Monthly Archives: March 2022

The Sandiacre Screw Company (3)

Last time we were following Keith Doncaster’s progress through the High School, with two unmarried women teachers in the Preparatory School (which was as the rules demanded. As soon as women teachers got married, they were forced to resign.) After a spell with Messrs Day and Hardwick, Keith remained in an “A” Form in 1936-1937. This was the Third Form A with Mr Beeby. This Form of 28 boys had seven ex-Scholarship holders but only one of the previous year’s seven had retained his award. Here’s a very poor picture of Mr Beeby. He is right in the middle of the group:

Mr Beeby soon left the High School to join the RAF. He was absent from at least September 1941-1946. Flying Officer Beeby served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch who carried out all kinds of electronic warfare and radio counter-measures including the blocking of the famous German Very High Frequency bombing system called “Knickebein”. This was all “Top Secret”, of course. Mr Beeby certainly would not have been able to discuss what he had been up to with his pupils in the Air Training Corps. He might even have been associated with code breaking. Lots of codebreakers were recruited among the top Classics and Mathematics graduates at Cambridge. Here’s the equipment the Germans used for “Knickebein”:

Keith didn’t win a prize or a scholarship this year and he came 23rd in the Form. This was  sufficient reason to relegate him into a “B” Form the following year, the Upper Fourth Form B with Mr Kennard. This Form had 27 boys and sixteen of them opted to join the OTC, the Officers’ Training Corps, including Keith, who finished the year seventh in the Form. In 1938-1939, Keith was in the Lower Fifth Form with Mr Parsons. Here’s Mr WA Parsons, one of the two Masters in charge of cricket. He was universally known as “Wappy”. Right next to him is Bruce Richardson who lived in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station at the junction with Edwards Lane. Four years after this photograph was taken, “Farmer” Richardson would die on the perimeter of Dunkirk, trying to buy time for the British Expeditionary Force to get back across the Channel. It wasn’t called “Operation Certain Death” but it might just as well have been:

There were 21 boys in the Lower Fifth Form, 15 of whom were in the OTC, including Keith. Indeed, we still have a photograph of the OTC taken during the calendar year of 1939 and Keith is on the left hand end of the front row, as we look at it. Despite his physical age of either 15 or 16, he looks almost boyish, rather thin and rather delicate. There are a couple of boys who look less adult than him, but of the 26 individuals in the photograph, there are more than twenty who seem so much more physically prepared to leave the High School than he appears to be. In the end-of-year examinations, by the way, Keith finished a respectable sixth:

Here is Keith in close up:

The next year, 1939-1940 was Keith’s last in the High School. He spent it with Mr Thomas in Fifth Form B. There were 26 boys in the Form. Here’s Mr Adan Thomas in later years, in a superb photograph taken by the Reverend Stephens:

Keith does not seem to have taken his end-of-year examinations and he is not recorded in the School List for the Form, even as an “X, not placed”. The situation is rather strange because the School Register says that his departure occurred on July 30th 1940, which was presumably the last day of the working term. So why did he not take the School examinations?

There is some indication, though, that Keith took, and passed, his School Certificate this year and that may have had some connection with it.

Keith did achieve three very important things during this year, though. He became a OTC A/cadet (an air cadet), and he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He also passed the all-important OTC Certificate “A”. With that, he took one more step towards his premature death:

 

 

 

 

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Why no statue? (8)

Recently, we looked at the impoverished life of Mary Anning, a self taught young woman who would eventually outrank the top palaeontologists of Europe. Here she is, with her dog, Tray:

During an incredibly hard life, Mary was oppressed for two things she couldn’t help.

She was a working class woman. As a woman, she could not vote, she could not hold public office, and she could not attend university. Most importantly, she could not join the Geological Society or even attend their meetings. As a member of the working class, she should in theory have been a farm labourer, a worker in a big mansion or in a factory. Here are some jobs that were thought suitable for a young working class woman:

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For me, that kind of prejudice is both shocking and unacceptable. But her troubles had only just started.

As a working class woman, whenever she discovered a new type of dinosaur, only the rich man who bought the fossil was allowed to write about it officially in a scientific journal.

