All posts by Glyn Davies

The fascination of the Romanovs 1894 to 1918 — Rosemary Beney — 20th August 18

Rosemary spoke about Tsar Nicholas II and Princess Alexandra of Hesse and showed us many pho­to­graphs of the family, espe­cially the chil­dren.  Although the pho­to­graphs were ori­gin­ally mono­chrome, many of them had been col­our­ised to modern stand­ards.

Tsar Nicholas was born in 1868, the son of Tsar Alexander III.                 Tsar Nicholas was known to be the richest man in the world but he was regarded as a polit­ic­ally weak man.

Princess Alexandra was the grand-daughter and favour­ite grand-child of Queen Victoria, but was not pop­u­lar in Russia.                                 Nicholas and Alexandra became engaged in 1893 and were mar­ried later in St. Petersberg.  The mar­riage was regarded as a love match and they were a pas­sion­ate couple.

Nicholas suc­ceeded his father, Alexander III, in 1894.   The coron­a­tion was immense with Royal fam­il­ies from all over the world in attend­ance.  Alexandra’s dress was so heavy with jewels and ermine that she had to have help to sit and kneel.   Outside the cathed­ral a crowd of over 50,000 had gathered to see the Royal couple.   There was a stam­pede and over 1300 people were crushed to death and many more were injured.  The couple still appeared before the crowd in the after­noon.

They had five chil­dren; at first four daugh­ters, which did not go down well with the pop­u­la­tion, and finally a son.

Olga was born May 3rd, 1895 when they vis­ited Balmoral and lived at Alexandra Place.

Tatiana was born in 1897 and later did Red Cross work in World War I.

Maria was born in 1899 and was strongly fan­cied by Lord Mountbatten.

Anastasia was born in 1901 and always had poor health.

Alexis was born in 1904.  He was found to be a hae­mo­phil­iac and was always pro­tec­ted because of it.  He was car­ried by a retainer at all public events, even when he was older, and was not allowed a bicycle or to play any sports.  He had a major bleed some years later when the family was on hol­i­day in Finland and was bathed in mud to stop the bleed­ing.

The family trav­elled in luxury in a fant­astic train with guards sta­tioned at 10 meter inter­vals along­side the tracks!  They owned a per­sonal Rolls Royce and another 66 cars.  Alexandra had dia­monds galore.

Nicholas had estab­lished an Entente Cordiale with Great Britain and, early in World War I, took over com­mand of the army.  He left the con­duct of home affairs to his wife, who became dom­in­ated by Rasputin.  At the time there was great unrest and threats of revolu­tion in Russia.

In 1917 Nicholas was forced to abdic­ate and, three days later, they were put under house arrest at Tsarskoe Selo.  They still had the ser­vants and the free­dom of the palace and grounds, so life car­ried on fairly nor­mally.

They were moved to Topol August 1917 with sev­eral of their staff.  The locals were kind and gen­er­ous but life in the Siberian sur­round­ings was not as col­our­ful.

In May 1918 they were put on ‘sol­diers rations’ and con­fined to a small area, then moved to Ekaterineberg  where they were held for 78 days in a ‘house of spe­cial pur­pose’.  Captivity became very harsh and some staff thought they were being sexu­ally abused.

They were assas­sin­ated on July 17th, 1918.

There are many stor­ies of their buri­als  etc. and the mys­ter­ies con­tinue to this day.

 

Local newspapers, community and the rise of social media. Nancy Fielder 16th July 2018

Nancy has been the Editor of the Star and the Telegraph for two years.  Although they once were run by sep­ar­ate edit­or­ial teams they are now under the same team.

The Telegraph star­ted as the Sheffield Evening Telegraph 130 years ago.  It was the first daily paper.  We saw a slide of the front page.  It was not attract­ive and was covered in close print, with head­lines not very vis­ible and no pic­tures.

The front page has been  made more attract­ive over the years and by the Queen’s coron­a­tion showed a black and white photo of her in her robes and crown.  Nowadays, of course, the photos are in colour and the head­lines are in large print so that buyers are attrac­ted, because news­pa­pers are in decline owing to com­ple­tion from tele­vi­sion and the Internet.

Nancy showed us two art­icles from the early papers that illus­trated how life has changed since then.

One was about a bus driver who was taken in front of magis­trates, called Mappin and Hadfield.  The driver was fined 10 shil­lings because his bus was 5 minutes late!

Another art­icle was about a char­lady, who was fined 2s 6d, because she had shaken out a hearth­rug on Westbar after 10 a.m!

