21st November 2023
Whitehall Mandarins: are they being driven to extinction?
“Yes Minister” comes to Bakewell as club member Ian Johnston will discuss what a Whitehall mandarin does, relate some of his personal experiences, describe how the government machine should work, and then describe the politicisation of the Civil Service over the past 40 years, with a focus on the role of Special Advisers.
5th December 2023
The Evolution of Hearing Aids
Club member Hugh Wright will discuss the development of hearing aids through to the 21st century.
2nd January 2024
The Zambezi and the Kariba Dam
Club member, Alan Grant will tell the story of the project to dam this mighty river and supply power to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
|3 January||Kim Rainsford|
|17 January||John Gibson|
|7 February||Phil Spillane|
|21 February||Ray Smith (1)|
|7 March||Jeff Marsh|
|21 March||Peter Holt|
|4 April||Club Debate|
|18 April||Richard Chaplin|
|2 May||John Winkworth-Smith|
|23 May||Paul Davies|
|6 June||David Catton|
|20 June||Peter Donaldson|
|4 July||Tony Byrne|
|18 July||Ainslie Kelly|
|1 August||Ray Smith (2)|
|15 August||Kim Staniforth|
|5 September||Don Mackenzie|
|19 September||Hugh Wright|
|3 October||Tony Crook|
|17 October||Christopher Jewitt|
|7 November||Kim Rainsford|
|21 November||Steve Marsh|
|5 December||(to be arranged)|
(Most recent first. Click on the titles for fuller descriptions).
7th November 2023
Today’s speaker was one of our members, 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. 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, learning about the discoveries of other scientists that he has become very much involved in the process of disseminating such information through the media of printed scientific journals and the internet. In particular, he has held the position of editor of a number of these publications, one of which goes by the seemingly complicated, but appropriately descriptive title of InflammoPharmocology – an aspect of medical science of special interest to Kim.
Over the course of his long career, the speaker has witnessed many changes affecting scientific publications. The advances in technologies have generally been of benefit, but more malign influences have started to appear, especially in the past two or three decades. Among these has been the increase in the amount of interference by some authorities and organisations eager to promote their own interests at the expense of accurate and serious research. Commercial pressures by publishers have tended to distort the balance of the articles and papers published. And the development of the internet has created many more opportunities for unscrupulous authors to plagiarise the work of others.
It is to tackle these challenges that editors, such as Kim, (and their colleagues) have to expend much time, effort and money in checking the integrity of the manuscripts submitted to them – a task that will only increase with the development of so-called artificial intelligence.
Ron Enock and Kim Rainsford
17th October 2023
It was a case of ‘All change’ at this, our latest Annual General Meeting, when every one of the club’s officials had reached the end of his allotted time in office. As a testament to the strength of the club, the membership had no difficulty in finding willing volunteers to fill the vacated roles. Among these changes, Vice-Chairman Ron Enock took over from the outgoing chairman, Stefan Andrejczuk and, speaking on behalf of the whole club, congratulated Stefan on a highly successful year in which he had captained the club from strength to strength.
The formal business of the meeting being completed, it was time for the speaker, club member Christopher Jewitt, to give his presentation which told the story of his family’s company, Footprint Tools. The business was established in 1888 by Thomas Ellin who started making hand tools at a factory in Sheffield’s Hollis Croft in 1900. Over the course of the following decades, Footprint had amalgamated with a number of its competitors and, in 1948 the speaker’s grandfather, John J Jewitt Snr, took control of the expanded business. Since that time, the company has always concentrated on producing high quality tools for professionals, such as builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Footprint Tools prospered, but during the next two decades, many of its customers were lost in the face of fierce competition from overseas. The costs of operating in the UK were rapidly rising and, as the speaker explained, it became clear that a new strategy would be needed if the company was to survive. This would involve moving to a new, smaller site, with new plant and equipment, updating the brand, and retraining the staff. These changes were being put into effect, but then in 2008, the worldwide banking crisis created major financial problems for the business and it was decided by its management that the best course of action was to close it with a Members Voluntary Liquidation. This occurred in May 2009 but, by October 2009, it was possible to re-start trading, albeit with a smaller workforce. In spite of the perilous situations in which Footprint Tools has sometimes found itself it still survives and, happily, is prospering under the management of the fourth generation, Christopher’s sons, Richard and Timothy.
