On 16th December we held a “Zoom Christmas Party”, to which wives were invited.
The following is a report on our Zoom meeting held on 2nd December 2020
The chairman welcomed members and Morgan Llewellyn, one of our menber, was to speak today.
Morgan Llewellyn introduced his talk on Siena Cathedral by explaining how the rapid population growth in Northern Italy after the tenth century had caused the establishment of City States. Most of these were organised as republican communes and controlled the surrounding countryside, or Contado. Competition for territory was fierce. Florence and Siena were particular rivals. They were both centres of textile manufacture and of banking. The situation was further complicated by the competing claims of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy in the area. In 1260 Florence and Siena went to war, and fearing imminent defeat, the Siena Council appealed to the Virgin Mary for help. The following day, against all overwhelming odds, the Sienese won the Battle of Montaperti and in gratitude dedicated the city to the Virgin.
The building of a new Cathedral had been going on since 1226, but it now took on a new civic impetus, reflected in both the colour of the marbling and the depiction of the city’s history on the pavement. By 1264 the dome had been completed over a hexagonal crossing, and by 1284 the rest of the nave was finished, and the façade of the west end embarked upon. In 1316/17 a decision was taken to enlarge the cathedral with wider aisles, the extension of the choir over a new baptistry, and the addition of large clerestory windows.
We were then taken on a virtual tour of the Cathedral, pausing to observe the most important features. After a view of the whole length of the cathedral from the West door, we proceeded up the north aisle, peeped into the chapel dedicated to John the Baptist with its statue of the Baptist by Donatello. We stopped under the crossing to look up into the dome and to take note of Nicola Pisano’s splendid carved pulpit and then turned to see the High Altar, the choir frescoes and the Oculus Window. Leaving ground level, we proceeded by a winding stair to the roof space above the south aisle and below the level of the clerestory windows. We were then able to proceed round the cathedral looking down through the windows in the drum beneath the dome to get several different perspectives of the cathedral below. At the halfway point we climbed a short stairway into the open air at the level of the clerestory and took in a breath-taking view of the city including the Torre di Mangia above the Palazzo della Republica, and another of the Duomo Nuovo.
Leaving the cathedral, we visited the Baptistry, originally excavated from the rock beneath the Choir and were able to admire its painted vaults and the hexagonal font with its gilded bronze panels sculpted be Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello among others.
Finally, we heard how in 1330/21 a team of technical experts cast doubt upon the stability of the work in progress and recommended a new and even grander Cathedral, Il Duomo Nuovo. A decision to proceed with this was taken in 1339 and work went on apace, until brought to a standstill by the Black Death in 1348. Work briefly continued after the Black Death, but problems soon arose, and in 1357 work was halted. Significant elements of this project remain today, and we looked at them from various viewpoints. These remains are reminders of a majestic and imaginative but impractical plan.
After a period for questions, Mike Johnson gave the vote of thanks. The Meeting closed at 11,40.
The following is a report on our Zoom meeting held on 18th November 2020
The chairman welcomed members and our speaker Kay Blackwell.
Using the title “A Sunday School Teacher’s Scrapbook, History in the Making” Kay Blackwell told us how, growing up in Nuneaton, she had become a Sunday School teacher. She and her Sunday School Class all kept scrapbooks. Kay’s scrapbook had been carefully put away and followed her wherever she lived. In 2019 she found it and opened it once again. Inside was a piece of sheet music of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Kay explained that Operation Sonata had been the Luftwaffe’s codename for the bombing of Coventry, a centre of Britain’s armaments industry. On 14th November 1940 Operation Sonata was launched first with high explosive bombs and then incendiaries. Fractured gas pipes exacerbated the fires and ruptured water mains rendered the fire brigade’s work ineffective. Much of Coventry, including the Cathedral was destroyed. Then, using excellent pictures from her scrap book, Kay told the moving story of the resurrection of Coventry Cathedral.
After the bombing, medieval nails from the roof were formed into a cross of nails which became the symbol of Coventry Cathedral. King George VI and then Winston Churchill visited the ruins and promised that a new cathedral would be built. In 1950 the government gave £1 million to its rebuilding and after 250 architects had submitted designs, the task was awarded to Basil Spence, the only one to retain the ruins of the old cathedral as a memorial and propose an entirely new build at right angles to the old one. Initial reaction to the design was unfavourable but Spence managed to turn public opinion in its favour. Building materials were at a premium and special licences were required. Coventry City Council refused the necessary licences, having other priorities. But the Minister for Works overturned their decision and work started in 1954. On 25 March 1956, the Queen laid the foundation stone. By early 1959 work on the roof had begun. Kay and her family tried to watch its progress but high hoardings surrounded the work and little could be seen until one day they saw Jacob Epstein’s magnificent sculpture of St Michael overcoming the Devil in place on the outer wall.
