Sheffield u3a

Showroom lecture reviews

Scroll down the page to see previous reviews.

 What would Ethel Do? Friday 21 February 2020
 Joe Scarborough in Conversation Friday 17 January 2020
 The Bauhaus and Its Legacy Friday 15 November 2019 by Professor Matthew Jefferies, Professor of German History, University of Manchester

Sheffield’s Father Christmas, JG Graves Friday 20 December 2019 by Mike Spick

In the beating heart of this 21st century city, Mike Spick, former Local Studies librarian, revealed the magnanimity and vision of a latterday businessman and benefactor, John George Graves, George to his friends. He rose from an apprentice jeweller, working 12 hour shifts to become a wealthy philanthropist, whose bounty is still making a difference in all our lives.
Born in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1866, he moved to Heckmondwike in 1874 to attend Batley Boys’ Grammar School before arriving in Shalesmoor in 1880 to take up an apprenticeship at Wishman’s jewellery. He was a devout Christian attending first Townhead Baptist church, before joining a ministry on Carver Street. By adjusting the Wishman policy of full payment before receiving a product, to one of credit and payment by instalments, his business flourished. He started with jewellery and watches, but extended to widen his manufacturing base and import products for sale, initially Swiss watches.
He feared for the health of Sheffielders drinking alcohol to excess, as water was not safe. He supported the Salvation Army and funded a hostel for the homeless on Fitzwilliam Street, later replaced by the current hostel. He was active in the YMCA and contemplated the life of a missionary. Happily,for Sheffield, his influence was considerable based on the success of his mail order empire.
He employed a workforce of 3000, mostly women, who worked for less pay, with men in managerial and packing roles. In his work canteen, he ensured his staff ate a hot meal at subsidised prices and took them out to dine at his expense. He provided garden parties for his workers in the grounds of his home, Riverdale, close to Endcliffe Park, which included ping pong, button and potty racing to name just a few.
Today he is remembered by those who walk in his many parks, the largest is Graves Park. Also Eccleshall woods, recently added a visitor centre through his charitable trust. He invested in over 3000 paintings, 700 now hang in Graves Gallery, above the central library. He gave a new wing to the children’s hospital and established the Institute of Radiotherapy, a forerunner to Weston Park. He declined a knighthood. but will be remembered for providing the green lungs of the city, a healthy antidote to its more toxic history. Our thanks go to Mike for an inspiring insight into our generous benefactor, whose influence will be appreciated by future generations.

From Barrows to Bunkers – 20 September 2019 Alex Sotheran, Archaeological Advisor for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

Ever heard of MOD (Ministry of Defence)? Do you ever think about what it is defending? Is it defending our territory? Our people? Our wildlife? Our archeology? Our heritage? How can it do that if it is dealing in explosives and weapons and so on? Who owns the most land? The MOD? English Heritage? To be honest, I can’t remember the answer, but I seem to remember it’s a close call.
Alex Sotheran is Archaeological Advisor for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) which is part of the MOD. He told us that it is responsible for 1.8% of UK land. Its built estate includes large areas in Portsmouth. Its rural estate includes Salisbury Plain (near Stonehenge) and the Otterburn Ranges (in Northumberland). There’s not a lot of MOD land in South Yorkshire, the closest locations being Catterick, RAF Coningsby (Lincolnshire) and Leek. That’s a shame as one of Alex’s roles is to raise awareness among the general public about the heritage that is preserved on MOD land and he and his colleagues can arrange to lead tours of various sites.

Ah! There are even MOD sites in Kenya, Cyprus and Belize. Could we go and visit these sites? Well maybe, but they are not within Alex’s geographical area of responsibility. However St Kilda’s is, but I think it would have to be an intrepid SU3A group that wanted to go there to view some of the 1200 cleits still dotted around. Apparently cleits are stone structures that act like fridges – and they are built with gaps between the stones to let the air flow through. I’ve just asked Google Maps how to get to St Kilda but was told: ‘Sorry, your search appears to be outside our current coverage area for transit.’ But Alex did tell us that at times you can get a ferry there.