Chris Jewitt and Ron Enock
3rd October 2023
The provision of good quality housing in sufficient quantity and at affordable prices has been an ongoing challenge since the nineteenth century when, as a result of the industrial revolution with its attendant increase in the population, additional housing has been required on a large scale. One method by which this housing need could be met – at least in part – was by the creation of housing associations. This was the subject of today’s talk by club member, Tony Crook who, as Emeritus Professor of Town and Regional Planning at Sheffield University, is an acknowledged expert on the subject of housing policy.
Tony described how, in the late-nineteenth century, as a means of replacing the existing slums, new rented homes were constructed to new building regulations and funded by philanthropists. However, the rents required to meet the new standards were too high for most workers. Hence, to address this limitation, non-profit making housing associations, including workers co-operatives, were set up with the aim of providing affordable homes (similar to many other European countries). To some extent, housing associations faded into the background during the inter-war years (1920s-1940s) when the vast majority of new social rented homes were built by local authorities but there was a revival in the 1960s such that by the mid-1970s housing associations were becoming mainstream. From the 1990s onwards, they had become the main providers of social and other affordable homes with funding provided by a mixture of government grants and private investment. Currently, in England there are approximately 1,600 housing associations providing homes for four million people – about 10 percent of all households.
As the speaker pointed out, we are continuing to build far fewer houses than are needed which means that home ownership is expensive, private rented housing is also expensive (and insecure), and that more of the younger members of society are forced to stay in the family home at a time when they should be establishing themselves in their own affordable accommodation. His conclusions were that, to address these problems, we have to commit the necessary funding to build more housing, to make it more affordable, and to reform the property taxation regime.
Tony Crook and Stefan Andrejczuk
19th September 2023
Many people take an interest in their family history and spend a great deal of time in researching whatever records they are able to unearth but, very often, their efforts are frustrated by the sometimes confusing or contradictory information that they find. Such, however, appears not to have been a significant drawback for today’s speaker, club member Hugh Wright, who gave a fascinating and detailed talk about his own family.
Hugh introduced his subject by describing the sources of information that are usually available to anyone with an interest in their family history. Such information can come by word of mouth from other family members or from documents within the family’s possession. Other documents, in this case in the public domain, can be found in county Record Offices, newspaper archives, church records and, of course, the internet with its numerous websites, notably ‘Ancestry.co.uk’.
Turning to the specific case of his own family, Hugh described how, for centuries, the Wrights had been associated with two local properties – Longstone Hall and Eyam Hall (the latter of which was built in 1671 by Thomas Wright for his son, John, as a wedding present). Eyam Hall was recently open to the public under the auspices of the National Trust, but is now back in the hands of the Wright family. The Wrights and the other local family, the Longsdons, still in existence in Little Longstone, might have been originally one and the same family. Both families can trace their roots back to the thirteenth century and are thought to have been in the area even earlier. In his researches, the speaker had discovered many stories about his ancestors and their involvement in the armed forces including the Derbyshire Militia (Chesterfield Yeomanry Cavalry) in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
As with almost all long-standing families, the Wrights have a coat of arms and a motto which, in old French, is ‘Toutjours Droit’. Appropriately in view of the family’s name, this translates as ‘Always Right’.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Hugh Wright
5th September 2023
The Northumbrian wood engraver, artist, illustrator and naturalist, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), was the subject of this fascinating talk by club member, Don Mackenzie, who opened his presentation by describing Bewick’s skilled technique of creating finely detailed prints from blocks cut across the grain of boxwood. These prints were used as illustrations in Bewick’s own books, notably ‘A General History of Quadrupeds’ (1790) and ‘A History of British Birds’ (1797 & 1804) all of which portray atmospheric scenes of the 18th century Northumberland countryside.
Born in Cherryburn near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bewick’s interest in wildlife and the countryside developed while truanting from an austere school environment, and it was during these absences from school that he acquired his skill for drawing. Eventually, frustrated by his pupil’s continuing unruly behaviour, his schoolmaster, employing a gentle and novel approach untypical of the time, explained to Bewick the error of his ways and thereafter there was a marked improvement.
