All posts by Stan Hirst

Admiral Lord Collingwood — Peter Collingwood — 30th April 2018.

Collingwood was born in Newcastle in 1748. He was named Cuthbert after the saint from Holy Island. His father was a Newcastle trader and not a wealthy man.
He began his naval career at the age of twelve on HMS Shannon under the com­mand of his uncle Richard Braithwaite. After five years he became a mid­ship­man and, after passing exams in seaman­ship and nav­ig­a­tion, he became a lieu­ten­ant.
He first met Nelson in 1777 when he was twenty five and Nelson was fif­teen. Whilst he was tall, robust and con­fid­ent, Nelson was smal­ler, frail and sickly. Their friend­ship lasted until Nelson’s death in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar..
Collingwood mar­ried Sarah Blackwell and, though he was at sea for most of the time, he man­aged to father two daugh­ters. Between 1761 and 1810 he only spent five years in England and, on one occa­sion, was not home for seven years.
His com­pan­ion whilst at sea was his Newfoundland dog called Bouncer. The dog went every­where with him, often swim­ming along­side the rowing boat which took him ashore.
In 1783 he was in com­mand of HMS Mediator and posted to the West Indies.Nelson was also there and together they pre­ven­ted American ships from trad­ing with the West Indies.
On the few occa­sions when he was at home, Collingwood walked on the north moors scat­ter­ing acorns to ensure the supply of oaks for ship­build­ing for many years to come.
He was a hard work­ing, con­sid­er­ate man who gained the respect of his crew by instilling dis­cip­line and abandon­ing cor­poral pun­ish­ment. Men, guilty of swear­ing or bul­ly­ing were pun­ished by having to clean out the prim­it­ive “loos” instead of being flogged. The pro­vi­sions on the ship were of great con­cern to him and he made sure that enough meat and food were taken aboard the ship.
His gun­nery crew were trained incess­antly and, in 1795, at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, his ship was cap­able of firing three full broad­sides in three and a half minutes.
In 1793 France declared war on Britain that lasted twenty two years. Now cap­tain of the Barfleur, Collingwood won vic­tory at the “Glorious First of June” battle. Six French ships were cap­tured and Collingwood was wounded. Though he was in the thick of the action, he was not men­tioned in dis­patches and did not receive a gold medal — this grieved him greatly.
During the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the French fleet was in the form of a cres­cent but the English fleet attacked them in two par­al­lel lines. Collingwood, at the head of one of the lines, was the first to engage the enemy and his ship fired broad­sides with such rapid­ity and pre­ci­sion that the Spanish flag ship, the Santa Anna almost sank. Nelson was killed during this battle and Collingwood assumed the title of Commander in Chief.
He was pro­moted to Vice Admiral and became Baron Collingwood. He was awar­ded gold medals for Trafalgar and Cape St. Vincent which he only accep­ted on the con­di­tion that he got one for the First of June Battle also.
In 1805 he was com­mander of the Mediterranean fleet and wished that he could return home. This was denied as the gov­ern­ment still required his ser­vices. His health declined rap­idly and he was forced to request retire­ment which was gran­ted but he died at sea on the 7th March 1810 on his way home. He was laid to rest in St. Paul’s Cathedral along­side Nelson’s tomb.
Peter was thanked for his inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive talk and he prom­ised to visit Probus again in the future when he has fin­ished his research into the Battle of Jutland.

Sheffield’s date with Hitler by Neil Anderson

Neil worked in the pub­li­city depart­ment of the town hall, and on the 70th anniversary of the Sheffield blitz, decided to write a book filled with recol­lec­tions of the blitz from people who lived through it.

The reason for the blitz was to wipe out the arma­ments factor­ies of the East end but the bombs were dropped on civil­ian areas in the sub­urbs and the town centre. A pos­sible explan­a­tion for this will be given later.

Sheffield people were aware and expect­ing a raid and the steel works had stepped up pro­duc­tion in the late 1930’s. Buildings were requisi­tioned for air raid shel­ters and many Anderson shel­ters were pro­duced for local homes.

There was not very much evac­u­ation of chil­dren at this time and many of the women were work­ing in the steel works.

When war was declared ini­tially theatres and enter­tain­ment centres were closed, but then after having no air attacks and hear­ing sirens scream­ing for many nights without an attack, cit­izens became rather blase.

In autumn 1940, Hitler decided to bomb Britain and London, Liverpool and Bristol were hit. There was still no bomb­ing in Sheffield and early on December 12th people were going out to the cinemas, clubs and pubs as usual. The sirens soun­ded at 7 p.m. and no-one bothered to take shel­ter. Down came the bombs, wave after wave of bombers, until 4 a.m.the next morn­ing when the all-clear was soun­ded.

