Category Archives: Talks

What do Councillors do all day? — Cliff Woodcraft — 21st Jan 2019

The title of this talk was in the form of a ques­tion which I could have partly answered before the meet­ing, having watched our Lib Dem coun­cil­lor Cliff Woodcraft trudging round the neigh­bour­hood in all weath­ers, at all hours, deliv­er­ing party polit­ical flyers and news­let­ters.

Whatever your polit­ical per­sua­sion, there could be no doubt­ing this man’s dogged determ­in­a­tion, but of course there is much more to being a coun­cil­lor than doing leaf­let drops.

Cllr Cliff Woodcraft

Cliff has been one of our three Fulwood coun­cil­lors since 2013. With 28 wards, Sheffield City Council is made up of 84 rep­res­ent­at­ives – 53 Labour, 22 Liberal Democrats, six Green Party and three UKIP mem­bers. He is deputy chair of the Children, Young People and Family Support Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee, and also a member of the Licensing Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, and Planning and Highways Committee. He has an attend­ance record of 88.5 per cent.

Cliff showed us a photo shoot of him and a group of Lib Dem col­leagues out­side the threatened Broomhill Library, where a passing local voter asked: “Why aren’t you at the coun­cil, debat­ing this?” Cliff explained that only around one day a month was spent in the coun­cil cham­ber at the Town Hall, and most of his time – for which he receives a sti­pend of £11,000 a year – is spent deal­ing with issues in the local com­munity.

Sheffield Town Hall

A full meet­ing of the coun­cil can be split into four cat­egor­ies – peti­tions from the public, ques­tions from the public, ques­tions from coun­cil­lors and debates. If a peti­tion regard­ing a local issue receives 5,000 sig­na­tures or more, it auto­mat­ic­ally qual­i­fies for a half-hour debate. If the busi­ness of the meet­ing over­runs, items coming towards the end of the meet­ing are voted on without being debated.

Sheffield City Council is a big busi­ness, with a budget for 2018–19 of £1,344 mil­lion. Education accounts for £319 mil­lion and adult social care for £229 mil­lion, while the cost of bor­row­ing alone is a stag­ger­ing £43 mil­lion a year, part of that down to the fact that we are still paying for the 1991 World Student Games.

Cliff did not pull his punches when it came to the city’s fin­an­cial affairs, describ­ing the Town Hall exten­sion which was built in 1977 and demol­ished 25 years later as “a waste of money and resources.”

He is proud of Sheffield’s record in keep­ing fam­il­ies together through the efforts of the Children, Young People and Family Support com­mit­tee. “We have a better record than most coun­cils,” he said.

Main coun­cil cham­ber

Day to day mat­ters which the Licensing Committee has to over­see include taxis, alco­hol and late-night enter­tain­ment, street trad­ing, food regis­tra­tion, animal wel­fare, char­ity, gambling and sexual enter­tain­ment. “If there is no objec­tion to a pro­posal, then it will be handled by a case officer, but if there is an objec­tion there would be a coun­cil debate,” he explained.

On Planning and Highways, reas­ons for turn­ing down plan­ning applic­a­tions include over­de­vel­op­ment, lack of park­ing, pri­vacy and poten­tial dis­turb­ance.

Cliff engages with his local voters through meet­ings, can­vassing, sur­veys, let­ters and leaf­lets. He is not a fan of sur­ger­ies – “If people have an issue, they will con­tact us,” he says. “There is no need to wait for a monthly sur­gery. I aim to see people within a couple of days.”

If you take that as an invit­a­tion, Cliff’s con­tact details (and these are all in the public domain) are Cllr Cliff Woodcraft, Sheffield City Council, Town Hall, Pinstone Street, Sheffield S1 2HH. E-mail: cliff.woodcraft@sheffield.gov.uk. Phone: 0114 230 3627.

Lead Poisoning in Sheffield 1885–1920 by Mike Collins on 14th January 2019

A lot of Sheffield water ori­gin­ates from Redmires Reservoir, which was built in the 1830’s.  Iron ore pipes were laid in the streets and lead pipes con­nec­ted to houses.  There were also lead-lined cisterns.