Operation Nightingale! What’s this? Well to quote what Alex said in a blog post (https://insidedio.blog.gov.uk/2017/09/18/veterans-excavating-first-world-war-training-trenches/) ‘I am lucky enough that some of my work involves Operation Nightingale, a programme which facilitates archaeological digs for sick, injured and wounded service personnel and veterans.’ We were shown quite a few images of Op Nightingale participants at work, one of whom found a Saxon bucket that was then whisked off to be displayed in the British Museum.
We saw pictures of the ‘golf balls’ under construction at RAF Fylingdales (near Whitby) as well as evidence of finds from the Bronze Age, Medieval times and even World War II.
Alex reckons that although in the past, the MOD allowed a listed monument to be used as target practice, that is not happening now. He reckons the MOD is now keen to reduce its footprint, improve sustainability and preserve our heritage for the generations to come.

Elizabeth Birks

Sheffield General CemeteryFriday 20 July 2019 by Jo Meredith,  Trustee of Sheffield General Cemetery Trust

‘……a delightful spot for the perambulation of the living and a safe depository for the dead’  (White’s Directory,  1837)

The Industrial Revolution led to a rapid rise in the populations of northern and midland towns, including Sheffield,  where the population grew from 45,758 in 1801 to 135,310 by 1851.    Death rates rose, exacerbated by poor housing,  overcrowding,  lack of sanitation and cholera epidemics.    Churchyards filled up rapidly, becoming health hazards in themselves and concern grew that a solution to the disposal of bodies must be found.   A report on Sheffield submitted in 1843 to the Royal Commission on the Health of Towns contained a particularly gruesome account of conditions in one churchyard in the middle of town.

Many of the new industrialists and professional men were also members of the Non-Conformist movement – new religious groups such as Methodists, Baptists and Unitarians, unattached to the Established Church,  the Church of England.   As their power and influence grew, they reacted against the control of the Established Church, particularly the denial of burial rights to them in Church of England burial grounds.   In 1834, a group of Nonconformists formed the General Cemetery Company in the district of Sharrow to address these problems.   24 of the most influential shareholders met in the Cutlers’ Hall to discuss the possibility of a new burial ground ‘at some distance in the countryside’,  as well as the opportunity to make money.    It was decided to purchase 9 acres of land from Henry Wilson of Westbrook, a snuff manufacturer, whose mill lay a short distance up the Porter Valley.   Much of the land was a disused quarry and less attractive therefore for residential development.

The company was influenced by the design of large cemeteries established on the outskirts of Paris to deal with the problem of increased death rates and large numbers of rotting bodies after the Revolution at the end of the 18c.    The design for the new cemetery in Sheffield was put out to competition and was won by Samuel Worth, a local architect, whose winning design was grand and ambitious, taking full advantage of the steeply sloping site to demonstrate his architectural and landscaping skills.     Classical and Egyptian elements were employed to emphasise the intended grandeur of the site.    Approached via Cemetery Avenue off Ecclesall Road,  the Gateway and elaborate wrought iron gates (installed later) made an impressive entrance leading to a winding path sweeping up the hill,  passing the Catacombs.   Although these proved to be unprofitable,  they buttressed the steeply rising hillside,  preventing its collapse.

The Non-Conformist chapel further up the winding path, now known as the Samuel Worth Chapel,  had Egyptian and Greek architectural features and is the focal point of the entire site.    Further up is the Cemetery Office and the southern entrance to the site.    As well as being a burial site,  the cemetery was designed as a pleasant, safe place for people to walk around, dressed in their Sunday best.

The first burial took place on 23 May 1836.    Mary Ann Fish, the wife of a bookkeeper,  died of consumption at the age of 24.  Thereafter the General Cemetery Company had mixed fortunes taking 6 years to sell the first 1,000 burials.    A contract with Poor Law Boards, charging 5 shillings per pauper body buried,  proved to be financially profitable, particularly as many of the graves had been pre-dug to a considerable depth,  allowing multiple burials to take place.   One grave,  B27,  contained 85 bodies,  some from the workhouse,  many small children but also men and women who had been employed in local trades.

Initially,  the cemetery overall was not as financially successful as had been hoped and so when Anglican bishops legislated that paupers should be buried in consecrated ground,  the company decided on a change of policy before they lost pauper burials altogether.    More land for consecrated ground was bought,  a new road was constructed to make a separate entrance and William Flockton was commissioned to design a C of E chapel in neo-Gothic style.  Robert Marnock, who by this time had a national reputation, was commissioned to design the landscaping of the whole site.    The original boundary wall, constructed to protect the site and to guard against the practice of body snatching,  became known as the Dissenters Wall and the whole site was consecrated in 1859 by the Archbishop of York.

