Monthly Archives: January 2022

Secretary’s Report for 25th January 2022

Chairman Peter Wilson welcomed Professor Martin Curzon for his 10th appearance before the Forum. His speaking record with us stretches back to November 2008 when he gave a talk on Arctic Dentistry – was freezing the lower jaw mentioned?

This time it was about sugar, honey and all things nice – so dentistry could play a role in the dialogue.

Sweetness was the main topic and is identified by humans through receptors on the tip of the tongue. Salt and sour are identified much further back in the mouth and consequently rank secondary to sweetness which overrides most other tastes. This was borne out by Martin’s tip on how to quell the burning feeling of a hot curry. “Take a teaspoon of sugar – it will kill it dead!”

In medieval times, sweetness was obtained through honey which itself was a by-product in the production of beeswax used for candles. The Doomsday Book of the 11th century surveyed every town and village south of Northumbria as a basis for taxation. It included a count of the number of hives in each locality. Therefore the volume of honey produced in Britain was well known. However, as a sweetener, honey was not ideal. It was liquid, not easily transportable or long-lasting and alternatives were sorted out.

One alternate was sugar cane, a species of the grass family then found in India. It produced sucrose in the stalk which can be crystallized and then safely transported in bulk. Spice merchants from India began to trade in this sugar, which was considered a luxurious and expensive spice. Later, in the 18th century, sugarcane plantations were established in the Caribbean, South American and Pacific island nations where the climate was ideal. The need for sugar crop labourers became a major driver of migration from Africa, some through indentured servitude but most as forced slaves. Large quantities of cheap sugar could now be shipped across the Atlantic to satisfy European demand.

Because of a British Royal Navy blockade of sugar going to Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, sugar made from the beet-root was researched and developed in France and Germany. By 1840 France had 58 factories producing large quantities of sugar and, to this day, continental Europe relies mainly on sugar beet. In Britain, sugar beet production started in the 1920s because of supply difficulties caused by the 1st World War and it still constitutes 40 % of UK sugar production set to satisfy EU import quotas.

Whilst sugar provides the sweetness kick that we all crave, it needs to be combined with other ingredients to produce a palatable product. When mixed with white flour and baked it made biscuits and cakes. When mixed with cocoa and milk it produced chocolate.

Frequent snacking on these products, however, brought about diverse health problems like tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, etc To alleviate such problems, powerful artificial sweeteners which did not promote decay or calorie intake were researched and developed. These sweeteners occupied little volume and needed the addition of bulking agents to maintain the product size. Generally, this did not produce a matching taste or texture in the finished item and the use of sugar in manufactured food and drinks is still prevalent.

Martin recounted experiments he made whilst researching diet by using rats. He demonstrated that, when fed a daily basic diet plus several sugary snacks, the rats contracted tooth decay. However, when fed a basic diet with only 2 sugary snacks, there was no tooth decay.

So, he had one more tip to conclude his address, “Don’t consume more than 2 sugary snacks a day”

In thanking Professor Curzon, Richard Wright characterised his presentation as “Easy Listening” – full of interesting facts and anecdotes and much appreciated by the 26 members present.

Next week on Tuesday, February 1st we will welcome Eric Jackson to speak on “The History of Grave Robbing” Could a visit to Harlow Hill Cemetery be on the cards? !!

Recorded by : RICHARD WRIGHT

Secretary’s report for 18th January 2022

Canon Roger Dedman was today’s Speaker and treated the 28 members present to a seemingly unending catalogue of communication products and services provided by the Post Office during the past 100 years.

Back in the 1900’s postal services very much depended on the railways for moving mail around the country. There are lots of stories and pictures of Travelling Post Office trains collecting and distributing letters. All immortalised by WH Auden in his poem “Night Mail”. Telegrams were also popular as the Post Office linked up with the National Telephone Company to transmit messages.

The First World War precipitated moves to improve the speed of delivery for letters between families in the UK and Troops stationed abroad. It was eventually possible to post a letter in the morning and have it delivered to a loved one on a European battlefield the following day. After the 1st World war Airmail was gradually introduced to carry mail relatively short distances by air and it was this mail that financed the flights. By the mid-1930’s the advent of the Dakota DC3 enabled passengers to be carried and scheduled services were introduced to carry mail with more reliability.

