All posts by Roger Ward

The True Story Of Burke And Hare — Prof. Christopher Dorries OBE. — 30th October 2017.

Prof. Christopher Dorries OBE.

The true story of Burke and Hare was nar­rated to us in a most riv­et­ing way by Christopher Dorries  and this precis does not do it justice.  The title con­tains the word,“True” because there have been many stor­ies about them which are largely inac­cur­ate.  Firstly they all say that Burke and Hare were grave rob­bers, which they weren’t. They just com­mit­ted murder for a busi­ness. Secondly the stor­ies do not include Dr Knox who played a key role in the whole sordid affair.

Burke and Hare

The story starts in Edinburgh in 1828, not among the fine build­ings of Princess Street but in the slums around West Gate. Burke and Hare lived in a lodging house run by Mrs Hare, which was, in itself, a very seedy place. One night, a tenant known as ‘Old Donald’ died in bed owing Mrs Hare £4.00 which was most unfor­tu­nate.

Now Edinburgh was famous for the study of ana­tomy and emin­ent sur­geons demon­strated their skills to stu­dents, who had paid the required fee, cash in hand in oper­at­ing theatres at the uni­ver­sity, using human corpses. As one can ima­gine these were hard to come by legit­im­ately and sur­geons would pay a high price for one,

Dr Knox.

Old Donald’ was an itin­er­ant with no known rel­at­ives, so Burke and Hare decided to sell his body to the uni­ver­sity to recoup some of the money. As it turned out a Dr Knox was very pleased to pay between £7.50 and £10.00 for the body and said that if they came across any­more lying about in the gutter he would gladly have them.

Burke and Hare saw this as a busi­ness oppor­tun­ity and rather than go grave rob­bing and risk get­ting beaten up they decided to simply murder their vic­tims without mark­ing their bodies. They did this by get­ting their chosen prey drunk and then taking them back to the lodging house where they dis­patched them by suf­foc­a­tion or burk­ing as it became known.

Two of their vic­tims were Mary Patterson, only 18 years old and James Wilson, again only 18 years old but known as being men­tally sub­nor­mal and called ‘Daft Jamie’. Mary was strik­ingly beau­ti­ful and so ini­tially Dr Knox pre­served her body in whisky and kept her for  artists and stu­dents as a model“for the best illus­tra­tion of female form and mus­cu­lar devel­op­ment”. Mary was recog­nised almost straight away by the male stu­dents because she earned her living by pros­ti­tu­tion and doubt­less sev­eral had used her ser­vices.

Daft Jamie’ was murdered in the usual way but when his body was unpacked at the uni­ver­sity he also was recog­nised straight away so Dr Knox instruc­ted one of his assist­ants to remove the head and feet to hide his iden­tity, which was some­thing unheard of.

By this time Dr Knox Knew that Burke and Hare weren’t just lucky in find­ing bodies but he turned a blind eye so that he could have a steady supply. They murdered between 16 and 20 people over a period  of 10 months, February  to November in 1828 but this has been exag­ger­ated to 30. They finally came unstuck when they murdered an Irish beggar known as Mary Docherty.

A new coupled arrived at the lodging house and found her body under the bed. They went to the police but when they returned the body had gone. The police were sus­pi­cious of Dr Knox and so they went to his ana­tomy premises and found Dr Knox, Burke, Hare and the body of Mary Docherty.

Dr Knox denied that he had any know­ledge that the body was a murder victim and the police accep­ted this but Burke, Hare and their wives were locked up. However suf­foc­a­tion in those days was dif­fi­cult to prove and evid­ence was flimsy, so the police did a deal with Hare who turned King’s evid­ence for his free­dom. Hare and his wife test­i­fied against Burke  and his ‘wife’, Helen McDougal. Burke was found guilty and sen­tenced to the gal­lows but the ver­dict for Helen McDougal was ‘not proven’ and she was released.

The Public Hanging Of Burke.

He was hanged in public at the end of January 1829 when a crowd of many thou­sands watched. He had a slow death, whether by design or acci­dent because the hang­man moved the knot and his neck wasn’t broken, he just strangled on the rope.

Among the crowd was a woman called Maria Grotzholz, known to us as Madam Tussaud and a wax­work of Burke was on show in Liverpool within two weeks of his exe­cu­tion.


