Meeting Blog


I last came to Probus some two years ago
It gives me no pleasure to admit this is so.
It’s a relief to be back after dodging the fates
To renew acquaintance with so many old mates.
First Wednesday each month is now when we meet
Fellowship shared over something to eat.
A beer in the bar a firm ritual to start
‘Ere Chair usually says he has news to impart.
He checks all are present and filling their place
A moment’s reflection as we stand to say grace.
Lunch then is taken and hubbub ensues,
As friends offer banter and swop latest views.

Crown loyalty toasted, chance for a break
For comfort, to deny one would be a mistake;
Attention now turns to our guest, as we sit
To hear of his subject, perhaps with some wit,
This is always a highlight for minds shunning age
Insights from the speaker given the stage.
Chair’s nominee can then round off events
Thanking our speaker for his lecture’s contents.
Minds still sharp, glad of shared stimulation
Show their gratitude with a hearty ovation.
Before taking our leave fulfilled in some way,
Comrades all keeping isolation at bay;

Robin Hill
Ruthin 7 Nov 18


Nov 2018 AGM

Ruthin Probus held its November meeting at Rhewl Sports Pavillion last Wednesday. After a convivial lunch the AGM was held and Chairman Peter Helm recounted the events of his year of office as it draws to its close.

In consideration of the minutes of the 2017 AGM the successful inclusion of ladies at some recent events was noted. In seeking to grow membership numbers overall it was agreed actively to seek recruits from retired professional and business ladies. Formal business concluded with the election of new officers for the year to come.

Three National Trust volunteer guides from Erddig at Wrexham, Pat, Sue and Helen, gave a fascinating illustrated account of the life and theatrical exploits of ‘The Last Squire of Erddig’ Philip Yorke III who inherited the estate in 1966. It was gifted by him to the National Trust in 1973 and opened to the public four years later after extensive restoration. Today it is an attractive destination and centre for educational outreach with many children gaining insights into the nature of domestic service through role play in authentic surroundings. A chance to relive their 17th and 18th Century forebears.

Ruthin Probus will return to Rhewl at noon on 5th December for its annual Christmas Ladies’ Lunch. Anyone interested in joining in the festivities can get details by ringing  01824 702005/702771.

Dec 2018 Probus Poultry

Poultry on the plate is traditional at this time of year. Wednesday 5th December was the occasion of Ruthin Probus Club’s Christmas Ladies’ Lunch at which a full three course lunch of roast turkey and trimmings, pudding and mince pies was greatly enjoyed by 30 Club members, wives and guests.  .

Meeting as usual at Rhewl Pavilion, the event rounded off the year of office of Peter Helm as Chair. Peter thanked those who had supported and helped him throughout his term, and also sent the best wishes of members to Michael Adams the Club Secretary, recovering from an operation in hospital. Peter, in his turn, was praised by Bill Evans on receiving the badge of office on taking over as Chair for 2019.

Joining in the festive event was Elfed Evans who, following the meal, treated those present to an absorbing biographical string of anecdotes from his life breeding and showing bantams. Styled as ‘Elfed and Feathered Friends’ this fascinating account from a first gift as a five-year-old, through TV appearances with a borrowed prize cockerel at 13, to his successes with his Show Champions at the Welsh Show struck a perfect note. Elfed’s colourful turn of phrase, outlandish exploits, and recalled acquaintance with so many well-known members of the local farming community, endeared him to his audience. This was fully cemented when he brought in turn three bantams from a box to display their finer points; perhaps, as tradition, the conjuror to close. That Elfed was also supporting St Kentigern’s Hospice with his talk earned him protracted applause.

Jan 2019 Rwanda – Africa’s Hidden Gem

With Christmas and New Year committed to memory Ruthin Probus Club convened on Wednesday 9th January at Rhewl Community Centre for the first meeting of 2019. Opening with a welcome to members and four new prospective members as guests, Bill Evans began his year as Chair with a flourish.

