Meetings Diary 2016

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December 2016

Special guest – Margaret Welsh.

Jean showed us a photo of a Roman dormouse fattener, available from Amazon, I believe (if you don’t mind their tax regime) and then showed off her cocinatorium talents by offering round the dulcia – a kind of honey bun with sesame seeds. For further reading go to http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=2206 or (in French) https://fr.wikipedia .org/wiki/Bucellarius - thanks to John who got right into the idea of tack biscuits and dulcia.

Peter gave a quick resume of the life and career of Tom Pain(e), born in Thetford in 1837 and variously a staymaker, a sailor, a schoolmaster, an excise man and a radical pamphleteer – a man who had the capacity to piss off everyone he met so that he was jailed in absentia in England, actually jailed in France (by Robespierre) and then died, friendless and alone, in the USA. Never mind, he turned out some cracking radical pamphlets like Common Sense, 1776, – which laid waste the idea of an hereditary monarchy (HELLO) and urged Americans to declare their independence. I think they did (they gave up on the idea in 2016.) The Rights of Man, 1791, was an answer to Burke the Burke’s opposition to the French Revolution but his attack on religion in The Age of Reason 1793-4 (largely written in his French cell) was a step too far for many who’d been his friends and admirers in the USA. A scathing attack on George Washington didn’t help his situation.
Tom died in poverty and principles at New Rochelle in 1809, was buried on his farm – the local Quakers refused him space in their yard – his bones were returned to England in 1815 by Cobbett in order for a grand reburial. Suffice to say his bones were still with Cobbett when the latter died and now are lost. Check the loft.
There are memorials to Tom at New Rochelle, in Paris (designed by Gutzon Borglum of Mt Rushmore fame) and Thetford. He was 34th in the poll of 2002 to find the Greatest Brit. And he designed the voussoir arch bridge in iron and steel that was erected over the Wear in 1796. Gan on, Tommy, lad.

John added to the sense of festivity and hilarity by taking for his theme the Great Victorian Manure Crisis. The average horse drops 35lbs of ‘good for the rhubarb’ daily. There were 50,000 working horses on the streets of London in 1900. Go figure. Most of them were alive but some had dropped dead where they worked to add to the stench and general mayhem. We had a nice rendition of the carol – I’m so hungry I could eat a scabby horse inside two mattresses. There were manure fly tippers, flies ruled OK; New York, it was estimated needed 15m acres of land to provide food for the horses that worked there. There were 200 horse-related deaths a year in New York (kicking, runaway, collisions etc).
Nobody had a solution – an international conference in 1898 could offer none. Henry Ford, however, did have one. By 1912 there were more cars than horses on the streets of New York.
Sorry, forgot to mention the cascades of horse urine. And at that point we all had a mince pie/piece of banana loaf, handful of nuts.

Gavin chose to talk about Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, born in slavery in Haiti to a slave and a French Marquis. The lad became the first black general in the French army and was known as the Black Devil Diable Noir. Having impressed Boney, he went to Egypt with him in that expedition of 1799 but fell out with him. On the way home his ship sank and he was captured and imprisoned for 2/3 years. He had the opportunity to lead a French force to Haiti to suppress the rebellion of Toussaint L’Ouverure in 1802 but turned it down. He died in 1806. His son, born in 1803 became a famous writer, Alexandre Dumas. On guarde!!

Gordon made a welcome return to talk about Lord Armstrong of Cragside. Born in Shieldfield in 1810, his father a corn merchant, he was educated at Bishop Auckland GS before becoming a solicitor. In 1846 he decided to pursue a life in engineering and in 1847 bought land at Elswick to develop as a factory. His first triumph was an hydraulic crane. He was knighted for services to guns in 1859 and in 1861 mounted a Great North Exhibition. Later he was involved in The TransAtlantic Cable, the Suez Canal and the American Transcontinental Railroad. Not to mention the Swing Bridge, Newcastle Uni, St Nicholas Cathedral, Lit and Philo etc etc and, indeed, etc.

