Recent Reports


Mary Queen of Scots

On Wed 6 April 22 we were treated to another a repeat visit by Dr Gillian White who excelled herself with her intriguing interpretation of the historical evidence surrounding the life of Mary Queen of Scots and identifying the gaps which have sometimes been filled by imaginative researchers.

Mary became the Queen of Scotland 6 days after her birth and was crowned 9 months later. When Henry VIII invaded Scotland 5 years later, with the aim of extending his kingdom, Mary’s mother opposed the union and took her daughter to safety in France. At the age of 15 Mary was married in Notre Dame to the heir to the French throne, Francis, the Dauphine of France. Then followed 2 years of tragic deaths: first, Henry II (Mary’s effective father), then her mother, and finally her French husband. Gillian described this as the pivotal point in Mary’s life.

Should Mary remain in France or return to Scotland where the religious and political climate was tense? Whom should she marry with a view to bearing a successor? Should she lay claim to her friend and first cousin once removed Queens Elizabeth’s throne? The rest is, as they say, history.


Scotland & Russia

On 24 Mar 2022 Probus Club extended an invitation to wives and partners of members to hear Masha Lees share the results of her research into her family ties with Russia. The degree of influence and migration between Scotland and Russia is surprising; Masha cited many examples of successful military figures, architects, engineers and other well educated professionals who over the centuries helped to develop the region. Interestingly, Masha highlighted the presence of St Andrews Anglican Church built in 1885 within a stone’s throw of the Kremlin, which remains in use today because of its superb acoustics and is the only Anglican church in Moscow.

Scottish warriors were renowned for their bravery and skills-at-arms, several becoming successful generals who were rewarded with gifts of land in the late 15th century. Reportedly, there are some 400 modern Russian surnames from Abercroby to Wood. A modern tartan for the Lermontov family celebrates the poet Mikhail Lermontov, born in 1841, a descendant of George Lermont (a ‘Scottish knight’ of Fife who emigrated to Russia in 1613 to serve as a military instructor to Tsar Mikhail Romanov. Mikail Letmontov standing as a poet in Russia was almost akin the that of Robert Burns.

Another general named Jacob Daniel Bruce (1670 –1735) who was a close associate of Peter the Great, and a Russian statesman, military leader, and scientist of Scottish descent. Jacob Moscow in 1669, the son of William Bruce, a Scottish Protestant Jacobite who had left his homeland in 1647 to pursue a military career in Russian service. Jacob went on to found the first publishing house, and amassed a collection of 1500 scientific books.

Inevitably the questions turned to the present dire situation in Ukraine, which Masha best summed up as “complicated”.


Casting Stones at Napier’s Bones

The title of the talk given by Malcolm Watkins on Wed 2 Mar 2022 was somewhat narrower than the scope of this interesting presentation which spanned the history of numeracy and calculating from ancient times. In Roman times of course Roman numerals were in use in Britain and the abacus was already well established for calculations. Abacuses often took the form of a portable mat marked with lines and Roman numerals which could be spread out on a shop-counter between traders and used to calculate a bill.

Not until the 16th Century did mathematicians such as John Napier start to transform calculation by devising the concept of logarithms which enabled large and complicated multiplication and division operations to be achieved by simple addition and subtraction, speeding up the process and reducing the scope for human error. The advent of printing led to the publication of the method and the familiar logarithm tables. Napier then developed another method for reducing difficult calculations to simple addition and subtraction processes. The method required a set of inscribed square section index rods which with practice could be used by relatively innumerate people. A set of 10 Napier’s rods, or Napier’s bones when made from ivory, allowed for most calculations to be made.

Malcolm continued by describing how other mathematicians were inspired by Napier’s work, notably Henry Briggs, Edmund Gunter, and Walter Schickard. Ultimately calculating machine designs appeared, but with limited efficiency and capacity. Perhaps the highlight of Malcolm’s talk was Blaise Pascal’s machine, known as the Pascaline, which he designed to relieve his father of tedious calculations.

Henry Hall

The Stained Glass Windows of Fairford Church

Tim Mowat joined us on 16 Feb 2022  to speak about the fabulous stained glass windows of Fairford church. Without doubt one of the best ‘wool churches’ in England, St Mary’s, Fairford is a testament to the wealth of the medieval wool trade in the Cotswolds region.

Successful wool merchants lavished money on their parish churches, and if we can judge by the results at Fairford, the local merchants were very wealthy indeed. St Mary’s is a superb example of Perpendicular style, and possesses what is probably the most complete set of medieval stained glass in Britain.

Other churches have superb glass, but at Fairford the complete original glass is still in place, as it was set there over 500 years ago. Only one small section of the west window had to be replaced in 1864.  And what superb glass it is!


