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.
“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.
“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.
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, President 2019-2020
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. Although his day job is in science and engineering, as a former regular soldier Tom retains a strong interest in things military.
In war and in battle it is vital to know as much as possible about your enemy’s position, strength and resources in order that you can make appropriate decisions and Tom’s talk was about the progression of military intelligence over the years.
When battles were fought at close quarters it was vital to secure the high ground, even as late as WW1 a position a few metres above the enemy could be so important. Development of the telescope in the 1600’s, and later binoculars, gave commanders the ability to assess an opponents strength long before the naked eye could.
If the advantage of height could not be gained from the land other ways were sought. Observers in balloons were used as far back as the Battle of Fleurus in 1794 and also during the American Civil War. Tethered balloons were used above the trenches in WW1 but they were easy targets for artillery and the observers life expectancy was very short.
Aerial reconnaissance using cameras mounted on a plane started during WW1 although again these were easy targets for the artillery below. However, improvements in the planes and the photographic equipment meant that aerial reconnaissance quickly developed and remains an important means of intelligence gathering even today. Aerial reconnaissance and the interpretation of the millions of photographs taken during WW2 is no doubt a key factor in the allied victory and it was also the means by which the US spotted the Russian missile build-up in Cuba.
Today we have edge-of-space spy planes and satellites with high powered cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) that can produce 3D maps of terrain, night vision optics and so on. The challenge for today’s soldier is not the information gathering but the analysis of the mass of data and the ability to make timely decisions based on that data. This is where things such as computer vision analysis and artificial intelligence come in and Tom concluded his talk with some interesting examples of this technology, or at least what he was allowed to show us.
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.
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.
Birds, Tigers and the Taj
Arthur Ball presented a talk to Painswick Probus on 17 April 2019 about his trip to India with the Cheltenham Bird Club. The talk was well supported by excellent photographs of the local birdlife but also of other wildlife, people and places.
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. He was also amazed by the contrast between old Delhi and New Delhi, the city built by the British Raj as the administrative capital of India. New Delhi with broad tree-lined avenues with extensive green spaces contrasts sharply with the crowded, narrow streets of Old Delhi.
A trip to the local wetlands yielded many photographs of beautiful coloured birds which were totally new to the birdwatchers. Arthur also had many amusing photographs of the ingenious transport solutions employed by the Indian people, not all of them totally successful.
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.
Peter Berry is keen photographer with a long standing interest in railways, particularly the steam powered variety, and he came to Painswick Probus recently to talk about his trip into sub-zero China. Peter has travelled the world with an international group of like-minded enthusiasts photographing railways and this trip was one they undertook in 1998 to China. Sub-zero China because it was winter when they visited Inner Mongolia and the Gobi desert when temperatures are typically around -20 C. It was a conscious decision to go at that time as the snow covered terrain and the blue skies make a dramatic backdrop to the steam trains and the cold emphasises the engine exhaust.
The trip started with a few days in Beijing where they were given a guide and a translator, ostensibly to ensure their safety but in reality to ensure they did not photograph what they shouldn’t. They then travelled west on an overnight sleeper with a cosy 60 bunks per carriage. Peter’s neighbour in second class was a Chinese farmer and his goat, third class apparently had a somewhat larger population of goats! Toilet facilities were a hole in the carriage floor which required a certain degree of courage and athleticism on a moving train in sub-zero temperatures.
The railways of interest were the steam trains transporting coal from open cast mines to nearby power stations along tracks which would wind their way through the dramatic snow covered valleys and over impressive viaducts. Peter also took many photographs of the local people and he was clearly impressed how they could survive in such a hostile place with so few creature comforts and still be so cheerful.
The trip was obviously a physical and culinary challenge for Peter and his friends but they were pleased to have made a record of the last working steam railway as shortly afterwards the engines were replaced by diesel locomotives.