After a convivial lunch Stan Morton was introduced as the guest speaker. With his son a serving EU Diplomat in Kigali, capital of Rwanda in central Africa, Stan has been able to spend extended visits to this fascinating city composed of ten adjacent townships each built on its own hiiltop. One of these is crowned with a significant new Conference Centre financed and built by the Chinese. They have also built a network of paved roads connecting the main population hubs in a country which, though just the area of Wales, is home to 1 million people.

Stan’s talk was an erudite exposition of the anthropology and politics of Rwandan history which, to say the least, has been most chequered, particularly over the most recent fifty years. He listed civil war, mass refugee flight and genocide as the most notorious events where Hutus and Tutsis, despite their shared ethnicity, fought to gain political supremacy. The separate and oldest ethnic group, the Twa forest pygmy people, always a suppressed minority, suffered greatly. Given these facts it is surprising that the country now is calm and safe, and increasingly prosperous.

Situated just below the equator in the East African Great Lakes region, Rwanda’s sub-tropical climate, ecological variety and scenic beauty find favour with increasing numbers of tourists. They are especially keen to visit its bamboo forests home to its renowned but threatened mountain gorillas and to many other species.

To round off his talk Dr Morton gave a display of slides to support his claim of ‘Rwanda –  Africa’s Hidden Gem’, convincing all present of this. Robin Hill led a vote of thanks for a fascinating and insightful lecture which, he explained, was for him one evoking personal nostalgia.


Feb 2019 Wildlife Wonders

Ruthin Probus Club’s February meeting took place on 6th at the usual venue Rhewl Community Pavilion. Numbers were a little down through holiday and sickness absences but those present enjoyed a winter lunch of Coronation Chicken and Beef Hotpot.

Chair Bill Evans, himself a long time birdwatcher and wildlife photographer, introduced Les Starling to talk about the North Wales Wildlife Trust. A long career in forestry consultancy coupled with a deep interest in wildlife, had given Les a rare perspective on the interplay between commercial and conservation interests and the ways in which these could be helped to work together sympathetically. This informed his own involvement with the Trust and other ecological and conservation agencies in which he played an important part.

In 1963 a group of academics at Bangor University, confronting the threat posed to the wetland ecology of Cors Goch on Anglesey, then being considered for refuse landfill, formed the North Wales Naturalist Society. They clubbed together to buy the site and Cors Goch became the first Nature Reserve in North Wales; it is now considered of international importance. The Society was later transformed into the North Wales Wildlife Trust, and John Harrop one of the founding group is still an active member. NWWT is now one of a network of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK while Cors Goch is now one of 35 reserves making up some of the most beautiful and important wildlife sites in North Wales. The Trust is reliant mainly on donations and the support of members but welcomes all visitors to its reserves which are freely accessible to all.

Les Starling’s gripping talk ranged widely over many of the treasures to be found in the Trust’s reserves illustrated with excellent photographs. He stressed that while these were islands of valuable protection for species, these will only flourish if the reserves can become more cohesive. The Trust has therefore adopted a policy of Living Landscapes and his talk was thus titled. His own background has been invaluable because it was by working with landowners and farmers to recognise commercial imperatives yet adapting actions to be sympathetic to wildlife, that wildlife ‘corridors’ are now being successfully progressed encouraging wildlife migration and the return of such threatened species as otters and water voles.

Considerable success has been achieved in helping Denbighshire CC to develop a strategy for maintaining road verges to encourage wildflowers and the creatures that rely upon them. Denbighshire are now regarded as a leading local authority in this regard. Another interesting example of collaboration Les cited is that of The Village Bakery at Wrexham. Not only have they successfully transformed boundaries and fallow land into wildflower meadows, they have installed a living wall on the side of their bakery which is kept moist by rainwater filtering through.

The pleasure and gratitude of all members to Les Starling was captured by Bill Evans with his vote of thanks leading to enthusiastic applause.

Mar 2018 International Reflections

Robert Hughes is Cumbrian by birth, culturally international through experience, fluent French speaking by choice, and Welsh by adoption. Any Brit would find the familiar ‘Bob’ quite natural; fortunately that also proved the case with Middle Eastern customers when the formal ‘Robert’ encountered linguistic barriers. So ‘Bob’ Hughes it became as a reputation as a successful salesman of glass-related products was carved out – not just in the Middle East, but widely in more than 60 other countries.

