Winchester Women Graduates

British Federation of Women Graduates


November 2017

Bishop’s Waltham – a talk by Tony Kippenburger

The village was originally called simply Waldham from the Saxon words - wald meaning a wood and ham meaning a settlement. It only became known as Bishops’ Waldham in the 12th century when Winchester Bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen, built first a church, followed by a castle and finally a palace there. Before that there had been a Saxon Minster, but the site of that is unknown. Henry of Blois was also responsible for the building of Wolvesey Palace in Winchester and Merdon castle (which is near Hursley). He also developed the big fishpond north of the village, which has since been bisected by the road to Winchester. [Fishponds were a necessity in those days before refrigeration was invented and when the only religion was the Roman Catholic faith].

Bishops’ Waltham later became a thriving market town and an administrative centre. King Alfred had earlier built protected towns, called burghs, each with its own armed force and mint, all within twenty miles of each other. Waldham, as it was then known, enjoyed the status of a royal burgh. When the Vikings arrived in 1001, by sailing up the river Hamble, they attacked and burned the town. However, it rose from the ashes to become the tenth largest settlement in Hampshire, according to the Domesday Book (1086), which records that the town had a population of around 450, which in those days meant that it was a large settlement. It was recorded as having 115 households, 37 plough teams (eight oxen per team), a deer park, two churches and a priest. There were 483 settlements in Hampshire at that time. 

October 2017

Madame Vionnet by Nicky Sowter

Nicky Sowter trained as pattern cutter at the London College of Fashion, where she learned to create clothes by draping fabric on a mannequin, just as Madame Vionnet (French couturier) had done in the early part of the twentieth century.  Nicky worked as a pattern cutter and toiliste for many years before becoming a lecturer in fashion.  Whilst working at the University of Bath, where one of the subjects studied is Fashion, she realised the importance of the study of clothing to inspire and teach future generations of designers.  She was able to handle the two Vionnet dresses which had belonged to Lady Foley and were on display in the Bath Museum of Fashion.   She researched the life of Lady Foley and her choice of Vionnet dresses, which led to her basing her Master’s degree on Vionnet’s concept of creating harmony between a woman’s clothes and her body.

Madame Vionnet, 1876-1975, came from a humble background and lost her mother early on.  At the age of eleven she became an apprentice seamstress and was working for eleven hours a day for a pittance.  She married young and had a child who died at the age of one.  She then left her husband and moved to England where she could make a new start.  After working as a laundress at the Royal Holloway hospital for the insane in Surrey, she moved to London where she found work in the couture industry.  She returned to Paris in 1900 to work for the Callot sisters.  She was finally able to open her own couture house in the Rue de Rivoli in 1912.

After the end of WW1 she opened her Grand Salon in the Avenue de Montaigne.  By 1936 she had 1,200 employees, whom she treated very well, by providing in-house child-care facilities and paid holidays, so she was way ahead of her time in that respect. Dresses were shown by mannequins every morning and clients could come back in the afternoon to order and be measured.  The difference between her dresses and those of other contemporary couturiers was that hers were cut on the bias, which gave them a degree of elasticity, which in turn meant that they enhanced the natural contours of her clients, whereas Chanel’s straight-cut clothes eliminated them.  She made clothes that emphasised her clients’ best features and disguised their faults.  She invented the half-scale wooden mannequin which was used for the toile (a test replica of a dress but made of a cheap fabric).

Her garments were later recognised as works of art and can be seen today at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bowes Museum in County Durham and in the Bath Museum of Fashion

 September 2017

Talk by David Nevile, former Queen’s Messenger

When David Neville left the army in 1985 after thirty years’ service, he wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life, as he was still of working age. A friend told him about the Queen’s Messengers, who travelled the world carrying diplomatic bags. He decided to apply and was interviewed by a board of five people (including two from MI5 and MI6) in the cabinet office. The job took him all over the world, wherever there was a British Embassy, including Ulan Bator, to reach which he had to spend two days on a train and where the outside temperature was minus 52 degrees. He was in Peking at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, where he saw streets running with blood and bodies lying all over the square. He was caught up in hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica in 1988 and spent two days closeted in his hotel room on the seventeenth floor. It was pitch black outside and he was actually able to see the eye of the storm.

Apart from two trips, he never knew what was in the diplomatic bag. Once it was some bones that had been found in the USSR and were suspected of being those of Tsar Nicholas Romanov. They were to undergo a DNA test in the UK to see whether they matched the DNA of Prince Philip, who is descended from the Romanovs. The other time was on a trip to Mexico when he carried letters of sympathy from the Queen and Margaret Thatcher to the President after the 1985 earthquake. Every time he flew he had two seats on the plane – one for himself and one for his bag. He wore a tie that had on it a crown and a silver greyhound. In answer to a question from the floor he replied that he was never armed and never threatened. He made 78 journeys in total during his time as a Queen’s Messenger. He showed us a pile of about twenty or more special passports, which bore the words Queen’s Messenger on the front.

February 2017

Talk by Dr Brian Collins based on the Bishop of Winchester’s household account roll for half of one particular year, 1393, during the reign of Richard II.

The Bishop in question was William of Wykeham (present-day Wickham), famous for founding Winchester College and New College, Oxford. He lived until the age of eighty at a time when average life expectancy was thirty-five years. His home would have been Wolvesey Palace, now in ruins. The account roll, which is written in Latin, is made out of 21 separate parchment membranes sewn together with invisible seams. It measures 15 metres in length and 35 centimetres across. It mentions 103 different places and the names of 437 different people. The latter were people employed by the Bishop and the guests who ate at the Bishop’s table in the course of those six months from April to September and the former were places from which the food they ate came. The handwriting is the same throughout, and would have been that of the Bishop’s chief steward.

The food came from the Bishop’s many estates: there were eighty manors and each manor consisted of several bailiwicks. The Manors were not just in present-day Hampshire, e.g. Bishop’s Waltham, Highclere, Twyford, Bishop’s Sutton, and Bentley, but also in Witney, Farnham, Wargrave and Downton. The produce included meat from many sources: rabbits, duck, geese, swans, pheasant, sheep and deer; and fish, including herring and salmon. There were big fishponds at Farnham, which still exist today. They ate lunch and dinner every day, except on Friday, when there was no dinner, and of course, no meat. They would have brewed their own ale, but wine was bought from wine merchants who would have imported it from the continent. Everything that came into and went out of the kitchen was meticulously recorded on the account roll, as well as the names of those who came to eat at the Bishop’s table. During the six months covered by this particular roll the Bishop entertained 788 guests, some of them on more than one occasion. Guests included judges, fellows of New College, architects working on changes to the fabric of the cathedral, the richest merchant in Winchester, newly ordained clergy as well as King Richard II and his queen. The Bishop spent the modern equivalent of £28,000 on two banquets for the king.