James Clifford – Entrepreneur
Rose Hewlett returned to Probus to present another of her interesting talks on local history with particular relevance to the Severn Vale. This time it was about James Clifford (1534-1613) who held estates at Frampton Court and Fretherne and became the owner of coal mines in Brosley on the Severn Gorge (now Ironbridge) in Shropshire.
The Clifford family had long had association with Frampton going back to the Norman conquest and their estate was centred on Frampton manor but they also held land in Fretherne nearby and other areas of Gloucestershire. However there were disputes about the legality of these acquisitions and by the time James inherited from his father in 1558 the estate was centred on Fretherne with some land in Frampton.
This was the year of the accession of Elizabeth I and James became an officer in the Queen’s household where he would have made a number of important contacts. Like many he had an ambition that the Queen would visit his estate and he spent money on a house at Fretherne for this purpose, but to no avail.
Through his court contacts he became friendly with the Fox family who owned an estate in Brosley and through marriage to the daughter Dorothy he acquired an interest in the coal mines there. These lay between the village and the river Severn and the coal was accessed through drifts or ‘adits’ dug into the coal seams from the banks of the gorge. The coal was then taken down the steep sides of the gorge to be transported by boat down the Severn. The problem was that Brosley was a small village and the mines needed lots of labour. James expanded the mines by encouraging people into the area with the promise of land for dwellings if you could erect a chimney and a hearth in a day. This brought in immigrant labour much to the concern of the locals although it is not certain where the labour originated, much was probably from James’ estate around Frampton.
Transporting the coal down the gorge was very dangerous with pack horses or horse drawn wagons and so a wooden rail system was developed. This was certainly in operation by 1605 making it one of the first rail systems in Britain if not the first. A very fine model of the gorge with the mines, rail tracks and river port is in the Ironbridge Museum.
James died in 1613 at the age of 79 leaving his estate to his daughter Mary. He is probably buried in Frampton although his grave has never been located. He was a man of substance but also an extravagant one and the Bosley mines had to be sold off to support the upkeep of the Gloucestershire estate. Nevertheless his development of the Bosley coal mines was a significant factor in the subsequent start of the Industrial Revolution in that region in the 1700’s.
Atkyns of Gloucestershire
Wednesday 20th February saw Alan Pilbeam come to talk about Robert Atkyns the first county historian of Gloucestershire, or more accurately, about his work the “Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire”. Published in 1712 shortly after his death it is an impressive tome containing a unique record of the county as it was at the time. Although not an easy read it is a mine of information which Alan has used in his publication “Gloucestershire 300 Years Ago” to celebrate the tri-centenary of Atkyns work.
Atkyns was born in 1647, the son of Sir Robert Atkyns, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House of Lords and he himself held many important posts and was knighted by Charles II in 1663. The family owned many properties in Gloucestershire including the family seat in Sapperton where Sir Robert’s impressive tomb is in the local church.
Atkyn’s book contains a parish by parish description with locations being relative to local market towns. However the system of measurement was not as precise as we know today, Painswick being located 2 miles north of Stroud and also 2 miles north of Bisley. One of the most interesting features of the book is the engravings by Jan Kip, a Dutch engraver who specialised in bird’s eye views of grand houses and gardens. Alan showed a number of the engravings of the fine Gloucestershire houses existing at the time. Although many have been demolished or have only partially survived, Alan illustrated with his photographs how many of the buildings and estate features could still be identified, demonstrating the accuracy of Kip’s drawings.
Another interesting feature was the inclusion of land use maps which showed that in the 1700’s Gloucestershire was given over much more to arable farming than to sheep, corn being where the money was in that era.
An interesting talk full of local interest.
Turn Left at the Pacific.
On Wednesday 6th February John Macartney came to Painswick Probus to present his talk entitled “Turn Left at the Pacific”. This concerned his drive around the US and Canada in a classic car to raise money for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) charities and is the title of his book covering the trip. Why PTSD and why driving a classic car around North America?