It was from such a background that Bob spoke to Ruthin Probus at their March meeting on Wednesday at Rhewl Community Centre. With their first potential lady member joining them for a fine lunch of pate and poached salmon, his audience relaxed to hear a talk promoted as The Importance of International Trade. Bob articulately commanded the floor without need of projector or amplifier and with just a single fascinating ‘prop’ of which more anon.

Bob’s career began as an apprentice at Pilkington’s leading to an HND in Business Studies and a job in the Export Department. This meant attending a Trade Show in Israel where he established a principle which stayed with him: ‘The perfect contract pleases both parties’. It also brought a realisation of the importance of understanding and respecting cultural characteristics when establishing effective working relations.

A move to a Yorkshire manufacturer of glass moulds took him to Soviet-leaning Eastern Europe before the wall came down and he obtained an early contract for moulds for the first Polish TV screens. It was this object which was passed round for all to see giving greater immediacy to glass technology as it was explained. Bob also amused everyone with tales of returning from trips with a sack of empty bottle samples over his shoulder.

A short, deliberate sidestep into the different selling world of retail products with Cussins was made to gain experience, but Bob’s career with glass was still half empty. He answered an advertisement for a job in North Wales and returned to become Marketing Manager at Pilkington PE at St Asaph. This joint venture with an American defence supplier opened up the world of optical products bestowed with special properties in which the glass content became of lesser importance than the techniques and technology adding value.

An important market in defence procurement was France and Thompson (later renamed Thales) as the major player bought out Pilkington. Bob moved to France and became only too well aware of the limitation of linguistic difference. Living and working in France Bob experienced the advantage which fluency in the customer’s native tongue gave in establishing a close meeting of minds, while cultural awareness helped understand some otherwise odd situations he encountered.

A move to a Ferranti/Thompson joint venture under French control, as Marketing Manager, opened up new markets and the world of sub-sea defence through sonar. In time this led to a move to BAE Systems in Plymouth and the related fields of gyroscopes and navigation including the orange painted ‘black’ boxes of aircraft safety significance.

Twenty percent of his audience had shared Pilkington backgrounds and could relate directly to much of Bob Hughes’s experience. It was perhaps appropriate that one of them, Brian Algar, should give the vote of thanks when asked by Chair Bill Evans to do so. It was no surprise either when this turned into yet more anecdotal yarns. A stimulating afternoon wholly devoid of glazed looks. Clwyd Wynne will talk next month on North Wales Hospital – from Asylum to Community.

April 2019  ‘Going to Denbigh’

Mental health is a much-discussed topic at the present time, especially concerning young people and the prison population. This discussion is today informed professionally by psychological, psychiatric and pharmacological advances among medical sciences which have developed beyond measure over the seventy years since the foundation of the NHS in 1948.

On Wednesday at Rhewl Pavilion Clwyd Wynne from Denbigh referred to that period and those developments towards the end of his fascinating talk ‘From Asylum to Community’ to Ruthin Probus at their April lunch meeting. The main thrust of his story, however, generously illustrated with his large collection of excellent photographs, concerned the seventy years prior to that, during the time that ‘Going to Denbigh’ was synonymous throughout North Wales with entering the Denbigh Asylum. This was a period when treatment had progressed to institutional provision of physical labour and recreation. Clwyd Wynne served as a nurse and nursing manager at, or was associated with, North Wales Hospital for some thirty years until it closed in 1995 and has distilled this knowledge and experience for the pleasure of audiences over the 25 years since with his oft requested presentation.

At the start of the 19th Century those with mental health and behavioural issues remained in their communities as there was no formal public provision, and in most cases were kept isolated in their homes in horrendous conditions. Denbigh Infirmary had been built in 1813 but did not admit mentally ill patients. Dr Lloyd-Williams, Medical Supervisor occasionally managed to gain entry for a sufferer but for the most part help, if any, was found in Asylums in England. The County Asylums Act of 1808 and the later Lunacy Act had enabled public money to be allocated for asylum provision by individual English counties. Welsh counties were too small in population to afford such provision yet the law precluded several counties acting in concert. Dr Samuel Hitch, Medical Supervisor in Gloucester found that Welsh-speaking pauper patients were in a particularly parlous state being cared for as they were unable to understand or be understood.  After Dr Hitch wrote to the papers the two doctors came together in 1842 to seek asylum provision in North Wales.

