Blackburn & District Probus Club
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Speakers and Events
Recent Speakers Reports
Blackburn & District Probus Club News
"Local Boy Made Good" 1st October 2008
On Wednesday the 1st of October Mr Alan Lord, one of our own members, spoke to us. The title of the lecture was "Local boy Made Good". A most interesting talk on the life of a man born in Brindle, well educated and whose life became dedicated to the Church. Many of the instances quoted by Alan caused very much amusement amoung the audience present, particularly for me the punishment for swimming in the River Cam whilst resident in Cambridge and also not being able to shave on Sundays, whilst drunken and outrageous behaviour went unpunished.
His main ministry was in the Yorkshire hamlet of Howarth and it amused us all to think about this sometime inhospitable place and wonder at the fact that he could attract over one thousand people to his ministring on a Sunday. Would that we could do that today.
Thank you Alan for a very entertaining morning.
Sight Savers . Rotarians International
On Wednesday October 15th we had as our guest speaker Mr Leslie Hardy who gave us an excellent talk on Sight Savers. Rotarians International Sponsor and carry out many operations and removal of Cataracts in many underdeveloped countries. He wxplained that cararacts are a leading cause of avoidable blindness and unless action is taken now the number of blind will grow to 75 million by 2020. He also explaned that examination of the retina helps diagnose impending Diabetes, herart disease, brain tumours and cerebal palsy.
Where blindness cannot be prevented or cured Sight Savers work with local partners to teach blind people the kind of skills they need to lead independant lives. They teach braille and farming or production skills so people can support themselves. Removal of caratacts costs as little as £17 and is a relatively simple operation.
Mr Hardy obviously works tirelessly for his cause and his enthusiasm is plain to see. His talk was very informative and well received by our members.
Annual General Meeting October 2008
Mr Alan Barry conducted the first part of the meeting and the various reports were presented to the members. We are stil comfortably solvent and the subscription for the ensuing year was set at £23.00, very good value for money. Alan then handed the chair over to Mr D Ian Baldwin who thanked all members of the committee, the ladies for our coffee with a special thanks to Charles Leighton for arranging such good speakers. The meeting closed and the speaker of the day, Mr C Astin gave us a very informative talk on the River Thames from its sourse to Teddington. Many good photographs of the river, locks, Great Houses and an array of Hostels worthy of any visitor to the area. The humour in his narrative very much added to his 10th visit to our club.
On November 12th the speaker was Mrs Francis King, who gave us a slide show and talk on Mercy Ships. Mrs King had been a nurse for 25 years and only found out about Mercy Ships 3 years ago. She was so touched by what she learned that she became a volunteer and went out to Ghana, at her own expence and worked for two weeks on board the ship.
In 1978 the purchase of a retired Ocean Liner began the journey to 150 ports around the world bringing lasting change to millions of lives.
These floating hospitals carry out amazing operations that would be unavailable in underdeveloped countries. Operations such as cataracts, tumours, cleft pallates, burns, dental disease and war and work injuries. All work is carried out by volunteers and since 1978 they have carried out :- 26,000 on board operations, 200,000 patients have been treated in clinics, 800 construction & agricultural projects, Trained 14,000 medical staff and supplied £19 million of equipment and supplies.
Our members sat in stunned and shocked silence throughout the presentation, amazed at the wonderous work the ships staff were doing.
An excellent talk greeted by louder than usual applause.
The speaker Mr K Turner gave us an excellant talk and slide show on his visit to Antarctica. Along with his wife and a party of 48 they sailed on a Russian Icebreaker to explore this very cold but beautiful region of Antarctica.
During the trip they also climbed mountains and icebergs and slept in a tent, even though the temperature was well below freezing. His very informative talk and beautiful slides of penguins, humpback whales and a variety of seals was well received by our members and the question time had to be cut short by our Chairman such was the interest shown.
A good round of applause followed the vote of thanks.
"Life in Malaysia"
Our latest speaker was Mrs Chandra Law who gave us a very entertaining talk on her life in Malaysia and the shock of moving to England after her marriage to her English husband.
Mrs Law opened her talk by explaining what a shock it was to arrive in London in February and be met with freezing cold weather. This was after spending all her life in a little village in Malaysia with no toilets, showers, running water or electricity. Her biggest shock was after leaving her village where there are no seasons apart from the monsoon season. They lived in permanent sunshine with tempatures in the upper 30's. Her talk was very enlightening and humerous covering all aspects of her family life from her school days to getting her first job in Kuala Lumpar. Her talk is accompanied by many beautiful photographs of Malaysia and more sobering photos of her village.
Mrs Law also brings along a wide selection of Malaysian crafts such as silk headscarves, hats, purses,and fans. Her talks are a joy to listen to and she answered questions, some quite intimate with a wonderful sence of humour.
Any societies or schools reading our website and requiring a speaker need look no further, as I would recommend her without hesitation. Many thanks Mrs Chandra Law.
Note from Website Manager. " Just try to imagine what it would be like to see hailstones for the first time." Chandra likened it to raining Sago.
"Cricket" Mr Alan Stuttard.
Our speaker today was a born and bred Yorkshireman who gave us a very amusing and entertaining talk on "Cricket";Mr Alan Stuttard had played cricket in the Central Lancashire league for many years as a less than distinguished batsman for Walsden. He had started his career with local rivals Todmorden of the Lancashire League where he played mostly in the 3rd eleven, never achieving hid dream of playing in the 1st team.
Moving up the road to Walsden caused big upsets in his family as he put it in the same category as a footballer moving from United to City.
During his career he met and played against many of the worlds top players, including such names as Everton Weeks, Ces Pepper, Roy Gilchrist, Sonny Ramadin and many more.
His stories kept us laughing throughout his talk and many of the members present were sad when the talk came to an end. Mr Stuttard was a very entertaining speaker and will hopefully be back at our club in the not too distant future.
"Strange Times in Medieval England"
Canon Brunswick talked to us on "The Strange Times in Medieval England", totally absorbing. What a hard life most of the population of England had. From the little use of soap and water to a whole string of offences, such as wearing high heels, that gave a man cause to divorce his wife. Plenty of humour, descriptive views on a wide range of life in those times. A lively question time followed and speaking on behalf of our members, " Please come again".
Canon Brunswick, should be a must if you are ever given the chance to hear any one of his talks which are always given with interesting content and laughter.
"Men & Machines"
Mr Ray Ashton, a fellow Probus member, spoke to us on Wednesday February 4th. The brave who ventured out were entertained by Ray's "Men & Machines". Interesting photographs and descriptions of some remarkable pieces of engineering. The steam powered Roundabout with carved wooden horses, still in working order and used to this day expressed to us quality engineering of old.
The new age The Falkirk Wheel,A wind Farm of 26units, capable of the supply of 400,000 homes with electrical power demonstrated present projects. The morning ended with an "Extra" DVD of a very large, working steam engine restored and kept in magnificent condition.
"Who are The Welsh"
Our talk this week was given by one of our own members, Rev T Jones, who is a very sprightly 92 years old. His talk was on the history of the Welsh race and being a proud Welshman himself, he gave the members a very enthusiastic speech. His talk was both educational and funny, with many a dig at we English who had stolen their Lands.
Throught the talk he kept the room full of Englishmen in their place by reminding us that Wales had just beaton England again at Rugby and would probably retain the six nations crown.
"The Lake District with a Wainwright Connection"
Mr & Mrs Sharp are old friends of ours visiting us on many occassions giving video shows and talks. All their talks are full of information and the quality of their photography is excellant.
This weeks talk on the Lake District with an emphasis on the work of Wainright's walks was very informative with beautiful shots of the Lakes. Mr Sharp's commentaries, and the energy he used, as he walked and climbed all the areas he covered had to be admired.
The first part of their talk lasted 20 minutes before they moved on to a train journey they made through the Swiss Alps. The filming and the views were spectacular. The third and final part of their talk was a visit they made to the island of Mull with the intention of filming wildlife. The results were amazing with shots of a bearded seal, otters, golden eagles and many rare birds.
It was a credit to the Speaker and his wife as their research and patience produced some wonderful films. The meeting closed with a very warm round of applause.
"Skiing" Mr John Mather
Our speaker this week was Mr John Mather who gave us a very informative talk simply called "Skiing". He covered the whole spectrum of the sport from the early days of wooden ski's right up to todays sophisticated use of modern flexible materials and shorter skis.
His talk covered every aspect from starting to ski, to buying ski's, use of the different levels of difficulty on the piste, how to stop, turn, slow down and do everything required for a safe passage down the slopes.
He brought along a selection of skis, boots and helmets and explained in great detail the art of successful sking.
His slides and video's were well presented and all the members got a new insight into what most of us thought was sliding down a mountain at great speed.
A good talk, well received by the members present.
"Vietnam" April 1st 2009
This weeks speaker, Mr Ken Winterburn, was making his 4th appearance at the club giving us a talk and slide show on "Vietnam".
Mr Winterburn, on previous visits has spoken to us on Peru and China without using any notes and has always been very entertaining. For his latest talk he showed to us what life was like in North and South Vietnam, two very contrasting stories.
He stressed that all the people were very friendly and always happy to talk and be photographed, especially the children, (a far cry from our own crazy politically correct country). Everyone worked very hard and Mr Winterburn tried his hand at most things including persuading a rickshaw driver to let him pedal his CAB through the streets with the owner as a passenger.
A very entertaining talk greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause at the end.
Mr Winterburn is off again this week on a jaunt to India and Nepal which should provide the subject of his next talk.
"Hoghton Tower" Mr P Hennigan.
I must appologise for this report being late.
Mr P Hennigan gave us a more than interesting talk on "Hoghton Tower". As a member of a dedicated team who conduct tours of the "Towers" Mr Hennigan led us through history, the family and its long association with the district.
Together with his slides of the interior and the gardens we all enjoyed his efforts to keep us interested and also amused. No doubt there is a lot more he could have told us if time had permitted.
Being of local interest the post talk questions were spiced up by speculation rather than absolute knowledge but you know what I mean. On behalf of all the members present, thank you Mr Hennigan for a very lively hour.
"The Zulu Wars" - Mr J Doughty
Mr J Doughty gave us an excellent talk on the Zulu Wars. Such was his dedication to this very interesting topic that he took his wife, as an anniversary present, to stay in a cabin at Rorke's Drift, the scene of a humiliating defeat for the British Army.
He mentioned the film "Zulu" starring Michael Caine, saying the film was very accurate but had a few mistakes. He did stress Ivor Emmanuel did NOT sing "Men of Harlech" and the regiment featured was not the South Wales Borderers but the 2/4th Warwickshire Foot.
His knowledge and feeling for the Zulu nation was very evident, even down to his tie, displaying a shield and spears. Mr Doughty was very passionate about his subject and he answered many questions with obvious knowledge of the Zulus and the battles in which they fought. An enthusiastic round of applause followed.
"Men & Machines" Part 2 Mr R Ashton July 2nd 2009
Our speaker today was Mr R Ashton who gave us a slide show and talk on "Men & Machines Part 2", part 1 had been given at an earlier date.
His talk covered a variety of men and women who had followed their dream and achieved success in a variety of fields.