Joyce offered some brief thoughts on sailors who aren’t true to girls…. And then advised that we’d be hearing about Nathaniel Wells next month. Black Britain is the series which has interested Joyce currently

Pauline thought we’d like to hear what Frances E Rendall was doing on Dec 21st 1916. She had made her way to Odessa via Archangel and a series of Russian trains that had an even worse record of competence than Southern (they had various excuses about leaves… and wars on the lines but their directors didn’t shovel quite so much public money down their necks). There she was trying to set up a hospital unit in the Balkans. Despite a lack of everything that’s what they did. The word intrepid comes to mind. What she wasn’t doing was eating mince pies and thinking about a nice warm shower and James Stewart in Wonderful Life.

With a brief discussion of the purposes of the U3A, Wessington Historians wished each other Merry Thing and went out into the snow, sustained only by the idea that History is the new black and that there are likely to be books in stockings.


November 2016
Peter, homeworkless and therefore keen to get his embarrassment out of the way early, mentioned there’d been one or two film showings and events at Harraton Memorial and an exhibition at Beamish and such like. He then set about drinking tea and eating biscuits, as unobtrusively as possible, not wishing to receive the death stare from Miss Butterfield.

Gavin did that enigmatic thing he now specialises in - and told us we had to guess of whom he was speaking. I won’t do that – it’s just encouraging him – so it was Harriet Taylor Mill. She was born 1807, married John Taylor, a Unitarian and then began an affair that JT apparently tolerated for some years, with John Stuart Mill, the esteemed philosopher and social scientist. In 1851 she produced a work on the enfranchisement of women and died in 1858, sur le pont d’Avignon – well, in Avignon, at least.

JS Mill produced On Liberty in 1859, a book not thought to be about the death of his wife but, of her, he stated that most of his work was done with her help, support and important contribution. Perhaps, as they say.

John continued from last month in his discussions and musings on the Bracero programme. This was how to get Mexicans into the USA to work in agriculture in the Southern and Western states, a programme that ran, often at the same time, but in clear contradiction of, the Wetback programme – the intention of which was to deport Mexicans!!

In 1945 a chain link fence was built and repeat offenders who crossed and caught were given bad haircuts – yes, really. Spot an undesirable by his haircut. In 1951 a report blamed all the problems of S Cal on Mexicans and 800,000 were arrested by 1953.In 1953 there were estimated to be 3m illegal Mexicans but labour was needed so deportations stalled.In 1954 there were more sweeps and deportations. July ’54 saw 50,000 arrests and it is believed that 400,000 fled. That caused immense problems for farmers, who were then allowed to apply to the Bracero programme for labour. I think one of the words is Doh! 10% of Mexicans’ wages was deducted to set them up in Mexico but it was, of course, largely embezzled. Some are still fighting battles against this robbery.

Some in the group seemed to find some parallels with more recent times and the rise of the Donald.

Jean, well I thought it was going to be great album covers as she mentioned Rock Art but it turned out to be the other kind of rock….and art. Rock art is a possible source of evidence for belief systems and she discussed the Australian aboriginal rock art found in Arnhem Land and the Sydney Basin. Art is still done in Arnhem Land but not usually, now, on rock. The Sydney Basin has no living informants but there are accounts from the 19th century, all by whites with their particular set of prejudices and preconceptions about the meaning of the art.

Jean went on to point out that in Europe the Saami are the only existing indigenous people and that there is evidence of rock art in Finland, Sweden and Iberia (the latter having some similarity to some Mayan art).There is more rock art in Southern Africa, in the Drakensburg Mountains and the Kalahari region.

Some of the questions raised are – what does it say about religious belief, is it still done, are there still practitioners? Can there be an archaeology of religion?

Joyce spoke about Dido Elizabeth Belle, 1761-1804 – having heard her being discussed on Radio 4 prior to The Archers – this being an everyday story of slavery and then good fortune. She was born into slavery in the West Indies, her father Sir John Lindsay, Captain of HMS Trent and her mother Maria Bell who had been held on a Spanish ship and was rescued by Lindsay.