After years of major discoveries, none of which had ever been properly credited to her, her friend, Anna Maria Pinney, wrote that:

“The world has used her ill. Men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal (of prestige and money) by publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

And, of course, Ms Pinney was right.

Secondly, Mary was poor. Her father died leaving debts rather than an inheritance. The family were forced to live on parish relief and a certain amount of upper class patronage. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, a wealthy Lincolnshire collector was extremely upset by Mary’s poverty. He sold his own collection of fossils in 1820 to help Mary and her family. The latter received a generous proportion of the £400 received (c £40,000 today).

When geologist Henry De la Beche painted “Duria Antiquior”, a picture of prehistoric life, he used fossils Mary had dug up and he gave her the money he made from his sales to help the family. This was the first ever picture of what they called then “Deep Time” :

Mary died on March 9th 1847 from breast cancer. Her life now began to fascinate people more and more.

In “All the Year Round” edited by Charles Dickens, one of the many authors said that:

“the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

It is frequently mooted that she was the real person in the tongue twister:

“She sells seashells on the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.”

Sadly there is no evidence whatsoever for this connection, beyond the circumstantial. And this is, of course, the very best kind of evidence and so the theory is therefore almost certainly true.

In 2010, the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, this august body published a list of “the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science”. It is sad how few of them ordinary people will have heard of, even though their work was, in many cases, ground-breaking. You can find it here.

And here’s that top ten of women scientists:

Anne McLaren (1927-2007)

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)

Elsie Widdowson (1908-2000)

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)

Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923)

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)

Most people, myself included, don’t have any idea who these women were or what they did. Follow the link above, or just try googling some of them, and you’ll soon see to what extent they were the victims of prejudice.

Rosalind Franklin was perhaps the saddest. She died from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, four years before Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on DNA.  Rosalind was unable to receive the prize, as Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches.

I found the full story on this website:

“Maurice Wilkins, assistant director of the King’s College, London biophysics lab, secured a particularly pure sample of calf thymus DNA. Rosalind Franklin’s team carried out crystallographic studies of this DNA.

Using x-ray equipment and a micro-camera, Rosalind Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling photographed and analyzed these samples of DNA. In May 1952, they took a ground-breaking photo, labelled #51, which provided the clearest diffraction image of DNA and its helical pattern so far.

It was this photo, alongside her precise analysis of the x-ray diffraction data, that inspired Crick and Watson to move away from their initial idea of a three-helix molecule and make the necessary calculations to develop the double helix model of the DNA strand we now know.”

Here is Picture 51:

I certainly feel that Mary Anning should have a statue here and there, and perhaps Rosalind Franklin deserves one or two as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Flannan Isle disappearances (2)

This is the second of a series of four blog posts about the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on Flannan Isle on December 15th 1900. If you feel that you need to read a previous blog post again, just search for “Flannan”. If you need it, then here’s a link to Post No 1

Last time you had the list of what Lighthouseman Joseph Moore found during his search of the island on December 26th, and I promised that I would explain what they all proved. Well….

“clocks were stopped” and “fire was not lighted for some days” means whatever it was that happened, happened well before the Hesperus, and Joseph Moore, arrived at the island.

“the beds were empty just as they left them in the early morning” means that the disaster was an afternoon affair, probably in the late afternoon.

“The outside gate and two doors to the outside were closed” because the men left calmly.

“the light room was in proper order” means that everybody was doing their job properly and that it is unlikely the crisis was based on madness or violence. And whatever the problem was, it began and ended in much less than a day.

“Nothing appears touched at East Landing” means that whatever happened, it was probably not here, but at……

“the West side……… old box halfway up the railway has gone…the ropes got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks….The iron railings on the footpath to the landing … broken in several places…the railing round the crane, and the handrail for making the mooring rope fast entirely carried away” means that it was highly probable that the West Landing was where all three men met their deaths.

Robert Muirhead, the NLB Superintendent, submitted his final report on the events of Flannan Isle on January 8th 1901. Details included in his report, as far as the West Landing was concerned, that……

“the crane was found to be unharmed….. the canvas was securely lashed round it……no evidence that the men had been doing anything at the crane.”

