The Probus Club Weston-Super-Mare

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Programme Reports

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Aviation Comes to Bristol - Arthur Spencer

Posted on February 7, 2019 at 1:00 PM

We welcomed back yet again, Arthur, who has given such enthraling talks to us in the past.

Today, Arthur told the story, as per the title, of how the aviation industry developed in the Bristol region.

A lot of research had gone into this talk and we were thankful on being enlightened on the subject.

Thank you Arthur, no doubt we will see you again........................ 

Three Short Talks - Members

Posted on January 24, 2019 at 8:35 AM

Our first meeting of 2019 kicked off with, as the title suggests, 'Three Short Talks'.

The idea for such a meeting was hatched by one of our long serving members , initially as an insurance topic in case the weather was so bad, that the arranged speaker could not make the venue.

As it turned out, it was quite a glorious morning today although a bit on the 'chilly' side. 

Now that our insurance has been used, we hope that the weather does not turn for the worst for future meetings!

The three talks were: Life as a wife of an army recruit, A whistle stop tour of Bristol museums and a short demonstration on First Aid resucitation.

Thanks to the participants including Ruth and Resusci Annie!

The Day the Guns Stopped - Garry Gowans

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Our last meeting of 2018 was fittingly, a talk revolving around Armistice Day.

However, a different slant on this historic day was presented by Garry who illustrated the topic with a slide show.

Garry explained that the mortal statistics around this historic day were indeed higher than the average day throught the war.

Men were needlessly lost due to the arrogance of their Command, just to make the Generals 'look good' in gaining an extra piece of land.

He also explained that the date on which many had died was recorded as a day earlier on the 10th November.

A very interesting talk and thank you Garry.

Maybe the title of the talk should have been, 'The Day the Guns Should Have Stopped'.

The Day the Guns Stopped - Garry Gowans

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Our last meeting of 2018 was fittingly, a talk revolving around Armistice Day.

However, a different slant on this historic day was presented by Garry who illustrated the topic with a slide show.

Garry explained that the mortal statistics around this historic day were indeed higher than the average day throught the war.

Men were needlessly lost due to the arrogance of their Command, just to make the Generals 'look good' in gaining an extra piece of land.

He also explained that the date on which many had died was recorded as a day earlier on the 10th November.

A very interesting talk and thank you Garry.

Maybe the title of the talk should have been, 'The Day the Guns Should Have Stopped'.

Birnbeck Pier, History & Future - Peter Lander

Posted on November 1, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Today, we welcomed 'the ladies' to join us.

Peter Lander, gave a talk about “The History of Birnbeck Pier and work of the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust”

A former welder, Peter moved from his home in Derbyshire to Weston-super Mare after taking early retirement, and is now the Trust’s archivist. As well as looking at the recorded history Peter will be talking about his work recording people’s memories of the Pier, researching their stories and gathering memorabilia. They now have a collection of personal photographs, which are used in the presentation.

Taken from the Birnbeck Pier Regeneration Trust’s website:

“Birnbeck Pier, known locally as the Old Pier, stands on the North Somerset coastline at Weston-super-Mare. Built between 1864 and 1867, it is a unique structure, being the only British seaside pier that links the mainland to an island. Over its lifetime it has enjoyed mixed fortunes. In its heyday, it was the Victorian and then Edwardian equivalent of a modern theme-park, with tourist attractions such as a water slide and fairground rides. It was a major transportation link, with scheduled steam ship services arriving from and departing to destinations including Cardiff, Minehead, Ilfracombe and Lundy Island. The last of these sailings, by the MV Balmoral, took place in 1979. Since then, the pier has suffered a slow and steady decline in both popular attraction as well as in its general condition.

The Trust has long campaigned for a revival of the entire Birnbeck area. Since 2004, it has actively worked towards achieving its stated aim of reserving for the benefit of the people of Weston-super-Mare, and the Nation, the natural, historical, architectural and constructional heritage of Birnbeck Pier and Island, together with associated buildings and structures, and the land and buildings adjacent and above the shoreline.”

A well received talk from Peter, which updated everyone on not only the past but the future of Birnbeck Pier.

Life & Times in a Polaris Submarine - Mike Bravery

Posted on October 18, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Todays talk centred around a tour of duty in the 1980's for a WEO (Weapons Engineering Officer), aboard a Polaris Submarine.

With the aid of a projector and sound system, Mike was able to 'transport' us back in time to relive what life aboard would have been like.

Political references omitted, Mike not only explained the workings 'on board' of the submarine but also the living arrangements.

Life on board could be dull at times, but there was plenty of provided entertainment also, in the shape of films, books, games etc.

