Open Meeting Reports 2019

November 2019

Mark Barron gave a talk “Carrara Marble – Michelangelo’ greatest love”.

October 2019

This was our Group Fair.

September 2019

Carol Lovejoy Edwards gave a talk “Nottingham in the Great War”.

Carol Lovejoy Edwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2019

John Whitfield gave a talk “Mountbatten”. All about Lord Mountbatten.

We were treated to a very interesting talk about the “controversial” Mountbattens from our very knowledgeable speaker, who delivered the whole thing without slides or notes. Both Louis “Dickie” Lord Mountbatten and Edwina (nee Ashley) Mountbatten were exceedingly well connected, and both were clearly “larger than life” people, making their mark in the world for very different reasons.

Edwina was the daughter of a wealthy businessman who turned out to be a Nazi sympathiser. She led a raucous life as a society playgirl, and even marriage to Louis didn’t calm down her galivanting. She was continually unfaithful, and yet managed to provide two daughters to the Mountbatten dynasty. She inherited £2.2 million which helped to sustain the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed.

Louis pursued a naval career, he was a great leader, charismatic and ambitious. He was also highly manipulative and therefore managed to avoid blame when things went wrong, and take credit for when they go right. The sinking of his ship off Crete during the war became the basis of the film In Which We Serve, mostly due to his friendship with Noel Coward. A poor naval operation became a story to provide propaganda to support the war effort.

He may have been an awful soldier and strategist, but he made a good diplomat, and during the war he became Supreme Commander in Asia, later becoming the Viceroy of India and overseeing the 1947 move to independence. He held high office for many years afterwards, playing his part in the Suez crisis, the British nuclear deterrent negotiations with the US and the decision for Prince Charles to marry Lady Diana. As the Duke of Edinburgh’s uncle, he was considered to be close to the Royal Family and was very influential.

He was murdered in 1979 when the IRA placed a bomb in his boat while he was on holiday off the coast of Ireland.

Celia Billau

July 2019

Dr. John Dornan gave a talk; “Shackleton”, Polar explorer with a mission and a hidden secret.

It is difficult not to be impressed by a character who includes 12 crates of Scotch in his supplies for a trip to the Antarctic – and has 11 left at the end. Shackleton is renowned as an explorer of great vision and determination and it is no coincidence that RAF Coastal Command has long used the “Shackleton” as a search aircraft.

Shackleton was born in Ireland and as a child spent many hours by the docks in Dublin admiring the ships he saw coming and going. Later the family moved to London where, still inspired by ships, he joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet. His first job was with the Union Castle line where he became friendly with a fellow sailor whose father happened to be a financier.

Throughout his boyhood the aim of explorers was to reach the South Pole and he was accepted on Scott’s expedition – ‘Discovery’ (1901-1904) – but was sent home early on health grounds. It was an ill-fated expedition. Bad conditions caused most of the dogs to die, poor diet resulted in many of the crew succumbing to scurvy and weather was MOST inhospitable. Shackleton became ill with scurvy and a persistent cough, hence his repatriation.

Not a person to give up easily, he raised money for a new expedition, the Nimrod Expedition. On this occasion things went pretty well, and he got very close to the Pole. Unfortunately supplies again were a problem and his team suffered from lack of vitamins, fresh fruit and vegetables; in short, the expedition was defeated by inadequate nutrition. Morale was not helped when they heard that Admundsen had beaten them to the Pole.

With the Pole no longer a target Shackleton decided his next adventure would be to cross Antarctica from sea to sea via the Pole. This time his boat was the famous Endurance. He addressed the problem of supplies by arranging for an Australian boat to place food at various depots along his proposed route.

This would have been successful if the Endurance had not become trapped by ice. Shackleton decided to abandon ship with all the supplies the crew could salvage. They lived on a diet of penguins and seals. Shackleton went off with five men, including an expert navigator, to get help. Eventually they reached Stromness whaling station in poor physical condition but able to explain who they were and what they needed.

They took a ship to the Falklands and then continued to Chile, where they arranged for an iron ship to take them back to the crew on Elephant Island, who had all survived their ordeal. They then returned to England.

After the war Shackleton set out on another Antarctic expedition in 1921 to sail round the continent but was taken ill. He died in South Georgia. A post-mortem showed that he had a hole in his heart – this could go a long way towards explaining his earlier ill health. At his wife’s request he was buried in South Georgia.

A remarkable man who led from the front, was a good communicator and was voted the 11th Most Popular Englishman in a poll of 100 greatest Englishmen in 2002.

Rosemary Pickering

June 2019

Graham Hayes

Graham Hayes gave a talk ‘Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank’. A follow talk on the Titanic. Conspiracy theory explained.