The West Landing is in the bottom left of the photograph below:

“The mooring ropes, landing ropes, derrick landing ropes and crane handles, and also a wooden box in which they were kept, in a crevice in the rocks 110 feet above the sea level, had been washed away… the ropes were strewn in the crevices of the rocks… they were all coiled up, no single coil being found unfastened.”

“The iron railings round the crane platform and from the terminus of the tramway to the concrete steps up from the West landing were displaced and twisted.”

“A large block of stone, weighing upwards of 20 cwt (one ton), had been dislodged from its position higher up, and carried down, and left on the concrete path leading to the top of the steps.”

“A life buoy fastened to the railings had disappeared….. on examining the ropes by which it was fastened, they had not been touched, and it was evident that the force of the sea pouring through the railings had, even at this great height (110 feet above sea level) torn the life buoy off the ropes.”

“Ducat was wearing sea boots and a waterproof, and Marshall sea boots and oilskins……..the men only wore those articles when going down to the landings”

“they must have intended, when they left the lighthouse, either to go down to the landing or the proximity of it.”

Here’s the extremely steep path down to the West Landing. Just beyond the right turn, if you stumble and fall, is a sheer drop to the rocks and the sea far, far below:

Robert Muirhead, the NLB Superintendent continued…..

” I am of opinion that the most likely explanation of the disappearance of the men is that they had all gone down on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 December to the West landing, to secure the box with the mooring ropes, etc and that an unexpectedly large roller had come up on the Island, and a large body of water going up higher than where they were and coming down upon them had swept them away with resistless force.”

“I have considered the possibility of the men being blown away by the wind, but, as the wind was westerly…….the more probable explanation is that they have been washed away as, had the wind caught them, it would, from its direction, have blown up the Island and I feel certain that they would have managed to throw themselves down before they had reached the summit or brow of the Island.”

Some of the distances between the lighthouse and the top of a three hundred foot sheer cliff down to the sea were extremely small. It would have been easy to have been blown off if the wind was particularly strong:

The second picture shows pretty much the same situation:

One interesting additional detail in the Superintendent’s report was that……..

“The Commissioners appointed Roderick MacKenzie, Gamekeeper, Uig, near Meavaig, to look out daily for signals that might be shown from Flannan Isle, and to note each night whether the light was seen or not seen. The light had not been lit from the 15th-25th December, so I resolved to see him on Sunday morning. He was away, but his two sons, aged about 16 and 18 – two most intelligent lads of the gamekeeper class, and who actually performed the duty of looking out for signals, I had a conversation with them, and I also examined the Return Book. From the December Return, I saw that the Tower itself was not seen, even with the assistance of a powerful telescope, between the 7th and the 29th December. The light was, however, seen on 7th December, but was not seen on the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th. It was seen on the 12th, but not seen again until the 26th, the night when it was lit by Moore.”

The lighthouse was around 23 miles north west of Uig which is on the northern edge of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In those days there was no light pollution, so a lighthouse that distance away could be seen if conditions were favourable. I think that the telescope was at Gallan Head, the furthest and remotest place that the Orange Arrow has ever been. The locals, for example, did not speak English as their first language but Gaelic, a Celtic language related to Breton, Cornish and Welsh :

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The Flannan Isle disappearances (1)

On February 17th 2021, I published a blog post about one of my Dad’s favourite poems, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, which was written in 1912. The poem concerned the mysterious disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers in December 1900. This strange incident has never been explained once and for all, and I was asked for my own ideas by a number of different people. Unfortunately, the subject proved so complex that I was unable to do it justice in fewer than four blog posts, although, on the other hand, I would argue that all four are as interesting as any that I have ever written.

So here we go……..