Devastation had hit the city centre, Atkinson’s, Cockayne’s, Redgates, C & A and Walsh’s were all flattened. Outlying sub­urbs of Gleadless, Nether Edge, Owlerton, Intake etc. were all hit. It was estim­ated that 2,000 people were killed and a tenth of the pop­u­la­tion were made home­less. One of the biggest losses of life was at The Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. It was packed with people, none of whom sur­vived. The heat was so intense that a pile of coins were fused together. Fire crews came from Barnsley and Doncaster to help.The City Hall sur­vived, a bomb dropped nearby landed in a water tank!

Lots of emer­gency centres were set up e.g. at High Storrs School, and advice centres were able to give help to many people. Atkinson’s and other stores opened small out­lets at vari­ous loc­a­tions through­out the city. Although the ledger, stat­ing vari­ous cus­tomer debts, was des­troyed people still turned up to pay off their debts.

There is a dis­play of the Sheffield blitz in the Doncaster Aero Museum, and recently, due to the efforts of Neil Anderson, the Heritage Lottery gave a grant of £90,000 to hold an exhib­i­tion in the old fire sta­tion. Among the exhib­its are the fused coins found in the ruins of The Marples Hotel and videos of people who exper­i­enced the blitz.

Knickebein.….… The Germans developed a system of “beams” — an enhance­ment of the pre­vi­ous “lorenz” system which were meth­ods of “blind land­ing aids” used to help air­craft to approach an air­port at night. The Knickebein system sent two beams from power­ful trans­mit­ters at dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions on main­land Europe. These beams were cal­cu­lated to inter­cept over the bomb­ing zone in England. The English, under Churchill’s dir­ec­tion, devised coun­ter­meas­ures which “bent” the beams away from the target area. This would explain why so many bombs were dropped in civil­ian areas rather than the steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in the east end.

Sheffield Botanical Gardens — Alison Hunter — 4th December 2017.

Courtesy of Sheffield Botanical Gardens

In 1833 a peti­tion was sent to the Master Cutler (Thomas Dunn) by the Town Trust regard­ing the estab­lish­ment of a garden for the people of Sheffield. This was approved by the newly formed Town Council in 1843.
A share hold­ers’ scheme was set up and shares sold to the public. Unfortunately the scheme went bust in 1897 and they were bought by Frederick Mappin who was the leader of the Town Trust. Eventually the Sheffield City Council became owners in 1951 and are still the present man­agers.
Robert Marnock was the first cur­ator and he designed the gar­dens into a nat­ural tree landscape-many trees being planted on mounds which are still in evid­ence today.

The main gate. Courtesy of Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

The main gate­way was designed by Ben Broomhead Taylor in1848 when the curator’s house was also built.
Samuel Osbourne (chair of the Sheffield Town Trust donated Osbourne Fields to enlarge the gar­dens in 1934.


The old bear pit . Courtesy of Sheffield Botanical Gardens

A fea­ture of the gar­dens is the Bear Pit. It was never used for bear bait­ing but for a public attrac­tion where the bears had a large tree trunk in the middle of the pit to climb up.

The FOBS ( Friends of the Botanical Gardens)was formed in 1984) This is a volun­teer group of nearly 100 mem­bers who play a vital role in man­aging the gar­dens and, after spend­ing many years in a prefab build­ing, got a new pur­pose built centre cost­ing 2 mil­lion pounds. The money being raised by public dona­tions and char­it­able trusts.
The new build­ing was opened by the Duke of Devonshire in 2017.

Don Williams was cur­ator during the 80’s and 90’s leav­ing in 1990. Much of his good work was neg­lected and the gar­dens deteri­or­ated.
After a big reor­gan­isa­tion they were re- designed and and opened by Michael Palin in 2008.
The gar­dens also fea­ture a statue of “Pan” (donated by Charles Clifford) and a memorial statue to the Crimean War.

The con­ser­vatries. Courtesy of Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

In WW2 the con­ser­vat­or­ies were badly dam­aged, and after  a lot­tery fund­ing of 5 mil­lion plus 1.3 mil­lion raised by the Trust and dona­tions world wide, the con­ser­vat­or­ies were re built.( Most of the glass panels were hand made ) Prince Charles opened the new build­ing in 2003.

With regard to the gar­dens them­selves they are divided into many dif­fer­ent areas.
Nursery area:  Here Sheffield Uni holds plant trials and they devised a plant­ing scheme for the London Olympics.

