All posts by Glyn Davies

CONVOY  — Dr. Phil Judkins (University of Leeds). — 2nd August 2021

Britain is an island and, during the war, almost all mater­i­als coming in or going out of Britain had to go by sea. The Germans knew this and used their U-boats, E-boats and air­craft to isol­ate Britain.

The first WW2 ship to be sunk by tor­pedo was Athenia, but the Germans denied respons­ib­il­ity, prob­ably because they were afraid that the USA might join in the war. Mines were also used — con­tact mines which exploded if a ship hit them, and mag­netic mines which were triggered by the steel hulls of ships. Many British navy ships used ‘degauss­ing’, cur­rent passing through copper strips to make them non-magnetic, and many ships were tem­por­ar­ily made safe by “wiping” their hulls with an elec­tric coil. The Germans developed acous­tic mines which were exploded by the ship’s engine noise.  Minesweepers were used to remove the mines with, for acous­tic mines, a jack­ham­mer sus­pen­ded in a box under its keel whose noise exploded the mines at a safe dis­tance.

The first pro­tec­ted con­voys were for the “Coalscuttle Brigade”, slow, small, coastal coal ships which were pro­tec­ted by armed trawl­ers. In 1940 many ships of convoy ‘Peewit’ were sunk by E-boats and German bombers, show­ing that U-boats were not the only threats to ship­ping.

The S.S. Automedon was cap­tured by the Germans with, in its cargo, naval code­books, so the Germans could read where all British con­voys were headed. However, the British had man­aged to break the German ’Enigma’ code, which led to the sink­ing of the Bismarck. Breaking an ‘Enigma’ mes­sage would yield only a 100 square mile rect­angle con­tain­ing a U-boat, but new radar sets powered by a “cavity mag­net­ron” whose mag­nets were developed by research­ers at Sheffield University and made by Sheffield firms, enabled pre­cise search inside that rect­angle, while Asdic (sonar), in which a pulse amp­li­fier sends out a sound­wave under the sea and detects the echo from a U-boat, made the final pin­point­ing of the U-boat.

When America joined the war, it, did not at first use con­voys pro­tec­ted by war­ships.  Many tankers were sunk because they trav­elled in day­light, had all their lights burn­ing at night, or were sil­hou­et­ted against coastal illu­min­a­tions. Britain sent ships and air­craft to pro­tect American tankers.

Arctic Convoys first sailed in the Arctic winter during the long winter dark­ness, but later suffered heav­ily in the Arctic’s long summer days. In the Mediterranean in 1942 Malta was sur­roun­ded and run­ning out of fuel so the ‘Pedestal’ convoy, includ­ing air­craft car­ri­ers was sent, but German and Italian air­craft, E-boats and U-boats sank one car­rier, three cruis­ers and many freight­ers. The tanker ‘Ohio’, with a full load of fuel, was hit sev­eral times and split almost in two, but man­aged to reach Malta sand­wiched between two des­troy­ers. Ohio then dis­charged all her fuel before sink­ing!

Dr. Phil told us about many other con­voys, includ­ing the Atlantic convoy ONS5 where cen­ti­metric radar, using the mag­nets developed by Sheffield University, helped des­troy 13 U-boats which attacked the convoy. Those losses were unsus­tain­able, and the Germans with­drew U-boats from the Atlantic.

D-Day saw the largest convoy, 7,000 ves­sels pro­tec­ted by 1,200 war­ships of the Royal Navy and other navies, to carry British and American and other nation­al­it­ies’ troops to invade the French beaches.

There were about 1200 U-boats and 783 were sunk with others were dam­aged beyond repair.  After the war only 4 were pre­served intact.

Convoys were the import­ant way the war was won but it was by a very narrow margin and at a huge cost in human life.

Iran: history, country and people. George Clark 16th November 2020

George told us that, in the past, he had vis­ited sev­eral areas along the ’Silk Road’ but had never been to Iran.  When he  told his family and friends that he was con­sid­er­ing a trip to Iran they were unhappy, because they thought that it was a dan­ger­ous place for British, Europeans or Americans to visit.

They said, “You might be arres­ted and put in gaol.”

However, he found that Iran has lots of his­tory and the people he met were really nice, but that they thought that they had a “shit gov­ern­ment!”

Some people think of Iran as Persia but the Iranians don’t agree.

It is the 17th largest coun­try in the world (636,000 square miles) and a pop­u­la­tion of over 80 mil­lion, of which 99% are Muslims.

It is part moun­tain­ous, where the rich go skiing, and part desert, which is very arid but greens up when the rains come.

