Forthcoming Talks

By video conferencing

Date Title Notes
18th May 2021 Hallmarking: the oldest form of consumer protection Club member, Christopher Jewitt will describe how the roots of hallmarking can be traced back to the reign of Henry III. The talk will cover its development over the last seven centuries, an explanation of hallmarks, and why they are still necessary.
1st June 2021 Changing housing markets and housing policy Club member, Tony Crook will discuss the changes in the housing markets and policy from the time of our grandparents to that of our grandchildren.
15th June 2021 Challenges in Communicating the Basics of Pain Therapies Widely travelled in his professional career, Club member Kim Rainsford has developed particular communication skills in over 50 years of addressing conferences, meetings and university forums. In this talk he will discuss his experiences, some of which have involved unexpected or even alarming encounters.
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 2021Stefan Andrejczuk
5th October 2021Brian Barry
19th October 2021Ainslie Kelly
2nd November 2021Roger Taylor
16th November 2021(to be confirmed)
7th December 2021Don Mackenzie

Recent talks

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

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. 

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.

16th 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.

 

John Robinson

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.

 

John Winkworth-Smith

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.

 

Don Naybour

1st December  2020

 

With an area of almost 1.4 million square miles (five times that of France), the South China Sea is not only a large body of water but also, because of its location (bounded by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam) it has huge economic and strategic importance. At this talk (by video conferencing) Club member Ron Enock gave a fascinating and somewhat worrying account of the activities of China in recent years. He described how that country has attempted to extend its territorial claims over those of its neighbours by laying claim to, and developing, several islands in the Paracel and Spratley archipelagos, most of which lie beyond China’s recognized territorial seas.

 

To give an idea of the international significance of the South China Sea, the speaker explained that it is used by one third of the world’s maritime shipping, of which a significant proportion represents the majority of China’s trade. As well as its importance to shipping, the sea is rich in resources such as fishing and, below the sea bed, proven reserves of oil and natural gas.

 

Drawing on knowledge and experience gained during his former naval career at a senior level, Ron explained the history behind the current situation and outlined the role played by International Admiralty Law. In 1958 China laid claim to the South China Sea islands but its neighbours, basing their claims on the subsequently enacted United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) similarly claimed their own maritime zones, many of which resulted in overlapping areas. These disputes have been further complicated by disagreements over the definition of what constitutes “an island” within the legal scope of UNCLOS. Ignoring a ruling against it by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China has pursued a policy of power projection in an attempt to bolster its legal claim to sovereignty over its claimed territory by constructing artificial islands (and, in the process, causing enormous damage to the local environment).

 

Chinese troops and military facilities (including airstrips) have been observed on many of these islands and the exact reasons for their construction remain a matter of debate. However, in view of China’s increasing assertiveness towards much of the rest of the world, its motives should continue to be regarded with utmost care.

 

17th November  2020

 

Do our schools provide students with the knowledge and skills that are needed by industry and the economy of this country? This was the question asked by Club member, Jeff Marsh, at this Zoom meeting. Before offering his own views, and inviting contributions to the debate from his fellow members, Jeff – a retired secondary school teacher – outlined the history and development of our present education system.

 

As he described, until the latter part of the nineteenth century the limited amount of schooling that was available was carried out in long-established private institutions or by social groups, often funded by one or other of the various religious denominations. Then, in 1870, Parliament passed the Elementary Education Act which set the framework for schooling all children between the ages of 5 and 12. It gave powers to local authorities to establish school boards which were to administer elementary schools. Thus was established the principle of compulsory education for all. Following proposals developed by leading specialists during the 1920s and 1930s, the next major change came with the 1944 Education Act, the most important effect of which was to ensure free secondary education for all. This was especially beneficial for girls and for working class children of both sexes.

 

From time to time, further reforms have attempted to address the shortcomings that have arisen in the system, especially in respect of the school curriculum and whether it is fit for purpose. There has been much criticism from industry that schools have been out of touch with industry’s needs. However, from their perspective, schools have claimed that industry has not made its requirements clear. Successive governments have made changes to the system, no doubt all of them well-intentioned but often disruptive and difficult to put into practice.

 

Against this background, the speaker returned to his initial question and, knowing that most of his audience had been employers of one sort or another, he sought their views and their experiences. This prompted an enthusiastic debate in which many expressed concern that too much emphasis has been placed on the value of academic education to the detriment of the more technically-oriented subjects. It was agreed that, within society generally, there needs to be better appreciation of the importance of the latter.

 

Jeff Marsh

3rd November  2020

 

Departing from the usual format of our meetings, in which a single speaker gives a presentation on a (usually serious) topic, today we held a light-hearted quiz, using video conferencing. Three of our members, Ian Johnston, Steve Marsh and Peter Donaldson devised a series of visual clues with which to challenge the problem-solving capabilities of the other members of the club.

 

The first part of the quiz was based on a variation (using pictures instead of words) of the television programme ‘Only Connect’. It comprised twelve groups of pictures with four pictures in each group. The contestants, in teams of five people, were tasked with identifying the pictures in each group and, hence, establish the connection between the four. To solve all twelve groups required a knowledge of subjects as diverse as geography, sport, music, literature, and commonplace objects.

 

The other three parts of the quiz were also visual. One of them showed a series of political cartoons and other pictures about current affairs, and required the teams of contestants to identify the events depicted. In a similar vein, for a third group of questions, for each question the teams were shown a quotation and pictures of five people. From these clues, they were to match the quotation to the person who had said it.

 

Finally, the contestants were given a series of famous logos in which two versions (one true and the other false) were shown side-by-side. For each example, the true version had to be identified. Even though the logos were for everyday products, it proved no easy task to say with certainty which logo was the correct one, thus demonstrating how unobservant people can be.

 

After a keenly fought and enjoyable contest (which was won by a team led by David Webb), the participants agreed that they had been provided with some much-needed light relief in these rather gloomy days of early winter.

Archived Talks