Monthly Archives: November 2010

Report 30th November 2010

A Victorian Disaster and Scandal

 Heavy snow fell overnight in Harrogate overlaying a covering of ice from the previous day and with the temperature struggling to stay above freezing a large turnout of members was not expected.  However 18 hardy members turned up and were cheered when member Bill Blades gave his talk: 

A Victorian Disaster and Scandal.

With a very detailed account of the Crimean war and the famous charge of the Light Brigade, stories of the haphazard and amateurish preparations made by the British army, which was at that time still using the purchase system of promotion organised by agents, were told with much humour and with a surprising twist at the end with a local connection: In November 1882 at Harrogate Hospital, Sergeant Major Johnson, who claimed to have taken part in the famous charge, died and is buried in Grove Road Cemetery.

 George Mountford.  

Report 23rd November 2010


So You Want To Be A Nuclear Engineer 

Mr Roland Shaw, an engineer at the Sizewell B nuclear power station, travelled from Suffolk to speak to the forum. 

He gave an enthralling account of his career in the power generation industry starting with the study of mathematics, physics and technical drawing at Harrogate Grammar School and a degree from Leeds University.  After finishing an engineering apprenticeship with the Central Electricity Generating Board he went to work as an engineer at Drax power station.

With the coming of nuclear power generation to the UK in 1980, and after spending three years at the nuclear headquarters at Knutsford in Cheshire, Mr Shaw took the opportunity to move to one of the first nuclear power stations to be set up in UK , Sizewell B, as a member of the original construction team.

After some time in Yarm, Cleveland, the chance of two or three years in the United States was offered with British Energy. Returning to England he worked at Heysham in Lancashire for seven years but then got the chance of a move back to Sizewell, the station that he had helped to build almost 20 years earlier. 

At the moment there seems to be something of a nuclear renaissance with suggestions from the government that three or four new nuclear power stations should be built.   Mr Shaw believes that nuclear power has a large part to play in solving the challenges facing us in the future due to global warming and shortage of oil and natural gas.

When questioned about the disposal of spent nuclear fuel Mr Shaw stated that the only challenge was with the high level waste and that technically this problem can be solved. For example, at Sizewell B for the last twenty years all the spent fuel has been stored on the site.  The more difficult problem is dealing with the political and media questions that arise from the perceived dangers.

George Mountford

Report 16th November 2010

Blind Man’s Bluff

Frank Ellis, who is famous for his hilarious talks relating to comedy and the world of showbiz, showed us a more serious side today in his 11th talk to the forum: Blind Man’s Bluff.

Frank was registered blind in 1967; two years later the British Computer Association of the Blind was formed and Frank has served as treasurer for 13 years, chairman for two years and is now one of the very few honorary life-members. For the 40th anniversary of the Association Frank was asked to write an article for a commemorative magazine detailing the development of technology over the previous 40 years.

In his talk to the forum he started with a poignant history of his early years and his struggle with impaired vision he went on to give an inspirational account of his involvement in the innovation and development of electronic devices to aid all visually impaired people.

Early on Frank worked as an engineering apprentice and for some time worked as a capstan lathe operator but after one year it was decided that he should learn touch-typing and at the same time he also taught himself Braille. Later in 1967 he went to London to train as computer programmer and was employed by the Central Electricity Generating Board which in 1990 moved to Harrogate. In 1992 a voluntary redundancy package was offered and Frank age 55 grabbed it.

Never one to hang about Frank set up his own business supplying technical equipment to visually impaired people for the next 13 years, and for ten years he edited a puzzle magazine for the blind from his back bedroom. He retired at the age of 69.

Frank then went on to describe and demonstrate to us some of the technological aids that have been produced over the years from the basic Braille printer right up to the modern speech – text – speech computers.

As a strong believer of the old showbiz adage: Always leave em laughing, Frank finished with the story of an interview that he gave to the press in which, when it was published, he was described, to his great chagrin, as “The Blind Wizard of the Space Age.” – Never again said Frank.

Just one more story – Some time ago a wonderful device was invented to aid blind people when walking about. It was an ultrasonic gadget that fitted into the centre of a pair of glasses, by moving the head from side to side the wearer would get echoes from any looming obstructions. Frank was asked to test it and to give his opinion:

“Wonderful” said Frank,  “ but not much good if you walk off a cliff! ”

George Mountford

Report 9th November 2010

The Magic of The Yorkshire Dales


Mr John Gilleghan MBE, teacher, walker, writer, photographer, speaker, world traveller but, I suspect most of all – lover of the Yorkshire Dales, brightened our day today with his talk: The Magic of The Yorkshire Dales.

This talk started Mr. Gilleghan’s public speaking career more than 50 years ago when he spoke at a ladies group in Headingley.  He had been head of the science department at Leeds grammar school where he led many of his pupils on walks in the dales.  At this time he formed The Hill Walking Club. 

He is eminently qualified to speak on this subject having climbed all of the peaks, some of them more than a hundred times. 

How many dales are there in Yorkshire?  Mr Gilleghan names more than 250 but others say more than 400 when counting the little dales without rivers.  At seven and a half miles long Swaledale is the longest. The talk was illustrated with a series of excellent slides sometimes showing the past and then comparing it with a more modern shot. He gives a mnemonic to help remember the names of the more well known dales:  “They Say United Never Win Away”  Teesdale, Swaledale, Uredale, Nidderdale, Wharfedale, Airedale.       

Starting his talk in the north and then moving southwards in a series of shots, stories, brief local histories, points of interest, folklore and jokes, Mr Gilleghan kept us entertained for more than an hour – a breath of fresh air and sunshine, just what we needed on this dreary day.

George Mountford    


The word Dale now meaning open valley comes from the Old English Dael which also is the origin of the word Dell.  Related to the Old Norse Dalr and the modern Icelandic Dalur.  

Report 2nd November 2010

More Mysteries

His Honour Judge D.Clarkson, a raconteur of most meticulous detail, presented for our consideration three ancient mysteries.

First the mystery of the Mary Celeste, a brigantine built in Nova Scotia in 1860. In 1872 she left New York bound for Genoa with a cargo of industrial alcohol under the command of Captain Ben Briggs. On 4th December she was sighted drifting with an unlashed wheel, sails set, with not a soul on board! She was in good condition except that two hatch covers had been removed, the compass was missing and the yawl cut loose.

The second mystery involved the disappearance of all three lighthouse keepers from a lighthouse to the west of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. On 26th December 1900 the relief ship found everything in order but no sign of any of the three keepers. The clocks had stopped on 15th December, there was an untouched meal, there were two sets of oilskins missing and one chair had been upturned. No bodies were ever found

The third mystery concerned the disappearance of 130 children from the town of Hameln in Germany which gave rise to the legend and poem of The Pied Piper of Hamlin

Judge Clarkson presented each case in detail, laying out all the available evidence of the time. During question time the forum discussed each case putting forward various possibilities.

The first and second cases proved inconclusive but in the case of the missing children of Hameln a forum member put forward the following very interesting suggestion:

The story springs from a visitation of the plague hence the rats. In this infestation the majority of the children die and possibly some adults. The town is quarantined but a visitor is allowed in wearing protective clothing which included a facemask and nose filter, hence the pied piper. The bodies of the children have to be buried, but not in the town. They are buried out of town in a mass grave, hence the magical cavern. Over the next two centuries the story is distorted by time or purpose into the legend of The Pied Piper of Hameln.

George Mountford