On reaching the age of fourteen, Bewick was apprenticed for seven years to Ralph Beilby, who owned a respected engraving business in Newcastle. Initially trained in a range of techniques including making his own tools, it soon became apparent that his real skill lay in wood engraving. After completing his apprenticeship Bewick spent some time in London before returning to the Northeast. Here he was offered a partnership by Beilby, eventually taking the business over.
The speaker continued his narrative by discussing some aspects of Bewick’s life away from his work. An enthusiastic member of a debating club (Swarley’s) in Newcastle he sometimes found himself at odds with the policies of the William Pitt government which, at this time (during the Napoleonic Wars), was attempting to suppress free speech. Linked with this, the slave trade was under review, and Bewick produced prints illustrating slaves loading tobacco into barrels for a Yorkshire importer. He also engraved the seal for the ‘Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade’. With its famous depiction of a kneeling black man in chains with his hands raised to the heavens, it is inscribed with the phrase “Am I not a man and a brother?” and was used as a cameo on Jasper Ware china produced by Josiah Wedgwood, a keen abolitionist.
Bewick was a strongly religious person. His belief was as enlightened as it could be for the time, accepting the allegorical nature of the Old Testament and the uncertainty of the age of the Earth. He believed that the environment and the life therein were the result of Intelligent Design by God.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Don Mackenzie
15th August 2023
These days, with a united Germany being possibly the most prominent and influential power in Europe, it is easy to forget that, until only a century and a half ago, it simply did not exist as a recognizably integrated country. Instead, it comprised a multitude of states, kingdoms, principalities and duchies, many of them very small in terms of land area and population, although the largest, Prussia, was a significant player on the international stage in its own right. The fascinating story of how this collection of German-speaking peoples came to be united was told at this meeting by past-Chairman, Peter Stubbs.
As Peter described, the nineteenth century in Europe was one of intense rivalry – often resulting in war – between France and the Germanic states, in particular Prussia and its allies. Napoleon’s army had been so successful in overwhelming France’s neighbours that Prussia was stripped of half of its territory by the terms of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807. However, following the Battle of Waterloo (1815) at which the French were defeated by the combined forces led by Britain and Prussia, the balance of power in Europe started to shift. Being on the winning side, Prussia regained much of its previously lost territory and started to acquire additional lands to the extent that, by 1871 under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, unification of all the German states was finally achieved. For the next twenty years, Germany developed into an advanced industrial country and seemed destined to enjoy its triumphal rise to prominence, but the death of its king, Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1888 and his short-lived successor Frederick III brought his grandson, Wilhelm II to the throne.
This, as the speaker explained, was the event which marked the beginnings of Germany’s eventual tragedy. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s behaviour towards the rest of Europe was bellicose, tactless and erratic and, consequently, he antagonised the international community. It was considered by many to be one of the underlying causes of World War I which ended in defeat for Germany. At the cessation of hostilities in 1918, Germany was in a state of devastation, poverty and humiliation imposed by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, through its own fault, Germany had turned triumph into disaster.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Peter Stubbs
1st August 2023
For a second time this year, the remarkable Driving Creek Railway in New Zealand was the subject of a talk given to the Club. At the earlier meeting, member Ray Smith had described how the creator of this railway, the late Barry Brickell, had developed a pottery business that required him to find a means of transporting clay from a nearby source to his workshop. In his first talk, Ray had concentrated on the background story of Barry Brickell, a man with a passion not only for pottery-making but also for railways, conservation, art and engineering.
Having set the scene by discussing the somewhat unusual life and career of Barry Brickell, the speaker described the making and operation of the railway itself. From the start, it was clear that it would have to be narrow gauge (15 inches between the rails) and of lightweight construction, and, because of limited financial resources, second-hand materials would have to be used whenever possible. The first part of the line was started in 1975 and it was extended in stages over the following twenty five years, by which time it had been opened to the public. Its construction was by no means a straightforward process because of the steepness of the hillside up which the railway was built. In order to deal with this difficulty, a series of zig-zags and spirals were included in the alignment. In addition, several bridges had to be built including one, an unusual double-deck viaduct which carries the track on two levels – one above the other – as the line climbs upwards towards its summit. Here, at the end of the line, is the whimsically-named ‘Eyefull Tower’, a viewing platform over the surrounding Coromandel Peninsula.
In conjunction with his description of the railway’s civil engineering, the speaker discussed its rolling stock which, over the years, has been custom-built to suit the particular and unusual nature of the line. As in the case of the engineering structures (bridges and trackwork), Barry Brickell was the designer and, generally, the maker of these vehicles himself.
