The Building of the M1
John was already known to us as a member but what we did not know that for 30 years he had worked for John Laing the construction company that is responsible for so many projects, not the least of which was the building of the M1. He brought with him a unique 30 minute flm that had been donated to ‘The National Film and TV Archive’ by the company for public use and interest.
The origins of the company stemmed from John Laing, a family owned building firm from Carlisle. In 1926 they moved to London. They prospered and acquired many contracts, growing 1600 fold between the two world wars. Despite their entrepreneurial success they did not neglect their employees. Stemming from a strict Brethren Church background they displayed integrity and honesty. Workers had paid holidays, hours were reduced and pensions introduced which all contributed to strong company loyalty.
In 1958 John Laing won the contract to build Britain’s first long distance motorway. Laing’s were responsible for the 55 mile section, covering five counties. This started in Slip End and finished at Crick in Northamptonshire. Using the largest machinery in the UK work started in the summer of 1958. Despite appalling weather conditions with a wet summer followed by a cold winter the project was finished to time in October 1959 at a cost of £16 million.
The route was divided into 4 sections each with their own office depots. To accommodate these and the main headquarters at Newport Pagnall 350 acres of land was rented. Detailed surveys were made of the route and problems of access ironed out. Engineers calculated the exact amount of earth to be moved – over 11million cubic metres in total. At least 200 complex structures had to be designed including 132 bridges. A wide variety of heavy machinery was used for the different tasks involved.
The workforce were recruited from far and wide. For every mile 70 men were needed. Many of them were housed in temporary accommodation.
While the rail bridges were made of steel, the road bridges were made of preformed concrete. Carpenters constructed the forms which were filled with concrete. These were then slotted into place to make the bridges which are still in use today.
All this happened long before the days of the mobile phone. On a project of this size quick communication was vital. To this end Laings set up their own short wave radio system and used a helipcopter to survey progress.
Laings always tried to organise their constructions with the minimum of disruption and damage. It is to their credit that rail services were never interrupted and the only road to be blown up was Clyde Road in Dunstable.
We were fortunate to have several family Laing employees join us for the evening and an impressive collection of memorabilia to pore over during the interval. For my part I find it hard to equate the photos of earth moving machines deep in mud with the finished product.
Edward Jenner- the miracle of vaccination
It was due to the work of Edward Jenner that smallpox was completely eradicated throughout the world. Born in Gloucestershire, he was a notable poet, naturalist and doctor. He was invited to go on Cook’s second voyage but declined to stay in his beloved home county.
Although it had been around for centuries it was in the 18th Century that smallpox became the disease that everyone feared. No one escaped be they rich or poor. Those who survived were often blind or severely pockmarked.
In 1720, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British Ambassador to Constantinople observed the practice of inoculation against smallpox in Turkey. After inoculating her own son, on her return to England she actively promoted the practice.
Known as variolation, this involved using the blade of a knife to insert pus from pustules into the healthy person. This procedure made doctors much money and was not always successful.
Other people in different areas of the world had noted that people who worked with cattle seemed to be immune to smallpox.
However, it was Jenner who noticed that dairymaids who had cowpox did not succumb to smallpox. After experimenting, in particular on the gardener’s son, James Phipps, Jenner went on to prove scientifically that inoculation with pus from cow pox prevented smallpox. His scientific paper on this was rejected by the Royal Society and he had to publish privately. Napoleon was sufficiently impressed to have his troops vaccinated – a term that was coined by Jenner as an acknowledgment to the part played by ‘the cow’
Thanks to Jenner’s work the global eradication of smallpox was finally recognised in 1980.
Magic lantern show
For our November meeting we were treated to a magic lantern show. If this report seems inadequate my usual note-taking was somewhat hampered by the fact that the room of necessity was in total darkness.
The first attempts at magic lantern shows in the late 1600’s involved a candle and a screen and were not terribly successful. However, after 1750 the newly developed paraffin lamp produced much better images. Deserted buildings, damp muslin, scary noises and an audience stoned on opium, contributed to some hair-raising experiences. The term ‘Phantasmagoria’ was coined. It was with the advent of ‘limelight’ – an intense light produced by heating a small cylinder of lime that magic lantern shows really took off. Now big bright images could be projected for large audiences.
Slides were initially hand-painted and later a kind of transfer was printed onto glass. Later, photographs were used and hand-tinted.
Kevin’s show covered the whole range of techniques. The vibrancy of the colours and detail of the artwork was impressive. Many were in sequences to tell a story or displayed devices to simulate movements such as Cinderella losing a leg or umbrellas blowing inside out.
During the 1800’s lantern shows were developed for ‘Education, Enlightenment or Entertainment’. The Temperance Movement was keen to show the effects of ‘Demon Drink’ and there were often stories about poor, sad children. Lecturers used magic lantern slides to illustrate their lectures and many slides involved jokes and mottoes.
Magic lantern shows continued until World War 1 but with the arrival of cine film interest declined.
However, with Kevin’s lively commentary and his variety of material I, for one, could easily sit back and enjoy a good old- fashioned Magic Lantern Show.
When people made their own money
These days we are used to having a range of currency to cover all our needs. Trevor’s talk harked back to the past when the coins of the realm did not suit the everyday purposes of ordinary folk.
In the 8th century British coinage was based on the silver penny. All silver coins had to have silver content to match their face value. However, problems arose when silver was used more frequently in ornaments, cups and platters. The value of the metal went up and so the pennies became smaller and smaller. They would not make ½ pence or ¼ pence pieces. For labourers on low wages this made things very difficult. Some base metal substitutes were made but not always accepted.
It was Bristol City that first came up with a solution. Under Charter from Queen Elizabeth 1 they produced a copper farthing to be used within 10 miles of the city. The idea was democratic. Coins were produced by the people for the people.
During the late 1600’s other cities such as Norwich, Ipswich and Peterborough followed suit. Many churches produced such ‘tokens’ for the use of the poor – as in Oundle for example. As the idea caught on many local traders began to produce their own tokens embossed with motifs and their name and trade to clearly identify them.
In Dunstable alone many tokens were produced – Edward Chester was a baker in High Street and Edward Fossey owned the Swan Inn. In addition there were candlemakers, pedlars and victuallers all with their own tokens. Some were produced by women traders.
However, the tokens were all made in London and security was a real problem. It was Charles II who decided that the token system had had its day and issued official ½ pence and ¼ pence coins.
Examples of tokens, many found by amateur metal detectors are to be found in museums all over the country, giving us a picture of the local economy of the time.
Spies, lies, double agents and the real James Bond
Michael proved to be a most entertaining and well informed speaker. The essence of his talk focussed on spies who fed the Germans false information about D-Day resulting in the German troops being in the wrong place to defend France against the invasion.
Initially, the Radio Security Service was based in Wormwood Scrubs Prison but this proved to be dirty, smelly and difficult to get out of, as the doors were locked! They moved to Barnet.
The Radio Security Service were looking for potential spies so asked radio hams, who were allowed to retain their receivers but not their transmitters to send any information they gleaned to Barnet but any messages in code to Bletchley Park.
When known German spies arrived a ‘welcoming party’ was arranged. If they were loyal to Hitler they were tried, and if found guilty were often shot but most were happy to become double agents as they enjoyed the ‘James Bond’ lifestyle.
MI5 covered home security and MI6, security abroad. There was some friction between the two so a service called XX(Double Cross) was formed to monitor the spies.
One such spy, Dusko Popov, became a Double Agent. His flamboyant life style may well have given inspiration to Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. He is thought to have contributed much to the mis-information. He was sent to the States and reported to Hoover that the Germans were interested in details about Pearl Harbour. Hoover chose to ignore this and Popov was returned to the UK as he had run up huge debts.
Elvira, code named Bronx was Peruvian born but had lived in Southern France. Familiar with gambling and French Casino life and broke at the time she was recruited as a double agent. She was able to mingle easily with German officers and spread much misinformation.
Garbo, another agent, invented fantasy information which he fed to the Germans. This involved 26 fictional spies, all paid by Germany. German U-boats were sent to destroy a fictional convoy and were punished on their return because they couldn’t find it.
Spies such as these fed a ‘Bodyguard of lies’ convincing Germany that 50,000 troops were going to invade Norway from Scotland, England was going to invade Brittany and the main invasion was via Pas de Calais. Operation Overlord centred on Normandy but with German troops positioned elsewhere it took 36 days for the full force to reach the invaders.
Tournaments in Dunstable
As with other talks on Dunstable recent research has revealed a surprising past.
During the 13th and 14th centuries Dunstable was one of the few centres for tournaments in the country. In these mock battles 300 to 400 knights charged at one another on an area the size of a golf course. Tilting at one another there were colossal crashes. If you were knocked off your horse was ransomed and you had to hide or also be held to ransom. The herald kept a note of the coats of arms.
For many years tournaments were banned in England. But, in 1232 HenryIII granted a charter to Dunstable and 3 other towns, Brackley, Stamford and Blyth to hold tournaments. Why Dunstable? It had good communications being the junction of Watling Street and the Icknield Way. The area from Skimpot across the foot of Blows Downs towards Dunstable Downs was suitably flat. The Prior was not too happy as tournaments caused much havoc and the Prior sometimes stopped a tournament if it was getting out of hand.
Following this, tournaments were held under HenryIII in 1245, 1247, 1248, 1255 and 1257. In Edward Ist’s reign many were held, once or twice a year. Surprisingly only one death is recorded. EdwardII hated tournaments. Edward fell out with the barons who took over the government. A tournament held in 1309 has accurate records of participants.
1342 saw the last tournament in Dunstable. EdwardIII wanted more chivalrous events and jousting became popular.
Driving into Dunstable today it is hard to imagine the scene of the knights, horses, standards and all the entourage as it must have been in the height of a tournament.
Invasion 1940 What if?
It is now almost 80 years since the Battle of Britain and the real fear that a German invasion could be a possibility. Tony’s talk aimed to outline what may have happened and explain why it didn’t.
We know much about Operation Sea Lion – the German plan for the invasion with landings on a wide front along the south coast.
The country would be divided into two zones- occupied and unoccupied like France, along a line through Harrogate. The Prime Minister would be a sympathiser, such as Oswald Moseley, and the power would be with the SS who would command 6 killing squads targeting groups such as Jewish people and Boy Scouts. Dr Six had over 3.000 names on a list, which included authors, musicians and actors. Plans to evacuate Churchill and the Royal family to Canada were made. The Germans would have installed Edward VIII as king, not a popular move. The Reich would asset strip and plunder art works and other valuable goods. The gold reserves were already in Canada. All able bodied men between 17 and 45 would be dispatched as forced labour to Germany.
Hitler was never totally committed to invasion as the German Navy was not strong. The best he hoped for was to neutralise Britain. The decision depended on air domination.
Starting on 5th August they hoped to defeat the RAF in two weeks. Terrible weather that August contributed to thwarting Hitler’s plans and by the end of August it was clear that the RAF fighting the Battle of Britain were defending brilliantly. Terror bombing of London to defeat morale did not bring capitulation.
Operation Sea Lion planned for September was not ever practical. The strength of the Royal Navy, which outnumbered the German 10 – 1, and the well equipped army meant that the invasion plan was never pursued. Churchill famously thanked the RAF for their contribution but many felt that the role of the Navy in particular was not recognised.
Housekeeping at Woburn Abbey
One can forgive Simon’s mother in 1997 for not being convinced that taking a job as a pantry boy at Althorp House in Northampton was a good career move. However, I think it is fair to say she has been proved wrong.
One of Simon’s first responsibilities was to help at the wake for Princess Diana. From here he moved to Brockett Hall in Hertfordshire, home of Charles Brockett and at one time Lord Palmerston. Here Simon had good training from an ex-military Head Butler. When the Duke of Bedford at Woburn was looking for a butler Simon got snapped up.
It was in 1955 that the Duke of Bedford decided to open up Woburn to the public to help cover the running costs and keep the estate in the family. Since then Woburn Abbey has grown to be the large concern that it is, part of the Treasure Houses Group a consortium of 9 stately homes still in private ownership. These include Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace. The owners all meet annually for a dinner.
Simon’s role is to supervise the running and maintenance of the public areas of the Abbey. The house is built of Totternhoe Clunch, a hard chalk also seen in the structure of All Saints Church. This stone is not hard wearing and at times needs replacing. In the late 1900’s stone quarried from Totternhoe was used to replace the weathered stones at Woburn.
Simon works with a team of four to maintain the house and furnishings, which include not just paintings but collections of furniture, porcelain and silver.
There are many areas of concern. Fire is such a worry that the estate keeps its own Green Goddess. Water damage has been known to cause ceilings to collapse. Regular checks are made for pests such as carpet beetles, moths, bookworms and woodworm. Light can be a problem and the correct type of blinds are installed. Temperature and humidity are controlled with humidifiers. Dusting and cleaning is ongoing during the winter months. Special brushes for delicate dusting are made of squirrel hair. Deep cleaning a carpet requires the team to turn it over, hand pick the back, vacuum clean it then reroll it and leave it to rest! Cleaning paintings requires a tower. Delicate items of porcelain are cleaned using make-up cleansers and cottonbuds.
Recently the Duke announced a huge restoration project. The Abbey will be closed from August 2019 for two years to allow asbestos removal and major restoration work.
Simon’s talk left us out of breath and full of admiration for the work that he does.
PS What is the collective noun for a group of butlers? Yes, you have it – a ‘sneer’!
The Pied Piper and the Pigeon Fancier
Phil Lake and John Edwards
Our first speaker following the AGM was Phil Lake of Swifttsure Pest Control, Caddington’s own answer to the Pied Piper of Hamelin!
