All posts by John Abel

River Don – One of England’s finest salmon rivers  by Chris Firth MBE   29th July 2019

Chris Firth was born in Doncaster close to the banks of the River Don and early in life developed a pas­sion­ate interest in the river.  In 1975 he took up a post as a Fisheries Bailiff work­ing in the Lake District. In 1977 he moved to Beverley where he began work with the Yorkshire Water Authority as a Fisheries Inspector.  In 1983 he was pro­moted to Fisheries Officer based at Doncaster and, amongst his other duties, began work on the rehab­il­it­a­tion of the River Don and its fish­ery. In 1999, fol­low­ing dra­matic improve­ments in the envir­on­ment and eco­logy of the Don system, the Environment Agency pub­lished his book ‘Doomsday to the Dawn of the New Millennium’ an account of the demise and recov­ery of the fish pop­u­la­tions of the river. In 2000 he was awar­ded an MBE for ser­vices to Fisheries and the Environment.

In the six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­tur­ies there was so much salmon in the River Don that only poorest people ate salmon.  An indic­a­tion of this is that there were more otters along the river than any­where else in the north of England.  During the indus­trial revolu­tion, it became one of the most pol­luted rivers in England, but its decline star­ted much earlier.  To provide water power, low weirs were con­struc­ted across the river and these interfered with salmon move­ment.

In 1626 the Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden star­ted the drain­ing of Hatfield Chase to the west of Doncaster.  The work involved the re-routing of the Rivers Don, Idle and Torne, and the con­struc­tion of drain­age chan­nels. It was not wholly suc­cess­ful, but changed the whole nature of a wide swathe of land includ­ing the Isle of Axholme and caused legal dis­putes for the rest of the cen­tury.

In 1732 a Parliamentary Act made the River Don a nav­ig­a­tion.  This encour­aged indus­trial devel­op­ment and bigger weirs were con­struc­ted that could not be tra­versed by salmon.  By 1790 there were no salmon reach­ing the river’s head waters.  By 1884 largely due to the surge of people to work in the new factor­ies, the river was grossly pol­luted and remained so for the next 120 years.

In 1975 Yorkshire Water took over the river but was mostly con­cerned with clean water supply.  In 1989 the organ­isa­tion was split into Yorkshire Water plc and the National Rivers Authority.  The latter was very con­cerned with improv­ing the River Don and began stock­ing the river with fish to act as indic­at­ors of pol­lu­tion and was more active in pro­sec­ut­ing pol­luters.  Work also began on con­struct­ing fish passes along the river system to permit salmon to reach fur­ther upstream.  £3m has been raised over 10 years for this work and last winter for the first time in cen­tur­ies, salmon were caught near Meadow Hall.  Funding has been alloc­ated for a fish pass for Masborough Weir in Rotherham and upon com­ple­tion of this pro­ject, all obstruc­tions for salmon below Sheffield will have been addressed.  It is hoped and expec­ted that the River Don will again sup­port a siz­able pop­u­la­tion of salmon in the near future.

Hearing loss: the present and the future by Sandra Welburn  10th June 2019

 Sandra Welburn is based in Newcastle and is the Head of inform­a­tion coordin­a­tion for the north­ern region of the “Action on hear­ing loss” char­ity.  Its former name was the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID). It has been a national char­ity since 1911.  The area covered by Sandra is from Cheshire to the Scottish boarder.

It’s the largest char­ity for people with hear­ing loss in the UK, with an under­stand­ing of how hear­ing loss can affect everything in your life from your rela­tion­ships, to your edu­ca­tion and your job pro­spects.  The char­ity is here to sup­port and help people to take back con­trol and live the lives they choose.

On aver­age it takes about 10 years for some­body sus­pect­ing they have hear­ing loss to take actual action.  There are about 11 mil­lion people in Great Britain with hear­ing loss. About 4 mil­lion people have unad­dressed hear­ing loss and 2 mil­lion people use hear­ing aides and about sixty thou­sand people use sign lan­guage.

Sandra gave an example of a man with good hear­ing was on a hol­i­day flight, when he stepped off the plane, he dis­covered that he had lost all his hear­ing.  It was a per­man­ent change.  She asked her audi­ence to try to ima­gine what this would feel like and what aspects of hear­ing would be most missed.  She explained how as hear­ing loss increases a person becomes more isol­ated within their family as loved ones tend to cut the person out of con­ver­sa­tions and activ­it­ies.  Other people may begin to treat a person as being less intel­li­gent.  Lip read­ing becomes import­ant and tele­vi­sion view­ing requires the volume to be turned up or sub­titles restrict choice of pro­grammes.

