From the Chairman

Another U3A year past (July 31 is our formal year-end) has arguably seen little change – perhaps too little in some respects. Although there has been broad appreciation of the group activities and of the general Thursday afternoon meetings programme, membership expansion has been limited, especially when our numbers are compared with those of U3As in communities of similar size and demographic pattern to Harpenden’s.

Even with our annual subscription raised to £18, our balance sheet unfortunately cannot be described as healthy. Membership continues to hover around 150, regrettably below our budgeted target of 200. Ongoing recruitment to boost the number of people drawn especially to our special interest groups, as well as our fortnightly general meetings, is clearly necessary even to maintain the status quo, given the inevitable loss of members for a variety of reasons.

But our purpose, and of course our aspiration, is to ‘break the stalemate’, through innovation by essentially broadening our curriculum in order to attract more of those folk no longer in full-time employment, including of course ladies with fewer household responsibilities. It is important to remember however that U3A is not primarily a social club, notwithstanding the enjoyment and social interaction which are invariable concomitants arising from involvement in U3A activities.

Involvement is indeed the key ingredient in encouraging collective stimulation in diverse subjects, in dedicated groups, albeit recreational as well as cultural. Suggestions for new group activity subjects are always welcome, particularly from individuals ready to organise group meetings. Ideas please!
Self management of our affairs is the common remit of U3A groups as set out in the 'Principles of the U3A Movement'. Serving as a Committee member is a particularly valuable contribution that you could make. Too much of a shrinking violet yourself? Then think about nominating someone else – with their consent – to join the Committee, with you obviously supporting their endeavours.

Most of all, make the most of the opportunities, and why not 'sell' the experience to another third-ager of your acquaintance.

Best wishes, Doug Nevell


(All on Thursday afternoons at the Harpenden Trust Centre, 2pm for a prompt 2.15pm start)

Sept 5 Support in the heart of our Local Community - Doreen Beattie, Rennie Grove Hospice Care

Sept 19 The Colour-Blind Lorry Driver - Alan Bunting

Oct 3 Mercy Ships - Ken Brazier

Oct 17 AGM Followed by a Travel Feature

Oct 31 Walking the beat to Nirvana - Mervyn Edwards, retired Police Officer

Nov 14 The Written Word - Shared Creative Writing by Members

Nov 28 Steamy Stories from the Footplate - Stephen Jupp

Dec 12 Christmas Party: Entertainment, Seasonal Snacks + bonhomie!

Come and enjoy the U3A experience!


As well as, if not more, important than our regular Thursday meetings, where everyone has the chance to mix with fellow U3A members socially, are the ‘special interest’ groups and activities which meet at other times and at different venues during the week. They’re listed below, with the name of each leader/organiser. NB: Some groups are at the ‘embryo’ stage, with efforts being made to give them a ‘kick start’. Don’t hesitate to contact us to find out more!

Art AppreciationPat Jacques
Bus Pass tripsIrene Harding
Current AffairsDavid Lloyd
Exploring LondonPatrick Kenny
Family HistoryViv Chandler
GardeningSybil Marsden
General ScienceDoug Nevell
HistoryGerald Cuff
Local HistoryDoug Nevell
Mah JongPenny Turnbull
Music AppreciationRoger Reason
NeedlecraftAnne Stephens
Play ReadingTony Owens
Poetry AppreciationValerie Hughes
Reading for PleasureJean Rapier
ScrabbleJenny Tyler
Singing for PleasureViv Chandler
StrollersPatrick Kenny
Theatre-goingJohn Booth

We are always on the lookout for new special interest groups, be they of an academic or leisure-oriented nature. So suggestions please.

A WRITERS group meeting monthly is proposed by Irene Harding, its aim being to foster budding creative writers of poetry and/or prose.

Ideas put forward in the past, but which have not come to fruition, though with obvious potential, include a possible PAINTING group – offering an opportunity to express your artistic inclinations and possible hidden talent, without undue criticism. Is there a volunteer to lead such a group?