Phil has been working in pest control for 23years. Following work on the London Ambulance Service he trained as a pest control officer in 1996. At the time pests such as rats, mice, cockroaches and bedbugs were on the increase. In 1993, Phil moved to Luton where he was working in commercial properties helping to maintain good hygiene. Inspections revealed such horrors as insect droppings in flour. Properties had to be fumigated – sometimes even ships.
In 2011 Phil became selfemployed and extended into domestic work. His work takes him increasingly into London and he has added some prestigious buildings into his portfolio. The British Library, theatres such as the National and Westminster Abbey are in his care. At the Abbey his work includes caring for the tapestries, working on the choir stalls and generally keeping the ancient building pest free. He did say that he watches any royal wedding on TV with bated breath in case an uninvited guest scampers into view.
Pest of the Month for April is the wasp – but Phil said that they should not be discouraged as they are good pollinators and kill insect larvae. Moles also got a mention. They dig runs 14 inches down with the excavations appearing on the surface, but only in the mating season.
Question time brought up some interesting points. Once called in to investigate some suspicious droppings, Phil discovered they were coffee beans. Rats are definitely on the increase at the laws regarding baiting have changed. New products especially organics are being developed. These are trialled further north before coming to the London area.
Did Phil have a ‘pet hate’? – Yes – bed bugs! They are very difficult to treat as they make a run for it! Phil has had to treat not just beds but seating in theatres. At which point we all started scratching!
During Phil’s talk some of us had been aware of a gentle rippling sound from a wicker basket, so it was no surprise when John Edwards, Caddington’s pigeon fancier was introduced.
John was born in Mile End in the East End in 1952. When his father got a job managing a transport depot on the site of the Texaco Garage by the Packhorse Inn the family moved to Hawthorn Crescent. John went to Heathfield School and was one of the first 70 pupils at Five Oaks School. After various jobs including working on a 5,000 square mile sheep station in Australia John settled down to married life in Meadow Way. It was at this time that he built his first pigeon loft. A good friend, Cliff Ginger helped and guided him and taught him all he knew
Jenny’s theatrical performance began with her assuring us that she had been happily married for 40 years.
Women in the past, however, had not had a good deal. It took 60 years to get the vote. The stereotypical image of the Victorian husband was in fact well supported by the laws of the time, with male superiority instilled into them from an early age by parents and education. On marriage Victorian husbands took over their wives’ money and property. They controlled their freedom – a wife who ran away could be imprisoned. Wives were seen as the means of producing legitimate offspring who became the property of the husband. Husbands were seen as the owners of the wife’s body. It was considered that children gave the wife a purpose in life.
In 1839 Caroline Norton decided to try and get laws changed. With help she managed to get laws passed that gave the wife custody of children up to 7 years and then access would continue. Despite her further activities it was 25 years before a Divorce and Maintenance Bill was passed. Until 1850 husbands were allowed to beat their wives, as long as the stick was no thicker than a thumb – hence the ‘rule of thumb’ saying.
By the end of the Victorian era things had much improved for women but husbands still had rights. We were shocked to hear that it was not until 1991 that wives had full control of their own bodies!
Rags to Riches –the story of paper and the Frogmore Paper Mil
The talk this month came as a result of a visit made by some of the group to Frogmore Paper Mill near Hemel Hempstead. Peter started the evening by getting us to understand the importance of paper to us all in our everyday lives. Everything from toilet paper, tissues, packaging, banknotes, books, maps, hotair balloons and building materials widely used in caravans.
All paper is plant based hydrogen bonded cellulose to give it its scientific definition or pulp plus water to the rest of us!
There has been a mill at Frogmore in the Gade Valley for hundreds of years. Originally for fulling wool, then grinding corn, the mill began to make paper in 1803, first using rags then when there were not enough, changing to wood. The mill was one of 7 including Dickinson’s at Apsley providing paper to Watford, the print capital of the world, until the 1950’s. Large scale production at Frogmore ceased in 2009, but the mill continues as a Heritage Site run as a charity. There is still a small working machine using recycled products including the elephant poo from Whipsnade and banana skins. Visitors can see this and the old mill as well as have a trip on the canal. The Mill group is involved in teaching, research, recycling and hosting school groups. The atmospheric old mill features in films and TV as well as live theatre. Well worth a visit!
After an introductory film taken at the Crich Museum in Derbyshire, Ian took us through the history of trams. The Swansea to Mumbles route has the distinction of being the first tram route in the UK. Starting in 1807, it was drawn by one horse and could seat 40 people. Later trams were powered by steam and then electricity, seating up to 106. The standard gauge adopted of 4’81/2’’ was based on the width of the wheel base of a Roman chariot. This is still used today. As in San Francisco some trams used cables on steep hills, notably Highgate Hill and the tram still operating in Llandudno. Seating was just wooden slats – not comfortable at all. More recently modern trams have returned to some urban areas, Manchester, Croydon and Nottingham.
Luton’s tram system operated from 1908 till 1932. The green and cream vehicles operated on 5 routes, using power from the dedicated power station in what is now Power Court. They all had a driver and a conductor who issued coloured tickets. The trams ran to the Town Hall clock. Initially, they were open top upstairs and rules were very strict – no smoking except outside. Travel by tram must have been quite safe, only two accidents ever being recorded. In 1932 the trams were replaced by buses, but a single-decker tram is being restored and may one day be on view at Stockwood Museum.
Festival of Britain
Michael Gilbert is no stranger to Caddhist and we looked forward to his return. His topic – the 1951 Festival of Britain related well to his previous talks on the Great Exhibition.
An exhibition to commemorate the centenary of this event was mooted as early as 1943 and in the climate of postwar Britain it was developed as a ‘tonic to the nation’. In 1945, Labour returned to power. Although manufacturing recovered there was a massive housing shortage. Twenty new towns were created and 5,000 prefabs imported from Sweden. In 1947 Princess Elizabeth got married and 1948 saw the Austerity Games in London but then it was felt that the national mood was flagging and a celebration of all things British was just what was needed.
Twenty- seven acres on the South Bank were chosen for the main exhibition and what was accomplished in a short time was nothing short of amazing. The Festival Hall was erected in 8 months. Other features – the Dome of Discovery – the largest free standing dome in the world was entered by an escalator. The iconic Skylon was the result of a competition and the Festival logo, Britannia, is still seen on our Caddington sign. A working coalmine, trees and nature, a machine making wafer biscuits, a seaside with salt water, outer space, a tanker aircraft and farm machinery could all be seen here.
The Festival Pleasure Gardens, upstream at Battersea, featured the Guinness Clock which performed every 15 minutes, the Wall of Death and a dance pavilion. All lit up at night this must have lifted many people’s spirits after years of blackout and austerity.
October Caddhist report
‘40 years at Kodak’
Tony’s enthusiasm for his subject was based on being employed for 40 years by Kodak.
He started by outlining the origins of photography as long ago as 1826 when Niepce produced the first photos on metal plates. He was joined by Daguerre who used glass. Later Fox- Talbot produced images on paper. During the 1860’s photography became more widespread with people sharing their foreign travel experiences in lantern shows, using wet plates. In 1861, Clark- Maxwell produced the first colour images and from the 1870’s, dry plates meant that multiple images could be produced and postcards became very popular.
It was George Eastman who popularised photography with his Kodak Black camera which took roll film of 100 exposures. The name ‘Kodak’ was invented but lasted. Eastman set up production in London, enjoying such success that he moved to a state of the art works at Clerkenwell, followed later by moves to Wealdstone, where they had their own power station, and later to Kingsway in London and the works that many of us remember on the magic roundabout at Hemel Hempstead.
In 1890 celluloid was invented. This was made on tables in the dark. Kodak did the developing and printing. The $1 Box Brownie developed by Eastman in 1900 was a toy in the US but taken very seriously here. In 1935 Kodak developed Kodachrome, popular for so many years. Wartime work gave rise to the first British designed cameras – leading ultimately to the Instamatic.
However, Kodak was slow to embrace digital technology and the works moved to smaller premises on a factory estate in Hemel. Three weeks later the Buncefield Oil Depot exploded!
I must not forget the tie! To finish, Tony showed us a series of photos of him at his desk from 1961 onwards, illustrating how work stations had changed since 1961. In each picture he was wearing the same tie.
September Caddhist Report
Deception in World War 2
Huw started his talk by pointing out that outwitting your enemies is always good for troop morale. In World War 1 Lawrence of Arabia became master of the art of deception in the North African Campaign. His tactics were developed during World War 2. A whole campaign of illusion was masterminded by Col Turner supported by a team of the best film studio carpenters and engineers.
Following the devastation of Coventry in 1940 decoys were set up to create the illusion of factories. Known as ‘Starfish’ these decoys, consisting of an array of special lights, were set up close to target cities. Following attacks a variety of oils were lit to imitate a scene of devastation. These were known as Q sites. Sixty fake airfields – K sites – were set up near real ones to attract enemy fire.
Lorries were disguised as tanks. They were replicated in great detail until they were told that this was unnecessary. In North Africa fake tanks fooled Rommel into believing that the attacks were coming from a different direction and helped the success at El Alamein. Also in North Africa a falsified map was ‘allowed’ to fall into German hands leading them astray.
In Greece whole bomb craters, quay sides, bridges and a tunnel entrance were built, all false.
In ‘Operation Overlord’, the D-day landings, it was important to convince the Germans that Normandy was not the landing area. A whole mock army with tanks, trucks and landing craft was created in Kent and Sussex under the command of General Patton. Inflatable trucks which could be mended with puncture repair kits were produced and still are. Hitler was convinced that the invasion would take place at Calais and concentrated all the German forces there. Normandy was kept short. Some of the deceptions failed but it was too late for the Germans to regroup and Allied casualties were relatively low.
Huw’s talk kept us entertained as well as giving us some insight into the creativity that helped to defend and protect us.
Caddhist Report July 2018
Pamela is the Chief Archivist at Bedford, where vast amounts of old records are stored. Access to these and knowledge of their contents provided the basis of her well informed talk.
In the 1700’s Luton was a small town relying on providing the straw plait for the hat trade. At this time the plaiting was a cottage industry carried out in peoples’ homes.
In the 1820’s the hat making from London to be near the source of the straw. Development in Luton was somewhat restricted by space, the Moor to the north, Stockwood estate on the South West and Luton Hoo on the South East. The turnpike road was neglected. In 1832 the New Bedford Rd was built but Luton suffered from lack of good communication having no railway or canal. Straw plait from a wide area was traded in the Plait Halls and housing was built with hat making rooms(both straw and felt) at the rear.
1858 saw the opening of a small branch line from Dunstable to Welwyn, but it was in 1867 with the coming of the Midland line that the towns development really took off. Hayward Tyler were the first. A waterworks to provide clean water was next. In 1874 Luton was awarded Borough status. Balmforth Engineering and Laportes chemicals moved here. The town built a power station to attract industry. In Dallow Rd there was a cocoa and chocolate factory. After 1905, Vauxhall. Commer, Kent’s and SkefCo all moved out from London.
The town centre had many small shops and a picture house. Football and cricket clubs thrived. An airplane factory became the site of the Electrolux works.
During the First World War many if the factories produced muntitions and supported the war effort, using female labour.
Pamela stopped at this point as the story needs much research and sorting of records and documents from the archives. Hopefully, we shall see Pamela back to bring us up to date.
CADDHIST REPORT JUNE 28th 2018
The Making of the Bedfordshire Countryside
‘An unassuming county’ is how Bedfordshire was described by one of the first agricultural surveyors in the early 19th century
Brian Kerr is a soil scientist and a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield University and his talk set out to explain the structure, growth and diversity of our county – undeserving of its reputation of ‘a place to travel through rather than explore’.
Brian spoke of a dynamic, ever changing landscape that is much older than we think. He explained the geology – chalk, clay, the Greensand Ridge etc and the effects of occupation of the various areas throughout history. The Iron Age hill fort at Maiden Bower for example, Roman finds at Sandy, a possible vineyard at Ampthill and a Roman burial ground at the Black Cat Roundabout on the A1. The Domesday Book described Bedfordshire as ‘well settled and a model agricultural county.
Brian then talked about how the Greensand Ridge’s sandy acid soil discouraged agriculture but was suitable for settlements, grazing and the classic parklands such as Woburn, Wrest Park and Luton Hoo. One of the influences of these parks became evident when exotic species such as muntjac deer and black squirrels were introduced. This eventually led to escapes and the spread of these species over England.
This presentation, in looking at Bedfordshire’s past, made us aware of the care that needs to be taken in the future. Possible changes of policy regarding the Green Belt, less public access and conservation were only a few of the issues mentioned.
All very big concerns for ‘an unassuming county’.
As has become traditional our AGM was followed by a Members’ night.
Following the ceremony on the 27th March to recognise the Centenary of the death of our local VC hero, Lt Col John Collings-Wells we decided to compile a presentation about his life. Trawling through the files of research compiled by Terry and Pam Oliver we found letters, diary entries and reports which built up a picture of a really likeable man, who cared for his family, the men under his command, but had a sense of humour. Brave and clear sighted in action, he led from the front. His mother’s account of their visit to Buckingham Palace to receive the VC posthumously is especially poignant.
Twelve members took part in a presentation which was followed by a slide display of Jack(as he was known), Caddington Hall, where he lived, his family and photos taken during WW1.
After the break, Jill Rumney on piano and Don Champken at the mike, led us in rousing renditions of WW1 songs– the repeatable versions!
‘Failed to return’ – Two wartime air mysteries
For his talk Tony had chosen two well-known people.
Amy Johnson, originally from Hull, became hooked on flying while working in London. She quickly gained an engineer’s certificate and a pilot’s licence but being a woman could not get work.She decided to attempt to break the record of London to Australia in her second hand Gypsy Moth called Jason. Flying solo, using basic maps for navigation she encountered many problems and failed to break the record but by the time she reached Darwin she arrived to tumultuous crowds. Wherever she went she was feted.
