and mountainous seas more often associated with this Southern Ocean.
20th April 2021
Our programme of talks is usually arranged several months in advance of the date when the talk is to be given but it is gratifying to find a high proportion of them to be extremely topical and relevant when delivered. Such was the case at this meeting when Club member Alan Grant spoke about wood, trees and the Japanese inspired practice of forest bathing which is nowadays being recommended as an aid to relaxation and generally improved health.
The speaker described how, throughout his life, he has been inspired by trees and has devoted many hours to volunteering in projects to protect woodland. His interest has extended to his becoming a skilled wood-turner and cabinet maker. Such is his regard for the properties and versatility of wood that the basic structure of his own house, built as recently as 1995, is timber.
Reminding us of the vital part that trees can play in our attempts to control climate change, Alan compared the amount of woodland cover in the UK (13%) with other countries such as France (31%) and Germany (33%). In this country we need to increase the area of woodland by almost 50% to meet our target for net carbon zero emissions. He gave examples of efforts to improve the situation but these are still far from adequate at the current rate of planting.
Alan then explained the principles and merits of forest bathing. This is an activity in which the individual, sitting, standing or walking quietly in woodland, uses his or her senses to absorb the sounds, sights, smells, feel and even taste of his or her surroundings. The resulting benefits include lowering stress and lifting depression, reducing blood pressure, improving concentration and energy levels, and creating a general feeling of wellbeing. No doubt, these would be of help to everyone after our experiences of the past year.
6th April 2021
The nineteenth century is widely recognized as an age of enormous societal change, driven in large part by the coming of the railways and their ever-expanding influence. The names of some of the engineers who designed and built them are, even today, well remembered, with Stephenson and Brunel chief among them. The achievements and successes of the Victorian engineers usually outweighed their failures, but there was one among them, Thomas Bouch, whose career was curtailed and whose reputation was completely destroyed through a single catastrophic event. The story of this engineer and the circumstances leading to his downfall were the subject of this talk, given Club member, Peter Donaldson.
The event in question was the collapse of the first Tay Bridge at Dundee which failed in a tremendous gale in December 1879, taking with it the passenger train that was crossing at the time and claiming the lives of all 75 people on board. As the speaker explained, this bridge, being almost two miles long and across the open waters of the River Tay estuary, was of unprecedented scale when its construction was proposed by Thomas Bouch. However, in the spirit of the age, Bouch was full of confidence to the extent that he gave assurance that, to build it, would be “a very ordinary undertaking”. This was to prove a serious understatement but, in spite of many difficulties encountered during construction, the bridge was finally completed in 1878 and, as intended, became the source of considerable benefit to its financial backers.
Although the shareholders may have been satisfied, many of the rail passengers who travelled across the bridge were not. They complained of a swaying motion in the structure, especially when one of the not infrequent gales in this area was blowing down the river, a foretaste of the eventual disaster of that fateful day in 1879. Because of the seriousness of the bridge’s collapse, there was a Board of Trade inquiry into all aspects of its design, construction and maintenance. This inquiry concluded that there had been failings at every stage, and that Thomas Bouch was to blame for these. This damning verdict broke the man’s spirit and, within a few months, he died. Having caught a cold, he had neither the strength nor the will to resist it. In effect, he was the 76th victim, albeit indirect, of the disaster.
16th March 2021
For our 2021 annual debate (this year, as last, using video conferencing), the motion was that ‘This Club supports the banning of field sports’. Leading the discussions were David Webb who supported the proposition and Ainslie Kelly who opposed it, with Club Chairman Malcolm Cameron overseeing the proceedings. A preliminary vote among those present indicated a clear majority against the motion.
In his arguments favouring the banning field sports, David Webb started by defining these as blood sports which involve the killing of other species for pleasure, rather than out of necessity. In effect, by allowing such activities, society was condoning institutionalised cruelty. He acknowledged that, to the free-born British person, the word ‘ban’ is anathema, with overtones of authoritarianism. Also, with these activities very much associated in the general public’s mind with a particular group of people, any attempts to restrict field sports could be seen as ‘class warfare’.
In his view, the question is fundamentally an ethical one. Irrespective of any religious adherence, he asserted that there is a sanctity of creation in which all creatures deserve respect and should not be subjected to unnecessary physical and psychological pain inflicted in the name of ‘sport’. As he pointed out, many formerly acceptable activities are no longer carried out. Bear-baiting and cock-fighting were outlawed in the nineteenth century and the hunting of wild animals, such as hares and foxes, was banned by the 2004 Hunting Act.
