All posts by David Corns

Story of the Snake Road — Howard Smith — 24th March 2014.

A most inter­est­ing talk on the Snake Road ( not Snake Pass as many of us know it).  Whilst using Snake Road as the prime example, Howard gave us a fas­cin­at­ing insight into travel in the 1700’s and 1800’s with pack­horses, turn­pike roads, coach­ing inns and tolls.

The pop­u­la­tion of Sheffield was 3500 in 1700 rising to 12,000 in 1800. Sheffield plate, steel and cut­lery were in demand all over the coun­try and abroad. Goods and products were ini­tially moved by pack horse which had been kings of the road for over 2000 years. Sheffield goods went out and com­mod­it­ies such as salt were brought in by return.

In the 18th cen­tury, Turnpike Roads were estab­lished with the author­ity to col­lect toll fees which were laid down by law. Trusts were set up to run the turn­pike roads but also with the respons­ib­il­ity to improve them. From1756 onwards, all pack horse roads were improved to take wheeled, horse drawn vehicles. By 1812, there were 12 turn­pike roads from Sheffield. Sadly, some of the trust­ees were cor­rupt and it was left to a Loudon McAdam to root out the cor­rup­tion and set about improv­ing the roads on a proper com­mer­cial basis.  By 1815, Sheffield had a work­force of 18,500 and exports to America were boom­ing. Goods had to be car­ried faster and better routes to Manchester and Liverpool had to be found.

One answer was the Snake Road built 1818–1820 and offi­cially opened in August 1821. There was not a single set­tle­ment en route and it did not cross another road. It climbed to 1667 feet across moor­land and rough graz­ing coun­try.  For gradi­ents of more steep than 1:9, trust­ees had to supply a horse to help the others ( called a cock horse) and by law the road had to have a mile­stone or stoop every mile.

The build­ing of the Snake Road was funded by the Dukes of Norfolk and Devonshire. The Snake Inn coach­ing inn was ori­gin­ally known as the Lady Clough House and was built in 1821.  The inn stabled up to18 horses and was a wel­come stop over for pas­sen­gers and coach­men. The other coach­ing inn of note was the Royal Oak coming out of Glossop. Toll houses were situ­ated  at the Snake Inn and very near the Royal Oak. Normal wagons trav­elled an aver­age of 2mph and pas­sen­ger flying wagons achieved 3mph and trav­elled 40miles a day with reg­u­lar changes of horses. In 1825, Royal Mail coaches were intro­duced which had pri­or­ity on the roads and achieved 12mph. The guards were armed with blun­der­buss, pis­tols and cut­lasses. The post horn was a famil­iar sound.

However, Snake Road was a fail­ure as a com­mer­cial ven­ture as there was not suf­fi­cient traffic.  There was increas­ing com­pet­i­tion from the Hope Valley and Woodhead roads. Snake Road was a misery in winter weather and often closed. The final straw was the open­ing of the Woodhead Railway in 1845 when jour­neys to Manchester by rail took 2 hours 10 minutes and over 5 hours by coach.

Today, we still have Snake Pass a glor­i­ous drive by car on a fine summer’s day!

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.” — Michael Gildersleve — 13th January 2014.

Mike Gildersleve gave us  an inter­est­ing meander through his early days in London. From the outset, he said it would be pro­voc­at­ive.  Indeed, it was as  he developed the theme that London means North London.  Mind you he may be biased as he was born in Hampstead, in the hos­pital not on the heath.   To any sens­it­ive soul from the mean streets of South London , this was a start­ling concept that North London is London.  The Romans settled in London arriv­ing with their army and ele­phants on the south side and waded across the Thames to set up camp on Corn Hill, the highest point  which is now part of the city square mile.   London became a walled set­tle­ment on the north side.     First the Romans and now the bankers!!

He added that the under­ground system had approx­im­ately 270 sta­tions of which only 35 were south side.  The Monopoly board has only one main fea­ture on the south side which is Old Kent Road.   Further, there are only 2 main rail ter­mini on the south side.

We had a lin­guistic tour of London with some examples of the  local accents and lazy  pro­nun­ci­ations.    Rhyming slang was covered giving mem­bers examples for our inter­pret­a­tions.  It appears the ori­gin­a­tion of rhym­ing slang was for vil­lains to speak to each other without the ‘Old Bill’ know­ing.  Amazing, that our mem­bers were so know­ledge­able!

Mike told us about his short career as a bus driver in London describ­ing his driv­ing test on the skid pad, fun with the pre-selector gear­box and how chew­ing gum helps you with revers­ing the red London bus.  We fin­ished with a quiz which again showed the mem­bers’ know­ledge of ‘The Smoke’.

An inter­est­ing enjoy­able start to the week.






Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP His Guide Dogs & Light Hearted Political Anecdotes — 02/12/2013.

Stumperlowe Probus was filled to the rafters eagerly await­ing the arrival of The Right Honourable David Blunkett and his dog  Crosby. We were not dis­ap­poin­ted.

He gave us an hour of humor­ous anec­dotes of his life in polit­ics. His many faith­ful dogs fea­tured in his stor­ies involving those which do doggy things, includ­ing the one that was sick when Nigel Lawson was deliv­er­ing his budget speech and the dog that loved to pinch children’s ice-creams and sand­wiches.  Others that had flat­u­lence, some snored loudly and one took him­self off and wandered the cor­ridors of power. A par­tic­u­lar favour­ite yelped whenever a Marxist was men­tioned. In fair­ness, it was a nearby MP who stood on the dog’s tail whenever the Marxist was men­tioned.

He talked about many amus­ing incid­ents he had with the Queen, Prince Charles and world lead­ers, like Nelson Mandela and Vladimir Putin.  With a life time in polit­ics there were many amus­ing incid­ents with the likes of Roy Hattersley, Tony Blair  Gordon Brown , Dennis Skinner and even Margaret Thatcher. She had kind thoughts, which she put in a letter to him about his dog Teddy when it died.

Typical of Stumperlowe Probus the ques­tion and answer ses­sion was inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing.  David was asked what he thought was his proudest achieve­ment?  He replied that he was proud to show by example what the dis­abled can achieve through tenacity and hard work. He said that he had mel­lowed over the years and he lived by the notion  “Do your bit and others will do their bit” ( His polit­ical oppon­ents will be pleased)

A most amus­ing and stim­u­lat­ing talk.  Our Speaker Finder must be con­grat­u­lated on such a coup.

Thorium: An Alternative Nuclear Future — Professor Bob Cywinski — 21st October 2013.

Professor Bob Cywinski presen­ted a case for the use of thorium in nuc­lear react­ors for power gen­er­a­tion. It was delivered in a manner that was logical and easily under­stand­able, even to the non-scientific mem­bers of our club. In brief the case is set out below.

World energy con­sump­tion is rising. The CO2 emit­ted is caus­ing cli­mate change and global warm­ing. Most experts agree that renew­able sources, even com­bined with effi­ciency sav­ings, cannot meet the demand.

Nuclear power, fuelled by Uranium, provides a low-carbon way to meet energy needs. But there are prob­lems and public res­ist­ance, par­tic­u­larly on issues of safety, waste man­age­ment and pro­lif­er­a­tion. However using thorium as nuc­lear fuel instead of uranium can help to solve all three issues:  thorium react­ors can be run in sub­crit­ical mode: when switched off they stay off;  the waste from Thorium react­ors decays after a few hun­dred years — rather than after hun­dreds of thou­sands; it is very dif­fi­cult to divert a thorium reactor to mil­it­ary use, par­tic­u­larly because little or no plutonium is pro­duced in the fuel cycle.

Additionally the world has a lot of thorium — it is as abund­ant as lead — and it is found widely in polit­ic­ally friendly coun­tries.  Indeed there is suf­fi­cient thorium to provide our energy needs for tens of thou­sands of years. Moreover thorium fuel rods would last for years, rather than months in a reactor, so there is less refuel­ling than with uranium. Equally import­antly, legacy radio­act­ive waste from exist­ing react­ors can be mixed with thorium and burnt as fuel, thereby turn­ing a liab­il­ity into an asset.

This is not just spec­u­la­tion. Thorium react­ors have run in the past for many years. China and India are increas­ing fund­ing for Thorium power. It’s a fast moving field and there is an oppor­tun­ity for the UK to tap into its expert­ise by invest­ing in the research neces­sary to pos­i­tion UK industry to build the new power sta­tions.

This talk intro­duced some of the ways that thorium could be deployed: as a fuel in con­ven­tional react­ors; through molten salt reactor tech­no­logy; and as fuel in an accel­er­ator driven sub­crit­ical reactor (ADSR) or Energy Amplifier in which the neut­rons neces­sary to drive the fer­tile to fis­sion con­ver­sion of thorium, and the fis­sion pro­cess itself are provided by spal­la­tion.

The ADSR is of par­tic­u­lar interest at the University of Huddersfield, where we are devel­op­ing new and advanced accel­er­ator tech­no­logy not only cap­able of driv­ing an ADSR but also provid­ing com­pact accel­er­at­ors for proton cancer ther­apy and med­ical radioiso­tope deliv­ery.

Having listened to the talk the major­ity of our mem­bers saw the use of thorium as a ‘win win’ situ­ation and there were many enthu­si­astic ques­tions from the floor.

