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THE LECTURES

(in no particular order)

Lectures last approximately 60 minutes.

CHARACTERS OF EAST ANGLIA

Including Maria Marten and Dick Turpin

There are occasions when it is pleasant to put historical fact to one side, and enjoy a good story instead. That is the purpose of this collection of lives of famous - and infamous - East Anglians. It features the well-known star of the Victorian melodrama, Maria Marten, who has craftily managed to distance herself from her rather less attractive factual biography. Another person whom history has treated too kindly is Dick Turpin who hardly warrants the place on the pantomime stage he has been given for two centuries. All of the characters here are closely associated with specific places in East Anglia so there will be plenty of towns and villages to explore in search of them after the talk. There will be other characters mentioned during the evening but they must remain a surprise!

MORE CHARACTERS OF EAST ANGLIA

Including Margaret Catchpole and the Rector of Stiffkey

Following his successful series of word portraits of East Anglian characters Mark Mitchels has put together a further series of people who have made their mark on history. These include Harold Davidson who was, for a brief time, on the front page of every newspaper as the infamous Rector of Stiffkey, the man who left his quiet Norfolk parish every Monday to spend his week among the prostitutes of London. His decline and fall were inevitable but still no cause for rejoicing. There is also Hervey of Ickworth who richly merits his description as an English eccentric. Margaret Catchpole occupies a unique place in Suffolk legend. There would seem to be few places where she did not work or visit! The story of her love for Will Laud continues to inspire and entertain coachloads of tourists. There may be more Characters in the programme too so the chronicle of the good (and the not so good) continues.

YET MORE CHARACTERS OF EAST ANGLIA

More East Anglians who have made their mark

Henry Blogg, Coxswain of the Cromer Lifeboat was described as “one of the bravest men who ever lived”. He served through two world wars, and over the years he saved an incredible 873 lives! He was awarded 3 Gold Medals by the RNLI, and the George Cross. Yet this shy Norfolk crab fisherman refused to talk about his achievements and it was left to others to appreciate his heroism and skill. On a lighter note this collection of biographies will include a Suffolk miser and two Norfolk teachers who provoked the longest strike in history. And that just leaves Samuel Pepys whose family came from Brampton near Huntingdon.

THE LOST CITY OF DUNWICH

The story of a great East Anglian city which now lies beneath the North Sea

No one can stand on the cliffs of Dunwich and not wonder about the city which is now more than a mile out below the North Sea. At the time of Domesday Book Dunwich was spoken of as the tenth largest city in England. Since it began to crumble and fall into the waves, the Lost City has engrossed both historians and visitors. This lecture describes the story of a city as fascinating and elusive as El Dorado - and just as exciting. The rise and fall of any human creation speaks to all of us in a common language, because it calls upon our shared fears, but the decline of Dunwich assumes an almost Biblical dimension in that it truly demonstrates that Pride does indeed come before a Fall. And still the North Sea advances, grasping the retreating land.

 
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HORATIO, LORD NELSON

The life and career of England’s greatest naval commander and a legend in his lifetime

Horatio Nelson is still acknowledged to be the greatest maritime hero of this island nation. What did he do to make him so important? What was he like? Is it time to reassess his reputation? This lecture provides a brief account of the life and times of Nelson, but it also examines the other Nelson - a man whose arrogance and contempt for conventional morality made him many enemies and the object of ridicule. Above everything else there is his leadership of men at sea, and no serious challenge has undermined his right to be considered a genius at his trade.

TWO SUFFOLK ARTISTS

Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable

Throughout the world the work of these two artists offers a view of England which is still largely unchallenged. Their paintings adorn the walls of the world’s finest galleries, but they also are instantly familiar to us through a host of reproductions. For generations they have defined what we mean by the term masterpiece. Both artists had a clear sense of purpose, and they both had to overcome considerable obstacles before they could be accepted by their peers. Gainsborough rose to become the portrait painter of high society, including the court of George lll, but he only ever wanted to paint the Suffolk countryside. Constable chose to paint the subjects which interested him, even if the public did not share his enthusiasm for landscapes and rustic scenes. His determination to paint as he wished ensured that he remained relatively poor and neglected, and his attitude towards the art and artists of his age was based on painful experience! This lecture does more than just tell the story of their lives, it also provides a gallery of their finest work.

THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY

The events of the year 1066 - the Year of the Three Kings

1066 is sometimes referred to as the Year of the Three Kings, and Edward the Confessor, Harold and William all had a part to play in the drama of that famous date! What is not so often explored is just how delicate the balance was between the Saxon and Norman claims, and how much of a contribution was made by sheer luck. When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066 he became king of a rich and sophisticated country. The Bayeux Tapestry is a unique record of his invasion preparations and of the battle which brought him success. It tells us a great deal about Anglo-Saxons and Normans, and is astonishingly faithful to the historical evidence which survives. It is a document of unparalleled importance, but is also an art treasure of wonderful complexity and beauty. This talk provides a background to the events of 1066, and includes a detailed view of the entire tapestry, including the contentious issues - who commissioned it and why was it made?