Winchester Geese, a history of prostitution in London 1107 – 1546 - talk by Tony Kippenberger December 2016

Background It was the Greeks who first regulated prostitution in 60 BC. Solon, an Athenian statesman legislated against political, economic and moral decline. Victims of cuckoldry and rape were given the right to kill the perpetrator. Legalisation of brothels was the obvious way forward, and brothels became a source of tax revenue.
In Rome slaves from all over the empire were sold into brothels. Prostitution was rife in all areas: cookhouses, lodging houses, inns, bakeries. It was the Romans who brought prostitution into this country, where it took hold in towns and military camps. After their arrival in London it soon became a busy port and brothels sprang up everywhere. They left in around 400 AD and were replaced by an invasion of Saxons – “whore” is a saxon word. Saxons were followed by Danes and in 1016 Canute became the first king of a union of Denmark, east Norway and England.

Southwark In 1106 Bishop Gifford of Winchester was given land on the south bank of the Thames in Southwark where he started building a palace which he named Winchester House. Henry of Blois bought the land around it in the 1140’s and it was known as The Liberty of the Bishops of Winchester. The Winchester Geese was the name given to the prostitutes who began to proliferate in the area. The brothels were known as stewhouses and the owners of these house were known as stewholders. By the time Matilda, daughter of Henry of Blois. married the Holy Roman Emperor, Winchester had become the richest See north of Milan, partly because of the prevalence of brothels and taverns in the area from which the Bishop earned a sizeable income in tax.

In 1161, during the reign of Henry II, thirty-nine rules were introduced, called the Ordinances, to be observed by the stewholders and prostitutes of Southwark. Stewholders were not brothel-keepers as such - they derived no income from their tenant’s activities other than the rent of a room. In other words, they were landlords. There were hefty fines and the punishment of ducking for those prostitutes who disobeyed the rules. They were required to stay off the streets between eight am and 11 pm on Holy Days and on days when parliament was sitting. No whores were allowed to solicit if pregnant or afflicted by gonorrhoea (syphilis had not yet reached England’s shores). No food or drink was allowed to be served by a stewholder. There was to be no cursing or blasphemy, and perhaps, strangest of all, no whore was to wear an apron. (It is possible that the purpose of this was to distinguish them from other women). No stewholder was allowed to lend more than one shilling and sixpence to one of his tenants. Thus Southwark was established as an authorised district of prostitution.


October 2016 Talk by Christel Moor on The Hegg Hoffet Fund for Displaced Women Graduates

The Hegg Hoffet Fund for Displaced Women Graduates evolved in the aftermath of the first world war, albeit under a different name, led by a trio of women, one English, one American and one Canadian.  Its aim was to help women whose graduate or postgraduate studies had been disrupted by war and subsequent displacement. It later became the IFUW (International Federation of University Women, now known as Graduate Women International) Emergency Fund (later called the Relief Fund) to help graduate women who had been deprived of the right to work, and in many cases, the right to reside, in their native countries.  Finally in 1968 it took on the name of its long-term convener, Mme Blanche Hegg Hoffet of Switzerland, who was particularly responsible for raising money and distributing assistance during and after the Second World War to graduate women survivors of the prison camps.

In 1939 the Australian and New Zealand Federations offered a new life and, in the case of Australia, citizenship to women graduates who had been the victims of pogroms.  The French Federation helped graduate women refugees from the Spanish civil war, as did the Mexican Federation.  The Canadian and Swedish Federations sent clothing.  In the late fifties the German Federation helped women graduates from Hungary and other Eastern European countries.

 Nowadays many of those being helped are from African countries.  In order to qualify for financial aid the women graduates have to have accepted asylum status or have “the right to remain” in their host country, and have to be able to show evidence of having been awarded a degree.  Some of them have been victims of political or gender-based persecution.

 As Convener, it is Christel’s job to receive applications for financial help and to verify the applicant’s credentials.  Nowadays this is all done by email and can involve more than forty emails per applicant.  She also has to be conferring with the other members of the committee.  Very often the Fund is giving money to pay for language courses.   Christel gave examples of several women graduates - refugees from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Russia, Sudan now living in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Egypt and able to work in their chosen profession thanks to financial help from the Hegg Hoffett Fund.  Very often these professionals, especially the medics, have to re-sit their qualifying exams in their new country, which means having to learn a new language.


 June 2016 talk by John Bradfield - Aspects of Theatre Practice Through the Centuries

The proscenium arch started life in renaissance Italy and it was some time before it superseded the thrust stage that was the norm in Shakespeare’s time.  The advantage of the thrust stage was that the actors were able to interact with the audience.  Purpose-built theatres were only to be found in London in Shakespeare’s day – in the provinces travelling theatre groups would perform in any suitable space, such as the courtyard of a pub, the New Inn in Gloucester being one such site.  The first theatre to put on one of Shakespeare’s plays was the Rose in Southwark, built in 1587.  The Swan Theatre followed in 1598 and The Globe in 1599, all in the same vicinity.  The Theatre companies needed to obtain the patronage of an aristocrat in order to survive, but in the end it was only the Crown that could license theatres.  In Stratford the town council was dominated by Puritans, who paid the actors off to make them go away.

Theatre lighting was by candles and flaming torches.  Frequent breaks were necessary for the trimming of the candles.  Chandeliers could be raised and lowered to give different lighting effects.  Pyrotechnics such as squibs and bangers were used for dramatic effect and to simulate thunder and lightning.  The thunder run, where balls were rolled along a wooden trough to great effect, is still in existence at Bristol Old Vic.  They used a wind machine and a bird whistle.  Winches were used to move people and objects around the stage.  Calves’ blood from the abattoir was used in scenes where blood was spilt.  Some of the costumes were very expensive to make; one cloak made of cloth-of-gold cost more than £10, which was a great deal of money in those times.  Make-up was less important then than it is today.  They used foundation and a glaze made of egg white.  For colouring the face or body they used vermilion, cinnabar or burnt nuts.  In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed to perform on stage. They used boys instead, or actresses from Spain or Italy.  After the Restoration English women began to appear on stage.

April 2016

Winchester Science Centre   Talk by its Director, Verena Cornwall

The Winchester Science Centre started life as INTECH back in 1985.  It was set up by people from the business sector, industry and Higher Education in response to a local shortage of scientists, engineers and technologists.  Its aim was to advance education, knowledge and understanding of scientific and technological processes, so as to inspire a new generation equipped with the necessary skills for modern enterprise.  Its original home was in a disused canteen on the site of what is now Kings’ School (formerly Montgomery of Alamein School).  The original site was donated by Hampshire County Council.  The move to Morn Hill took place in 2002, funded by the Millennium Commission, NTL (now Arqiva), DfES, DTI, SEEDA and Hampshire County Council.   The land belongs to Arqiva.  It was a multi-million pound project.  At that point it changed its name to something more meaningful to the general public.  It is a registered charity with 18 Trustees.