In about 1000 B.C. Iranians migrated  from their home­land into Medea on the Caspian Sea in the north and Persis on the Persian Gulf in the south.

In the 7th Century B.C. the Persian tribes in the south were uni­fied and in 549 B.C. they conquered Medea , fol­lowed by Babylon in 539 B.C., and the first Persian Empire, stretch­ing from Pakistan in the east to Turkey in the west, was formed.

Cyrus, the con­queror, stated, ”I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, power­ful king, king of Babylon and the four quar­ters of the earth.”

Respect the tra­di­tions, cus­toms and reli­gions of my Empire.”

[Was this the first declar­a­tion of Human Rights?]

There fol­lowed many inva­sions and battles and dyn­asties until in 1979 the Islamic Revolution installed Ayatollah Khomeini.

In 1980 — 1988 Iran -Iraq War, inva­sion of the US Embassy, Nuclear Proliferation and Treaties and inter­fer­ence in Middle East polit­ics all led to the situ­ation in today’s

Iran.  This explains why George’s friends think that Iran is not a friend of the U.K.

The Government of Iran is in layers.  The first layer is elec­ted by the elect­or­ate

(but a can­did­ate cannot be elec­ted unless the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader in the second layer agree!)  This means that nobody gets the chance to be elec­ted by the elect­or­ate unless the sit­ting Government agrees — hardly demo­cratic!

The elect­or­ate, in gen­eral, are not happy with Government because of the Economy.

The Economy depends on oil and gas, but sanc­tions mean that they cannot sell it so the eco­nomy is going down the tubes.

The aver­age income is 40 dol­lars a month, but the mul­lahs are get­ting richer as the pop­u­la­tion gets poorer.

The lan­guage spoken is Farsi.

Women can vote and are allowed to drive and are better off than those in sur­round­ing coun­tries but they have to wear a hijab? when they go out.  They can marry at age 14.

George’s trip star­ted in Shiraz in the south.

(This is where the Shiraz grape came from but alco­hol is banned for Muslims!)

He trav­elled north through Yazd and Isfahan to Tehran.

He saw a Paradise Garden — Paradise comes from ‘para­didi’ which  means ‘walled garden’.  (The gar­dens are so beau­ti­ful in an arid desert area that the word came to mean ‘heaven on earth’.)

He vis­ited a mosque — women were allowed to enter and wor­ship but they had to be dressed so they were covered from head to foot.

In the desert he saw the extens­ive ruins of Persephelis? which were in remark­ably good  con­di­tion, prob­ably due to the desert cli­mate.  The city was des­troyed by Alexander the Great.

The rest of his trip included:

A fish farm in the middle of a desert!,

A temple where the inhab­it­ants take their dead up to a Tower of Silence, which is a  crater on a hill top, where the bodies are left for the birds to pick clean,

A quad­rat irrig­a­tion system of shafts dug down to the water table to tunnel water to fields.  The farm­ers have to pay a water tax.

Tehran is a desert city but it has a Paradise Garden, a bath house and National Bank of Iran, which is full of mag­ni­fi­cent jew­ellery.  However, air pol­lu­tion in Tehran is ter­rible because of the dens­ity of traffic.

George was keen to stress that the food was good although pork is for­bid­den.  He had meals in people’s houses, in res­taur­ants, from street vendors and from pic­nics provided by the drivers.

At all times he felt free to wander and safe to speak to the people he met, which is why he encour­aged us to try a trip to Iran.



A Little-Known 18th Century English Polymath — Professor Alan Zinober — 15th June 2020

A poly­math is ‘a person of great and varied learn­ing’ and this cer­tainly described the Reverend John Michell ( 25 Dec 1742 — 12 April 1793).

Michell was a nat­ural philo­sopher and a cler­gy­man and seems to be almost unknown although he was:

  • The first person to sug­gest that earth­quakes are caused by move­ment of rocks beneath the Earth’s sur­face.
  • Someone who pro­duced cheap per­man­ent mag­nets.
  • The one who sug­ges­ted that the force between two mag­nets fol­lowed the inverse square law.
  • The first person to sug­gest that ‘Dark Stars’ (now called ‘Black Holes’) exist.

John Michell was edu­cated at Queens College.

He later became a Professor who taught Arithmetic, Theology, Geometry, Greek, Hebrew and Philosophy.

He had to relin­quish his lec­tur­ing post when he mar­ried because only single men were allowed to lec­ture at the col­lege.

He became Rector at a church near Leeds, but con­tin­ued his interest in Philosophy and Astronomy.

Michell the­or­ised that a very massive sun would have such a huge grav­it­a­tional field that its escape velo­city would be so large that light would not be able to escape from it.