Well John had worked for Standard Triumph for many years and in 1980 was working in Iraq setting up tractor service centres when he was caught up in the start of the Iran Iraq war. Trapped in Baghdad close to military targets he was bombed and shelled for many days before he could escape and even had to kill in self defence. This left John very shaken and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD for many years until he was given treatment to help him cope with the effects. Around 2007 John was contemplating what he could do to repay the people who had helped him and that combined with his love of classic cars, particularly Triumphs, gave him the idea of a charity drive. He set up an internet website which raised a lot of interest, particularly from the US, and suggestions for a route poured in. What was needed now was a suitable vehicle. John owned a number of classic Triumphs but these would need to be certified for US roads. A group of enthusiasts in the US proposed a Triumph Stag they had acquired but unfortunately it was a non-runner in very poor condition. Undeterred they set about restoring it and after several thousand man hours an immaculate Stag emerged. John got his 90 day visitors visa and off he set in 2009 starting from Florida, around the US and Canada, and ending up in San Francisco within the 90 days.
John’s talk was enlivened with many anecdotes and photographs of the people and places he visited. He would meet up with fellow PTSD sufferers and classic car enthusiasts would escort him in convoy. He was clearly impressed with the help and hospitality he received throughout his trip. The Triumph Stag is not renowned for its reliability but John covered nearly 18,000 miles with just one breakdown – a fuel pump failure. At the time the trip raised several thousand pounds but has continued to raise money since and today the total stands at around £160,000 which has been evenly divided between charities in US, UK and Canada. Even the car raised money, a man from Minneapolis who saw the Stag on the trip bought it for a very generous £35,000.
John’s book covering the trip also details his personal experiences with PTSD.
The Magic & Mystery of Glenn Miller
We were very pleased to welcome back Bill King and his wife to our first meeting of the year, held on Wednesday 23rd January.
The talk covered the life of Glenn Miller from his birth on 1st March 1904 to the mystery surrounding his disappearance on a cross channel flight from Bedford to Paris in 1944. Many of us have seen the 1960’s film ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allison, so it was fascinating to hear Bill King’s story of Miller’s life and listen to some of his big band compositions and arrangements and in particular his signature tune ‘Moonlight Serenade’.
Glenn Miller was born in the very small town of Clarinda in the USA mid-western state of Iowa. He was introduced to the trombone by his father and in his early days played in his school band. After dropping out after a year at the University of Michigan he made a sort of living playing primarily swing music in ‘speakeasy’ clubs which distributed alcohol during the prohibition era of 1920’s and 1930’s. Later he left Chicago area for New York where he studied for a degree in Musicology. It was while at college in New York that he shared a room with Benny Goodman and made a lasting friendship.
In was in the late 1920’s that Glenn Miller formed his band and shortly after began his long association with the RCA Broadcasting Corporation of New York. In the early days the transmission range of radio stations was only 30 to 40 miles, so Miller and the band travelled around the country from one station to the next one playing their music over the airways. Although Miller played the trombone, his great skill was in bringing together the various sections of the band and his novel and popular arrangements. The rapid increase in the possession of radios by households and the consequent spread of popular programmes turned Glenn Miller and his band into national celebrities. By 1938 Miller became a wealthy man and famous in the world of popular Big Band music. This included a lucrative sponsorship by the Chesterfield Cigarette Company, an early example of product placing.
During WW2, he was drafted into the forces and in 1942 he moved to the UK with the American Army Air force. Captain Miller with his band began playing at concerts at the various bases entertaining the forces and also playing at dance venues. Miller and the actor David Niven and the BBC were active in making clandestine broadcasts with aim of demoralizing the German forces towards the latter stages of WW2. He used his signature composition to signal the start the broadcast. By this time he had been promoted to the rank of major.
There has always been a mystery surrounding his death on 15th December 1944, although the weather and visibility was fine, the aircraft he was on was lost in the English Channel on its way to recently liberated city of Paris. There were and still are various theories on how and why the plane was lost, ranging from been shot down by enemy or even allied forces guns, engine failure, pilot error or loss of fuel; no trace of the aircraft was found.