Prairie garden:   Started in 2004 dis­play­ing swathes of meadow plants and grasses.

Evolution Garden:  Where the fos­sil­ised tree stump(found at Attercliffe) is dis­played and also fea­tures ancient plants ie Ginko and Dawn red­wood.

Mediterranean Garden:  Featuring plants from Australia, Chile and California. These thrive in a micro cli­mate caused by the area being sheltered and south facing.

Himalayan Garden:  Where Chris Chardwell brough back seeds from Himalayan plants which he ger­min­ated and then planted them in the garden.

The garden also holds the National Collection of Weigellias, , Dervilla, and Sarcococca.

The gar­dens are a delight to visit and Sheffielders should be very proud of them and appre­ci­ate all the work that has gone into them over many years.

Alison’s talk was much appre­ci­ated by the club, which was evid­ent by the number of ques­tions she was asked and the round of applause at the end.

Sheffield’s Women at Work in World War 1 — Dr. Sylvia Dunkley — 2nd October 2017.


Doctor Sylvia Dunkley moved to Sheffield in 1982 and was involved in run­ning an atom­ising sys­tems busi­ness with her hus­band.  She had a pas­sion for his­tory and even­tu­ally took a his­tory degree.

Before the war, the main female occu­pa­tion in Sheffield was 32.3% domestic and 22.4% in man­u­fac­tur­ing metal goods.  When the war com­menced many women became unem­ployed because of the col­lapse of the tra­di­tional indus­tries due to men leav­ing for the war.

In London, Queen Mary’s work­rooms were star­ted in order to give women employ­ment.  They knit­ted, darned and made rugs.

Sheffield became a large centre for the hos­pit­al­isa­tion of wounded sol­diers.  There was a huge demand for nurses and the army took over many places in Sheffield and changed their use to hos­pit­als.  The base hos­pital was centred on Ecclesall Road, in all 4,600 beds were estab­lished. Apart from  this, beds were provided at Carter Knowle School (115); Lydgate (130); Greystones (150).  Other affil­i­ated insti­tu­tions provided another 2,000 beds for less ser­i­ous cases.

Due to the short­age of man power, women were trained in cler­ical posts in banks and busi­nesses. Teachers, who once had to leave their jobs on mar­ry­ing, were allowed to stay on.

As trans­port was needed to ferry women work­ers to the factor­ies and the fact that 1,500 men had left to join the army, the tram ser­vice was severely stretched.  Women were  trained as conductors/drivers and, with agree­ment from the unions, were employed under the same wages and con­di­tions as men, who would get their jobs back on return from the war.  By the end of the war there were over 1000 women tram work­ers in Sheffield.

The postal ser­vices were also taken over by women.  73% of sort­ing office staff and most of the tele­gram and postal work­ers’ jobs were taken by women. Post Office tele­gram girls were recruited and based in sub-post offices around the city and would deliver tele­grams by hand by walk­ing or catch­ing a tram to each address.

Women were also employed as window clean­ers, crane drivers, meter read­ers and street clean­ers.

In 1915 there was a short­age of shells at the front.  Lloyd George (head of muni­tions) con­ver­ted factor­ies to make muni­tions.  He called them “National Projectile Factories”.  Hatfields and Thomas Firth were examples of such factor­ies.

Making shell cases involved 25 dif­fer­ent oper­a­tions and  each woman would do one stage only. Most import­ant were the shell exam­iners whose job it was to ensure that the cal­ibre was per­fect (oth­er­wise the shell would misfire/explode).  Newton Chambers made over 14,000 shell cases per week.  Only the shell cases were made in Sheffield, the task of filling them with explos­ives was done in more remote parts of the coun­try for obvi­ous reas­ons.

At the end of the war the men took back their jobs that they had left and the women returned to their pre­vi­ous employ­ment.  Thus, Sheffield women  played an essen­tial part in the war effort.

Sylvia was thanked for her present­a­tion which we all agreed was very inform­at­ive.

Resuscitation and defibrillation

Helen Till, a retired clin­ical nurse, now has a new role as a resus­cit­a­tion officer in the hos­pital envir­on­ment.

She men­tioned that in the UK every year, 30,000 cases of sudden car­diac arrest (SCA) occur.