Many of the people were local to the area, ie Rochdale, Bolton etc and their dedication had to be admired. The range of machines covered cars, trams, boats and of course Fred Dibnah's steam engines.
Almost all the people had turned what was a hobby into thriving businesses and Mr Ashton's slides followed all the people through the early stages of their business to their eventual triumph.
The talk was well presented and appreciated by our members who are looking forward to Part 3.
Since the current programme commenced Alan Barry and myself did not manage to compile individual reports for Mrs McDonald "Eggs-Hilarating" which was a very funny well produced talk by Marion, very well recieved by our members.
Mr J Simms talked to us on "I'm Glad I thought of that" then came The Ferrari's Lunch, followed by Mr J Stuuddard "Waterwheel to email" Unfortuneately for personal reasons I could not report to you because I was not in attendance, for which I apologies.
We now hope to resume repoting as usual.
Mr P Houston on "Mozambique" July 22nd 2009
Our speaker was Mr P Houston who spoke on the subject of "Mozambique".
A devout Christian he suddenly said to himself one day "I need to do something with my life."
What he did was quite amazing and very worthy of the praise he received from our members. He called his dream "Vision Mozambique".
Mr Houston went out to Mozambique and built an orphanage, a Church and was also responsible for the water well that has now changed peoples lives who would otherwise still be living in poverty and terrible conditions.
He left a CD showing some of the work he has carried out and left a lasting impression on our members.
"Supersonic Sophistication" by Mr Berkely
This week our speaker was Mr Berkely who gave us an excellant talk on "Concorde".
His slide show and talk were delivered very professionaly and his knowledge of supersonic flight was first class. He covered every aspect of planning, design, test flights and all the disasters along the way.
His pride in Concorde was obvious to see and his disappointment at the demise of Concorde was equally obvious. Mr Berkely now works as a senior advisor at Manchester Airport and organises tours onboard Concorde when you can actually sit in the cockpit.
His talk was greeted with warm applause and our members expressed a desire to visit Concorde in the near future.
"Computing, Keratin & X-Rays"
One of our own members, Chris Walton, gave us a very enlightening talk on Computing, Keratin & X-Rays. As the title suggests it sounds a very deep subject but the speaker's experience in the field, made it a very entertaining talk. His years of study on the subject, earning him a PhD, enabled him to talk at, certaimly my level and gave us a good insight into this complex subject. A very enjoyable talk, followed by a question time, was well appreciated by the club members.
"The Channel Tunnel"
A stand in speaker for Mr Alan Lord who is in hospital, Mr D Metcalfe gave us a talk on the Channel Tunnel. At the start of the talk I think we all thought we knew about the tunnel, but the speakers knowledge of his subject made us realise how little we did know.
His talk began from the planning stage, construction and onto the completed task of how it is run. His talk was very well researched and well received by an attentive audience.
"Gritstone through the Ages" by Mr G Boswell
This morning September 16th an old friend of our club came to give us a lecture on "Gritstone through the Ages". Mr Boswell explained the very many types of gritstone that are present in the Lancashire and Yorkshire counties and also many other places. I should take notes but never did shorthand, add to that a failing memory and the ones that I have remembered are Kinder Scout, Todmorden (I think)and York. Flagstones came in these rocks and can still be seen in a few places. Mr Boswell's slides demonstrated the varing shades which he identified to his audience, on one occassion identiying three shades in one stone wall.
A very well presented lecture as always, well received with a lively question and answer time at the end followed by some generous applause from our members.
"Fish & Chips" by Mr Barclay.
Our latest speaker was Mr Barclay who gave us an excellent slide show and talk on "Fish & Chips"
The title of the talk didn't give us any idea of the wonderful talk to follow. His photography and slides were superb, taking us on a journey all the way up the East coast to Whitby, a place that holds a special place, or should I say plaice in Mr Barclay's heart. Slides of the harbours and quay, slides of such places as Scarborough, Bridlington and Robin Hoods Bay made the audience longing to be there. His enthusiasm to take good camera shots was reflected in the quality of his talk.
Where does Fish & Chips come into this talk, at every venue he pointed out the top class "Chippies" or "Bars", usually washed down with a pint of Theakstons.
An excellent talk well received by our members.
"Mayoralty" by Mr Saunders
Our speaker this week, the 17th March 2010, was Mr Saunders, who gave us a very humorous and informative talk on the MAYORALTY. He spent much of his working life as a chauffeur for Bury and Bolton Councils before qualifying as a Toastmaster. He now travels the country as a Toastmaster and has presided at some very distinguished places, appearing before Royalty and VIP's of all kind.
His humour was very infectious and his stories of life inside the corridors of power at the Town Halls was very enlightening.
An excellent speaker well received by our members.
"Clarice Cliff" by Mrs Pat Osborne 23rd June 2010
Mrs Osborne travelled al the way from Brighouse in Yorkshire for today's talk. Most of our members knew of this famous pottery but we were all held spellbound by the speaker's knowledge of the subject. The talk had been very well researched and was presented in a very enthusiastic way. Born to a large family, Clarice worked her way up from the shop floor, studied hard at college and eventually married her boss. Her BIZARRE range of pottery, originally painted to cover faults in firing, still brings very high prices and is much sought after. Mrs Osborne's talk was well received by all members present.
"Iceland" by Gordon Bartley 7th July 2010
Mr Bartley is a regular speaker at our Club, having given us talks on "Concorde" and "Fish & Chips". His latest talk was a very entertaining slide show on Iceland. Mr Bartley travels our country lecturing on Photography so the quality of his slides is excellent and his knowledge of Iceland made the talk very interesting, especially the pronunciation of the names of many of the places he visited on his trip. Mr Bartley also works as a guide at Concorde at Manchester Airport, a trip we might be making in the near future.
"National Trust - Gondola Steam Yacht" 21st July 2010
This was a very interesting and amusing talk by Mr Michael Furness on the development of the Gondola yacht sailing on Lake Coniston and then its replacement 30 years ago. The original vessel was commissioned by Sir James Ramsden, a director of the Furness railway, and launched in 1859. Tourists would travel by the Furness Railway from Barrow to Coniston and then take a trip on the yacht. Later Sir James had a paddle steamer built to bring more tourists from Fleetwood to Barrow and then on to Coniston by his railway. This was a very successful venture and at its heyday Gondola carried 30,000 tourists one year. Decommissioned in 1936 she was used as a houseboat from 1946 until the 1960s and then fell into disuse following a storm that beached her. Although attempts were made to restore her in the 1970s by National Trust enthusiasts, Gondola's wrought iron hull was too far decayed. An accurate replica was thus commissioned and built with a steel hull in Vickers Shipyard and this was launched in 1980 starting a new era of Gondola Steam Yacht. The talk was illustrated by some excellent slides of the original yacht and crew, the new yacht, Lake Coniston and the surrounding fells.
"Barnes Wallis" by Mr J. Sims 5th August 2010
This was a fascinating talk on Barnes Wallis, who left school a boy without any qualifications except an ability in mathematics. Mr Sims gave a brief overview of his life and then presented a variety of pictures on Wallis and his work. This ranged from the design of airships, especially the R100, the largest airship in the world at the time, a number of bombers including the Vickers Wellesley and Wellington, bombs including the bouncing bomb, and two swing wing aircraft, both which flew as large models but were not built full size. He pioneered the use of geodesic construction which produced very strong airframes. Mr Sims also included a short length of film showing the bouncing bomb being tested. The talk resulted in many questions and comments at the end.
"Canada" by Rev. S. Mailer August 18th 2010
Our speaker described a holiday taken in Canada a few years ago. Rev. Mailer and his wife travelled from Ontario to Vancouver, taking in Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains on the way. His group also journeyed along a glacier in a special vehicle with extra large wheels. He showed many photographs of the journey, including some spectacular shots of the Falls, both the Canadian and American sections, and in the Rockies. There were a number of interesting questions at the end.
"Wild Argyll" Mrs Pat Ascroft 1st September 2010
This was a fascinating talk with Mrs Ascroft describing her first contact with this part of Scotland and her family's subsequent purchase of a cottage at Tighnabruaich on the Kyles of Bute 45 years ago. With views across to the west coast of the Isle of Bute and south to the north coast of the Isle of Arran, it was remote but not isolated. The village had shops, hotels, B&Bs and a doctor. However, medical emergencies could mean an ambulance trip by single track road for an hour or so to Dunoon, followed by a ferry across to Gourock on the mainland and then another trip by road of about 20 miles to get to a hospital. Mrs Ascroft and her family have spent many holidays at the cottage and she has walked miles over the hills enjoying the scenery and the wild life, including red deer, buzzards and eagles. Having been shown the location of an eagle's eyrie by a shepherd, she was able to tell us about the parents' technique for persuading the nearly grown young birds to leave the nest and fly, by swooping past with food but not feeding them!
"Oberammagau" Mr Keith Winterburn 15th September 2010
At very short notice, standing in for our booked speaker who was unable to attend, Mr Keith Winterburn gave a talk on the Oberammergau Passion Play. He described the history of the play, first performed in 1634 in the village in Bavaria, Germany. It now takes place once a decade, 2010 being the year of the latest series of performances. Only the Oberammergau villagers are allowed to take part. Performers are selected 12 months in advance and the men must not shave or cut their hair during that year. The women taking part must all be unmarried. Mr Winterburn illustrated the talk with pictures of the play and also of a nearby part of Austria, including Innsbruck and Kitzbuhel regions and a visit to the Eagle's Nest, the bungalow built as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. No road leads to it, instead a horizontal tunnel 124 m long and a lift shaft 124 m high give access. Views from the bungalow were amazing. The holiday was somewhat spoilt by continual rain and mist blanketing out the distant mountains until the very last day. Our thanks go to Mr Winterburn for an excellent talk.
"Steam Collection of Tom Varley" Mr J. Fish 29th Septe
From a very poor background and cast into the world with nothing at 14 from a children's home,Tom Varley became a farm worker and then learnt the skills of dry stone walling. He eventually became the British Champion and built up his own very successful dry stone walling company. From the profits of the company he bought his own farm at Todber, near Gisburn, and began to build up a collection of steam engines. There were steam wagons, showman's engines and a Stanley steam car. At its peak the collection numbered 46 vehicles, many of them unique. Most dated from the 1930s and were often purchased as a pile of scrap which he lovingly converted into shiny, newly painted, running vehicles. One steam wagon he drove from John 'O Groats to Land's End. Three vehicles were brought all the way from Australia, all in scrap condition with many parts missing and all were brought back to life. Mr Fish concluded his talk with a sequence of pictures showing the restoration of a Foden wagon. A very interesting talk.
"Superstitions" Mr R. Bolton 27th October 2010
Following our AGM, Mr Bolton gave a detailed talk on a variety of superstitions. He gave us the origins of a number of common superstitions and folk sayings, including red sky at night ...., touching wood for luck, throwing salt over the shoulder if you spill some, not walking under ladders, whether black cats brought good or bad luck, and many others. Most relate to our ancestors fears that doing something (or not doing it) could bring down the anger of the gods or spirits of the earth, sky, sea, etc. Some sayings do have a basis in fact, for example the sayings about weather; whilst others, such as horoscopes, he argued were based simply on belief with no scientific evidence in support. His talk caused us to ponder whether we all have some superstition within us, even when we deny it.