Graham started his talk by reminding us of conspiracy theories concerning various tragedies. He proceeded to give us facts about the Titanic disaster when 1512 people lost their lives on the 14th April 1911 when the ship hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage to New York. He then gave details of reasons to doubt that the ship which sank was actually the Titanic.

The ship belonged to the White Star Line which was said to be in financial difficulties and had had several mechanical problems before she set sail. The theory was that the Olympic, the sister ship, had been switched for the Titanic for several reasons. Graham showed us slides of supporting evidence for this theory and then apparently concluded his talk by asking the audience how many people accepted this theory. A show of hands suggested that the majority of us thought that there could be some truth in light of the facts presented.

However, Graham continued his talk gradually countering each piece of the evidence for the switching theory. The White Star Line was not in financial difficulties and there were apparently no mechanical problems revealed during sea trials. One of the main causes of the disaster seems to be the incompetence of Captain Smith who had been involved in numerous maritime mishaps during his career. Sadly, he went down with the Titanic so he was unable to refute the accusations. Following the disaster, many new regulations were brought in for the safety of passengers at sea including an increase in the number of lifeboats. It was interesting that we can start to believe any conspiracy theory until we are presented with detailed evidence which disproves that a conspiracy took place at all. We certainly questioned the way we think about the Titanic disaster, having evidence presented which supported either view.

Anne Allery

May 2019

AGM followed by Anne Allery with a talk ‘A Passage to India’. See 2019 AGM page for full details.

Anne Allery

Anne started by explaining that she had been a member of the Girl Guiding Movement since she was a Brownie. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has five world Centres, one of which is Sangam near Pune in India, established in 1966. She first visited this Centre with a group of fourteen Guiders from Nottinghamshire in 1990, developing a love of the country and its people. This led to her joining Friends of Sangam (FoS) UK. She is currently the treasurer for FoS (UK), which raises funds to help to support the Centre. After three aborted attempts to make a second visit, she finally managed it in 2016 with a friend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Sangam. The talk explained the development of the Centre and showed the improvements, such as a new swimming pool, that had been made since her first visit. She also explained the international nature of the Centre. It was suggested that participants in the 50th celebrations should take part in several challenges to leave their comfort zones. Visitors to the Centre are often involved in working with Community Partners. All of these were set up to support the poor and deprived members of the surrounding locality. Many of them encourage girls and women to empower themselves and Anne visited several of them during her trips to India.

Mike Allery

April 2019

Robert Williams

Robert Williams. William Shakespeare: His Life and His Plays.

This talk presented a wealth of fascinating facts about the life of our most famous playwright together with fine eloquence of some of the most famous lines taken from his plays. Robert clearly knows his stuff and is passionate about Shakespeare and has clearly previously acted in performances of his plays.

Shakespeare survived the bubonic plague as a child and studied Latin at school. He met and married Anne Hathaway, who was a widow and 8 years his senior and he had 2 children with her. He then disappeared for 7 years and that is still a mystery as to how he spent his time. He may have travelled the country as an actor with a travelling troupe. His association with Christopher Marlowe in London helped him develop his writing skills, but his first play, Two Gentlemen of Verona, was rather badly written. It included a journey by sea between Verona and Milan showing a distinct lack of geographical knowledge.

The politics of the day urged him to write in a way that presented England as gallant and brave, and his portrayal of Richard III showed him to be maligned rather unfairly. The comedies have been much enjoyed by audiences through the years. He wrote the Merry Wives of Windsor especially for a famous comedian of the day, who unfortunately died before he could act the part of Falstaff. There was also witchcraft in many of his plays which shows Shakespeare’s fascination with all things mysterious, and many of his later plays became quite dark and menacing.

He died on his birthday, also St. George’s Day, 23rd April in 1616 at the age of 52, and his wife outlived him by a further 7 years.

Celia Billau

March 2019

Nelson Blackley

Nelson Blackley (Nottingham Business School) gave a talk ‘What’s happening in UK retail – and Why’.

Nelson, who is a Retail Research Associate at Nottingham Business School, began his talk by explaining what a massive impact the Retail Industry has on all our lives – there aren’t many days when we don’t visit a shop, a high street or go online to purchase our needs for goods and services. Retail also employs a large number of people, and certain individuals have become famous just by being high profile in the retail industry, such as Mary Portas, or more infamously, Sir Philip Green.