The mem­bers of Stumperlowe Probus were enthralled by the talk and asked many ques­tions. Unfortunately some of detail has been left out but I hope you have been given an insight into the excel­lent present­a­tion by Prof. Christopher Dorries OBE.

Wild Sheffield — Ben Keywood — 21st August 2017.

Sheffield and Rotherham were once known as two of the dirti­est cities in the UK due to both gen­eral pol­lu­tion and smoke pol­lu­tion. I worked at a firm called Edgar Allen Steel Ltd., and one of the spe­cial steels we pro­duced was called AlNiCo, a per­man­ent magnet steel. It had a very low carbon con­tent of less than 0.02% and the only way we could achieve this was to blow oxygen into the molten steel, prior to tap­ping. This caused enorm­ous amounts of carbon diox­ide to be given off which was then fol­lowed by vast clouds of iron oxide, res­ult­ing in  dust particles  rain­ing down over the East end of Sheffield unchecked. Most of the steel com­pan­ies employed sim­ilar tech­niques without giving it a second thought. They also used river water for cool­ing and dumped chem­ical waste into them.

The forges  used steam ham­mers and the rolling mills were driven by steam engines;  all this steam was pro­duced by burn­ing coal. In addi­tion to this every house­hold had at least two coal fires because cent­ral heat­ing was a luxury.

This all began to change how­ever when the “Clean Air Act” of 1956 came into force. Clean air zones came into force pro­hib­it­ing the burn­ing of coal; firms had to install dust col­lec­tion and gas wash­ing sys­tems, and if water was extrac­ted from rivers  for cool­ing pur­poses it had to be returned to the river cleaner than when it was taken out.

Time has passed now and Sheffield and Rotherham are very n cities, looked over by the “Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust”. There are 47 such trusts through­out the UK which are nor­mally related to the county in which they oper­ate but, Sheffield and Rotherham dis­trict are the excep­tion.

The dis­trict has at present, thir­teen nature reserves which the trust man­ages.

Blacka Moor

Blacka Moor, con­sist­ing of 181 hec­tares of moor­land and wood is the largest and most spec­tac­u­lar of the Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves. Here you can see red deer, the UK’s largest and most majestic mammal.~

Blackburn Meadows

Blackburn Meadows was once the site for the Tinsley sewage farm which pro­cessed all the sewage from Sheffield. Now it is a stun­ning nature reserve with two lakes, attract­ing over 140 spe­cies of birds. Nestled in the indus­trial heart­land it is def­in­itely a place to visit.

Centenary Riverside

Centenary Riverside was con­struc­ted on the site of one of the largest steel pro­du­cers in the area. It acts as a flood plane to min­im­ise flood­ing in both the res­id­en­tial and indus­trial area of Rotherham. The past has not been for­got­ten. Large blocks of steel which have been dug up have been used to create “Steel Henge” and old indus­trial found­a­tions have become hab­it­ats for many spe­cies of birds.

Other nature reserves within the region are:

  • Woodhouse Washlands
  • Fox Hagg
  • Wyming Brook
  • Greno Woods
  • Crabtree Ponds
  • Moss Valley Woodlands
  • Salmon Pastures
  • Sunnybank
  • Carr House Meadows
  • Carbrook Ravine

The Trust man­ages the nature reserves by build­ing and main­tain­ing foot­paths, fences, bridges, gates and many other things so that the public can visit and enjoy the reserves whilst at the same time making them places for wild life to flour­ish.

The Trust depends upon its mem­bers and volun­teers and act­ively encour­ages mem­ber­ship to fur­ther there cause.

Ken is a very enthu­si­astic and know­ledge­able speaker and kept the club’s atten­tion through­out.

To really appre­ci­ate how lucky we are, living in this region it is worth­while vis­it­ing the web­site of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust at

The UK Hospice Movement And Our Local Blue Bell Wood Hospice — Angie Beasley — 24th July 2017.

Angie Beasley.

Angie Beasley is a Child and Family Co-ordinator at the Blue Bell Wood chil­drens hos­pice, near Sheffield, where she has worked for the past eight years since its open­ing. Prior to that she has worked in other adult hos­pices in the UK.