Thereafter the situation improved between 1870 and 1905 when the company finally become profitable.   Some of the eminent citizens of Sheffield who are buried in the cemetery during these years include:  Mark Firth,  Samuel Holberry, the 3 Cole brothers,  George Bassett and John Gunson.    However,  costs increased and attitudes towards commercial burial sites changed after the 1st World War as councils began to build their own non-religious cemeteries.   The company still had to make money but no more land was available to buy.   Their income stream fell off and the grounds of the cemetery became overgrown, becoming a playground for local children.   In 1974 the Council took on responsibility for the deconsecrated site, maintaining the non-conformist part for heritage and historical purposes but clearing the Anglican area of 7,800 gravestones to make a large open space.   A YTS job creation project recorded every burial.

In 1989 the Friends of the General Cemetery was formed, followed by the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust.   The Trust aims to increase awareness of the site and conducts research,  fundraising,  offers history tours, a range of events, talks,   facilities for weddings, parties.   Apart from 2 part-time paid workers,  all the work is done by volunteers.

Jo would like to thank everyone for their contributions to the £346 that was raised following her talk.  This is greatly appreciated by the Trust.

Deborah Beetham

Second lives for the Third Age – Friday 21 June 2019 by Dr. Ben Heller, Principal Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, in the Centre for Sports Engineering Research. 

Another intriguing Friday lecture. Heller’s expertise is in medical engineering and instrumentation. Current research areas include monitoring of physical activity and motivation of exercise in virtual worlds. However here his attention was on us, the Third Agers.

The first half was devoted to the more ambulatory amongst us and he said that although we think we exercise enough i.e. walking 3-4 times a week, maybe swimming once or twice as well, we are still not doing enough. Minimum exercise for the over 60’s should be at least 30 minutes daily to include aerobic and strength exercises with yoga, tai chi and Pilates thrown in as balance practice.

He explained that only a small minority of older people meet those required levels of activity. We are in danger therefore of becoming frail which in turn leads to fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness and decline in physical and cognitive function. This inevitably leads to more trips and falls with admission to hospital as the result, the cost of which is close to 2.3 billion to the NHS. His research aims to transform lives through enjoyable innovations, which help to motivate and keep older people moving.

He cites the Saturday morning park runs as an example. It is:

  • very sociable;
  • up to 5 kilometres walking or running; and involves
  • chat and personal interaction;

He also cited dancing, sailing, horse riding gardening, sex and travel as equally important.

“Ageing is an inevitable mutual withdrawal or disengagement from society.”

Heller disagrees with this statement, and then posed the question: why don’t some older people exercise. There are many reasons for this eg

  • lack of mobility;
  • no convenient facilities;
  • fear of crime;
  • lack of social support;
  • low knowledge base;
  • low self esteem

Many older people do not think it relevant to exercise and get no enjoyment from it. Others were in pain and feared further injury. Such attitudes may lead to chronic diseases. For them, this is where the internet can be used to promote independent lives and explored for good purposes.

For those with decreased mobility software is available with games for increasing physical and mental ability. These are highly sociable and exploratory. Using the virtual world can enable them to travel, play games, have pets, and exercise. In fact everything that is done by the more able bodied can be mimicked in the virtual world. Learning from and interacting with grandchildren is also a useful tool. In short we must all be able-bodied or otherwise keep moving, thinking, interacting and enjoying our Third Age to the very best of our ability.

Susan Knighton 17/7/19

April 2019 Lecture on Chamber Music

Here as promised are Alex Burns’ top ten picks (all linked to a Youtube video for ease)

Classical Style 

  1. Joseph Haydn: String Quartet Op.76, No.1
  2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quintet in C minor, K.406, No.2
  3. Luigi Boccherini: String Quintet in E major, Op.11, No.5

Late Classical-Early/Mid Romantic Style

  1. Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet Op.132, No.15
  2. Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No.1 in D minor
  3. Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio No.1, Op.8 in B major

Late Romantic & Beyond!

