Freshers' meeting - September 2018
The excitement of going up to Oxford for the first time was clearly in the air at the Freshers’ Meeting we arranged in September for students from Manchester schools. A total of 26 freshers representing 19 colleges met over drinks in Didsbury and were welcomed by members of the Manchester OUS group and LinkedIn group. We provided a panel of six current undergraduates to answer questions, which ranged from the importance of reading lists to the quality of night-life in Oxford. (Answer – Not as good as Manchester!) There were also some notes to take away, demystifying the special language and customs of Oxford life, and one member gave a valuable perspective of Oxford life, ten years on from matriculation.
We were also contacted by a number of postgraduate freshers and were able to offer assistance by e-mail and in one case by an online video meeting.
Historical walk in Marple, Cheshire - September 2018
In September, the local historian Judith Wilshaw led a large and interested party on a historical walk around the small town of Marple in Cheshire. With the help of old photographs and a well-planned route, she traced its development from a small row of weaver’s cottages.
We followed the Peak Forest canal through the town to examine part of the flight of 16 locks built to carry limestone from the Peak District for industrial processing. Judith pointed out evidence of the tramway which preceded the lock flight and the site of the huge mill which transformed the area’s character and population and survived until the 1950s.
The climax of the walk was a visit to the canal aqueduct, the highest in England, which carries the canal 90 feet above the River Goyt. Nearby, and 30 feet higher still, is the railway viaduct, still used by trains travelling between Manchester and Sheffield.
An enjoyable interlude in the day was provided by an excellent lunch at a local Italian restaurant. Our tour was enlivened by Judith’s reminiscences of family members who worked at the mill, and by her reflections on contemporary developments of the area.
Visit to Chetham's School - June 2018
On 30 June, 32 OUS Manchester members and guests had an enjoyable tour of Chetham’s School of Music in central Manchester. The school has a wide range of buildings dating from the mediaeval period right up to the current time. Our tour focussed on the oldest, which were once part of a fifteenth century manor house, and the newest, the Stoller Hall, the school’s 482-seat concert hall, which was completed only last year.
Our tour guide, Jonathan Schofield, kept us constantly informed and amused with his knowledge, anecdotes and wit as he led us around the school. The highlights included the mediaeval kitchen and the Baronial Hall, which were very much as originally built, and the public library, the oldest in the English speaking world. In the reading room we were able to see, for example, rows of chained books, one of the oldest copies of Newton’s “Principia” and the alcove where Engels and Marx worked together.
In fine contrast, the RIBA award winning Stoller Hall represents modern architectural design at its best, as befits one of the country’s very best music schools. In addition to its use as a “class room” it also allows the school to put on public concerts thereby producing income and allowing people to become better acquainted with the school’s activities.
At the end of the tour, we visited the concert hall’s Cafe Bar to relax over some light refreshment.
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.