This particular Tour stretched over the Christmas period, with believe it or not, a Pantomine performance by some of the crew!

Training exercises included 'mock' missile launches, which was demonstrated on film. Emphasis was around the security and proceedure of these launches.

At all times during a Tour, the missile capabilities were always on alert within a fifteen minute window of receiving the 'Fire' command from the Prime Minister.

Thank you Mike for this personal insight.

From Gutenberg to Gates - Roy Ackrill

Posted on October 4, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Our talk today, given by Roy Ackrill, chartered the history of printing.

The key figure in the history of printing was Johann Gutenberg (1400? - 1468) of Mainz, Germany. Around 1430 he invented movable, interchangeable, re-usable type, for printing on a wooden press using a printing ink of a composition invented by him. It was an oily, varnish-like ink made of soot, turpentine, and walnut oil.

The print shop probably had around 25 staff and aimed to print around six pages of a book per day. His masterpiece is the Bible printed in 1453, of which180 copies were made, each of 1282 pages with 42 lines in two columns. They were designed to be completed by colouring the main capitals etc by hand. 48 copies are known to exist today.

A few years after his death the process used involved the production of a metal punch, the end of which would have been cut to produce a reverse impression of the type.

During the seventeenth century The Netherlands became the centre of book printing for most of Europe.

William Caxton was born in Kent (1415/1424). In 1446, he went to live in Bruges where, where during a visit to Cologne he saw the emerging German printing industry. He wasted no time in setting up a printing press in Bruges on which the first book to be printed in English was produced in 1473. Bringing his knowledge of printing back to his native land, he set up a press at Westminster in 1476. He died in 1492.

Caxton is credited with standardising the English language (by homogenising regional dialects) through printing. This was said to have led to the expansion of English vocabulary.

The Victorian period was a time of enormous change in the world of printing, especially with the development of the steam presses for printing large numbers of pages. Lithography was also subject to great improvements.

Digital printing, thanks to Mr Bill 'Gates' and the computer, is now gaining acceptance as a viable alternative to litho printing, which itself came to prominence only 50 years ago, at the expense of letterpress, which had a dominance for 500 years.

The toner method also prints across the width of the paper, with either laser or LED method of charging the paper for the transfer of toner. Again speed is the main concern. The latest machines have reached 6000 A4 sheets per hour, on a variety of surfaces. The toner particles are becoming smaller and some are even grown, so they can be very small indeed. This gives the ability to produce very fine detail. The paper also needs to be able to withstand the fusing temperature.

During the last few years, many books have been published as a computer file - these are known as ebooks. Amazon and other companies have produced portable readers for ebooks and it was wildly thought that in the future ebooks would gradually replace printed books as the preferred publishing route.

However, the recent trend shows this not to be the case with printed books taking the lead again.

During the presentation, Roy handed out items to illustrate the talk.

A very informative and interesting topic.

Britains Bloodiest Day, Towton 1461 - David Skillen

Posted on September 13, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Today's speaker, David Skillen was examining the battle of Towton on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461, considered Britain’s bloodiest battle.

David set the scene of the Wars of the Roses, which rightly should be called the ‘Cousins War’, and would have been recognised as such at the time. It really was a series of battles between families that got bloodier and nastier as time went on, with rarely any quarter given – which went right against the idea of chivalry.

The main protagonists were Henry VI, and against them was a 19 year old, Edward Duke of York.

David thought that medieval warfare at this point had transcended the idea of chivalry, and it was more to do with killing your enemy before he killed you. At Mortimer’s Cross on 2 February 1461 Edward defeated a Welsh Lancastrian force and then advanced on London to be crowned king in March. He then marched his forces back up north where he encountered the Lancastrian forces at Ferrybridge, on 27/28 March. This was yet another battle that involved crossing a river, in this case the Aire, and showed how important it was to get a foothold on the opposite bank. Edward’s forces needed to cross it to proceed north, and their first attempt saw a Lancastrian counter-charge with many Yorkists butchered and pushed back over the bridge. The Lancastrian troops were commanded by the detested Sir John Clifford , who next day was killed (hacked to pieces) at Dinting Dale, along with Sir John Neville, who had changed sides at Wakefield.

The Lancastrian forces occupied the high ground to the south of Towton village, while the Yorkists held the ground north of the village of Saxton. The weather was very cold and the ground was wet, which would be significant. 

Historians disagree about the numbers involved though all agree that the Yorkists were outnumbered. David made the point that Henry, being deeply religious and it was Palm Sunday, was at church in York; whereas Edward was there for all to see. The  artillery used, included the important weaponry of the longbow – a weapon of mass destruction.