  1. Amy Beach: Quartet for Strings
  2. Gustav Mahler: Piano Quartet in A minor
  3. Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No.8
  4. Malcolm Arnold: Sea Shanties (Wind Quintet)
  5. Chris Hazel: Three Brass Cats (Brass Dectet)

Alex’s Desert Island Chamber Music Track

Jean Sibelius: Andante Festivo (String Quartet)

A New Life – Wentworth Woodhouse – 15 March 2019 Sarah McCleod,  CEO,  Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT)

Wentworth Woodhouse, the largest private house in the country and former home of the immensely wealthy Fitzwilliam family,   fell into decline after the devastation caused by open-cast coal mining after the 2nd World War and the death of the 6th Earl in 1948.

The National Trust were unable to take such a large project, so following further decline, the house was leased to the Local Authority for the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education.  In 1989 the house was sold but the scale of restoration and maintenance required proved too much for successive owners.  In 2014 the WWPT was set up to secure the future of Wentworth Woodhouse for the benefit of the nation.  A £7.6m grant awarded by the Chancellor in the 2016 Autumn Statement enabled the Trust to proceed with the purchase of the house and halt the worst of the decline of the house,   finally taking over in March 2017 with one phone line,  one intermittent internet connection, one vacuum cleaner and 2 cleaners.

Funding from Funds, Trusts and donors has enabled a thriving business unit to be established,  now with 22 full-time and 160 voluntary staff.   Revenue raising currently includes weddings (36 in year 1),  film and TV locations,  house tours,  an events programme (including music festivals and concerts,  art exhibitions, car shows, gin festival),  a café and retail shop.

The Capital Works Programme is in 3 phases,  the first of which is almost completed and the second is well underway.  Scaffolding costing £1.1m is currently in place to enable the extensive roof to be restored and provide roof tours for visitors.    As with everything else at Wentworth,  the scale and cost of the restoration programme is enormous,   not least as each stage reveals yet more work to be completed, as for example the current asbestos and dry rot problems.

The Masterplan sets out the longterm vision for the site.  Extensive consultations take place at each stage of the plan to ensure the interest and involvement of all stakeholders, including the public,  in the restoration and development of a mixed-use site.

Over 100 Volunteers have been recruited, trained and are now involved in a wide range of different activities at Wentworth including events, gardens, housekeeping, retail and weddings.   Their involvement is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

Unemployed young people from Rotherham and surrounding areas are encouraged to participate in a variety of projects.  It is hoped that these will help local people gain a commitment and interest in the house and the work of the Trust.

Finally,  some interesting statistics include:  110 tons of Westmoreland roof slates ordered;   9,852 volunteer hours worked from January to July 2018;  1,700 visitors attended the Gemini Car Show;  47 public events held in 2017,  10,718 visitors took a tour from April 2017 to July 2018, 5,100 people attended the 2017 Christmas Market,  35% of visitors February to June 2018 were National Trust members.

We are very grateful that Sarah has offered to return to give us an update on progress, especially as so many people had to be turned away this time.

Deborah Beetham

Plastics – Friday 15 February 2019  Prof. Anthony J. Ryan, OBE Professor of Physical Chemistry at The University of Sheffield and currently Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures

If everyone in the room were asked to remove any article of clothing containing plastic, most would be naked.

What aspects of plastics do we want to keep?  Do we want an unfettered free market?  Will we accept regulation? Are we willing to develop policies and put in place regulations that limit our ‘throw away’ lifestyle?

Each type of plastic is different and needs recycling differently and I think that’s where this theory comes in: ‘Flory-Huggins theory means entropy of mixing is too small.’   The economics of recycling plastics depends on ‘provenance’. Consequently if you collect a wheelbarrow of random plastic items from a beach, you have no chance of recycling them economically. But if you collect fishing nets from the ocean floor  and you know what plastic they are made from, then there is a good chance you could recycle them, for instance to make spectacles, and label them ‘green’.

Possible techniques that can be used to examine the issues are: ‘Life Cycle assessment’ and ‘Environmental Impact assessment’.  For instance you could look at the energy used to make a product.  That might make plastic look ‘greener’ than aluminium (as aluminium production involves very high energy input). You might consider how that energy was sourced and classify energy produced by solar or nuclear as ‘green’ and that produced by burning fossil fuels as ‘bad’.  If you discover that a cucumber wrapped in plastic lasts longer, does that justify using that plastic for that purpose?

Could we each carry a reusable bag? Should we ‘buy a product but rent the packaging’?  Do we bring back glass bottles and ‘reinvent the milkman’?

