All posts by David Corns

The Gunpowder Plot — Ken Bell — 18th August 2014.

A tale of treason, reli­gious con­flict, oppres­sion,  treach­ery, revenge, tor­ture and brutal killings. The plot failed to assas­sin­ate James 1st of  England ( V1 of Scotland ).  The ruling Protestant elite would taint  all English Catholics with treason for cen­tur­ies to come. Why were the Catholics so bitter and what did they hope the Gunpowder Plot would achieve?

On the acces­sion of James  he was sym­path­etic towards the Catholics but he became con­cerned at their grow­ing strength and finally expressed hos­til­ity towards them. To sat­isfy the Puritans.  priests and Jesuits were expelled and fines levied on Catholics.    Not every­body was pre­pared to bow to the Protestant demands.

Guy Fawkes 1605

A small band of con­spir­at­ors led by Robert Catesby had their first meet­ing on 20th May 1604.   One of the ori­ginal band was a Guy Fawkes, ori­gin­ally from York and  recruited in Flanders where he was an explos­ives expert with the Spanish Army. The plot was hatched with the aims of killing James 1st , to kill all his family, to kill the Protestant aris­to­cracy and incite a revolu­tion by Catholics.

In March 1605 the group took out a lease on a ground-floor cellar which lay dir­ectly under the House of Lords.  Over a period of months, 1800 lbs of gun­powder was stored in the cellar enough to blow up the Houses of Parliament and much of the sur­round­ing city.  More Catholic peers and sym­path­isers were recruited and the plot was final­ised.   Guy Fawkes was to light the fuse and escape to the con­tin­ent. Simultaneously, Sir Everard Digby would lead an upris­ing in the Midlands and kidnap  James’s daugh­ter, Elizabeth, and install her as a puppet Queen.

On the night of 26th October an anonym­ous letter was delivered to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic peer, warn­ing him not to attend the open­ing of par­lia­ment on 5th November 1605.   Lord Monteagle sent the letter to the Earl of Salisbury, James’s first min­is­ter. The plot­ters were tipped off regard­ing the letter and the plot was start­ing to become  public.   Undaunted, the plot­ters returned to London on 4th November in read­i­ness. The Earl of Salisbury ordered Westminster to be searched and a large amount of fire­wood was found .   Later around mid­night, Guy Fawkes was arres­ted.

The plot­ters fled to Midlands by horse but over  sev­eral days the major­ity were arres­ted or killed.   Jesuit priests were implic­ated with the ‘Powder Treason’ and over 2000 were killed.   James 1st gave per­mis­sion to use tor­ture and serve the tra­di­tional pun­ish­ment for trait­ors of being hanged, drawn and quartered.  Guy Fawkes met his fate on 31st January 1606.

The reper­cus­sions rumbled on as a result of the Gunpowder Plot. British Catholics were stig­mat­ised for cen­tur­ies and it was not until 1829 that they were allowed to vote again.

An inter­est­ing topic but the present­a­tion could have been better  if sup­por­ted by slides and the deliv­ery not so rushed.



Mugs, Thugs And Drugs — Tom Richardson — 28th July 2014

Yes, a catchy and intriguing title which became clearer as the present­a­tion developed.

Tom retired in 2001 from the Toxicology Laboratories in Manchester provid­ing ser­vices to hos­pit­als, the police, forensic sci­ence ser­vices and patho­lo­gists from Crewe to Kendal.   He helped with autop­sies and cases where there was a need to detect pois­ons, exam­ine cases of drug abuse and non crim­inal forensic work. In short,  his work involved the exam­in­a­tion of body parts and body fluids to assist in estab­lish­ing the causes of death and ill­ness.  The detec­tion equip­ment used  had developed con­sid­er­ably during his career and he described the fea­tures of such exotic sound­ing equip­ment( at least to us)  from the simple spec­tro­scope to the Hartridge rever­sion spec­tro­scope,  from the latest scan­ning spec­tro­pho­to­meter to gas chro­ma­to­graphs,  All of which were used to ana­lyse blood, urine and other fluids.

He illus­trated his work by describ­ing sev­eral con­trast­ing case stud­ies and the title  ‘Mugs, Thugs and Drugs’ became much clearer.

The stud­ies involved prob­lems which sadly are as common today as they were then.  Problems such as child neg­lect, poor par­ent­ing, binge drink­ing, drug abuse (or more pre­cisely mis­taken drug abuse), pill pop­ping and the sad­ness of the atten­tion seek­ing dis­order.  All solved with advanced ana­lyt­ical tech­niques. The talk promp­ted many ques­tions from the floor.

An inter­est­ing morn­ing.


Women in Mining and Mining Communities. — Rosemary Preece — 16th June 2014.

PitBrow3Rosemary gave us a thought pro­vok­ing insight into the harsh real­it­ies of women and chil­dren work­ing in coal mines over the cen­tur­ies. In the 17th and 18th cen­tur­ies, whole fam­il­ies worked under­ground – men, women and chil­dren, some as young as 6 years old.  Concern for safety was neg­li­gible with many of the mines were in isol­ated com­munit­ies and  unwel­com­ing to inquis­it­ive strangers.  Conditions were atro­cious and there were graphic descrip­tions of women haul­ing wagons/tubs of coal by a belt around their waist and a chain passing through their legs.   They worked on their hands and knees, in water, soaked through , with numer­ous blisters.  Women car­ried bas­kets of coal on their backs from the coal face and climbed lad­ders out of the mines. We have to remem­ber the women were often wives, moth­ers with many chil­dren and a home to run after her shift at the pit. They were shattered.

Men at the coal face were often naked and were assisted by girls of 6 and women up to 21, bare breasted. The girls and women were vul­ner­able and famili­ar­ity was common.

By the begin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, con­di­tions were still prim­it­ive and dan­ger­ous with women and chil­dren work­ing 12 hour days for lower wages than men. A freak acci­dent in 1838 in a mine in Silkstone near Barnsley ‚when 11 girls and 16 boys were killed, brought to the fore the whole issue of chil­dren work­ing in mines .   Queen Victoria ordered an enquiry. A royal com­mis­sion was set up chaired by Lord  Ashley-Cooper primar­ily with the dir­ect­ive to look at chil­dren work­ing in the coal mines. The scope  was later expan­ded to look at the employ­ment of women in the mines.  This was thought to be more con­cerned with Victorian prudery and morals rather than wor­ries about the severe work­ing con­di­tions.

PitBrow5The Mines Act of 1842 was passed which pro­hib­ited males under 10 and all­fe­males from work­ing under­ground.  Many mines obeyed the law but appar­ently the Wigan and Chorley  coalfields con­tin­ued to employ women under­ground for sev­eral years. Women con­tin­ued to work on the sur­face push­ing wagons and sort­ing coal until the 1930’s. In 1900 part of the act was repealed to give women the choice to work under­ground.  The mining unions were not sup­port­ive to women work­ing under­ground, believ­ing men should be the wage earners. Women would be of greater value to soci­ety if they stayed at home.

Women in the 20th cen­tury were still employed in the col­lier­ies but in more tra­di­tional roles in canteens, offices and nurs­ing but not in any duty down the pit. In 1943 the Bevin Boys were con­scrip­ted to work in the pits but not women. During the miners’ strikes of the 70’s and 80’s, women sup­por­ted their men and com­munit­ies in those uncer­tain times.

The mining industry has shrunk from 150,000 employ­ees to 4000 in a hand­ful of large and smal­ler pits . The coal mining industry has a noble his­tory but blighted by the exploit­a­tion of men, women and chil­dren in its past.



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.