Singing for Pleasure
We meet at the Trust Hall at 2pm on alternate Thursdays to the main U3A meeting. Our aim is to sing purely for our own pleasure and certainly not for performance, although we may be persuaded to perform a carol or two at the Christmas party. You do not need to have sung before or be able to read music! The hour flies by under the very able direction of Joanna Nolan. Recently we have been singing music from shows, such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera – all popular and familiar numbers. All are welcome; we are particularly keen to recruit gentlemen to our ranks. Whether tenors, baritones and basses, they would add a certain something to our performances.
Viv Chandler
Family History

The Family History Group meets on the second Wednesday of each month from 10am to 12 noon in The Lounge at the Southdown Methodist Halls. Before the meeting starts there is time for a cup of coffee or tea. We have a membership of around 18 people of varying genealogical research experience and those with more know-how enjoy helping newcomers. We usually have a theme for each meeting but there is, hopefully, plenty of time for questions or advice on one’s own research. If you have ever thought about tracing your family history or wondered what all the advertisements on TV concerning DNA testing are about, now is the time to come along and join us. Like ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ on the BBC, you never know what you might find!
Viv Chandler

Theatre Group
The Theatre Group have been to two plays, so far this year. One was ‘Tartuffe’, a new play by John Dunnelly based on Moliere’s classic, a rather elaborate farce but arguably relevant to today’s attitudes. The other was Ibsen’s ‘Rosmersholm’, in a way dated in the wordiness of the characters, but again very relevant to present-day politics and the resulting sometimes distorted coverage by the media. We are always on the lookout for plays or other theatrical entertainment – mainly matinees – likely to appeal to a U3A audience. So don’t be backward in coming forward with suggestions, whether you’re already a member of our group or think you might like to join us.
John Booth

Reading for Pleasure Group
The Book Group continue to meet once every five weeks or so in members’ houses, and discuss books usually chosen from the Reading Group Book List provided by the Library. Two books we have particularly enjoyed in recent months are: ‘Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman and ‘A Place Called Winter’ by Patrick Gale. If anyone is interested in setting up a second Book Group in the Autumn term, I should be happy to give assistance.
Jean Rapier

Art Appreciation
Our group continues to flourish after the departure of its much valued, leader Roy Evans but I am pleased to take on the role. At each meeting of the group, after a brief introduction we share and discuss contributions – typically notable works of art – brought along by members.
Recently we have studied the works of Antonio Canal, Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, from the Venetian School. Another meeting focused on Aubrey Beardsley, a magnificent draughtsman and designer. Charles Rene Macintosh, architect, designer and painter and his wife Margaret whom he acknowledged as a genius – both of them instrumental in Art Nouveau – have also claimed our studious attention.
Pat Jacques

General Science
We would be pleased to welcome new members to a small group exploring a wide range of technical subjects of general interest.
Doug Nevell

Local History
Summer has seen us out and about tracing footprints of our town's past. Regular monthly meetings at the Skew Bridge are due to continue through the Autumn.
Doug Nevell

Highgate: not just a cemetery

On a fine Saturday morning in May, a group of about ten U3A ‘London Explorers’ set off to survey the Highgate area, after meeting up with our now familiar and superbly informative guide Colin Oakes at St Pancras Station. A 214 bus took us, via Kentish Town and Parliament Hill Fields, to the essentially unspoilt and prosperous purlieus of Highgate Village.

There we found ourselves deep in Betjeman territory, where the poet spent his early childhood days, living in West Hill and attending the local school, to which each morning he was ‘summoned by bells’, as related in his blank verse autobiography under that title.
Then it was on down the steep slope of Swains Lane to get to Highgate Cemetery – the main focus of our visit.

See the picture top right of this page: our intrepid U3A London explorers at Karl Marx’s Highgate tomb. (Click on the picture to see it full-size.)

It should be pointed out however that Highgate has two cemeteries, cheek by jowl on either side of Swains Lane. Across 37 acres around 170,000 people are buried in some 53,000 graves. The West cemetery is largely overgrown and is open only to visitors on pre-booked tours.

But the East cemetery is more readily accessible, albeit on payment of a £4 entrance fee which we were each happy to stump up. Contrary to some expectations, it is not a gloomy place, partly because of the perpetual bustle of visitors, many of whom come from all over the world to see the grave of Highgate’s most famous departed occupant, that is Karl Marx.

We were amused to observe, just inside the entrance, a simple but prominent directional notice board bearing two arrows, one pointing straight ahead, the other to the right, labelled respectively and succinctly ‘MARX’ and ‘TOILETS’.

The Marx tomb, bearing its revolutionary inscription ‘WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE’ is, fittingly, in a prominent position, on a corner of the main avenue through the cemetery. But intriguingly it was not always so. Marx died on the afternoon of March 14 1883 from a combination of bronchitis and pleurisy, exacerbated by an abcess on his lung. He was buried at Highgate on the following Saturday in his wife’s grave, in a relatively obscure part of the cemetery. She had pre-deceased him by about 18 months.

Saving our precious planet

A priority concern for all of us, no matter what our age, must be the wellbeing of planet Earth: to ensure it keep a safe place for our children and later generations.

Our recent U3A Thursday afternoon talk by Dr Leon Freris, fully substantiated by extensive research, spelled out the many challenges we face, covering a range of inter-related concerns emanating principally from global warming. It is the accelerating rate of climate change and its indirect as well as its direct effects which bring urgency to the issue.