The Committee which assembled at Denbigh Infirmary in October 1842 succeeded in acquiring by gift a site of 20 acres on the edge of Denbigh from Joseph Ablett of Llanbedr Hall and also raising by subscription (including, and encouraged by, Royal patronage) the necessary funds to commission the building of an Asylum for 200 patients between 1844 and 1848: thus the North Wales Hospital came into being. From its inception demand for places outstripped provision and successive expansions increased capacity eventually to 1500 beds. Successful lobbying was undertaken for a change in the law and other counties came on board with the project.

With the help of his photographs Clwyd Wynne was able to give his audience an understanding of the vibrant community which was established at Denbigh Asylum. Both staff and patients undertook a full range of work and play as the institution became virtually self-sufficient while participating in the society beyond its boundaries. Teams participated in sports and leisure activities throughout the wider district. Indeed those in this wider community were not unknown to envy some of the parties, balls and events staged on their doorstep.

Although medical treatments increased from the 1940’s with the provision of an operating theatre, after the foundation of the NHS and the development of newer drug treatments these started to decline and patient numbers fell away. In 1960 Enoch Powell as Health Minister introduced the policy change to replace large regional mental institutions and to transfer patients to new district units at general hospitals. For North Wales Hospital this was the beginning of the end and patient numbers dwindled until 1992 although formal closure would take a further ten years.

Proposing a vote of thanks Phil Durrell raised the impact which the Hospital must have had on Denbigh town throughout its long history but also with its closure. Care in the Community, intended to replace such provision, would remain an aspiration without adequate and appropriate resource.

On 1st May Dr Frank Nicholson will speak on Sheep Farming in Patagonia 100 Year Ago.

May 2019 ‘Teeth for Tups’

Who thinks a skunk a soft, cuddly creature to be discussed without a twitch of the nose? Or who knew that ostriches were a substitute for sewing cotton? Not me, until Dr Frank Nicholson, guest of Ruthin Probus Club at their May meeting, informatively talked of Sheep Farming in Patagonia 100 Year Ago.

Dr Nicholson’s connection with South America started in 1896 when his 20 year-old maternal grandfather Charles Stallard left the Isle of Wight under sail to round Cape Horn to a new life in South America. Patagonia sits astride the border of Chile and Argentina. Stretching East from the Andes a vast expanse of pampas – dry grasslands were, In the 19th Century windswept plains devoid of trees. They afforded sparse grazing for cattle, horses and guanaco (llama) herded by indigenous Indians .

Government offers of land leases encouraged estancia – very large ranches  – to be formed by wealthy settlers who managed and worked the estates with horse-riding gauchos (cowboys) wielding lassoes and bolas  –  triple leather weighted balls on rawhide leads. Immigrant, especially British, settlers who came quickly saw the potential for sheep farming.

On this new frontier estacion Canadon de la Vacas near Santa Cruz, the southern-most ‘town’ in Argentina close to the border with Chile had been established by Henry Reynard a wealthy Yorkshireman settler.  Rose Birch, a year younger than Charles married in 1900 and first worked here, Charles having been taken on initially as a cook. Reynard also set up estancia Paliaike on Elizabeth Island partly with sheep brought from the Falklands Islands in the 1870s.  Charles and Rose moved to Paliaike where , over time, Charles rose to manage an estate of 125,000 acres.  Shadowed by the Andes the dry pampa supported stock densities of just 1% of those we think of here, but the ’point’ or herd gradually grew to 11,000 sheep. Wool at first the main crop brought itinerant gaucho shearers each clipping season; with refrigeration available from the early 1900s export of sheep meat grew.  Stock roamed freely, lambing on the open prairie. Ewe lambs gave flock growth with rams castrated for meat. Without outback sterilization high losses resulted from infection so Charles became adept at using his teeth as a tool; not surprisingly suffering sickness every lambing season.