"Jelly Babies" Rev. M. Payne 10th Nov 2010
Although some members were probably hoping to receive some free samples (and indeed we were offered one or two to eat), we had no idea that the theme of Rev. Payne's talk would be his obsession with Jelly Babies memorabilia. He arrived with a number of large bags and as the talk progressed he produced item after item all decorated with a Jelly Babies theme. Originally produced to celebrate the end of WW1 and called Peace Jellies, the manufacturers, Bassetts, changed the name when WW2 broke out. We were presented with mugs, plates, model vehicles, colouring books, crayons, pencils, badges, lunch boxes, backpack and lots more items. As he recounted his efforts to collect more and more, we realised that there were other collectors when he said that a small metal badge was sold on eBay for £64 and a set of 6 badges sold for £128 (prices he would not actually pay). Later he obtained a missing badge from his collection for a much lower figure. He also presented us with an interesting psychological question "Do you pop the entire Jelly Baby into your mouth or do you bite off the head first?" after we had all eaten one. We were divided in our response. He had a number of amusing stories to tell as the talk progressed and everyone enjoyed the session.
"Folk Law & Tradition" Mr J. Doughty 24th Nov 2010
Our speaker at this meeting was keen to emphasise that those born in Lancashire, and here he meant the traditional Lancashire with the highest point still being the Old Man of Coniston, were a special people. They had many traditions and customs that should be preserved. He discussed in detail a variety of folk dances still being performed at different festivals around the county. At Easter Pace Egg plays are performed in Lancashire (and West Yorkshire). They all follow the same general theme in which a hero, St George, fights a villain, the Black Prince or Bold Slasher, etc., is killed and then brought back to life, usually by a quack doctor. A fool, Toss Pot, rejoices. There are other characters and a song is sung throughout the proceedings. Different villages have different versions. The performers wear traditional costumes, again with variations between villages. Morris dancing and maypole dancing are other traditions that should be maintained. Again different villages had different costumes and songs. One of Mr Doughty's slides showed a ladies Morris group which included a young girl. He pointed this out to emphasise that without young people taking up these traditional pastimes they would all eventually die out. (He did however criticise the ladies group for not wearing traditional footwear - clogs!). A thought provoking talk.
"Boys at War" Russell Margerison 15th December 2010
Following our Christmas Lunch at the New Drop Inn, we had one of own members, Russell Margerison, talking about his wartime experiences. Volunteering for Air Crew on his eighteenth birthday in November 1942, by July 1943 he had completed his basis training as an air gunner and began his first ever flights in an aeroplane. After months of tests and trials in various aeroplanes, he was finally allocated to the seven-man crew of a Lancaster bomber, he being the gunner in the central turret. His role when they were on a bombing mission was to watch out for enemy fighters and take a shot at them before they attacked his aircraft. His plane took part in many raids over Germany, successfully returning night after night. However, on the return from a raid on Duisburg (where for the first time they missed their target), their Lancaster was hit, burst into flames and the crew were ordered to bail out. Russell managed to land uninjured in a field in Belgium. He found the local people all willing to help downed RAF crew. Passed along the Belgian underground, he met up with one of his crew, Dick Reeves. Walking, cycling and transported by lorry, the two of them were hidden in farms and houses over a period of weeks. Unfortunately they were captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp, Stalag Luft VII in eastern Germany. After three months in the camp, the sounds of guns and fighting to the east confirmed the news that the Russian forces were approaching. The Germans panicked and in January 1945 decided to move the POWs west into central Germany. With only a tiny amount of soup per day (and food stolen from the surrounding countryside), 1500 POws were force marched through rain, mud, snow and blizzards 240 km to a rail terminal where they were herded like animals 64 at a time into wagons. For three nights and two days they were locked in the wagons with no food or water and no sanitation. They finally arrived at another POW camp. Many had lost their lives. After a few weeks the Germans abandoned the camp just before the Russians arrived. Frustrated by the Russians' lack of interest in freeing them, Russell and Dick decided to make their own escape through a hole in the boundary fence. The area was in chaos, there were hundreds of refugees trying to escape west. They made their way to the River Elbe, the boundary to freedom. They tried to swim it and gave up after nearly being swept away downstream. Finally American forces arrived and transported them to Brussels and onto England. When finally Russell arrived back in Blackburn, he was still six months short of his 21st birthday. A remarkable story.
"Sizergh Castle & the Stricklands" C. Robson 5th J
Sizergh Castle and Gardens are situated 4 miles SW of Kendal in Cumbria. Our speaker at this talk gave us a very detailed history of the castle and the Strickland family that has owned it. The Sizergh estate was granted to Gervase Deincourt by Henry II in the 1170's. On the marriage of Gervase's great granddaughter, the heiress Elizabeth Deincourt to Sir William de Stirkeland in 1239, the estate passed into the hands of the Stricklands. The castle was originally a solar or pele, 60 feet high, dating from medieval times and one of many built in the north of England as a defence against marauding Scots. The Great Hall was added in 1450 and in Tudor times a mansion was erected surrounding the pele tower. By the end of the 16th century the castle had developed into a fortified manor house. The Strickland family has always been Catholic and royalist and fought to support James I, Charles I and remained Catholic during the Commonwealth period and the Reformation. Later Stricklands were MP's and civil servants, one helping to keep Malta a British colony. The gardens were planted during the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to financial problems and in lieu of death duties the castle and estate were handed to the National Trust in 1950.
"Experiences of a Fireman" C. Cunliffe 19th Jan 2011
Our speaker today, having been a soldier and fireman in this country, now works for various charities travelling around the world helping with fire brigade training, taking out equipment and materials, and assisting in disaster areas. He recounted stories of his work on the island of St Helena, where a stork (never before seen on the island) and its death were headline news for weeks); in Paraguay where an English nurse, Beryl Baker, has been helping a Mennonite community (similar to the Amish in the USA) for 30 years; and in Chile, where the fire brigades (all volunteers) were initially established by early settlers and maintain the traditions of their settler homelands so there are brigades with English, French, German, etc. backgrounds. In all these countries the brigades have minimal equipment and uniforms but are keen top maintain standards. Mr Cunliffe has also been to Armenia to assist after an earthquake, to Bosnia after the war there, to Western Sahara, a disputed territory, and to Lake Tanganyika to set up a water filtration plant. This was a fascinating and amusing talk enjoyed by all.
"A Victorian Childhood" Dr I. Ramage 16 Feb 2011
In this talk, our speaker gave us readings from the memoirs of a Victorian ancestor. The writer described his life in Derbyshire in the late 19th Century from about the age of four, a life of someone who came from the poorest of backgrounds. By the time he reached fourteen he had worked on a farm from dawn to dusk, been involved in the manufacturing of knitted hosiery, and had then been apprenticed to a joiner who often made coffins. The area was a centre for stocking production and whole families were involved in the work. Dr Ramage pointed out that most autobiographies were written by educated people who had lived lives of some importance or consequence. Here was someone who was nothing special and yet the memoir was interesting and provided much useful information on the lives of ordinary people. He exhorted all of us to write something down about our own lives for our children and, especially, our grandchildren; they would have no concept of our lives unless we did do. A thought provoking talk.
"Diamonds" P. Ainsworth March 2nd 2011
This talk gave us information on the structure of diamonds, their production, cutting and polishing and their classification. Diamonds are only found at volcanic sites, although not all volcanoes produce them. A pure form of carbon, they are formed by high temperatures and high pressures deep within the earth. Magma forcing its way up to the surface at a volcano carries the diamonds with it. They can be found in the tube or "pipe" of solidified rock, at the surface above, in rivers washing them downstream and on the sea bed. Mining diamonds began in South Africa, now they are also mined in Russia, Australia and Canada. The cutting or cleaving of a diamond requires high expertise - a mistake here can destroy the diamond. Our speaker explained that the aim was to produce a faceted jewel where the angles between the facets would maximise the dispersion of light entering the top of the gem and produce the most sparkle. There are about a dozen standard cut shapes. Gem quality diamonds are assessed by carat (weight), cut, clarity (few or no internal defects are best) and colour (colourless generally are best). He described some famous diamonds including the Cullinan, which proved some of the diamonds in the British Crown Jewels. Most diamonds are not good enough to be cut as gem stones and are used for industrial purposes. Mr Ainsworth concluded his talk by describing the operation of the Diamond Trading Centre in London and the continuing strong influence of the De Beers organisation. A fascinating talk.
"The Big Question" Mrs Eve Witham March 16th 2011
As a contestant on the very first programme of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", our speaker gave us a fascinating insight into the workings of a TV quiz programme. Volunteered by her daughter, who had heard of this new quiz show, she did in fact have to answer correctly a number of questions before she was accepted into the audience. Once there she had to be one of the "fastest fingers" to correctly answer a question posed in the studio, and then she finally took the walk to the chair to face Quizmaster Chris Tarrant.
Having answered the £100 first question correctly, she was then told there would be a rollover to the next programme. Eve and her husband had overnight accommodation provided by the TV company and she then continued the quiz the next day. She told us the questions and answers for all she was asked. The Big Question came at £64,000 - "What is the highest mountain in Africa?" Uncertain, she "called a friend", who was a Geography teacher. He was uncertain also and so she decided to stop at that point, even though in her mind she did have the correct answer - Kilimanjaro. Her account of how well they were treated - all expenses paid - and how pleasant Chris Tarrant was to contestants confirmed her enjoyment of the experience.
"France" Mr G. Bartley April 13th 2011
Once again we welcomed Mr Bartley to Blackburn. This time his illustrated talk was on a number of French towns and areas. He began with a visit to the port of Boulogne on the Channel coast, showing us contrasting pictures of the new and the old town and harbour. We then moved to Paris with pictures of the Arch de Triumph, the River Seine and the Eiffel Tower. He also took some interesting evening shots of city views from one of the tallest hotels in Paris. We saw the colours of the buildings change steadily as the sun set. His third section of pictures came from a holiday in the Lot Valley in SW France. We saw neat, well managed towns, magnificent mountain ranges, heart stopping gondola lifts and a glacier into which a new ice palace is carved each year as the glacier progresses down its valley. He had taken some excellent photographs during his journeys.
"A Nastia Game" B. Kermeen May 11 2011
This talk began with a history of the Middle East, with particular reference to Iraq. With diagrams and maps we were given a very good summary of events in the region, with many different empires over-running the country, culminating in the arrival of Saddam Hussein as leader of Iraq. In his early years as president, Saddam was an ally of the West, mainly due to his opposition to Iran. Our speaker served for 39 years in the RAF and as a software engineer he specialised in simulations and war gaming. The title of the talk refers to an RAF computer war game devised as a staff training exercise in the 1970s. One of the overseas officers attending the course came from Iraq and recommended the simulation to Saddam, who bought it (and then had to buy a £1 million computer to run it) shortly before the Iran-Iran war. One has to assume that when the USA and the UK waged war on Iraq and defeated Saddam, Iraq fighter pilots had been trained on this war game. A fascinating talk.
"James Brindley - Millwright & Canal Engineer" J.