Charles Dickens: His Story and His Message

On Wednesday 2 Feb 2022 Dr Keith Hooper addressed the Club. Born in 1963, Keith did not become interested in poetry or Victorian literature until he was in his thirties. Picking up David Copperfield from his father’s bookshelf, he fell in love with the works of Charles Dickens, and the nineteenth century classics. Despite having no formal qualification in English, other than an ‘O’ level from school, he was accepted as a PhD student at the University of Exeter. Awarded a doctorate in 2009, he was commissioned by an Oxford publisher to write a biography of Charles Dickens which was the basis of his talk.

Charles Dickens was a great storyteller, possessing the unique ability to document the realities of life for both his contemporaries and future generations. A journalist, commentator, historian, and the social conscience of a nation, Dickens’ influence and reach extended far beyond that normally associated with a novelist. He used his books to to inform politicians on poverty in London, drawing on his father’s experience in a debtor’s prison. Dickens grew to be one of Queen Victoria’s favourite authors, and became well-connected in high society. He met with 3 prime ministers and several US presidents.

By the way, Charles Dickens was not the source of the expression ‘What the dickens….’ which was in use before both Dickens’ and Shakespeare’s times!

Henry Hall

Busting Brain Myths

On Wed 19 Jan 2022 Dr Katy Bellamy busted several brain myths, while passing on many other interesting facts about the human brain and dementia syndrome during a lively, seemingly unscripted and highly entertaining talk.

Starting with the most popular myth: we use only 10% of our brain’s capacity most of the time. In fact, we use 100% of our brains at all times, as can be seen when a magnetic resonance imaging scan is performed. Furthermore, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are connected together by bundles of nerve fibres, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they complement each other. We don’t use only one side of our brain at a time.

So-called brain exercises such as crosswords and sudoku puzzles do not serve to prevent onset of brain diseases, but practice can improve your skill at solving those puzzles.

However, there is much we can do to prevent brain diseases which lead to dementia syndrome. For example:,

  • Spend some time each day reading, writing, or both – be curious.

  • Learn a completely new skill which requires concentration.

  • Maintain physical activity – at least 150 minutes per week – but don’t fall over!

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep per 24 hours (including cat-knapping – but not after 3p.m.).

Henry Hall

Berkeley Vale Railway Heritage Project

On Wednesday 5 Jan 2022 Howard Parker, Chair of Berkeley Vale Railway Heritage Trust, addressed members. The group is striving to salvage the remnants of the railway at Sharpness. A single-track branch line is still in use, connecting Sharpness with Berkeley Road station and enabling low-grade nuclear waste and other freight to be moved to and from the site at 15mph.

Much of the supporting infrastructure including station buildings and platforms has been destroyed. Therefore, unlike the 216 other heritage railways in England, this project started in 2015 from an exceptionally low point. Nevertheless, much of the disused sidings yard has been reclaimed from 50 years of neglect and the Trust is expecting to be granted a 25 year lease by the landowner, Network Rail. This will hopefully pave the way for future national lottery support.

The group has recruited 100 active volunteers and 388 members – numbers which will surely increase when the lease is granted and limited railway operations can begin. Two diesel locomotives have already been restored, and will be supplemented by 3 steam locomotives which will be restored in due course. Ultimately, the group envisages a unique arrangement for a heritage railway where steam trains will mingle with freight trains from the national network.

Henry Hall

Zimbabwe and Steam

On Wed 17 Nov 2021 the Club held its sixth meeting since resuming the fortnightly programme of speakers. Again a substitute speaker had to be found and this time we were lucky to welcome back Peter Berry for another in his portfolio of talks based on his travels in his quest for perfectly composed railway photographs. In addition to describing a trip to Zimbabwe in 1994, covering the wildlife and the people he met, Peter explained how some of his best images of steam trains in action were captured. He and his fellow 79 enthusiasts hired a train complete with sleeping and dining facilities. Between them they composed the itinerary of ideal locations from which to observe and photograph the train in spectacular settings and under the best natural lighting conditions. The carriages were original products of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, while the locomotives they selected were built in Manchester and Glasgow. If necessary, the train which was running on the single track would be backed up to repeat the unique photo opportunity until everyone was satisfied!

Henry Hall

History of Punch & Judy

“An archetypical and controversial British figure with his origins in the charismatic 16th century Italian puppet Pulcinella, Mr Punch has been performing in the UK for over 350 years.”

On 3 Nov 2021 we were entertained by a speaker who was engaged at short notice – Phil Collins – who assumed the mantle of Professor Collywobbles to explain the history of Punch & Judy and provide a sample of the show he delivers to young and old people alike.