Because of this it would not be vis­ible but it would affect the motion of a binary star nearby.

He called this type of body ‘a Dark Star’.

He knew Cavendish, Benjamin Franklin and Priestley, and he wrote to Cavendish about his ideas about the effect of grav­ity on light.

Michell was not a par­tic­u­larly out­go­ing person so he did not pub­lish his many ideas widely.

This is pos­sibly why he is not well known but is con­sidered by many to be the greatest unsung sci­ent­ist of all time.

Alan Zinober’s Zoom meet­ing con­tained much more inter­est­ing inform­a­tion and was some­thing com­pletely new to Stumperlowe Probus.  It was a wel­come treat for the many mem­bers that ‘atten­ded’.

Cosmic rays, pyramids, volcanoes and railway tunnels — an introduction to muon tomography.    Prof Lee Thompson. 16th March 2020 

Muons are like the big brother of elec­trons but they are heav­ier and much more pen­et­rat­ing.  About 1000 pass through the room every second. They are gen­er­ated when cosmic rays inter­act with atoms in the upper atmo­sphere to form sec­ond­ary rays called muons.

We all know that X-rays are used to look at body parts that are hidden in soft tissue.

  • A beam of X-rays is focused on an object
  • A detector (X-ray film) is placed on the other side of the object
  • Density dif­fer­ences between soft tis­sues and bones etc. enable the interior to be seen

Muon tomo­graphy (ima­ging with muons) uses an identical method (but muons are free and do not need expens­ive equip­ment to gen­er­ate them!)

Lee did not give details of the muon detector but said  that muons come from above and also some came from the sides.  They are even­tu­ally all absorbed by the soil and rocks until sev­eral hun­dred metres below the sur­face.

Tomography has been used to find hidden cham­bers in the Great Pyramid.

Muons coming from the side have been used to image magma cham­bers in vol­ca­noes. In this case images of the top of the magma column before and after an erup­tion were used to pre­dict fur­ther erup­tions.

On the rail­ways in the U.K. there are many tun­nels dating back to the Victorians. Often tun­nels were made by sink­ing shafts to the depth of where the tunnel was to be made. Then  crews dug hori­zont­ally in both dir­ec­tions until they met up with other sim­ilar parts of the tunnel.  In many cases these shafts were filled in (with rubble) or some were left open as air shafts.  Some of the shafts are not stable now and some tunnel roofs are in danger of col­lapse.  However, very few records of where these shafts were dug are avail­able.

The rail com­pan­ies have a pro­gramme to avoid more col­lapses but they cannot close tun­nels that are in use.  They send in teams of drillers on scaf­fold­ing to drill into the roofs of tun­nels.  This is a prob­lem because it takes lots of men, lots of time, only a few areas can be examined and the drilling may weaken the roofs.

Lee’s work is aimed at find­ing hidden shafts using muon tomo­graphy. British Rail is allow­ing his team to use muon tomo­graphy in Alfreton Old Tunnel, which is 760 metres long and dis­used.

The team have built a muon detector small enough to fit into a Transit van. They moved the van into the tunnel and took read­ings for 30 minutes then moved on 5 metres and took more read­ings for 30 minutes and so on.

The graph of the read­ings showed high read­ings before they entered the tunnel  then fell off at the tunnel entrance as the over­bur­den above the tunnel absorbed the muons.

The graph showed steady low read­ings for a length of tunnel then the read­ings rose slightly at one spot then dropped back for a length and then rose again and so on.

The rail com­pany had told Lee’s team where two shafts were but they found three areas where the read­ing rose.  Two were at the areas they expec­ted, but they found three pos­sible shafts.  The com­pany then admit­ted that they knew of the third shaft  80 metres into the tunnel, but they were test­ing the team to be sure their res­ults were genu­ine.

Lee’s team went back and did another more detailed survey of this tunnel and found that other “hot spots” gave inform­a­tion about shafts with only 5 metres of over­bur­den sug­gest­ing more part-filled, unknown shafts.

This method needs cooper­a­tion from a geo­lo­gical survey team. It is obvi­ous that,  if the sur­face of the over­bur­den land is not flat, then the over­bur­den will be thicker in some parts than others and will absorb more muons.  This has to be allowed for when inter­pret­ing the tomo­graphy res­ults.

Muon tomo­graphy can be used to detect smuggled nuc­lear mater­ial.  If a detector is placed under and around the sides of sus­pec­ted vehicles then uranium and plutonium will deflect muons but light mater­i­als will not and this will show up on the res­ults.