During weekdays in term-time it is used mainly for scheduled school visits, for which there is a nine-month waiting list, but in the school holidays and at weekends, it is a popular venue for families.  It is open seven days a week.  During the February half term alone there were two and a half thousand visitors.  It does not count as a museum, so there is no funding from the government and it has to pay its way.  They run live star-gazing events twice a year and special events for adults on Saturday evenings from time to time, which are very popular and almost always a sell-out.  The planetarium is the largest digital planetarium in the country and is a great draw – around 100,000 planetarium tickets are sold every year.  There are 100 hands-on exhibits made in the on-site workshop as well as by Southampton University.  It can cost £50,000 to make an exhibit and they quite often break and have to be repaired; new exhibits are being made all the time.

There is an outreach programme too, whereby they take an inflatable dome to schools and can deliver up to six different shows in a day.  

February 2016

Czechoslovak women refugees in early post-war Britain: struggles and achievements  Talk by Jana Buresova

Jana Buresova has been researching the lives of female Czechoslovak refugees in Britain both during and after the war. The talk she gave us in 2013 was concerned with wartime refugees and this latest talk was about the post-war years and more recent times.

The Czechoslovak refugees were by no means a homogeneous group – they consisted of Czechs, Slovaks, ethnic Germans, Jews, Christians and Communists. In the wake of the Munich Agreement in 1938, whereby the Sudetenland had been ceded to Germany, there had been an influx of refugees to Britain from that part of Czechoslovakia. Some of those refugees were repatriated after the war, but many of them stayed on in Britain. Some were professional women, some were still teenagers, whose education had been disrupted and others were housewives. Yet others had come in via the Kindertransport and had grown up in wartime Britain. On arrival they received aid from various groups, such as the Quakers and the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. The latter bought up large houses after the war and turned them into flats for Czechoslovak families. BFUW (former name of BFWG) played its part by helping women who had interrupted their degree studies or who had been teaching in universities. Education was very important for their self-esteem and further personal development.

One woman became a translator and also wrote cookery books. It was she who introduced the Remoska (a versatile, portable oven that resembles a large pan – actually the forerunner of the slow cooker) to this country. It can now be procured from Lakeland shops. She was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

Czechoslovak legal and medical qualifications were not recognised here, but arrangements were made for Czechoslovak Medical students to complete their studies at various teaching hospitals, thanks to lend-lease terms negotiated by the Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London. In 1943 the first batch of twenty-three Czechoslovak doctors graduated from Oxford, but only one of these was a woman, Josefina, (a ratio which would not have been unusual in those days) and she stayed on after the war. Charlotte arrived in 1939 on a Kindertransport. She was awarded a scholarship to study medicine and qualified in 1947. She became a Consultant in her thirties and ended up as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Refugee lawyers were less fortunate, since our English law is based on precedent, whereas Czechoslovak law is based on a codified system. One woman retrained as a teacher and eventually became a Head Teacher. Along the way she turned down a place for her daughter at a girl’s public day school, perceiving it to be élitist. Interestingly, her father had been of peasant stock, and her grandson was educated at Eton.

Some of the Czechoslovak refugees were repatriated in 1945, but many had lost their relatives and found their homes had been taken over by strangers and their belongings had disappeared; anti-Semitism was still rife. Others were disillusioned and could not settle back in their native land, so they returned to Britain to make a life for themselves. There was another influx of Czech refugees to Britain after the Communist coup in 1948.

Elizabeth was one such refugee. She had worked for the Czech Government in Exile in London during the war, but had returned to her country after the war and worked as a social worker. She was not comfortable with the Communist regime and returned to Britain in 1949. She did not return to her native land for over forty years!

After the Communist coup some 15,000 Czechs had been languishing in refugee camps. Various refugees including those who had served in the Allied Armed Services were allowed to stay and work in Britain. Olga was the daughter of a former parliamentary official, who died not long after the end of the war. She stayed on and was able to take a secretarial course, with help from the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. She worked at the War Office and later at the National Coal Board. She was quickly assimilated into British society and the British way of life.

Another woman came from a Slovak village in 1946 to seek a new way of life. She earned £3 a week working in a Yorkshire Mill on a special work programme for European refugees. Later she and her husband set up a grocery shop in London, whilst a compatriot set up a successful business selling luxury food imported from Europe.

Yet another wave of Czech refugees came over to Britain after the Soviet-instigated invasion in August 1968. Susanna was one such, except that she was already over here working at a Butlin’s Holiday camp during her summer vacation. She decided not to return home, but to finish her degree in this country. She was able to do this with financial help from Oxford University. After finishing her degree she found work at the BBC Czech Service. There was quite an influx of refugees at that time – many doctors, scientists and musicians left their country, causing a considerable brain (and talent) drain from Czechoslovakia.

Many of the Czech refugees seemed to favour the professions that dealt with people: medicine, teaching, social work etc. Jana herself had come over with her mother as a very young child after the Communist coup and has never lived in her mother country. She explained that the Czech Refugee Trust Fund had set up and run hostels –one of which was for unaccompanied Czech children –which had maintained the Czechoslovak way of life. Also during the war the Czech Government in Exile had set up and run boarding schools in order to keep the Czech language and culture alive. Tom Stoppard was a pupil at one such school. Jana attended English schools, but her mother insisted she attend the Saturday school for Czechoslovak children such as herself.

January 2016

Jane Austen: How she survived the long winter days  Talk by Geraldine Buchanan 

Jane Austen had six brothers and one sister, Cassandra, to whom she was very close.  In fact they were to live together throughout all of Jane’s life, since neither of them ever married.  She was born in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was rector of the Parish.  Four of her brothers served in the Navy or the Militia and the oldest, James, followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the clergy, later taking over the parish of Steventon after his father’s retirement.   On his retirement, Jane’s father moved the family to Bath.  He died in 1805, leaving his wife and daughters with very little money.  They had to move to Southampton to live with Jane’s brother Frank.  Eventually another brother, Edward, who had been adopted by a wealthy landowning family in Chawton as their heir, offered them Chawton Cottage, which is now the home of the Jane Austen Museum.  A friend called Martha Lloyd came to share their home and it was she who did the cooking.

So how did these four women spend their days during the winter?   Jane, of course, had her writing.  Her first book was published in 1811, although she had started writing in earnest in her late teens.  Her first three novels had been written whilst they were living in Steventon.  They read aloud to each other; they wrote long letters, some of which still exist; they went for walks when it was not too muddy; or drove out in the donkey cart; they mended clothes, bed linen and curtains; they were very accomplished needlewomen – in the museum there is a beautiful patchwork quilt, consisting of several hundred diamond-shaped pieces of material, a joint effort, which has survived the years intact; they played the piano.  Because of her writing, Jane was excused from domestic chores, except for making the tea, or when her sister Cassandra went to stay with Henry at his other house in Godmersham, Kent. 

