Autumn Lecture 2021 - Volcanoes: from Fuming Vents to Extinction Events
Our autumn lecture, delivered for a second year via Zoom, was a fascinating talk by Tamsin Mather, Professor of Earth Sciences at Oxford. The appeal of having a glimpse into her exciting expeditions to active volcanoes around the world was all the greater for an audience of almost 40 members deprived of most foreign travel of late.
A visual highlight was peering over the sheer crater rim of Nicaragua’s Masaya into what looked like a seething medieval image of hell far below. Alongside the arresting images came the scientific explanations. Molten basaltic magma from the earth’s mantle; eruptions from tectonic plates that are splitting apart and those from plates that are being pushed beneath others.
Tamsin also took us into the fascinating topic of volcanoes’ impact on human history. We can no doubt all remember the devastating effect on air travel of the ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. But who knew that the ash cloud from the massive explosion of Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 caused such crop failures that it has been cited as one of the causes of the unrest quelled at the brutal Peterloo massacre four years later?
Freshers’ Meeting 2021
In September we held an online meeting for freshers from the Manchester area who were about to go up to Oxford. A panel of seven current undergraduates described their experience of academic and social life, gave advice on everything from reading lists to laundry, and answered questions in an open session and in smaller break-out groups. The evening was ably chaired by Sarah Herdan.
Bank Holiday Walk 2021
We were unable to hold our customary May Bank Holiday walk in 2020 or 2021, but August Bank Holiday 2021 provided a chance to catch-up.
Twenty members and guests joined leaders David and Phillida Shipp on a walk starting at the public car park at Castleshaw, above Delph in Saddleworth. We first looked at the excavated foundations of Castleshaw Roman Fortlet, which guarded the main road from Deva (Chester) to Eboracum (York).
We then rounded the Castleshaw reservoirs before climbing steadily out of the valley to the remote Heights Chapel, where kindly local parishioners were waiting with welcome hot drinks. Covid-19 precautions ruled out our usual pub lunch this year, so we brought packed lunches to eat in the grounds. The adjacent Royal Oak, now sadly closed, was used as the location of Jamaica Inn in the BBC adaptation and also in the film A Monster Calls. We had sunshine rather than smugglers or spooks!
Dropping into the Tame Valley, we passed Pingle Mill, one of only two woollen mills in Saddleworth still in production, and then through the picturesque village of Delph. We returned along a path beside the Hull Brook and its lake and mill lodge with water lilies and a nervous heron.
To end, we stopped at a gourmet coffee and food van parked up a narrow country lane - good spot David and Phillida. A most enjoyable walk, in beautiful scenery and, what is more, the weather was kind. Thanks to David and Phillida for planning and leading such a memorable walk.
Members’ Evenings on Zoom: March – June 2021
When restrictions prevented our usual programme of events, we turned to on-line meetings to fill the gap in our activities until our members could meet face-to-face once more. Thanks to some very interesting offers from members of OUS Manchester, we were able to arrange a series of four meetings from March to June:
Martin Edwards – My Life of Crime
Last year, Martin Edwards received the Crime Writers’ Association’s Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in UK crime writing. In conversation with Ronald Graham, a fellow Oxford lawyer, he told us of his lifelong ambition to become a crime writer and how that developed alongside his legal career.
Chris Wain – Gladstone and Hawarden
In lieu of our planned visit to Gladstone’s Library, and hopefully as a taster for a future visit, Chris Wain gave us some background on Gladstone and his connections with Hawarden.
John Schultz – Are you sure your ancestors didn’t own slaves too?
Using public records, John has been building up his family tree, which showed that some of his indirect family did indeed have connections to slaves and the slave trade.
Celia Russell and Michael Marett-Crosby – Myanmar: past, present and future
With the background of the recent coup in Myanmar, we were provided with a most informative, if rather chilling view of the country, its past and its present troubles.
AGM & Spring Lecture 2021
Whilst we were unable to have a dinner, we were still able to hold our AGM and Lecture from the comfort of home, thanks to our members’ adoption of Zoom technology. Nearly forty members logged in, with guests sharing their screens.
All papers were emailed in advance and the necessary formalities of the meeting, including ballots, were concluded with great efficiency.
We were fortunate to have as our speaker Dr Silke Ackermann, Director of the History of Science Museum in Oxford. She explained Vision 2024 which is the ambitious strategy planned to mark the centenary of the museum. Among other things this will give better access for all and improved facilities for staff. The lecture was entitled “Science in the service of religion? A museum study” and paid particular attention to Astrolabes. Dr Ackermann showed pictures of many examples held by her museum and others, pointing out the different scripts used and what could be deduced about their manufacture and age. These beautiful objects are serious scientific instruments to be taken apart and examined and she explained their uses both in a religious and more general context.
The event concluded with questions to Dr Ackermann and it was obvious that many of us are determined to visit the museum when we are next able to visit Oxford. It was even admitted by some, somewhat ashamed, that they had been unaware of its presence on the Broad, between the Sheldonian Theatre and Exeter College.
Thanks are due to all who worked hard to make this event so enjoyable.
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.