Open Meeting Reports 2018

April 2018

Speaker John Whitfield with Lucy Beardsley and Hazel Brooke

John Whitfield gave a talk ‘Sir Winston Churchill: Man of Destiny’.







March 2018

The Group Fair was cancelled because of the snowy weather.

February 2018 – Graham Hayes – ‘Titanic’ The Ship of Dreams

A big ship, hit an iceberg and sank!

That was Graham Hayes brief summary of his talk for ‘Those who want to leave early’. Fortunately for those of us who stayed he gave an interesting talk about the Titanic, telling us much about her background.

Greatly increased immigration to the USA caused by Jewish persecution in Russia, political unrest in eastern Europe and also by the knock-on effect of the Irish potato famine meant a great number of people were seeking a better life in America. To service this need they decided to build what was then the largest and most costly, but not the fastest, ship ever built.

In 1907 a design team produced a plan for an Olympic class liner which would have a crew of 860, could carry 600+ first class passengers, 700+ second class passengers and 1700+ third or steerage class, but ony 20 lifeboats. Working conditions were hard. Health and Safety as we know it did not exist; there were no hard hats, protective gloves or steel capped boots. During her construction there were 9 fatalities and in excess of 200 serious injuries. The men worked a 49 hour week for £2. She was scheduled to be launched on the 31st May 1911 and her maiden voyage was planned for 20 March 1912. This date was changed because damage to the Olympic meant that men had to be taken from the Titanic to repair the sister ship. This delay was a contributory factor in the eventual tragedy because the later sailing put them later in the year and hence closer to the danger time for icebergs. The captain appointed for the maiden voyage was Captain E J Smith, a man with a penchant for running his ships aground or into piers. Not perhaps the most sensible choice for such a prestigious trip!

The Titanic set sail on 14 April 1912 on a calm, very cold moonless day. The mild weather had caused many icebergs to drift further south than normal. The many warnings from other ships about the presence of icebergs did not get to the bridge of the Titanic. The ship hit the iceberg 37 secs after it was sighted. The damage to the hull allowed water to pour in at 7 tons/sec so the boat became unstable very quickly. There was a significant delay in evacuation and the ‘Abandon Ship!’ order was never given. The Carpathia which was nearest to the stricken ship picked up many survivors but only 2 of the 18 lifeboats which got away went back to search for survivors. The majority of the survivors were from First Class; most of the steerage passengers perished either because they did not know where the lifeboats were or because they did not understand any instructions which may have been given.

Rosemary Pickering

January 2018 – The Arkwright Society, The History of Cromford Mills and Sir Richard Arkwright

Chas Arnold of the Arkwright Society.

The Industrial Revolution Started Here

Most of us who did O level History in the last century ‘did’ the Industrial Revolution but did we get told where it started? Those of you who are local to the Midlands might have been, but I am a Devonian and as far as I was concerned it was ‘somewhere in the north’! Chas Arnold put us straight in no uncertain fashion with his fascinating talk about Richard Arkwright and the Cromford Mill complex. It seems that Arkwright was a larger than life character. At one time he was the richest commoner in the country and he was knighted for his services to the economy.

He was semi-literate and had started life as an apprentice barber/wigmaker in Nottingham but he was very interested in mechanical things and invented two machines which revolutionised cotton spinning; one which made cotton yarn and one which did the carding. In 1771 he built the first commercial water powered mill making cotton yarn. The main markets for cotton yarn were Manchester, ‘Cottonopolis’, and Nottingham. Within ten years there were 142 factories nationwide copying what he had done. It cost about £4000 to build and equip a factory. From 1771 he continued to develop the mills and warehouses which are now incorporated into the Cromford Mills site.

Contrary to local belief he did not take the water for the mill from the River Derwent but from the Derwent Sough which was supplied by the draining of the Wirksworth lead mines. By 1840 problems with the water supply started to affect the textile production. Arkwright was a man of ideas and so he put the buildings to other uses which included a brewery, still in existence, laundries and cheese warehousing; there was a weekly market, 2 corn mills and a variety of other shops.

His factories worked from the top down, like the corn mills, the raw cotton was put in at the top and as each process was completed it dropped down a level until the finished product, cotton yarn, arrived at ground level ready to be transported to the mills. For the first five years everything was done by hand but then he invented the carding machine which dramatically increased the output. The work force was doing a 12 hour shift and 75% were children from the age of 7. Later the age of children was raised to 10 and they were given 6 hours education a week. Although this seems harsh, the risk of accident or injury was very low because these machines worked so slowly . For many families the woman was the breadwinner, looking after the animals etc while the men worked at home weaving in the attics.

Rosemary Pickering