Besides hear­ing loss, the char­ity helps with Tinnitus. Tinnitus is often described as ”ringing in the ears”, but it’s the name for hear­ing any sound in your ears or head when there’s noth­ing out­side your body that’s making that sound.  The char­ity sup­ports a Tinnitus Helpline and a Tinnitus Forum.

Action on hear­ing loss helps people to manage their lives by provid­ing care homes; an engage­ment ser­vice; research teams; a products depart­ment; cafes and cam­paigns.

Large resources are provided towards research across the world and this is bear­ing fruit.  Since 2006 in the UK new-born babies without hear­ing may get a coch­lear implant.  The implant con­sists of a micro­phone and a trans­mit­ter out­side the head, which send sig­nals to an implanted receiver under the skin. This in turn sends sig­nals to elec­trodes implanted in the coch­lea. When the elec­trodes receive a signal, tiny elec­tric cur­rents stim­u­late the aud­it­ory nerve, which car­ries sound from the coch­lea to the brain.  In 2016 a new gene was dis­covered that is related to the hear­ing mech­an­ism and gives hope that treat­ments might be developed to reduce or reverse hear­ing loss.

Soon sign lan­guage will be taught in all primary schools in England.

The char­ity in your local area provides sup­port in deal­ing with: bene­fits and grants; every­day life; your rights; com­mu­nic­a­tion tips; products and tech­no­logy; blogs and forums.


Britain & Germany – War at sea 1914–1918 Pt1 — Peter Stubbs — 11 March 2019

Peter Stubbs is a retired soli­citor who has developed an interest in naval his­tory, he has given 2 talks pre­vi­ously to the Club.  The his­tory of the British Navy during WW1 is a big sub­ject and his talk is in two parts and this report refers to the first sec­tion.

Until the 16th cen­tury war­ships had been essen­tially for trans­port­ing sol­diers for hand to hand fight­ing. Now wooden ships with gun ports and muzzle loaded guns on 3 decks were built and 250 years later in the time of HMS Victory, war­ships had changed little.  95 years later HMS Warrior was launched with iron clad­ding to a timber frame with steam engines but still with 3 masts and muzzle loaded guns.  The British Navy was com­pla­cent and set in its ways.  In 1900 it was like a rich old man, swollen with self-confidence with memor­ies of past glor­ies and little regard for modern trends.  There was much emphasis on smart­ness and little on train­ing.

In 1889 the German Chancellor Bismark stated “I see England as an old and tra­di­tional ally.  No dif­fer­ence exists between England and Germany”.  In England, France was the tra­di­tional enemy.  The Kaiser was very jeal­ous of Britain’s dom­in­ance of the seas and in 1897 he made Tirpitz Secretary of State of the Imperial Navy.  He was a bril­liant admin­is­trator and began to increase the German Navy by 38 battle­ships, 20 armoured cruis­ers and 38 light cruis­ers.  The British Navy at this time had over 900 ships.

In 1904 Admiral John Fisher became 1st Sea Lord.  He recog­nised the threat the new German naval policy rep­res­en­ted and thought that war was inev­it­able.  He removed 150 obsol­ete ships from the fleet and planned for modern replace­ments.  He cham­pioned the devel­op­ment of the sub­mar­ine and inven­ted the concept of the modern des­troyer.  He was the ori­gin­ator of the Dreadnought battle­ship.  No other ship could com­pete with her and Britain built 35 of them.  Seeing the Dreadnought, Germany halted con­struc­tion of its ships and ordered new designs to be built.  The Battleship Race was on.

HMS Dreadnought 1906

The British Navy went to war on 4th August 1914 with 609 fight­ing ships includ­ing 29 Dreadnoughts and battle cruis­ers to Germany’s 17 equi­val­ents.  It soon became clear that sea power must now con­tend with mines, tor­pedoes and sub­mar­ines.

At this time 60% of our food and other com­mod­it­ies were impor­ted.  The object­ive of the German Grand Fleet was to break out from the North Sea and to attack Britain’s mer­chant ship­ping.  The Grand Fleet under Admiral Jellicoe was sta­tioned at Scapa Flow to pre­vent this.  Britain’s block­ade covered the whole of the west­ern approaches and applied to all ships bound for Germany.  This had an ever more dam­aging effect on German pro­duc­tion and living stand­ards.