The talk started with an explanation of the origins of the puppet show with string puppets. Now, of course, hand puppets are used for the characters of Punch & Joan, later to become Punch & Judy, along with the crocodile, policeman and others along the way. The stage takes the form of a miniature beach hut, in keeping with the traditional seaside Victorian entertainment image.

While giving us an amusing history lesson to provide some context, Phil engaged with his audience, rewarding successful participation with sweets. President Mike Steed was persuaded to act as his “bottler” whose role was to drum up interest before a show. Normally the bottler would also collect donations in a bottle, to prevent donors from helping themselves to change.

Phil explained some tools of the trade such as the slapstick and swazzle.

Charles Dickens saw the violent comedy of Punch and Judy as essentially harmless, but many throughout its existence have criticised the performance for glorifying domestic violence.

To conclude, Phil gave us an abbreviated show – but to learn more you will have to go to one of his shows or engage him for a party! Suffice to say, he received abundant applause for his performance.

For a comprehensive history of Punch & Judy see:

Henry Hall

Sword-swallowing and its Side Effects

On 20 Oct 21 we had a late change to our programme when the planned speaker had to cancel a few days beforehand. Luckily, Brian Witcombe who is a retired consultant radiologist and lives locally, was able to speak about his study of sword-swallowing and its side effects. Brian illustrated his talk with diagrams and x-ray images which showed the path of the blade, proving convincingly that there was no trickery involved – just an amazing degree of muscular control, years of practice, and perhaps a good dose of either courage or stupidity!

Helpfully, the study was reported in the British Medical Journal in 2006. The abstract is reproduced below:

Objective To evaluate information on the practice and associated ill effects of sword swallowing.

Design Letters sent to sword swallowers requesting information on technique and complications.

Setting Membership lists of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International.

Participants 110 sword swallowers from 16 countries.

Results We had information from 46 sword swallowers. Major complications are more likely when the swallower is distracted or swallows multiple or unusual swords or when previous injury is present. Perforations mainly involve the oesophagus and usually have a good prognosis. Sore throats are common, particularly while the skill is being learnt or when performances are too frequent. Major gastrointestinal bleeding sometimes occurs, and occasional chest pains tend to be treated without medical advice. S word swallowers without healthcare coverage expose themselves to financial as well as physical risk.

Conclusions Sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance, but injured performers have a better prognosis than patients who suffer iatrogenic perforation.

The study was awarded the Ig-Nobel Medical Prize in 2007. A parody of the Nobel Prizes, the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded each year in mid-September, around the time the recipients of the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced, for 10 achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

Undoubtedly, Brian made us laugh and think!

Henry Hall

AGM 2021

The first AGM since covid-19 interrupted the annual cycle was held on 6 Oct 21.  Mike Steed was elected to continue in post and hopefully to enjoy a “normal”  presidential year.  Paul Sparks left the committee after some 14 years service as the Club’s expert catering events manager.

Dunkirk’s Little Ships

On 29 Sep 2021 Painswick Probus Club welcomed maritime historian Paul Barnett who put in perspective the heroic achievements of the “Little Ships” and their crews which were pressed into service for Operation Dynamo during a hastily planned evacuation. The British Expeditionary Force was in dire need of rescue from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was estimated that some 45,000 personnel could be saved during a 2 day period.

Some 861 Belgian, British, and Dutch vessels with a shallow draft were requisitioned, sometimes with the knowledge and permission of the owner, and sometimes without. The smallest vessel was just 14’ 7” long. Most were manned by the RN and experienced volunteers, but some ships were sailed by fishermen or owners. Larger ships and RN vessels stood offshore to receive “passengers” from smaller craft which would return to the shore for more. All the while the Luftwaffe was bombing the area, while the RAF was defending the airspace by intercepting as many bombers as they could.

Captain William Tennant Tennant was appointed Senior Naval Officer ashore at Dunkirk, Tennant’s task was to organize the men and get them onto the ships waiting to take them. Tennant stayed right up until the last ships left, patrolling the beaches of Dunkirk with a megaphone searching for British troops.

The evacuation lasted 9 days from 26 May 1940, during which 338,226 men including 139,997 Belgium, Dutch, French, Polish forces . The French continued to defend Dunkirk which was annihilated, while the evacuation proceeded, and the German tanks did not advance further across the low lying and flooded land to finish their attack. Some 200 British ships were lost in the rescue, along with some 60,000 men who were either captured or killed.

The rescue operation turned a military disaster into a story of heroism which served to raise the morale of the British, and the “Dunkirk spirit” lives on.

