Pam’s Past Speaker Meetings

By | May 16, 2019



Many thanks to Andrew Thwaite, who kick-started the 2019 programme in February with an entertaining and informative talk on the history and manufacture of chocolate. A great many people braved the elements that wet and windy morning and were rewarded with a most enjoyable talk and freshly made chocolate!


Our next Speaker Meeting was in April, when Carolyn Kirby spoke about her debut novel ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns’. Carolyn’s novel has attracted considerable favourable comment in the press and online – more details here.

Carolyn writes:

My novel ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns’ will be published in the UK and USA in March 2019. This is a historical thriller set in 1880’s Birmingham about a troubled young woman, Cora Burns, who was born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse. Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of a scientist, Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment. But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora?

The novel is inspired by some real Victorian lives and events. My talk will give an insight into the research that underlies the fictional narrative of the novel and will highlight three controversial Victorians: Arthur Munby, W. T. Stead and Francis Galton. This will be followed by Q and A’s and a chance to buy a signed copy of the book.


On Thursday 6th June, a large audience welcomed local resident, writer and photographer, Peter Rimmer,  who presented a fascinating and informative talk on Morecambe Bay. 

Peter is a freelance writer and photographer from Southport, now living in Ormskirk. He was awarded a Master’s Degree in Photography by the University of Bolton in 2013, and has self-published a Photo Book “The tide’s the very devil” about Morecambe Bay and its shrimp fishermen. Peter specialises in Paralympic and disability sports as a photojournalist.

Peter writes

The illustrated talk is based on my Photobook “The tide’s the very devil: Morecambe Bay in photographs” describing the hazards, dangers and isolation of the Bay; some of its rich history; crossing the sands; shrimp fishing – the catch, landing, boiling and picking of shrimps; and the men and women involved. Shrimping is a family business where the traditions are handed down, and remain largely unchanged from one generation to another. The opportunity to use old family photographs enables me to compare and contrast the practices of today with what went before, showing similarity and difference.

The title of the talk comes from the first line of the chorus of On Morecambe Bay, a folk song written by an old school-friend from Southport and recorded by Irish folk singer Christy Moore. Kevin Littlewood was inspired to write the lyrics following the tragedy in February 2004 when 23 Chinese cockle pickers died after becoming trapped by rising tides at Hest Bank. It is a poignant reminder that the tide dictates every move on the sands.

The solitude, isolation and scale of Morecambe Bay were apparent on my first venture out on the sands sitting on the back of Michael’s tractor. I wanted to capture the feeling of isolation and show the wide open spaces. I also wanted to illustrate some of the features of the Bay such as myrings, footprints and tracks in the sand. Including aerial shots from a balloon. I discovered a rich history of literature and painting which under-score the story of life on the sands, and provide an external context largely unchanged today.


A large audience gathered in the Ministry Centre on 5th September to hear a talk by Harold Hoggarth on the Civil War in Lancashire. Illustrated by maps, paintings and illustrations and based on the writings of 19thcentury historian Ernest Broxap, Harold’s talk described how Lancashire at the time of the Civil war was divided into 6 regions, or ‘hundreds’, of which only 2 were on the Parliamentary side. The 2 armies were a combination of professional soldiers and ‘clubmen’, or local vigilantes, and towns quickly changed allegiance back and forth. We heard about the use of the musket, and how it was just as likely to kill the user as the enemy when the gunpowder exploded. Between 1642 and 1644 our region saw a number of conflicts, one of the most notable being the Battle of Whalley at Read Bridge, where 400 untrained men defeated 5000 Royalist soldiers. We also heard about the famous Siege of Lathom House, when the Countess of Derby, Charlotte de la Tremouille, held off the Parliamentarians for 3 months before being relieved by Prince Rupert, nephew of the King, in May 1644. The Battle of Marston Moor, west of York, was the largest battle of the Civil War, resulting in victory for the Parliamentarians and the abandonment of Lancashire by the Royalists.

Note: The Battle of Ormskirk (August 1644) was fought in our local area. More details can be found here.