During the talk Bill King played recordings of Glenn Miller’s Band Big Band music, these included ‘In the Mood’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, ‘I’ve Got A Gal in Kalamazoo'( the first ever Golden Disc awarded in 1939) and several other well remembered tunes of that era.
On 9 Jan 2019 Dr Tim Brain visited the Club again and squeezed into one hour his account of the many battles fought in Gloucestershire since the first properly organized one at Crickley Hill in 6 B.C.
Battles took place when tribes or lords saw opportunities to acquire arable land both to support the increasing population and to enable routes through the region to be controlled. Gloucestershire lies on the north-south route between Exeter and Lincoln and the east-west route towards Wales, making it a strategic “crossroads”.
Over the centuries armies have met at many places but not always to fight; sometimes their leaders would agree to a treaty whose purpose could be to change the royal succession plan without the loss of blood.
Dr Brain explained that the Wars of the Roses were about the failure of politics and the ineffectiveness of the inexperienced, ill-advised and and indecisive monarch – Henry VI. Associated battles included those at Nibley Green in 1470 and Tewkesbury in 1471.
Battles at Stow-on-the-Wold (1646) and the Siege of Gloucester during the British Civil War were also mentioned.
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Malcolm Lewis returned to Painswick Probus on 28 Nov 2018 to present another of his popular talks on a musical theme. This time it was on Rodgers and Hammerstein, arguably the most successful writing partnership in the musical theatre.
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) was born into an affluent American family and was a promising musician even at a young age. By the age of 9 he had composed his first tune. He actually met Oscar Hammerstein at the age of 12 when he visited his brother at Columbia University, however it was not until 1943 that they teamed up as a musical partnership. Earlier Rodgers had partnered Lorenz Hart and despite having little early success, almost prompting Rogers to become an underwear salesman, they did write some popular shows and films over a 20 year partnership.
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was born into a theatrical management family. The business was started by his grandfather Oscar Hammerstein I who emigrated to the US from Prussia to escape his overbearing father. He found employment in a cigar factory and went on to make a fortune from cigar machinery patents. Oscar II’s family were not keen on him following a theatrical career and he initially studied law at Columbia but quit to pursue theatre. He also had some successful partnerships with composers, notably Jerome Kern, before teaming up with Rodgers.
Their first success came with “Oaklahoma” which ran on Broadway for over 2000 performances until 1948 and became a film in 1955. Other musicals followed and many of them also made into films – Carousel, State Fair, Allegro, South Pacific, The King And I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, The Flower Drum Song and probably their best known The Sound of Music. Rodgers and Hammerstein are credited by many as being the first to write musicals with a proper story line, with believable characters and which addressed real issues such as racism.
As usual Malcolm interspersed his talk with music and amusing anecdotes and regularly tested the memory and knowledge of his audience. In all a very entertaining way to spend an hour.
Everest Base Camp Trek November 2006.
The Painswick Probus talk on Wednesday 14th November concerned Lew Lawton’s trek to the Everest base camp. Lew spent 30 years in the British Army and part of the reason for his trek was to see the homeland of the Gurkha soldiers.
Everest is on the border between Nepal and Tibet (China) and there are base camps for climbers on both sides. The Tibetan camp is accessible by road but the Nepal camp can only be reached on foot. Most people fly into Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and then take a local plane to Lukla from where the trek takes about 13 days (9 days up and 4 days down) with an ascent of 2800m. The trek is very popular and a major source of income for Nepal which is a poor country with few natural resources. The base camp is at an altitude of around 5400m and the effects of altitude sickness can be significant, sometimes fatal. The problem is that the trek is just achievable with a two-week vacation and people often don’t allow sufficient time to acclimatise to the lack of oxygen.