Our habits evolve, as does the technology. Where we were buying 2% of our requirements online 10 years ago, this has now increased to 20%, and could well be 30% by 2023. However, it’s not all rosy with internet shopping as almost 25% of fashion goods bought online are returned. The online grocery market is also unprofitable, and of course, the buyer must be in to receive the goods. It also doesn’t spell the end of the high street as some people warn. Retail is evolving to become involved in “retailtainment” where shopping is integrated with leisure activities, cafes and learning experiences. Ikea, for example, will offer classes in how to build their flat-pack furniture. Many people enjoy the shopping experience, and certainly there’s no better way to buy shoes than to try them on and walk up and down the shop in them.

Celia Billau

February 2019

Robert Mee gave a talk ‘History Along the Erewash Valley Trail’.

All Photographs were taken by Mike Johnson.

We probably thought we knew all these places along the Erewash Valley Trail, but it turns out there is a vast amount of history associated with the villages and features along the route. The tour started off in the Langley basin, where the Erewash canal once connected with the Nottingham and Cromford canals, with the Erewash being the first to be opened in 1779. Some sections of these canals have since been filled in, and of course, the collieries and industries have long since closed, making the scenery much changed from how it once was. We all knew Digby Colliery…well, only because the site is now home to Ikea!

Awsworth village seems largely unchanged from years ago, and Cossall village was used as a location for the filming of D H Lawrence’s The Rainbow. Trowell was selected as a “typical English village” mixing rural and industrial use, for the celebration of the Festival of Britain in 1951. There’s a well-known pub and a memorial to mark the occasion.

Many famous people were born in the area: Sir John Borlace Warren, Arthur Mee and Frederick Attenborough (father of Richard and David) were born in Stapleford. Historical connections were many and varied covering the Chilwell factory explosion, the Hemlock Stone and the Druid connection, Long Eaton and Sandiacre with their mills and factories, often converted to posh flats now. Shipley and the listed buildings around the canal, and then back to the Langley basin where the 30 mile trail ends.

The talk was illustrated with many photos, some of the present day and some featuring buildings that once stood there, or bridges and viaducts that still remain to this day. A fascinating whistle-stop tour of the area, with some very interesting historical links, which makes us realise what an interesting place we live in.

Celia Billau

January 2019

David Skillen

David Skillen gave a talk ‘Fifty Years in Fifty Minutes – The American Civil War‘.

We are all aware of the American Civil War, we know that ‘John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in his grave and his truth goes marching on’ but it was fascinating to be told about this conflict by someone with expert knowledge and much enthusiasm.

I think I went to the bus station humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic! David Skillen, for one hour, allowed us to share his passion for one of the most important events in American history. For several years he has visited the States and toured the various battle sites. From what he said and the slides he showed it would appear that the American people take more pride in their history than we do (it could be said , of course, that our history is a lot longer!). Their battle sites are beautifully preserved; I don’t imagine they would find an important body buried in a car park!

He had photos and information about battles we have all heard about. It was interesting to hear that a lot of information has been amassed from letters that were written home by soldiers involved in the conflict. It is possible that it was the first conflict in history where the army on both sides has a degree of literacy. What would our opinions of the Wars of the Roses be for example if we had this wonderful source of information?

The forces of the south were numerically superior and in theory could have defeated the north but the north had a general who had more knowledge of military strategy than his southern counterparts and he realised that weight of numbers could be defeated by strategy. By blockading the south he starved it of essential supplies; this coupled with the two decisive Battles of Bull Run, which effectively split the country geographically, contributed to the eventual victory of the north.

Other factors introduced during this war also had deciding impacts. Up until this time firing any form of gun was a bit ‘hit and miss’ to put it mildly but a Frenchman introduced rifling into gun barrels so that the weapon could be aimed more precisely and also enabled the bullet to travel much farther. Also at this time neither side had any form of field medical care. If you were injured your chances were not good – if the wound did not kill you the resulting infection probably would! Women in various parts of the country began to set up stations where the wounded could be treated and their legacy remains.

David introduced many famous names into his talk. I began to feel sympathy for any American schoolchild trying to sort out who was who in this important conflict – it might be easier if it is part of your heritage. His comprehensive knowledge was impressive but a diagram or slide of ‘Who was Who’ would have been helpful.

For those of us whose knowledge of this conflict is limited to ‘Gone with the Wind’ (film or book) this was an eye opener particularly that the conflict was not on the moral grounds of the rights and wrongs of slavery but on the economic grounds of cotton production. Sam Slater a UK emigrant who had worked for Arkwright in the English cotton mills, introduced the cotton gin which sped up the processing of the processing of the raw cotton and which threatened to revolutionize the whole industry.

A thought provoking ‘take’ on the American civil war and one to make us ponder.

Rosemary Pickering

Before the Meeting

All Photographs were taken by Mike Johnson.