Our speaker described James Brindley as his "Hero". Brindley was born to a family of yeomen farmers in the Peak District. He had little formal education but was apprenticed at 17 to a millwright at Sutton near Macclesfield. He showed exceptional ability at his work and on completion of the apprenticeship set up his own millwright business in Leek. He began to establish a reputation for ingenuity and skill repairing various machines, particularly water mills. In 1752 he built an engine for draining a coal mine - the Wet Earth Colliery at Clifton in Lancashire.
His reputation brought him to the attention of the Duke of Bridgewater, who was looking for a way to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to Manchester. He commissioned Brindley to build a canal for that purpose and the Bridgewater Canal, opened in 1761, is often regarded as the first British canal of the modern era. The most impressive feature of the canal was the Barton Viaduct carrying the canal over the River Irwell.
Subsequently Brindley was engaged to build many more canals. To avoid having to dig tunnels or fit locks, he would design a canal to follow a natural contour where possible. He also devised the technique of clay puddling to waterproof a canal. In 1766 Josiah Wedgwood commissioned him to build a canal to join Staffordshire to the Trent and the Mersey to transport pottery ware. With the Trent Canal Brindley could not avoid having locks and digging a tunnel (which took 11 years to complete). Although he envisaged an X-shaped system of canals linking the NW to the SE and the SW to the NE, he died before this could be accomplished. A very detailed and enthusiastic talk.
"Men & Machines (Part 3)" R. Ashton 22nd June 20
Our speaker at this meeting gave us a talk on an eclectic selection of machines and the men (and women) associated with them. He began with the Spitfire fighter, describing its construction and making comparisons with the Hurricane. The main part of this section concerned the plane bought by amateur pilots Nick and Carolyn Grace in 1979. Nick spent five years restoring the Spitfire and flew it at many events and in films. Unfortunately he was killed in 1988 and his widow then decided she would learn to fly the plane. She completed her training in 1990 and now gives display flights herself. Mr Ashton has a personal connection with the Moelfre lifeboat and gave some stories about it, the crew, organising the boat, and some of the rescues it has been involved in. A third topic involved motor cycles, a keen interest of his for many years having been a motocross rider. He described various machines, some of which he had owned, and also the Isle of Man TT Races. This interesting talk was illustrated with many pictures.
"The Story of an Highland Estate" Jack Hopper 6th July
Club member Jack gave us a very interesting account of the history of the Ardtornish estate where his family have had a holiday cottage for many years. Ardtornish is an highland estate located in Morven, Argyll & Bute, on the banks of Loch Aline. A few hundred years ago the land occupied by the current estate was controlled mainly by the Cameron and MacLean clans. As the years passed, other clans took over including the MacDonalds and the MacLachlans. In 1845 everything changed when Octavious Smith, a Londoner whose father had been a successful grocer and who himself ran the largest gin distillery in the country, purchased 9.000 acres to the east of Loch Aline. At about the same time land to the west had been purchased by the notorious Patrick Sellar, who named his estate after Ardtornish Castle at the side of the loch. He forced many tenants off their land during the highland clearances period. In 1860 Smith bought all Sellar's land and renamed the entire estate, now totalling 30,000 acres, "Ardtornish".
Having built a substantial mansion house, Smith died and was succeeded by his son Valentine who demolished the house and rebuilt a vast new version of Ardtornish House. Valentine added more land to the estate but died without a son and his sister Gertrude took over, having married Sellar's son. Later in 1930 the estate was sold to Owen and Emmeline Smith (unrelated). Their daughter Faith inherited the estate after marrying a Cambridge don, John Raven. Together they run the present estate. There is extensive shooting and fishing available and Jack showed us maps and photographs of the estate, including sections of his favourite fishing river. A very detailed talk.
"Another Copper's Story" J. Finn July 20th 2011
Our speaker at this meeting described his life as a Special Constable in Merseyside and as a regular officer, rising to the post of Assistant Inspector. Mr Finn had 25 years of police and police-type experiences. After school he joined Joseph Lucas working on a variety of engineering projects including experimental hydraulic transmission. Whilst there he joined the Special Constabulary, undertook a six weeks training and was then issued with uniform, baton and whistle - no two-way radios or pepper spray in those days! Amongst his duties he patrolled Liverpool and Everton football matches (being paid 6d to attend and 6d for his bus fare).
He then joined the RAF and served with the RAF Police, including 4 months in Aden in the 1960s when independence groups attacked police and civilians. He worked for Du Pont in Northern Ireland and was in Londonderry in 1968 when the first civil liberty marches took place and there were riots and battles with local police. He decided to leave Northern Ireland and in 1972 joined the Liverpool & Bootle Police Force. He did school crossing duty and assisted with the CID for some time. Later he was sent on a police driving course and assigned to a panda car - which in those days was a mini, useful when driving along narrow lanes.
Following promotion to Sergeant he spent some time at the Police HQ before promotion to Acting Inspector at a station near Aintree Race course. Following injury he took retirement from the police and did security work for local shops, staff training and dealing with insurance claims for stolen motor vehicles and caravans. A talk with many interesting and amusing stories.
"Al Capone & the Prohibition Era" J. Billington 3
John Billington became interested in Alphonse "Al" Capone after reading a book about him. He began to do research on the American gangster and today gave us a very detailed account of the most well-known of the Chicago hoodlums. Born in New Yorkin 1899, Capone became involved in gang activities after being expelled from school at the age of 14. He moved to Chicago in his early twenties when an opportunity arose to make money from smuggling illegal alcohol during the Prohibition era. His gang also engaged in bribery of police and public officials and prostitution. During inter-gang rivalry there were many killings and Capone rose up to be the head of the largest gang on the south side of the city. Despite his illegal activities, he was a public figure who made many charitable donations.
Capone was publicly criticised for his involvement in the St Valentine's Day Massacre, when seven rival gang members were killed by his men (but not their leader). He was never brought to justice on any of his gang activities but was convicted of tax evasion in 1932 and sent to prison. He spent some time in Alcatraz prison shortly after it opened. In his final years he suffered from physical and mental deterioration having contracted syphilis in his younger days. he died after cardiac arrest in a prison in Florida at the age of 47.
Our speaker had many pictures of gang members linked to Capone and also of various grave memorials to these hoodlums. A fascinating talk.
"Kitchener's Pals" S. Williams 31 August 2011
Steve Williams' talk was a detailed exposition on the "Pals" Battalions, with particular reference to the Accrington Pals, that fought in the First World War. The idea (not really Kitchener's) was to recruit regiments of men who live, work, play or worship together because they would want to fight together. Pals battalions were formed all across Britain. The Accrington Pals was the first such battalion following enthusiastic campaigning in his town by the mayor. Some of its four companies each of 250 men came from Blackburn and Chorley (Chorley Pals) and surrounding districts.
Many Pals Battalions went into battle for the first time at the Somme on 1st July 1916. Given false information that the German positions had been heavily weakened by cannon bombardment, the Pals walked forward into no man's land to be cut down in their thousands by massive machine gun fire. Even when it was obviously sensible to run, orders were still to "walk forward". Most of the Accrington Pals were killed or injured in the first half hour of battle.
Steve has researched many of those who took part and was able to show photographs and give information on individual soldiers and officers who died or survived the battle. He also showed BBC video clips of relatives visiting war graves on the battlefield. A thoroughly engrossing talk.
"Turnpike Roads" Dr Brenda Fox 14th September 2011
With a keen interest in local history, Brenda Fox presented us with a detailed look at turnpike roads in the North West. Previous to the development of the turnpikes, roads came under parish control. Most roads were just tracks with no proper foundations (except those that followed the line of a Roman road) and the heavy wagons of the day would leave deep ruts in dry weather and churn up the road into deep mud in wet conditions. By the late 17th Century, with the steady increase in traffic, the main roads leading into London and other major towns were badly affected by this.
The first Turnpike Trusts were set up by Acts of Parliament in the early 18th Century. The Trust could apply to take responsibility of the upkeep of a particular section of road and was given the legal right to collect tolls from all those using the road to pay towards its maintenance. Toll gates were set up at the beginning and end of the turnpike road and toll houses built for the gate keepers. The Act set maximum tolls for each class of vehicle or animals using the turnpike road. Some remaining toll houses, now used as private dwellings, still show on an outer wall a sign listing all the different fees payable when the road was turnpiked. Milestones were often set up along the turnpike to indicate distances and many of these still survive.
Brenda took us along the A6 between Preston and Lancaster (and some other roads), showing slides of various toll houses and milestones. Each Turnpike Trust had its own style of toll house - some used an octagonal shape, with windows looking along both directions of the road. Others looked more like modern bungalows, with low roofs. Others had two storeys. Similarly Trusts set up milestones with individual styles. Many used engraved stones, with characteristic lettering, but others used cast iron plates which were then attached to a stone by screws.
Each year the Trust would would put up for auction a lease to collect tolls. The winner would have to pay a fixed sum to the Trust, pay for road and fence repairs, and try to make a profit to keep themselves and their family. The complex set of toll fees meant that the toll keeper had to be very good at arithmetic! A fascinating talk which engendered lots of discussions and questions.
"Pilot Spared by 5 Seconds" Pastor I. Ferguson 28 Se
Ian Ferguson gave us a personal insight into his life as a former RAF fighter pilot and trainer. With many thousands of flying hours on a variety of modern jet fighters, including Tornado, F15, Harrier jump jet and Eurofighter (Typhoon), he visited many countries during his service. With a weak academic background, his initial applications to join RAF training were turned down. However, he persisted and was finally accepted after having done some other jobs. He soon demonstrated exceptional ability during his training and spent many hours during the cold war period flying over Britain, prepared to defend us against a sudden attack from the USSR. Later he went into the training side and taught a large number of RAF pilots to fly modern jets.
The "5 Seconds" of his talk title relate to the time when his aeroplane refused to respond to its controls, suddenly making rapid changes of direction until he realised it was heading straight down towards the ground. This was during a flight over the Northern Pennines and from the speed the plane was travelling he had about 5 seconds to take action before it crashed. He activated the ejector seat, his navigator behind him did the same a second or so later, and both parachuted to safety. The plane crashed into a mountain side and exploded. He broke his left arm and right leg during the escape and his navigator was also injured, so great were the forces on them at the time the ejectors fired the dynamite under their seats. Fortunately, however, both recovered and continued flying.
As a young man Ian developed a Christian belief, inspired by his then girl friend, who later became his wife. He puts his success as a pilot and his escape from death down to his belief. Having retired from the RAF he is now the pastor at a local church in Blackburn. A remarkable story.
"The Restoration of Britannia Steam Engine" J. Fish 26
This talk with slides described the restoration of a steam ploughing engine manufactured by the Britannia Iron Works of J. & F. Howard, Bedford. The factory made a variety of agricultural equipment and at its peak covered an area of 20 acres. By 1855 steam ploughs were being made; one or two engines pulled steel plough blades back and forth across a field, replacing horses. Only the factory arched gateway remains, the rest of the site has been used for housing and modern industries.