There are daily flights from Kathmandu to Lukla but only in good weather and early in the day so flights are limited. Lukla airport has the distinction of being the most dangerous airport in the world and Lew suggested a search on YouTube would be ‘enlightening’.
The talk was illustrated his talk with lots of photographs and anecdotes and Lew was clearly impressed with the people, the food and especially the scenery. He admitted that none of his photos could really do justice to the views. He was also particularly impressed by the Sherpas. Nearly everything is carried up the mountain by these men or by yaks. Mostly they are farmers who take time off during the trekking season because of the money they can earn, their ultimate goal being to become a trek guide. Lew showed some amazing photos of loaded Sherpas who can carry loads approaching their own body weight and often only wearing sandals or flip-flops! More amazing when you hear that most trekkers struggle to put one foot in front of the other as they approach base camp.
One unfortunate consequence of the popularity in trekking and climbing Everest is the amount of rubbish that accumulates. Lew presented a list of what is estimated to have been left on the slopes because of the difficulty in removing it although steps are now being taken to limit what goes up and remove what is there. Macabrely the list includes 125 dead bodies but climbers accept that they are left if they perish while making an ascent. Fortunately Lew returned to talk about his adventure.
The Renaissance & Renaissance Art.
Looking at the title of this talk to Painswick Probus Club, many in the audience probably feared an hour loaded with slides of Renaissance art and a discussion of the merits of various artists and their techniques, but not so. This was an interesting discussion by Ken Power of his view of the cultural and social changes that resulted in the Renaissance period and its radically new presentation of art.
Ken started by describing how the ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians and the Greeks sought stability in their society by worshipping the heavens and the gods. They were competent astronomers who viewed the stars and planets and attributed the consistency they saw to some greater being(s). In Egypt the power that the Pharaoh enjoyed was because he was seen as the peoples conduit to the heavens. Perhaps in order to maintain this power and stability Egyptian art became very stylised – the Pharaoh was always represented in the same way, sitting or standing straight-backed, and any artistic improvisation could be penalised by death. There was no representation of personal character or emotion in their art and no development of style and technique..
Greek art, although less stylised, concentrated on the god-given attributes of the human form, the body, its athleticism, strength and balance but again no individual personality. Faces and hands were expressionless.
A major change came with the spread of Christianity. Jesus taught that the power came from within an individual and not directly from God or the heavens. However over the years Christianity became institutionalised in great churches and in its ceremonies and rituals. Art was religious art. It was positioned high up in the churches to symbolise that the power came from heaven. The format was repetitive and two-dimensional.
Ken’s belief is that this all changed largely because of one man. Not an artist but the son of a wealthy Florence cloth merchant – that man was St. Francis of Assisi. He became wealthy like his father but one day he gave up all his wealth and possessions and started to help the poor who were flocking to the expanding city of Florence to find work in cloth making. In his preaching he presented a more accessible, human image of Christ and artists started to depict a much more mortal Christ. They were freed up to paint all kinds of subjects, paintings told stories, subjects showed emotion and human traits, techniques developed, paintings had perspective and depth. The Renaissance in art that gave us the likes of Raphael, Da Vinci and Michaelangelo had begun.
How To Make A Fortune In The 18th Century.
On 17 Oct 2018, Peter Covey-Crump came to Probus to present a talk on the life of his seventh cousin Anselm Beaumont who became a wealthy man through trading in India. Although Beaumont became a close friend of Lord Clive there is little mention of him in historical references but Peter was able to piece together his life from the large number of his letters held in the British Library.
Beaumont died a wealthy man as was evident from the James Christie auction catalogue of his household effects. There was a two-day sale of ‘household furniture, pictures, china, fine linen, rich wardrobe and other valuable effects’ followed by a sale of his ‘well chosen library in fine condition’. The catalogues show that his Argyle Street house was lavishly furnished and his wardrobe included 15 silk suits, four waistcoats and 140 shirts, of which 66 had not been worn.