Prescriptions, Potions and Pills (Pharmacy and Me) — Stan Hirst. 14th October 2013.

Stan, who is one of our mem­bers, gave an enter­tain­ing insight into his career as a phar­macist, mixed with a little flavor of his private life, includ­ing his period as a national ser­vice­man. He hails from Blackpool but has been in God’s coun­try suf­fi­ciently long to be accep­ted by the locals.

 With his father’s words  ringing in his ears, telling him that he would never get any­where in this world without qual­i­fic­a­tions, he set out to become a qual­i­fied phar­macist. He star­ted his career work­ing at Timothy Whites, in Cleveleys, Blackpool and atten­ded the Harris Institute in Preston (which became a uni­ver­sity): he also atten­ded full time courses in Leeds.

 Stan’s national ser­vice took him to Malaysia, and  because he was a phar­macist he was made a ser­geant, whilst med­ical doc­tors were auto­mat­ic­ally made officers. Dispensing pills and potions in jungle hos­pit­als was quite chal­len­ging but after his train­ing in  Blackpool, Stan took it in his stride. He became a  man­ager  in Blackpool but always wanted to own his own phar­macy and when an oppor­tun­ity came up in Swinton, near Mexborough, Yorkshire, he and his wife Enid, took it.

stans shop 1 Stan and  Enid, ran a very suc­cess­ful first shop, and were able, in time to buy the shop next door, fol­lowed later by the shop on the other side.  This was now a large, very suc­cess­ful busi­ness, employ­ing many staff using modern mar­ket­ing tech­niques to attract the cus­tom­ers.stans shop2

 Stan explained the dif­fer­ences in phar­macy in his early days com­pared with today: making pills and mixing potions are a thing of the past. Drugs were kept on the premises but occa­sion­ally he would be called out in the early hours of the morn­ing to lock up after burg­lars. Later in life Stan sold up and worked in a phar­macy in Sheffield, shar­ing the mana­gerial duties. Towards the end of his career he took semi-retirement and acted as a locum.

 It was a most inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing talk by one of our own mem­bers.


The Sheffield Gang Wars by J.P.Bean — 7th October 2013.

Slashings, wound­ings, beat­ings, stabbings and murder,   All in a day’s work.   No not the mean streets of Chicago or London’s East End, but here in Sheffield in the early 1920s. Julian Bean gave Stumprlowe Probus a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the infam­ous activ­it­ies of two rival gangs fight­ing for suprem­acy: of the luc­rat­ive illegal rack­ets which mush­roomed in the murky streets of Sheffield.  One man was murdered, 2 broth­ers were hanged, and many others gaoled before the gangs were finally smashed after 5 years of knif­ings, shoot­ings and razor slash­ings.

The Mooney gang led by broth­ers George and John, were first men­tioned around 1913 when they moved into the world of pro­tec­tion, pick pock­et­ing, card sharp­ing and bet­ting scams. The Mooney Gang  estab­lished its powerbase when it took over the ‘ pitch and toss ring’ that oper­ated at Sky Edge, an expanse of waste land high above the city, making it safe from the long arm of the law. Often there were sev­eral hun­dred men in the ring at the same time. Betting star­ted at 10.30am and con­tin­ued until dusk. Thousands of pounds changed hands. The ‘Mooneys’ flour­ished but by 1923 the profits fell and were no longer enough to sat­isfy the prin­cipal gang mem­bers, so the broth­ers got rid of most of the mem­bers. This caused a rival gang to the ‘Mooneys’ to emerge; the ‘Park Brigade’, who were determ­ined to fight for con­trol of Sky Edge. The ‘Mooneys’ were ousted but were out for revenge.   The gangs were now at war.

What were the police doing?  Well, it appears not a great deal. There were arrests and con­vic­tions but the courts gave light sen­tences and the Council effect­ively turned a blind eye to the brutal hap­pen­ings. Parliament became involved and the Home Office told the Sheffield Council that some­thing had to be done. On 1st May 1925 a group of four police­men was set up, offi­cially called ‘The Special Duties Squad’ but known as ‘The Flying Squad’, led by Detective Sergeant William Robinson, an ex-Coldstream Guardsman. All four men were extremely well built and took the fight to the gangs rather let­ting the gangs do their work and going in after­wards. There tac­tics were very con­tro­ver­sial and came under a lot of cri­ti­cism, but on the 1st May 1926, just one year later, Captain P.J. Sillitoe became Chief Constable of Sheffield and sup­por­ted his men to the hilt.

This account can only scratch the sur­face of a fas­cin­at­ing sub­ject. Visit the web­site of J.P.Bean at and read his book for the detail and blow by blow account of Sheffield in the 20’s. Also visit–3706103