Kay then charted the cathedral’s building and development with graphic pictures. We saw the roof under construction with its acoustic control and downward lighting. We saw the magnificent boulder from the Jordan Valley in front of the baptistry window with stained-glass by John Piper. Kay pointed out the symbolic colouring of the sequence of windows in the nave, the crown of thorns motif above the choir stalls, and her personal interest in the line of newly minted pennies laid by Sunday School teachers of the diocese down the nave. We admired the great West window engraved with saints and angels by John Hutton. We saw the manganese bronze spite being lowered into position by a helicopter. We focussed on the high altar built in the style of the table used for the Last Supper with Graham Sutherland’s famous tapestry of Christ in Glory behind it. Finally, we saw pictures of the Queen and many dignitaries at the cathedral’s consecration on 25th May 1962.
Les Bevan gave the vote of thanks for a fascinating and moving talk. The meeting closed at 11.20.
The following is a report on our Zoom meeting held on 4th November 2020
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker James Creswell.
Introducing his talk “My Life at the Poles”, James Creswell explained that while taking a gap year backpacking in South America, he had joined a tour to Antarctica. This experience led him to become a tour guide in both Antarctica and the Arctic for the next ten years, lecturing on geology, glaciology and climate change; and leading expeditions on foot, in inflatable Zodiac boats and sometimes by helicopter. The approach to the Antarctic Peninsula from the Falkland Islands has the highest wave heights in the world and takes 2 days sailing. The network of fiords and islands reveal many beautiful and unworldly views.
Wildlife is concentrated on the coast and James showed us marvellous pictures of many varieties of penguins, seals, and whales, describing their breeding and feeding habits, population sizes, and the unique characteristics of each. The only human population of Antarctica are scientists who spend eighteen months or two years in specialist bases. Britain maintains three such bases on the continent. By international agreement no territorial claim can be made to the continent and no military presence is allowed. Russia and USA, however declined to be signatories. Port Lockroy, a former British base established in World War II has become a heritage site with a gift shop and a post office.
James described the hazards of ice and iceberg, illustrated their beautiful shapes, and showed us huge tabular icebergs, broken off from the continental shelf and with 80% – 90% of their bulk under water. Turning to geology, we saw several volcanoes and their craters, notably Brown Block Volcano and Deception Island, with its crater filled by water into which a boat can sail. We learned that fossils of dinosaurs and tropical plants reveal that Antarctica was not always the icy waste that it is today. Further afield, we visited the Falkland Islands where James reviewed its history and showed us pictures of albatross and king and rockhopper penguins. He then took us to South Georgia, regarded as the Galapagos of Antarctica. Due to oceanographic currents it is colder than the Falkland Islands with stunning mountain and glacial scenery. For years it was the base for the British Antarctic Survey. Here we saw the Shackleton Memorial, the island being the final point on his famous journey of survival.
James described three unusual trips that he had made. The first was an Antarctic concert performed by the heavy metal band “Metallica”. The second was a six-week journey from Invercargill in New Zealand to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, and, finally, a trip to the Dry Valleys where the atmosphere is so dry that ice cannot form and the glaciers come to a halt. Turning to Climate Change we heard how the Antarctic Peninsula is changing rapidly. Glaciers are in retreat. Ice shelves are collapsing. The effect on penguin populations is potentially disastrous. The resulting melt will raise global sea levels by 7 metres.
After describing the journey north to the Arctic via Tristan de Cuna, St Helena, and Ascension Island, we visited Svalbard, Greenland, and the North Pole. Here we saw polar bears, walruses, and blue whales. James described a dangerous encounter with a polar bear and a walrus puncturing one of the inflatable zodiacs. Here again the effect of Climate Change is devastating with sea ice disappearing fast and Greenland’s glacial ice rapidly melting. Finally, we saw the Welsh flag flying at the North Pole and James taking a polar swim.
After a few penetrating questions comprehensively answered, David Harris gave the vote of thanks. The meeting closed at 11.54.