Angie explained that the word “hos­pice” first began to be used in the mid 1800s in France and referred to the caring of dying patients. It was later taken up by Irish Sisters of Charity when they opened Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin, Ireland in 1879. However hos­pices did not become more widely known until 1967 when Dame Cicely Saunders foun­ded St Christopher’s House. Having said that St Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield exis­ted many years before that to my know­ledge.

Angie explained that Helen House, based on the out­skirts of Oxford was the first children’s hos­pice, open­ing in November 1982, and now there are 49 through­out the UK.

Blue Bell Wood Hospice came about as the result of the care provided to a ter­min­ally ill boy called Richard Cooper, aged 10. No children’s hos­pice exis­ted in the area at that time and Richard’s par­ents stayed at his bed­side through­out his fre­quent visits to hos­pital, slept in chairs and bought food in from out­side of the hos­pital. Richard spent his final few weeks at home and died on the 13th March 1997, aged 11.

A char­ity was estab­lished in 1998 to help fam­il­ies in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire who needed care and sup­port out­side of the hos­pital envir­on­ment, and after a lot of fund rais­ing Blue Bell Wood hos­pice for chil­dren and young adults opened its doors on the 19th September 2008.

Originally it was inten­ded that the hos­pice should be built in Doncaster at the exist­ing adult Hospice of St John’s in Doncaster but there was an issue with bats on the site and so, even­tu­ally it was decided that it would be built at Cramafit Road in North Anston, Sheffield.

It is built in six  and a half acres of land and is in the shape of a large horse shoe. There are eight en-suite bed­rooms for the children/ young adults on one leg of the horse shoe and eight en-suite bed­rooms for the fam­il­ies of the chil­dren on the other, plus two com­plete apart­ments for a child/young adult and family on the end of each wing of the build­ing. These are named “Primrose” and Forget-me-not suites. The expres­sion child/young adult is used because the age of the patients can range from just a few hours up to 25 years old.

The Hospice is sur­roun­ded by beau­ti­ful gar­dens includ­ing a Dragonfly Remembrance Garden which was built by Alan Titchmarsh and the team from ITV’s ‘Love Your Garden’. The garden is suit­able for wheel­chairs and has a veget­able patch, a giant chess set, a play­house and a shaded area for hot days.

The hos­pice  believes in gen­er­at­ing love, laughter and some happy memor­ies at  this cru­cial stage of life. It  is cur­rently sup­port­ing around 250 fam­il­ies, both in their own homes and at the hos­pice in North Anston, Sheffield.

Angie and her team provide coun­selling to indi­vidu­als and fam­il­ies for as short or as long as required, with each ses­sion last­ing one hour and both the hos­pice and the coun­selling is abso­lutely free. She also organ­ises dis­cus­sion groups where par­ents can come, dis­cuss and share their feel­ings and emo­tions  that they have exper­i­enced and are exper­i­en­cing, to draw strength from other par­ents in the same situ­ation.

All this comes at a cost which is cur­rently run­ning at over £4 mil­lion  a year to keep the doors open. 10% of this comes from stat­utory gov­ern­ment sources, 1% from the local author­ity and the rest from fund rais­ing.

Angie’s talk can only be described as both emo­tional and riv­et­ing, with many ques­tions being asked both during and after the talk.

This text does not really do justice to her talk but you can learn more about Blue Bell Wood children’s hos­pice by click­ing on the link “Blue Bell Wood”

A Visit to The Sheffield University Diamond Building — 26th April 2017.

Exterior view of the build­ing.

Thanks to Graham Snowdon, our sec­ret­ary, eleven mem­bers enjoyed a very edu­ca­tional visit to the Sheffield University’s latest and most expens­ive build­ing, the Diamond Building. It gets its name from the out­side facade which is dec­or­ated with dia­mond pat­terns. Some people hate it and others love it. At least it makes a state­ment. It is a sci­ence and engin­eer­ing, teach­ing and research facil­ity, with the emphasis on Research.

It has four floors and a base­ment which house:

  • Student-Led learn­ing spaces.
  • 4 com­puter labor­at­or­ies.
  • 9 lec­ture theatres.
  • 3 work rooms.
  • 17 engin­eer­ing labor­at­or­ies.

The whole interior is designed to have an open spa­cious feel about it and max­imum use is made of nat­ural light. The cent­ral sec­tion of the build­ing is open with study pods on stilts to allow the nat­ural light to come down from the ceil­ing.