Since Nancy became Editor the team has tried to give a pos­it­ive view of the Sheffield area to make read­ers feel good about Sheffield  and the steel industry.  Journalists know that every story can be writ­ten so the it boosts up or knocks down.  The Star and Telegraph try to put a pos­it­ive slant on local stor­ies if pos­sible.

The Star has a web site on which all stor­ies coming into the office are pub­lished, but the report­ers and edit­ors have no con­trol over the number of web hits.  A few days ago the most hits were on a story about a 10 year-old boy who was taken ill at a scout camp.  ( It was on page 7 in the paper.)  The second place on the hits list was a story about par­ents being upset about the demise of the ‘Build a Bear’ shop in Meadowhall!  There are very few hits on polit­ical stor­ies.  It seems that younger read­ers, who chose the Web over news­print, are not inter­ested.

An example of trying to boost Sheffield was an illus­trated art­icle that appeared recently in the papers about a Sheffield firm, who still make tuning forks under the head­line, “Steel City still hits the right notes”.

The ori­ginal offices and print shops of The Star and Telegraph were on High Street in the ‘Telegraph Tower’, now owned by Santander.   They moved to York Street, but the presses were moved to Dinnington sev­eral years ago.

They print 150,000 copies of the papers, but more people look online- about 350,000 each week with 163,000 fol­low­ers on Facebook.  Money is made from advert­ising online, but less than 50% of that made from advert­ising in print.

Nancy told us how the papers are pro­gress­ing.  Responses from the public to the let­ters page tend to be pos­it­ive but not so on social media.  The edit­or­ial policy is to be neut­ral but com­plaints come in about bias — in favour of the tree pro­test­ers or in favour of the coun­cil, in favour of Sheffield United or in favour of Sheffield Wednesday, in favour of the new Mayor or against him etc.   It seems very dif­fi­cult to report the news without someone feel­ing that the papers are show­ing bias.

Questions from the audi­ence were mainly about pages that are in the papers or that used to be in.

The Telegraph used to have prop­erty pages and now does not.  Nancy said that people gen­er­ally look on-line now if look­ing for prop­erty and there has been a massive impact on advert­ising rev­enue.

Another ques­tion was about the res­taur­ant  and dining-out page.   Nancy said that this was very pop­u­lar, pre­sum­ably because people  eat out nowadays much more than they did in the past.

She said that the main com­plaints (other than bias)  that the papers receive are:  if their weather fore­cast is not accur­ate or if they make a mis­take when they pub­lish the answers to the pre­vi­ous edi­tions’ cross­words!

The Star and Telegraph do not cover national news, although they did in the past.  We saw sides of the Titanic Disaster, Scott’s South Pole Expedition, the King decides to abdic­ate but the big stor­ies were local — the Flying Fortress crash in Endcliffe Park, the Battle of Orgreave, Park Hill Flats apply­ing for listed status and the World Student Games.

Nancy fin­ished by saying that The Star per­forms well for a daily paper but cannot be com­pla­cent.  Who would report local news if these papers close?  Look North does not have a journ­al­ist in Sheffield, and although Radio Sheffield has 5 journ­al­ists their news tends to be brief com­pared with the writ­ten page.

We found this a very inter­est­ing view into the local news­pa­per industry, as was demon­strated by the many ques­tion from the audi­ence.

Much Ado About Mothing — Ben Keywood — 26Th March 2018

Moths have a bad repu­ta­tion because most people think that they eat clothes.  In fact they do not.  It is the larvae of a very few moth spe­cies that eat clothes.  These larvae prob­ably fed on the lin­ings in birds’ nests before humans wore clothes made of nat­ural fibers.  Generally moths do not lay eggs on clothes made of man-made fibers or on  laundered clothes, but, if you have an item at the back of the ward­robe  that you haven’t worn for years, it might become infes­ted with moth larvae about 3mm. long.  Sometimes people think that their car­pets have been eaten by moth larvae but it was prob­ably varied carpet beetle larvae that were to blame.

There are 2,400  moth spe­cies in the U.K. but only about 60 but­ter­fly spe­cies.  There are two groups of moths: Micro and Macro.  These are not based on size but on fam­il­ies.  About 800 spe­cies are Macro, arranged in 56 fam­il­ies.  Both moths and but­ter­flies are Lepidoptera so they are closely related.  Most moths are noc­turnal (active at night) but some are diurnal (active in day­time) and some are both.

Ben explained that moths are con­sidered to be sci­en­tific­ally import­ant because:

  • They are highly sens­it­ive to very small envir­on­mental changes so they are a good indic­ator spe­cies.
  • They are pol­lin­at­ors.
  • They are at the bottom of the food chain and, as such, are a major source of food for birds and other anim­als.