The following is a report on our second Zoom meeting held on 21st October 2020
The Chairman welcomed everybody and thanked them for joining the zoom meeting. Today, David Gooding was to talk on “Two Days in Shanghi and Shaxi”
David told us that his daughter had in 2015 a post graduate student lodger, from Shanghai area of China. She had invited them to visit her should they ever go to Shanghai. So, having arranged to take a Viking River Cruise in China and to see Chain including the Terracotta Army, they decided to spend two days in Shanghai before the cruise, meeting up with Julie and her family. Arriving after a twelve-hour direct flight from London, David introduced us to Shanghai with wonderful photographs, showing us a city of skyscrapers, busy highways, palatial modern hotels, and the ubiquitous Starbucks.
A Sunday trip, laid on, to the suburbs, with an excellent tour guide, gave us a much broader view of life in Shanghai. The extensive system of river and canal waterways, revealed by David’s pictures, gave us a vivid insight into the varied architecture of old and new Shanghai. Each waterside property has steps leading down to the water, willow pattern bridges span the canals, and old buildings display wonderfully carved timber balconies and windows. A visit to a museum showed us beautifully carved formal traditional furniture. A restful park with formal gardens, pools and bridges provided a splendid setting for romantic pre-wedding photographs, which David’s long lens enabled us to gate-crash! Finally, in a visit to a silk factory, David was dramatically able to show us the entire process of silk production from the cocoons in the mulberry trees to the finished product.
The next day David and Brenda spent with Julie and her family, and we had a glimpse real life in a Chinese family. Parents and Grandparents live on different floors of the same house in China as children traditionally have a responsibility to look after their parents. After lunch at a local restaurant the family visited Shaxi, an old town on the river and canal system. Here we again saw amazing carved woodwork, tiled roofs with upturned pointed corners to dispel evil spirits, and spectacular river scenes. David ended his presentation with dramatic pictures of lights reflected in the canals as dusk fell over the town.
After many enthusiastic questions, the Chairman thanked David for an excellent presentation. The meeting closed at 11.30.
The following is a report on our First Zoom meeting held on 7th October 2020
The Chairman welcomed everybody and thanked them for joining the first zoom meeting on the 7th October. Today, David Gooding was going, by way of an experiment with PowerPoint and video, to give a very short talk on “Terracotta Army,”
The Terracotta Army. David and Brenda had visited China in 2017. He started with a short promotional film clip which explained how the Terracotta Army had first been discovered by farmers digging a well. It then highlighted the facts that when first discovered all the warriors were broken and had to be painstakingly restored. This included horses and chariots as well as foot soldier. We were surprised to learn that they had all originally been painted in bright colours.
David continued the story using PowerPoint to show us his own excellent photographs of the Terracotta Army, including pictures of exhibits in the museum in which warriors in specially interesting and lifelike poses are displayed. He also illustrated the success of the restoration process by showing us “before and after” photographs.
Following the success of David’s excellent talk, the Chairman opened a discussion on the feasibility of future Zoom meetings using similar technology. After several valuable contributions to the discussion the chairman suggested a series of tutorials or workshops on giving Zoom presentations and said he would email those interested in taking part.
It was agreed to meet again on Zoom on Wednesday 21st October when David would give his second talk.
The meeting closed at 11.20.
Meetings cancelled as a result of Covid19 Lockdown.
The following is a report on our meeting held on 4th March 2020
Our Chairman welcomed Ralph James who was to speak about the Tredegar Town Clock.
Ralph James, whose family had been associated with the Tredegar area since the 1890s explained that the decision to build the Tredegar Town clock was stimulated by the configuration of the centre of the town where four roads met and formed a circle. in which a focal point was required..
After the foundation of the ironworks in 1800 Tredegar developed from being the village of Uwchllawrcoed, with a population of 619 in 1801 to Tredegar, a mecca of industry, in 1841 with 14,000 souls. The combination of iron and coal, with good rail communications and relatively good working conditions for those days, attracted men seeking work. In the early 19th Century the Town Hall was built in the circle which also provided a school on weekdays, a library and a reading room. The pub, the Tredegar Arms, was built opposite. People flooded to the circle and a focal point was needed. Mrs Mary Elizabeth Davies, wife of Richard Powell Davies the ironworks manager who built Bedwellty House in about 1850, was a lady who got things done. She focussed her attention on the circle. In 1857 there was much talk about the newly constructed Big Ben in London. “If Westminster can have a clock, so can Tredegar,” declared Mrs Davies. Her husband, Richard, calculated that it would cost £500 and said that he would put up £400 if she could raise £100 from town effort. She, with her sister Mrs Jones, planned a grand bazaar in the Town Hall. Unfortunately in August 1857 both ladies died, probably form cholera. However the bazaar went ahead and in September 1857 the sale of over 2000 articles raised the required sum.