 
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ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

The fascinating life of the great Victorian poet

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a popular poet. He wrote for the people and understood what they wanted. We know him for his poetic celebrations of great events and for his beautiful forays into Arthurian legend, but there was more to him than that. He was often at odds with the society he has come to symbolize, and his private life was far from the idyll we might expect. He had a high opinion of his work, and could stretch hospitality to the limits when he insisted on reading aloud his long poems in full! This illustrated talk tells the story of Tennyson’s life and work, against a background of public expectation. What emerges is a poet who at his best was a genius.

THE SUFFOLK COASTLINE

From Corton in the north to the River Orwell

From Corton in the north to the port of Ipswich over 40 miles to the south, the Suffolk Coast is still largely unknown to even East Anglians. A glance at a map supplies part of the answer - there is no coast road, and so the impact of modern transport has been minimized. Walking is still the best, and sometimes the only way, to explore this region. This illustrated talk includes the popular resorts of Lowestoft, Southwold and Felixstowe, and the historic towns of Aldeburgh, Orford and Woodbridge with their lovely rivers Alde, Ore and Deben. But between these places are miles of sea shore and glorious deserted spaces. The story of the lost city of Dunwich provides a sobering example of how threatened this coastline is by the ravages of the sea and eternal erosion. But there are wonderful, secret places still to be enjoyed, and this talk might set you off in pursuit of them!

HADRIAN'S WALL

Rome’s Northern frontier: how it was built and used by the Roman army

The Roman Wall built by the Emperor Hadrian two thousand years ago continues to impress both scholars and tourists. It stretches for 80 miles across some of the most beautiful scenery in England, and is without equal in Europe. Recently it was granted the distinction of becoming a World Heritage Monument. It is a major tourist attraction. The Romans had once conquered Scotland but they were unwilling to allocate sufficient troops to garrison such a vast area, so they withdrew, and instead marked off their territory with a great wall. To hold such a defensive line required thousands of men in an assortment of forts and supply bases. What is extraordinary is how much of the fortification remains. The Hadrian’s Wall Walk, opened in 2003, finally allowed enthusiasts to trace the course of the entire length. Anyone standing beside even the briefest stretch of wall wants to know the answers to several questions: How did it come to be built, and why? How did it function, and why was it abandoned? This illustrated lecture will answer all these questions, and place the Wall in the context of Britain as a Roman province.

THE TALE OF BEATRIX POTTER

The story of a remarkable children’s author who did more than create Peter Rabbit

The stories of Beatrix Potter have delighted generations of children. Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and the Tailor of Gloucester are just three of the magical creations from her pen. But what sort of woman was she? How did she become successful and famous? How did she respond to her wealth and fame? Beatrix Potter came from the most comfortable and conformist of Victorian families. Her determination to break out of her mould caused her to be something of a rebel, and she provides a fascinating insight on the place of women in her time. Even more interesting is how she responded to success, particularly how she used her fortune. The story of Peter Rabbit is a very small part of her appeal for us as we meet a formidable woman, who happened to be a popular children’s author too!

THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH

The history of the English Bible from earliest translations to the King James Version

The King James Version of the English Bible is accepted as one of the greatest books in our history. It not only provided the form of religious belief for generations of English-speaking people, but it shaped the language we all speak. But how was this Bible created? Who were the people responsible for the words we all know and love? This talk explores the story of how the Bible was translated by William Tyndale and his successors. It is unkindly observed that nothing good was ever created by a committee, but that is how the King James Bible came into the world. Fifty men, of very different temperaments and backgrounds, achieved far more than the sum of their individual talents: they produced a work of perfection.

 
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OLIVER CROMWELL

He went from farmer to Lord Protector in a decade and changed England for ever

Until his involvement in the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell had no experience as a soldier, let alone as a general of a vast, recognizably modern army. Yet within a couple of years he had created a ruthless, efficient force which destroyed all opposition. He was sustained by his unyielding faith in God and his Destiny, and shunned the trappings of wealth and power. Even today opinions are sharply divided on the merits of this extraordinary man. He was even offered the Crown of England, but he refused it, hoping to retire to his beloved Fenland.

SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE

Play-going in Shakespeare’s London -
what was it like to be in the audience?

What was it like to attend a performance in the Globe Theatre in the early 17th century? This illustrated talk describes the experience of play-going for ordinary Londoners. Forget all about examination texts and the library shelves sagging beneath the weight of scholarly criticism, instead ask: why did thousands of people enjoy the plays as presented on stage? What was it about the drama that attracted almost every level of London society from the Court to the illiterate whore? To appreciate the genius of Shakespeare it is essential we understand how the plays worked on the stage of their time. Only with the opening of the New Globe Theatre has it been possible to enjoy almost the whole experience of theatre-going as it might have been enjoyed by an Elizabethan.