Should we involve a wide range of professions in the discussion of managing plastics? Should we involve accountants and economists as well as scientists?  Is it true that presenting evidence to politicians doesn’t work?  Is it time to get more regulations in place and insist that we force responsibility for recycling back up the supply chain to the makers?

Maybe the problem is not so much about ‘plastics’ and more about ‘people’.

Elizabeth Birks


‘Lightspeed Universe’ – Showroom Lecture by Dennis Ashton FRAS  August 2018

​Dennis Ashton: Astronomer, writer, journalist and broadcaster, intrigued and delighted us with a fascinating insight into the universe using an amazing array of slides.  He took an audience of 160 on an imaginary journey from earth to the outer edge of the universe. We travelled at the speed of light in a spacecraft with its windows looking onto the sun, moon, planets and stars. Our journey of many billion miles took just 40 minutes.

Part 1. He gave a general outline of the universe and explained the huge telescopes, spectroscopes and various types of spacecraft used in deep space exploration.

Part 2. Next came the planets in what he dubbed ‘our local ​​​​neighbourhood’:

➢ Mercury, closest to the sun – a hot airless planet;

➢ Venus with an atmosphere so thick that its greenhouse effect makes it even more hostile than Mercury;

➢ Mars which long ago had water with the possibility of life;

➢ Jupiter, a giant gas planet with its many moons, interesting because beneath the icy surface of its moon Europa there may be water and therefore life;

➢ Saturn with its wonderful rings;

➢ and finally Uranus and Neptune, both gas giants with their own moons.

This section finished with a view of the outer solar system looking back, and included Pluto, now reclassed as a dwarf planet – and the millions of comets which are giant icebergs swirling light years away from the sun.

Part 3 – Our galaxy the ‘Milky Way’.

We travelled past millions of beautiful star clusters. They are born in ‘nebulae,’ by compressing huge clouds of dust and gas. They last for billions of years but when they die they swell into red giants and then shed their outer layers to leave a dead remnant known as ‘white dwarf’. However, the universe does have its superstars for example Betelgeuse in Orion. Superstars die in huge explosions called supernova. They leave neutron stars so dense that a teaspoonful weighs 100 million tons and they can collapse even further to form Black Holes.

Part 4. Having travelled 100,000 years across the Milky Way we entered the mysterious world of deep space. After 2.5 million years we reached our nearest galaxy the Andromeda Spiral, home to 400,000 stars. Dennis told us that Andromeda and the Milky Way are due to collide. But don’t worry it will be in 5 billion years. He then explained that galaxies are in clusters, held together by gravity but these galaxies in themselves cannot create that gravity. Thus an unknown, undetected form of ‘stuff’ appears to exist which has been named ‘Dark Matter’. No one knows what it is – not even scientists!

13.8 billion years ago the universe was just a tiny pinpoint but suddenly started expanding with what we now call ‘The Big Bang’, and it is still expanding by virtue of a force called ‘Dark Energy’, otherwise known as antigravity.

Our journey ended. We have travelled 14 billion years and reached the edge of the universe. We returned gazing in awe through the spacecraft windows at the clusters of galaxies spread out below us through the cosmos, 28 billion years after our journey began but just 40 minutes in the showroom. What a ride!

​​​Sue Knighton  21st. August 2018.

Deeds Not Words, Helen Pankhurst, February 16th 2018

Remember the scene in ‘Suffragettes’ where Emeline addresses the crowds and has to be protected to avoid police arrest? Later she offers to take personal responsibility from crimes committed in the cause of suffrage. This was no ordinary speaker and Helen Pankhurst has elected to keep her family name, the great granddaughter of Sylvia, was no ordinary speaker. Introduced as a dynasty, she is the modern day relay relation, the bearer of the torch and the ‘story’ was actually an invitation to reflect on where we are now.

The opportunity to share experiences was welcomed by many of the capacity audience, but the invitation to ask questions came at a price. Helen’s time was constrained so that she had less time to explore the here and the now, the Equality Party and the action which is still required today. Just as in 1918 only a nominal offer of votes to propertied women over 30 was passed in recognition of the women’s invaluable support in the war effort, so 2018 is witnessing long overdue challenges to a status quo of abuse and pay restraint. Personally, I would strongly recommend that Helen Pankhurst should be invited to return with a byline not of a story, but of a call to action, to explore more fully the issues raised in her seminal social documentary, ‘Deeds Not Words’.

Lorraine Wickham