The particular steam engine described (only one of two of this type now existing) was constructed in 1871-3 and exported to Australia. It was last used in 1908 for sheep shearing after having formed part of a double engine system for ploughing. It was purchased by Tom Varley of Todber Caravan Park, Gisburn, brought back to Lancashire in 1980 and restored by Tom and his son David. The restoration took 5 months and a new boiler for it was made in Bradford. Old parts were dismantled and sand-blasted and the finished machine was repainted in its original colours. The engine is now in full working condition. A fascinating talk that also demonstrated Tom Varley's dedication to steam engines of all types.
"Skeletons in the Cupboard" B. Taylor 9th November
Our speaker at this meeting gave us an amusing account of various "skeletons" he has discovered whilst researching family histories. His own great grandfather, a sailor, was jailed on a number of occasions for being drunk and disorderly. Another relative appeared to be a member of two different regiments at the same time - the Welsh Fusiliers and a Liverpool regiment according to family photographs. It only turned out later that one of them was taken when the young man in question had been on holiday and had dressed up in a uniform in a photographer's studio to have the picture taken.
Whilst trawling through census records, marriage and death certificates, Mr Taylor was able to discover women described as "fallen" or as (common) prostitutes, illegitimate children, individuals not listed in census records, and some who were criminals.
Family histories over the past 150 years or so almost invariably seem to throw up a number of black sheep - both male and female!
"Mayan Mexico" K. Winterburn 23rd November 2011
Illustrated with a large number of photographs, Mr Winterburn gave us an interesting talk on various aspects of Mexican life, both during the Mayan period and in modern Mexico. The Mayans were one of a group of civilizations that existed in Mexico during the period 1000 BC to about 900 AD. Their peak was in the period 300 AD to 850 AD and they occupied the region now known as the Yucatan peninsular. They built monumental groups of temples or meeting houses on pyramid step-like bases hundreds of feet high, from small rough blocks of limestone. They dug wells down to underground aquifers for water, no rain falls in the treeless plains of the Yucatan.
Some of the Mayan city areas had populations in the hundred thousand or more. They appear to have been very keen on a ball game played in vast courts and with the aim of sending a large ball through a stone hoop high on a wall. Players could only use their elbows, hips and knees to hit the ball. Games went on all day and the leader of the defeated team was executed at the end. A stone effigy of his head was carved and fixed on a wall. The Mayan ruling dynasty or priests were keen observational astronomers and constructed circular calendars to predict the future. They often sacrificed captives or slaves. However, their civilization never invented wheeled vehicles.
Mr Winterburn also described modern Mexican, the musical heritage, street dancing and parades, and vsiting a church with no windows, no seating, no altar and a grass floor.
"Fun & Faith" Rev. P. Gascoine 4th January 2012
Our speaker's aim in this talk was to show how one could use humour to present the basics of his faith. He tried to give us jokes which had a connection with the Christian religion. He was particularly interested in involving young people and to this end had purchased a couple of hand puppets. His amateur efforts at ventriloquism in themselves produced some humorous moments.
"Flags of the World" B. Jackson 18th January 2012
Mr Jackson began his talk by setting up some stands and produced a colourful display of a number of flags. He explained that the study of and research into flags is termed Vexillology. The name comes from the Roman word vexillum - a standard. Whenever a country or organisation decides to have a flag (or new flag) then there are a number of rules governing the choice of colours, their layout and whether one colour can be placed next to another colour or not, etc.
Most flags of nations have some historical context and he discussed a number, including the UK's Union (Jack) flag, with its complex arrangement of crosses, and those of some other European countries. Red and white stripes next to each other denote reconciliation (usually between previously hostile parties). The flag of the USA has thirteen red and white stripes for the original members of the Union and then a blue panel with stars to represent all the states. This section had to be continually updated as new states joined the union until there are now 50.
Stars are often used to denote states, as on the European Union flag (a circle of stars) and on the new African Union flag (showing 53 stars). The Australian flag has a number of stars including a large one with seven points. The original flag had six points on the star but when the Northern Territory joined the other states in the Commonwealth of Australia, another point had to be added.
This was a fascinating talk and our speaker, describing himself as a vexillologist, mixed great knowledge with humour.
"Examination Howlers, etc." Mr Cliff Astin 1st Febru
Following problems with the planned talk for today, Mr Astin very kindly stepped in at short notice. He has spoken many times at our club previously. His initial theme was on schoolboy examination howlers, where he presented us with a variety of mistakes made on examination papers as listed by various boards. He followed this with a number of curious and humorous reports and some jokes. We enjoyed his session.
"Titanic" Mr T. MacGuire 15 February 2012
On arriving at St Silas' Hall, members were greeted with a fantastic display of Titanic memorabilia arranged by our speaker. Mr MacGuire admitted that he is a Titanic fanatic and has been collecting his material over many years. British, American and European newspaper articles from 1912, photographs of the ship, crew and passengers, potted histories of many individuals involved in the disaster and much other information.
The talk was quite fascinating because our speaker was able to tell us stories that are not generally known - particularly aspects that probably contributed to the loss of life. For example the owner of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, decided that the design number of 64 lifeboats was too many and reduced it down to 16 (to give the first class passengers more promenading space). A quite inadequate number for the 2,200 people who were on the ship. During construction weaker rivet joints were used at the curved prow and stern areas than elsewhere - these joints were more likely to open as the ship scraped along the iceberg (it was not a direct hit). Radio operators were busy sending personal telegrams for the first class passengers and failed to pass on to the captain some reports of icebergs in the area. The lookouts in the crows nest were not equipped with telescopes or binoculars.
Mr MacGuire told us that the exhibition was going to move on to Radio Blackburn studios in April for 6 weeks and that it would be three times the size of the display we had. It is a remarkable collection and well worth viewing. An excellent talk.
"The Great Wall of China" Mrs P. Ascroft 29th Februa
Our talk today described a charity walk Mrs Ascroft made along a small section of the Great Wall of China. At the start of the walk, each member of the party was given, if they wished, the assistance of a lady who acted as a "bag catcher". The wall is a couple of thousand miles long and the section she and her party "walked" involved a number of steep sections covered by climbing up steps. The steps however, were about a yard high and entailed sitting on the step and then swinging ones legs up on to the flat section. This was almost impossible when carrying a large rucksack and our speaker, aged 74, was very happy to accept the help of a Chinese lady aged about 40, who carried her rucksack all the way. All the walkers accepted a helper. The official maximum the walkers could pay one of these ladies was £8 per day.
Because the walk was very strenuous, the walkers were all told they must drink a couple of bottles of water every day. Each night they would camp and food would suddenly appear via motorcycle and sidecar - a delicious Chinese meal including cooked rice. Mrs Ascrot made good friends with her helper and later secretly gave her some extra money for all the help she provided as well as buying some items she had made, including a knitted panda hat (which everyone else in the party bought - she showed a photograph of all the group in their fancy hats).
This was a very interesting talk, well presented.
"The Husky Trail" A. Cowie 14th March 2012
In this talk Mr Cowie described another charity walk, this time along the Husky Trail in the lapland area of Northern Norway near Tromso. Rather than walk, the members of the party actually rode standing on the sides of sledges pulled by huskies. The dogs used are mixed breeds with more or less "husky" in them but all bred for strength and speed.
Our speaker described the multi-layered clothing needed in this region plus the thick ground mat and sleeping bag guaranteed to -20 degrees C. Frostbite and sun burn had both to be prevented, and lots of water drunk each day because of the energy expended in controlling the dogs, lifting up fallen sledges, packing away tents and equipment at the start of each day. At one stage the party had to pack up and move away quickly as a herd of reindeer many thousands strong approached.
The talk was accompanied by many slides of the magnificent snow covered landscape. There were slides of some of the individual huskies, each with its own name. They have a strict "pecking order", each top dog is leader of the group pulling each sledge and is put into the traces first and is fed first. One slide showed our speaker and a colleague eating, and his friend was pointing to a bottle of HP Sauce that he had taken with him - notwithstanding the very strict weight limit on luggage for the flights to their starting point!
This was an excellent talk.
"Monty's Mentor" T. Dean 28th March 2012
Our speaker today gave us a very detailed story on the career of Major General James ("Sandy") Sandilands, who was born in 1874 and was first commissioned into the British Army in 1895. Late in his service, General Montgomery was a young officer in his command and regarded him as the best general he served under.
Sandy was commissioned into the Manchester Regiment and then transferred to the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders in 1897 and fought with them in the Mahdist War in Egypt. This involved 13,000 British troops travelling by boat, train and marching, to reach Southern Egypt. After a number of battles, including those at Atbara and Omdurman, Khartoom was captured with 27,000 Dervish casualties but only 431 British and Egyptian troops lost. Sandy was mentioned in despatches.
When the 2nd Boer War began in 1899, Sandy was sent to South Africa with British troops. During one battle with the Boers in 1900, he was shot three times on one occasion but survived with little lasting damage. He was carried to safety under fire by a sergeant who subsequently received the Victoria Cross for his action. Between 1901 and 1914 Sandy held various commands, ending at the Staff College.
When World War I began, in November 1914 he was sent to the front and was involved in the battle at Ypres. He then contracted trench foot and was returned to England to recover. By 1915 he was back at the front with the Camerons. In 1916 he took charge of the Bantam Brigade (formed of men under 5 foot 3 inches tall, mainly miners) and in one incident was blown off his feet when a shell exploded nearby. He was at Passchendaele and Amiens and after the war was given command of Fort George at Inverness.
In 1928 and elevated to Major General, Sandy was sent to command British troops in China. In 1933 he retired but always kept in touch with Monty. He died in 1959.
This was a very interesting talk with photographs and war maps which demonstrated the passion of the speaker in his subject.
"Country Railway" Steve Williams 11th April 2012
This talk was about the Blackburn to Chorley railway via Cherry Tree and five other stations. Construction started in 1866. Problems at Roddlesworth, involving the diversion of the river, delayed completion until 1869. It cost £530,000 to construct and was finally closed in 1960. Originally built to carry coal and limestone it did take passengers later. The five stations were all of a standard design and cost £10,000 in total to build.
The railway reduced transport costs for various mills and quarries, for example saving £5 per ton compared with the canal in the transport of coal. There were various sidings, for example to Withnall Quarry, Withnall Brick and Terracotta Works, Heapey Bleachworks (a huge factory) and Abbey Village Mill, etc. In 1955 the line was used for the visit of the Queen to Lancashire.
There is a steady gradient up to Brinscall Station and then the line falls again to Chorley. Sometimes extra engines ("bankers") were used to help push the loaded train up the hill. They would then freewheel back down, ready for the next train. The ROF sidings at Heapey were originally used to store munitions inside the hillside there; later in the 1950s they were used to store many redundant steam locomotives prior to scrapping when diesel engines were introduced.
The viaduct at Feniscoles still exists, but near it and elsewhere on the disused line homes and industry have been built. A Parliamentary Act to close the line has not been officially passed so that it could be revived and houses might then be demolished! The talk was illustrated with many photographs, especially those of scenes from an earlier period compared with more recent pictures. A very interesting talk given with much knowledge and enthusiasm.