A large audience gathered on a cold, wet morning in November to hear John Winter speak about his book: Blame it on the Beatles – and Bill Shankly. John was studying medicine in Liverpool during the 60s when he became involved in the burgeoning music scene as a singer and songwriter, and his fascinating and entertaining talk brought back many memories of that time for those present. We were taken back to the early days of the Beatles (who at one time considered calling themselves The Raving Texans), and to Liverpool in the 60s, still recovering from the devastation of the war but nevertheless boasting over 300 groups. We heard about the famous Cavern Club, the Casbah in West Derby and Litherland Town Hall, where the Beatles played for the first time in December 1960. The poster for this event read ‘Direct from Hamburg’ and everyone thought they were German!

John is a keen fan of Liverpool FC, and readers of his book will note that the sky on the front cover is red, not blue! We heard how Bill Shankly joined Liverpool as manager from Huddersfield in 1959 with a mission to take his team to the top. He famously once said: ‘Football isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that’, and under his leadership the team went from strength to strength. By the mid 60s, through music and football, Liverpool transformed its image and the Beatles had the world at their feet.



The first Speaker Meeting of the year took place on 6th February, when a very appreciative audience heard U3A member Jane Sheehan speak on the subject of Foot Reading. After an introduction describing Jane’s career path to Reflexology and Foot Reading via Avionic Engineering and the Foreign Office, we were invited to remove our shoes and socks in order to be able to ‘self read’ our feet. We heard how wide feet indicate a hard-working mentality, whereas narrow feet suggest someone who is good at delegating. High arch? You are independent, self-reliant and enjoy time to yourself. A very long second toe suggests leadership qualities (or bossiness!). Members were invited to ask questions, all of which were competently answered by Jane. Altogether a most enjoyable and entertaining talk.


On 5th March we welcomed Natalie White, Community Banker for NatWest bank. Natalie’s talk was based on the Friends Against Scams initiative, which through organisations such as the U3A, aims to contact one million people by the end of the year, raising awareness of scams and how not to fall victim. We heard about many different scams: postal, phone, doorstep and online, and of how scammers are trained in befriending and grooming techniques in order to gain trust. 43% of people over 65 have already been targeted, resulting in huge financial loss and emotional impact. Natalie summarised her talk by suggesting 5 things to remember: Never disclose security details, don’t assume everyone is genuine, don’t be rushed or forced to make a decision, listen to your instincts and stay in control.

(Since the outbreak of the corona virus there have been reports of scammers attempting to take advantage of people’s vulnerability – please be extra vigilant).


After a long break due to the pandemic, Speaker Meetings returned via Zoom in February 2021.


What did the Spartans do for us? Quite a lot it seems!

The first ever A&O u3a Zoom Speaker Meeting took place on 4th February, when author and historian Julia Clayton transported us back 2500 years to Sparta, the largest of 2000 separate city states in the region now known as Greece. In an enthralling talk, we heard how Spartan ideas, attitudes and culture such as constitutional monarchy, token money, team sports and the welfare state, form the basis of our modern society.  In her illustrated talk, Julia vividly described the unique social and economic system in operation at the time, where there was a ‘national curriculum’ of education for boys aged 7-30 and where the decision making was only done by people over 60 years of age. Julia commented that the Spartans would have approved of the u3a, conforming as it does to their philosophy of life long learning.

Julia’s blog can be found at:


Stephen Wells

Stephen Wells spoke about The Curious Incident of Agatha Christie

Thursday 4th March over 50 members enjoyed a most entertaining and informative talk by professional entertainer Stephen Wells. The topic was ‘The Curious Incident of Agatha Christie’, and we heard how the famous author staged her own ‘disappearance’ in 1926, after receiving the devastating news that her husband had been having an affair. After a much publicised investigation involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace and Dorothy L Sayers, she was finally found 10 days later, very much alive and well, at the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate (now the Old Swan), having caused huge embarrassment to her errant husband, whom she divorced shortly afterwards.

Agatha Christie became known as the ‘Queen of Crime’ and is the best-selling novelist of all time, her books being outsold only by The Bible and Shakespeare. Stephen’s enthralling talk not only outlined her incredible career as a writer but also described how the film adaptations of her books have entertained huge audiences over the years, and continue to do so. An excellent presentation, complete with archive photos, film clips and music, added to our enjoyment of this excellent talk.