The conditions favoured the Yorkist archers with the wind blowing towards the enemy. They quickly opened fire with the Lancastrians following suit, but falling short. The Yorkist archers then marched forward, seized the fallen arrows of the enemy and fired them back.

The Lancastrians forces then advanced some 400 yards, forcing their opponents back, but the line did not buckle. Then, at around midday and having fought for about three hours, a force of Lancastrians suddenly emerged form Castle Hill and smashed into the left flank of the Yorkists. Even Edward, commanding the reserve, could not hold the line and they steadily retreated the way they had come, with a Lancastrian victory looking likely. Help was at hand, however, with the arrival of the Duke of Norfolk with 5,000 men. He had been expected, and this timely arrival led to the collapse of the Lancastrian left flank, followed shortly after by their right. These were pushed back down the steep slopes that led to the river Cock – which was in flood. At around 1700 the whole Lancastrian force ran for their lives – which was where the slaughter started, and the casualty figures rose quickly. David spoke about a bridge of bodies across the beck, so bad was the slaughter, and the area became known as ‘Bloody Meadow’.

It was estimated that there were anywhere between 15000 and 28000 casualties, although the exact figure is unknown.

An excellent, well researched and delivered talk.

Royal Shenanigans, Kings & Mistresses - Mike Rendell

Posted on July 5, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Today we welcomed Mike Rendell who gave a fortyfive minute powerpoint presentation looking at Royal shenanigans and naughty goings-on in the Georgian period.

It was not intended to offend – but it was certainly an eye-opener!

Arising out of his researches for “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal & Satire” , Mike put together this talk on “Royal Shenanigans”.

It looked at the earlier Georges and their propensity for taking mistresses, as well as at the Prince Regent and his ‘libidinous accomplishments’. The bedroom conquests of the Regent’s brothers also got a mention.

Below are a few extracts gleaned from the internet on this talk:

George 1st, c.1714

When George had married his cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1682 he was twenty-two and she was sixteen. It was not exactly a love-match – she referred to him as “pig-snout” and begged not to be forced to go through with the marriage. She fainted when she was first introduced to him. For his part, George was equally horrified, largely because he felt insulted by the fact that his bride was of illegitimate birth (although her parents did eventually marry each other). For some strange reason George’s taste in women did not extend to this vivacious, good-looking young girl with a stunning figure. It was rumoured that his preference was for a somewhat short and portly paramour - another Sophia (Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegg). She was the married daughter of his father’s mistress, the Countess Platten. The Countess was renowned for being particularly generous with her favours and there is no certainty as to which of her many lovers fathered Sophia, but the public were convinced that Sophia and George shared the same father. The relationship, if true, meant that George was having an incestuous relationship with his half-sibling.…

George's wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle

George’s marriage was arranged by the two prospective mothers-in-law purely for financial and dynastic reasons – George’s mother was the Duchess Sophia of Hanover, and she was keen to get her hands on the very substantial dowry on offer.payable in annual instalments. 

The marriage was doomed. George treated his new bride with contempt, humiliated her in public, and was constantly arguing. But despite his ‘extra-curricular activities’ he managed to sire a son and a daughter by Sophia: George Augustus, born 1683, who went on to become King George II of Great Britain; and Sophia Dorothea, born 1686, later to become wife of King Frederick William I of Prussia, and mother of Frederick the Great. However, Sophia was more and more abandoned by George – she had done her duty by producing a male heir, and he fell back on his other amorous pursuits.

Faced with such a loveless environment, Sophia developed a friendship with a Swedish Count by the name of Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. The Count had a penchant for writing somewhat indiscreet letters to Sophia, and soon they became lovers. A huge number of particularly torrid letters fell into the wrong hands (in other words they were intercepted or stolen) and ended up with Sophia’s father-in-law, and by 1694 the affair had become extremely public knowledge. George was incandescent with rage and physically attacked his wife, attempting to strangle her before he was pulled off by male attendants. His parting shot was that he never wished to see her again – and he never did.

Sophia and the Swedish Count decided to elope, but their plans were intercepted. Having enjoyed one last tryst with his inamorata, the Count was ambushed and killed by members of the palace guard. Sophia was placed under house arrest and a ‘kangaroo court’ was held. It found her guilty of malicious desertion – a finding which had the dual advantage of ensuring that the dowry payments from her parents would be maintained, while avoiding those awkward questions about the paternity of her children which might have arisen if she had been publicly declared to have been an adulterer.