Sinclair White, in 1886, drew the author­it­ies’ atten­tion to the fact that lead pois­on­ing was more pre­val­ent from houses sup­plied by Redmires (i.e. those in Broomhill, Broomhall, Sharrow and Heeley) than those sup­plied from Strines, Agden, Dale Dike Reservoirs (Penistone Road, Wicker and Brightside).

M.O.H. Sinclalir White advised people not to drink water that had been stand­ing in lead pipes and cisterns but to flush the water before drink­ing.  Redmires water was very acidic and he advised that it should be brought into con­tact with lime­stone to reduce the acid­ity which was dis­solv­ing the lead from the pipes.

Various enquiry com­mit­tees were set up in 1890, and though the evid­ence that lead from the pipes caused lead pois­on­ing. It was opposed by Edward Eaton, an engin­eer of the Water Board.  The result of the enquiry was that the res­id­ents using Redmires water were liable to pois­on­ing and that cal­cium car­bon­ate, in the form of chalk, be added to the reser­voir water.  There was a delay, due to mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, vested interests and a change of the M.O.H.  This res­ul­ted in a peak of 169 patients with lead pois­on­ing being treated in hos­pital and it was thought that around 2000 people in Sheffield had got lead pois­on­ing.  The birth rate and fer­til­ity in Sheffield was at an all time low and the increase in pois­on­ing cases was due to a number of factors i.e. use of cheaper Spanish lead (more likely to dis­solve) and an explo­sion in house build­ing.

In recent times, 2014/15 a place called Flint, in Michigan, decided to save money by using water from the local River Flint instead of a more expens­ive supply from Detroit.  The Flint River water was very acidic and led to 10,000 cases of lead pois­on­ing and 12 deaths from Legionnaires dis­ease.  Phosphates were added and the supply of water rever­ted to that from Detroit.

The effects of lead pois­on­ing included:  blind­ness, kidney fail­ure, wrist-drop, mis­car­riages, abdom­inal pain and con­stip­a­tion.  The gums took on a blue shade (one third of people sup­plied by Redmires had blue gums.)

Another source of lead pois­on­ing was in cider making, lead being added as a sweetener.  In recent times the lead in paint was a hazard, tod­dlers chewed paint off lead-painted cots, caus­ing ill­ness.

In the early 20th cen­tury, pills con­tain­ing lead were advert­ised to women to pro­duce abor­tions. Lots of adverts in news­pa­pers were used to encour­age the sale of these pills.  Diachylon, a plaster made from plant juices and lead, was used to treat wounds but was com­monly used by women to bring on a mis­car­riage.

Thus lead in water was a primary cause of dis­ease in many cases during the period between 1890 and early 1900’s.

It is still estim­ated that 300,000 people around the world the world die from lead pois­on­ing.

The talk was very well received and many ques­tions put to the speaker who was thanked for his inter­est­ing present­a­tion.

 

 

 

BRITONS & BREXIT” Professor Anthony Taylor 7th January 2019

 

Our speaker this week, Antony Taylor, was Professor of Modern History at Sheffield Hallam University, a spe­cial­ist in polit­ics and cul­ture.  His topic could not have been more top­ical, as the cur­rent Brexit debate raged around us in Parliament and the media.

Tony emphas­ised from the start that his talk was not about the pros and cons of leav­ing the European Union and that he would try to give an even handed inter­pret­a­tion of events.  The present impasse, he argued, owed much more to long term traits in our (four) coun­tries’ char­ac­ter­ist­ics than to more recent con­cerns such as back­stops and con­trol of bor­ders. Brexit raised mul­tiple issues around British iden­tity and cul­ture and promp­ted ques­tions about the forces that shaped it.  It could even be argued that British atti­tudes to Europe go back to the events of 1066 and the Norman Conquest; the influ­ences from which still res­on­ate on Britons today.

Brexit had emphas­ised the frac­ture lines between London, its met­ro­pol­itan elite, and the rest of the coun­try, between cities and towns, sea­side and inland, the Celtic nations, young and old, gradu­ates and non-graduates.  There was now a crisis of ‘Britishness’ and con­fid­ence in many British Institutions had waned.  Many of our national insti­tu­tions com­manded the respect they once did.  The BBC, the Civil Service and the NHS were  under scru­tiny and even the Monarchy had had its dif­fi­cult moments.  At the same time we have wit­nessed the rise of Celtic nation­al­ism.  The 2015 General Election saw the SNP sweep the board in Scotland while the two main national parties emerged weaker with their pos­i­tion more fra­gile and divided.