In his response, Ainslie Kelly pointed out that field sports do not necessarily involve harming or killing animals, for instance, clay pigeon and target shooting are exceptions. There are benefits from the environmental, economic and social effects of most field sports. Giving examples from his particular interest, angling, he described how the environment was protected and enhanced by the fishing community, who helped to monitor pollution and invasive species in watercourses. The economic benefits include the generation of employment, very often in rural areas deprived of other job opportunities.
Turning to the social aspects of these activities, he quoted figures that demonstrated the huge numbers of people who gained pleasure, relaxation (both physical and mental), and open-air freedom when pursuing their interests. Being available to all sections of society, the resulting effects are particularly beneficial to young people who thereby learn to value and to take care of the environment.
Following these opening submissions, the debate was continued with numerous contributions from the floor. The closing vote, held among the audience, resulted in a slightly reduced majority against the motion from that held before the debate.
2nd March 2021
Since starting to hold our meetings by video conferencing in May 2020, we have usually relied on our own members to give the regular twice-monthly talks. However, for a change, a guest speaker was invited to address this one. He was John Lambert, who was representing the Friends of the Peak District, a charitable organisation dedicated to the protection of the Peak District National Park and to campaigning against inappropriate development within the Park.
Opening his talk with a brief history of the National Park, the speaker described how, in 1924, the Sheffield Association for the Protection of Local Scenery (later to become the Sheffield, Peak District and South Yorkshire Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE)) was founded under the formidable leadership of Ethel and Gerald Haythornthwaite. With their allies, they campaigned for green belts to be designated around urban areas such as Sheffield, which was the first city to create one. The Association also raised funds to save areas of the adjacent countryside which were under threat. These included Dore Moor, Longshaw Estate, Mam Tor, Winnats Pass and Dove Dale, most of which have since been managed by the National Trust. The Haythornthwaites were central to the establishment of the Peak District as Britain’s first national park in 1951.
The speaker continued by discussing the continuing pressures upon the Peak District, not least those brought about by its own popularity. As the world’s third most visited national park it attracts an estimated 15 million visitors per year, the majority of whom are day-trippers from the surrounding cities and towns.
Now re-branded as the Friends of the Peak District, the organisation continues in its role as a guardian of the National Park by opposing unsuitable new development, such as quarrying, insensitive housing and major intrusive transport schemes but, at the same time, supporting environmentally desirable improvements to public transport and small-scale housing schemes.
With most of his audience being residents of the National Park (and many of us already members of the Friends), John’s presentation was very well received.
16 February 2021
It is probably quite rare for one family to have a record of businesses in one area for more than three centuries but Robinson & Sons of Chesterfield is one such, although the nature of its activities has evolved considerably over that period of time. The story of this company was told to us (by video conferencing) by our member, John Robinson. He described how his ancestors had been making pottery in Bolsover and Chesterfield before one of their number, William (Billy) Robinson turned his attention to the marketing of hosiery in the late eighteenth century. This business was highly successful and helped to establish Billy and his wife Ann as prominent citizens of the town.
One of their six surviving children, John Bradbury Robinson, born in 1802, was indentured to a chemist and, after completion of his apprenticeship, traded for some years as a chemist. At that time, pills and other medicines sold to the public were probably simply packed in a twist of paper – an unsatisfactory method. In 1839 he realised that a better method of packaging would be to use small boxes as containers. He sold the chemist business and started the manufacture of cardboard pillboxes. Following further box developments, in 1854 the company expanded its operations to include making lint, which was in high demand during the Crimean War (1853-56).
The speaker continued his narrative by describing the development of other packaging and cotton products made, and patents taken, by Robinsons. These included Gamgee tissue, a surgical dressing which has a thick layer of absorbent cotton wool between two layers of absorbent gauze. Invented in 1880, it is still in use today. The company was also the first manufacturer of sanitary towels in the world and later expanded its operations to include the manufacture of babies’ nappies.
Robinsons have viewed the welfare of their employees as paramount. They supported the establishment of a works council as early as 1918 and were to the fore by adopting the idea of paid holidays and pensions. They also encouraged social activities such as sports clubs and, most remarkably, to celebrate the business’s centenary, the directors organised and paid for a day trip to London in 1939 for all of their 3,704 employees.
2nd February 2021
The outside interests and enthusiasms of the members of our club are many and varied, as demonstrated by John Gibson, who was the speaker at this meeting (by video conferencing). John’s wife, Jan, is a member of a choir which, under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances performs in cathedrals around the country at the times when the resident choirs, many of whose members are schoolchildren, are unavailable in the school holidays. During such visits the speaker, a non-chorister himself, has been happy to accompany his wife on her travels. While she has been otherwise occupied in her choral duties, John has used his free time to explore the surrounding area.
