2018 May Bank Holiday walk
Under the leadership of group committee member Philippa Whittaker, our May Bank Holiday walk took place in glorious sunshine around the villages of the Saddleworth parish.
Starting from Uppermill, 17 walkers followed the Pennine Bridleway to Greenfield and through Friezland to the Tameside boundary at Mossley. Philippa provided an insight into the history of the Micklehurst Loop railway line, which the bridleway follows. Built to relieve overcrowding on the LNWR railway line to Huddersfield, it was closed in the 1960s.
The long-awaited return of sun and warmth had brought out a riot of flowers and fresh foliage to our sylvan route, with fresh growth in the meadows of the Rive Tame and birds in abundance. Turning off the bridleway, we followed a path past the restored Royal George Mill complex and walked along the Huddersfield Canal. We learnt about its chequered history, the delays and difficulties of its construction, budget overruns, shortage of water and commercial failure as the railways rapidly supplanted it. The swans, ducks, geese, coots and moorhens, only disturbed by the occasional narrow boat, provided an aquatic wildlife theme. The well-tended - and often humorously quirky - back gardens on the opposite side to the towpath (including stone sheep and a corpse climbing out of a grave) entertained us.
Going under the massive bulk of Saddleworth railway viaduct, we turned off the canal and onto the Delph Donkey, a path along the route of a former railway from Delph to Greenfield. Philippa, David Shipp and helpful information boards, provided some history about the line, its early horse-drawn origins and its later celebrity Royal visitors. As we went through cuttings and along embankments, we could see why the Delph Donkey is now an important wildlife corridor. After the beautifully-restored Delph station (now a private dwelling) we reached the Old Bell Inn at Delph, having walked 5.2 miles almost on the level. Here we were joined by a further nine people for a most convivial lunch.
The walkers then followed a more undulating 2.4 mile route back from Delph along paths through woods bordering the River Tame to Dobcross, then climbed through Ryefields to rejoin the bridleway through Uppermill and back to the start point. We enjoyed each other’s company greatly and made lots of new friends. A better way to spend a spring Bank Holiday is hard to imagine.
2018 AGM and dinner
The 2018 AGM and informal dinner was attended by nearly 80 members and guests and was followed by a talk on 'Excavating Islamic Jerusalem' by Dr Kay Prag (St Hugh’s), Honorary Lecturer in Archaeology and Director of the Ancient Jerusalem Project at Manchester Museum.
This was particularly warmly received as Dr Prag stepped in at a few hours’ notice to replace the advertised speaker who was indisposed. Dr Prag worked alongside Dame Kathleen Kenyon (later Principal of St Hugh's) in her excavations in Jerusalem, and has continued to research and publish the archive of those excavations.
She illustrated the 1960s excavations with aerial views of the city and contemporary pictures of the excavation teams.
One of her particular interests was the Islamic period of the city from 1187 and we were drawn in by her enthusiasm for the finds – pottery and other artefacts from excavated cisterns and cesspits. The material was often fragmentary but gave hints of vivid colour and eye-catching design. For the archaeologist it was particularly valuable because it could be precisely located and readily dated.
[image left: Fish design on Ayyubid glazed pottery; late C12/early C13 AD. Courtesy of Dr K Prag]
Autumn lecture - November 2017
[image right: Reconstruction of the head and shoulders of a victim of the Vesuvius eruption in AD79. Courtesy of Richard Neave]
Our Autumn lecture, 'Macedon, mycenae, molars and more: reconstructing ancient faces' was given by Professor John Prag, Honorary Professor in the Manchester Museum and Professor Emeritus of Classics in the University of Manchester.
His ground-breaking work on archaeological reconstruction brings together all the details that specialists can deduce from ancient remains, producing what he describes as a three-dimensional report, more accurate and powerful than any printed account. He paid warm tribute to the many specialists who had contributed to the research – surgeons, dentists, anthropologists, physicists, radiologists and others.
A large and enthralled audience watched as he revealed the lifelike heads he had produced in collaboration with the medical artist Richard Neave. Philip of Macedon was a particularly startling sight, as the skull found at Vergina supported the historical record that he had lost an eye in battle. The method has also been used to identify modern-day murder victims, and to prove that ancient tomb effigies and mummy paintings were, not surprisingly, considerably idealised.
Oxford alumni network - Manchester LinkedIn group - September 2017
In late September, more than 30 members of our LinkedIn group met over drinks and a buffet in the rooftop bar of the Hilton Doubletree Hotel, Manchester where they enjoyed lively conversation and a rather spectacular sunset against the Manchester skyline.
Guided tour of the Lion Salt Works Museum, Northwich, Cheshire - September 2017
[image below, right: Salt-making experience © Copyright Chris Allen]
A group of members and their guests had a guided tour of the museum at lunchtime on Sunday 3 September. The works had been set up in 1894 to exploit the brine resources which, together with rock salt, are widespread in the area.
A variety of ongoing problems related to the corrosion-enhancing nature of salt, subsidence caused by mining of rock salt, and competitive markets meant that the business struggled along but defeat was finally accepted when it was closed down in 1986.
The site was then taken over by the local council and, after a long period of fund-raising followed by conservation and restoration, it was opened as a museum in 2015.
The tour showed how crystalline salt had been produced by boiling away the water from brine in large saucer-shaped “pans” and how it was then crushed and ground to produce the various grades of salt that were used largely in the food industry.
The ongoing structural problems that the works had suffered were evident. Continual subsidence meant that very few of the buildings on the site were not leaning in one direction or another and one remaining works’ chimney looked decidedly precarious.
The salt had also taken its toll, with brickwork and surviving machinery and other metalwork being severely corroded.
At a cost of several million pounds, walls and roofs had been rebuilt and buildings reinforced by internal steel frames.
Whilst the corrosion had been arrested, it was evident that the whole site was still on the move. Our visit was very enjoyable and informative with Duncan, our excellent guide, keeping us entertained with both his thorough knowledge of the history of the site and his keen sense of humour.
Visit to Gawsworth Hall, Cheshire - July 2017
Gawsworth Hall is an evocative Tudor house in Cheshire, whose beautiful gardens still have traces of a historic tilting ground.
The group was invited to visit by the owners, the family of our late group member, Timothy Richards.
Almost 50 members and guests enjoyed a fascinating visit on an afternoon of glorious sunshine. Rupert Richards made us very welcome and spoke warmly of how much Oxford had meant to his father and uncle – although the strongest memories were of successes on the river and of driving around Oxford in one of his classic cars, a Bugatti.
Elizabeth Richards, the current owner, gave us a lively account of the history of the house, which was built by the Fitton family, whose daughter Mary was a maid of honour to Elizabeth I.
The story was full of interest and incident, including the occasion when the ownership of the house remained unresolved after a duel in which both participants were killed.
Following the introductory talks, members were free to explore the house and grounds. Gawsworth is also renowned for its outdoor theatre productions in the summer, and some of the party remained to enjoy a picnic and an evening performance of Romeo and Juliet.