At this early stage in the war inter-ship com­mu­nic­a­tion was poor.  In the battle of Heligoland Bight it was repor­ted “Our battle cruis­ers were scattered by and made viol­ent attempts to sink a squad­ron of our own sub­mar­ines.  Our light cruis­ers sent in to sup­port were in two cases thought to be enemy ships by our des­troy­ers and in another case two light cruis­ers chased two tor­pedo boats each sup­pos­ing the other to be the enemy.”  Despite all this Commodore Tyrett won the battle and this had a sig­ni­fic­ant effect on future German policy that became more cau­tious.

Peter’s talk covered sev­eral naval battles in the south­ern hemi­sphere includ­ing the Battle of Port Stanley and the sink­ing of the Scharnhorst and the Gneisanau.  The second part of the talk will be more focused on war in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

We eagerly await Peter’s con­clud­ing talk in what is an intriguing insight into our recent his­tory that few of us have much know­ledge of.



The Lost Woodhead Tunnel” Stephen Gay 4 Feb 19

Steven Gay has an encyc­lo­paedic know­ledge of the English rail­way system and is a reg­u­lar speaker at the Club.  His talk about the Woodhead Tunnels is the 19th jour­ney he has taken the Club on.

This was a pho­to­graphic jour­ney that star­ted on the Trans Pennine Trail to the east of Hatfield.  The Trail is on the bed of the old Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway.  In 1837 work began on the Woodhead 1 tunnel.  This was a dif­fi­cult tunnel to con­struct using hun­dreds of nav­vies and was only wide enough for a single track.  In 1845 the tunnel was opened for pas­sen­ger traffic and was the main link between Manchester and Sheffield.  It brought coal from the South Yorkshire Coal Fields to the Lancashire indus­trial belt and was soon found to be inad­equate for the traffic.  It was always thought that a second tunnel might be needed.  A second tunnel run­ning along­side Woodhead 1 was cut and in 1853 Woodhead 2 was opened allow­ing trains to flow in both dir­ec­tions without delay.

The Trail takes the public to the sta­tion at the west­ern end of the tun­nels and then diverts over the top of the tun­nels through glor­i­ous scenery look­ing down on the reser­voirs along the Woodhead Pass.  Steven always adds many inter­est­ing asides often promp­ted by the pho­to­graphs.  One such was when he noticed smoke rising from a chim­ney at the end of what he thought was a row of derel­ict rail­way men’s cot­tages in a very isol­ated part of the moor above the tun­nels.  He went up to the door and gave it a knock.  The occu­pant had worked on the rail­ways for over 50 years and a friend­ship star­ted that lasted for years.

The tun­nels were over­used with 250 trains each way using them each day.  In 1953 a new tunnel was opened.  Woodhead 3 was designed for the first elec­tric rail­way in the UK and the other tun­nels were closed.

In 1970 this line was closed to pas­sen­ger traffic and in 1981 the line was closed com­pletely.  Woodhead 1 was then used to accom­mod­ate elec­tric cables.  Woodhead 1 & 2 were finally sealed and new cables were laid in Woodhead 3.

It is a moot point whether any of the tun­nels might find a use as a part of the regions trans­port system in the future.  As always the pho­to­graphs and the dia­logue were excel­lent.

Harrah for Herr Hundertwasser by Professor Clyde Binfield on 26 November 2018

Clyde Binfield is the Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Sheffield with sev­eral books to his name.  He is also a very accom­plished speaker with both a sense of humour and great curi­os­ity.  Perhaps his love of an artist/architect that was so anti-establishment and a hero of the work­ing man should not come as a sur­prise.

Tourists to Vienna will be aware of this most eccent­ric man, whilst the rest of us may not have heard of him.  Friedrich Stowasser was born in 1928.  In 1948 he joined a Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna only to leave after 3 months and a few months later he changed his name to Hundertwasser

As an artist he was very much influ­enced by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch but he also had strong “green” sym­path­ies.  He had an aver­sion to the uni­form­ity of straight lines and described modern archi­tec­ture as degen­er­ate.