The couple’s own children included Frank’s mother Elsie born in 1904. In 1913 she and sister Ethel returned to Shoeburyness to attend school. The First World War meant a stay until 1919 when they returned to a region also in turmoil.  Two national uprisings in the 1920s saw roaming gangs raiding estancia recruiting gauchos and taking horses, firearms, cash and supplies; also hostages. Charles was imprisoned at a camp in the Andes until escaping and taking the horses to prevent pursuit.

Frank held his audience spell-bound relating these exploits illustrated with photographs taken and developed by his grandfather. These included the productive vegetable-growing achieved after building fences and growing hedges against the wind; horses for personal transport and heavy haulage to bring wood from the Andes; domestic cattle, a pet guanaco, and other scenes showing a rugged frontier life. In 1925 a particularly hard winter killed many skunk; Frank’s mother recalled waking with her hair frozen to the bedroom wall. A dead skunk it seems does not smell even if, notoriously, its defensive spray of ten feet range when attacked is detectable at over a mile.  Frank showed a beautifully soft brown and white capo or bedcover made from fifty skunk skins cured, matched and carefully hand-stitched with ostrich sinew –  a unique family memento.

As with many settler families ties with the old country remained strong so in 1927, at the age of 23, Frank’s mother Elsie with other family members boarded RMS Ortega to head back to set up home again on the South Coast at Broadstone near Poole.

Closing a fascinating afternoon Norman Jones voiced thanks to Frank Nicholson on behalf of those present. Chair Bill Evans reminded that on 5th June there would be a coach trip to the British Ironworks Centre at Oswestry.

June 2019 Ruthin Probus Day Outing

The excitement of looked-forward-to charabanc trips remains with us from childhood, even when those halcyon days become a little distant. So it was with anticipation that thirty members, partners and friends of Ruthin Probus boarded the Jones coach on a damp, chilly, early June morning.

The British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry was the destination, but enjoyment was immediate with the ride through the scenic borders farm and woodland: Spring lambing was much in evidence but gradually gave way to rolling fields of green cereals. The new eco-friendly policy agreed by the highway authorities with the Wildlife Trust meant that the roadside verges remained resplendent with unmown grasses, cow parsley and hawthorn. Bernie the driver skilfully manoeuvred the coach, especially when a broken-down tractor and trailer were encountered partially blocking the high Severn bridge at Chirk.

Many of the party were visiting the British Ironworks Centre for the first time and were surprised to be greeted by African wildlife dotting open parkland embracing the entrance drive. Gorillas, giraffe and leaping wildebeest and even a tarantula spider on its eight (eight foot) legs crouching ready, and seemingly large enough, to pounce on the coach. Closer proximity revealed all to have been skilfully and artistically crafted from metal, albeit larger than life.

Anticipation aroused, there was eagerness to explore. Some wished to start with the sculpture park, others entered the Centre first in search of refreshment and the wide variety of surprises in store. None were disappointed. A fascinating collection of artworks, utensils and decorative works in a wide range of media, predominantly with metallic connection, teased the senses, while the many transport-related artefacts challenged preconceptions and evoked nostalgic recollections.

The choice of the term Centre is a good one – how else to describe a museum, gallery, metal workshop and emporium all rolled into one – actually two: large interconnected showrooms crammed with imaginative interest. Plus the extensive forge, workshops, and open-air displays.

The boundless creativity also has a social imperative in these troubled times. Wide publicity has been given to the Knife Angel crafted from confiscated street weapons of which the supply seems limitless. A project currently under way is of a reclining police dog with bladed coat for the West Mercia Police Force, a sobering reminder of dedication.

Leaving the Ironworks Centre after a crammed couple of hours, a short drive was made to Ellesmere where, beside its namesake lake, a public open space gifted to the community in celebration of the Queen’s Coronation, The Boathouse Restaurant was the venue for a convivial lunch. The building is also centre for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and a web-cam allowed ornithological voyeurs to enjoy live streaming from nearby Moscow Island of a pair of Heron fledglings hunched on their nest.