At the same time there has been a revival of ‘Englishness’ if not entirely of the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ or rose-covered cot­tage, Morris dan­cing vari­ety.  A recent poll showed 70% of those who self-identity as English voted for Brexit; 70% of those who self-identify as British voted remain, espe­cially people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic back­ground. Englishness, Tony thought, was a more vis­ceral iden­tity than Britishness, quot­ing from Daniel Defoe’s ‘Trueborn Englishman’ :  “From this ill-born amphi­bi­ous mob began/that vain, ill-natured thing, an Englishman” and less the left felt neg­lected, from George Orwell and Billy Bragg.

Nothing has become of a pro­posed Yorkshire Parliament that could argue its case along the lines of those in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast.  Tony thought that the absence of bind­ing, gov­ern­ing insti­tu­tions that could be described as truly ‘English’ were a factor in Brexit voting and issues of regional con­cern were not being addressed in devolved Government agen­das: there had been a rebel­lion against power­less­ness.

Having com­pared the impact ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ on Brexit, Tony Taylor turned to events in our own life­time.  The present crisis of British nation­hood, he argued, began in the 1950s and 1960s. Again, there were ref­er­ences to lit­er­at­ure of the period which our speaker con­tras­ted to that writ­ten only eighty years earlier.  Sir John Seeleys “Expansion of England” (1883) and Joseph Chamberlain’s speeches with their pat­ri­otic talk of ‘Imperial fam­il­ies and mis­sion’ and ‘sons of Britain and Empire’ were matched against an era of with­drawal and decline, depic­ted in such offer­ings as John Manders “Great Britain or Little England?” and Kingsley Martins’s “Britain in the Sixties: The Crown and the Establishment” (both Penguins cost­ing 17.5p!).  The sun was set­ting and winds of change were blow­ing Union Jacks down, not just over Suez but in over 40 colon­ies around the world. Aden in 1967 was the last ‘colo­nial war’. It is unlikely today that any Dominion Prime Minister would declare him­self, like Sir Robert Menzies, ‘British to the boot­straps’. But it was, per­haps, an American, Dean Acheson, who summed it all up in 1962 “Britain is a coun­try that has lost an Empire but not yet found a role”.

And so we arrived at post-imperial Britain along with nos­tal­gic ‘Dad’s Army’ and Bruce Forsyth’s “Backing Britain” (both 1968). On the polit­ical front, Britain saw its future in Europe’s then Common Market finally join­ing in 1973.  It has always been a frac­tious rela­tion­ship with a ref­er­en­dum pro­du­cing the narrow ’Brexit’ vote of 2015.  Tony con­sidered that neither Europe nor the Commonwealth had been a sub­sti­tute for Empire, inter­est­ingly its loss of oppor­tun­it­ies being felt dis­pro­por­tion­ately in Scotland which could no longer feel part of the imper­ial endeav­our. Several prom­in­ent UKIP mem­bers such as Douglas Carswell, had an Imperial back­ground. Post-imperial Commonweath per­spect­ives how­ever, never entirely dis­ap­peared.  Michael Shanks, in “The Stagnant Society” (1961) believed that entry into the EEC had to be coun­ter­bal­anced by con­tinu­ing pref­er­en­tial trade with the Commonwealth.  That view per­sisted to this day but the world has moved on.

Tony Taylor con­cluded his talk with a brief resume of other factors which might have impacted on the Brexit vote.  These included broader and emer­ging trends in the modern world. Despite recent Russian resur­gence, the end of the Cold War in 1990 has led to a weak­en­ing of the old Atlantic view and the ‘spe­cial rela­tion­ship’. The US is now strug­gling to con­trols its interests and, in common with Europe, the rapid rise of China is an emer­ging threat.  National cul­tures are being washed away by glob­al­isa­tion lead­ing to enfeebled state sys­tems that struggle to con­trol mil­it­ant region­al­ists from Spain to Scotland.