In 1765 she was brought back to England (without her mother!) and lived in London with the Earl and Countess of Mansfield. She lived at Kenwood House for 30 years as a kind of favoured guest/adopted child, the Earl of Mansfield being Lord Chief Justice of England.

In 1788 her father died without heirs and she was awarded some money in his will, as well as an annuity and her freedom. Dido married a Frenchman in 1793 and had three sons, one of whom, Charles, served in the British Army. Yes, there’s a book and a film and you can probably get the T shirt.

Pauline developed her theme of Philip Noel Baker – about whom she’d spoken briefly in connection with her previous talk on The Friends’ Ambulance Unit in WW1. He lived 1889-1982 and did a lot of stuff! The son of a Canadian Quaker and a Scot, PNB attended a Quaker College in Pennsylvania and then Cambridge where he was President of the Union and of the Athletics Club. In 1912 he was selected for the 800 and 1500m in the Stockholm Olympics. He commanded the Friends Ambulance Unit in the Great War, worked on the Covenant of the League of Nations, won a silver medal at the 1924 Olympics in Antwerp, became a Professor of International Law, was a committed pacifist, served on the NEC of the Labour Party, was Chair of the Labour Party in 1947 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.

He also washed dishes and ironed very well. (I made some stuff up.)

Peter Welsh

October 2016
Pauline, homework fully complete on this occasion, began proceedings with a description of Philip Noel-Baker (alumnus of Ruskin, like JL) who was a significant player in the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit in WW1. They ran ambulance trains, hospital ships and hospitals. 21 of their number died in/on service. Cadbury (who now manage to avoid UK tax and whose founders must be turning vigorously in their graves) and Rowntree were involved. FAU ended in 1919. Source list available

Gavin played the enigmatic card and we had to guess who he was talking about. With answers ranging from Mother Teresa, Countess Markiewicz, Florence Nightingale and Suzi Quatro (I made the last one up for effect) we didn’t do too well so it was a relief when he told us her name was Violet Gibson. Born in Dublin in 1876 this lady suffered every ailment known to woman, physical and mental – some of them self-inflicted as when she tried to commit suicide and merely shot herself, painfully, in the chest. Her accuracy was no better when she decided to assassinate Mussolini and shot him in the nose, for the Glory of God, she said. Musso used the attempt to crack down on his opponents, the Communists, claiming that she was one of them. Returning to England she lived until 1956 with a viole(n)t outburst each April on the anniversary of the act that, had it been successful, would have made her better known to the Wessington U3A History group! Source list available

Peter, as threatened in the last meeting, brought down the Sword of Damocles and explained the latest thinking, courtesy of Professor Holger Afflerbach’s lecture at WFA Conference and Dr Strohn’s detailed explanations while we tramped the battlefield, on the Battle of superlatives, Verdun, – longest, bloodiest etc etc. It wasn’t about ‘bleeding France white’, so forget all that. In actual fact it’s not easy to bone up on Verdun cos most of the books are written in German or French and the ones in English, like Alistair Horne, are outdated and lack access to new research. If you want to know send a £5 note to…….2277 children were baptised ‘Verdun’ in the UK 1916-18, second only to ‘Kitchener’ as a ‘war-inspired’ name

John riffed on Donald Trump and the wall he imagines Mexico is going to pay for. His talk ranged over the relationship between US and Mexico with particular reference to the US need for labour for the railroads and agriculture in in the South and South West at the time of WW1. As numbers rose unions became concerned and some Americans expressed anti-Mexican sentiments. In 1924 border controls were established and Herbert Hoover (1928-32) set up a deportation project (coming to a country near you, shortly?). 750,000 ‘Mexicans’ served in the US forces in WW2. Learning from history? – as we experience similar issues in the early 21st century. Basically it seems that we want people to work and then they should disappear when we don’t need them anymore.

Joyce did the story of Alexander Hamilton in rap – well, she didn’t but the latest huge hit in the US, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (sounds like one of them Mexicans or Hispanics) does. He (Hamilton, not Miranda) was one of the Founding Fathers and the $10 bill (now worth £74 and heading for £100, I believe, thank you Brexit) has his face on it as first US Secretary to the Treasury. He and Aaron Burr (Vice President to Thomas Jefferson) were the very worst of enemies and fought a duel in 1804, Hamilton being fatally wounded. He was ‘the visionary architect of liberal capitalism.’ Source list available.