The afternoon weather showed great improvement, and most chose to stroll the sculpture/nature trail beside the mediaeval mere with its wide variety of aquatic birds and wild flowers, abundant yellow flag iris and reeds fringing the water’s edge.

The weary party were happy to rejoin their coach, and grateful to Bernie the driver who reprised his prowess on the homeward drive when roadworks caused re-routing and the exercise of no mean dexterity. All were effusive in expressing the great pleasure of the day to Bill Evans the Chairman and Peter Helm, Secretary, who had organised a most successful outing

July 2019 Trailers the Main Feature

Gwyn Morris was spot on when he suggested that great things can grow from small beginnings in thanking Andy Reece Jones for his talk on Ifor Williams Trailers Ltd at the July Probus Club lunch. Gwyn and other members had known Ifor Williams personally from when he started his business in his backyard in 1958 having had his lightbulb moment on a visit to Canada. That this proud private company, safe now in the hands of Ifor’s son John, had since grown to employ 730 people producing up to 1,000 trailers a week and with a seven figure turnover, probably understates ‘success’ in this case. It has surely become a precious jewel in the North Wales crown.

Andy, Manager of Product Development and Research at the Corwen main site of Ifor Williams Trailers, ably assisted by Dafydd Jones, gave a fascinating and detailed account of the company’s structure, products and manufacturing methods as well as a range of statistics supporting its philosophy of producing quality long-lasting vehicles of exceptional value to their owners.

North Wales now boasts five sites devoted to the manufacture of Ifor Williams Trailers and the multi-million pound investment in these facilities includes the latest in robotic metalworking and welding technology. A single site would probably be more economic, but it seems fostering such a development by allocating suitable land does not fit with the strategic thinking of officialdom. Should this ever result in pastures new beyond North Wales seeming more attractive to a company clearly committed to really going places, it will be an own goal of the most debilitating kind for our local economy.

From the humble farm trailer (some demonstrably still roadworthy after 60 years down on the farm) to ranges covering Livestock Trailers, Box Goods and Domestic Goods Carriers , Low Loaders, Plant Transporters, Tippers and Ground Care Vehicles the journey has been steady and constant. Not that the utilitarian nature of these uses has stood in the way of progressive aesthetic enhancement. The livelihoods of many farmers may depend upon the rugged durability, rather than the visual appeal, of Ifor Williams trailers for the livestock transported can be of high value. Horses, too, are highly valued by their owners and it is interesting that the greatest degree of cosmetic streamlining seems recently to have been directed thus. It is therefore little surprise that Lamborghini should wish to display their most recent model towing an Ifor Williams Horsebox; quality will always out. The one constant has been the company’s distinctive blue logo, emblazoned on the sides of each trailer, which is now as well-known in the many countries worldwide where the trailers sell as it is in the UK market where they dominate.

Sept 2019 Ferns of North Wales

Rhewl Pavilion has a spectacular view of Moel Famau. On a fine sunny September day the dark geometric outlines of the extensive drifts of bracken were clearly etched on its bare slopes. Members of Ruthin Probus Club arriving for their first lunch meeting after the summer break took in this scene as something unremarkable. When leaving afterwards, however, most would probably have looked to the hills with fresh understanding from the knowledge imparted during a fascinating illustrated lecture given after lunch by David Hill, Secretary of the British Pteridological Society. It was but one aspect of a talk on the Fern Flora of North Wales which informed and challenged his audience.

7000 years ago the hillsides would have been very different. Bracken was then a rare woodland fern seeking light to thrive. When, later, it began to invade cleared open grazing land, efforts to control the spread of this animal-toxic growth by cutting and burning gave the best possible conditions for it to thrive. With fresh buds safely protected below ground it could rapidly return to outgrow other plants. Its only real enemy it seems were low temperatures though even these, or repeated mowings, could not harm the deep roots with further sets of buds at depth.

