Autumn Lecture 2020
It is somewhat ironical that the COVID-19 virus this year has muted the celebration of the centenary of Rosalind Franklin, the brilliant scientist who was the first to determine the molecular structure of a virus. It was therefore appropriate that the speaker for the group's Autumn Lecture was Professor Brian Sutton, the distinguished X-ray crystallographer educated at Oxford but now at King’s College, London.
His subject was Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix, and his talk explained the key importance of her laboratory techniques and photographs to the successful modelling of DNA. There were images of Franklin’s undergraduate lab books showing her already grappling with the subject, and Professor Sutton’s account of her tragically short life made it clear that her later work on viruses made her a world authority in this area. Had she lived beyond the age of 37 she could have been considered for not one, but two Nobel prizes.
This was the group's first major event on Zoom and attracted an audience at least equal to the numbers attending our traditional live lectures.
Freshers' Meeting - September 2020
The group's annual Freshers’ Meeting had to move online this year, but the event was a success and the group had many appreciative comments. They assembled a panel of eight undergraduates to advise the freshers, and three spoke about various aspects of Oxford life, including time management, making friends and support for disabilities.
There was plenty of time for questions, both in full session and in smaller break-out groups. The undergraduates spoke very warmly of the measures put in place by the university and colleges to keep them safe and this was supported by two of the panel who were already back in Oxford.
The picture shows the meeting hosts and the panel preparing to meet the freshers
May Walk 2020, Geology Walk, Summer Visit 2020
These were all in our programme for 2020 but have had to be postponed to 2021. Details of the 2019 May Walk and Summer visit will be found below.
AGM and Informal Dinner - February 2020
After a short and efficient AGM, 56 alumni and their guests settled down to dinner. Conversation flowed freely and enthusiastically in a friendly and informal atmosphere. Then came the highlight of the evening, our speaker Professor Grevel Lindop, alumnus of Wadham and formerly Professor of Romantic and Early Victorian Studies at Manchester University. Grevel was an adviser on cultural history to the consortium which enabled the Lakes to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
His talk was entitled The Lake District: Literary Landscape, World Heritage and Local Future and opened by explaining how, from the eighteenth-century, writers had been drawn there by new roads and the types of landscape romanticised in art. There was audible amusement at the idea that these were then considered best contemplated in a mirrored dish, with the viewer’s back to the actual scenery. Ever since, there has been a continuing need to balance the views of those who live and farm there with those who regard such an area of outstanding beauty as belonging to all, with all the pressures that visitors cause. The most recent controversy concerns a plan to put motorised houseboats on Grasmere. Most of us were familiar with the area but Professor Lindop cast new light and provoked much thought.
Guided tour of Biddulph Old Hall, Staffordshire - Saturday 7 September 2019
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a group of members and their guests were given a guided tour of Biddulph Old Hall by its owners, Nigel Daly and Brian Vowles.
Our guides gave us a comprehensive description of the history and architecture of the building and of its occupants which was both erudite and generously sprinkled with humour. Highlights included the priest hole and escape tunnel, the huge medieval fireplace, a Buddhist shrine, cannon ball damage inflicted during the Civil War and the panoramic views from the garden.
The history of the Old Hall goes back to the 14th century when it was a hunting lodge. Later it became the residence of the Biddulph family and prospered until the owners supported the wrong side in the Civil War. However, the Biddulphs continued to occupy the property until the late 1800s when it was sold to the Bateman family one of whom, Robert, occupied it for around sixteen years. (Robert is the subject of Nigel’s book entitled The Lost Pre-Raphaelite). Thereafter, the Hall suffered a long slow decline until it was bought by Nigel and Brian early this century. After a lot of hard work, they are now well advanced in a sympathetic restoration of the Hall to its former glory whilst creating a very comfortable residence and home for themselves.
The visit was rounded off by Nigel and Brian serving us a 'scrumptious' tea with lots of delicious cakes which we consumed in the warm, sunny garden or in the splendour of the Hall. We had been so enthralled by our visit that there seemed to be a reluctance to leave. However, after several of us had acquired copies of Nigel’s book and various memorabilia of the event, we slowly drifted away, content that we had had such an enjoyable afternoon.
Amongst the comments that were received afterwards, one couple wrote, 'We rated this one of the very best visits of this kind that we have ever made. What a hidden gem'.
May Day Walk 2019
The annual May Day walk was held in the Adlington and Bollington areas of eastern Cheshire. At 9.45am, 18 of us met, on time, in the car park of The Windmill, the restaurant where we were later to have lunch. Despite the forecasts of a dry day, it was cold and wet as we started walking. However, the weather soon cleared up and it behaved itself for the rest of the walk.
The route taken was along the Middlewood Way and Macclesfield Canal before crossing through meadowland to the start of the 500ft climb up to Bakestonedale Moor. After admiring the views from the top of the moor, we descended onto the side of Andrew’s Knob, from where there were clear views across the Cheshire Plain and to the foothills of the Pennines. Then it was downhill through a ridge of pastureland and woods to the 'donkey bridge', a reputedly ancient unparapeted stone bridge that would be just about big enough to allow a small donkey to pass over it. The final stretch of the walk went through some of the older areas of Bollington before re-joining the canal beside the handsome Adelphi Mill for a short walk back to The Windmill. There we were joined by several other members who hadn’t taken part in the walk and together we had a long and very enjoyable lunch.
The photograph above shows 17 of the walkers on the descent from the moor. Our thanks to Stephanie Pearl, the 18th walker, for having taking the photograph.