Gordon is working on WG – which I thought was going to be Grace but turned out to be Armstrong of Cragside. One built innings and the other built guns and ships and, well, everything engineering you could ever think of and never understand. More about WGA, the first engineer to be ‘peeraged’ next month.

Jean continued her cruise.

21 September 2016

The History group met at the Butterfields for tea. Coffee, chocolate biscuits!! and updates of research.

Peter mentioned that Sol Campbell (wonder why him?) had spoken about Billy Jonas of Washington at Thiepval Commemoration on 1st July and went on to discuss aspects of the showing of Asunder, a film funded by HLF telling the stories of people from Sunderland and the surrounding area. An in-depth discussion of EVERY, EVEN THE MOST MINUTE, DETAIL of the Battle of Verdun was held in abeyance (like the sword of Damocles) for another time. Phew, they all said under their breaths.

John drew comparisons, not a hard task, between the treatment of the Bryant and Ashley (sorry that should read Bryant and May) matchgirls in the late 1880s and current business practices and outlined the part played by Annie Besant (later, briefly, PM of India, yes, really) in the strike they organised. It was white slavery but more profitable than black slavery since B&M didn’t have to provide accommodation for the ‘workers’. B&M, after a review claimed they were model employers but fossy-jaw continued to be a problem (a fatal one) despite efforts to hide the situation. The Times (even pre Murdoch) condemned the strike. Picks self up after encounter with small feather.

Gordon launched into blood and iron, but not literally, cos he was careful about Pauline’s cups. His review of the rise of Bismarck, his diplomacy and then his casting out (dropping the pilot as the cartoon of the time had it) by Kaiser Bill encompassed the Schelswig Holstein situation (Gordon, didn’t try to explain the details but, then no one ever could) the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco Prussian war, the Congress of Berlin and the beginnings of the first welfare state (ours came later and lasted from 1906ish to…..well, you decide)

Pauline passed, having offered only a weak excuse about failure to do homework.

Joyce, having been energised by a Radio 4 programme in her kitchen (but actually available in everyone else’s kitchen too) spoke about Joanna of Navarre who married the Duke of Brittany and then Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, before being crowned Queen of England in 1403. Queen Joanna! After some unpleasantness about witchcraft and poisoning (her of Henry IV) she was imprisoned before being released by Henry V and ending her days in Leeds castle in 1437. Interesting life.

Jean spoke about urban cemeteries, the info contained therein, the architecture thereof and their growth in Victorian England. She did, however, range – bit like a cruise in some ways – over activities in cemeteries in Sydney, Gibraltar, Paris (Lachaise) and New Orleans. Broadening the subject she spoke of Egyptian, Gothic, Greek monuments. Gypsy funerals were often the most expensive and John Louden was the inspiration behind the fairly common garden cemeteries with a long drive, a grid, street names and a hierarchy of charges and Dickens spoke of miasma from cemeteries in Bleak House. (That last sentence may not be entirely accurate or the links well-made but, hey, you had to be there.) Cemeteries were not necessarily a reflection of the society which produced them.

Gavin continued his exposition on the Jews in Judea and gave us a lot of very hard names. Some, which I could spell, were Pompey, Julius Caesar, Herod (all the Herods were a bad lot, take it from Jean), Agrippa, Julius Agrippa, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Caligula. A hard and bloody time was had by all.

Pauline, who’d been dissembling about her homework, then curried sir’s favour by a three minute exposition on money (singular, cos otherwise we’d all have burst into ABBA) citing Aristotle, barter, worth his salt, obsidian trading/bartering, gold bars, banking in Bablyon (a Boney M hit) Chinese money, double entry book-keeping in Italy in 1300, Viking coins (chronology had got into his car by this point) and Venetian banks of 1587.