Each study  pod has two levels, an inner level for quiet study, and an open top study area.

Most of the labor­at­or­ies are around the cent­ral space and on sev­eral floors, whilst the lec­ture theatres are con­fined to the base­ment.

The group look­ing into a lec­ture theatre.

The build­ing is open for stu­dent study 24 hours a day,  7 days a week and it has the capa­city to cater for 4,300 stu­dents.

The visit lasted approx­im­ately 2 to 2.1/2 hours with some mem­bers trying their hand at flying on the flight sim­u­lat­ors.

It was an excel­lent morn­ing for the mem­bers that atten­ded and our grate­ful thanks must go to the uni­ver­sity staff who were so accom­mod­at­ing.










Sheffield University- The Opening Ceremony – Prof. Clyde Binfield – 14th November 2016.


Professor Clyde Binfield.

Professor Clyde Binfield is a Cambridge gradu­ate and taught for many years in the History Department at the Sheffield University. He was intro­duced as a Kentish man by the Chairman but was soon cor­rec­ted by Clyde saying that he was a man from Kent, which, we were informed, is entirely dif­fer­ent.

His talk was an account of the open­ing cere­mony of the Sheffield University on the 12th of July 1905 by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra which can only be described as a very extra­vag­ant affair.

At the begin­ning of his talk he said that he had given it many years earlier, when he was still work­ing at the University and at that time it was accom­pan­ied by copi­ous slides and a video. However since his retire­ment they have gone miss­ing and he gave the talk without any visual aids at all. Did that deter from the present­a­tion? Not at all. We were all riv­eted to our seats from begin­ning to end.

As an intro­duc­tion he read out a Canadian  journalist’s account of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales visit in 1909 for the open­ing of the Edgar Allen Library at the University. It was not the steel­works, guns, canons, armour plate or the type foundry that caught the atten­tion, but the blank life­less faces, tooth­less mouths of women, men and chil­dren star­ing up from the streets and down from the win­dows. He described them as zom­bies: class dis­tinc­tion by bone struc­ture.

The descrip­tion of the visit of the King and Queen just four years pre­vi­ous was entirely dif­fer­ent. It was said that Sheffield was made up of a very organ­ised soci­ety. It boas­ted two papers, The Independent and The Sheffield Telegraph, both of which gave won­der­ful accounts. There was also a 48 page pro­gramme avail­able for the visit, most of which was taken up by adverts by vari­ous drapers, tail­ors, mil­liners, health shops, mer­chants, hotels, food halls, drink man­u­fac­tur­ers, funeral dir­ect­ors and depart­ment stores. It was noted that Coles, Banners and the Co-operative stores did not advert­ise because they had a Methodist inclin­a­tion, whilst John Walsh and the Oldham fur­niture store did.

Listening to the descript­ive, flowery lan­guage and unbe­liev­able claims of the advert­ise­ments was highly enter­tain­ing, but one could ima­gine that gull­ible people of the time  would have been easily taken in by them.

The pro­gramme con­tained a group pho­to­graph of six dig­nit­ar­ies, the Duke of Norfolk who was the University’s first Chancellor, Jonas who was the Master Cutler and Lord Mayor, Vice Chancellor, Hicks and Vice Chancellor Elect, Elliot. There was also Alderman Franklin and Alderman Clegg.  Franklin became the second Lord Mayor and Clegg the third.

There were two com­mit­tees to organ­ise the event, the first one con­tained 111 mem­bers and the second just 18 to sort out the final details.

The domed dais in the quad­rangle.

On the day of the open­ing, the 12th of July the King and Queen arrived  at the L.M.S. sta­tion, now known as the Midland Station and were taken by a pro­ces­sion of car­riages to the Town Hall for Luncheon at 1:35 pm. There were two lunch­eons, the Royal lunch­eon con­sist­ing of 50 dig­nit­ar­ies and the non-Royal lunch­eon con­sist­ing of 150 guests. The lunch­eons ended at 2:20 pm and all pro­cessed in car­riages up to Western Bank, to the University’s new quad­rangle in which a domed dais had been built for the occa­sion of the open­ing cere­mony.

At 2:40 pm the Duke of Norfolk as Chancellor received the King in front of 3000 people.