Post Offices were established in every UK city, town and village and enabled them to expand the services they offered. Through the ages, they have facilitated driving licences, road tax licences, dog licences, radio and TV licences, banking services, savings, travel money, family allowances, pensions, broadcasting, electronic communications, etc etc

To keep pace with these developments, in 1957, the Post Office introduced machinery to sort mail by reading phosphorous lines on first and second class stamps. In addition, special stamps were introduced to commemorate occasions such as Christmas and the World Cup. This attracted stamp collectors to buy up the new editions without using the postal service and provide a lucrative cash addition to the service.

Post Codes had first been assigned to geographical segments of London in 1856. They were next expanded to include major UK cities and, in the 1950s, further expanded to allocate a postcode for every location in the UK. After extensive trials in Norwich, the postcode system was put in place in 1964. Apart from defining every house location, it is now the basis of other systems such as route planning, town planning, insurance premiums, marketing etc.

The Post Office Ltd, as it is known in its current form, came into existence in 2001. Ten years later the Postal Services Act 2011 led to the Post Office Ltd divesting the Royal Mail Group which became a public limited company. Royal Mail became the company that delivers parcels and letters – the provider of the universal postal service. The Post Office became the nationwide network of branches offering a range of postal, Government and financial services.

Internet services are presently having a significant impact on both these entities. The Post Office has lost much of its business issuing licences, pensions, allowances and banking to direct transactions made through the web. It has had to downsize.

Royal Mail has seen a decrease in letters and circulars counter-balanced by a large increase in parcel and courier services helped by the pandemic. The business also operates in the United States and looks to be in better shape.

New Member Bernard Higgins made his debut with a vote of thanks to Roger for a fascinating insight into the development and inner workings of one of our National Institutions.

Next week see the return of Prof. Martin Curzon to engage us with “Sugar, Honey and all things nice”


Secretary’s Report for 11th January 2022

The meeting was opened by Chairman Peter Wilson who thanked all those who had donated to the Christmas Charity collection for SHARE AFRICA. The final total collected was £435 which, with Gift Aid added, will increase to well over £500.

This week’s meeting featured our own David Siddans who gave a well-structured and illustrated talk about the unfolding story of the American Revolution from 1730 onwards to 1783. He described the 18th century as a new age of enlightenment with people inspired by philosophers, thinkers and highly revolutionary ideas of the time.

Throughout the 18th Century there was intense rivalry between France and Britain, who were global powers, eager to extend their influence in North America. Both countries entered into treaties with native Indian tribes to advance their cause and to increase the lands they controlled.

In 1754 British forces led by George Washington attacked a French detachment near the Ohio River killing around 50 soldiers and brought about what was called the French and Indian War. The War ended after 7 years in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris and provided Great Britain with enormous territorial gains in North America with the French losing almost all their territory and Britain controlling all the Continent to the East of the Mississippi.

The period of 20 years from 1763 saw the build-up to the American Revolution. George lll and his Government were financially strapped by the cost of the 7-year War. To help pay the expenses involved in governing the American colonies, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which initiated taxes on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. This policy was strongly resented by the colonists who believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “no taxation without representation”. In addition, the Tea Act allowed the British East India Company to import tea from China without paying full taxes and therefore able to undercut other importers.

In Boston, the Sons of Liberty strongly opposed the taxes in the Townshend Act as a violation of their rights and, in 1773 protesters, some disguised as American Indians, destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company. The demonstrators boarded the ships and threw the chests of tea into the Boston Harbour. The British Government responded harshly applying Acts which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed down Boston’s commerce.

The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War started near Boston in 1775. Open warfare erupted with confrontations between British regulars and local Patriots at Lexington and Concord. The Patriots joined forces with the newly formed Continental Army under George Washington and drove the British back into Boston where they were put under siege until they withdrew by sea towards New York.

In the summer of 1776 the retreating British captured New York City with its strategic harbour. Subsequently, the Royal Navy blockaded ports and captured other cities for brief periods as the war moved south. However, in late 1777 France entered the war as an ally of the Patriots and the combined forces finally captured the Cornwallis troops at Yorktown effectively ending the war. The Treaty of Paris of September 1783 marked the end and the new nation’s complete withdrawal from the British Empire. Subsequently, about 80,000 Loyalists migrated back to Britain, Nova Scotia and other British colonies.

Having gained their Independence the Americans soon adopted a Constitution, rejecting monarchy and aristocracy, and establishing a Federal Republic with an elected Executive, a National Judiciary, a Congress representing the States and The House of Representatives for the population.

In offering a vote of thanks, Peter Belton commended David Siddans for his fascinating historical timeline of the movement to American Independence which had kept his audience keenly engaged throughout.

Next week, on the 18th January Canon Roger Deadman will speak on “Aspects of the Post Office from 1900 onwards”