The peppered moth is a good example of how changes in the envir­on­ment can affect the spe­cies.  It nor­mally has white wings peppered with tiny black spots.  In the past, when the atmo­sphere in Sheffield was full of indus­trial pol­lu­tion and build­ings and trees were covered in soot, an all-black form of the peppered moth was common.  It was thought that the black form dom­in­ated because the white form was easily picked off by birds, but  black form moths were cam­ou­flaged and sur­vived to breed more black form moths, an example of evol­u­tion.

Moths have amaz­ing cam­ou­flage.  Many moths mimic dead leaves when they close their wings.  Some look like bird drop­pings or sticks when their wings are closed. They are also good at pre­tend­ing to be dan­ger­ous to pred­at­ors.  Some moths have large ‘eyes’ on their wings which make them look dan­ger­ous.  Some have col­oured bodies that make them look like hor­nets.  One large moth flut­ters its wings rap­idly so that it looks like a hum­ming bird.  Another has a yellow head and upper body and a ‘beak’ so it looks like a canary.

People think that moths are brown and have furry bodies, but many spe­cies are beau­ti­fully bright col­oured with very com­plex pat­terns on their wings.  Many moths are just like but­ter­flies to look at.  The green carpet moth’s wings are emer­ald green with a pat­tern like a carpet.  It feeds on bil­ber­ries on the moors around Sheffield.

Some moths have cater­pil­lars that look like sticks or pieces of wood.  The ele­phant hawk moth’s cater­pil­lar is about 10 cm. long (and looks like an elephant’s trunk) but is col­oured with pat­terns and ‘eyes’ so it looks like a small snake.  The syca­more moth’s cater­pil­lar is about 5 cm. long and has bright yellow hairs stick­ing out all round.  This seems to put off pred­at­ors.  Some cater­pil­lars are tiny — the horse chest­nut leaf miner bur­rows between two sur­faces of a leaf, eating away in safety until it is large enough to pupate.  Another cater­pil­lar, only 2 mm. long, rolls up a leaf into a tube and eats away inside it.

Ben showed a photo of his moth trap (a bright light over a funneled box) which he used to catch moths in an area of well-mowed lawns near a University Hall of Residence.  He caught many moths but they were all of one type.  He said that this was because the avail­able food suited only this moth type.  He sug­ges­ted to the Hall res­id­ents that they let the grass grow and allow other plants like but­ter­cups, dais­ies and plantains to grow in the grass.  When he set up his trap some­time later he caught sev­eral dif­fer­ent types of moths.  He said that if we want a wide vari­ety of insects (he meant moths!) in our gar­dens then we need a wide vari­ety of plants and not to spray chem­ic­als at all.

At the end Ben was asked what is the dif­fer­ence between moths and but­ter­flies.  He admit­ted that, in fact, there is no real dif­fer­ence.           This was a fas­cin­at­ing talk with so much new inform­a­tion that I’ve only scraped the sur­face.

Railways in the Cornish Landscape — part 2. — Stephen Gay — 12/02/2018

After telling us how he found a grave­stone with his name on it in St. Keys grave­yard, Stephen began his story of the Redruth and Chasewater Railway begin­ning near Truro.

His talk was accom­pan­ied by won­der­ful pho­to­graphs that he has taken on his travels.

He showed us Devoran Village Hall, which was once an engine shed.  The road along­side the hall was where the rail­way ran ori­gin­ally. A branch line, which car­ried min­er­als, once ran from the main line down to the River Fal where the min­eral boats were moored.

We were taken on a cruise down the river to Falmouth, which was the deep­est nat­ural port in England.  Stephen stayed in Falmouth at the Green Bank Hotel.  He found that Florence Nightingale and, later, Kenneth Graham, of ‘Wind in the Willows’ fame, stayed at the hotel.

He vis­ited Pendennis shipyard, where naval ves­sels were main­tained, because he knew that steam trains were still used there until 1986. The main line con­tin­ues across a via­duct where the stone pil­lars of Brunel’s ori­ginal timber via­duct can be seen along­side.  The ori­ginal via­duct was replaced in 1933.  Brunel’s lines were seven and a quarter foot gauge, much wider than modern track.

His next sta­tion was at Perranwell, a request stop, where Stephen and Wrawby, his Germen Shepherd dog, went for a walk.  They dis­covered an ancient fin­ger­post, which dir­ec­ted them to King Harry’s Ferry, which was a chain-link ferry across the river.

The line con­tin­ues through Penryn and is single track.  It is very busy with tour­ists and stu­dents, but at Penryn sta­tion there is a side loop where trains trav­el­ling up and down the line can pass each other.  The plat­form is extra long to accom­mod­ate trains in both dir­ec­tions. The next via­duct was the last of Brunel’s timber via­ducts to be replaced.