Henry Hall

A Tale of 2 Islands

The title suggested to some that the talk might be about New Zealand or perhaps South Georgia and the Falklands but on 15 Sep 2021 we were treated to an excellent talk given by Squadron Leader Arun Desai RAF (Ret’d) who focussed on his experiences during the Falklands Conflict in 1982. Arun started by describing the 2 islands – Ascension Island and the Falklands – and particularly the associated problems with reaching ans sustaining them from the UK. As an experienced navigator Arun was a Hercules crew member whose primary task during the conflict was to guide the pilot towards RN ships in need of the airborne resupply of equipment which was dropped by parachute into the sea and picked up by helicopters from the ship. It was always a tense moment when the aircraft approached the ship in complete radio silence, and often in the poor weather conditions expected in the South Atlantic, while hoping that his aircraft would be recognised as a “friendly”.  Arun showed images of a ship in the distance – a mere speck on the screen, and located far away from the task force.

Until Port Stanley had been recaptured flights from Ascension needed to rendezvous with airborne tankers to refuel. Even these Victor tankers needed to be refuelled. For the famous Vulcan attack the aircraft was refuelled seven times en-route to Port Stanley. The calculations were made manually, using a calculator bought for £5.95!

Henry Hall

Artificial Intelligence

After the prolonged interval, on 1 Sep 2021 the Club resumed its programme of talks with an excellent presentation by John Handby on the future impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on society. John is well qualified to speak after a career spent promoting technological change in both the public and private sectors.

As computing power continues to accelerate we already see some of the potential for AI to open up a whole new world of possibilities, where the computer thinks and learns for itself. We are witnessing a transformative change in the way information is used (for good and ill) within an increasingly global community. Manipulation of vast accumulations of metadata tell Amazon, Google, and Facebook more about you than you know yourself! We have entered the world of surveillance capitalism where our activities in the virtual world are ruthlessly monetized.   Health care trials show that AI can outperform humans when interpreting test results.  We already have factories and farms run by robotics.  AI will revolutionise how we tackle cyber-crime, but that crime will also become more sophisticated. 

There will be losers – those who fail to adapt in time, including governments who fail to control AI development on their electorate’s behalf. The clear danger is that we create a super-rich elite (possibly using AI to augment their brains and wealth) absorbing and exploiting the benefits of this revolution, whilst the rest of society becomes a technologically irrelevant underclass. Still worse, we are building machines which are beyond our intellectual means to control – once an algorithm starts learning for itself we no longer understand how it reaches decisions.

Tackling these issues in a way that gives our progeny a future is up there with climate change and bio-engineering. AI offers all kind of advantages and benefits but we need urgently to put checks and balances in place to ensure its controlled development before it is too late.

Henry Hall

Covid-19 caused  Probus Club operations for the period 1 April 2020 to  1Sep 2021 to be suspended.

The Wonder of Bees

Richard Rickitt who is co-editor of “Bee Craft” and managing director A to Bee (Team Events) delivered fascinating insight to the versatility of bees on 4 Mar 2020. He explained how bees fly, and how the learning from this has helped in the re-styling of aeroplanes. In addition bees eyes have 6500 lenses, operating individually, seeing both UV and polarised light. They see shapes, like humans shopping in a supermarket, and plan their trip by time and vibration, or through detecting pheromones. Worker bees have incisors with glands that produce royal jelly for feeding larvae and the queen bee. They also have about three million hairs on their bodies, each with a small electric charge for attracting pollen.

There are 24 species of bumble bee, 225 of solitary bees, but essentially just 1 of the honey bee. Apparently British bees get up early to forage, but Italian bees get up at mid-day, and generally speaking a worker bee can travel 25- 30,000 miles a year.

The oldest record of honey collection is from wall drawings in Valencia 18,000 years ago. Egyptians were avid honey consumers and were familiar with propolis which is an anti-microbial bee glue used for sealing hives. Honey is in fact self-preserving and has been found in 4000 year old tombs in Egypt.

The construction of honeycombs is geometrically very specific, and the queen at the centre of the hive is really an egg laying machine. The rate of growth of a larvae to a bee in 7 days is equivalent to the growth of a human baby to an African elephant.

Interestingly the communication between bees is the only non-human language we understand. A swarm of bees is entirely safe to handle, as the bees then, like birds, have their minds on other things.

Mike Steed

William Richard Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield (1877-1963)


On the 5th of February John Macartney, a former Jaguar employee and car enthusiast, returned to Probus to present the life of William Morris, Viscount Nuffield. Most of us will have heard of the Morris Motor Company and also of the Nuffield charities but have we connected the two?  William Morris was one of the 20th century’s great industrialists and philanthropists.