Professor Taylor con­cluded his present­a­tion at that point and invited ques­tions. A ses­sion of about 30 minutes fol­lowed when a ride range of issues were dis­cussed, many being of the ‘how do we get back con­trol of our borders/money/laws’, ‘where do we go from here’ and ‘what hap­pens if’ ‘vari­et­ies.  It was a most stim­u­lat­ing and inter­est­ing morn­ing, for which our speaker received warm applause.

 

MICHAEL CLARKE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funny Turns — Returns” Dave Moylan 17th December 2018

How do you write a blog on a magi­cian? Well. Here goes.

This was Dave’s third end of year talk to us in suc­ces­sion, (which speaks for itself), put­ting us well and truly in the hol­i­day mood, with another, and dif­fer­ent, enter­tain­ing per­form­ance of magic, comedy and music.

As a Jeremy Corbyn look-alike, he star­ted with some magic involving cards, money and sleight of hand. Awesome!

Max Miller songs and jokes fol­lowed :-

- The boy who was told to stop biting his nails, or else he would get fat. He met a preg­nant lady and stared at her, and she said ‘What’s the matter with you?’. He replied ‘Nothing, but I know what you’ve been up to!’

- He was on Countdown once with the girl in the short skirt, who has taken over from Carol Vorderman. He got excited – a seven letter word.

The sum of the num­bers in three of the mem­bers birth dates didn’t quite tally with Dave’s pre­dic­tion, but he said he didn’t want to appear too pro­fes­sional! We should have low expect­a­tions, then we would enjoy it.

There were Charlie Chester songs, ‘Rainy Day’ and ‘Down in the Jungle’ and remin­is­cing over Ken Dodd, Chic Murray and Bob Monkhouse :-

  • A man with a long stick walked into a pub and the barman said ‘Are you a pole vaulter?’ He replied ‘ No I’m German, but how did you know my name was Walter?
  • A man bought a talk­ing dog. He took it into a pub and wagered the barman that he could talk, but the man couldn’t get the dog to talk, so he lost his money. When the man took the dog out­side, he said ‘Why didn’t you say some­thing?’ The dog replied ‘Just think how much more we will make when we go back inside tomor­row and take bets’
  • We’ve just had the 2 worst win­ters on record – Mike and Bernie!
  • A Chinese cook made a man an omelette. When he asked him how it was, he said ‘It’s rub­bery’. The Chinese cook replied ‘Thank you very much, I’m glad you liked it’
  • What’s the dif­fer­ence between a Chiropodist and a Drummer? Can you remem­ber? I can’t read my notes as I was laugh­ing too much!
  • During WW2 a couple were in bed when the air raid siren went. He couldn’t find his teeth, to which his wife said ‘We’re dodging bombs not eating pies’
  • A recruit for the army was having his med­ical, and the Doctor said ‘You’re not very well endowed’ to which he said ‘I thought we were only sup­posed to be fight­ing the Germans’.

Comedians have any­thing, includ­ing nuts and bolts, thrown at them, if they are not being well received. And who goes to the trouble to take a dead cat to a show, to throw at the enter­tainer? However, they can retali­ate with put downs :-

  • 2 rather large ladies heck­ling in the front row, to which Dave said ‘When is Cinderella coming?’
  • To another large lady giving him some grief he said ‘I know it’s rude to ask a lady her age, so how much do you weigh?’
  • Once he saw a lady crying her eyes out at his per­form­ance, so Dave said ‘Madam, I’m glad you are moved by my act’, to which she replied ‘Why don’t you…………!’
  • Dave had a mince pie once dir­ectly in the face. He thought ‘Either they are get­ting more accur­ate, or I’m get­ting slower’.
  • After a rous­ing couple of songs accom­pa­ny­ing him­self on the guitar, a lady was crying in the front row. He said ‘I’m glad you enjoyed that’. She said ‘I didn’t. I’m a musi­cian’.

Dave involved some unsus­pect­ing Probus mem­bers, seem­ingly des­troy­ing their £20 note, bam­booz­ling them with sleight of hand, and get­ting Graham to blow a bazooka! You should take it up pro­fes­sion­ally Graham! Only joking.