Unable to settle she continued to break records – solo flights to South Africa and New Zealand and a Trans- Atlantic flight where she and her husband crashed in Connecticut. They were still received by President Roosevelt.
As record breaking became more difficult, Amy turned her hand to business ventures. There was still no role for a female pilot. That is, until war broke out.
In 1940 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, a unit set up to deliver planes around the country for the RAF.
On Sunday 5th January Amy left Prestwick to deliver a plane to Kidlington in Oxford – a flight of 1 ¼ hours.
Why then did the plane crash into the Thames near Herne Bay some hours later?
Attempts at rescue in the icy waters were impossible. Had Amy, who relied on navigating by maps, got totally lost in thick cloud? Was she on a secret mission? She had no radio in the plane and had never done a parachute jump.
Amy’s body was never recovered but some of her possessions were. The mystery of her death only adds to the mystique of her brave life.
Tony’s second choice was Leslie Howard, the English stage and screen actor. Born in London to parents of Jewish heritage, he started his stage career in London but moved to Hollywood, famously appearing in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Pygmalion’, co-starring with many of the film greats.
At the outbreak of WW2 he returned to the UK to support the broadcasting of propaganda. He worked with Noel Coward for the BBC and directed ‘Pimpernel Smith’. With David Niven, he starred in ‘The First of the Few’. Undertaking lecture tours as part of the propaganda machine took Leslie to Lisbon. The return flight to Bristol on a BOAC 777 across neutral airspace proved fatal. The plane was attacked by six German Junker fighters over the Bay of Biscay.The Germans said later that it was in error.
However, there are some doubts about this. The passengers could be clearly seen boarding the flight and Howard as well as Niven and Olivier were all possible secret agents and used to carry documents. Howard was certainly known to Goebbels. At the time it was important to keep Spain neutral and Britain was wooing Franco. It was possible that Bletchley Park could have averted the incident but this would have given away the cracking of the Enigma Code.
Howard’s file has been kept secret for 75 years – now extended to 100. Will the contents ever be revealed?
Man on the Spot- A Broadcaster’s Story
I think we all felt privileged to have shared Bill’s talk about his life. He started by telling us how a reporter’s job has changed. 24 hour news is received on phones or tablets and pictures are sent on mobile phones, all usurping the old fashioned skills of shorthand and hammering out stories on an Olivetti typewriter.
Bill grew up in Dundee, famous for the three J’s, jute, jam and journalism. He started his career as a cub reporter for the Fife Herald. He then spent 3years at West Hartlepool as Sports Reporter for the Northern Daily Mail. By 22 years of age he was a reporter for Tyne Tees TV, followed by five years presenting ‘Reporting Scotland’. During this time he had one of his ‘scoops’ being in the helicopter that discovered a missing train completely buried in snow. His part in this and the ensuing rescue made a great story.
Bill made it clear that being in the right place at the right time had a part to play. He had already had some London experience working with a team including Angela Rippon, when fate placed him at the scene of the bomb that killed Airey Neave and he was able to give first hand accounts. After this he became a home affairs correspondent covering the Troubles in N.Ireland, the Brighton bombing, Pope John Paul’s visit in 1982 and riots in Toxteth and Brixton, to name but a few.
An early morning call summoned Bill to fly to Lebanon to provide reports on the Israeli invasion. His life as a foreign correspondent had begun. An earthquake in Algeria, famine in Sudan, the plight of Aids children in Kwa-Zulu, the outcome of nuclear testing causing defective genes in the people of Kazahkstan. These are just some of the news stories that Bill covered.
His exclusive reports on post communist Albania told of a country persuaded for years by President Hoxha that only they had a good standard of living. What they found was a country so run down that hospitals and schools had no equipment, shops were empty and jails were beyond squalid. These reports sparked huge international aid efforts, causes that Bill continues to support to this day.
I cannot finish without mentioning Bill’s skills as a football referee. From a lad of 14 till the present day he has reffed over 2,000 matches, always ready for the unexpected.
Bill, now officially retired, is stiil involved in many activities and in his words ‘not growing OLD but growing UP!’
Marriage and Courtship in the 1800’s
Way back in feudal times when the Lords of the Manor controlled most of the population, everyone was encouraged to marry to produce children. Young girls had to prove they were fertile before marriage, consequently most women were pregnant before they reached the altar. This was the norm and there was no stigma attached.
Many couples who were married came from different parts of the country. This
might seem unusual but they worked for landed gentry who moved around taking their servants with them. The servants worked for 364 day contracts with no holiday. Hirings happened at the hiring fairs as for example in Luton.
Tom showed us a picture of some people in the pub at a such a fair. It was intriguing that you could tell what people were by their attire and demeanour.The upstairs maid was demure and wore a short apron. The milkmaid was quite outgoing, literate and wore no shoes. The Scottish shepherd (much in demand for his skills) had his crook and wore tartan.
The new employer gave the new employee one shilling to seal the contract. This pai
Our November meeting featured a selection of short films chosen and presented by our own Peter Farrow. The evening was a kind of Mystery Tour as we had no idea what was coming next!
We started in Caddington with a film about the Big Freeze in Caddington reminding us of those cold snowy days in 2009 when some of us had no gas or electricity, but how we all pulled together to make sure that everyone was OK.It was good to see Terry Oliver on the screen. Following this was an item on development of language, tracing words back through the 19th and 18th centuries to Shakespearean language. During the 13th to 15th centuries language was biblical and prior to that Old English.
‘Ghosts of Luton’ is a truly magical film showing scenes of old Luton slowly morphing into more modern views. For example, a picture of trams became an MOT station in a contemporary setting and soldiers became Mods on their bikes.I could happily watch this film again.
‘Cyril and Daisy – not quite cricket’ was a whimsical tale entirely filmed on a model railway. ‘Flying in 1949’ promoted BEA and BOAC airlines as safe, serving food and drink, with greatly extended routes.
The oldest footage of London, filmed between 1890 and 1920 clearly showed the transition from horse drawn vehicles to trams and motor cars. We then watched a Giant Baobab tree being moved from the Kimberly Mountains to King’s Park in Perth where it still thrives. We finished the evening with a friendly ghost story ‘In My Country’ filmed in Luton starring Louise Trealeven of CADS.
Thanks to Peter for a truly memorable evening.
A Kick up the Sixties!
We were hoping for an entertaining talk and in this we were not disappointed. Alan started by giving us the ‘OAP’s test… Advertisements for ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’..Did we remember Popeye, I love Lucy, the Wooden Tops and the Lone Ranger?
Until 1965 there were three BBC radio stations. How many of us remember Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Mitchellmore’s Family Favourites accompanying our Sunday lunch? Then, along came Radio Luxembourg with Horace Batchelor’s advert spelling out KEYNSHAM interminably.
In 1960, Mila Pond held the first Tupperware party. The prize was an orange peeler! This gave rise to much discussion about other Tupperware gifts some of which people still possessed.
!961 saw the introduction of the ‘Twist’ while 1962 was the year of strikes – the car manufacturers, miners and the Underground.
At this time cars didn’t have seat belts and there were no drink-driving restrictions. David Nixon, the conjuror was popular on TV.
1963 was the year of the Great Train Robbery and 1964 was the year that Twister was first sold and played.
Sadly, Alan had to leave before we could hear about the rest of the sixties
A Journey by Stagecoach from London to York in 1820
Although not the expected speaker, we were treated to a breakneck talk focussing on a certain Tom Bowman, a gunsmith, who was travelling by stagecoach from London to York. He always travelled with his blunderbuss, which he could use in case of attack.
It was at this time that the newly improved roads built by Telford were opening up, making the journeys quicker and the ride more comfortable. Tom and his wife departed at 7am. Tom had booked in advance to be sure of getting inside seats. The coaches carried 6 inside and 11 on top and the luggage had to be balanced to avoid sickness. The average journey for a coachman was 12 miles, at which point the horses were changed. That December morning there was a thick peasouper which slowed down progress. The first stop was at Islington to allow for a flock of geese, who were walking to London, feet tarred for protection, only to be eaten for Christmas dinners! At Highgate Hill Tom and the other men had to get out to help push the coach up the hill and then lean to stop it rolling down the other side.
Half a mile from Stevenage the post horn blew to warn the ostlers at the next inn. For the ‘Specials’ a 90 second turn around was allowed. Much like modern pitstops. They proceeded on at around 15 miles an hour to Huntingdon, where Tom and his wife lunch from the hamper they had brought with them. They spent the night at the Angel in Grantham and then carried on despite snowdrifts to Newark and finally, York.
Hugh’s talk was peppered with sayings that we use in our everyday speech but have origins in the past. Here are just a few.
People who fell asleep on the top of the coach might ‘drop off’
In order to choose a good horse, check his teeth. – hence ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’
When playing crib, the aim is to move your pegs the end of the board, winning by ‘pegging out’ This has come to mean a finiish of a different kind.
I do hope that we see more of Hugh Grainger!
Our August meeting took the form of a Social Evening. The hall looked lovely with flower arrangements provided by Wendy Catford and we all enjoyed a splendid hot and cold buffet provided by Lisa Roberts.
A wordsearch provided by Kay Palfrey and quiz, based on talks during the year, provided some entertainment. It was noted that the Chairman’s table did obscenely well and he hadn’t set the questionsl!
A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Visit to St Mary’s Parish Church, Luton
August 10th 2017
Although many of us have passed by the chequerboard walls of St Mary’s Church on our way to the shops or even been in for services, graduations or concerts very few have visited it with the purpose of finding out about the history. For some of our group the church holds special significance – where they were married or worked on the fabric of the building.
For our visit, we were met by Peter Adams, whose role is Director of the St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. More of this role later.
There has been a church on this site for over 1,000 years. The original wooden Saxon church burned down in 1121. The current building was established by Robert, Earl of Gloucester c.1121 and consecrated in 1137. Like many churches it has a cruciform plan and originally had a central tower and no side aisles. The North and South aisles were added during the 13th century as the population grew. The West Tower added in the 14th Century has a full circle of 12 bells.
On entering the church, I was struck immediately by the tall, white, intricately carved Baptistery at the end of the aisle – the longest nave in Bedfordshire. As well as a range of stained glass windows from the Victorian time, depicting the life of Christ and figures from the early church, one window stands out. The Great South window was replaced in 1979 by a modern design to represent Mary’s ‘explosion of happiness’ as expressed in the Magnificat. The abstract design with strong vertical structure is an explosion of red, blue, white and gold colours.
Another striking, modern feature is the Corona designed by George Pace above the Communion table. Made of metal struts to resemble antlers, the style is repeated in other railings and fittings in the church
Whilst we were sitting in the Wenlock Chapel, built by Sir John Wenlock in 1461, Peter pointed out that two of our party were occupying the seats used by the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited Luton Hoo.
St Mary’s is very much an active church in the heart of the town used by a variety of Christian groups. In addition, Peter told us about some of his work at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. They work closely with churches of all denominations across the town, the Muslim community and other faith groups as well as Luton Borough Council and Bedfordshire Police.
The Supreme Court – Anne-Marie Trainer
I must confess that until hearing Anne-Marie’s talk I was extremely ignorant of the significance of the Supreme Court. In 2009 the highest courts in the land were transferred away from the House of Lords to a new Supreme Court located in the old Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square. The Court is presided over by 12 Law Lords who are explicitly separate from the government and deal with cases of the greatest public importance.
The neo-gothic building started life in 1913 as the Guildhall for Middlesex. At that time it had two court rooms and the council offices. It seems that no expense was spared in the original construction, built of Portland Stone with beautiful carved gateways.
The Court is open to the public and anyone can walk in. What one finds is an interesting mix of original features with modern additions.
Court No 1 is the old Council Chamber with original heraldry and stained glass, but modern light fittings. Court No 2 features a lovely design with rose, leek, thistle and flax flower for Northern Ireland. A third court room holds the Privy Council for the Commonwealth. All the Commonwealth flags are here and all but one removed when a case from the relevant country is being heard.
Anne-Marie outlined some of the cases that have been heard at the Supreme Court coming right up to date with Gina Miller’s case. This concerned Brexit, ensuring that any agreement will have to go to an Act of Parliament.
I might just have to turn off Parliament Square one day and visit the Supreme Court myself.
Thursday 22nd June 2017
As far as I knew, no-one in the room had ever heard of Colonel Fred, but after an hour or so in Julia’s company, we became familiar with a handsome, dashing, brave, daring action man of Victorian times.
Frederick Gustavus Burnaby was born in Bedford in 1843. Son of a vicar, (but heard to say ‘Papa I do not wish to be a parson’), he went first to Bedford School, then to Harrow, then to private education in Germany, becoming fluent in German, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish.
At the age of sixteen, he became the youngest person to be accepted into the Royal Horse Guards Regiment (the Blues). Fred was six foot four inches tall and immensely strong and there is a story of fellow officers putting two small ponies in his bedroom for a joke and when the ponies refused to go down stairs, he picked them up, one under each arm and carried them down.
In 1874 he was commissioned by the Times to report on the Spanish Civil War but before the end of the war, he was transferred to Africa to report on General Gordon’s expedition to the Sudan, which took him to Khartoum.
Returning to England in 1875, he then planned a journey on horseback to Khiva through Russian Asia. Disobeying his senior officer’s orders, he intended to cross Afghanistan, but met with blizzard conditions of minus fifty degrees and frostbite. Close to death he took three weeks to recover. His book ‘A Ride to Khiva’ brought him fame and an invitation to dine with Queen Victoria.
In 1879, he was promoted to Major and married Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed, an heiress to estates in Ireland, who later became famous in her own right as a pioneer mountain climber at a time when it was unknown for women to climb mountains.