Wow, eclectic and electric


History group at Pauline and Gavin’s on 20/4/16

Peter had little to report in terms of new research but read out future President Trump’s (Republican) response to a question on the first Republican President, one Abraham Lincoln. “Well,” Trump said, “I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents (!!!! Can anyone think of one potential President who may not fit that bill) would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time.” And then he started to ramble about Richard Nixon. OMG, he didn’t do American History 101. And he’ll have the nuclear codes!

Anyway, John lifted the mood some 0.5% with some remarks on Homo Sapiens, based on a book called Sapiens, in which the author who wrote that important book long before anyone else wrote that book (yep, forgotten his name but I know the title) discourses on how said Sapiens is busy destroying the world cos they have language, even if no brains. These people are sometimes called bankers (it doesn’t say that in the book).

Gordon segued into slavery, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce et al and lifted the mood another 2% by refusing to detail some of the horrors which followed slave uprisings in Jamaica and Haiti or the conditions on the Middle Passage.

Pauline is about to embark on the good ship Trade and Finance, a history thereof, but, in the meantime, gave us a brief overview of the life of Biddy Mason, a black woman held as a slave by Robert Smith, a Mormon, until she gained her release in the 1850s, he having taken her to California where slavery wasn’t permitted (Chinese coolies on the trans-continental railway were just diligent workers who’d seen an opportunity for fresh air and outdoor living in the Rocky Mountains, yes sir) and became one of the wealthiest of black women (and a significant philanthropist) by offering midwifery services and then making a fortune in real estate.

Joyce stayed with non-white Americans by describing the life of Sacajawea (there was some controversy about how to pronounce her name but Joyce was using the Wikipedia ‘deep brown American voice that often does film trailers’ facility and who can argue with that) who was a Shone Indian that travelled with Lewis and Clark, knew Jim Bridger and had several appealing recipes, when times were hard, for boiled yams and bear grease. There are, according to Joyce, more statues of Sacajawea than any other American woman. People stand beside them and say, ‘Hey, there’s that statue of her with the contentious name..’

Gavin completed our remarks by choosing Judaism and telling us about Abraham (Donald Trump, ‘Abraham did a very vital thing at that time’), Moses (he did a very vital thing at that time which if it hadn’t been done for 10 or 20 years etc), Joshua (all together now – Joshua did that vital thing at Jericho which if he hadn’t done at that time…) 12 tribes and Alexander and Parthians and that stuff from the Old Testament.

My Parthian shot is to say ‘it is important to do that vital thing at that time because 10 or 20 years ago it would never have even been thought possible….’ Like having an utter dick in the White House – pardon my French.



Gordon began by raising some points he’d been reading about regarding the development of the Agricultural Revolution in 17th century – Turnip Townshend, Enclosures, Bakewell, Coke of Holkham, the rise in population; and went on to link those changes with the start of the Industrial Revolution. He spoke briefly about Hargreaves, Kay, Arkwright, Cartwright, Abraham Darby, Bessemer, Watt, Telford and Macadam.

Pauline spoke about a couple of Conscientious Objectors, Horace Eaton and Harry Statton, the latter being one of the so-called Harwich 50 who’d been taken to France, threatened with death and eventually given hard labour.

Jean is preparing a power point presentation on urbanisation and has chosen Newcastle. Thus, she has looked at, and her assistant has photographed (and we saw the evidence) a variety of sites in the city; eg Hadrian’s Wall plaque at the Lit and Phil and the medieval walls and ran us through some aspects of the development of the city; 17th century growth in population, late 17th century commercial development, westward industrial expansion under Lord Armstrong, the 1854 fire, 1870 Swing Bridge, 1928 Tyne Bridge, industrial decline and commercial development in 20th century.

Peter outlined the explosion on, and sinking of, HMS Gratton in Dover Harbour in September 1918 – you may well have driven over it because it was later buried under the port entrance building. He then offered the group the chance to write the thriller – Who was Robert Snowball/Cornelius Costello/Robert Flanagan/Robert Bonner who died on the ship and whose mother did and did not identify his body or did identify it without noticing it was someone else with whom one of those names (possibly her son using one of those names) had swapped uniforms in 1917, while under the influence of intoxicants? A complicated story indeed involving addresses in Oystershell Lane, Newcastle (close to the city walls) and Howick St Sunderland - as well as somewhere in County Cork.