CLASSIC CHILDREN'S AUTHORS

The stories behind some of the best books

ever written for children (not illustrated)

The books we read as children play an enormous part in our lives. Not only can they create a love of books and reading, but they shape the world for us. The books written by the late Victorians for their children have stood the test of time, and remain as famous and popular as ever. The writers led interesting lives too, and in the case of the authors presented here, their inspiration was often closer to their work than we suppose! In this talk we meet Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island), Edith Nesbit (The Railway Children), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows) and Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden). This talk is not illustrated with slides, although there are extracts from the books.

THE PASTON LETTERS

The personal letters of a 15th century Norfolk

family living through times of hardship and war

(not illustrated)

This is perhaps the first ”soap” of them all, and it remains the best! Margaret and John Paston lived in Norfolk in the 15th century, and experienced at first hand the horrors of the Wars of the Roses. They were frequently attacked by their neighbours and all the time they worried about the things which concern all families - education, fashion, marriage and most of all - each other!  There are moments of tenderness and anger, frustration and despair. The women in the letters are powerful and without fear, challenging an entire shelf of inherited stereotypes. Mark Mitchels reads extracts from scores of the Letters telling the story of this remarkable family.

 
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THE RIVER DEBEN

An armchair voyage down one of East Anglia’s most beautiful rivers

The rivers were the old highways of England, and along their banks stood the towns and villages which form the earliest settlements in our history. The River Deben in Suffolk is one of the most perfect and beautiful rivers in all England. Incredibly, it winds almost 20 miles to the sea through rich farming country, passing pretty villages and farms and yet it is clean and unspoiled. During the Anglo-Saxon period it enjoyed a brief moment of distinction when it brought ships to the court of King Raedwald at Rendlesham. Some idea of his magnificence can be appreciated from the finds in his grave at Sutton Hoo. A journey down the Deben is a journey through history, showing how the landscape changed to support the needs of the people. There were enormous changes but a constant is the tranquility and peace which this lovely river both provides and inspires.

MOZART: A LIFE IN MUSIC

The story of a genius through his own words and wonderful music

(illustrated and features music extracts)

Mozart’s music has never been more popular and each generation appropriates his story for their own purposes. He has endured the portrait of a pretty child displaying his musical talents before finely dressed aristocratic audiences. He has found a new public in popular perception as the foul-mouthed rebel who had to fight and suffer to achieve anything, and who finally died in obscurity and poverty. But these portraits of him are superficial and detract from his extraordinary biography. Mozart was a genius, but he also lived in the real world and wrote his music to earn money! This lecture places Mozart in the musical life of Salzburg and Vienna and shows how he produced his music and won the hearts of many of his contemporaries, especially Haydn. Throughout, there is the music he composed and the comments of his fellow musicians.

THE GENIUS OF CHARLES DICKENS

The secrets behind the life and work of the popular novelist

No other 19th century novelist set himself such a challenge: Dickens rose to become a great novelist by sheer talent and determination. He mastered the most demanding form of writing - the magazine episode - and then went on to create another career for himself as a spell-binding performer of his own work before audiences in Britain and America. He worked to a self-imposed schedule that never relaxed, and in the end he probably brought about his early death. But the novels survive, to be rediscovered by each generation. His creations continue to hold our attention - Pickwick, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Scrooge, Miss Havisham, - the list goes on. In a very important way he continues to define the Victorian Age for us. What sort of man was he? Nothing in his life was wasted - everything was used in his books. He had his faults, and his private life shows a less attractive side to him. His genius is astonishing, and this talk uses his biography and extracts from his books to recreate the man and his achievement.

 
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THE SUTTON HOO SHIP BURIAL

The greatest treasure ever found on English soil, and a Royal tomb as well!

In 1939 Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner of the Sutton Hoo estate, decided to excavate the mounds which overlooked the River Deben. She employed a Suffolk man, Basil Brown, and by the end of that summer Britain had a discovery of international importance, the British Museum had a collection of treasure which for both beauty and value has never been exceeded and the historians had a completely new view of our ancestors - the Anglo Saxons. The site has been described as ‘Page One of English history’. This illustrated lecture tells the story of the excavation and attempts to recreate the moment when a remarkable people sent their leader on his final voyage. Sutton Hoo is now one of the National Trust’s most successful tourist attractions, and people are curious to know what happened in what are lazily called the Dark Ages. This talk hopes to shed a shaft of light!