Crossing the English Channel in a hot air balloon and a foray into politics came next then later he was given a post in a fresh Nile Expedition by Lord Wolseley. He fought in what became known as the Battle of Abu Khea. During hand to hand fighting, he died while attempting to rescue a colleague. Poems and songs were written in his praise and lead soldiers and porcelain figurines made in his image. There was a five thousand word obituary in the Times and his portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
It is said that he died with a smile on his face. Perhaps it was just the way this courageous, sometimes outrageous man would wish to go.
25th MAY 2017
Eve was dressed in medieval costume and the rather gruesome tools of the trade, including a complicated instrument for removing arrow heads, were laid out on a table behind her.
Her talk began with an explanation of how the workings of the human body were understood at the time. It was thought that the body was made up of liquids, called Humours and identified as Blood, Black Bile, Yellow Bile and Phlegm. Any symptom displayed by a patient was placed under one of these headings and treated in the appropriate way to restore the correct balance between the four Humours.
In medieval times, Physicians were university trained and allowed to diagnose and prescribe, rarely touching the patient. Surgeons and Apothecaries were trained by apprenticeships and lower down the ladder, barber surgeons, having trained under more experienced colleagues, would perform operations, sometimes with a bit of veterinary practice thrown in. Even lower down the ladder, ladies of the manor, wise women and even blacksmiths would treat illness with their own methods, using perhaps natural remedies such as soap and honey for burns and honey, turpentine and pitch for deeper wounds.
Eve’s next item was to show some of the more standard treatments including bloodletting, cupping, applying leeches and amputation. The tool used for amputating a finger or toe looked just like a small chisel which was placed above the injury and hit sharply with a mallet.
The knife used for amputating an arm or leg was a rather terrifying curved blade with which the surgeon could reach under the affected limb and draw upwards with one long sweep, cutting through all of the flesh, revealing the bone, which would then be sawn through with a very ordinary looking saw.
A demonstration of this method called for four volunteers. One ‘victim’, one strong person to hold the torso back against a chair, a person to hold the arm and another to restrain the feet. Silk or linen thread would be used to sew up the stump after cauterising the veins with what looked like a branding iron. The demonstration was a bit graphic, but thankfully completed without bloodshed and ended a thoroughly fascinating, information filled evening.
Annual General Meeting and Members night
The AGM was duly completed in not quite record time and the rest of the evening was devoted to perusing the display of artefacts and memorabilia brought along by the members. The eclectic mix included such items as an RAF helmet, a collection of flints – possibly tools and axeheads, music written but never performed for the Coronation of Edward VIII, a file of personal family history, a wine glass from the Orient Express, a footballing family recorded over 4 generations and much more. A map showing Caddington in the past was of great interest.
We finished the evening with an anecdote from the inimitable Mick Trundle. He has been a member of the Meppershall Players for many years. One of his early performances required him to be totally blacked up, head to waist. After cleaning this off on the first night he realised that the makeup would never last. He did not wash for the rest of the week!
The London Underground – Tony Earle
I think most of us who don’t have to use the London Underground on a daily basis regard it with some affection. Tony’s research explained the history of the development of the system as we know it today.
By the mid 1800s many commuters were arriving at main line stations but finding the roads to work were slow and congested with horse drawn vehicles. Charles Pearson along with Joseph Bazalgette planned the first stretch of underground – 4 miles from Paddington Station. In 1863 the first section to Farringdon was opened. Built using the cut and cover method under Euston Road, the sides were lined with bricks, tracks laid and then covered over leaving gaps for the smoke to get out. The atmosphere in the trains was thick and passengers were frequently asphyxiated, removed from the train, taken to a pharmacist to recover and then ‘allowed’ to continue their journey.
The Metropolitan line was followed by the District and the Circle. They were all in competition. With electricity, deeper tunnels could be dug in the clay and the network as we know it today took shape. The Central Line connected up many of the original lines.
During WW2 as well as providing shelter at night, the underground was used to store art work and an unfinished track used as a factory.
The Tube map originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931 is still used today but continues to be expanded with the Docklands railway, the Overground and Crossrail.
We had a fascinating evening!
Historic Caddington – Stephen Coleman
Stephen began working in the County Records office in the late 70’s and over the years has acquired an in depth knowledge of the historical geography of Bedfordshire. During his talk, illustrated with maps and prints, he shared with us some of his knowledge of Caddington’s past.
The parish, with it’s chalk scarp, dissected by dry valleys overlaid by clay with flints was largely established by the 10th Century. In the north was pasture on the downland. The middle of the parish consisted of 6 common fields cultivated in strips, creating the ridge and furrow landscape still seen in other parts of the country. The fields were administered by a manorial court and the records kept at St Paul’s in London. Some of the field names survived,eg. Streetfield amd Heathfield. The south of the Parish, including at that time, Markyate, was common woodland.
From the 14th Century gradual enclosure of the land occurred. The new fields, known as closes could be hedged and fenced. Some of the closes around Bury Farm were large and the old hedges can still be seen.
The sixteen hundreds must have been a pretty lively time in Caddington. The Caddington Woodland, known as Caddington Common or The Waste was cleared bit by bit and enclosed, causing much insurrection. Some people ended up in jail. The Pest House for those who had smallpox was located in this area and the old Harrow pub started as a squatters settlement.
Stephen’s talk gave us tantalising glimpses of what Caddington was like in the past.
Truth is stranger than fiction – Colin Oakes
This was Colin’s second visit to Caddhist and after hearing his amazing account of Octavia of Dunstable, this evening’s talk was eagerly awaited.
Colin started with a quote from GK Chesterton.
‘Human imagination could not create the truth’
He continued to astound us with anecdotes that demonstrated just that.
There was a Mr Gage in 1847 who worked on building railways in the US. He was responsible for setting the explosives to blast the rock while preparing the track. He survived an explosion which drove an iron rod right through his head. Although he suffered some depression, he recovered enough to work again and lived another 12 years.
There are urban myths for example, that apple pips can grow in your stomach but this has never been recorded. However, there is a man who discovered that his breathing difficulties were due to a pea that he must have breathed in actually growing in his lung.
Can chickens live without their heads? Well, Biddy of Michigan ran around for 17 days without hers.
These are just a few examples of the curious facts that Collin had researched.
He finished with some scientific facts. Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet? That if you lift a kangaroo’s tail it can’t jump? That camel milk doesn’t curdle?
Truth is surely stranger than fiction!
Shackleton –Pat Sutcliffe
When Shackleton set out on his Antarctic expedition on 1st August 1914 he would have had no idea of what was to befall him and his men. The aim of the expedition was to cross Antarctica from the Weddell to the Ross Sea. Shackleton had previously accompanied Scott but found him to be poorly organised. Four days after Shackleton left war was declared but they were told to continue. After calling at South Georgia in mid December they proceeded south but by20th January had become stuck fast in pack ice. The intention to drop a shore party and then leave was quickly abandoned and the entire crew had to face the prospect of staying over winter. Shackleton needed all his leadership skills to keep spirits up. A strict routine was maintained.
By June the ship, buckling under the pack ice had to be abandoned. With supplies low, they tried to march carrying the 3 lifeboats but progress was pitifully slow. Eventually Endurance sank on November 4th 1915. All this time they were drifting in the pack ice. The following April, with morale really low and unrest never far off, the ice cracked and the boats were launched. They made landfall on Elephant Island from where one boat with Shackleton and six men set out for South Georgia.
Landfall six days later, after enduring a hurricane and huge waves meant they then had to trek over a mountain range to habitation. When they arrived at Stromness that was the first the world knew of the fate of the expedition. After several attempts all the men were rescued from Elephant Island and Shackleton arrived back in England, despite everything, having not lost a single man.
Pat’s enthusiasm for this topic had us all engrossed.
Galapagos 2016 – Peter and Christine Graham
We were all looking forward to an evening of stunning photography and a wealth of wildlife but what caught my interest from the outset was Peter’s introduction to the Galapagos Islands – all 250 of them, 1000 kilometres from the coast of Ecuador. Where the tectonic plates are moving the lava spews out building islands. This means that the flora and fauna vary hugely from one island to another. The meeting of contrasting sea currents also contributes to the rich variety.
Only 4 islands are inhabited and there are 90 locations where tourists are allowed ashore, thus protecting the environments. Peter and Christine stayed on board ‘Eric’ a small boat carrying 20 people and went ashore twice daily. In San Cristobal they saw tortoises – 11 species now happily recovered from the marauding first settlers. Bird life included the Nazca booby and the frigate bird – such wonderful names. In the Galapagos 95% of the flowers are white or yellow because insects are few and far between. And where else would you see swathes of cacti growing straight out of a lava flow, fascinating red and yellow Sally Lightfoot crabs, mangrove swamps, iguanas both marine and land, flightless cormorants, penguins and a host of different prickly pear cacti set in primeval landscapes. The Galapagos has it all!
Caddhist Summer Supper
This was a new innovation for us and we were lucky that it was a lovely sunny evening on Thursday 25th August when over sixty Caddhist members arrived at a very summery looking Heathfield for our Summer Supper.
A very good buffet of hot and cold food was supplied by Lisa Roberts Catering (who used to do our Christmas meals at Dunstable Downs Golf Club)
A film loop of photos from our archive ran all evening and members just relaxed over a glass or two and enjoyed the food, the chat and the company. We had our usual raffle and included in this, the very pretty table arrangements very kindly supplied by Wendy Catford.
Our extremely pleasant evening ended at our usual time of 10pm.
The Secrets of Q Central
Documents that have recently become available have revealed to the people of Leighton Buzzard how significant their town was during World War 2, but because of the Official Secrets Act none of this was known until 2011.
In 1942, Leighton Buzzard had the biggest telephone exchange in the world and was the hub of the communication centre for the whole war effort, known as Q Central. Initially in the basement of the Corn Exchange the exchange was later based at RAF Leighton Buzzard in well camouflaged buildings. The proximity of the Grand Union Canal meant that the cables could follow the route of the towpath. Q Central was also the Radar Headquarters. Oxendon House on Plantation Road became the centre of the network for the whole of the UK. The Met Office was on Dunstable Downs, receiving reports from ships and weather stations and then sending forecasts to the forces. These reports were instrumental in informing the D-Day landings.
A radio station transmitting ‘black’ propaganda was built at Milton Bryan and the Luton News printed German newspapers that were dropped over Germany.
Many of these operations were staffed by WAAFs and so the town had many dances featuring well known bands. The townspeople fundraised and bought a Spitfire, warship and a tank for the war effort. The Wonderbra factory produced Barrage Balloons to help protect the Trans Atlantic Convoys and the Coty makeup works made flares. These were tested weekly and the parachute silk fragments that came floating to earth were much prized, ending up as underwear!
Very little physical evidence of Leighton Buzzard’s contribution to the Second World War can be seen on the ground nowadays as much has been demolished. Had its full significance been appreciated earlier, who knows? But thanks to the dedication of Leighton Buzzard History Society the town’s part in shortening the war will not be forgotten.
Medical detector dogs
Jeff Lambert and Buddy
This evening’s speaker came accompanied by his medical detector dog, Buddy, who has been trained to recognise Type A diabetes. Every illness such as ‘flu has a smell but whereas humans are quite unaware of this, dogs, with a third of their brain devoted to smell can be trained to put this skill to good use.
People with Type A diabetes in particular can be given 30 minutes warning of an oncoming high or low by their dog, before they are aware of it themselves. The training took six years to plan. The dog is matched with a person and the breath is trapped. The dog is rewarded for good identification. If blood sugar levels are a cause for concern the dog will alert his ‘master’ by licking his hand or at night, his face. It is important not to overfeed the dog as this causes him to lose his sense of smell. Buddy has just 2 handfuls of dried food a day.
While dogs such as Buddy have been particularly successful in cases of diabetes, this area of research is in its infancy. They may be useful to identify Addison’s Disease, narcolepsy or Pott’s Syndrome. In the Netherlands dogs are trained at one hospital to identify anyone carrying Clostridium Difficile and prevent them entering the building. It is possible in the future that dogs may be able to identify breast cancer in its early stages.
We had a fascinating evening and were able to make a donation to medical detector dogs research.
Roald Dahl’s War
Although many of us are familiar with Roald Dahl’s children’s stories, connections with the Second World War do not immediately come to mind. Graham in the course of his talk certainly filled in that gap with amazing detail.
After a public school education Roald was determined to work for Shell Oil. Through a friendship made on an expedition in Newfoundland he started work in Somerset but his sights were on an overseas posting. He rejected Egypt as too dusty and found himself on a boat bound for Mombasa and thence to Dar-es-Salaam. He was quickly absorbed into the ex-pat community while his work took him all over Tanganyika driving on lumpy roads with a boy for company. With the outbreak of war Roald joined the RAF in Nairobi where he trained on Tigermoths, going solo after 71/2 hours.
After a series of postings and training in the Middle East he was sent as a Pilot Officer flying a Gladiator with 80 Squadron to Libya. Trying to locate the squadron he was forced to land and crashed in No Man’s Land, the plane caught fire and he was badly injured. His recovery was slow but eventually he was cleared to fly and rejoined his squadron. He had some notable successes on action in Greece but eventually had to withdraw to Egypt. When told his next posting was Haifa he insisted on driving himself from Cairo. At this time persistent headaches became worse and he was repatriated. Whilst working for the Air Ministry he became Assistant Air Attache in Washington. It was about this time that Roald started writing stories, possibly influenced by CS Forester who wrote a short story based on Dahl’s experiences. Dahl’s first book ‘Gremlins’ was published and his interest in writing developed from that. Writing mainly short stories at first, he must have been helped by his work in Intelligence and meeting up with Ian Fleming.
After the war he became a full time writer, often trying out ideas on his own children, sometimes in a tunnel near the house or by carrying them from their bedroom down a ladder!