 October 2015
Gender Differences in Undergraduates' Response to the Oxford Teaching Environment and the Prediction for a First Class Degree       Talk by Dr Jane Mellanby

Dr Mellanby is an Emerita Fellow of St Hilda’s College.  In 1970 she set up a neurochemistry unit in the new Experimental Physiology building at Oxford University.  Her own work involved the investigation of physiological and behavioural changes in an experimental model of temporal lobe epilepsy.

In the 1990’s her involvement as a governor of a local comprehensive school stimulated her interest in education and she moved her research to working on factors that affect academic achievement in school children and university students.

Another area of her work is investigating reasons for the academic underperformance of female undergraduates at Oxford University in comparison with their male counterparts, particularly with respect to obtaining first class degrees.  She has been investigating reasons for this discrepancy and she proposes that an important factor is that women’s academic self-concept is more adversely affected by the Oxford environment. Dr Mellanby presented her detailed statistical findings using two studies undertaken since 1996.  These suggest that males expect to do better and therefore usually do better.  However, female students revise more and with the addition of high anxiety traits this can predict a first-class degree. The measurement of IQ was found to be inadequate in predicting a first-class degree, but it seems that the emotional state of students shows differences in expectations and outcomes. 


 Installation of the new Chancellor of the University of Winchester 7 October 2015

On a fine autumn morning Christine and I made our way up from the carpark to the Stripe Theatre for the installation of the new Chancellor. We were greeted by several students dressed as garden gnomes, perched on plinths or nestled in the shrubbery; at the top level of the steps there was one who had become a water feature - an automaton blowing gloriously huge bubbles. We knew then that this was not going to be a stuffy ceremony. I have to say that as far as Mr Alan Titchmarch is concerned I had never been a fan, but I am now! Previously, his winning smile, his “boyish” good looks and easy manner had left me cold, despite his undoubted knowledge of gardening lore.

Once Alan (everyone calls him that) started his acceptance speech as the second Chancellor of the University, I started to crumble. A bluff Yorkshireman, he made several self-depreciating jokes on the lines of I walked out of school at 15 with a spade but no exams to speak of and it’s taken me 50 years to get to University! He then told us about how he made it up the gardening ladder ending up at Kew overseeing other members of the lecturing staff. He believes there is always a way to give someone a second chance, a helping hand, by finding one key thing in which a person is interested. Apart from his television work, he has done a great deal of work helping underprivileged and variously challenged people in the UK and continues this work abroad. This led to his being invited by Nelson Mandela to design his new garden, a meeting which has had a great impact on the rest of Alan’s life.

The companionable way that Alan interacted with students, staff and guests was evident, especially at the buffet lunch reception that followed the ceremony. By that time I was hooked and I am sure Christine was too. We were able to have a conversation with him towards the end of the event and that is when he posed for photographs with us.

He was most interested when we explained that his university had a Memorandum of Understanding with BFWG as did the University of Chester. We hope that the first woman PhD student from Kabul in Afghanistan will arrive in Chester this month and that the second one will follow to Winchester University in time. The Universities have agreed to provide free tuition but BFWG and its members are to do a good deal of fundraising to support the student otherwise. Alan asked to be kept informed on progress on this as it was something he would be very interested in supporting in whatever way he could. I think we have made a friend there! 

Rory Haigh


April 2014

The Woman behind the Man  by Georgette Miller

This talk was inspired by serious research into women behind, beside and before men from long before the Christian era, when female warriors throughout Eurasia battled against men to keep independence they had inherited from an ancient matriarchal line, right up to the event which triggered the first world war.

Julia, the daughter of the Roman Emperor Augustus and wife of Tiberius (his heir), was exiled for five years for bad behaviour, but when her husband became Emperor he confined her to a single room and may have starved her to death.

In 1697 in Massachusetts two white women and a baby were captured and enslaved by Indians, who killed the baby.  The women managed to slaughter the Indians during the night and took their scalps as proof, for which they received a reward of £50, which was a huge sum in those days.

In Virginia in 1706 Grace Sherwood, a woman accused of causing another woman to miscarry through witchcraft, was thrown into a river and floated, which was considered to be proof that she was a witch.  Her punishment is unknown and she lived to a great age, but the conviction was quashed by the Governor of Virginia in 2006, 300 years after the event!

In 1726 Margaret Clap was convicted of running a homosexual brothel in Holborn.  She was sentenced to a fine, a jail term and a spell in the pillory, where she died.

Osman III, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, so disliked women that he wore iron-soled shoes so that the women who lived in his harem could hear him approaching and make themselves scarce – a man who definitely did not want any woman behind, beside or before him.  His opposite was Edward Teach - aka Blackbeard the pirate - who had fourteen wives, some of whom he shared with his crew.  Another pirate, but a female one in disguise, was Mary Read.   On board her ship, Revenge, she fell in love with a fellow pirate who turned out to be Anne Bonny, another woman masquerading as a man.

Miss Hannah Beswick, who had a fear of being buried alive, left £25,000 to her physician, Dr Charles White, with orders that after her death he was to examine her regularly for signs of life.  This he did by keeping her embalmed body in the empty case of a grandfather clock in his attic and examining it once a year in the presence of a witness.  She was finally buried 90 years after her death after coming into the custody of the Manchester Museum of Natural History.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg dynasty, married for love against the wishes of his family.  His wife, Countess Sophie Chotek, could converse in German, English and French and had a good grasp of politics, as well as being beautiful and charming, cultured and an accomplished pianist, but in the eyes of the Hapsburgs she lacked the noble ancestry which they considered necessary for the role of Empress, which should have been her destiny.  Their marriage was declared to be morganatic, which meant that Sophie would never share her husband’s titles or the imperial throne and any children of the marriage would be barred from succession.  As a morganatic wife, Sophie was not allowed to enter or sit with her husband at court functions. Nor would she be buried alongside her husband in the Habsburg crypt. They led an almost bourgeois existence – Sophie nursed and bathed the children herself and put them to bed and Franz Ferdinand spent time with his children and took an interest in their upbringing and education.  They never expected their children to be anything other than private citizens who would have to earn their own living when grown up.  Franz Ferdinand had made arrangements in his will for himself and Sophie to be buried alongside each other at Schloss Artstetten, one of his castles, so after the assassination in Sarajevo their bodies were taken by milk train - a final insult – to their final resting place.


March 2014

The Progress of a Prison Researcher by Alisa Stevens.

Having finished an Open University degree whilst working in Public Relations, Alisa felt inspired to embark on an MA in Criminology at Oxford University.  She had been a volunteer with the Probation Service and had developed an interest in the criminal justice system.  She fell in love with Oxford and became enthused with studying, so much so that by the end of the year she decide to take the plunge and spend the next three years of her life doing a DPhil on prisons.  She was unable to obtain funding from the HRC, which meant that she had to apply for a part-time graduate teaching job in the law faculty as well as take lowly admin jobs in order to support herself.  However, she was awarded the BFWG Centenary Scholarship for her final year of study, which meant that she could be more selective about the part-time jobs she took. She now lectures in Criminology at Southampton University.