Born in Worcester and raised in Oxford he started a bicycle repair business at the age of 15.  Expanding into motorcycles and then into selling motor cars from his Morris Garages showroom he built his first car in 1913 on a site bought from the Oxford Military College which later grew into the Morris Cowley works. The war saw the demand for cars fall but the company survived by building ‘mine sinkers’ – devices for holding ship mines below the surface.

By the end of the war he was a millionaire. Morris Motors expanded with the acquisition of other companies such as Wolseley and Riley and MG (Morris Garages) was formed in 1929, building sports cars based on components from the saloon cars. Ultimately Morris Motors merged with Austin and the British Motor Corporation was formed.

Morris was a great engineer and industrialist but he is probably as well known today for his charities and philanthropy. He was always a firm believer that workers gave their best if they were secure and healthy and his interest in promoting health care was probably prompted by the death of his two older sisters before the age of 25 and the chronic health issues of his father. The Morris Motor Company had employee benefits which would have been the envy of many modern companies – free health, eye and dental care (this is before the NHS), a pension scheme with widow benefits and so on.

Becoming Viscount Nuffield in 1934 he founded various charities under the Nuffield Organisation – the Nuffield Trust with the aim of improving health care and the Nuffield Foundation to advance education and social welfare. The Nuffield Trust hospitals are often credited as being the model for the NHS.

In later life, after the BMC merger, and the death of his wife and without any heirs, he spent much of his time travelling the world visiting medical research and treatment facilities and it is estimated that he personally donated around £800M at current values to such organisations.

John Wylde

The  Galapagos Islands

Arthur Ball, a keen birdwatcher and member of Cheltenham Bird Club, came to Painswick Probus recently to share his experiences visiting the Galapagos Islands. Having signed up for the trip Arthur thought he better learn a bit more about the Galapagos. He knew they were somewhere in the Pacific and teemed with wildlife but that was about it.

In fact they are a province of Equador, about 600 miles out into the Pacific and noted for their endemic species which were studied by Charles Darwin and are considered to be responsible for his theory of evolution. They are located above a fault line and are volcanic in origin, a number are still forming and have active volcanoes. There are 18 main islands and numerous smaller islands and rocks spread over a sizeable area and the whole archipelago is moving slowly towards the South American land mass.

So Arthur and birdwatcher friend set off to Equador landing in the capital Quito before flying out the next day to the islands in a smaller plane. What Arthur hadn’t realised is that Quito is some 9000ft. above see level making any physical exertion very tiring. They landed on Santa Cruz island which has the most significant human population, and from there they joined a small number of others for their guided cruise.

The islands have no land predators and so animals have no fear of humans which allowed Arthur to get some wonderful photos of both birds and land animals which he shared with his audience. Too many tales and photos to repeat here but what was notable was the way the same species had developed differently on islands with different terrain and vegetation. The giant turtles on younger islands where the ground was barren and vegetation was higher up had developed long necks compared to their counterparts on more verdant islands where they could feed from the ground. The Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz has 14 types of finch all descended from the same parent but with different characteristics as a result of their island environment.

A very interesting talk, well illustrated and enthusiastically presented by Arthur.

John Wylde

Perestroika : Success or Failure?

Masha Lees returned to Painswick Probus to talk about her view of how Russia had changed from the time of Perestroika until the present, having previously talked about her time living in the Soviet Union and then Russia. Not being a Russian and working for a foreign bank Masha was free to move around in a way denied to many Russians and to form friendships which enabled her to study how the country was changing.

Perestroika (restructuring) started in the 1980’s as a movement within the Communist party and is generally associated with the then leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of glasnost (openness). It is often thought to be the cause of the dissolution of the Soviet Union however the intention was not to end the command economy but to make it work more efficiently by introducing elements of a free market economy. Unfortunately implementation of Perestroika created shortages and political, social and economic tensions which were a large factor in the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Masha took her audience through the period preceding Perestroika until the present day, identifying the key moments and characters involved, both the good and the not so good; the rise of the oligarchs and how they took control of the country’s industry (and most of Knightsbridge); and the rise of Vladimir Putin.

So what was Masha’s conclusion? Success in that many Russians are now more affluent, freer to travel and less isolated, but failure in terms of receding democracy, control by the FSB and criminal organisations, lack of recent cultural development and the poverty of large numbers of Russians. Although Masha may not be optimistic for our future relationship with Russia she encouraged her audience not to be deterred from visiting. The sites are extraordinary and the people are helpful, warm and friendly.

John Wylde


Music, Friendship and the Cotswold Hills : a Life of Gustav Holst

On Wednesday 13th November the Painswick Probus talk was given by Angela Applegate, a volunteer at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham. Despite his ultimate fame Holst was a shy and private man and the title of the talk about Holst’s life indicates the things he valued most.