If you missed Stephen’s talk it can be viewed by following this link


On Thursday 1st April a very appreciative audience was entertained once again by chocolate expert Andrew Thwaite, whose talk ‘Brilliant Brands’, told the stories behind the history and development of chocolate manufacture in York, and in particular Rowntree’s and Terry’s. We heard how the 19th century founders of these companies were Quakers, and how cocoa was considered to be a wholesome alternative to the ‘demon drink’. In the beginning only hand-made chocolate assortments were produced, which were so expensive that the receipt of one was considered to be as good as a marriage proposal! The Kit Kat which we all know and love was first produced in 1935 as a result of a suggestion box scheme at the factory, and is now the world’s best selling chocolate bar – 6 million being made every day. Kit Kats are very popular in Japan, where they have developed flavours such as squid ink, hot dog and purple sweet potato! Andrew vividly described the early development of many of the products we still enjoy today, such as Polos, Walnut Whips (one eaten every 2 seconds, even though there is no longer a walnut on the top), and Terry’s Chocolate Orange, which started off as Chocolate Apple, then Chocolate Lemon before becoming the chocolate treat we enjoy today.


On Thursday 6th May an appreciative Zoom audience enjoyed a fascinating and informative talk by John Whittles on Red Mason Bees. John told us how for many years farmers had been relying on imported bees to pollinate their fruit crops, due to the low numbers of native species. was originally a pollination service for farmers and growers, but has now developed into an educational enterprise designed to encourage us all to use our gardens and green spaces to create homes for solitary bees, which represent 90% of the bee population. We heard about the life-cycle of the Red Mason Bee which spans only 6-8 weeks in Springtime, and how the use of simple, specially designed equipment can greatly improve the chances of success, and so increase the declining numbers of bees.

You can find out more about these essential insects and their lifecycle on John’s website


On Thursday 3rd June we were greatly entertained by Fool’s Gold, alias Carol and Steve Robson. Carol and Steve have been performing their unique shows for some while – long enough to rack up over 1000 performances which have been delivered to audiences all over the UK. Since the pandemic began, they have adapted their performances so that they can be delivered very effectively via Zoom. Dark Light is the new Fool’s Gold zoom show for 2021. Using a very effective combination of songs, film, photos and graphics, Carol and Steve told the fascinating story of the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from Flannan Island in 1900. A most enjoyable performance. More details about Fool’s Gold can be found on their website:


An appreciative audience gathered at Aughton Village Hall on 19th August for the first ‘in person’ Speaker Meeting since for 18 months. Author Carolyn Kirby spoke about the background to her latest novel, ‘When We Fall’, a gripping 2nd World War thriller which was chosen by the Times and Sunday Times as one of the 10 best historical novels of 2020. Carolyn spoke movingly about the women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary who flew aircraft from factory to airfield with minimal training, often making 3 or 4 trips a day. In particular we heard about Diana Barnato Walker, whose obituary in The Guardian was the original inspiration for the novel, Amy Johnson, a huge celebrity of the time following her solo flight to Australia, Polish pilot and resistance hero Janina Lavandowska, who was taken prisoner by the Russians and killed at the infamous Katyn massacre, and Monique Agazarian, who after the war became a pioneer of simulator training.

Carolyn is at present working on her 3rd novel, and we hope to hear from her again in the future.


If you’re irritated by the cost of renewing your passport, be grateful you were not trying to obtain one in 1858, when it would have cost you £2 7s 6d (equivalent to £266) and involved personal acquaintance with the Foreign Secretary!

A large audience attended the Speaker Meeting on 7th October at Aughton Village Hall, to hear author, broadcaster and former Immigration Officer Martin Lloyd describe three events which have influenced the development of the passport we know today. In a vivid and detailed talk we travelled back to France in 1858 and the attempted assassination of Napoleon III, then to events Germany in 1914 which led to the inclusion of photographs, and again in Germany in 1945 when William Joyce, alias Lord Haw Haw, was executed for treason.



Neil Stevenson

The first of our 2022 Speaker Meetings took place via Zoom on Thursday 3rd February, when Neil Stevenson gave a fascinating illustrated talk entitled From Pit Graves to Pyramids: Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices. We heard of evidence from 3500 BC in the form of Gebelein Man, who was simply buried in sand surrounded by grave goods, and whose body can be seen in the British Museum. In later times large structures were built over graves, then further developments led to step pyramids being constructed out of mud bricks. Finally techniques were perfected and the famous Pyramids at Giza were constructed using locally quarried limestone and granite from Aswan, using various transportation methods including sleds, levers and ramps. Neil also gave us an insight into hieroglyphics, the sophisticated writing system developed by the Egyptians 4500 years ago.