His life and stories are remembered in the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden.
22nd Annual General Meeting
The 22nd AGM of Caddhist was held at the start of the April meeting. With ?? members in attendance the meeting was quickly over with the committee being re-elected en bloc.
The evening was tinged with sadness as we remembered Terry Oliver who sadly passed away recently. Terry was a founder member of Caddhist and the first Chairman. His contribution not just to local history but to the wider community was immense. He had been keen to have a meeting to celebrate the Queen’s birthday so as we raised our glasses in the loyal toast we recalled our own particular memories of Terry.
Changes in fashion, cars and even the style of pictures over the Queen’s 9 decades were recognised with contributions of photographs from the members. It was fun to see how cute some of us looked in long socks, short trousers and smocking!
Five years a dogsbody!
Following the interval Mick entertained us in his own inimitable style with an account of his five years as an apprentice.
He left school at Easter 1954 aged 15 and was taken on by Leonard Smith of Windsor/ Wellington St in Luton as an apprentice farrier. Len’s father had been Luton’s last blacksmith. As horses went out of service he became a welder followed by his son. When in 1932 Luton Corporation got rid of trams Len took up the rails and during the war he made Bailey Bridge parts.
Mick was on a month’s trial but after 2 weeks was signed on for five years. He was paid 1 shilling per hour. His boss was fair but drank a lot. The other apprentice, Jack, did most of the work and Mick was to learn the trade of welding by watching. He was allowed to practice on scrap metal and his efforts were assessed by the boss. ‘Fit for a wire netting factory’ was one comment. However, he did improve. But much of the job involved cleaning the toilet twice a week, cleaning the boss’s car, shopping in Gibbs and Dandy, lighting a fire in winter to keep the workshop warm and in general being a ‘dogsbody’. Gradually Mick progressed to making brackets for hanging baskets, then wrought iron gates. During the Vauxhall fortnight he covered for the boss and at one time repaired the crash barriers at Luton Town after a Sheffield match.
After his five years apprenticeship during which he not only learned a trade but also an insight into life he decided to join the Navy as a chef. Have we another story here?
When John was asked to research Georgian Dunstable he was surprised by how much he was able to track down
At that time Dunstable at the crossroads of Watling Street and Icknield Way was dominated by stage coaches. A pub called The Bull controlled the timetables but a sketch made at the time showed the Sugar Loaf, The Crown and the White Hart as well. The wide muddy road featured two ponds. At the time gambling on the arrival times of the stage coaches added to the excitement.
The town council met in the Vestry and set up a Workhouse for the poor.
In the Napoleonic Wars a signal station was set up on Dunstable Downs manned by the Navy. It was connected to Wendover and St Alban’s.
In 1782 a coach road was built around the hill to the north of the town, but in 1813 a cutting was dug, which is still there to this day. The excavated chalk was used to build a causeway. However, despite improvements, from the 1830’s Dunstable lost trade because of the railway.
Colourful characters such as Legless Lal, who raced the coaches in his cart and Henry Symms a fashionable highwayman frequented the area.
There was horseracing on Dunstable Downs and a banned boxing match was relocated there from Woburn. Gully versus Gregson lasted 24 hours. Gully won!
Life was certainly not dull in Georgian Dunstable.
World War 1 and the Visual Arts
For our February meeting Derek presented us with a well researched and brilliantly illustrated talk on the art that was produced during the First World War.
At that time three factors were influential. The machine age was in full flow with mass production in factories, including weapons and tanks. There was a general dissatisfaction with the old style pictures and thirdly, photographs had become popular. Art therefore had to be producing something quite different and thought provoking. Derek took six different artists to illustrate the developments.
Paul Nash, who trained at the Slade School joined the Artists Rifles in 1914. Using sketches made as a uniformed observer he produced dramatic paintings of the Menin Road and Night in the Salient. He became disillusioned by the deaths and the destruction of the landscape. Christopher Nevinson, also of the Slade, was a pacifist who returned from France so upset by what he saw that he became ill. He wanted to show speed and movement in his art and his work on planes and yachts show the development of cubism. The ‘Machine Gunner’ is one of his most famous works. John Singer Sargent was the son of a wealthy American who lived in the UK. His picture of ‘Soldiers subject to gassing’ expressed how appalled he was by what he saw. Another Slade student, Sir William Orpen, was born in Ireland. He was made a War Artist through his connections and unlike other artists who were only allowed to stay 2 weeks he stayed much longer, painting portraits of Haig and Trenchard as well as struggling to find ways to represent the battlefield scenes. His portraits of his mistress, whom he represented as a ‘Spy’ also got him into trouble.
A certain Austrian who was painting at this time in Vienna tried but failed to get into Art School. He joined the army in 1914, was decorated, and in 1918, gassed. None other than Adolf Hitler, his works now sell for thousands of dollars. The final artist, Norman Wilkinson, was primarily a marine artist who painted ships in their settings. While serving on submarine patrols he came up with the idea of painting ships in a ‘Dazzle’ camouflage making them harder to track. This idea was adopted by the Navy and later the US. Although the effectiveness was never proved the sailors felt safer.
We had a most informative and interesting evening.
What I learned from the Peruvians and the Inca
Sandra was at school when she first heard about Macchu Pichu and vowed one day to go there. Last year her dream was realised. She shared her experiences with us at our January meeting.
She found Peru to be a land of great contrasts. Volcanoes, glaciers, Inca terraces and vast salt pans, not to mention Lake Titicaca with its villages floating on reed beds. Lima is a modern bustling city with it’s share of traffic problems beside much poverty. She saw no begging with everyone working. Some earn money as letter writers or by shining shoes. Although Peru is now a Catholic country it has absorbed some features of the Inca past. For example, a painting of the Last Supper showed the disciples eating guinea pig – a Peruvian delicacy.
Sandra noted some of the Inca ways that still apply today.Their vast array of fruit and vegetables, including 3000 different types of potato. Mud is used to make bricks and cactus, detergent. Every part of a llama has a use. The Inca seem to have been a pleasant people. Rather than fight they would talk to solve a problem. They had a sense of humour and were pleasant to those who worked for them.
At the end of her talk Sandra showed us her views of that magical city in the sky, built no one knows why – Macchu Picchu.
The Great Fire of London 1666
While most of us are familiar with the story of the Great Fire in 1666, Julie’s extensive knowledge, research and illustrations gave us a real insight into this legendary event.
1665 had been a year of great difficulty as 70,000 Londoners died of the Plague. Sunday 2nd September was towards the end of a long hot summer. Thomas Farriner , a baker of Pudding Lane swore he had put out his fire that night. However, by 1am a fire started. He escaped over the roof but his maid was too scared to follow. The flames spread quickly through the narrow, streets lined with wooden houses which were tinder dry.
The Lord Mayor, Thomas Bloodworth after a hard night celebrating his birthday woke up and then went back to bed. Flames continued to rage with the wind blowing towards the west and the City. Pepys rowed to Whitehall to inform the King, whereupon orders were given to instruct the Mayor to pull down the houses. This was too little, too late and did not work and by Monday the fire was still raging.
The King and his brother, the Duke of York wanted to help. They were seen in the gangs passing buckets of water and pulling down houses. Carters were able to charge exorbitant rates to move goods for people. Around the Tower the area was blown up to protect the gunpowder stored there.
By Tuesday the fire was threatening 1400 houses. The Guildhall, St Pauls and St Mary-le-Bow were all destroyed. But by Wednesday the wind had changed and the fire started to die down.
Soon, despite plans from Wren to build straight streets connecting circuses, rebuilding had started on the old plan giving us the maze of streets that we still have today.
A truly fascinating evening!
Wildlife photography – Alan Goodger
At our October meeting Alan kept us riveted to the screen for more than an hour with his photos – the product of a lifetime’s experience with a camera and much patience.
We saw the sunrise over a pond in Norfolk, dew on barbed wire, badgers enjoying peanuts in Corfe Castle and the swallows that never land feeding on the wing. Alan’s Bedford garden is a haven for wildlife, the sparrows and goldfinches breeding in the bushes with sparrow hawks hovering overhead at times. In the centre of Bedford there is much worthy of the camera. Sadly, the cygnets seen hatching are regularly lost to mink. The gulls and herons fare somewhat better.
Alan emphasised the importance of taking the time to stand and stare. He had caught on camera green woodpeckers mating and a wasp eating a butterfly.
His final pictures had us all stunned. Seven minute exposures by the light of the full moon appeared as daylight shots with, however, the stars clearly moving a small distance.
Alan’s final message to us all was ‘You have to be out there to see it!’
Octavia of Dunstable (almost)
Colin Oakes is an archaeologist and while working on an excavation in Marylebone, came across references to a Joanna Southcott, a self-described religious prophetess born in 1750. She made many successful prophesies then, at the age of sixty four declared herself pregnant and believed she would be delivered of the New Messiah – the Shiloh. She died in 1816 leaving a huge following of 100,000 who believed she would be raised from the dead. She left a sealed wooden box of prophesies, only to be opened at a time of national crisis and in the presence of twenty four bishops.
A hundred years later, a group of women believing in the Southcott legacy, founded the Commune of the Holy Ghost which later changed its name to the Panacea Society. One of the founder members was Mabel Barltrop, who took the name of Octavia (the eighth prophetess), when she was identified by the group as the Divine Daughter of God, the Shiloh of Southcott’s prophesy.
A group of seventy people settled in the Albany Road area of Bedford which they believed to be the site of the Garden of Eden. They, and an additional 2000 members in the surrounding towns, villages (Dunstable had a large following) and other countries worldwide, devoted their lives not only to advancing belief in the box of prophesies, but to healing. They believed that water, or squares of linen dipped into water that had received Octavia’s divine breath, was a ‘panacea’, a cure for all illness. Requests for the cure had been received from 30,000 people across 90 countries.
The Society’s archives show many strange rules and customs. There was a draconian approach to manners eg: False teeth must not click. Toast, when eaten, must not make crumbs and table napkins were napkins, never serviettes. Doctors must not be consulted because the special water would cure illness and save lives. Octavia would receive her ‘visitations’ from God at the same time (5.30) each day through automatic handwriting and would read them out to her followers.
Octavia spent time in mental institutions and in the latter part of her life would not walk more than 77 steps from her house. She died in 1934 and the last Panacean died in 2012 at which time the Society became a charitable trust, providing help to groups concerned with poverty and health in the Bedford area.
Colin’s excellent presentation was full of strange and almost unbelievable facts. More of which can be found at the Panacea Museum at 9 Newnham Road Bedford.
Women of the SOE’s F Section – Bryony Norburn
The activities of the Resistance during WW2 has long held fascination for many of us. Bryony’s talk on the women of F section, filled in the background to the part that our local area and in particular RAF Tempsford played in this.
On 22nd July 1942 the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was formally created. Originally known as the Baker Street Irregulars, this evolved into the SO1, dealing with propaganda, the SO2 who supported local resistance in many areas including Abyssinia, the Balkans and the far east. It also included the SOE F section who dealt exclusively with operations in France.
Using agents from the UK they set up circuits in France starting with 7 and increasing to 70. Each circuit comprised three people – the leader, a wireless operator (known as the pianist) and a courier. The circuits then increased to up to 100 agents from the area.
Fluency in French was the first criteria for recruitment to ‘F’section and many agents were born in France. Interviews were conducted in French with recruits having no idea what was involved. As time went on it was realised that women were easier to assimilate into the local communities. Training was intensive and stringent, covering explosives, camouflage and parachuting. Final briefing and meticulous kitting out took place at Tempsford airfield and it was from here that Lysander planes took off with no lights, always by moonlight. Agents were dropped by parachute into France.
In all 40 women were sent. 25 survived but 12 were captured and executed. They all have individual stories but some, such as Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Khan and Odette ??have become immortalised in book and film.
Bryony’s talk included many fascinating anecdotes, too many to mention here. We marvelled too at the way in which the operations at Tempsford were protected by a veil of secrecy respected by the local people.
London 1854 and the Crystal Palace
Michael’s second visit to Caddhist was eagerly anticipated and we were not disappointed. His vast knowledge matched by a superb presentation style left us breathless.
Having left us with the final closure of the Great Exhibition he continued the story. There was much public interest in the future of the building. After being bought for £70,000 by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company it was dismantled in April 1852. The new grand plan was to rival the Palace of Versailles complete with a vast collection of fountains on a large sloping site in Sydenham, South London.
The new design was barrel vaulted with three transepts and wings at either end. With the help of Brunel, twin water towers were constructed to feed the fountains. These were supplied by a specially dug artesian well. The 6,400 workers were housed in their own built community, known as Norwood New Town. Throughout this Jones and Digby Wyatt travelled the world making plaster casts of notable sculptures and monuments such as the Sphynx.
On 10th June 1854 the opening ceremony was attended by the Royal Family.
To visit the Crystal Palace must have been a wonderful experience, especially then before the days of TV and internet. Entering by a screen of Kings and Queens of England, copied from the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament, one would pass wild animals and representations of the races of the world. Next came Osler’s great Crystal fountain and a clock larger than Big Ben’s.The various courts in the nave and transepts displayed historical places such as Pompeii, Abu Simnel and the Alhambra, industrial courts depicted of Sheffield or Birmingham. Later these housed other exhibits such as a New Zealand court. Byzantine, Assyrian and Greek courts were all to be seen. The latter caused an outcry followed by a desultory move to provide fig leaves to cover the offending nudity of the statues!
The Central Transept was the scene of many concerts and performances.
The surrounding gardens with their fountains were opened later.. Reportedly Queen Victoria in an open carriage got a little wet and presumably was not amused.
It was at this point in the talk that one Peter Farrow hove into sight. Our speaker needed to catch a train and it was Peter’s job to get him there. Still talking while he packed away, the thanks and applause were received by Michael’s disappearing figure as he was escorted out of the door. But do not worry – HE WILL BE BACK!