"A Lancashire Garland" Sid Calderbank June 20th 201
This was a rather unusual session. Mr Calderbank is the chairman of the Lancashire Society (formerly the Lancashire Dialect Society) and has been researching dialect poems and songs for 30 years. We were treated to a series of these spoken/sung by our speaker. The oldest Lancashire dialect song comes from 1548 in Warrington and is the tale of Gilbert Stott, his wife Grace, and what happened when she found out he had sold his horse Parry but had received no money. Two hundred years later John Collier, after an apprenticeship to a weaver, became a travelling schoolmaster. He stayed at inns and made extra money by painting inn signs. He also stayed in the homes of the rich and gentry. In his travels he encountered many different dialects and composed a poem to preserve a local dialect.
The most successful song in Lancashire dialect comes from 1805, the Napoleonic war period, when Joseph Lees from Oldham poked fun at local men signing on to the fight the French (whoever the "French" might be!) 60,000 copies were sold. A number of Victorians took up dialect poems and songs with vigour, including Edwin Waugh. He published a poem in 1856 that made him famous. It concerns a wife who goes to the local pub to persuade her husband to return home and not squander their money on drink. He agrees and returns to buy her and the children presents. Baroness Coutts (of the banking family) so liked the poem that she had 20,000 copies printed and distributed, giving Waugh national fame.
In Blackburn, William Billington, born in 1847, worked in a cotton mill at Mellor Brook and later became innkeeper of the Nag's Head pub. He and friends would swap dialect tales, poems and songs. John Thomas Baron wrote a dialect poem every week and had it published in the local paper for 40 years. Because they were not published in book form, many of his poems have been lost. Some remain in those newspapers stored away.
A fascinating talk with some very funny stories.
"Ice Marathon" Steve Cushing 4th July 2012
Today's speaker presented us with a remarkable achievement. Interested in running most of his life and having taken part in a number of marathons, including the London Marathon, Steve suffered a riding accident when he was thrown from his horse. Among his injuries he had a broken pelvis and was told he would never run marathons again. However, over the years he took up running again and gradually increased his distances.
In 2006, 19 years after his last marathon, he came across the Ice Marathon - the first marathon to be run on the continent of Antarctica. This gave him a challenge. He contacted the organiser, found out the details, and agreed to take part. The journey including flying to Santiago, Chile, waiting some time for a plane to Punta Arenas, the most southern town in the world, and then waiting for a plane to Antarctica (a Russian transport plane). In temperatures of -20 to -30 degrees C, winds of 50 mph, and with what appeared to be the minimum of clothing - three layers basically and a new pair of trainers, plus two sets of gloves, facemask, goggles and balaclava, he and six other runners from around the world ran the 26.2 miles of a marathon, treading in soft snow.
He had some amusing stories of his compatriots in the exercise, which included two women, together with the difficulties of just living and existing in the Antarctic conditions in small tent. There was a "toilet block", with fairly primitive facilities. His charity sponsorship for the event raised £30,000. A brilliant effort and a superb talk with many photographs.
"14 years in China" Mrs Jackie Buksh 18th July 2012
Our speaker Jackie Buksh gave us a very detailed account of life in China. Taking early retirement from teaching, she decided to travel. In 1988 she travelled to China and cycled around that vast country for two years. Many cities were then closed to foreigners but she had a university student badge and this gave her entry to many places. She travelled by train with her cycle to visit distant areas and was often invited into people's homes by the locals.
Later she decided to go back to China on a UN Development Programme and was asked to teach English at a college of traditional Chinese medicine in central China in the large city of Wuhan. The temperature there ranged from +40 degrees C to -10 degrees C. There was no heating or cooling in houses and one had to learn to control one's body temperature (e.g. by forced shivering in cold weather). Although the state language is Mandarin, many people speak Cantonese, which is very different and there are also local dialects. She gradually learnt to speak Mandarin and was teaching doctors, surgeons and nurses, who all wanted to communicate with the West to demonstrate their skills to others and to learn Western medicine. She had difficulty with them answering questions as they would not speak in case they "lost face" by giving a wrong answer.
Jackie co-wrote a number of textbooks with a Chinese author and produced Chinese translations of children's stories and fairy tales. She found that it was possible for Chinese to communicate in writing but not in speech. By visiting the market each day and buying produce she improved her Mandarin. She spent two years teaching adults in a variety of venues: bank, library, and at the largest telecommunications company in the world.
She also taught at a school in Shenzhen, one hour from Hong Kong. The school was on a science and industry park, where all the parents worked. She found that all the children were encouraged to perform - to sing, dance, play an instrument. She herself had ballet raining and on a number of occasions performed dances whilst her husband, who had joined her and did some teaching himself, played ukelele.
A very interesting talk and illustrated with various Chinese articles she had brought back.
"Trans Siberian Railways" Rev. R. Stubbings 29th Aug
Today's speaker described, with many photographs, journeying on this very famous railway (a mixture different national systems). However, rather than travelling the usual West to East, he and his travelling companion decided to do the opposite. They started in Beijing and travelled North West across China and after some days entered Mongolia. Then came Siberia, which is not all sand desert but mainly an empty tundra. The journey passed by Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. On entering Russian territory the train coaches had to be lifted by jacks off their undercarriage and placed upon new wider track wheels to fit the wider gauge chosen by Tsar Nicholas I so that other European countries could not easily transport troops into Russia on the standard (Stevenson's 4ft 8.5ins) gauge.
There were pictures of many railway stations along the journey and it was interesting to see the different national styles of construction. There were descriptions of off-train trips made and people met, including some of their fellow travellers, who had come from many different countries. The interiors of the carriages all seemed of quite a good standard and often boiling water was available on the trains 24 hours per day for brewing tea, shaving, washing, etc.
A very interesting talk, well presented.
"Caught in Time - NW Sound Archive" A. Schofield 12 S
The NW Sound Archive is based at Clitheroe Castle and has 150,000 audio recordings, mainly on tape. Andrew Schofield came along with a mixed selection of recordings. They included one of the Accrington Pals describing being under fire at the Battle of the Somme, an interview with L.S. Lowry, the use of leeches to reduce an eye inflammation in 1885, nicknames of some Liverpool dockers, Tom Kilburn describing the operation of the first storage computer which was built in Manchester (and had 500 valves), a female survivor of the Lusitania who was the last person into the last lifeboat and Tom Finney talking about injury treatment in the days before physiotherapists.
To hear the voices of these individuals (and others) was fascinating. There was a lively question and answer session afterwards. An excellent presentation.
"Cornwall - Same Country Different World" G. Bartley
Gordon Bartley has spoken to our Club on a number of occasions, all have been interesting presentations. This was no exception. He gave us a photographic tour of Cornwall (plus some Devon and Somerset) with a running commentary on many coastal resorts. Included in a long list were pictures of Polperro, Fowey, St. Mawes and St Just in Roseland, and Newlyn on the south coast; St Ives, Newquay and Port Isaac on the north coast. We also had shots of Torquay, Clovelly and Watchet.
Our speaker has a keen interest in photography and many shots were selected to give interesting views of sea, sky, rocks, waves, etc. Harbour pictures gave us many colourful scenes of boats. There were no industrial scenes (except one steam train!). This was a fascinating tour around the SW peninsular of England.
"The Romany Way of Life" R. Bolton 10th Oct 2012
Although not from a Romany family himself, our speaker was able to give us a detailed and sympathetic account of Romany life. Believed to originate in the northern regions of India and Pakistan, these people spread west about 1,000 years ago. They arrived in Britain in the 15th or 16th Century. Some travelled to Egypt and then spread from there, hence the name "gypsy". Mr Bolton preferred to call them the Romany people. They have their own Romany language, and it is spoken wherever they have settled - which is all around the world.
He described the traditional horse-drawn Romany caravan - termed a vardo - the interior and its contents. Romany people do not like cats and do not keep them; they only keep dogs as guards; but they do like horses, race them and trade in them at traditional horse fairs, the last major one being at Appleby.
Traditionally, Romany people would travel around the countryside stopping off at farms and villages along the way to offer their services in helping with crops, tending to animals (with their knowledge of plant medicines), sell items made - brushes, clothes pegs, lucky charms, etc. During the 20th Century their lifestyle had to change. Fewer small farms and changes in agricultural methods plus many Romany deciding to settle down in permanent homes, often needed to obtain jobs and to claim benefits, meant traditional ways were no longer applicable. By 1965 only 5% of vardo were horse drawn.
Their attitude to pregnant women (described as "unclean"), the naming of children, organisation of weddings and funerals, and the burning of a dead person's goods and possessions, were all discussed. Our speaker emphasised that true Romanies were not the same as "travellers" who cause problems with local authorities.
A very interesting talk.
"A Global Trip in a Merchant Ship" J. Finn 24th Octo
During the early and middle parts of the 20th Century, Britain had a huge manufacturing industry. We needed to import raw materials and food and export finished goods; as a consequence we had one of the biggest merchant fleets in the world and a very large Royal Navy to support it. There was also the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to support the Navy and a large fishing fleet. Britannia ruled the waves, as she had done since the days of Francis Drake, Captain Bligh, Captain James Cook and other famour sailors.
Our speaker's first job was in an office of the Inland Revenue on the 3rd Floor of the Liver Building in Liverpool. He could see the docks full of Royal and Merchant Navy ships and soon tired of office work - there was more excitement at sea! AS a result he trained as a purser in the Merchant Navy at the Gravesend Sea School (where he slept in the same bunk that Tommy Steele had used before him).
After training he joined MV Essex, a ship sailing between Liverpool and Wellington, New Zealand, and Australia, transporting wool and frozen lamb to Britain. This was a 3 month journey. He signed on again for another trip. However this became a "double header" trip - before returning to Britain the ship travelled from Australia to Canada and the USA. There was a delay in port on the way due to a cracked flywheel, then another delay whilst they were in Savanna, USA, due to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. As a result the trip took 13 months to travel around the world instead of the normal 3 months. He lost his fiancee due to the time he was at sea and left the Merchant Navy, never to return!
An interesting talk delivered with many funny stories.
"Across Thailand by Car" Miss P. Dowson 5th December
This talk was presented by Pam Dowson and her friend Joan (who operated the equipment whilst Pam spoke); it covered a holiday in Thailand and was given to raise funds to support a village in Vietnam where children are being born with disabilities due to bombing with Agent Orange in the Vietnam War of the 1970s. The official language of the country is Thai and the official religion is Buddhism, althought there are many other religions including Muslims, Malays, Sikhs and Hindus.
In December 2008, the couple hired a car with driver and English speaking guide and spent 2 weeks driving around Thailand, starting in Bangkok and travelling through a number of states eventually reaching the Northern-most territories of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle of the extreme North. They stayed in modern hotels during the trip or in simple bungalows. They travelled by boat a number of times, including on the Chao Phraya river, the largest in Thailand. Sometimes they would have meals on the boats. They visited Ayuthia, capital for 4 centuries then abandoned but recently re-opened and they were able to see a 16th Century temple formerly covered in gold leaf and with many Buddhas, all facing East. Later they saw the largest swamp in the country; it was covered in water lilies and lotus flowers and with much bird life.
They visited a pottery and watched pots being made that would be sold in British gardening centres. They also visited a primary school, saw farms in operation, a village of Tibetan refuges formed in the 20th Century and visited a town on the border with Burma. It was one of only two crossing points into that country and was very busy.