In December 1694 the marriage was dissolved. Her children were then aged eleven and eight. They were taken away from her, and she was banished to the Castle of Ahlden, never to see her offspring again. She remained, incarcerated at Ahlden, for thirty-three years until her death in 1726. When she lay dying with kidney failure she sent a letter to George, in which she predicted that he too would be dead within the year. Delivered posthumously, it cursed him from the grave, and a popular story has it that within a week of opening the letter, George was indeed dead.

The Maypole

All that was in the future when George ascended the British throne in 1714, but it explains why, when he first set foot on English soil on 18 September 1714 George brought with him two women who quickly became known by the nick-names of ‘the Maypole’ and ‘the Elephant’. The ‘Maypole’ was his somewhat scrawny and wafer-thin maîtresse-en-titre – his official mistress, by whom he had three illegitimate children. They had met when she became a maid of honour to Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, in 1691.The ‘Elephant’ was his illegitimate half-sister Sophia von Kielmansegg, mentioned earlier. The royal family denied vehemently that George slept with Sophia, but as far as the British public were concerned both the Maypole and the Elephant were royal mistresses, and stories were rife about the goings-on in the Royal household.

The Elephant

As to the Elephant, Horace Walpole recalled "being terrified at her enormous figure… Two fierce black eyes, large and rolling beneath two lofty arched eyebrows, two acres of cheeks spread with crimson, an ocean of neck that overflowed and was not distinguished from the lower part of her body, and no part restrained by stays; no wonder that a child dreaded such an ogress, and that the mob of London were highly diverted at the importation of so uncommon a seraglio! … indeed nothing could be grosser than the ribaldry that was vomited out in lampoons, libels, and every channel of abuse, against the sovereign and the new court, and chaunted even in their hearing about the public streets." Sophia was the complete opposite of the willowy Maypole, who Horace Walpole termed ‘long and emaciated.’

George was known to have a propensity for large women, or, as Lord Chesterfield put it: "No woman was amiss if she was but very willing, very fat and had great breasts"! That still leaves the question: whatever did George see in the Maypole?

The Maypole, more correctly styled Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, was loathed by the English court. She was hated for being dull and stupid, for having appalling dress-sense, for being avaricious, and for condoning incest (i.e. because it was believed that she shared the King’s bed with his half-sister). She must have had something going for her though, since the King kept her as his mistress for almost forty years, and during that time she became an invaluable intermediary between the King and his Ministers. She grew rich on the sale of appointments, and incurred the wrath of Grub Street hacks who resented her meddling in British politics. As Robert Walpole remarked, she was "as much Queen of England as any ever was, … he [George I] did everything by her." Above all though, she and The Elephant were closely linked with the scandal of the stock market crash in 1720 known as The South Sea Bubble.

Both women appeared to have shared a common link – neither of them had enough money.

Thank you Mike for an interesting and unusual talk today.

Flying Boats to Singapore - Arthur Spencer

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Today, we welcomed the return of Arthur Spencer who treated us to an illustrated talk on the history of flying boats.

The heyday of flying boats in commercial aviation was the fifteen years between 1935 and 1950, and Arthur was a navigator on such services after the end of the War.

In 1924, the British Goverment merged four small existing airlines to create what became Imperial Airways. Until then, flying boats had been used for routes to various European and Mediterranean destinations. With the introduction of the Short Brothers 'C Class' Empire flying boats in the early 1930s – many of which Imperial Airways had daringly ordered straight from the drawing board – a service from Poole Harbour to Singapore became feasible.

Commercial services were largely suspended during the War, with the planes requisitioned for military use. By 1945, the few surviving flying boats were ageing. BOAC (the successor to Imperial Airways) redesigned RAF Sunderland flying boats for commercial use, renamed 'Hythes'. They carried around 23 passengers, served by 7 stewards, in conditions of relative luxury very different from today's budget services, though at a cost of about £450.

Arthur then described his experiences on the Eastern Route to Singapore. He was a licensed air navigator, having flown with RAF Transport Command, but unlike military flying, navigators did not then have the aid of radar. Navigation was rather basic, but luckily most flights were in daylight and in good weather! Again unlike the RAF, civilian crews were not fixed teams, so Arthur would constantly have to work with different colleagues.

He took the audience through a complete trip from Britain to Singapore, first from the perspective of a passenger, then from the crew's viewpoint. One of the navigator's duties in these times was to keep the passengers informed of the flight's progress by way of an hourly information sheet. Other less pleasant duties involved walking along the wing to ensure one float was submerged for turning while in harbour. The many stops en route were varied, from the delights of Augusta in Sicily and Cairo to the heat and humidity of Calcutta, but provided many opportunities for recreation and shopping for the crew.

Arthur's presentation gave the members a vivid flavour of a glamorous and exciting period in British aviation.