Born in 1715 he followed in his father’s footsteps and became an apothecary. By 1751 he had risen to the highest grade in the Society of Apothecaries but this would not have explained his wealth and he was, by then, relatively mature for the times. So how did he do it?
Peter’s research has uncovered an application by him to the Directors of the East India Company to trade on his own behalf. This was accepted, probably because he was not going to compete with the EIC and in 1753 he arrived in Calcutta as a Free Merchant with a chest of Mediterranean coral beads valued at £500. He was aged 38. He lost everything in the Siege of 1756 but was then appointed a Factor in the East India Company “because of his honourable conduct and his great losses in the late general calamity”.
He was obviously very capable and by 1759, he had risen to Senior Merchant and was the Provincial Military Store Keeper, which included responsibility for the Mint. In 1763 he was tasked with building the new fort for the EIC in Midnapore.
The British Library holds transcripts of his letters, including 217 business letters, and Peter read extracts from these to explain how he amassed his wealth. He was trading in a diverse range of goods including opium with China, coral, pearls and emeralds, textiles, wine, rice, cloves, cinnamon, hides, cowtails, shellac and marble slabs! However it was probably his trade in salt where he really made his money. It is estimated he distributed around 10,000 tonnes annually within India at a profit of £10,000 or £1.5M in today’s values.
He returned to England in 1763 after only 10 years trading with an estimated fortune of £70,000 (£10.5M today). This is quite amazing when you consider the difficulties in communication and travel at the time – just the voyage to India would take 12 months. Never married he died in 1776 without any immediate heirs. A fascinating piece of historical research by Peter presented in an entertaining fashion.
Courtesans, Fashionistas and Street Walkers 18th Century Style.
For the first meeting of the new season on 5 Sep 2018, Mike Rendell came to talk to Painswick Probus Club about the ladies of the Georgian period. Mike has researched and written several books about the Georgian period and his talk covered the subject of a forthcoming book.
The Georgians were very open about sex and prostitution and it is estimated that there were between 65 and 75 thousand prostitutes in London alone and around 5000 brothels. At the time there was very little alternative employment for women and no social security and it is estimated that one in five women sold sex for money at some time.
At the top of the scale were the Courtesans who often were the mistresses of prominent men. They were the celebrities of their day, clothes they wore would be copied by stores and prints of their portraits would be sold to the public. Many were young girls who, because of their youth and good looks, were taken in by rich gentlemen. Some prospered and became wealthy in their own right but many slid down the ladder when their looks faded and they were ejected by their gentlemen. The Prince of Wales was notorious for promising his ladies an annuity but then reneging on his promises when he tired of them.
The vast majority of course were not in this league. The fate of many of the girls is graphically illustrated in a series of 6 paintings by William Hogarth entitled ‘The Harlot’s Progress’. This shows a young girl arriving in London to seek work, being tricked into prostitution and dying of venereal disease, still in her twenties. Most would ply their trade on the streets or in brothels known as Bagnios ( bath-house in Italian). In London the centre of the trade was Covent Garden, and in particular Drury Lane with its theatres and coffee houses. There were even published directories of prostitutes describing their attributes and specialties. The most famous of these was ‘Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies’ which was published annually from 1757 to 1795 and sold for 2 shillings and 6 pence, a significant sum for a working man. Nevertheless around 8000 copies were sold annually.
An interesting talk but one about an unfortunate aspect of Georgian life.
The Engineering of the Pyramids
On 20 Jun 2018 John Clark came to Painswick Probus to explain his theory on how the Pyramids of Egypt were constructed. John, an engineer, worked in Cairo for several years and one day he and his neighbour Dick Parry, a civil engineer, decided to investigate how the Pyramids could have been constructed.
After reviewing data on the great pyramids they soon realised that many of the theories suggesting vast armies of slaves dragging blocks up ramps on sledges were just not tenable. The great pyramid at Giza is 230m square at the base, is146m high and contains 2.3 million blocks each weighing 2.5 tons. With a build time of 22 years a block would have to be placed every few minutes – this was clearly a vast production engineering project requiring ingenuity and planning rather than just brute force.