The talk was illustrated with some excellent video sequences and still shots. All in all a very professional presentation.
"Magic of Theatre" R. Neil 12th December 20012
Our speaker today gave us a very entertaining talk on his love of theatre. He talked about a variety of theatres, their shows and the artists appearing there. He had 45 years of his own experience to talk about and also went back to the middle of the last century with newspaper reports.
Coming from Blackpool he was obviously very interested in the theatres and shows put on in the resort. He described the history of the Grand Theatre and how it was almost sold to a property developer, but a group of friends raised sufficient to buy it (the price having dropped dramatically) and it is now in a healthy state. One of the current regulars there is Ken Dodd and we heard about Ken and his shows which often finish after 12.30 am having starting at 7.00 pm.
We heard about the Winter Gardens and the theatres on the piers. The Empire Theatre, which became the ABC Theatre, at one time hosted a circus, then became a cinema and currently is a nightclub. Other theatres have closed. In the 1940s and 1950s, the peak period for Blackpool, a dozen theatres operated with one or two shows daily. seven days each week. One had a tremendous choice when on holiday.
Mr Neil talked about the London theatre scene and how he had attended performances at virtually all 45 theatres. He also gave us some statistics on individuals who have attended their favourite artists performances many times. There were some astounding figures - individuals attending every performance during a season or following a performer around the world and one pair who had spent £20,000 attending Cliff Richard shows.
An excellent talk which brought back memories for most members.
"Carnival of Venice" K. Winterburn 9th January 2013
The carnival of Venice is not what it seems, according to our speaker. It is not an organised event taking place over one or two days, but is rather self arranged by those taking part and runs from December 26th to Shrove Tuesday (termed Fat Tuesday). Having fallen into decline it was revived about 30 years ago. Essentially it consists of participants parading around the city wearing costumes and masks.
Masks are a tradition in Venice so that the population can mingle equally without identity or status being known. This was particulaly valuable during elections. There are various types of mask varying from those just covering the eyes to those which are full-face masks. According to Mr Winterburn, most of those he met in costume were non-Venetions but mainly British or German! He asked a couple of men about it and they said that they came every year for a week and had a different costume for each day of their stay. They just enjoyed dressing up.
After many pictures of the costumes and masks, we moved on to pictures of Lake Bled and then on to a festival in Ljubljana. This was one held over a day or so and involved whole families dressing up in a variety of costumes and parading through the steets. It was all very friendly and everyone was having fun. Next he went on to a beer festival in Germany. The streets this time were filled with hundreds of people drinking beer and our speaker did not enjoy the atmosphere.
Thus we had an interesting contrast of different festivals in different cities, well illustrated.
"Thirty Years in Musical" Mrs C. Scadding 22nd Janua
When we saw Mrs Scadding setting up a loudspeaker system and microphone it was obvious there would be singing. Indeed there was some very enjoyable music. Our speaker gave us a potted history of her life as an amateur singer, starting off in Birmingham and then moving North, where she has peformed at many venues, including the Thwaites Theatre here in Blackburn.
She became interested in singing as a child and joined various musical societies. Although rather shy at performing in public, she gradually gained confidence, taking small parts in Gilbert & Sullivan concerts and other activities. She took up singing lessons for many years and was eventually persuaded by her teacher to apply for leading roles. Apart from G & S, she has played in many famous musicals including Oklahoma!, Sound of Music, Pygmalion and others.
Interspersed with her stories she gave us a wide selection of songs, encouraging her audience to join in at times. We all greatly enjoyed her performance.
"History of Leeds-Liverpool Canal" M. Clarke 20 Feb
Mr Clarke, a founder member of the Leed-Liverpool Canal Society, presented us with a very detailed and informative talk on the canal's history. There were two main driving forces for its construction: business men in Bradford wanted to obtain limestone from the Craven area to help with new building projects and for field fertilizer with slaked lime; whilst Liverpool merchants wanted coal from the Wigan area.
There were various meetings in the 1760s to promote the scheme and a number of suggested routes proposed. The original route through the Ribble Valley and Preston was opposed by the Liverpool merchants because it bypassed Wigan. A route passing through Wigan was rejected by Bradford because of the expence of crossing the Burnley valley. Finally James Brindley was called in to arbitrate and he chose a northern route with a branch to Wigan.
An Act passed in 1770 authorised construction and work began at various points along the route. Within a few years a stretch from Shipley to Skipton and including the Bingley five-locks section had been accomplished. At the same time construction was progressing at the Liverpool end. The long Foulridge tunnel was expensive to build as was the Burnley embankment. Work stopped once the canal reached Wigan due to lack of funds.
During the period of the Napoleonic Wars to 1800, it was difficult to raise funds for further construction. Later, work recommenced and there was a link to a section of the Lancaster Canal near Chorley to save money. The main section was finally completed in 1816 and the whole canal had taken almost 40 years to build.
A very interesting talk, with many photographs and maps.
"Aviation Aspects" M. Powell 6th March 2013
This presentation involved a series of many pictures of aircraft over a whole range of types. Some were photographed whilst on the ground but many were taken in flight. There were military aircraft, ranging from Spitfires and Hurricanes to Eurofighter Typhoon from Britain, plus many from other countries; civil airliners including Airbus, many American and European types; helicopters, both military and civil; and a number of small private propellor driven and jet propelled aircraft.
Our speaker was able to describe virtually every model as soon as its picture appeared, before the written description was shown - quite a remarkable feat of memory. He was, as he admitted, an aeroplane "geek" and this was demonstrated by his encyclopaedic knowledge of all the various models of one type of plane, e.g. the Boeing 747. With his knowledge and humour this made for a very interesting session.
"Did I See Marilyn?" A. Stuttard 20th March 2013
Our speaker today gave us a witty account of his time doing National Service in the early 1950s. He was called up in 1952 and sent to Bradford for initial training. Once this was completed his squad were told they would be transferred overseas on a cruise. For a young lad from Todmorden, who had not been more than 20 miles away from his home, this was an exciting prospect.
The "cruise" took longer than he expected - they travelled through the Mediterranean, along the Suez Canal, briefly stopped at Aden and Singapore, and eventually after many weeks arrived at Hong Kong. Their duties were to guard the border between the colony and mainland China. Many Chinese attempted to escape across the border into Hong Kong. He was also trained in explosives and mine laying and detection.
Then the troop was told they would be sent to take part in the Korean War. However, because he was under 19 at the time he and similar servicemen were to be sent to Japan for further training. This was under live ammunition conditions and somewhat hair-raising. He then ended up in Korea for a short period.
Mr Stuttard described many situations that any National Servicemen would recognise and continually illustrated his story with self-deprecating jokes. Did he see Marilyn? His audience assumed this was Marilyn Monroe. He did attend a US forces concert at which Bob Hope appeared but was positioned at the back and could not be certain that the tiny blond-haired figure in the distance was the Marilyn. He liked to think so!
"Scottish Munros" R. McDonald 3rd April 2013
Today's speaker is a keen Munroist - he has climbed the 282 Scottish mountains of 3000 feet or more at least once. In fact he has climbed them 8 times since 1984 and is ranked 375 of the 5,000 plus climbers who have completed this exercise. Munros are the highest mountains in Scotland and were measured by Sir Hugh Munro at the end of the 19th Century.
Mr McDonald gave us a flavour of climbing Munros by taking us back to a 4 day trip in June last year when he climbed a dozen peaks in an area near the west coast of Scotland opposite Skye. His description was illustrated with many photographs. He always walks with at least one dog and sometimes takes a human companion as well. He camps out on the mountain tops or close to them to enjoy the views and the solitude. Often he climbs alone and on that trip last June saw nobody else the first day, nobody the second day, four people the third day and none the last day.
Currently he is trying for his 9th completion of the mountains, hoping to finish them in 2015. Although he has all the correct equipment, maps compass, first aid kit, etc., by walking and climbing alone he knows he is taking a risk if an accident occurs. However he balances this with the pleasure he gets from tackling the Munros. A fascinating talk.
"On the Record" Ms Angela Danby 17th April 2013
Our speaker for this meeting presented us with stories from her 25 years as a reporter and deputy editor of the Southport Advertiser. Yes the name is spelt correct, it dates from the 1840s when the paper was established. Angela brought with her a number of past copies, including the very first one, and entertained us with extracts from the news items, personal column and adverts.
During her time on the paper she attended with the police at many crime scenes, flew in the police helicopter and observed court proceedings. She was the first to find a picture of the man involved in a murder case where a Southport restaurant owner had attempted to kill his wife twice, once by driving their car into a river and then into a tree. He finally succeeded by hiring a hit man. Angela knew him and had eaten at his restaurant. Another big story involved following a fire engine with its flashing lights and ringing bell to a large factory fire. As first reporter on the scene she had a scoop. She finished by showing us photos of herself with a variety of entertainment stars who were in shows in Southport over the years.
This was a very interesting and entertaining talk on the work of a local newspaper reporter.
"Malaysian Experience" Ms Chandra Law 1st May 2013
By the time today's talk began we were presented with tables loaded with samples of colourful cloth, small cases, fans, hats and other items. These all had been produced by the Batik process. It is a dyeing process involving hot wax. Our speaker described how children in Malaysian schools (and in other countries including Singapore, Thailand, Ceylon, China and Japan) are taught the technique as a national tradition and it is compulsory in Malaysian schools. Girls spend three years learning to produce vividly coloured cloths using vegetable dyes and take a national qualification in the technique. Boys study it for one year and then move on to bamboo, metalwork and possibly, woodwork.
The process involves drawing hot wax lines on cotton or silk cloth with a special pen, painting within the lines one colour, then removing the wax in boiling water, drying the fabric and then doing more wax lines, using a different colour of dye and so on until a complex design usually involving flowers and other local themes has been produced.
Chandra shocked us by saying that if a child makes a mistake in the Batik process, then they are given a sharp "cut" on the back of the hand or the leg with a bamboo cane. Since mistakes are invariably made, virtually every child receives a number of cane strokes during the class. Canes are not used in non-Batik classes.
Mr Law accompagnied his wife to the talk and during it prepared a pot of hot wax and at the end gave a fascinating demonstration of the Batik technique.
A most interesting talk. Well recommended.
"History of Norman Wisdom" Mrs Pat Osborne 29th May
Although most people know something about Sir Norman Wisdom, our speaker's talk today revealed some remarkable aspects of his life. Comedian, actor and singer, Norman's life began in London; his father was a chauffeur and his mother a dress maker. There was little money and the family were on the breadline during his childhood, living in one room. His father was violent to the family, often hitting Norman and his elder brother. His parents separated early on and he was sent to a children's home for a while.
Norman ran away from home, living on the streets; eventually with a friend he walked to Cardiff to get work. He joined a merchant ship to South America and became a cabin boy. Later after a number of jobs, he joined the army as a drummer boy. He learnt to play a variety of instruments, took up boxing and became the flyweight boxing champion of the army. During WW2 he worked in a communications bunker in London and met Winston Churchill a number of times. During the army he discovered a talent for entertaining and making people laugh.