  • Survival rate is less than one in ten
  • Death is inev­it­able unless SCA recog­nised promptly, CPR com­men­ded and defib­ril­la­tion per­formed


  • What is a car­diac arrest?  The heart has stopped pump­ing blood to the body and brain, the person will fall uncon­scious and stop breath­ing.  Without CPR the person will die within minutes
  • How does CPR help?   By per­form­ing chest com­pres­sions (and rescue breaths) this pumps blood and oxygen around the body.
  • Is a car­diac arrest the same as a heart attack?  No — they are not the same — a heart attack can lead to a car­diac arrest but both are med­ical emer­gen­cies and it is neces­sary to call 999

Most SCA cases are due to abnor­mal heart rhythm.  The major factor lim­it­ing sur­vival is that SCA and AED (defib­ril­lator) are used within the crit­ical time (con­di­tions are optimal only for a few minutes after the onset but can be exten­ded by effect­ive CPR.

Defibrillation helps by deliv­er­ing a high energy elec­tric shock to the heart through the chest wall  and chest com­pres­sions also help.

Survival of an SCA is pos­it­ively asso­ci­ated with:

  • Witness col­lapse
  • Early CPR by bystand­ers
  • Presence of shock­able rhythm
  • Short time from col­lapse to start of CPR
  • Short time from col­lapse to AED

Do CPR until ambu­lance arrives.

Helen demon­strated on a man­nekin how to apply CPR and use a defib­ril­lator. The AED, when activ­ated, gave recor­ded instruc­tion at every step.  It told how and where to place the pads which had to be applied to bare skin.

Members of the club volun­teered to per­form the tech­nique on the man­nekin and were amazed at how much effort was required to do the CPR.

There were mul­tiple ques­tions from the floor and Helen answered them all.  She was thanked for her invalu­able talk and demon­stra­tions.

Rotten Boroughs — Paul Humphries — 5th June 2017.

(This blog will be short and con­densed, as to refer to names men­tioned in Paul’s talk, could be to the det­ri­ment of the club!)

Paul gave us an inter­est­ing talk into “behind the scenes activ­it­ies” in many local coun­cils, and how the media has been involved in expos­ing mal­prac­tices.

Some local coun­cils work hard and others  have been involved in cor­rupt prac­tices and should have been brought to account.

Paul men­tioned that the “Private Eye” pub­lic­a­tion was report­ing many cases of alleged cor­rup­tion but the stor­ies were not taken up by the national press and thus the prac­tices were allowed to con­tinue.

Accounts of misuse of coun­cil money were many, accord­ing to Paul. It has been known for coun­cil­lors to arrange expens­ive trips to places such as Chicago, Japan and Africa on the pre­text of attend­ing meet­ings which would have little impact on the lives of people in their con­stitu­en­cies.

Paul was a freel­ance journ­al­ist for The Guardian news­pa­per and repor­ted the “Donnygate Affair” in full.  To demon­strate how some coun­cils abused funds there was much abuse of small amounts. For example, Paul related that he knew of one coun­cil­lor in Doncaster who had been to a con­fer­ence in Torquay, then moved on to a con­fer­ence in Bournemouth, and then yet another con­fer­ence, this time in Eastbourne, and had run out of clean shirts. The solu­tion to the prob­lem was that a member of Doncaster coun­cil staff was instruc­ted to deliver a clean shirt to him in Eastbourne.  Thus he trav­elled to the South Coast with the said shirt and had an overnight stay all at the tax­pay­ers expense!  (Why didn’t the coun­cil­lor buy a new shirt in Eastbourne?)

The Donnygate scan­dal was the worst case of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion since the Poulson scan­dal in the 1970’s.  With Donnygate, two former coun­cil lead­ers, two former mayors and twenty-one coun­cil­lors were con­victed of fraud.  The unrav­el­ling of the scan­dal owed a lot to Ron Rose, a local res­id­ent and former coun­cil­lor.  He approached the media and a three-year police enquiry was launched.  Senior civil ser­vants had to be brought to Doncaster to run local gov­ern­ment.

In Lincolnshire (a Conservative-run coun­cil), the leader of a county coun­cil had the route of a £25 mil­lion road scheme redrawn to boost the value of his land was jailed for 18 months.

Paul men­tioned how a coun­cil­lor in Rotherham spent money from an anti-poverty fund set up to alle­vi­ate poverty in the former coalfield areas.  This money was spent on tick­ets to race meet­ings, foot­ball matches, pros­ti­tutes and, in all, £172,000 was taken from the anti-poverty fund to be spent on coun­try jaunts and booze binges.

Andrew Norfolk, chief invest­ig­at­ive reporter of The Times, received “Journalist of the Year 2014” award for his invest­ig­a­tion into the wide­spread exploit­a­tion of teen­age girls in north­ern England.

Thus many wrongs can be righted by good journ­al­ism.

Paul answered many ques­tions from the floor and was thanked for his inter­est­ing account.