Waterloo – Paul Chamberlain
The 18th June 2015 marked the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo so it was fitting that this was the subject of our June meeting.
Paul was at great pains to point out that despite the credit that Wellington and the British have been given for this victory against Napoleon, it was in fact an allied victory involving the Germans, Dutch and Prussians as well.
In March 1815 Napoleon escaped from exile in Elba and marched north. French units flocked to his banner but the Allies did not trust him. After a series of battles involving the Allies there was no conclusive winner. The 17th June was extremely wet so when the 18th June dawned the British troops were tired, hungry and very damp. Around 11am the Battle of Waterloo finally started and for a while, with charge and counter charge it could have gone either way. However, around 3.30pm the Prussian army under General Blucher arrived and by 9.30pm the French were running.
This battle, which enabled 40 years of peace between the major powers was not without its toll. It is estimated that over 30,000 French were killed. Women, on both sides, were involved in providing support in hospitals.
Paul’s talk was well illustrated with paintings, but he pointed out that these were made retrospectively and tended to glorify war whereas the true situation would have been much more confused and messy.
Napoleon was exiled to St Helena and Wellington became the national hero that we know today.
What the Victorians did for us
There is no aspect of modern life that was not affected by the legacy left by the Victorians. Space will not permit me to give a comprehensive account of Ian’s talk but I shall take a few examples to illustrate the range of Victorian influence.
The engineering of Brunel seen in the Great Western Railway is the product of intense design and invention as was the first cut and cover underground track between Paddington and Faringdon. Trade with much of the world led to the creation of the British Empire – at it’s peak covering one fifth of the land area. London was the heart of the Empire with the Houses of Parliament and the buildings of George Gilbert Scott such as St Pancras designed to impress. The docks and many of the bridges were built at this time. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was widely copied by other countries and the profit was used to fund the construction of the museums and the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington -a fund still in existence today.
Joseph Bazalgette bequeathed us a sewage system which is only now being extended and an understanding of infection helped public health. A developing social conscience led industrialists such as Titus Salt to build good housing for his workers. Scientific thinking was challenging old ideas as in Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’
The Pre-raphaelite movement in painting and William Morris’s Arts and Craft movement were both responses to the time. Printing of newspapers alongside developing literacy meant that the population as a whole was better informed. The writings of Dickens, Trollope and Eliot still impressus.
Organised entertainment for all became the norm. Trips to the seaside, the formation of the FA, the standardisation of the rules of cricket by WG Grace and the development of the music halls all happened during the Victorian times.
When considering the inheritance that the Victorians left us, it led me to think about our current Elizabethan era. What will future historians value and think worthy of note?
In 2010 a group in Dunstable developed the idea that Dunstable’s importance as a medieval town be explored and celebrated. Funding was sought for five projects.
1. The Foundations of the Augustinian Priory would be marked
2.The place where Henry VIII’s bishops met to discuss the annulment of his marriage would also be marked.
3.The physic garden would be replaced.
4. A celebration held to mark the 800 years of the Priory Church (founded in 1213).
5. The Dunstable Annals (a medieval record started in 1202) to be translated from the medieval Latin.
Funding of £49,990 was obtained for the first four projects and these have been completed. However, the translation was not included.
A certain amount was known about medieval Dunstable. It was not just the site of a huge Augustinian Priory but a busy market town sitting astride crossroads. Henry 1 built a palace here on the site of the Old Palace Lodge, monarchs spent Christmas here. There are records of tournaments with melees of 2.500 people all congregating with the king in attendance. The tournaments were held to make money but such were the levels of disruption that they were sometimes banned. In 1213 a set of bye-laws between the town and the Priory were drawn up. These may have been the first in the country. 1259 saw the founding of a Dominican Friary – a very controversial move and great fisticuffs ensued. Around 1390, John of Dunstable, an influential musician was born.
The Dunstable Annals started in 1202 by Richard de Morins are held in the British Library. They are in an extremely delicate state. Thanks to the persistence of our speaker they have now been translated and what a feast of information has been uncovered! Originally they logged the records of the Almonry and Leper Hospital (Medieval Social Services) paid for by gifts from pilgrims. But the Annals revealed much more about the influence of Dunstable. The Priory owned many manors in Bedfordshire, Bucks, Northants and Leicestershire. Later, the Parish of Bradbourne in Derbyshire was given to help with hospice fees. The wool and lead that this area produced were most valuable. The Annals have contributed fascinating details to the local history of this area.
However, come 1540 and the Reformation, the Priory was dissolved and the Prior and Canons pensioned off.
London 1851 and the Great Exhibition
If anyone had been concerned that the scheduled speaker was unwell this was quickly dispelled as Michael launched into his topic with aplomb. He led us through the planning and opening of the Great Exhibition.
As a young man in Germany Prince Albert attended Bonn University and was well versed in art and music. Victoria fell in love with him and they married. Once in Britain he needed a job. Being Victoria’s secretary was not enough. As President of the Society of Arts he met Henry Cole who had introduced the first Christmas card to Britain. It was felt that England needed an exhibition like France to show off British designs and products. They put the idea to Victoria. There were three stipulations. The Exhibition was to be: in Hyde Park, temporary and to open on 1st May 1851. Designs were submitted and all 230 rejected. It was a chance encounter on a train and a rough sketch on blotting paper that gave rise to Paxton’s ‘Crystal Palace’ based on his experience of building a conservatory at Chatsworth.
The building was impressive not just in its size – three trees were retained within the structure -but in the speed with which it was erected. Six and seven year old children were employed to put on the roof panels. By now Albert was popular and visited the site with kegs of beer.
On 1st May 1851 Queen Victoria opened the Exhibition with due ceremony. Pictures show a vast array of dignitaries including one Chinese gentleman who got in by mistake and turned out to be captain of a junk.
Three quarters of the Exhibition was devoted to British goods and engineering, steam engines, cotton manufacture, crystal fountains to mention a tiny fraction. The Empire, France and Belgium were well represented. Schweppes provided the catering. In all over 6 million people visited one old lady having walked from Cornwall. On one day 93,000 passed through the doors. Toilets were set up with the penny in a slot machines giving rise to the term ‘Spend a penny’
It was at this point that Michael finished his talk leaving us with the possibility that he may return to continue the story of the ‘Crystal Palace’.
Canal History and Heritage
For many years Roger has explored the 2100mile canal network of the UK visiting every canal but surprisingly never on a narrow boat. At our meeting he shared some of his photographic record of the canals with us a true ‘gomgoozler’ or observer of boats.
The towpaths are used recreationally by walkers, cyclists, fishermen and observers of wildlife. A big attraction is always the boats especially the historic ones traditionally hand painted with castles and roses and a 9’square cabin for the family. After WWII the canals declined and many warehouses in the basins became derelict. Now restored these are popular residences.
Many of the lock-keepers cottages are distinctive and the locks always attract interest – all brick built and some in flights. Foxton has a set of staircase locks and Cain Hill has 22 – no small task! The bridges, however, were locally sourced some being metal.
Spectacular feats of engineering such as Telford’s Pontysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales are now Heritage sites. But not every feature is old. A modern project is the Falkirk Wheel which lifts boats into the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland.
In this report it is impossible to capture the atmosphere of Roger’s photos that are without a doubt stunning.
A Touch of Glass – a Magic Lantern Show
Gordon Casbeard and Tony Brown
In 1647 Christian Hagens produced the first magic lantern but it was not for 200 years that Fox Talbot produced magic lanterns that became so popular in Victorian times. The entertainment was taken up readily by churches and Temperance Societies and people packed church halls to see the shows. The magic lantern shows were at their peak between 1870 and 1900 after which cine film took over.
For our October meeting Gordon and Tony had brought along a genuine Victorian magic lantern and their vast collection of glass slides. We sat back to enjoy a selection. Some of the first slides were hand painted and told a story. Later ones were photographs of places, such as Ventnor, the ship Victory or events like the first Olympics in 1908. Some were advertisements – yes, even then! Getting more sophisticated the slides developed moving parts such as the eyes or teeth – to comic effect. We finished with a series of kaleidoscopes which were quite mesmerising and very beautiful.
Caddington Village School Commemorative visit to the Somme
For our September meeting we were treated to a visit from staff and pupils of Caddington Village School to tell us about their visit to the Somme battlefields earlier in the year.
The group consisted of children, parents, staff and one grandparent. Travelling by coach their first stop was the cemetery at Le Touret where Archer Godfrey, a Caddington man is buried. Alfie Mear, one of the children also found the name of his great uncle. They then visited the Wellington Quarry, where tunnels were built to enable a surprise attack. The photos taken were very atmospheric.
Staying in a hotel for three nights, visits were made to Newfoundland Park, Thiepval, Lochnagar Crater, Ulster Tower and the Albert Trench Museum. A highlight was undoubtedly finding the grave of Caddington’s Victoria Cross winner, John Stanhope Collings- Wells. After reading his citation the children laid a remembrance cross. The visit to Vimy Ridge was especially memorable as it coincided with a ceremony commemorating the 97th anniversary of the battle there. On the final day the group visited Fricourt German Cemetery.
It was obvious from what the children said and their diary entries that they had an extremely memorable trip which they will never forget.
There are plans to visit the Ypres area in two years time.
For King, Country and Caddington
It was fitting that the second part of the evening should be devoted to the presentation of Caddhist’s booklet, ‘For King, Country and Caddington’. This publication is the result of thirty years of research by Terry and Pam Oliver. Over the years they have visited many of the graves, especially in the Ypres area. Terry has compiled files on each name on the War Memorial. These were distributed around the committee who undertook to provide a resume of each man. The final editing and layout was down to the expertise of David Lenton.
The booklet will be available for sale at on Remembrance Sunday or contact the Committee via the web site contacts (www.caddhist.org.uk.) The cost is £4.00 (£5.00 with postage and packing)
Aspects of Railway Life
After forty two years on the railway and nearly eight years of retirement, Bill retains complete enthusiasm for everything connected to the railway. For instance, a trip to Poland for a wedding saw him escaping the preparations to ride the trolley buses and the Polish railway.
He told of near misses, both of people and trains and of curious lost property :- phones, a false leg and a motor scooter. He then told the story of a piece of toast closing down Eurostar. A driver, taking a break in a rest room, forgot he had put some bread into a toaster. The resulting smoke set off the alarms not only in the building but the entire Eurostar tunnel.
He then spoke of the Great Train Robbery and told how the driver had withdrawn a special key, essential to moving the train, and thrown it away in an attempt to thwart the robbers.
He compared our much maligned train service to those of France and Germany and found that generally, apart from the TVG system, they were as awful as ours.
Bill had brought with him a collection of caps – an indication of how many times the franchises and consequently the uniforms, had changed over the years.
Bill finds the present an exciting time for the railway with continued growth and projects like the HS2. His interest, which began when he was a boy, and his enthusiasm for the future is as great as ever.
Dunstable Through Time
In his latest book John has taken the Yesteryear pages from the Dunstable Gazette, of which he was once editor, and placed them against corresponding photos of the same scene today.
The old town clock of 1869 burnt down in 1879 but some of the surrounding buildings survive. The Salvation Army performing by a gas lamp but the Nags Head pub is clearly visible. The 1943 wartime parade through the town had Spitfire planes in the background. In 1950 the Dunstable Grammar School Sports day not only showed the masters supervising in academic gowns but the windmill near St Mary’s Church is visible. This is still there today. One photo showed workers from ACDelco going home to lunch, many of them on bikes. The Railway Bridge at Dunstable North was demolished and the Council Offices stand on the site of the station. Orange rolling on Dunstable Downs is now banned. One view that seemed timeless was the Chews House area but we found it hard to believe the lack of traffic in the past barely a horse and carriage in sight.
For our June meeting we relocated to the Scout Hut, as essential work was being carried out at Heathfield. A last minute cancellation by the speaker due to unforeseen circumstances did not daunt our intrepid Programme Manager. A double bill of films filled the gap….
The first half showed the recording a few years back of Caddington’s Blitz Night. Participants arriving in appropriate costumes, Terry Oliver as Master of Ceremonies and the Andrews Sisters dropping in brought back memories of the evening.
We then saw two short films about the Festival of Britain. The Festival was an attempt to give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress and to promote better quality design in the rebuilding of British towns and cities. The South Bank Exhibition was the Festival’s centrepiece featuring the Skylon, the Festival Hall and the Dome of Discovery. It was interesting to observe the crowds enjoying the exhibits, the food and the funfair. The men all in shirt and tie, often with hats, the women in elegant suits and dresses and no-one overweight!
Animals, the forgotten heroes.
Anne’s talk focussed on the part that animals have played in wartime. Even before Hannibal brought the elephants across the Mediterranean and over the Alps to terrorise the Roman army, horses in particular had been used in battles and as transport.
During World War1,the use of horses in battle became obsolete but horses were still the main means of transport. Conscripted much like the pressgangs, their main work was transporting munitions and the wounded over difficult terrain. They became caught up in wire, mud and shellpacked ground. They suffered attacks from mustard gas which left blisters and the gas masks provided didn’t last. Over 8 million horses were lost.
Dogs also played their part. 20,000 were used as messengers, for search and rescue, where they would return even with part of a uniform as a message. They could lay cables across no-mans land and deliver cigarettes.
Pigeons were used as messengers and always returned to their loft – even when the loft had moved.
In 1903 the contribution of animals to war was recognised by the foundation of the Army Veterinary Corps. The Dickin medal, awarded to animals in wartime was received by 22 dogs and 32 pigeons.
At the end of the talk Anne revealed that her interest in the topic had been inspired by her grandfather, who had been blinded in WW1 and carried by his horse to safety.