In his paint­ing of his famous Hundertwasserhaus , the build­ing has no straight lines and green­ery, espe­cially trees pre­dom­in­ate.  At this time when the double helix of DNA was dis­covered, he was paint­ing spir­als.  Through his art he tried to reveal the pos­sib­il­it­ies of a better world with safe envir­on­ment and pro­tec­ted nature

In 1952 he held his first major exhib­i­tion in Vienna.  The main theme in his paint­ings is the recon­cili­ation and har­mony of man­kind with nature.

At the age of 55, he became embroiled with archi­tec­ture.  The above pho­to­graph is a block of social hous­ing now called Hundertwasserhaus.  It is an import­ant build­ing on the Vienna tour­ist cir­cuit and is very pop­u­lar with its occu­pants.  It’s a “make over” of an exist­ing block whose ori­ginal wall can be seen exposed in the left corner.  He appears to have got on well with crafts­men.  The pho­to­graph of a typ­ical bath­room shows how the build­ing has been trans­formed.

In 1959 he became an Associate pro­fessor at Hamburg University.  In 1968 he was lec­tur­ing about the 3 skins.  The 1st. skin is the naked skin, 2nd skin is our clothes and 3rd skin is the home we live in.  At times he would be naked whilst deliv­ery these lec­tures.

Besides paint­ings and build­ings he was famous for his poster and stamp designs.  He made his own clothes and had a pink hat!

He trav­elled extens­ively and spent his later years in New Zealand where he had dual cit­izen­ship and he died whilst cruis­ing on the QE2 in February 2000.

This is a spell bind­ing talk about a man that simply oozes cre­ativ­ity and refuses to be con­strained by rules.

Carbon Dioxide as a commodity and not a problem waste by Professor Peter Styring 29th October 2018

Peter Styring became Prof. of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at the University of Sheffield in 2007.  He gradu­ated at Sheffield then worked at Hull and New York State uni­ver­sit­ies.  He is an expert in Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU).  He is the author of “Carbon Capture and Utilisation in the Green Economy” and is Chair of the CO2Chem Network.

His talk began with provid­ing evid­ence that it is CO2 that is the major con­trib­utor to global warm­ing by show­ing a series of “hockey stick” graphs show­ing the global effects of vari­ous sus­pec­ted con­trib­ut­ors.  Deforestation has noth­ing like the effect that it is com­monly thought have and simply plant­ing more trees will not in itself solve the prob­lem. Similarly, the Ozone layer has only a small effect and aer­o­sols have a neg­li­gible effect.

He then moved on to how CO2 is a “green­house gas” and a cli­mate change accel­er­ator.  A prob­lem is that fossil fuels take mil­lions of years to create and seconds to des­troy.  He is con­vinced that the gen­er­a­tion of fossil fuel use for our elec­tri­city, heat­ing, indus­trial pro­duc­tion and trans­port is det­ri­mental.  To mit­ig­ate against this requires: Government policy; life cycle aware­ness & sus­tain­ab­il­ity; cre­ation of new chem­ic­als, pro­cesses and indus­tries.


Peter intro­duced the Linsink Waste Hierarchy concept:-

Waste hier­archy is a tool used in the eval­u­ation of pro­cesses that pro­tect the envir­on­ment along­side resource and energy con­sump­tion to most favour­able to least favour­able actions

The top of the pyr­amid is to use no new fossil fuels and the lowest level is to bury the prob­lem.

At the IPCC con­fer­ence in Korea we received a dire warn­ing “to reduce the rate of global warm­ing to a max­imum of 1.5 0C per annum and we have only 10 years to save the planet”.

Peter is con­vinced that legis­la­tion alone is not the answer and solu­tions that create a “profit” are a prac­tical approach.  Taking inspir­a­tion from Sir Fraser Stoddard, he believes in using CO2 to make things.  Peter Medawar speaks of “some­thing to be clever about” to create a world where there is no sur­plus CO2.  Peter covered many aspects of CO2 util­isa­tion and in par­tic­u­lar, vari­ous forms of trans­port.  He thinks there is a big future for the mass pro­duc­tion of Dimethyl Ether.  This liquid is a sub­sti­tute for diesel and is already used for some goods vehicles in Canada and the US.  For a small cost, diesel engines can be con­ver­ted to use DME with no emis­sion pol­lut­ants.  This is a much better method of cap­tur­ing CO2 and prob­ably much less costly than stor­ing it under the North Sea.

This was a spell bind­ing talk given by an inter­na­tional expert that cuts through some of the mis-information that is around today.