Some double-entendres were sprinkled in amongst the humour, magic and singing. I didn’t get any of them!?*

A very enter­tain­ing morn­ing, which sent us home smil­ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beekeeping. Peter Miles. 10th December 2018

The Honey Bee Show                 Peter Miles

 

Peter has been a bee-keeper for over 45 years and is still find­ing out how bees do what they do.

 

Imagine a com­puter that can fly, can nav­ig­ate to the inch over a dis­tance of ~7 miles and also con­tains a chem­ical fact­ory inside it.  This is a worker honey bee.

 

Honey bee work­ers col­lect nectar, pollen, water and propilis (a sticky resin).

Honey bees are dif­fer­ent from bumble bees.  Honey bees make honey to feed them over the winter, but bumble bees dont — they all die except the queen.

 

There is only one queen in the honey bee hive.  She is fed by the worker bees as she cannot feed her­self.  Her role is to pro­duce eggs to stock the hive with more bees.  A queen can lay up to 2000 eggs in a day so she needs a lot of food

 

There are many male bees, called drones.  Their role is simply to mate with the queen.

This mating takes place during a flight!  Several drones will mate with the queen on this flight. The drones gen­italia are ripped off during this mating and the drones die.  How lucky are the drones, who fol­lowed the queen in this flight, but never man­aged to mate!

 

Honey bee work­ers make the hexagonal cells in the hon­ey­combs from wax that is made by the bees them­selves. The bees must con­sume 8oz. of honey to make 1oz. of wax. 

The cells are used to store honey.  Honey is made from nectar, which is con­cen­trated by remov­ing water.  It is then filled into cells which are capped by wax made by the bel­lies of the work­ers from honey and chem­ic­als from inside the bees.  The caps are stuck on using propilis. 

Some cells are used as a breed­ing area where the eggs laid by the queen become larvae, then pupae, and then new bees. 

Pollen is also stored in the cells to feed the larvae.

The work­ers col­lect nectar and pollen to make larvae bread, which is absorbed by the larvae so they grow and pupate and emerge and are then fed by the work­ers.  After 12 days they get their wings and go out col­lect­ing in their turn.  Some of the work­ers stay at the exit to the hive and fan their wings to provide vent­il­a­tion to the hive.

Some work­ers act as guards to pro­tect the hive from pred­at­ors and other dangers.

 

On these col­lec­tion flights the bees are very import­ant pol­lin­at­ors of plants.  They also col­lect water to take back to the hive to reg­u­late the humid­ity and to dilute the food for the larvae.  A worker that has found a good source of nectar and pollen goes back to the hive and per­forms a wiggle dance to inform the rest of the work­ers of the dir­ec­tion and dis­tance to this new source.  The bees com­mu­nic­ate is this way because there is no light in the hive.  The other work­ers take on enough fuel to reach the source and follow the dir­ec­tions, 40 degrees to the Sun and 1.2 miles know­ing there will be enough fuel there for the return jour­ney. 

 

A bee can pro­tect itself by using its sting.  It will usu­ally attack the eyes and the ankles.

The sting is a sharp prong with a barbed tip.  The sting base is in a mus­cu­lar poison sac but when the bee stings the barbed tip causes the sac to be pulled out and the bee dies.

 

When the hive gets full and becomes crowded the queen will lay some queen eggs.  These egg larvae are fed with royal jelly until one pupates and  is ready to emerge.

When the new queen is born it kills the other queen cells by sting­ing them.

 

The old queen then vacates the hive, taking with her about half the hive pop­u­la­tion in a swarm.  They dont go far and often can be found hanging in a mass on a tree branch with the queen in the middle sur­roun­ded by her swarm.  They never go back to the ori­ginal hive, as if they have for­got­ten the pass­word or it has been changed.

 

Bees see flowers by ultra violet light  and also follow odours given out by flowers.

Good plants for bees are willow herbs, brambles, thistles, dan­deli­ons and clovers, but most nectar is col­lec­ted from trees like hawthorn and syca­more.  Many other flower­ing plants are useful to bees and they will travel up to 4 miles to col­lect nectar.

 

Each worker bee in her life­time col­lects only enough nectar to pro­duce one tea­spoon­ful of honey, but that would fuel her to make a flight around the world.