It is known that the stone came from a quarry 7 km away on the opposite side of the Nile and there is clear evidence that the blocks were cut to size in the quarry. It is also feasible that the blocks were floated across the Nile on reed barges but the means of transport over land and up the Pyramid site was less obvious. Sledges pulled by slaves are often suggested but immense effort would have been required even over flat ground.
John and Dick had a theory that any equipment used in the construction would have been buried with the Pharaoh for use in the after life and they were granted access to the Cairo Museum’s warehouse full of pyramid artefacts. There were many tools for cutting the stone and aligning the blocks but only one sledge which supported their view that this was not the means of transport. There were however around 150 curved wooden constructions which John described as ‘rockers’. These were also found on the river bed with stone blocks that failed to make the crossing suggesting they were transported with the blocks. It was then realised that these rockers could be clamped around a stone block, four at each end, to form a construction a bit like a modern cable drum. It has been shown with a full size replica that this can easily be rolled over flat ground and by winding ropes around the rockers around 20 men could safely steer it up a ramp around the Pyramid.
John admits that theirs is only a theory and the truth may never be known but believes it is based on sound engineering judgements and equipment known to exist at the time.
A fascinating talk and a believable theory but maybe it is better that we never know in order to maintain the mystique of the Pyramids?
My Life in Russia
At the meeting on 23 May 2018 Masha Lees gave a talk entitled ‘My Life in Russia before Perestroika and After’ which covered the period from 1957 to 1997. In this she contrasted the Soviet time when the educational system and the medical facilities were excellent, through the Perestroika period of chaos in Yeltzin’s time, to the present where a doctor’s qualifications can be bought in the open market for cash.
She showed something of family life marked by squalid living conditions in Soviet times, through to poverty as the USSR broke up, to modern times where for some there are great riches but for the masses, particularly in the countryside, there has been little change. Life in Russia, she explained, is now centred on money, acquired usually illegally. Power and wealth can be grabbed by individuals by theft but only retained through kick- backs to high officials of the regime, right to the top. In consequence the good education she received, admittedly as the daughter of a government official, is now not available.
Masha Lees gave a fascinating account of a changing Russia which has moved from socialism and lack of freedom, to a regime based on theft and corruption. She did, however, show us some of the eternal aspects of Russia in the exhibits she displayed, including shawls, samovar cups and newspapers, in her interesting and well-illustrated talk.
The Building of the Kariba Dam
On 9 May 2018 David Lemon returned to share his passion and knowledge of Africa, and in particular the Zambezi River, and the building of the dam at Kariba during the period of 1951 – 1958. At first engineers could not find a practical route, which would require many bridges and tunnels through the inhospitable terrain, for the road which was essential for getting materials and labour to Kariba. Then it was noticed that elephants had formed an ancient track along the ridges – a natural solution!
Tenders were invited in 1955 to divert the river, and to build the dam, turbine hall, and accommodation for the 10,000 labourers who would ultimately be employed for 4 years.
The lake started to be filled in 1958 with 183 billion cubic metres of water, forcibly displacing some 57,000 Tongan tribesmen and women from their ancestral land. changing the ecology of the region for ever.
Forgotten Objects of Yesteryear
On 25 April 2018 Sandra Ashenford delighted her audience of both ladies’ and gentlemen’s Probus Clubs with her interactive talk about forgotten objects of yesteryear. Her talk was followed by the customary buffet lunch arranged by Paul Sparks.
On 14 April the Club held its AGM. The president’s chain of office was passed from Henry Hall to Basil Butler, formerly the vice-president. The draft minutes may be found on this website. The AGM was followed by an interesting presentation by David Chapman about the trustee’s emerging future vision for the Painswick Centre and a less interesting one about the impact on the Club of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.
Reports about earlier events may be seen in the Archive