He was born in 1874, full name Gustavus Theodore von Holst, at 4 Pittville Terrace (now Clarence Road) in Cheltenham, to Adolph Holst, a music teacher, and Clara Lidiard the daughter of a Cirencester solicitor. His paternal family were of Swedish and Baltic descent and contained several professional musicians. His great-grandfather Matthias was a music teacher at the Russian court in St. Petersburg and it was he who move to England in 1802. His son Gustav, a composer, appropriated the aristocratic prefix “von” in the hope of furthering his career.

Holst was the elder of two brothers and was only 8 when his mother Clara died. Not a strong child, he was short-sighted and suffered from asthma and neuritis in his right hand. As a child he played the piano and the violin and later, at his fathers suggestion, the trombone hoping it would strengthen his chest. At the age of only 17 he was appointed as organist and choirmaster at Wick Rissington which included the post of conductor of the Bourton-on-the-Water choral society. It was here he got his taste for conducting. He always loved walking in the Cotswolds and he would often walk from his home in Cheltenham to Wick Rissington, although this may also have been to save money.

At 18 he wrote an operetta entitled ‘Lansdown Castle’ which was well received and ignited his desire to compose. A year later he left to study at the Royal College of Music and he would play in orchestras and seaside summer bands to support himself while studying. At the age of 21 he met fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams, another Gloucestershire lad, and they became lifelong friends.

He was married in 1901 to Isobel and they set up home in London where he was teaching music. Their only child Imogen was also a accomplished composer, conductor and teacher and for many years was musical assistant to Benjamin Britten.

Composing was not paying the bills and a career as a concert pianist was out of the question because of his weak right hand, so he supported his family by teaching in schools and colleges which he continued until his death. He was a good teacher and enjoyed it and was noted for revolutionising the teaching of girls particularly at St.Pauls School in Hammersmith. In appreciation the school built him a soundproof room for his composing.

Rejected for Army service he began to write the Planets during WW1. The work was inspired by his lifelong interest in astrology. It was also at this time that he dropped the ‘von’ from his name as it sounded too Germanic. Finally at the end of the War he was given a post with the YMCA in Greece and it was while he was away that the first public performance of the Planets was performed.

Now he was famous and in demand but he was never really comfortable with his fame. He continued to teach and compose until his death from a heart attack at the age of 59. Apart from the Planets he is probably best known for the music entitled ‘Cranham’ for the carol ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ and inspired by his childhood visits to his mother’s village. He was in fact a prolific composer, much of his work was quite progressive and influenced many other well known composers but is seldom performed.

Angela concluded her excellent talk with a description of the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham and the ‘Gustav Holst Way’ a signed 35 mile footpath from Cranham through Cheltenham to Wick Rissington created in 2011 to celebrate Holst’s connection with the area and his love of rambling.

John Wylde


Life in the East End, A Story of a Fancy Box Cutter

The fancy box cutter refers to Martin Collisson’s grandfather, Henry Charles Collisson who was born in the East End in 1860, worked as a busker, then a trawlerman and finally for 56 years as a Fancy Box Cutter. Martin was only 6 when Henry died in 1949 so he was unable to learn much about his grandfather directly but since he has researched his life and that of others in his East End family and he used this as a theme for his description of East End life through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Although Henry was a box cutter for 56 years it was his life outside work that Martin discovered to be more eventful and often tragic. Married three times – the first two were sisters, he sired 23 children – 16 within wedlock and was a part time bigamist – you were not allowed to marry your ex wife’s sister at the time. His first wife killed herself, his second killed her two daughters and was committed to Broadmoor where she died of an epileptic fit and his third lost three of her seven children in infancy. But this was the late Victorian period and these circumstances were not unusual in such areas, there was intense poverty, sanitation was poor and malnutrition was common. Fortunately Martin’s talk was not all doom and gloom and he presented a host of interesting facts and descriptions of East End life: through thee centuries. Such as :

Where is the East End and who is a Cockney.

The various immigrants that have arrived over the years and their influence on the culture and trade.

The many famous and infamous residents.

The summer trips to the hop fields of Kent.

The Pearly Kings and Queens and their history.

The markets, the theatres, the pubs, the docks and so much more.

But fortunately not one mention of the TV programme!

John Wylde

Quaint and Quirky Gloucestershire

Previously Angela Panrucker has talked to Probus about the history of pub signs. This is a passion she shares with her husband Terry and they travel the length and breadth of the country researching and photographing these signs. Never without a camera they often come across other interesting items in their travels which most of us may never notice. For the talk on 2 Oct 2019  talk Angela had assembled a collection of photographs of the quaint and quirky things she had found in Gloucestershire, maybe not always quaint but definitely quirky.