Caddington in the 1950s and 1960s
There is nothing like some old black and white photos to induce waves of nostalgia!
Recently, David Amesbury, an ex Luton News reporter presented Caddhist with some good quality photographs of Caddington in the 50’s and 60’s. These were shared with the group and we were asked to contribute information about the scenes and events that had been recorded.
We were all able to appreciate the views of the Green with a different road pattern, the lack of cars and the local hunt. Likewise pictures of parties and village events, such as the Show caused much comment on how the fashions had changed. Some of the group, notably Mick Trundle, Joan Bunyan and Les Young were able to supply background to the photographs.
The photos can all be seen on the Caddhist website at www.caddhist.org.uk
Peter Farrow also showed a video of last year’s trip to Bressingham in Norfolk. Member’s were seen riding on the railway, on the Galloper, wallowing in the Dad’s Army experience or just enjoying the beautiful gardens.
Famous People of the Chilterns.
Chris Brown of The Chilterns Conservation Board came to talk aboutthe impact and influence of the area on the lives of some of the very famous people who lived in the Chilterns. He spoke of the landscape, how the mixture of villages and farmsteads, mansions and estates, chalk quarries and woodland, all managed in different ways, formed the present environment.
This made ‘A Place of Literary Inspiration’ for poets and authors such as Rupert Brooke, John Bunyan and Agatha Christie. Literary
critic Gibert Cannan lived in the Chesham area and writers DH Lawrence, Bertrand Russel, Compton McKenzie and Virginia Woolf were visitors to his home. It was also a place of artistic inspiration for artists such as John Nash and Mark Gertler.
Two famous ‘Pioneers’ of the area were Dame Frances Dove who lived in Wycombe and founded Wycombe Abbey School. She was a suffragist and became the first woman to be elected a town councillor. The second was William Morris, who became Lord Nuffield in 1938 and lived his whole life in Oxford. Starting as a bicycle repairer working in a garden shed, he opened the Cowley Works and by 1923 was producing 20,000 cars per year.
King Zog of Albania and Charles de Gaulle also spent part of their lives in the area and Benjamin Disraeli made his home at Hughenden Manor now a National Trust property at High Wycombe.
It was fascinating to learn that so many well known people had inhabited our part of the countryside
Paul’s talk this month gave us an insight into the real story behind the books and TV series Hornblower. Paul’s knowledge backed by meticulous research was impressive.
The Royal Navy of Hornblower’s time was needed to protect the nation from the threat of Napoleon, as well as keep the trade routes open and protect the colonies against the Spanish and Portuguese.
Neither time nor space here, allow me to cover a fraction of Paul’s talk so I shall limit myself to a few particularly memorable points.
The largest ships could carry up to 900 sailors and when they were short they raided the merchant ships or used the Impress Gang which was officially recognised. Once on board, the pressed sailors were not allowed ashore in case they escaped. Generally well fed with a diet of up to 5000 calories a day, rat pie was not unknown when times were hard. Losses due to poor health were significant and to counter this, progressive medical men introduced smallpox vaccination and daily lime juice rations. This earned them the nickname ‘Limeys’.
I am sure any future visits to Dockyards such as Portsmouth will be enhanced by Paul’s talk.
John Hegley – Performance Poet
Our November meeting was rather a break from the norm in many ways. We were delighted when our local poet, John Hegley, agreed to come to the November Caddhist meeting and decided that we would spread the invitation to a wider audience. So there was a buzz of anticipation as a capacity audience packed in – not a single chair was empty and we were not disappointed.
John has his own style and immaculate timing that are hard to describe to those who have never been to a performance. He drew on poems with local interest – The Last Skimpot Flyer, Luton Bungalow and the Luton Hatters Song which has us waving imaginary hats. Other poems were based on his family – Bob a job –where any reference to his father Bob had to be accompanied with a twitch of the head. As we are a history group John read extracts from ‘The history of Railway Etiquette’. If only it still applied!
John’s nephew, Paul had come along with his guitar to support him in the singing items and had his own solo.
A great evening. John said he would like to come again and only those who were there would understand why the mention of a Guillemot induces a glazed expression and vague waving of arms. Can’t wait for the return visit!
Margaret and Terry Pankhurst
Nine years ago Margaret and Terry Pankhurst attended the Dorset Steam Fair. Attracted by the sounds coming from the Amateur Organ Builders marquee, they went in.
So began what appeared to be a complete love affair with organs, organ building and restoration. Members of the Organ Grinders Association, complete with Victorian costumes, they demonstrated the inner workings of many types of organs beginning with a copy of a Roman organ built after consultation with Verulamium Museum on materials used.
Development through the centuries was shown with pictures and different models. It was said that in the 17th century, one purpose of the domestic organ was to teach birds to sing!
Small portable models, Celestines, Melodions were all home entertainment in the 1800s, some also used by travelling priests in America to provide music for their services.
Terry showed two beautiful music boxes which he’d brilliantly restored, one a child’s toy and one a more sophisticated Smoking Cabinet style.
A cylinder music box had a special story. Found in an antique market in many pieces, its box smashed and the pins on the cylinder bent and broken, was beautifully restored and on the corner of its original label, was written ‘bombed in 1940’.
Also shown were larger models which Terry had built and with which he had won prizes in model engineering competitions. One of these was partly electronic in that instead of the usual music rolls costing £60 each, about 3,000 tunes were held on an SD card.
The lovely sounds and the beautiful appearance of the organs built and collected by Terry and presented by them both made a truly memorable evening.
Up With The Lark – Ian Waller
Ian Waller is an independent genealogist. The title of his talk referred to the long hours worked by agricultural labourers (AGLABS) in the 18th and 19th centuries. These people were the poorest members of society with low wages and high outgoings.
He told of the Swing Riots which happened in 1830. After years of war and hardship caused by low wages and the introduction of farm machinery, men rioted, burning haystacks and destroying the new machinery. Nine were hung and four hundred and fifty deported.
Billycocks (tall top hats) and smocks were the normal costume for labourers, tied cottages were their normal homes and long working days their way of life.
Hiring Fairs took place every year. Families were preferred with father and sons working together.
In AGLAB families, women were sometimes known to do heavy work such as ploughing and children as young as five or six were brought up to do full days of stone picking or bird scaring.
Ian’s enjoyable and knowledgeable presentation gave an interesting insight into the difficulties and hardships of a labourer‘s life.
The Work of a Police Dog – Peter Madden and Brodie
Never work with children or animals goes the old adage and I am sure PS Madden would agree, that wherever he goes, the star of the show is a large, lively Alsatian called Brodie. Caddington was no exception.
Police dogs were first thought about in 1938 when the Met had 2 labradors, but the war inhibited development until 1944. At this time Alsatian dogs were used, continuing until the present day.
The Met breed all their own dogs which are trained at Keston. They currently have 170 general purpose/ public order dogs, 20 dedicated drug control dogs and 6 dogs used for searching for explosives. During the Olympic preparations these dogs did impromptu searches of construction sites every night.
Each dog is attached to one officer, living with them and their family. During their first year they are acclimatized to busy urban environments- airports, streets, lifts and fire escapes. Then they are trained for seeking property and people. Convictions for armed robbery have resulted from dogs locating mobile phones. All training is based on positive rewards – Brodie had her special toy with her! Handlers have to trust their dogs to show intiative, for example, when searching buildings. Only if a person runs away will they attack. Skills like seeking blood or cash are constantly being developed.
Many of us enjoyed getting to know Brodie better during the break and the range of questions not only emphasized what an invaluable asset police dogs are but also a force to be reckoned with!
An Introduction to the National Trust – Peter Fells
Although many of the audience already had some knowledge or involvement in the National Trust, it was lovely to have an evening where we could learn more of their history and work as well as reflect on the photos provided by Peter to support his talk.
Established in 1895 by a group who saw the need to create open spaces for an increasingly urbanized population, the National Trust is now one of the country’s largest landowner’s and thanks to Acts of Parliament cannot sell the land.
The Trust owns 720km of coast, a figure that is growing at the rate of 10km. a year, on average. Acres of fells, downland and moors are under their management. There are always controversies, such as which landscape should be preserved- 10 years ago or 1000.
In addition, 300 properties are owned. While some are grand mansions and gardens, others are simple cottages or even a workhouse.
In maintaining the countryside, the trust will try to contribute to discussions while avoiding lengthy court cases.
Many of us left, promising ourselves that we would be intending to join or make greater use of our membership
Luton Girl’s Choir
In 1921, a young Arthur Davies was put in charge of the Wellington St Baptist Chapel choir, numbering over 100. Later, in 1932 he selected a special group of 32 including 4 boys who won awards all over the country, so much so that they were asked not to compete. When the church felt that he was spending too much time with the choir, he broke away and the world renowned Luton Girl’s Choir was born.
Our speakers this evening were three past members of the choir, who gave us their personal memories.
After an initial test they were on 3 months probation. The choir were away most weekends staying in B and B’s and performing twice plus two rehearsals during the week – no small commitment! They had to be over 12 years and stayed up to 24 or left if they got married.
The choir sang for Churchill when he visited Luton Hoo, performed for the King at the Palladium, were on In Town Tonight and made recordings at Maida Vale. During the 50’s they began to tour, first to Denmark and then Australasia earning a reputation that still endures today.
That the three ‘girls’ who entertained us that night had many fond memories of the comradeship of the choir was abundantly clear. Sadly, at his request, the choir ceased with Arthur Davies death but Luton has a music heritage to be proud of.
Hoo’s Who -100 years
Although many of us have visited the Walled Garden at Luton Hoo and heard speakers on this subject before, Felicity gave us a refreshing insight into the lives, not of the aristocracy but the gardening equivalent of below stairs – the gardeners themselves.
Using the 1911 census data as a starting point she found that the estate had 130 cottages, in all – no small community.
After the Wernher family bought the estate in 1903 as a country residence, largely for entertaining, they appointed Arthur Metcalfe as Head Gardener and Forester. He came from Burghley and brought several gardeners with him. His contributions can still be seen today in the Rose Garden and the Rock Garden. He had to maintain a constant supply of cut flowers (all the same colour) and change the borders several times during the summer so that guests did not see the same display twice.
What was impressive was how many people employed at Luton Hoo worked their way up to good positions, one moved to the Royal Gardens at Windsor. Up to six generations of one family had worked on the estate and there was a lot of intermarriage.
The estate was self sufficient with a Fire Service and it made it’s own electricity. The onetime Police Officer went on to become a Deputy Commissioner and the Golf professional who lived in one of the Park Street Lodges went to the US and set up a golf academy there.
Although, one suspects, employees at the Hoo were expected to know their place, it seems that it was not a dead end job!
As has become customary, the meeting following the AGM was a members’ night.
Peter and Joan Bunyan have been collecting cufflinks for over 40 years and brought in a small sample for us to view. Made of not just silver and gold but also bone, wood and jet, the range was fascinating including a commemorative pair for Concorde. Always on the lookout for new additions Peter and Joan visit fairs and sales. One time in his enthusiasm Peter bought a pair of ladies earrings by mistake! He even dreams about cufflinks. Once before a wedding he dreamt he couldn’t decide which pair to wear, so he walked into church with his pockets stuffed, dropping them as he went.
After the break, we were treated to a selection of the pictures taken by Peter and Christine Graham on their recent world trip. Skimming quickly through Halloween in California and Fiji, most of the photos were taken in New Zealand. Given the photographic prowess of Peter and the photogenic scenery this was bound to be a winning combination and we were not disappointed. Mountains, lakes, penguins, seals, glaciers, and the NZ parrot were all to be seen, not to mention sheep! One of the highlights was the pictures of the Thermal area with the bubbling mud and the vibrant colours of the sulphur deposits. They ended with a sequence showing the almost primeval sequence of the total eclipse of the sun that they had witnessed in Australia. No wonder our fore-fathers found it so unnerving!
Unfortunately our speaker on this date couldn’t get to Caddington due to unforeseen traffic conditions. The meeting was saved by three of our members presenting their experiences of National Service in the 1950s.
Colin Stonestreet told of being conscripted into the RAF in 1956 and becoming an air traffic control assistant. He went to RAF Larbrook, a NATO base and told of a special toilet facility built for a visit by Princess Margaret who didn’t use it – so was immediately dismantled. Only returning home twice in two years, he lived in wooden huts containing twenty men, shaved in cold water and was paid £4.6p per week. Demobbed in1958, he returned home to his previous occupation in a bank.
Colin then read Terry Oliver’s reminiscences of his service. 730 days beginning with training in Aldershot then travelling to Austria to what he described as a ‘jammy’ posting in Klagenfurt under the Director of Army Health. He dealt with mice who were destroying banknotes in the Command Pay Office, had to use an almost lethal ‘Field Disinfector’, clearing up after a probable typhus patient and an infantryman playing ‘Russian roulette’ with old German ammunition.
Mick Trundle volunteered for the catering branch of the Royal Navy and was called up in 1959 to Chatham. On the second day, when asked by a Wren officer if there were any complaints – Mick being extremely tall, said he’d had to sleep curled up in a very short bed.
Next day, an officer’s double bed was brought in for him. Mick served on several ships coping with hammocks, a coal range, daily ‘grog’ and easily confusable gravy and chocolate sauce.
Many thanks to all for stepping in at very short notice to make a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Not everyone can say that being made redundant can be seen as positive but in Derek’s case this certainly seems to be true. After leaving Whitbread 7 years ago he followed up a childhood interest in photography. He took a couple of courses, bought the equipment and set out to photograph local wildlife.
We were treated to a sample of the results many of which were to say the least, stunning. Squirrels, hedgehogs, dormice, grass snakes and spiders were all there, but the stars of the show had to be the pictures of birds. Robins trained to feed from his hand with McVites Mini Cheddars, kingfishers in flight, barn owls and kites.