On to Falmouth Dock sta­tion, which could become very much busier.  There are rumours that cruise liners from crowded Southampton port are to be diver­ted to Falmouth.

Then to Chasewater sta­tion which closed in 1963 when Beeching closed the branch line to Perranporth.

Stephen diver­ted to Perranporth sta­tion where there was a Millenium Project to make a Railway Walk along the dis­used line. He went by bus down to the beach where an artist called Kenneth Steel was once employed by British Railways to paint coastal views for BR posters.  Stephen told us that there is a Steel poster on Dronfield sta­tion and a paint­ing by Steel on the first floor of Atkinsons store near the toi­lets.

Redruth Station is approached by a short tunnel and in the sta­tion café is a plaque that says “Jenny Agutter stayed here.”

Camborne, next on the line, is the birth­place of Richard Trevithick, a rail­way pion­eer.  There is a statue of him in the town.  (Stephen read his poem about Trevithic.) He dis­covered another old finger post that still dir­ec­ted him to a sta­tion that closed in 1963!

Stephen stood on the dis­used (dan­ger­ous) Helston via­duct to take a pho­to­graph, then on to Helston sta­tion, which is the south­ern­most sta­tion in England.  GWR ran out of money so they opened a bus link to the Lizard where they built a narrow gauge (funicu­lar) rail­way down to the life­boat sta­tion.

Further on he passed Lelant Saltings sta­tion, which was one of the first ‘Park and Ride’ sta­tions.  When it opened in 1978 the cost for park­ing a car and a return to St. Ives for 4 people was 60p.

The line runs along the coast towards St. Ives where the sta­tion is next to the beach at the end of the line.  Stephen took a pho­to­graph of St. Ives sta­tion from the inside of a tele­phone box after he had cleaned evid­ence of the pres­ence of many seagulls from the win­dows. (He read his poem about how mobile phones are threat­en­ing the phone boxes.)

The whole ‘trip’ was an enorm­ous pleas­ure, through the present and past of Cornwall, illus­trated by splen­did pho­to­graphs and Stephen’s poems.

 

A Celebration of Entertainment and Entertainers of Days Gone By — By Dave Moylan. — 18th December 2017.

Dave began with the ‘magic’ cup-and-ball trick, which he said was known to the Romans and Ancient Greeks.   Even though I knew (or sus­pec­ted) how it was done I could not see how he moved the balls- he was too pro­fi­cient.  He fol­lowed this with a 5-card trick too fast for us to really spot the method — his patter and dis­trac­tions worked too well.

He explained the dif­fer­ence between magic and illu­sion.                             “In 1966 an England team won the World Cup — that was magic.   Illusion is that people think that will happen again!”

Dave then played the guitar and sang a comic song.  He sang ‘I want a proper cup of coffee made in a proper copper coffee pot.’ and we joined in the chorus, shout­ing “Oy”.

He switched back to magic, doing his ‘rope trick’, using Stan as his assist­ant.  In this trick he cut a piece of cord in half sev­eral times in dif­fer­ent ways, but it always remained in one piece.  It was beau­ti­fully done, and Stan played his part admir­ably!

Then Dave returned to jokes:                                                                                         “Bill had to have an ear trans­plant.  The sur­geon gave him a pig’s ear that worked fine except for a bit of crack­ling.”                                                    “Fred, for a dare, ate 18 kg of curry powder.  It didn’t kill him but he is now in a korma.”

Next Dave said that he admired the old radio comedi­ans, like Al Read, because he told jokes about the sort of people that you knew.   These comedi­ans thought that the way to deal with unpleas­ant sub­jects, like death, was to laugh at them.                                                              “A hus­band said to his wife, “When I die will you sell the house?”           “No,” she said.  “I like living here.”                                                                                 “Will you get mar­ried again?” he asked.                                                                   She said, “I might do, because I won’t want to spend my life alone.”       “You won’t let him use my golf clubs, will you? he said.                                  “Oh, no. They won’t be any use to him because he’s left-handed.”

Dave asked if we remembered Max Wall.  He said he’d asked many teen­aged girls the same ques­tion.  They all said they didn’t.  So why do they dress like him?

He took up a ukulele and played and sang a George Formby song          “If women like them like men like those why don’t women like me?”    Then more jokes, too fast for me to note them, and a song of ‘The Old Bazaar in Cairo’.