Far too many examples to discuss here but a few of the categories were: statues and stone carvings, wells and well dressings, Green Man carvings, maypoles, village signs (Painswick and Upton St Leonards got mention) stocks, whipping posts and lock-ups, pillar boxes and posting houses, milestones, graves and tombs, finger posts and more.

Of particular note locally were the thatched posting house at Severn Springs which most of the audience thought was a bus stop. In fact it was a building where the post was left and collected. Also the lock-up in Bisley. Lock-ups were small buildings where the drunk and disorderly could cool off overnight and Bisley is notable for having a twin cell version, presumably for the two parties in a ‘domestic’. Hexagonal post boxes were only manufactured between 1866 and 1879 and around 80 were produced. Cheltenham has 8 and Gloucestershire has 10, more than any other county and one fine example stands outside Gloucester Cathedral. The church at Littledean has a clock face with Roman numerals but 11 o’clock has the symbol IX not XI. The story goes that the clockmaker’s wife told him to be home from the pub by 11 o’clock but XI never came!

The message from Angela is – take your camera and keep your eyes open.

John Wylde


Pen and Polisher

Painswick Probus members were intrigued to discover the subject of this talk by Diana Whitaker. It turned out that it was in two parts – first the ‘pen’, her life as a journalist and then the ‘polisher’, her job as a cleaner and help to a very unusual client.

Leaving university in the early 60’s the opportunities for women were limited. Teaching was popular but did not appeal, the theatre was her goal but by chance she ended up in journalism. For many years she worked on several publications around the south west including Cotswold Life and the Stroud News & Journal. Her speciality was articles on the various towns and villages around the area including interviews with the famous and the not so famous. The pay was poor but the people made the job enjoyable and Di was constantly amazed how many had an interesting story to tell. The best interviews were often after chance meetings and the people to avoid were usually those who volunteered themselves. She entertained her audience with anecdotes about the people and places of the region and how the things had progressed over her career.

The second part of the story, the Polisher, starts when Di gave up work to look after her children. She was looking for some work more compatible with family life when a friend told her of a neighbour looking for a cleaner and general help. A knock on the door was answered by a lady with a very aristocratic bearing called Pamela Jackson. They hit it off and Di started work. She found Pamela to be a very likeable and interesting woman but was curious to know exactly who she was. This curiosity was heightened when Di came across photos by Cecil Beaton and first edition books by the Mitfords. It turned out that Pamela was the least well known of the six notorious Mitford sisters; Unity, Jessica, Diana, Nancy, Deborah and Pamela. Although she had not been in the limelight like most of her sisters Di found her to have led a fascinating life which she could recall in great detail. Pamela and Di became close and Di was introduced to others in the family. This was when her journalistic background took over and she started to write a book about Pamela’s life. The book was entitled “The Other Mitford: Pamela’s Story” and Di entertained Probus with various extracts from it. Sadly Pamela died shortly Quaint and Quirky Gloucestershirebefore it was published but the family, particularly Deborah (Duchess of Devonshire) and Max Mosley (son of Diana), were very supportive in providing material for the book.

Altogether a very interesting and entertaining talk.

John Wylde


Of Sons And Skies

Painswick Probus started their new season with a talk by Robert Arley titled “Of Sons And Skies”.

This was based on his book of the same title which looks at the contribution of the allied air-forces to the defeat of the Nazis. A retired professional communicator, and initially not being especially interested in WW2 or aviation history, the idea for the book came as a result of interviewing people when working as a TV producer, particularly air-force ground crew, about their wartime experiences.

Robert’s talk took his audience chronologically through the war years presenting some of the lesser known facts about the contribution of the allied airmen, both pilots and ground crew. Only a few years before the outbreak of the war men were still flying around in bi-planes but Hitler was mobilising German industry in preparation for his assault. Through the war technological developments on both sides were impressive as were the sheer number of aircraft produced and lost but this only emphasised the awful risks that the aircrews were taking.

A thought provoking talk 80 years after the outbreak of WW2.


John Wylde


A Taste of Africa

On the 10th of July David Lemon returned from Princetown to regale us with some of the more amusing aspects of life in central Africa.

His knack for seeing the funny and at times absurd side of what otherwise seemed to be quite a poor quality of life was hilarious – for example, 24 hour shops which opened between only 9am-6pm, roads more pot-holed than not, one pothole enough for a chap to have a bath in, and a road sign that threatened potholes for the next 9600 kilometres!