Gavin, inspired by his attendance at the American Civil War pop-up group, wrote and delivered a piece on slavery, covering aspects from helotry, the Romans, the Arabs, India, China, Japan, Portugal, USA and our heroic part in all of that.

Joyce spoke about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Harriet born a slave in 1822, lived until 1913. She escaped from slavery to Philadelphia and then organised the escapes of at least 70 slaves from the South before settling in a house made available to her by William H Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln. Her later life was spent improving the lot of African-American women and working for votes for women. In 2013 President Obama opened the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Memorial.


With John taking his turn as chair we discussed the following-

Joyce gave us a brief outline of the life of Margaret Pole, cousin of Elizabeth of York, wife of H7. She and her sons were well involved in court politics of the time, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and Arthur and Anne Boleyn and all that stuff so well covered by Hilary Mantel (and Joyce). Reginald Pole, one of her sons, became Archbishop of Canterbury. She was executed and so was another of her sons. Life in the fast lane, circa 1530.

Gavin spoke about George Elliot, later Baron of Penshaw, (possibly Pensher or even Painshaw) who was born in 1814, became chief engineer for Marquis of Londonderry, bought pits in South Wales and Whitefield Colliery at Penshaw (where the Brookes now live). He was also involved in wire rope making, the laying of the first Transatlantic cable, was MP for Durham North and later Newport, was a pal of Disraeli and was buried in Houghton Hillside cemetery after his death in 1893. Busy lad and not well known locally? Slightly better known now.

Jean argued the case for and against the role of monumental architecture in the creation and affirmation of leadership and ideology. Her examples were mostly from Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and China. How did one man become sufficiently powerful to have the walls, the tombs, the palaces and the fortifications constructed and what was their purpose? Cf in modern times Hitler, Castro, Stalin, Ceausescu, dare I say Canary Wharf? If your ideology dominates you find some way of expressing that in order to control, gain awe and respect, even if the construction is way too big for its actual purpose. And even if we’d all have been better off if their mothers had strangled them at birth.

Peter ran through some of the topics to be investigated on a visit to the National Archives at Kew from documents created by Admiralty, VAD, Board of Trade, railway companies, Hospitals and Dressing Stations, War Diaries, local schools, the Foreign Office and other bodies responsible for German prisoners in Weardale.

Gordon gave us a quick run through events in France from 1789 – 1870 – thus Bastille, Revolutionary wars, Napoleon and the First Empire, Congress of Vienna and restoration of Bourbons, 1848 revolution, rise of Napoleon III, France-Prussian War 1870 and Third Republic 1870-1914. Gordon’s small project is the History of the long nineteenth century 1789-1914. So, not much to do there.

Pauline gave us a brief account of the life of Harold Bing, an absolutist conscientious objector during the Great War. Brave and caring man. Pauline will discuss other classes of CO in the future.

We finished in hell as John spoke. That might have been phrased more felicitously. He brought a sack of books to prove that his knowledge of Dante doesn’t come from Wikipedia and gave us the highlights of Hell, Dante-style, some of which I can’t mention cos this is a website for everyone. But Dante spoke of the 9 circles of hell and, John pointed out, is much more quoted by Italians than the Bard is by us. Dante also ‘invented modern Italian’ –ish by using the language of Tuscany ( I think!) in the Divine Comedy.

Abandon hope all ye….and we did and went home.

Happy to accept amendments and corrections.

Peter Welsh


Topics discussed in November 2015 were:

Great War research findings – Peter Welsh

Henry Hudson the Railway King and large scale fraudster – Gavin Butterfield, please note the last part refers to Hudson, not Butterfield

Socio Cultural Complexity in the Indus Valley 2800 BCE – Jean Barnett

A brief discourse on events from 1789 up to the Congress of Vienna – Gordon Fletcher

Conscientious Objection – Pauline Butterfield