After he wass demobbed he had various jobs but also became straight man to magician David Nixon. He developed his characteristic mode of dress - flat cap with brim turned up and suit too small. He was soon on the West End stage. Norman then began making low budget comedy films and bcame a national success. He started in comedy shows on Broadway, winning a large audience in America.
Norman appeared in many TV shows in Britain. He began to tour the world with his comedy shows. He became a cult figure in Albania, where he was one of the few western actors whose films were allowed to be shown. On his 90th birthday he retired from show business and moved to the Isle of Man.
This was a very detailed talk with many illustrations and enjoyed by all present.
"The Falkirk Wheel" Mr Ken Slaughter 26th June 2013
Most people have heard of the Falkirk Wheel and today's speaker gave us a good description, with many photographs, including views of what it is like to be transported on this canal boat lift. The nearest boat lift to us is the Anderton, nesar Northwich, which dates back many years. That at Falkirk is a rotating boat lift of very stunning appearance and was opened in 2002.
It was built to connect the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal. During the main canal era these were connected by a series of 11 locks but they had deteriorated after falling into disuse and had been filled and the land build upon.
The Wheel is based upon two rotating arms which each carry a caisson holding water. When a boat enters a caisson it displaces an amount of water with a weight equal to that of the boat itself. Hence the caisson loads remain constant and are balanced throughout the operation of the Wheel for any weight of boat. Because of this balance, the power needed to rotate the structure is very small indeed.
The Falkirk Wheel is surprisingly large and Mr Slaughter's pictures included some aspects of the construction. Although a little short, it was still a very interesting talk.
"A History of the Grane Road" T. Phelan 10th July 2
Our speaker today had been a park ranger for 5 years in the Haslingden Grane valley. His talk gave us a history of the region, not just of the road running through the valley. With a good number of photographs, he described the development of the Grane over the past 200 years.
In a valley that had been primarily agricultural for centuries, like many others in the North of England, farmers began to supplement their income by spinning and weaving cotton fabrics. Extensions were built on to farms to form weaving sheds to house a few looms. Then down the valley in the middle 1800s, Holden Wood reservoir was built to supply the waterwheels of new small factories. As larger factories were built, the two other reservoirs, Calf Hey and then Ogden, were constructed. Industry flourished and the valley population rapidly increased, there was a lot of money about and some men became very rich. Quarrying also became a major source of jobs in the area, and there was a considerable amount of illicit distilling of whisky in the valley.
A church, St Stephens, and a school were built for the rising population. However changes in industry resulted in weaving moving away to larger factories elsewhere and the population began to decline. People moved closer to Haslingden and St Stephens Church was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt a mile down the Grane Road, closer to where most people in the vally lived. In the 20th Century it finally closed and now houses Holden Wood Antiques Centre.
A fascinaing talk about a small valley in our area. There is an information centre at Clough Head with details of walks in the Grane.
"Life of Marie Curie" W. Rouse 24th July 2013
Marie Curie was a phenomenon - a female scientist in an era of male scientists. Our speaker gave us a detailed story of a Polish girl born in 1867 from a poor family background who became interested in Mathematics and Physics at school. She was determined to attend university and gain good qualifications in these subjects. Since no Polish unversity would allow female students, she enrolled at the Sorbonne in the University of Paris. There she was supported by her elder sister and husband, together with money from her father.
Marie studied in the daytime and in the evenings tutored other students. Having gained a degree in Physics she took on a post working in an industrial laboratory and continued her studies. She met Pierre Curie and shortly afterwards they married. He had a small laboratory and she began working there, starting an interest in the newly discovered substance Uranium, which appeared to give off mysterious rays. She spent many years refining Uranium ore, pitchblende, and she and Pierre showed that it contained another new element which she called Radium. She invented the term "radioactivity" and found that Radium produced much more intense radiation than Uranium. They also discoverd Polonium, named after her native Poland.
Marie and Pierre were awarded the 1003 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries. Shortly afterwards Pierre was killed in a road accident, but Marie continued her work for many years afterwards and was awarded numerous honours. A remarkable life, presented with skill by Mr Rouse.
"Model Ship Building" Peter Butler 7th August 2013
Along with a colleague, Walter Coop, Peter described the activities of the North West Model Shipwrights, a group devoted to researching ships and then constructing them to scale using methods comparable to those used in the original vessels.
Walter had brought along for display a partially constructed model of a French frigate captured by the British in the 1800s and used by them. He talked about obtaining plans to make models and scaling everything down so that, for example, the wooden nails used to fasten planks to the frame of the ship become a tiny wood pin less than 1 mm in diameter. Box was the chosen wood for these types of models. Peter had brought along a finished model of a Mississippi paddle steamer and also of a metal sheathed gun boat originally built for use on the same river during the American Civil War. he also had a partially constructed steam engine system for driving a paddle wheel.
Both speakers emphasised that the enjoyment came not just from the constuction work but also the research into the design, construction and history the ship chosen to be modelled. A fascinating talk and display.
"A Christmas Letter" R. Bolton 4th Sept 2013
Our speaker today gave us a very entertaining talk on a variety of aspects of Christmas, our celebration of the birth of Christ. For many centuries there have been celebrations and holidays of some form in most countries at the end of the year, looking forward to the New Year. Putting up special decorations has been a long custom, but having a special decorated Christmas tree was introduced into Britain mainly by Prince Albert in the mid 1800s, during the reign of Queen Victoria.
In Britain we have Father Christmas bringing presents, in America Santa Claus, and in Northern Europe and Germany Saint Nicholas. His white beard and red clothes trimmed with white fur originated in America as artists sketched his image each year during the 1800s. Charles Dickens clarified aspects of Christmas in his novel "A Christmas Carol".
These are just some of the points discussed by Mr Bolton in his wide ranging presentation, together with various jocular comments.
"Morecambe Bay Tragedy" M. Gradwell 18th Sept 2013
Our speaker for this meeting was retired Detective Superintendant Mick Gradwell, formerly of Lancashire Constabulary. Mick had responsibility for dealing with serious crime throughout the county and was the senior investigating officer in the tragic deaths of the Chinese cockle fishers in 2004.
This case proved to be the largest and one of the most difficult of his career. He was faced with (finally) 23 bodies. Who were they, where did they come from and why were they cockle fishing in Morecambe Bay? There were no documents with the bodies. It was fascinating to hear how he managed to identify them and the city in China from where they came. They were part of a mass illegal immigration of Chinese workers brought over by criminal gangs or Triads. The gang master, based in Liverpool, who organised them to go cockle fishing knew nothing about the treacherous tides of Morecambe Bay.
The organisers of the workers, who were spread across Britain doing a variety of manual work, fruit and vegetable picking, working on building sites, etc., were sending vast amounts of currency back to China. The workers were paid nothing in this country, and lived in terrible conditions, as they worked to pay off the debt they had incurred by agreeing to be brought over here.
This was a talk of police thoroughness in investigating this appalling crime and the time and effort that our speaker had to put in to resolve it. An outstanding talk.
"Rails in the Sand" A. Judd 2nd October 2013
Although we are familiar with the Blackpool trams, few are aware that Lytham had its own tram system for some 40 years. Following a Tramway Order of 1896 a tramway was built between the terminus of the Blackpool Tramway at South Shore station on to Lytham. The first trams ordered were unusual in that they were each powered by a Crossley coal gas engine. The gas was stored in tanks under the tram body and these had to be refilled regularly by connecting a pipe to the gas main in the centre of the road.
Unfortunately the gas engines proved unreliable and a number of horse drawn trams were also used. Eventually the company was bought out by the Blackpool, St Annes and Lytham Tramway Company and a new act authorised an electric tramway to be built. This opened in 1903. Later St Annes Council purchased the company and ran the tramway. In 1922 St Annes and Lytham were incorporated and the trams designated "Lytham St Annes".
The system ran on direct current and battery stations had to be built along the line to compensate for voltage drops. Sand on the tracks was a continual problem. With the increasing development of private cars and buses it was decided to close the tramway and the last tram ran in 1937.
This was a fascinating talk with many slides (some rescued from a tip) and very detailed descriptions from our speaker. An excellent presentation.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." Dr M. Milnes 16th Oct 2013
This talk gave us a flavour of life behind the iron curtain in the cold war period. Dr Milnes, in his work on developing liquid fuel from coal, spent a number of years in the 1970s and 80s in the U.S.S.R. (and other communist countries). He began by giving us a brief history of the development of the Russian state, from the earliest emperors to the Putin era. He had some interesting, and amusing, comments to make about the various state leaders. This was followed by a description of what life was like for ordinary citizens.
To illustrate his talk our speaker had brought along a number of items including a Russian religious icon; these he said were very precious to the people there. There were also a number of hats (including a military one), Russian newspapers (including an English version) and a bottle of a weak alcoholic drink together with plastic beakers so that members could have a taste. He was also wearing a typical Russian shirt. This was an informative and amusing talk.
"Off Cumber!" A. Studdard 13th November 2013
Our speaker today has visited our Probus group on a number of occasions, providing an interesting and amusing talk each time, including about his work in the textile industry and about his main interest - cricket. This talk was no exception. He reminisced about life outside work in his home town of Hebden Bridge.
We had comments on the town itself and its attitude to incomers. He described his collecting hobby: 100+ teddy bears, bottle openers, corkscrews, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway postcards, gaffs from cricket commentators and information on Hebden Bridge. He gave us stories from his time as a singer or stage manager in light opera, when things often went wrong or he ad-libbed a part. Although he came from a brass band family he did not play an instrument. However, he acted as compere and general factotum for the band, often taking a hat around for a collection. We also had stories from his time in the army in Korea in the 1950s.
Another entertaining session from Mr Studdard.
"The Bronte Family" Mrs Isabella Stirk 27th Nov 2013
Mrs Stirk is a lecturer in English Literature and today's talk summarised the lives and works of the Bronte family. The father of the household was Patrick, with origins in Ireland. Having married Maria Branwell, he came to Hawarth parsonage in the early 1800s. His wife came from Cornwall and never went back there again. Patrick and Maria had six children in quick succession before Maria died. Patrick persuaded Elizabeth, the younger sister of Maria to travel to Haworth to look after the Bronte household.
The two oldest children, Maria and Elizabeth, both died at about 11 years of age. The remaining four: Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane and Anne, grew up in the Haworth Parsonage and had little contact with the village. Father Patrick gave them their education for some time before sending them off to various schools away from their home. For various reasons, including illness and dislike of school, the children spent more time at the parsonage and educated themselves in various ways. The girls began writing poetry and stories from an early age and produced miniature books with a tiny script.
After three year's education in the West Riding, Charlotte was offered a teaching post at the same school. Emily and Anne also attended this school for some time before returning back to Haworth. All the sisters became governesses or teachers. At one stage Charlotte and Emily lived in Brussels for a while, attending a school there. The death of their aunt caused Patrick to recall them back to the parsonage.
Each of the sisters produced remarkable writings with the most famous being Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Annes' Agnes Grey. They published under pseudenums, the usual thing for women writers. Mrs Stirk, having read many of the multitude of letters the children and their friends sent to each other, gave us some interesting comments on the family members and their literary achievements.
This was a detailed exposition on the Brontes, expressed with thought and humour. It was enjoyed by all present.
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