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Forthcoming Talks

Democracy

18th January 2022

Club member Roger Truscott will discuss the current state of politics, both national and international. He will attempt to define the major issues which any political party would need to address to form a competent, successful government of this country.

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A window into the Tudors. The life and art of Hans Holbein the Younger

1st February 2022

In 1535 Hans Holbein the Younger, who is considered by many to be the greatest portrait artist of any period, became the King’s painter in the court of Henry VIII. In this talk, club member Steve Marsh will examine how this German designer and artist achieved such a high status position.

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The Bauhaus in Weimar Germany: 1919 – 1933

15th February 2022

This presentation by club member Peter Holt will set the Bauhaus into its Weimar context, highlight its design principles, describe some of its personalities and their output, and stress the importance of leadership in its success.

4th January 2022Roger Truscott
18th January 2022Paul Davies
1st February 2022Steve Marsh
15th February 2022Peter Holt
1st March 2022Brian Barry
15th March 2022Club Debate
5th April 2022Ray Smith
19th April 2022Stefan Andrejczuk
3rd May 2022John Thurstan
17th May 2022Brian Holland
7th June 2022Bernie Webster
21st June 2022(to be arranged)
5th July 2022(to be arranged)
19th July 2022John Hayes
2nd August 2022(to be arranged)
16th August 2022(to be arranged)
6th September 2022(to be arranged)
20th September 2022(to be arranged)
4th October 2022(to be arranged)
18th October 2022(to be arranged)
1st November 2022(to be arranged)
15th November 2022(to be arranged)
6th December 2022(to be arranged)

Recent talks

(Most recent first. Click on the titles for fuller descriptions).

4th December 2022

 

Are we alone in the universe? In all probability, since man first walked on the Earth, he has looked up into the night sky at the stars and wondered if there were other beings ‘out there’. Even now, after centuries of scientific development, we humans are no closer to a definitive answer, although we have sufficient knowledge of the size and nature of the universe to arrive at the reasonable conclusion that we are unlikely to be the only sentient life forms to have evolved.

 

In addressing the question of whether or not there may be life elsewhere, the speaker at this meeting, club member Paul Davies, discussed the evidence available to us. As he pointed out, claims for the existence of extra-terrestrials date back thousands of years but it has been only during the past couple of centuries, following major discoveries in astronomy, physics and mathematics, that making contact (either friendly or hostile) with such creatures has been thought a possibility. This has spawned the interest in ‘science fiction’ and UFOs (i.e. unidentified flying objects, many of which are hoaxes, some easily explained, and others that are inexplicable but reported by credible witnesses).

 

Paul then examined the factors to be considered when assessing the possibility of the existence of life in other parts of the cosmos and the feasibility of making contact. Firstly, there is the sheer scale of the universe. Not only is it spatially vast, but it is populated by billions of galaxies, each of which contains billions of stars. It is reasonable to assume that if only a tiny proportion of these stars are orbited by planets similar to those of our own solar system there must nevertheless be a significant total number of these exoplanets with the potential for life to evolve.

 

Next, there is the question of the level of evolution achieved by life on these planets and how this compares with our own. Contact between ‘intelligent’ alien life and ourselves would also need to take into account the time taken for any electromagnetic messages (travelling at the speed of light) to reach us. It could be that by the time the signal is received, one or both of the life forms could no longer exist.

 

This was an extremely interesting talk which the speaker concluded by stating his own conclusions that there is almost certainly life elsewhere in the universe and it is highly possible that there are intelligent life forms out there; but it is unlikely that we shall succeed in making contact.

Paul Davies

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.

 

Roger Taylor

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.

 

Ainslie Kelly

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.

 

Adele Metcalfe

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.

 

Richard Chaplin

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.

 

Tony Byrne

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.

 

David Catton

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.

 

Ian Johnston

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.

 

Peter Stubbs

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.

 

Kim Rainsford

Archived Talks