Apart from his interest in the architecture of these cathedral buildings themselves, John has studied their histories and the cities in which they stand. In many places, he has been able to pursue another of his interests, the history of the Romans in Britain. Many cathedral cities have been built on ancient settlements, several of which can be traced back to Roman times, and even earlier.
In his talk, he described what he has learned about several of the places that he has visited. These range from the major cathedral cities such as Canterbury, Chichester and Lichfield, to the smaller ones, like Hereford and St Albans, and even to those that are not much larger than towns – Wells, Ripon and Southwell. Each of these places has its unique feature; the mediaeval map of the World (Mappa Mundi) in Hereford; the country’s only surviving mediaeval detached bell tower in Chichester; the association with Archbishop Thomas Becket, murdered in 1170 in Canterbury.
The speaker also showed pictures of non-ecclesiastical sites visited in his explorations. These included such far-flung places as Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland and the magnificent Roman palace at Fishbourne in Sussex.
In conclusion, he talked about Nice (in the south of France) where he has come across a number of memorials to the victims of the Nazis during World War II. The most poignant of these memorials records the deportation to Auschwitz of thousands of Jews, including children, after the city came under the control of the Germans in 1943.
19th January 2021
Having been told in advance by our speaker that the title of his talk was to be ‘The Adventures of an Itinerant Farm Boy’, we were expecting to hear a tale about rural life at this meeting (held by video conferencing). However, at the outset, the speaker, Club member John Winkworth-Smith, explained that although coming from a farming family (and hence having been born a ‘farm boy’) he had chosen to follow a career in the law which, as it turned out, involved him in a huge amount of travelling around the world; a somewhat itinerant lifestyle.
With that clarification, John proceeded to relate a number of stories about his experiences as a lawyer specialising in international litigation on behalf of a variety of clients, many of whom were major industrialists based in Sheffield. It was on one such commission, in Turkey, that he managed to escape an attempted kidnapping by a local businessman with whom he had been negotiating. On another occasion, he was held at gunpoint by a German border guard. (To put this particular incident in context, it happened soon after a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and the country was still on high alert.) The threat of violence was also present when he was involved in a case in Southern Italy where the Mafia clearly influenced the outcome.
It was not only the actions of fellow human beings that had given the speaker such alarming experiences. While visiting the factories of his various clients, there were occasions when he had narrowly avoided injury from malfunctioning processes in steelworks. At the other end of the temperature scale, he had faced a blizzard in Michigan when acting for another client.
The legal profession is not usually considered to be particularly hazardous but, for this speaker, it had often proved otherwise. Maybe it comes as no surprise that, in retirement, he occupies his time in the more gentle pursuit of sheep-farming.
5th January 2021
Because of his connections with Chatsworth, the name of Joseph Paxton is very familiar to those of us living in this part of Derbyshire. It was appropriate, therefore, that Paxton was the subject of this talk (by video conferencing) given at our first meeting of 2021 by Club member, Don Naybour.
Relating the story of Paxton’s life, the speaker started by describing his subject’s early years. Born in 1803 as the seventh son of a farmer in Bedfordshire there is no record that he ever attended a school but, from evidence of his handwriting, he was clearly not an uneducated man. In his mid-teens he became a garden boy, later being employed by the Horticultural Society at their gardens in Chiswick. It was here that he met William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who offered Paxton, then aged only 20, the job of head gardener at Chatsworth. Having accepted the offer, Paxton oversaw a number of major schemes including the relocation of Edensor village and the construction of the Emperor fountain, and a series of greenhouses. He also met and married Sarah Boan, who proved to be skilled in managing the family finances, leaving Paxton free to pursue his creative ideas and to develop his circle of influential friends and acquaintances.
The proposed Great Exhibition of 1851 gave Paxton the opportunity to present a scheme for the building based on his existing design for the Regia Lily House at Chatsworth. It was a modular arrangement which lent itself to a method of prefabricated construction, with the result that the exhibition hall was completed in a remarkably short time. For his contribution to the success of the undertaking, Paxton was knighted.
His reputation firmly established and now a wealthy man, thanks mainly to his investments in the early railways, Paxton left Chatsworth after the Duke died in 1858. He later worked on a number of projects and, from 1854 until his death in 1865, was a Member of Parliament for Coventry.
Don concluded his talk by examining the factors that had helped Paxton rise from his humble beginnings to his success in later life. Clearly, a formal education had not been essential but support and encouragement from his family and friends had played a vital role.