Unusual freak weather, causing floods, wild fires, sustained droughts, rapidly melting polar ice and sea levels rising are all events cause whole swathes of population, mainly in the so-called Third World, to move away to relative safety. We are witnessing mass migration from countries such as Guatemala in Central America, where the rains have failed for three years and people cannot remain. Their attempts to flee northwards through Mexico to the United States are thwarted by more rigid border controls.
A comprehensive range of literature over-viewing the nature of these highly threatening concerns sets out to analyse the problems and how they might be addressed. Their specialist authors are fairly unanimous in pointing out that modern economics is driven by the supposed need for growth. It has worked so well, sustaining us for many years.

But now the hungry and thirsty ‘engines’ of growth are using up the earth’s resources at an immense speed. But those resources are of course finite. It surely makes sense to look at better ways forward before we, as the Earth’s inhabitants, find ourselves in desperate circumstances. Pat Jacques.

Agnes Nattrass

We are very sad to report that Agnes Nattrass passed away June 28 at Canterbury where she had been living for the past two years. Agnes burst upon the Harpenden U3A scene in 2015, having moving to the area to be near her daughter, Joanna.

I was lucky enough to sit next to her at her first visit to a general Thursday afternoon meeting and was really taken by this lively and sprightly new member who was full of ideas, many of them gleaned from her previous U3A in York. She particularly wanted to start up a ‘Singing for Pleasure’ group, no doubt influenced by her daughter, a professional singer and singing teacher.

Agnes twisted Joanna’s arm to take on the new group and, with Joanna playing and teaching and Agnes conducting, the group soon took off. It was popular from the start and now has about 22 members who meet in the Trust Hall on alternate Thursday afternoons. We all thoroughly enjoy our singing and realise what a debt we owe to Agnes for starting it. Our condolences go to Joanna and her family at the loss of such a vivacious lady.
Viv Chandler

Going to the flicks in the early days

There are alas no longer any cinemas in Harpenden, a reflection perhaps of the all-pervasive influence of television in recent decades. But during an informative U3A Town Walk, led by Doug Nevell at the end of June, the sites of former picture houses, particularly in the days when Harpenden was regarded affectionately as a village, were pin-pointed.

The White Palace, in Amenbury Lane, facing Leyton Green, on a site occupied now by the Giggling Squid, was the village’s first purpose-built cinema. It was opened in 1913, with 450 seats, including 25 in an obviously exclusive gallery. A pianist accompanied the inevitably silent films on the screen. A Captain Webb, an Australian – unrelated to his Channel-swimming namesake – acquired the premises around 1917 and renamed it the Victoria Theatre, after his home state ‘down under’.

It closed its doors in 1933, soon after the advent of ‘talkies’ when, 100 yards away, where Waitrose now stands, the Methodists had vacated their chapel premises three years earlier to move into their present, more prominent and spacious, church in the High Street.

See the pictures top right of this page:
The Embassy’s outside ice cream attraction
The Regent, a church turned picture house
(Click on a picture to see it full-size. Pictures courtesy Harpenden Local History Society)

The former church was converted to become the Regent, a 410-seat cinema with a white frontage, outlined in eye-catching red, green and blue neon lights. It was later renamed the State and showed X- and possibly H-rated ‘adult’ films, but closed in 1959. It then housed the new furniture department of Anscombe’s adjacent drapery store. The building survived for almost another quarter of a century before the whole of Anscombe’s was demolished to make way for Waitrose in 1983.

However, from 1935 onwards the Regent faced fresh competition from a new purpose-built ‘luxury’ cinema half a mile north of the village centre in Luton Road, on the former Old Rectory garden – the site of today’s BP filling station. The aforementioned Captain Webb was once again the entrepreneur behind the venture. The Austral, as it was initially called, after his native Australia, followed the popular 1930s Art Deco architectural style and boasted 870 seats. In 1953 it was renamed the Embassy, but as cinema audiences gradually declined it became financially unsustainable and was demolished in 1983 to make way for the petrol station that is there today.
Alan Bunting

Snail warning

Garden snails may seem slimy and common
and their manners when eating unpleasant,
but they do write appreciative letters
on your path, in a script opalescent,
saying: ‘Cheers mate, the grub was delicious,
full of vitamins, very nutritious’.
Roman snails write graffiti in Latin
which they picked up from Julius Caesar.
But they’re snobbish for no valid reason –
being aliens lacking a visa.
Their prospects are scarcely auspicious –
doused in garlic and butter. Delicious!
Joyce Bunting