Mr Hill began with an explanation of the conundrum set for botanists such as Linnaeus, from 1751 onwards, to understand how plants which had neither seeds nor flowers could reproduce. Pteridophytes i.e ferns and their allies: clubmosses, quillworts, horsetails, and spikemoss were a puzzle until the process of spore production was established and the ‘hidden reproduction’ of these vascular plants explained. The two-stage life-cycle alternating generations of gametophyte to sporophyte are at first water-dependent. All ferns share the characteristic of the familiar crozier which unfurls to display the fronds whereas the other species present quite different growth habits.

With a large collection of slides taken in and around Snowdonia David (who is also a Director of Cofnod the biologiical recording body for the region) illustrated the wide range of these quite beautiful and mysterious plants, a number of them extremely rare and protected, and varying in size from a thumbnail to the towering bracken already mentioned. At the same time he gave insights into their nature, habits and habitats which are so sensitive to changes in climate, hydrology, husbandry or chemistry.  The horsetails are unique as the only groups surviving the dinosaurs and still be extant today, albeit of much smaller stature. It was such species which were laid down in the Carboniferous era to form the coalfields of Wales and of which fossilised remains have been revealed at Brymbo, Wrexham.

Interest in these non-flowering plants is again increasing for their industrial and pharmaceutical uses – a promising drug for treating Alzheimers for example. But this has not reached the level of the fervour in Victorian times when fern collecting became an acceptable pursuit for unchaperoned intelligent ladies. The half century from 1840 saw fern tourism with collectors seeking out (and sadly almost annihilating) the most unusual species. But it also gave rise to serious appreciation and scientific study. It was a time when ferneries were established and, in 1891, when the British Pteridological Society was founded.

In thanking David Hill for his lecture Chris Smith referenced his wife’s interest in ferns as a source of dyes for her wool-dying. Before this though a last word had been reserved for bracken plants currently being offered on eBay!


Wednesday 2nd October was Ruthin Probus’s second meeting back after the summer break. Although there were not quite as many present as last month, those who came enjoyed an excellent lunch and then an interesting talk by David Crawford a Trustee of Gwefr Heb Wifrau – Wireless in Wales, Denbigh, which is a small radio museum with an emphasis on the history of broadcasting in Wales.

David chose to base his talk on Thomas Elva Edison, styling him ‘The man who nearly invented radio.’ He took us through Edison’s childhood and early years from which he emerged as a self-taught teenager selling newspapers on trains while working as a telegraph operator. His innate curiosity, in a period of scientific investigation, saw him reading about Natural Philosophy and attending courses in chemistry while undertaking experiments in electricity and magnetism.

The early two-wire telegraph which he operated was limited to transmitting one message at a time. In 1874 Edison began working on a system of two simultaneous messages, eventually achieving a quadruplex capability. In 1876 he was able to sell his patent to Western Union and with the proceeds build his own research laboratory in Menla Park, New Jersey. Here he was to employ a succession of assistants who collaborated in pioneering work on many aspects of his chosen fields including sound recording.

Edison’s team were engaged at a time when explanations for observed phenomena were being explored in both America and Europe, by amongst many others, scientists such as Hertz, Maxwell, Reichenbach and the collaborating academic Professors Thomson and Houston. Maxwell’s equations form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics and electric circuits The equations provide a mathematical model for electric, optical, and radio technologies, such as power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, lenses, radar etc

Edison had noted an unexplained effect of sparking on his experimental circuit when current was off; even when connected to a gas pipe in the laboratory the effect was still widely propagated. Edison wrote in the newspaper:: “This is simply wonderful and a good proof that the cause of the spark is a true unknown force”. He named this Etheric Force and claimed this explained that previously observed by the chemist Reichenbach (which he called the ‘Odic Force’ and which he thought could be the cause of the Aurora Borealis). What neither realised was that in both cases these were in fact radio waves.

Some years later, having experimented with ship-to-shore telegraphy, Edison, having had his Etheric Force theorem debunked by Thompson and Houston, sold his patent to Marconi whom we know went on successfully to demonstrate trans-Atlantic radio communication.

Chair Bill Evans thanked David Crawford for his lecture but professed himself one of those present who had struggled to keep up with the technical aspects of Edison’s work. Next month we will be hearing from Rev Stuart Evans on ‘Building Community – Reflections from Brazil, Argentina and UK’.

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