A 12 oz. jar of honey con­tains 72 tea­spoon­ful of honey and to fill that jar would need 26,705 bee visits, an approx­im­ate flying dis­tance of 25.000 miles.

 

The female bees are given the name work­ers because they are:

Cleaners and hygien­ists, keep­ing the hive and combs as clean as oper­at­ing theatres
Heaters, using body heat to main­tain hive tem­per­at­ure
Feeders, of larvae, pupae and emer­ging new work­ers, and feed­ers of drones
Feeders and attend­ants of the queen
Wax pro­du­cers 
Comb build­ers
Nectar pro­cessors
Guards
Undertakers
Ventilators
Hydrators
Collectors of nectar, pollen water and propilis

 

The expres­sion, As busy as a bee now takes on extra mean­ing for me!

A fas­cin­at­ing talk even though I am not keen on honey.

 

Deadlier than the Male” Chris Dorries OBE 3rd Dec 2018

 Chris Dorries has been Senior Sheffield Coroner since 1991. Sheffield has a high national pro­file with approx­im­ately 3500 cases (40% of all South Yorkshire deaths) repor­ted to the Coroners jur­is­dic­tion annu­ally. Half are referred for con­ven­tional in-house CT autopsy. Sheffield is only one of three UK mor­tu­ar­ies with its own high dose CT scan­ner (a corpse is far more radi­ation tol­er­ant than a patient). Inquests are required in 600 cases on the basis of the autopsy find­ings. A huge reduc­tion in con­ven­tional autopsy fol­lowed the intro­duc­tion of CT. A sur­prise to me was that doc­tors are no longer allowed to be Coroners.

Today’s talk described 4 murder cases illus­trat­ing a recur­ring theme of his­toric cases of women accused of murder and he opened with a verse from a song recor­ded by an obscure Liverpool pop group called Space “The female of the spe­cies is more deadly than the male”, aping a much earlier Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. Each case was fully repor­ted in news­pa­pers of the times because of huge public interest in female mur­der­ers.

Arsenic, a mining by-product and already known to the Egyptians in 1500BC, was used as a rather subtle murder weapon in the 17–1800s although more com­monly for this pur­pose on the con­tin­ent. It was favoured by females as no viol­ence was required to per­pet­rate, and it was feared by the para­noid. It was largely sold as rat poison, but also employed as a tonic in small doses. Ladies also liked it as an early form of wet wipes for skin and hand cleans­ing. Pharmacies had to record details of sales in the event of foul play. Industrially it was used in the pro­duc­tion of green wall paper. There was ready domestic con­tam­in­a­tion from touch­ing damp walls lined with said paper laden with arsenic.

Acute arsenic pois­on­ing induces vomit­ing, abdom­inal pain, brain prob­lems (enceph­alo­pathy) and bloody diarrhoea, but longer expos­ure gives other nasty things such as skin change, heart dis­ease, pain and diarrhoea and even numb­ness and cancer, most fre­quently from drink­ing water con­tam­in­a­tion, but also expos­ure in mining, agri­cul­tural and toxic waste sites, and wait for it, tra­di­tional medi­cines! No wor­ries then; over­dose gives a slow death likened to “rats gnaw­ing at the insides and insuf­fer­able thirst”.

The case of Mary Blandy

This famous case illus­trated the role of the early cor­oner. She was hanged aged 31 in 1752 for the murder of her father. Disfigured from small­pox, suit­ors were few, but her father advert­ised a dowry equi­val­ent to £10000 today. Enter Captain William Cranstoun, a Scottish aris­to­crat, also rendered ugly from small­pox. It tran­spired that he was already mar­ried with a child in Scotland aiming to annul the mar­riage (or so he said). Mary’s father dis­be­lieved him and ten­sions rose between them. What happened next is unclear. Mary claimed that Cranstoun sent her a love potion (in fact arsenic) asking her to add the powders to father’s tea and gruel and gradu­ally he became symp­to­matic, as did the ser­vants who helped them­selves to the leftovers. All was revealed when the gritty remains in the teacup were iden­ti­fied as arsenic. Mary pan­icked and tried to des­troy the evid­ence (arsenic powder and love let­ters) but a house­maid res­cued some of the powder from the fire­place. Blandy, her father, then died, Mary absconded on the day of the coroner’s inquiry, was chased and caught by a mob. She was sent for trial at Oxford Assizes in 1752 and kept in irons. Although this was the first use of detailed med­ical evid­ence in a trial prov­ing arsenic as the cause of death, the trial lasted just a day and she was hanged 6 weeks later from a low slung beam sup­por­ted between two trees out­side Oxford castle prison (nowadays the Malmaison Hotel and very nice too). Her last request was not to hang her high for the sake of decency. Although it was a public exe­cu­tion, she escaped ana­tomic dis­sec­tion by the skin of her teeth after a par­lia­ment­ary decision to change the Julien to the Gregorian cal­en­dar. Thus eleven days were instantly deleted from the cal­en­dar in September 1752 and the Murder Act was brought for­ward, to pre­cede her exe­cu­tion.