He then told us that Liverpool has pro­duced many, many comedi­ans and he told  jokes using dif­fer­ent accents: Welsh, Brummie, Scouse.   A man asked a lady at the big house if she had any odd jobs he could do.      “Take this can of black paint and paint the porch at the back of the house,” she said.                                                                                                                     Some hours later he came back covered in splashes of black paint to say that he had fin­ished.                                                                                                    “But,” he said, “It isn’t a Porshe, it’s a Ferrari.” 

A splen­did talk that was thor­oughly enjoyed by all. Thank you, Dave.

 

Particle Physics — Understanding the Universe’s ‘LEGO Bricks’. — Professor Lee Thompson — 25th September 2017.

One of the reas­ons for research­ing the make-up of atoms is that look­ing closely at the smal­lest things can tell us much about the largest things, such as suns, stars and galax­ies.

Only 5 or 6 types of ‘bricks’ can make lots of dif­fer­ent things.

A clearer under­stand­ing of the atom was made by Thomson in 1897 when he dis­covered that cath­ode rays are elec­trons, and that elec­trons exist at the ‘edge’ of atoms and are not tightly bound to the atom.

In 1909 Rutherford, Geiger and Marsden, made an appar­atus that would fit on a desk top.

It was a cyl­in­der, sur­roun­ded by pho­to­graphic film, with a small gold foil taget in the middle.  They dir­ec­ted a beam of alpha particles at the thin sheet of gold and the photo film would detect the alpha particles.  As it was thought that the interior of atoms was mainly empty space they expec­ted that the beam would pass through the foil without devi­ation.  However some of the particles were scattered and some even appeared to bounce back.

In 1911 Rutherford con­cluded that there was a very tiny, very dense centre to the atom.  He called this the nuc­leus.

Nowadays we want to look inside the nuc­leus and to do this we need a lot more energy so we use particle accel­er­at­ors.

The largest accel­er­ator is at CERN on the Swiss/French border.

This is housed in a large cir­cu­lar tunnel that is 27 km in cir­cum­fer­ence and is 150 metres under­ground.  In it particles are accel­er­ated to near light speeds and are smashed into each other to find out what comes off so soph­ist­ic­ated particle detect­ors are required.

Four dif­fer­ent types of detector are used made up of gas, liquid and plastics.

The ATLAS detector is enorm­ous and weighs over 70,000 tons and is 44 metres wide.

Phenomenal com­put­ing power is needed to ana­lyse the particles given off after col­li­sion.

At school I was taught that atoms were made up of elec­trons orbit­ing the nuc­leus, which con­tained pro­tons and neut­rons.  If elec­trons were stripped of the atoms they were called beta particles.  A helium nuc­leus, con­sist­ing of 2 pro­tons and 2 neut­rons, was an alpha particle.

Now we have:

  • Electrons
  • Muons — heav­ier elec­trons
  • Tau — even heav­ier elec­trons

Inside Protons and Neutrons we have Quarks, iden­ti­fied as Up Quarks and Down Quarks. Quarks come in pairs or threes — Protons have 1 Up Quark and 1 Down Quark, Neutrons have 1 Up Quark and 2 Down Quarks.

Other particles, called nutri­nos, have been detec­ted and  there are sev­eral sources of these particles — the Sun, nuc­lear power sta­tions and CERN.  Earth is con­tinu­ally bom­barded by showers of nutri­nos, but they pass through us and pen­et­rate the Earth without appar­ently caus­ing us any harm.

The Japanese are research­ing nutri­nos.  They aim a beam of nutri­nos at a research centre 293 km away, which has a detector con­sist­ing of  a huge spher­ical tank con­tain­ing 50,00 tons of water.  The tank roof is lined with a huge number of light detect­ors cost­ing mil­lions of dol­lars.  If a nutrino hits and reacts with atom in the water a tiny flash of light is emit­ted and detec­ted.  This is a very rare event.

The point of all this research at CERN and Japan is that it has brought many advances to the man in the street.

The World Wide Web was devised at CERN to allow inter­na­tional com­mu­nic­a­tion for phys­i­cists. High per­form­ance com­put­ing hand­ling large data volumes. Medical phys­ics has developed dia­gnostic tools for NMR and PET treat­ments and Hadron ther­apy and the pro­duc­tion of iso­topes.

Cosmic rays inter­act in the atmo­sphere to gen­er­ate muons, which can be used to detect illegal imports of terrorist-owned nuc­lear mater­i­als in con­tain­ers at our ports. Also muons  tomo­graphy can be used to exam­ine the interi­ors of pyr­am­ids and magma cham­bers and vol­ca­noes.

It was an inter­est­ing talk, con­tain­ing masses of mater­ial, that Prof. Thompson made as straight­for­ward as he could for the non-physicists!