Derek puts his success down to patience, planning, a knowledge of animal habits and a certain amount of luck. Derek’s enthusiasm was infectious and by the end of the evening he had us all planning to dig out our cameras.
PS. Was it co-incidence that only 5 days later I recorded my first ever sighting of a kingfisher, at King’s Cross in London? I have the rather fuzzy evidence!
East Anglian Film Archives
Presented by Hilary Robertson – Central Bedfordshire Libraries
Recently East Anglian Film Archives have recently put all their films online for the public to view free of charge. We were fortunate to have Hilary Robertson, a Caddington resident, who had prepared a film show drawn from this collection to whet our appetites.
Some of the films, as old as 1900, were amazing, not just for their age but the state of preservation. A 1914 film of a children’s matinee film queue showed an orderly, well dressed bunch of kids, unused to being filmed and, poignantly, war posters in the background.
There was a discussion about ‘Women wearing slacks’ from the ‘60’s and a rather whimsical story of a spoilt child in a 1907 St. Alban’s toyshop. Looking at more recent ‘About Anglia’ reports on Luton and Dunstable, it was interesting to note what had changed and what hadn’t.
The general public can access the Archive on any computer with internet access at www.eafa.org.uk The website can also be viewed on public access computers at your local library such as Dunstable Library.
It is good to know that films such as these are being preserved and made accessible to all.
Frosts, fairs and freezes
It wasn’t hard to spot Ian’s passion for weather – we couldn’t miss the jumper! He runs two weather stations in South London, writes for the local press and is often quoted on BBC weather bulletins.
In the past the Thames, in particular, was noted for freezing over in London. Local entrepreneurs were not slow to spot the opportunity to use this unexpected space and a tradition of Frost Fairs developed. All kinds of stalls and entertainments were set up. Fuddling tents where one could get befuddled. Printers would issue personal certificates to prove that the owner had been there. Boatmen were out of work so upturned their boats and with a few blankets provided warmth and shelter. Oxen were roasted, coffee served. There was gambling, bear, cock and dog fighting, stages, roundabouts, entertainment and of course, skating.
Cromwell banned the Frost Fairs during the Commonwealth period but they were reinstated until 1814, the year of the Great Freeze. After 19 days of temperatures below freezing, the break up of the ice caused £1000’s of pounds worth of damage.
It must be asked why the Thames no longer freezes. Other recent winters have been as cold. There are several explanations. In the past the river was wider and shallower and the old London Bridge blocked the flow of water and blocks of ice. The new bridge and embankment made the river deeper. For a time the power stations warmed the water.
I think we all felt a sense of regret that we have never been able to take part in a Frost Fair!
1066 and All That
We have all heard of 1066 and the events of that year. What happened prior to that is probably a little more unclear. Pat took us on a whistle stop ride through the preceding centuries. Many of the kings at that time had the prefix Ethel to their names – meaning kingworthy- which is probably why there were quite a lot of them!
It seemed that several powers saw England as a prize and it was not clear whether it was part of Northern or mainland Europe. Hence, the Vikings and the Normans all got involved plus the established English earls. The rules of male primogeniture for the succession as we know them, did not apply then. To be made king, one had to be royal, old enough, named by the previous king and acccepted by the important people.
In the run up to the Battle of Hastings, there was hostage taking and broken oaths of alliegance. A new kind of fighting on horseback was being used. Despite Harold and William actually liking one another, we all know the outcome of the Battle of Hastings and William was finally crowned on Christmas Day, 1066.
It is always a pleasure to be visited by a real enthusiast and Alan Reed is certainly that. A long term volunteer at the Shuttleworth Collection he brought, not just a wealth of information but film footage showing the sight and sound of many old planes, including the Spitfire.
The Collection is a living working museum with everything is it was. Volunteers include pilots who enjoy using the skills involved in real flying, as on the very popular flying days.
The oldest plane is a 1909 Bleriot and the collection includes a Bristol Boxkite and the Sopwith Pup that ran on a mixture of petrol and castor oil much of which smothered the pilot and plane.
The members were so enthused by the talk that a tour of the Collection led by Alan is planned for later in October.
Punting for Pillocks
For our August meeting, we were entertained by Martin who regaled us with tales covering a range of topics from Zulus to demolition techniques and bomb disposal. One of the highlights was his story of trying to punt and having great difficulty going in a straight line. His second attempt many years later was not much better when is punt completely disrupted a fleet of rowing boats.
Martin told us that he had developed his public speaking skills many years before through the Toastmaster International organisation.
Members Charity night
As is usual on our members night we were ‘entertained’ by speakersfrom Caddington. Featuring first were Laura Magee and Simon Blockley from the Steering group of the Neighbourhood Plan. This is our opportunity in Caddington to have some influence on the future of our community. While we have to accept some development the need to build houses is relatively small – probably around 200 units.
Simon astounded us with his mapping of the rich archeological history of Caddington, much if which needs investigation and recognition. We also have a network of ancient trackways and bridleways which could be developed for walking and cycling.
Our Charity this year is LAMP – Luton Accommodation and Mone-On Project. Celia Pymont, described the work of the charity, who work with young people between 16 and 25. Providing supported housing and helping with life skills and education has kept many young people off the streets. Celia described how one young man who had benefited from their support was now working for LAMP
Our third item was a presentation by ‘Caddington Blues’, our local Morris side, squired by Bob Fitzsimmons. Legend has it that the side was started by Terry Newton circa 1983. Bob outlined the history of Morris dancing since the 1400’s. Since it’s formation our local side has been in continuous operation, dancing in pubs, attending local fairs and fetes and our own Village Show. Through Twinning with Germany they were probably the first Morris side to perform in East Germany after re-unification in 1989.
Tinseltown – the Dream
For our June meeting we were treated to an entertaining and well prepared history of Hollywood and the film industry.
The first films from 1895, produced by names like Edison and Eastman, were all under 15 minutes and about real life. A film of a train arriving in Paris had the audience ducking in their seats. Around 1919, Cecil B de Mille moved to a small village called Hollywood, where the light was good. After 1920 different genres emerged, westerns, comedies and romance, bringing with them stars like Greta Garbo. Initially, all were silent with piano accompaniment, but at the end of the 20’s sound films were produced, followed by animation.
Despite the competition from TV, big epic films hit the cinemas in the 60’s – Lawrence of Arabia and the first Bond films kept cinema alive but audiences were in decline.
In recent years the cinema has maintained interest through a range of tactics- digital technology, 3-D and live performances such as opera meant that cinema endures.
We discovered that we had own Hollywood stars in two members of the audience who had featured in a number of films.
Bletchley Park – Nick Hill
Bletchley Park – now famous as the headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School during World War II started as the mansion home of Sam Leon and his wife Fanny. They travelled extensively and returned to add yet another architectural feature to the house!
During the war the operations centred on the use of the Enigma machine with it’s 26 letter keyboard. The five different rows were changed daily. Two clues helped the codebreakers: messages always ended with ‘Heil Hitler’ and no letter was ever encrypted as itself. Later the ‘Colossus’ machine with 1500 valves cut the message breaking from 6-8 weeks to 6-8 hours.
Much of the inspiration came from Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who sadly took his own life by eating a poisoned apple.
It is said that the work done at Bletchley shortened the war by two years but the people working there never revealed their achievements even to their own families.
Bletchley Park has become established now as a fascinating place to visit as well as a memorial to those who were based there.
Life in Bedfordshire 1680 – 1740
Using evidence from the original documents stored in the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives, James outlined what life in the county was like at this time. He covered the whole spectrum of politics, farming, the great estates, care of the poor, industry and communications.
At that time the landscape would have looked very different. The old medieval strip system was still in use and the yearly calendar was linked to the tasks such as cutting the thistles, always after 24th June. The local landowners built larger houses to demonstrate their wealth – for example the de Grey family built Wrest Park. Parishes cared for their poor by building workhouses.
Many of the documents gave an interesting insight into the lives of people at the time.
Brief History of Aviation in Bedfordshire
At the March meeting Barry’s talk focussed on one of the lesser known sites of Bedfordshire’s aviation history, Thurleigh Airfield near Bedford.
Built during World War 11, the airfield was used as a bomber base for the US 8th Army Airforce. During 1944 the Bedford area was chosen as the base for Aeronautical Research. Wind tunnels were built and in 1954 Thurleigh boasted the longest runway in the country. It became the National Flight Testing Centre. During the 1960’s, Thurleigh was developing five planes including the short SB5 used on aircraft carriers such as Ark Royal, the development of the vertical takeoff in the Harrier Jump Jet and they also invented the ‘ski-jump’ for aircraft carriers. In the ‘60’s the 747 and Concorde were developed there and latterly, work was done on air safety research such as automatic landing in fog.
Nowadays, the facility has largely closed but the Spinning Tunnel is
used for leisure as a skydiving tunnel.
An interesting talk about a local site of national and international importance.
Walking Hadrian’s Wall
A video produced by Graham Matthews of Luton Movie Makers
Graham started the evening by telling us of his friend, Chris Grayson, to whom the 73 mile walk had been dedicated. Chris should have been walking with the group but, sadly, had lost his brave fight against cancer.
Armed with cameras, the friends left from Wallsend on the river Tyne. Averaging around 13 miles a day, it was day 3 when the blisters began to appear. Around Twice Brewed the dramatic Pennine scenery kept them going as did the reminders of the Roman occupation – the towers every Roman mile, the Temple of Mithras and even a Roman latrine.
The film recorded the camaraderie as they trudged along, the dedicated back up group, the cosy evenings in the tent and their arrival, finally at Bowness.
Inspired by their experiences, the group of friends are now making plans for another walk.
Growing up in the 30’s and 40’s
Through his anecdotes and carefully compiled photographs, Ken gave us a colourful account of what life was like growing up in the Hertfordshire village of Pirton.
Water came from the well which also served as a fridge. In the absence of electricity, lighting was by candles and oil lamps but the accumulator which powered the wireless was charged weekly at the local garage. The village boasted three pubs, a blacksmith, cobbler and four bakers. Bricks were placed in the oven and when they looked the right colour the bread was put in to bake. The local bus, the Pirton Belle, took people into Hitchin.
When Ken was 7, he started work leading his uncle’s horse on the farm. Sometimes the empty cart had to go through the pond to swell the wheels. The arrival of the threshing machine meant a week’s holiday from school, much to Ken’s rejoicing! The young lads were needed to help on the farm during the war. Making the cattle food was a particular treat as they supplemented their diet with mangles, black treacle and a special ‘animals only’ chocolate covered in blue paint!
“Fleet Street – Fifty Years Ago”
When Ted Martin left school in 1954, his only experience of newspapers had been his editing of the school magazine. He was sent to work on the Eastern Press in Fleet Street as an apprentice. Many years of training and studying followed as Ted struggled with proof reading such publications as Tropical Diseases Bulletin. Producing the Law Courts’ Law list required learning Latin phrases. Ted longed to reach the age of 16, after which he could work overtime and earn more than £29 a week.
Fleet Street was an exciting place to work with visits from the Queen and Prince Philip, music from the Odhams Brass Band and the constant stream of trucks loaded with paper. Things changed as the unions became more powerful and the papers gradually moved their premises out of Central London. The presses, being too heavy to move, were just buried in the concrete.
Ted worked for more than 30 years at Eastern Press, qualifying as a Journeyman and finally, becoming Assistant Manager. During question time he revealed an enduring passion for type and typesetting – an interest which he is able to put to good use in publishing local history books.
The rise and fall of airships at Cardington– David Fowler
Anyone driving along the A6 towards Bedford cannot fail to notice the massive hangars at Cardington. David’s talk filled in the background to these huge buildings, built during World War 1 to accommodate the construction of airships by Shorts.
Sadly, the R31, with it’s plywood girders and 100 miles of piano wire was completed in August 1918,too late for active service. Later models were either scrapped or crashed.However, the dreams of long distance passenger travel were realised in the building of the R100 and R101.
Based on the Zeppelin. these had accommodation inside the blimp. The lift provided by hydrogen was contained in gas bags made of ox intestines. Barnes-Wallis, of ‘bouncing bomb’ fame designed the geodetic structure. Passengers could enjoy a dining room, verandah and even a smoking room. Successful flights to Montreal were encouraging, but when the R101 crashed in France, en route to Karachi, 48 out of 54 lives were lost. In the end, the fire on board the Hindenberg in 1936 marked the deathknell of the airships.
During World War 2 Cardington was used to manufacture large balloons and dummy tanks. Since then No2 hangar, large enough to contain an 8 storey building, is used by Warner Bros for filming. No1 hangar still awaits it’s fate.
But what of the airship dream? All is not lost, as even now, modern Hybrid Air vehicles, SkyCat 200 are being designed for spying purposes.
“On and Off the Footplate”
Those Caddhist members who attended the September meeting were treated to a fantastic evening. Bill Davies spoke fluently with knowledge and humour and entertained the audience with his experiences as a railwayman for 43 years.
Bill decided he wanted to be an engine driver when he was 9 (like most boys) and indeed started work in the business in 1964. He spoke about the development of railways from steam, which was then replaced by diesel and then contracted in the Beeching era.
He started off in the Nottingham area, ending up at Kings Cross, earning £19 per week, during which time he moved house to Bedford, where he still lives. He also spent many years as a union official.
During his years on the footplate he accumulated lots of railway memorabilia. He amusingly showed his “career in ties”. Every time a railway company or Managing Director changed they would be given a new tie. He showed about a dozen of them.
Bill then showed a series of slides taken by him throughout his railway career.
Many were local Luton and Bedford views. He showed slides of the development of the Bedford line to take account of the increase in length of the trains in the near future. There were many amusing signs he came across e.g. where someone had put a Stop sign against the buffers.
It was an excellent evening by a born raconteur.