Forthcoming Talks

By video conferencing

New Issues for the National Park’s Local Plan

5th October 2021

Guest speaker, Adele Metcalfe, of the Peak District National Park Authority will give a brief overview of existing planning policies with a focus on performance, and will then turn to some of the new challenges.


Beer, Pubs and the Meaning of Life

19th October 2021

This talk by club member Ainslie Kelly will cover the historic origins and development of brewing ales and beers, the brewers, and the inns and pubs that served them. These against a background of the unique and ever changing British drinking culture.


(To be announced)

2nd November 2021

5th January 2021Don Naybour
19th January 2021John Winkworth-Smith
2nd February 2021John Gibson
16th February 2021John Robinson
2rd March 2021Ian Johnston *
16th March 2021Annual Club Debate
6th April 2021Peter Donaldson
20th April 2021Alan Grant
4th May 2021Chris Shepley
18th May 2021Christopher Jewitt
1st June 2021Tony Crook
15th June 2021Kim Rainsford
6th July 2021Peter Stubbs
20th July 2021Ian Johnston
3rd August 2021David Catton
17th August 2021Tony Byrne
7th September 2021Richard Chaplin
21st September 2021re-arranged Summer Lunch
5th October 2021Brian Barry
19th October 2021Ainslie Kelly
2nd November 2021Roger Taylor
16th November 2021Christopher Jewett
7th December 2021Don Mackenzie

Recent talks

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

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

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.


Tony Crook

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.


Chris Shepley

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.


Alan Grant

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.


Peter Donaldson

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. 

Archived Talks