Nuclear waste from 1950 -60 is poorly doc­u­mented.  Canisters can be checked by muon tomo­graphy to find if they are full or if they have leaked.

There may be many other uses for muon tomo­graphy that will be developed in the future.

Lee’s team are still work­ing on it!

This was an extremely inter­est­ing talk for all, but espe­cially for this ex-Chemistry teacher.


Ancient Suburbs of Sheffield — Part 2.   David Templeman 13th January 2020

David is a his­tor­ian and a volun­teer at Manor Lodge.

He began his talk about areas in the south­w­est of Sheffield, start­ing with


The name derives from “Hecksel” which meant “witches’ hill/slope”.

Other names in the area, such as “Endcliffe” and “Dobbin Hill” follow a sim­ilar theme.

Endcliffe is derived from “elf cliff” and Dobbin from “dobby” (mean­ing goblin).

Ecclesall was not a vil­lage, just an area, but monks built a chapel, later fol­lowed by a parish church, built in 1788, on the chapel site.

Wilson’s Snuff Mill became a major employer in those early days.

The last rem­nants of Eccles Hall was Eccles Hall Farm, which was demol­ished in 1935.

Many other areas, well-known to the audi­ence, were men­tioned next.

Hunters Bar — was a Toll House where tolls were col­lec­ted from trav­el­lers coming into Sheffield from the Derbyshire area.  The Toll house was closed in 1884.

Ecclesall Woods — The land was owned by Earl Fitzwilliam.  The main occu­pa­tion was making char­coal, which was sold to the steel industry, but besoms (brooms) were man­u­fac­tured there and there were sev­eral other wood­land crafts.

Whiteley Woods — the name derived from “Hwit-Leah-Wudu”, mean­ing “a bright fair clear­ing”.  In the woods by the river is the Shepherd’s Wheel (still in exist­ence) — one of the many cut­lers’ wheels, that were driven by water power, on sev­eral of Sheffield’s rivers.  These wheels, and the men who worked them, made Sheffield famous for its cut­lery industry.

Banner Cross Hall — This was the home of the Bright family until 1748 and much later became the offices of Henry Boot com­pany.  It is now apart­ments?

David also men­tioned Charlie Peace, the infam­ous Banner Cross Murderer, who was hanged in Armley Prison in 1879.

Millhouses — Ralph de Eccles gave a bequest of a corn mill to Beauchief, known as Miln Houses.  In mid-1880s it was only23 houses, a few cut­lers’ shops and 7 small pits.

Dore. — in Anglo-Saxon “Dor” means “door or entrance or pass”.

Dore is a very ancient vil­lage and was the place of a famous treaty.

In 829AD Dore formed the bound­ary between Mercia (conquered by King Ecgbert of Wessex) and Northumbria (ruled by King Earnred). At a meet­ing at Kings Croft, Dore Earnred offered “obed­i­ence and con­cord” to Ecgbert.  Through this treaty Ecgbert became Overlord, or King, of England.

In ancient times the only road through Dore was a pack­horse trail.  Most people were employed in agri­cul­ture but there were other trades, such as button maker, saw maker, anvil maker, file cutter and boot and shoe maker.  Dore parish church was at Dronfield but a chapel-of-ease was built at Dore.  This was a nave chapel and a bell.  A new church was built in 1829.

Probably the best know res­id­ent of Dore was Richard Furness, the school­mas­ter.

He was also over­seer, archi­tect, scribe, lawyer, doctor, singer, poet and sur­veyor as he describes (brags?) in his poem…..

I, R.F., school­mas­ter of Dore

Keep parish books and pay the poor

Draw plans for build­ings and indite

Letters for those who cannot write

Make wills and recom­mend a proc­tor

Cure wounds, let blood with any doctor

Draw teeth, sing psalms, the haut­boy play

At Chapel on each holy day

Paint sign­boards, cart names at com­mand

Survey and plot estates of land

Collect at Easter, one in ten

And on Sunday say….Amen!!!

He had a salary of £18 but in 1841 was cri­ti­cised by school inspect­ors who found his school in chaos, and the chil­dren fight­ing and squab­bling amongst them­selves.

He even­tu­ally resigned but was gran­ted a pen­sion of £15 annu­ally!

(If his poem is cor­rect, I don’t know how he found time to teach!)

David’s story then moved across the city to:

Gleadless which was so close to sev­eral bound­ar­ies.  The Shirebrook stream marked the bound­ary between Derbyshire and the West Riding.  The name Gleadless was derived from “Glida Leah” which meant “a kite clear­ing in the wood”.  The main occu­pa­tion was farm­ing, but this changed to mining and drift mines in the area pro­duced over 2000 tons of coal in one year.  Not many people had clocks and they guessed the time by the sound of the miners’ clogs as they went on shift.