This is a spectacular little railway which, even for non-railway enthusiasts, remains one of New Zealand’s foremost tourist attractions.
Ray Smith and Stefan Andrejczuk
18th July 2023
The deplorable practice of deliberately discharging sewage directly into rivers and other watercourses by the UK’s water companies has been very much in the news lately. It was therefore by a timely coincidence that the topic featured in this talk by club member Ainslie Kelly.
Although concentrating in his talk on the reasons for the poor state of so many of our rivers, Ainslie was able to report that our local River Wye, in particular, is one of the cleanest rivers in the UK even though it had been much abused in the past. Historically, numerous water mills, such as Litton, Cressbrook and Lumford, with their associated dams and weirs had affected the river’s flow and their waste products had caused serious pollution. The situation was improved with the closure of these mills but pollution from other sources continues. As in the case of many other rivers, these include run-off from agriculture, roads and housing development, mining and other industries, and deliberate discharges from sewage treatment works. Fortunately, the quality of the water in the Wye is closely monitored to ensure that the causes of any pollution are swiftly identified and, as far as possible, eliminated.
Turning to the regulatory bodies – DEFRA, Environment Agency, Office for Environmental Protection and OFWAT – that have legislative control over our water industry, the speaker outlined their respective roles and responsibilities but he also described how often these bodies have failed in their duties and objectives, especially in regard to the conduct and management of the privatised water companies. One particular feature has been the pursuit of profit for the benefit of investors as a priority over investment in the infrastructure for which the companies are responsible. This is a criticism often levelled at the water companies but it tends to ignore the fact that a significant proportion of these investors are pension funds and therefore future providers of an income for society. It is also worth noting that, despite such criticisms, these water companies provide us with very high quality drinking water which is classed as one of the safest and purest water supplies in the world.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Ainslie Kelly
4th July 2023
“The greatest American architect of all time” was the accolade bestowed by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 upon Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the subject of this illustrated talk by club member Tony Byrne. In addition to showing photographs and drawings of some of this famous architect’s work, the speaker described the colourful and sometimes complex story of his subject’s long life.
FLW (as he became known) was born in 1867 in the state of Wisconsin and the early years of his life were very much influenced by his strong-willed mother who was determined that her son would be a great builder. After leaving school he enrolled as a student at the University of Wisconsin but became disillusioned with the course and left without a degree. Moving to Chicago, he became an apprentice to the architect, Louis Sullivan, ‘the father of skyscrapers and modernism’ – an aspect of architecture which FLW embraced and developed.
In 1893, at the age of 26, he started his own architectural practice and thereafter had a very long career, working right up to his death, aged 92, in 1959. During this time, his personal life was somewhat eventful with three marriages, seven children, one mistress, two divorces and, in 1914, seven murders committed by one of his domestic servants. In spite of all these complications, he managed to design over 1,000 buildings, of which about 530 were actually constructed. A large number of these are protected by USA State laws and some are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
The speaker continued by describing four of FLW’s most notable building designs. Of these, his ‘Prairie’ houses introduced many features of modern houses such as open floor plan and built-in furniture. A 1935 commission to build a ‘weekend cottage’ overlooking a stream with a cascade resulted in a building, ‘Fallingwater’ that is remarkable in being cantilevered over the waterfall itself. Then, on a much larger scale, FLW was approached by the Johnson Wax Company to design a new headquarters building. His solution to the problems created by the unattractive location of the building was to shield the internal working space from the outside environment by high walls and to provide light through roof level clerestory windows. Tony’s fourth example of FLW’s work was the Guggenheim Museum in New York with its revolutionary layout of exhibition galleries within a circular, multi-storey building. As a result of their innovative nature, many of FLW’s buildings suffered firstly from cost-overruns and later from problems of expensive maintenance, but they remain remarkable examples of his prolific output.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Tony Byrne
20th June 2023
As residents of the county of Derbyshire, which is further from the sea than any other in the UK, we were given a taste of seafaring and sailing by club member, Peter Donaldson, at this meeting. In particular, Peter described the history and the philosophy of an organisation, the Jubilee Sailing Trust, of which he has had some personal experience. To quote from its own website (www.jst.org.uk), this is a charity that changes lives through inclusion and exploration on board tall ships. And the way that it does this is by promoting the integration of disabled people with able-bodied people through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing.