The King said: “I have great pleas­ure in declar­ing these beau­ti­ful build­ings open and in express­ing my fer­vent hope and desire for the long con­tin­ued prosper­ity of The University of Sheffield.”

At 3:10 pm, all moved to Western Park where more than 4000 people enjoyed a ‘ tea party’.

The Battle of the Somme 100 Years On — Anthony Bolton — 4th July 2016.

At the out­break of the first World War Herbert Henry Askwith was not only Prime Minister he was also the Secretary of State for War, which was not accept­able and so the pos­i­tion of Secretary of State for War was taken over by Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener. He inher­ited a greatly under­staffed army because up to that time Britain relied upon its navy and did not see the need for great land forces.

A Recruiting Poster Of Earl Kitchener

On the 7th of August 1914 Kitchener star­ted to recruit a new army called K1, con­sist­ing of 100,000 volun­teers and he adop­ted the policy of those who joined together would serve together. This cre­ated  ‘Pals Battalions’, which con­sisted of 1,000 men.  A. L. Fisher who was Chancellor of the Sheffield University arranged for the University Officer Training Corps to parade in the city centre and recruit en-masse. Sheffield man­aged to form one bat­talion of 1,000 men whilst Barnsley man­aged to form two pals bat­talions. This was prob­ably because the Sheffield bat­talion were referred to as toffs with white cuffs and shiny wrist watches.

The First Parade At Norfolk Barracks.

The first parade was sup­posed to be at Norfolk bar­racks which was only designed for a few hun­dred men and so the parade was moved to the Sheffield United foot­ball ground at Bramhall Lane, much to the dis­gust of the grounds­man, who was not pleased at seeing the ground churned up by sev­eral hun­dred drilling recruits.

The Sheffield Corporation quickly designed and built bar­racks to hold the recruits at Redmires which they occu­pied from the 5th December 1914 to the 15th August 1915. On the 31st July they went to Rippon for rifle train­ing and from the 21st to 22nd of December they bordered HMT Malakoda to go to the Suez Canal as rein­force­ments. On the 16th March 1916 they were trans­ferred to Marseilles in read­i­ness for trench war­fare in the Somme.

The object of the battle of the Somme was to relieve pres­sure on the French who were being attacked at Verdon, East of Paris. The object­ive of the battle was to make the Germans remove troops from Verdon and redeploy them as rein­force­ments along their front line on the Somme.

The battle was com­manded by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Hague and General Henry Rawlinson over a 25 mile front. Field Marshal Hague wanted a heavy pro­longed artil­lery bom­bard­ment fol­lowed by a sur­prise sweep­ing attack to gain as much ground as pos­sible and to punch a hole in the German lines. General Rawlinson how­ever wanted to attack in small bites and con­sol­id­ate his pos­i­tion each time. Field Marshal Hague was in over­all charge and so his plan was imple­men­ted. The German army con­sisted of 3 lines with very deep trenches and bomb proof shel­ters stretch­ing back over sev­eral miles and Field Marshal Hague wanted to take two in one bite.

A week before the start of the battle the bom­bard­ment star­ted and in all 1,738,000 shells were fired. During this period the Germans went down into the rel­at­ive safety of their shel­ters and when the shelling stopped they came up ready to fight using machine guns which mowed the allied troops down. Hunter’s 8th corps 31st divi­sion con­tained the Sheffield Battalion and these occu­pied the most for­ward pos­i­tion in the line.

The Thiepval Memorial

On the 1st of July 1916 the battle com­menced and on the first day of the battle there were 57,000 British cas­u­al­ties and of those 19,200 were killed. The battle lasted 140 days and claimed 419,654 British, 204,253 French and 500,000 German cas­u­al­ties. This enabled the allied front line to move for­ward just 6 miles.


Memorial to Sheffield City bat­talion at Sheffield Memorial Park, Serre.

It is a sober­ing thought to com­pare these fig­ures with the size of the British army today, which is a total of 144,900 troops made up of  89,860 reg­u­lar, 25,010 army reserves and 30,030 reg­u­lar reserves.

If noth­ing else this battle showed the total futil­ity of trench war­fare.



This short extract does not do justice to the very pro­fes­sional present­a­tion by Anthony Bolton.