Personal transport was not neglected with slides of 6 people on a moped, horse-drawn vehicles so loaded that the driver could not possibly see where he was going, a slide of a cow being moved on top of an estate car and another on a motor bike. A goat riding pillion, about 100 house bricks laid as in a wall covering a bicycle with a hole for the pusher to steer, the ingenuity in all walks of life were astounding. Coffins were for sale outside an Accident & Emergency department.

Despite the abject poverty and very much a make do and mend culture, there were smiles galore from young and old, quite inspiring under their multiple problems of hunger, shortages, dictators and extreme climate.

David had a warning about charitable giving to Africa – be very careful who receives your donations as there are many very rich men in Africa who syphon off charities’ income, the needy and deserving rarely seeing any of the money. Try to choose very specific projects with clear aims and goals and you could be safe, but unfortunately not always.

Somerset Moore


The Evolution of Battlefield Intelligence & Situational Awareness

On the 12th June 2019 Dr. Tom Shannon returned to Painswick Probus, this time to talk about developments in battlefield intelligence.

In war it is vital to know as much as possible about your enemy’s capabilities; Tom’s talk was about the progression of military reconnaissance over the years. The telescope in the 1600’s and, later, binoculars were a vast improvement on the naked eye. Tethered balloons were used above the trenches in WW1 but they were easy prey for artillery. Aerial reconnaissance using aircraft and cameras became possible during WW1 and by WW II was capable of overwhelming interpretation staff with millions of photographs. Time was of the essence when processing and interpreting film.

Today we have satellites, edge-of-space spy planes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) all equipped with high powered cameras, that can transmit immediately images and 3D maps of terrain, by day and night. The challenge for today’s commander is the analysis of the mass of data and the need to make timely decisions based on that data.

Henry Hall


The Hugely Huggable History of the Teddy Bear

The talk on 15 May 2019 was a history of the teddy bear by the excellent speaker Dr. Gillian White.  She really got down to the bear necessities and the touching history of this unique toy.

For all time toys have gone in and out of fashion, but the teddy bear has seen over a century of love and affection from generations of children [and adults].

Stuffed cloth bears were developed by the Steiff family in Ulm, Germany and  Morris Mitchcom in the USA, simultaneously but  independently in 1902.

To this day the designs have little varied  and of course some have become part of literature’s legacy; Paddington Bear , Whinnie the Pooh and Teddy Bears picnics spring to mind, and whenever bears are mentioned there is always an appreciative mmm….. as if to witness the affe8ction that most people have for teddy bears .

The name Teddy came from Teddy Roosevelt the American president, for once refusing to shoot a bear.

Rare teddy bears have been sold for staggering sums, but they will always remain as friends and dependable toys for generations to come.  I rather missed out as I did not have a teddy when I was a child.

Somerset Moore

British Waterways Heritage Working Boats Project

On 1 May 2019 Vince Williams returned to address the Club on the formation, funding, training, and skills of the British Waterways Heritage Working Boats Project, a volunteer group which restores, maintains and operates a fleet of 4 historic canal vessels.
The narrow-boats are taken to events throughout the Midlands for display to the general public to provide an insight in to life on a working narrow-boat. They are also used as an education resource at events during the year, giving an opportunity for school children to step aboard a working narrow-boat. At all of the events volunteers are on hand to show people over the boats, explain the history of working narrow-boats and the people that worked and lived on the canals.

Henry Hall

Birds, Tigers and the Taj

Arriving in Delhi in the late evening, Arthur was amazed by how busy the place was, even at midnight. Despite thinking he was prepared for the sights of India he was still shocked by the contrast between the streets outside and the luxury of their hotel.

A trip to the local wetlands yielded many photographs of beautiful coloured birds which were totally new to the birdwatchers.

Next it was up to the Himalayan foothills and this presented an opportunity to visit the Corbett national park, a wildlife sanctuary set up in 1935 by a hunter turned conservationist. While riding on elephants the group came within yards of a tiger but would have totally missed it if not for the warning growls of the elephants.

The Taj Mahal presented Arthur with some beautiful photos, looking pink in the morning sunrise it transformed to a dazzling white as the sun rose.

A stay in a hunting lodge and a visit to the Ranthambore tiger reserve were next on the itinerary and this produced the highlight of the trip. Again riding on the backs of elephants the group set off in different directions in the hope of seeing tigers. Whether it was luck or having the most experienced tracker, Arthur’s group came across a beautiful tiger and her two cubs and his photos, taken within yards of the animals, really conveyed the beauty and the power of the beasts.

All too soon it was back home but a memorable visit to just a small part of a fascinating country during which 284 different types of birds were spotted of which 206 were totally new to the group.

John Wylde



Reports about earlier events may be seen in the Archive