In the course of her research she frequently visited Grendon prison which is near Oxford but also went to Gartree prison and Send, a women’s prison.  At all three prisons she was able to observe and interview serious offenders.   Many of the women at Send prison had murdered their man. The reason she chose these three prisons is that there was a method being used in these prisons called “Democratic Therapeutic Communities”.  Basically this means that serious offenders take part in group psychotherapy sessions to help them understand themselves and their lives better, while living within a small supportive penal community. They have an agenda, a chairman and take notes.  They go right back to childhood, working out why they came to be the way they are. They work out problems among themselves and try to come up with answers as to why a particular member of the group turned out the way they did – how they became damaged. The prisoners who take part in these groups are treated differently from other prisoners, so that they can eventually reach an understanding of what it was that made them commit their crime. This was the subject of her research, which she was later able to turn into a book “Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities”.

Prisoners have to apply to come to one of these communities and many find it very hard to open up in the way that is required.  If they can’t accept the discipline involved, including other inmates helping to enforce the rules, then they have to return to a mainstream prison.  This type of treatment has become less common over the years mainly because it was not thought to be particularly effective.  Alisa has shown that on the contrary it is remarkably effective in changing prisoners’ attitudes.  However change takes time and the prisoners have to stay on the programme for at least a year or eighteen months.  By that time they have often come to terms with their past and have developed a sense of self-worth and the ability to trust other people so that they can show their emotions and develop friendship.  All this helps to reduce the chance that they would re-offend.

Alongside her work as a lecturer in Criminology at Southampton University, Alisa is now researching sex in prisons for the Howard League for Penal Reform.  This is a completely new area of research. Prisoners volunteer to be interviewed by her.  She is currently working on a pilot project with sex offenders in the Scottish prison service. 


February 2014

Conspiracy Of Secrets -  talk by Bobbie Neate

Bobbie began by explaining that it was really the story of a family tragedy centred round her late stepfather, Louis Thomas Stanley.   When Bobbie was around five years old of age, her mother divorced her father, a clergyman, and married Stanley. He was a complete psychopath who controlled everyone; was very plausible, charming and boastful - he could cut through any red tape. She remembers that as a child she was very suspicious of this man whose decisions could not be questioned. He lurked at home and never worked, although they lived in a very nice house, because her mother had money. She was the daughter of a manufacturer of car parts, and her brother was  a partner of BRM (British Racing Motors).

Stanley took no action when Bobbie’s mother, aged nearly ninety, had a stroke and he eventually stopped the family from seeing her - they ended up having to go to the police.  Many years later Bobbie decided to research the life of her stepfather and discovered that he was the illegitimate son of H H Asquith, the Prime Minister, who had had an affair with a young girl of twenty when he was sixty-five.  Her name was Venetia Stanley, youngest daughter of Lord Stanley.

Bobbie’s research has uncovered all these facts, but she realises how much has been kept secret by the Establishment over the years.


January 2014

Burma: the last ten years by Colin & Johni van Orton

For the last ten years Colin and Johni have worked tirelessly to raise money for the Burma Children’s Fund, which they founded in 2006 and of which they are Trustees. Originally they went to Burma in 2005 after their local church in Hartley Wintney had collected money to pay for the restoration of some pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows in the Anglican church in Rangoon, following an appeal to British veterans. They were appalled at the desperate poverty they encountered and were inspired by the text on one of the windows - Feed my lambs - to do something about it.

Colin began by giving some background information about the country. It was a former British colony, which gained independence in 1948. It has borders with China, Laos, India, Thailand and Bangladesh. There are seven different ethnic groups and several different languages are spoken, with Burmese being the predominant one – and indeed the official one. 90% of the population is Buddhist and there are more three thousand pagodas in the country. The country has been ruled by a military junta since 1988 after a peaceful revolution.

In 2008 Cyclone Nargis caused death to more than a hundred thousand inhabitants, ruined rice crops and killed much livestock, disrupted fresh water supplies and wrecked infrastructure More than two million people’s lives were severely affected, including many children who were left with no living relatives. Most towns now have power for only a few hours a day. Oil and gas come from China via pipelines. There are ongoing fights between Buddhists and Moslems. 80% of the population earns an average of one dollar a day. The aim of The Burma Children’s Fund is to improve the chances of poor children by giving them an education, which starts with nursery schools. Many of the children in the pre-schools and orphanages supported by BCF are not actually orphans but have been sent by their families to the towns because there are no schools in rural Burma, so they are boarding from a very young age. Some children have lost their parents through disease (especially TB, AIDS and Malaria). Others are children of parents who have gone abroad to seek work. Yet others have been sent to the orphanages in the towns by their parents, because the rural areas where they live are unsafe. Most of those who come from remote mountainous areas arrive sick, cannot speak Burmese and have had no previous education. An estimated one hundred and fifty thousand Burmese children under the age of five die every year of malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea. 80% of them are dying from preventable diseases.

As well as paying for the construction of pre-schools, BCF has used its funds to train fourteen pre-school head teachers, to run a hostel for older children attending secondary school, to give evening schooling, a meal, a wash and clean clothing to the children who work by day on the rubbish tips, to pay for the secondary education of the very bright children, to register hundreds of children in state-funded schools, to create new wells (clean water being a very scarce and precious commodity) and to provide sports equipment such as table tennis tables and footballs. It has also paid for sewing and knitting machines for the older girls, so that they can learn a trade. Likewise, it paid for motorcycles so that the older boys could learn motorcycle maintenance. All the children learn to speak English and Burmese. 


November  2013

Women came too: Czechoslovak Immigrants in Britain 1938- 1950 - Talk by Jana Buresova 

Jana began her talk by referring to the AD Hoc Committee for Refugees set up by BFUW (former name of BFWG). In 1938 an appeal went out to BFUW members to help Czech women graduate refugees to find work and accommodation and to help with permits to enter Britain.

Not all the women who came to this country were graduates or professional women. Some were housewives, factory workers, cooks and agricultural workers. Some came alone, others with their children. Many of these women, even those with degrees or half way through studying for a degree ended up in domestic service or as nurses (nursing was not a profession then as it is now). These women had a precarious status as refugees. The middle class women had no previous experience of domestic work.

The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia was instrumental in helping those most at risk to get out of Czechoslovakia. This group included communists and anti-fascists. Other organisations which helped were the Quakers and the YMCA. The first wave arrived in the autumn of 1938 after the Sudetenland (part of the present-day Czech Republic) was ceded to Hitler in the Munich Agreement. One of those was Hedwig Huenigen, wife of a Communist MP, who arrived in England in 1939 via Prague with her daughter, aged 12, after her husband’s arrest.