At midnight on December 15th, the steamship Archtor, nearing the end of its voyage from Philadelphia to Leith, passed the Flannan Isle lighthouse which was not showing a light. Instead of two quick bursts of light every 30 seconds, there was just darkness. Captain Holman, however, was unable to report this fact to the Northern Lighthouse Board, because the Archtor continued its voyage, but ran aground in the Firth of Forth. The NLB, therefore,  were unaware of the situation until their own supply ship, the Hesperus, made its usual regular visit to the lighthouse on December 26th.  The Master of the Hesperus, Captain Harvie, at the first opportunity, sent a telegram to the NLB. The significant elements can be read below:

“The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

The “occasional” was a temporary replacement for a full time lighthouseman who was ill. His name was Donald McArthur. Donald was due to be replaced by Joseph Moore, the third Assistant Lighthouseman allocated to Flannan Isle, now recovered from his illness. Joseph was on board the Hesperus and Captain Harvie sent him ashore to search the island. Captain Harvie then reported to the NLB the two key things that Joseph found during his search of the lighthouse and the island….

“…. The clocks were all stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

Here’s Joseph Moore:

 

Joseph Moore also wrote his own letter to the NLB though, about what he had seen during his search of the island:

“On coming to the entrance gate I found it closed. I made for the entrance door leading to the kitchen and store room, found it also closed and the door inside that, but the kitchen door itself was open………..

On entering the kitchen I looked at the fireplace and saw that the fire was not lighted for some days. I then entered the rooms in succession, found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning.”

And………

“Mr McCormack and myself proceeded to the lightroom where everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc.”

The island is so small that it could be searched in a very short time…..

“We traversed the Island from end to end but still nothing to be seen to convince us how it happened. Nothing appears touched at East Landing to show that they were taken from there. Ropes are all in their respective places in the shelter, just as they were left after the relief on the 7th.”

Both sides of the island were not the same though….

“On the West side it is somewhat different. We had an old box halfway up the railway for holding West Landing mooring ropes and tackle, and it has gone. Some of the ropes, it appears, got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks near the crane. The crane itself is safe.

The iron railings along the passage connecting the railway with the footpath to the landing and started from their foundation and broken in several places (sic), also railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast for boat, is entirely carried away.”

Joseph Moore could also work out how the men were dressed…….

“Now there is nothing to give us an indication that it was there the poor men lost their lives, only that Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves. He never used any other coat on previous occasions, only the one I am referring to.”

Some of the evidence above is important. To end this blog post, I will write out some of the things discovered by the NLB and perhaps you can have a think about what they prove, or, indeed, disprove……..

The clocks were stopped

The entrance gate I found …..closed

The entrance door ….. found it closed and the door inside (as well)

The kitchen door itself was open

The fire was not lighted for some days

I found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning

In the lightroom everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc

Nothing appears touched at East Landing

Ropes are all in their places

And then there is that huge contrast:

On the West side……… old box halfway up the railway ….has gone……the ropes…… got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks.

The iron railings …….with the footpath to the landing …….started from their foundation and broken in several places…..railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast……. entirely carried away.”

Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves.

Next time, I will show you the conclusions of the NLB Superintendent who also visited the island. He, like Joseph Moore, was well aware that the box constructed to keep all the ropes and other equipment safe was 110 feet above the sea.

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (2)

Ivan Keith Doncaster, usually known as Keith, began his education at Wellington Street Infants’ School in Long Eaton, built as recently as 1911 for 320 girls and 320 infants.

Keith left his local school and moved to the High School on May 2nd 1933. Just nine years of age, he was Boy No 5701 and he went straight into Hardy’s House and First Form C with Miss Richmond. There were 28 boys in the Form and Keith, very much a latecomer to the school year, finished an extremely creditable tenth. Here is a  fairly poor picture of Miss Richmond:

The following year it was First Form B with Miss Baker. Of the 21 boys, Keith came 11th. Here is Miss Baker, in between Mr Kennard and Mr Bridge, a pedagogical rock and a hard place.

Here’s a picture of Miss Baker a few years later:

The next year Keith was in First Form A with Mr Day, who, tragically, was to die of pneumonia on March 25th 1935, just before the end of the Easter Term. Mr Page took over his form. During that same year of 1934-1935, Miss Richmond had already passed away from pneumonia on January 7th. Keith finished fifth of the sixteen in the Form and also won the Preparatory School Drawing Prize.