Richard Powell Davies agreed to lead on all aspects of the project. Consultations took place during 1857 and 1858. It was designed by Charles Jordan. Heavy components were made in Newport and transported on the Newport to Tredegar Tram Road. The Ironworks company worked tirelessly to support it, as did volunteers from the community. Many other advances were taking place at the same time in Tredegar such as the installation of gas lighting in the Town Hall Reading Room, but the building of the clock eclipsed everything else. It was completed amid much rejoicing in September 1859. Standing 72 feet high and made of cast iron, visitors were told that: “there is only one other clock like it in the country and that’s abroad”.
The story is more than the story of the clock itself, it is the story of a community working together to fulfil a great undertaking.
After enthusiastic questions, the vote of thanks was given by Anthony Seys-Llewellyn and the meeting closed at 11.35.
The following is a report on our first meeting of 2020 held on 15th January 2020
Our Chairman welcomed two of our member who were to speak to us today.
Illustrating his talk with a succession of superb photographs, David Gooding described a journey he made with his family in 2012 in his narrow boat “Shammah” from Liverpool docks, across the River Mersey and up the Manchester Ship Canal to re-join the network of canals at Ellesmere Port. They entered Liverpool docks by a recently opened up route with views of many iconic buildings and negotiating a tunnel before arriving at picturesque moorings for 36 narrowboats. Sadly, limitations on the number of boats entering and leaving on a restricted number of days means that the moorings can never be fully utilised. Somewhat to his surprise David found Liverpool a most attractive city. Having booked a time to navigate the sea-lock out into the River Mersey, the lock keeper overslept and they left an hour late at full-tide. They crossed the Mersey on a precisely planned route using GPS behind a Polish oil tanker also bound for the Manchester Ship Canal. Special permission had to be obtained, from the tanker’s captain, via the Harbourmaster/lock keeper at Eastham, to enter the lock into the Ship Canal at Eastham alongside the tanker. A succession of pictures of their passage up the Ship Canal gave a pleasant impression of rural tranquillity, quite different from the much heavier shipping traffic of 30 years ago. This gradually gave way to a more urban setting before they arrived at their final mooring at Ellesmere Port and before entering the main canal system via a bridge which had to be specially opened for them by a man form the Shropshire County Council..
Following on: Ted Hicks told us the moving story of a Norwegian seaman, Erling Hafto and his dog Bamse. Born in 1900, Erling spent 5 years in the Norwegian navy, before joining a shipping company plying between Oslo and North Norway. His favourite port of call was Bodo, where he met his wife, Halldis, and where they made their first home. Moving later to the far north, he became the harbourmaster of Honnigsvad on Mageroya Island, the most northerly city in Norway. Returning from one of his twice yearly visits to Oslo, he presented his family with a St Bernard puppy called Bamse – the bear. When Erling’s youngest daughter, Viglis, became dangerously ill Bamse stayed beside the child for 12 critical days, admitting only the doctor and the child’s mother, and was credited by the family with saving the child’s life.
After the rise of Hitler Erling returned to the Royal Norwegian Navy and took Bamse with him. He took command of the ship Thorodd, a small ex-whaler, equipped with an Oerlikon Machine gun and deployed for minesweeping duties. Bamse took station in the bow, alongside the Oerlikon. After the German occupation of Norway, when the Norwegian Royal Family and the nation’s gold reserves moved to Britain, the Royal Norwegian Navy was deployed to Scotland and the East Coast of UK. Bamse, of course, went too. He became a firm favourite of the crew who made him a naval cap and a tin hat. Bamse went ashore with the crew and was always welcome in the pubs they frequented. He saw it as his duty to make sure that they got back on board safely after a night ashore. On one occasion he even attempted to save one of his sailors who got into a fight by jumping up between the two combatants, but he and one of the sailors ended up in the sea and had to be rescued. Sadly, in 1944, Bamse became ill and on 22nd July he had to be put down. He was buried with military honours in the dunes over-looking Montrose harbour. Accompanied by a large crowd, he was taken there on a barrow draped with the Norwegian flag and a Naval captain read the service. After the war Erling returned to his family and his job.
In 1952 when Glaxo wanted to build a factory on the dunes, the plans had to be adjusted to accommodate the preservation and maintenance of Bamse’s grave. In 2006 a statue of Bamse was unveiled by Prince Andrew on the waterside at Montrose and Viglis and her own daughter were the guests of honour. A similar statue was erected in Honnigsvad. The Royal Norwegian Navy sent two submarines to mark that occasion.
After appreciative questions, the vote of thanks was given by John Flood-Page and the meeting closed at 11.50.