The Czech Refugee Trust (CRT) was set up in July 1939 and in 1940 opened a hostel for over 40 unaccompanied children aged 8-18. Hedwig Huenigen was appointed Matron of that hostel, which aimed to place the children with local families. Later, after the hostel closed, she worked as catering manageress at the Czechoslovak-British Friendship Club in Bayswater. Some of the Czech refugee families were interned on the Isle of Man along with German and Austrian Refugees. The Czech women in these camps got together and organised occupational, educational and recreational activities for adults and children. These families were released a year later when the British government recognised that they were “friendly aliens”.

Every Czech refugee who was not interned was encouraged by the CRT to contribute to the war effort. One woman worked at Bletchley Park, two at the BBC. Others enlisted in the services, offering their linguistic abilities as interpreters and translators. Some of the German speakers worked in the secret ‘Y’ service, re-directing German bomber pilots whose radio contact had been intercepted, and who thought that they were speaking to their own ground staff. Other young women and school-leavers joined the Land Army, and some trained as nursery nurses and worked in the day nurseries that had been set up in order to free British women to work in the factories. The Czechoslovak Red Cross opened a residential nursery in Notting Hill Gate in order to allow Czech refugee women to do voluntary work as well as paid work in shops and factories.

After the war the Czech refugees were repatriated, but some (including Jana’s parents) chose to stay and make a life for themselves in Britain. They were generally contributors rather than a drain on the state. They mainly worked in the ‘caring professions’ – as teachers, doctors and social workers – or in science and the media. One woman, who had been a lawyer in Czechoslovakia, became an infant teacher and later a headmistress. Another became a mental health worker and valued advisor at the CAB. Some of the wives became the main breadwinner of the family.

Another wave of Czech political refugees arrived after the Communist coup in 1948. One young couple, who had not completed their degree studies, found employment for themselves as cook/housekeeper and chauffeur/gardener under a two-year contract. A woman who was an official of the Presidium of the Czechoslovak Trades Union Congress and married to a Social Democrat MP, worked ten hour shifts in the kitchen of a Lyon’s Corner House at weekends and went to classes to learn English, then moved on to become a translator for the BBC and eventually became a German teacher in a home counties grammar school. Another woman joined a food import company in London, became a partner, then formed her own company importing ‘specialities’ from the Continent for European delicatessens in Britain, and later for Harrods, and Marks & Spencer. It was she who introduced ‘glühwien’ to our country.

Several of the Czech refugees entered the medical profession; one rose to become the first woman consultant in a clinical speciality [dermatology] at the Glasgow Western Infirmary. Another became a clinical psychologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. A third became the youngest woman member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1948, and was later elected to a Fellowship of the College. She was a consultant in rheumatology, with a lectureship at Hammersmith Hospital, London.

Hedwig Huenigen (mentioned earlier) who was a qualified architect specialising in hospital design, was able to take up the reins of her profession again. All of these women have now lived in Britain longer than in their own country. Separated from it by the ‘Iron Curtain’ until 1989, they effectively lost their homeland, but gained independence, particularly valuing British democracy, freedom of speech, and life without the dreaded knocking on the door by Fascist or Communist soldiers and police.


October 2013

A Very Civil Life by Liz King BSc Hons  Dip Eng  M.Phil  C Eng

Liz King is a chartered civil engineer. She decided early on in life (aged thirteen) that this was what she wanted to do. Despite being advised by the headmistress at her all-girls school that she would never be offered a place, she went ahead with her applications and was the only girl in her year to receive offers from no less than five universities! She chose the University of Southampton where she graduated with a BSc Hons in 1983.

Her first (and as it turned out, only) employer was Mott MacDonald, a world-renowned civil engineering company with 140 offices worldwide and 15,000 employees. She explained that civil engineering involved, among other things, the construction of roads, airports, bridges, seaports and canals. Her training stage lasted five years, during which she was seconded to Balfour Beatty for a year, supervising construction work in London. She was then seconded to the MOD to work on super-fast methods of repairing bomb craters in airfields. In 1988 at the end of the training stage she received Chartered Engineer status and decided to do a Masters Degree.

This took her to the Dartford West Tunnel where she found a solution to the corrosion caused by salt being tracked in on the tyres of vehicles. [Apparently it seeps down through the road surface into the reinforced concrete underneath and corrodes the steel]. This meant working between the hours of 9pm and 5 am when the tunnel was closed to traffic. Her solution was to coat the steel with a protective layer of epoxy resin. She presented papers on her research at many international conferences and won the “Young Engineer of the Year of the Year” award.

At that point she moved into management. She became director of Mott MacDonald’s Transport Division covering Highways Agency Area 3, which covers most of Hampshire and Berkshire and includes the M3, M27, A31 and parts of the M4 and A303. Her next role, which she took up in 2009, was that of Manager of the Integrated Transport Division of Mott MacDonald, working on policy, strategy, planning and design. She has a staff of 240 people working in ten offices. She has well and truly broken through “the glass ceiling” and is on the highest grade in the company. She explained that the company is wholly owned by the top 15% of its staff and that the rest of the staff is paid annual bonuses depending on the company’s profits, so everybody who works there has a stake in the company.

She was recently awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Institute of Civil Engineers. 


The Russian Countess: a talk by Valerie Sollohub June 2013

Valerie explained that the story she was about to tell was that of her mother-in-law, Countess (Edith) Sollohub, born in Russia in 1886, who died in Winchester in 1965.  Edith’s son, Count Nicholas, had been a language teacher at Winchester College, and his mother had come to live with him in her later years.  Valerie met her mother-in-law only a few years before she died.  Edith had begun writing her story in the nineteen-twenties, but wrote neither consistently nor chronologically. The papers were all mixed up and although it had been typed, the handwritten corrections were not easy to decipher.  Fortunately she had written it in English, in which she was fluent, having had an English governess as a child.  The first half of the book is about Edith’s life in pre-revolutionary Russia and the second half is about her escape.  Valerie and her husband started sorting the papers into chronological order in the 1970’s and Valerie typed it virtually word-for-word, since it needed almost no corrections, and ended up with 1,000 pages.  She then set about abridging it and managed to reduce it to 800 pages before sending it off to several publishers who all turned it down.  Somewhat discouraged, she put it to one side and concentrated on bringing up her four daughters.  By 1990 Count Nicholas had died and Valerie had to go out to work to support herself and her daughters.  It was not until 2005, when her daughters had grown up, that they encouraged Valerie to take up their grandmother’s book again.

By that time technology had moved on - no more typewriters and carbon paper - and Valerie was able to reduce the book to 400 pages.  This time the book was accepted by a small publisher in Exeter and by 2009 it was in print.  The revues were very positive and it is now in its second edition in paperback.