Outside the classroom, Keith was in the Preparatory XI team for the “Preparatory Schools Spelling League Competition No 23”, although I couldn’t find out how he fared.

In 1935-1936, Keith was with Mr Hardwick in Second Form A. Here is Mr Hardwick in 1959, a picture taken by the Reverend Stephens:

Keith was now in a Main School house, Maples’, rather than Hardy’s House. There were 28 in the Form and Keith came 21st, not a disastrous result in a form which contained seven Entrance Scholars and Foundation Scholars and the winner of the Second Forms French Prize, Peter Robert Scott. This year, Keith found true fame by having a short poem featured in the School Magazine. It was entitled “Poetry” and this is how it went:

Poetry

“I’m not a Poet

And I know it.

The next line will take some time.

Now I’ve started,

All thoughts have parted

From my head,

So now I think I’ll go to bed.”

Next time, another poem published in the Nottinghamian. You will not be able to read it without putting on your salty sea dog accent. Or even, perhaps, pirate.

 

 

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“Why no statue?” (7)

This is another candidate in my series, “Why no statue?”

This time, we move to the deep south of England, to the area of Lyme Regis and Charmouth, to be precise. Keep your eyes open for the orange arrow..

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was alive at a time when the entire country believed that the Earth was not very old at all and that it was impossible for species to change or to evolve or even to become extinct.

Mary was born into the family of a cabinetmaker, who died when she was eleven. They supplemented their income by selling fossils from the cliffs on the coast to tourists, from a table outside their home. The latter was so close to the sea that storms often flooded the ground floor and the family had to climb out of a first floor window to escape a watery grave. Here is a typical storm at Charmouth :

Of ten children, only Mary and Joseph survived their childhood. Wars had tripled the price of wheat, but wages had remained the same. The child mortality rate was 50% and smallpox and measles were mean spirited killers. On August 19th 1800, baby Mary was nearly killed but not by disease. She was being held in the arms of a neighbour, Elizabeth Haskings, who was talking to two friends under an elm tree. The tree was struck by lightning and only Mary survived. She was rushed home and revived in a bath of warm water. Wikipedia said that:

“afterwards she seemed to blossom. For years afterward members of her community would attribute the child’s curiosity, intelligence and lively personality to the incident.”

How very Baron Frankenstein!

In 1833, a landslide killed her dog, Tray, a black-and-white terrier, at her feet as she hunted fossils under the cliffs. She wrote to her friend:

“Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate”.

Here’s Mary and Tray, on a happier day:

Mary learnt to read and write at a Congregationalist Sunday school. Her favourite possession was a bound collection of the Dissenters’ Theological Magazine and Review containing two essays by the family’s pastor, James Wheaton. One said “God created the world in six days”, the other was entitled “Don’t forget to read about the new science of Geology”.

Mary looked for fossils in the coastal cliffs around Lyme Regis, especially the mudstone cliffs at Charmouth:

Mary was the first person to identify an ichthyosaur skeleton. She was only eleven years old:

On December 10th 1823, she found the first complete plesiosaurus:

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In 1828, she found the first British pterosaur, followed by a Squaloraja fish skeleton in 1829. A Squaloraja fish is one from the shark or ray family. This is a pterosaur:

In December 1830 she sold a new species of plesiosaur for £200, an enormous sum in those days, around £25,000 in today’s money. Lady Harriet Silvester had written of Mary, four years earlier:

“It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

Indeed, on one occasion, the doctor and aide of King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony asked her to write her name down for him.

She spelt it as “Mary Annins”— and told him “I am well known throughout the whole of Europe.”

Which she was.

In the early 1820s, the eminent French anatomist Georges Cuvier accused her of forging fossil animals by adding extra ones more or less at random. After a meeting of the Geological Society, Mary was completely exonerated and Cuvier forced to say that he had acted in haste and was wrong.

Impoverished Peasants   1      Famous French Barons     0

Here’s a caricature of Cuvier. In actual fact, Mary Anning was not the only person to get the better of him, despite his having a brain the size of a brontosaurus.

Part 2 to follow…….

 

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