The speaker opened his talk by giving a brief history of the organisation from its beginnings in 1978 (using a grant from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal), through a period of expansion when it operated two ships, then through the difficulties presented during the Covid pandemic, to the present day when, although now reduced to a single vessel again, it continues with its original objectives.
He then described the ships themselves and the way that voyages are organised around a professional ‘permanent’ crew (of a dozen members) who are in charge of a succession of fare-paying members of the public whose job is to provide the muscle-power and other tasks necessary to ‘work’ the ship. The latter crew members (between 40 and 50 on any voyage – usually of a week’s duration) are a mix of disabled and able-bodied people, ranging in age from teenagers to pensioners.
Having taken part in half a dozen voyages, the speaker was able to draw on his own experiences in saying that, far from luxurious in terms of accommodation and, at times, hard work (often in the middle of the night) these voyages had been hugely enjoyable and memorable.
6th June 2023
There can be little doubt that most modern human beings have a far better standard of living and are vastly more advanced in terms of technological progress than our early ancestors, but these benefits to mankind have come at an enormous cost to the environment and pose numerous threats to the very existence of the human race itself. An examination of this history of human development and its consequences was the subject of this talk by one of our members, David Catton, who introduced his presentation by saying that it was an attempt to understand the realities of the world we humans have created.
Taking energy use as the first of his themes, the speaker showed how we have come to depend so much on fossil fuels, first coal (from the 17th century), followed by oil and natural gas. Although, in more recent times, other sources of energy – such as hydro, geo-thermal, nuclear, wind and solar produced electricity – have all contributed to fulfilling our needs, it remains that over 50% of electricity is still generated by burning fossil fuels, making the target of ‘carbon zero’ a real challenge.
David’s second theme was the subject of food supply. Before the industrial revolution, food was generally produced by labour-intensive means but, with the rapidly expanding world population that has taken place since then, the only way for food production to keep up with demand (alas, not always successfully) has been by mechanisation and the use of fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides; all of which require the input of further huge amounts of energy. Because so much of this energy is derived from fossil fuels, in effect we are all eating fossil fuels.
Finally, David talked about what he referred to as the ‘four pillars of modern civilisation’. These are ammonia (used in fertiliser and explosives), plastics, steel and concrete, the manufacture of which, combined, consume 17% of energy supply and account for 25% of CO2 emissions. Unsurprisingly, in view of its rapid growth, China now accounts for a significant proportion of these totals and, because other countries are following China’s example of industrialisation, they too will demand ever more energy. It is a worrying thought that, for the reasons presented by the speaker, we won’t eliminate the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas for many decades to come.
Stefan Andrenczuk and David Catton
23rd May 2023
Statistics is a branch of mathematics that is not studied by most people and therefore not clearly understood by them, thus leaving them open to being misled by the information presented to them – a fact recognized in the 19th century when the phrase ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’ came to prominence and which described the persuasive power of statistics to bolster weak arguments.
This particular phrase was the subject of today’s talk by club member, Paul Davies, who is himself a mathematician. Paul started with a definition of statistics as the collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation and organization of data such that the main goal is to provide a quantitative and objective approach to understanding and interpreting the data. He continued by describing the history of statistics, how they can be used to great benefit, but also how they are often manipulated with the intention to deceive.
It was on this latter aspect of his subject that he concentrated much of his presentation, by showing examples of the misleading ways in which advertisers, politicians and others selectively make use of statistics to support the particular assertions being made by them. As an example of one of the many advertisements which he illustrated, a toothpaste (let us say, Brand X) is claimed to be recommended by 80% of dentists. This may be true – in a survey, four out of five dentists may indeed have recommended Brand X, but what the advertisement does not reveal is that, in the same survey, all five of them (i.e. 100%) would also recommend Brand Y, a competitor. The speaker also showed examples of the ways in which mathematically correct information can be depicted in such a format on a graph as to give a totally distorted picture.
Summing up his talk, Paul pointed out that, despite the potential for giving misleading information, well collected, analysed and presented statistics can help decision making and communication, but there are multiple ways in which data can be twisted, interpreted and creatively presented. Therefore his message was that we should check, question and challenge what is presented to us.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Paul Davies