Edith’s story

Edith was born into a wealthy family in St Petersburg.  Her father, who had been born in the neighbouring country of Estonia, was a Professor of International Law at the University and a high-ranking diplomat in the service of the Tsar.  Like all girls of the wealthy middle classes in that era, Edith was educated at home by governesses, from whom she learned to speak English, German and French.  At the age of twenty she married Count Alexander Sollohub. They had three sons of whom Count Nicholas was the third.  Edith enjoyed country pursuits on their estate, not far from St Petersburg.  In 1914 her husband went off to fight in the Great War and she had to run the estate, which meant controlling the forestry and selling the timber.

By 1918 people were starving and the banks foreclosed. Her husband had joined the White Russian army and she had no news of him.  She decided to take her sons to Estonia, where she left them with a tutor and a maid.  She returned to St Petersburg in order to fetch things from her home that she could sell in order to keep herself and her family. Meanwhile the armistice was signed, the Bolsheviks closed the borders and she was unable to return to Estonia.  As it turned out she was stuck in St Petersburg for more than a year.

She had to live in only one room of the family apartment and was not entitled to a ration book because she was bourgeois.  She managed to survive on food brought to her from the country estate by former servants. She found work as a porter at the railway station.  By this time the country estate had been confiscated. She thought that she might be able to get back to Estonia by going a very roundabout way via Moscow and Warsaw, but she lacked the necessary travel permit.  She managed to obtain false papers which made her out to be a Polish governess returning to her country of origin. However, soon after arriving in Moscow she was put in prison and interrogated.  After her release from prison she was unable to get a travel permit, so she changed her name again, obtained another set of false papers and took a job as a violinist in an orchestra which was travelling towards Warsaw.  She managed to get as far as Mogilev (in Belarus), where she had to volunteer as a nurse in a medical unit attached to the Red Army in order to get another train going towards the front.  Each carriage of the train had a Russian spy planted in it, so she had to be vigilant at all times.  She took the precaution of sewing a photo of her children into the lining of her jacket.  By this time it was 1920 and she had not seen her children for nearly two years.  [She must have thought she was never going to reach Poland.]  Fortunately the Polish army was advancing, forcing the Red Army to retreat.  She absconded from the Red Army just in time and was hidden in a woodshed by some Polish friends she had made whilst working at the field hospital.  Finally she arrived in Warsaw, but it was another six months before she was reunited with her children in Estonia, because she was so weak and exhausted and needed to recover her health and strength.  Even then her youngest child, Nicholas, did not recognise her.

She found out that her husband had been killed in battle in 1918.  Like many other members of the Russian aristocracy she ended up living in Paris, where she worked as a translator and typist at the American embassy. Her sons were classified as war orphans and given scholarships to French schools. 


An Insight into the workings of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre: February 27th 2013

John Bradfield began by giving a run-down of the history and background of the building. The original neo gothic Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was built in the 1870’s next to the river Avon but it burned down in 1926.  It was replaced by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1932.  This was a lovely art deco building, but it was not really fit for purpose, as most of the seats were much too far away from the stage.  It was decided to renovate it to resemble a theatre from Shakespeare’s time with a thrust stage (with seating on three sides of the stage) rather than the more traditional proscenium arch.  The renovation project took three years and cost £113 million.  The furthest seating is now only 15 metres from the stage, whereas in the original theatre it was 27 metres away.  Actors have many more possible entrances, including going through the audience.  The renovations included not just the auditorium, but all the backstage areas: dressing rooms, wardrobe, props, laundry etc. Performances continued throughout the work in a temporary prototype theatre built nearby.  The theatre re-opened in 2010.

John Bradfield then spoke about the preparation through which a particular stage production had gone.  The Artistic Director began in February by selecting the play, or in this case plays, in February for a run beginning the following December: all of Shakespeare’s histories.  The cast of thirty-four was then selected.  There were no understudies, which meant that each actor had to be able to understudy another actor.  Then in October rehearsals began, with costume fittings.  The costume store holds 30,000 items.  Forty measurements are taken of each actor and in cases where the actor and his or her understudy are of very different build, a second costume has to be made for the understudy, just in case.

The wardrobe department has only about eight weeks to make the costumes, which consist of hats, footwear and jewellery as well as clothing.  Armour is made of moulded plastic or leather.  The “running wardrobe” staff are distinct from those who design and make the clothes.  They are the people who look after the costumes during the run of the plays.  They have batteries of washing machines and irons.  The dressers help with quick changes of costume in the wings.  Velcro cannot be used as it is too noisy!  Moulds are made of actors’ heads for the fitting of wigs. In the old days blood used to come from the abattoir, but now it is synthetic and can easily be washed out.  Make-up is not as heavy these days.

There are more than 500 lights with 200 different colour changes.  A deputy stage manager sits in a control room and orchestrates the changing of lights by telling the lighting technicians when to do so. The theatre employs it owns musicians – about ten in total.  Sometimes they are unseen by the audience.  At other times, depending on the play, they are part of the action and have to be in costume.

The RSC has an outreach programme, whereby it goes to visit schools.  It also has an on line teacher training programme. Parties of schoolchildren visit from all over the world.  Corporate sponsorship comes from about 60 different countries.


 Debt Counselling at the CAB: talk given by WWG member Barbara Baynes October 2012

Barbara explained that she had been an Advisor at the CAB for nine years and like all the other Advisors, she had been trained to deal with all aspects of the CAB’s work – not just debt counselling.  She began by telling us the reasons that people got into debt, which ranged from obvious ones such as low income, loss of employment, relationship breakdown, bereavement and business failure to less obvious ones, such as ignorance, mismanagement and loneliness leading to overspending.  In some cases where two people had jointly taken out a loan, one of them had defaulted or disappeared and the other was left to shoulder the entire debt.  They had not realised the consequences of being “jointly and severally” liable. One factor which was a prime contributor to the nation’s debt was the easy availability of credit, for which the financial institutions were to blame.

Barbara then went on to detail the profile of those who came to the CAB seeking advice on debt, which could be anyone between the ages of eighteen and eighty.  Statistics showed the largest cohort was made up of those aged between 35 and 44, followed by those aged between 45 and 54.