The case of Madeleine Hamilton-Smith

She was a beau­ti­ful but wild woman just 20 years old whose father was a famous Edinburgh archi­tect. She was charged with the murder in 1857 of a former boy­friend, Pierre L’Angelier, who came from Jersey. They met cov­ertly as lovers but the ulterior motive was his wish to marry into money. She then met another suitor and tried to break off the rela­tion­ship. He tried to black­mail her with the threat of show­ing her father the con­tents of love let­ters which expli­citly described their sexual exploits, an abso­lute poten­tial dis­aster in the 1850s.

He threatened sui­cide so for a while she “two timed him” before fatally pois­on­ing him with arsenic-laced cocoa. Cocoa very nicely dis­guises the gritty tex­ture of arsenic in the bottom of the cup. Probus mem­bers were advised to be very wary if ever offered cocoa.

The let­ters were dis­covered and massive amounts of arsenic were found in his body

There was a sen­sa­tional trial in the Edinburgh High Court and she was pub­licly executed at the Royal Mile gal­lows in 1857 in front of 50–100000 people.

There were flaws in the prosecution’s case: she was not allowed to give a sworn state­ment her­self, L’Angelier’s first ill­ness may have pre­ceded the time she pur­chased arsenic, she bought green arsenic but it was white in the body, there was less arsenic than could have been in the “fatal” cocoa com­pared with the amount in his stom­ach, L’Angelier never accused her in front of his land­lady after inges­tion, she would have known the let­ters would be revealed after his death, and sui­cide had already been threatened by him. As a psy­cho­path, intent on sui­cide, he might have been fram­ing her. The case was covered widely and inter­na­tion­ally. A ver­dict of “not proven” was returned and she was dis­charged. She even­tu­ally died in New York in 1928.

The case of Mary Ann Ansell

Mary Ann Ansel (22) was a maid in Bloomsbury. She had a men­tally ill sister in an asylum. She was engaged but there was no money for a mar­riage licence. She took out an insur­ance policy on her sister’s life; for 3d a week she’d get £11 on death. She baked a cake laced with phosphorus-based rat poison and sent it by post to the asylum. Her sister and asylum friends became ill but there was a delay in their assess­ment and treat­ment due to a con­cur­rent typhoid out­break at the asylum. Although the friends recovered, her sister inges­ted a lethal dose.

Delays in med­ical treat­ment were no mit­ig­a­tion for Mary Ann when she was con­victed.  The cake, wrap­per and post mark led back to her. She claimed she had bought rat poison but the mis­tress of the house denied there were rats. The insur­ance policy sealed her guilt and she was executed at St Alban’s prison in 1899

The case of Bloody Babs

Barbara Graham was executed in 1955 at California’s San Quentin gaol. She was per­haps wrongly accused of beat­ing and fatally suf­foc­at­ing an eld­erly woman in a house rob­bery

She was strapped into a chair in the gas cham­ber. A guard patted her knee and asked her to

take a deep breath and it won’t bother you”. She retor­ted “How in the hell would you know?”

 

Chris Dorries is a very enter­tain­ing speaker and reminded us that the right hand rail on the main stairs at the Cutlers Hall was his doing after a diner, worse for wear, fell down the stairs on the way to the lav­at­ory and was fatally injured. At the time there was only a left hand rail and our victim chose the wrong side to come down.

Andrew Shorthouse

3rd December 2018