Hollinsend was a strag­gling hamlet of small farms and cot­tages.  Two of the oldest cot­tages exis­ted until 1970 when they were demol­ished because they were “unfit for human occu­pa­tion”.

Wadsley Bridge — “Waddes Leah” mean­ing a “forest clear­ing”.  Wadsley Hall dated back to the 15th cen­tury and nearby was a ford across the River Don which was used by cattle and carts.  There was a row of step­ping stones for ped­es­tri­ans.  Later a wooden bridge was built and in the 19th cen­tury this was replaced by a stone bridge.

Owlerton — “Alor-tun” mean­ing “a farm­stead by the elder”.

At Owlerton there was a well of holy water that was said to have won­der­ful medi­cinal prop­er­ties.   The Manor Courts were held there too.

Both Wadsley Bridge and Owlerton were ser­i­ously dam­aged by the Sheffield Flood.

This was an enlight­en­ing talk, with lots of inform­a­tion, delivered with great enthu­si­asm by a ded­ic­ated his­tor­ian.

Crime and Punishment — Through the Ages. Chris Dorries  4th November 2019

Chris said that he would cover the period from 1066 to 1820.

Around 1066 there was a phrase ‘Raising the hue and cry’. If a body was found the local sher­iff or cor­oner was informed by a yodel from tree to tree in the area — the person who found the body was leg­ally respons­ible to ‘raise the hue and cry’.  Then the cor­oner would ride out with two men and gather all the local men to make a ‘jury‘, who had to prove that the dead man belonged to the vil­lage.  If they could not do so the assump­tion was that he was a Norman occu­pier and this was now a very ser­i­ous case.

Some types of trial  were quite severe — if you were sus­pec­ted of theft you had to swear you had not com­mit­ted the offence, but you had to plunge your arm into a pot of boil­ing water to remove a stone from the bottom of the pot.    If you did not get scal­ded you were inno­cent!

Another method was to press the suspect’s body with weights, like cartwheels or rocks, to make them con­fess.  If he, or she, was found guilty they could lose all their prop­erty, but if they did not con­fess they would very likely die.

Other crimes were decided by trial by ordeal, but this was replaced by the Catholic Church with ‘jury trial’, where local men told what they knew but did not decide guilt.

Much later, from the 12th cen­tury onward, trials were more like our modern trials.  However, the accused had no coun­sel, no rules of evid­ence, con­fes­sions could be extrac­ted by tor­ture, defend­ants could not give sworn evid­ence nor call wit­nesses but could dis­pute wit­nesses.

In 1600 tor­ture was banned and defend­ants could call unsworn wit­nesses. However, in a  16th cen­tury trial, evid­ence from dreams was accep­ted — “I had a dream and I saw him do it in my dream.”

Later pro­sec­u­tion by the Crown to prove guilt was intro­duced and the accused could exam­ine wit­nesses but not give sworn evid­ence.  Felonies now res­ul­ted in all the guilty person’s prop­er­ties going to the Crown.  All thefts were hangable offences unless the value of the stolen prop­erty was less than one shil­ling.

Public hangings, i.e. humi­li­ation fol­lowed by a pain­ful death, were accep­ted and the hang­man could make it a quick or slow death.  Women were burnt at the stake (and some­times the hang­man would strangle them before they were burnt).

Hanging, draw­ing and quar­ter­ing was a reli­gious idea because it was believed that you could not be resur­rec­ted if your body was not com­plete.  The accused would be slowly choked on a rope, taken down and the bowels drawn out, then the body would be cut into four pieces which were put onto spikes at the town gates.

If you were accused but you could prove you were in holy orders you could claim ‘bene­fit of clergy’.  This meant that you would instead be tried by the Church (and often would be found not guilty!).  The abil­ity to read often was accep­ted as proof that you were a priest.  However, you might be branded, so if you were arres­ted again you could not claim bene­fit of clergy .

Sometimes, if a member of the nobil­ity was found guilty he would be decap­it­ated, because this was less humi­li­at­ing than being hung, drawn and quartered. Sometimes the guilty would be trans­por­ted instead of hanged.

By 1800 there were over 200 felon­ies where the pun­ish­ment was hanging, one of which was imper­son­at­ing a Chelsea Pensioner!

This was a grue­some talk which made me glad that we no longer have public flog­gings, pil­lor­ies, stocks, duck­ing stools, burn­ing at the stake, decap­it­a­tions and public hangings.

Old England was a bloodthirsty place!