The first step was to confront the problem.  Many of those who came through the door had been hoping that by ignoring the problem it would go away, but of course it only deteriorated the longer it was left.  Some clients arrived with a carrier bag or two, full of unopened letters, others with a well organised file.  The Advisor then helped to sort the debts into priority and non-priority debts. Urgent priority debts such as rent, council tax and fuel arrears, for which court action or similar was already being threatened would be dealt with immediately. The Advisor would also assess the client and his or her ability to manage the situation. Some clients were able to manage their own Debt Management Plan, with some assistance.   A budget sheet would be drawn up with income from all sources including benefits and the value of assets and expenditure. The latter was subdivided into many different categories and was incredibly detailed. The difference between income over expenditure became the “disposable” income, which could be used to pay off debt.  The Advisor would also do a benefit check and look at other ways of increasing income, such as increasing working hours, renting out a room or asking grown-up children living in the home to contribute more money, or in some cases to contribute at all, if they had not been doing so.  The next step was to look into the various options for dealing with the debt:

1) Debt Management Plan (DMP). The client had to sign a contract to work with the CAB, and was told not get into further debt, to cut up all credit cards and not to favour one creditor over another - particularly difficult when family members were involved. The Advisor would make a list of the creditors and a holding letter would be sent to each one.  The letter informed the creditors that the debtor was seeking help; asked them to freeze the interest; not to impose further charges and to send to the CAB an up to date balance of the account.  The budget sheet would be used to determine the client’s “disposable” income.  Based on that, a repayment offer would be negotiated with priority creditors.  For those on very low incomes the least the Local Authority would accept was £3.55 per week.  If there were any money left after paying priority debts, it would be divided on a pro rata basis amongst the non-priority creditors, e.g. catalogue companies.  Sometimes only a token payment of £1 per month would be offered.

2) Administration Order. That was only used in the case of clients with County Court judgements against them and non-priority debts under £5000.  It was administered by the court.

3) Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA). That could only be used in the case of clients with debts of more than £15,000 and a “disposable” income of more than £100 per month.  The “Provider”, which might be a financial company such as PayPlan, having negotiated a repayment plan with each creditor, would use the disposable income to pay off the creditors month by month. That could take five to seven years, but was less radical than bankruptcy.

4) Debt Relief Order (DRO).  That was a type of mini-bankruptcy to assist people on a low income with debts of less than £15,000.  The initial assessment and gathering of information was similar to the DMP described above.  There were strict criteria which had to be checked before someone could apply for a DRO.  They included: the client’s “disposable” income had to be less than £50 per month, their assets worth less than £300, their car worth less than £1,000, they must not have preferred a creditor, or had an IVA or Bankruptcy in the last 6 years.  It cost £90 to go down that route and the application had to be done by an approved intermediary (e.g. the CAB).  A decision would be made within a week and if approved, the debts would be written off, apart from student loans, court fines, child maintenance and social fund loans.

5) Bankruptcy.  That was not always the best option, since the client had to pay out £550 for the petition and £150 for the court fee.  Clients on certain benefits could apply for remission of the court fee.  The disadvantages of that route were that the client could lose their home, their job, financial control and have problems obtaining a tenancy and credit in the future.  As with the DRO above, some debts could not be included.

6) Consolidation Loan whereby a loan, sufficient to cover all the debts, was taken out. That route was not usually recommended by the CAB, as it meant incurring further debt.

Barbara then summed up by considering what the solution might be to getting into debt in the first place.  She thought that better financial education would be a start, followed by less easily available credit and cultural change.  People should be encouraged to seek help earlier and not to bury their head in the sand, hoping the problem would somehow go away.   She added that there was a lot of self-help available from the CAB or many approved websites.

Visit to Bletchley Park, July 2012

Thirty-four people, made up of our members, their friends and husbands and members of the Soroptimists with their husbands, set off at eight pm on a cloudless day in a luxury coach for Bletchley Park (near Milton Keynes).  We made Bletchley Park in very good time, where we were welcomed by our guide for the day.

We started with tea/coffee in the library of the “Mansion”.  This is the original house, which the Government Code & Cypher School bought with some of its land in 1938. The head of SIS, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, supposedly paid for it out of his own pocket because Whitehall foot-dragging threatened to delay the project even further. The guide then told us something about the history of the house and explained that the site was chosen as it had direct rail rinks to London, Oxford and Cambridge.

We then left the “Mansion”and were shown various buildings on the site before returning to the library for our sandwich lunch. After lunch we saw a rebuild of Colossus, the computer that helped to crack Hitler's most secret codes, and visited some huts which had been arranged as a museum.  We returned to the house for tea and cake before leaving at four pm.

A lot of the “huts” have been pulled down, but those that are left are the all-important ones.  We saw hut 8 which was where Alan Turing and his team worked on the naval Enigma code.  This was not a sophisticated code – it was merely a case of one letter in the alphabet replacing another, but the problem was that it was changed every day at midnight, so it had to be decrypted every day. The decrypted messages were then sent to hut 4, which is now the cafeteria, for translation, analysis and onward transmission to The Admiralty.  These huts provided vital day-to-day intelligence in the battles between the Allied convoys and the German U-boats. Hut 6 was the base for those engaged on breaking the Enigma code used by the German army and air force.  The decoded messages were passed via a primitive connecting chute to hut 3, which was next door, to be translated and sent to intelligence offices in London.  As the war ground on, more and more huts and more permanent brick buildings were erected to accommodate the ever-growing staff.

The people who worked at Bletchley Park were drawn from the services, mainly the WRNS, and the civilian population: mathematicians, linguists, Post Office Engineers and Dons.  They all had to sign the Official Secrets Act on arrival, and nobody spoke about their work to the occupants of a different hut.  It was not until the seventies that the work that was done at Bletchley Park began to be talked about.  Some married couples even discovered that they had both worked there thirty years before, having met in another context during the post-war years.  We used to have a member, Barbara Lewis, who had worked there, and she never even told her husband until the seventies.  None of the people who worked there lived on the site.  They were billeted in the nearby towns and villages and most travelled in by special bus or bicycle.  They worked eight-hour shifts with meal breaks, and the work never stopped, as there were three shifts.

For me, it was the human story that appealed, but for other more technically-minded people there were the rebuilds of the forerunners of our modern computers to be seen (the originals having been destroyed after the war).  One of these was the Colossus, the world's first digital, electronic, programmable computer.  Colossus Mk2 was up and running on June 1st, just in time for the Normandy landings. The other computers used were the bombes, developed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, using information that had been passed on by Polish scientists before the war. Turing and his team exploited the fact that enciphered German messages often contained common words or phrases, such as Generals’ names or weather reports and so were able to guess short parts of the original message.  The fact that on an Enigma machine no letter could be enciphered as itself made guessing a small part of the text easier. The Bombe found potential Enigma settings not by proving a particular setting, but by disproving every incorrect one in turn.  Breaking the Enigma ciphers gave the Allies a key advantage, which, according to historians, shortened the war by two years.

Over 200 of the Bombes were built by the British Tabulating Machine Company at Letchworth, (which later became ICT then ICL), all of which were deliberately destroyed after the war. Bletchley Park was closed down after the war and eventually metamorphosed into GCHQ.

Altogether it was a very interesting day.  Some months before the trip I noticed on the “recently returned shelf” in the Library a copy of “The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: the WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men & Women Who Worked There” by Sinclair McKay, so I took it out and read it.  A lot of it is made up of actual reminiscences from people who worked there, and it made fascinating reading.







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