A lively Q & A session followed Neil’s talk


On Thursday 3rd March Julia Clayton made a welcome return, and gave a good size audience a fascinating insight into The Grand Tour. We heard how one of the first Grand Tours took place from 1613-14, when Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, and his wife Alathea journied to Italy, accompanied by the artist Inigo Jones. Amongst many other works of art they purchased 37 paintings by Titian, which can all be seen in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Many others followed in their foot

steps, renting a carriage in Calais and travelling onward in the hope of improving their language skills, building on their classical education, viewing artworks (and often having portraits painted of themselves), and listening to new music. This would build up their prestige and confirm them as men and women of taste. Clothes would be bought in Paris, and lists of what to take included such suggestions as a sofa bed, cutlery, condiments, cork-soled shoes and ‘portable soup’.

Julia then introduced us to 3 Lancashire gentlemen who made the Grand Tour: Charles Townley of Burnley, whose sculpture gallery formed the basis of the British Museum collection; Henry Blundell of Ince Blundell, a landowner whose collection of sculptures can be seen in Liverpool Museum; and finally John Foster Junior, a young architect. After spending 7 years abroad John Foster became the chief architect for Liverpool and designed the ‘bombed out church’ we are all familiar with, and many other buildings.

With the advent of the railways, improved techniques for reproduction and mass market guide books, the Grand Tour fell out of favour, but its legacy remains for us to enjoy today. Thank you Julia for a most interesting and enjoyable talk.

Julia will be back next year – keep an eye open for details


Fakes and Forgeries: is there a difference?

After a most informative, amusing and well-illustrated talk by Bill Soens, we were left in no doubt: a fake is not intended to deceive, whereas a forgery most definitely is.

Bill began by showing us a Georgian silver coffee pot, valued at several thousand pounds and complete with hallmarks. In fact this turned out to be fashioned from a silver chalice, to which a spout, handle and lid had been added and which now had two sets of genuine hallmarks about 150 years apart.

By contrast, we were then introduced to ‘The Bolton Mafia’, aka George and Olive Greenhalgh and their son Shaun. Working in his garden shed, Shaun forged paintings by Lowry, artefacts by Barbara Hepworth and Paul Gauguin and an Egyptian statuette which he sold to the Bolton museum for £440,000, after it had been authenticated by the British Museum and Christie’s Auction house experts. He also claimed that an alleged Leonardo painting, La Principessa, had been painted by him and was in fact the checkout girl from the local Coop.  This is still in dispute.  He was eventually prosecuted and spent 4 ½ years in jail. Apparently he is still painting but signs everything with his own name, and has returned his ill-gotten gains to the Bolton Museum.

John Myatt is an artist who has forged paintings by Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh amongst others.  Now he sticks to something a little less risky, painting famous personalities as characters in well-known paintings, such as Frank Skinner as a self-portrait of Van Gogh and Mylene Klass as Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’. His accomplice John Drewe also forged supporting documents to ‘prove’ their authenticity.

5th May

The Lancashire Cotton Famine

Sid Calderbank

1860, and the Industrial Revolution is well under way, with 2000 cotton mills employing half a million people, using cotton mostly supplied from the cotton fields of the Southern States of America which arrives regularly in the port of Liverpool with its 7 miles of docks. Then in 1861 war breaks out in America. 800,000 lives will be lost and there are naval blockades of the Southern States. The supply of cotton comes to an end; nearly 50 mills close within a few months and in Wigan alone 10,000 workers are unemployed. With no other source of income or support they are reduced to begging and burning furniture for warmth.

Then in 1862 John Whittaker, aka Lancashire Lad, writes a letter to the paper about the plight of the workers and begins to receive donations. Other philanthropists follow suit, and before long towns are setting up their own Relief Committees. Sewing schools are set up to retrain young mill girls, and by 1865 the war has ended and the supply of cotton resumes.

This amazing tale of triumph over adversity was told by Sid Calderbank, a Lancashire Lad himself who for 25 years has been entertaining groups such as ours. Using songs, poems and extracts from contemporary diaries, Sid painted a vivid and evocative picture of these extraordinary times, and drew parallels with the present tragic situation in Ukraine. A spellbinding talk, thank you Sid!



Last Updated on May 25, 2022