 

EDWARD FITZGERALD

An eccentric Victorian country gentleman and his classic translation of a Persian poem

Edward Fitzgerald is best known to literature as the translator of a famous Persian poem, but there is more to him than a single book. He was a gentleman in an age when it was not necessary for him to work, and he lived the life of ease, reading books, sailing the Suffolk rivers he adored, and entertaining a select group of Woodbridge intellectuals whom he jokingly described as the ‘wits’. This is a fascinating portrait of just how agreeable life could be in rural parts if you were rich and cultured. The wit and society of Ed Fitz captivated his contemporaries and may even embrace a modern audience too!

ELIZABETH GARRETT ANDERSON

The story of the Aldeburgh woman who, against the odds,
became a doctor, then established a hospital, and
ended up Mayor of the town

Women in the 19th century were expected to say nothing, look decorous and leave decision making to their husbands! But a young girl in Aldeburgh would upset this tradition and begin a revolution which today is taken for granted. Elizabeth Garrett wanted to become a doctor. When she was refused admission to medical school she studied on her own and gradually acquired the qualifications. She completed her course in Paris, and returned to England as the only woman doctor. Then she established a dispensary and hospital for women in London. Next she founded a medical school for the next generation of women doctors and when she retired she was elected Mayor of Aldeburgh - another first! This is an extraordinary story of a wonderful woman.

CRIPPEN

The story behind a legendarily bad murder: he killed his wife and then bungled almost every detail of the events which followed

Although Hawley Harvey Crippen murdered his wife over a century ago, it remains one of the most famous and fascinating cases in criminal history. The story of the man who suffered at the hands of a bullying, abusive wife while finding moments of consolation with his quiet and adoring secretary is well known. In1910 the filleted, incomplete body of Cora Crippen was found beneath the cellar floor of their London house. He was always going to be the only suspect. But Crippen and his sweetheart Ethel LeNeve were so hopeless at crime that they made every mistake possible and their eventual appearance in the Old Bailey Criminal Court was inevitable. This is the story of that marriage and the events which followed its collapse. As is so often the case, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

JOHN CLARE

The sad story of a poet who adored the English
landscape and captured his pleasure in beautiful verse

When in 1860 Palgrave compiled his famous Treasury of Poetry he described Tennyson and Clare as the greatest living poets.  While the former died loved, exalted and rich, it was Clare’s misfortune to fit the public image of a Romantic poet: he was neglected, sick and he died penniless in an asylum. But he wrote poetry which speaks to us across the years of the beauty to be found in the English landscape. He fought every attempt to destroy the fields and woodland of his beloved Northamptonshire. Although his life can appear to be a terrible waste, he loved living it, and celebrated the hundreds of moments when he enjoyed the minutiae of the world around him. This is a sad biography, but his legacy is so wonderful that we are all in his debt.

 
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BLACK IVORY

The story of the Slave Trade and Great Britain’s part in bringing it to an end

For hundreds of years Britain played a key part in the slave trade, carrying native Africans across the Atlantic, and then exploiting their forced labour on plantations. Hardly any aspect of English life was unaffected by the fact of slavery, from the rich man using his wealth to build a grand house on his newly purchased estate, to the common people who could not get enough sugar for their drink! The campaign to abolish slavery had to begin by showing the English people that the trade was wrong. Gradually Parliament made changes to the law, but for a century the fight lasted. Wilberforce is the name most associated with the struggle but there were many others. This talk celebrates the unknown people who together changed history - for good!

TALES OF KING ARTHUR

The Arthurian Legends comprise one of the world’s great stories, telling of King Arthur, Excalibur, the Round Table and Merlin (not illustrated)

Leaving aside the questions about whether there ever was a King Arthur, let alone where and when he lived, the story of the Once and Future King has fascinated listeners for over a thousand years. It is a truly European epic, drawing many of its finest details from French medieval literature. Thomas Malory in the 15th century gave it a perfect form and language, and yet his achievement was not to invent, but to organize and edit. This talk is all about narrative - the tale of how Arthur became king, formed the Knights of the Round Table, used Excalibur to create his kingdom and took Guinevere as his queen. Here too is the story of the Holy Grail. Finally Lancelot and Mordred destroy the fellowship of the Round Table and Arthur is carried into legend. A great story, and worth hearing again.

AND DID THOSE FEET?

The story of William Blake’s Jerusalem

(not illustrated)

The idea that Jesus as a young boy, came to England in the company of Joseph of Arimathea, is not new. The legends of King Arthur and Glastonbury are full of references to the implications of the extraordinary idea. William Blake, poet and mystic, was captivated by the vision of England as a perfect land, fit to be visited by the Saviour. The poem 'Jerusalem' appears in the introduction to a longer work, Milton, and within a century it had achieved a life of its own. Many people have read all sorts of messages in its lines but no one can claim to have reached the entire truth. The addition of stirring music by Parry in the late 19th century ensured that this poem would have a place in the national psyche, and whether it is heard at the Last Night of the Proms, a Women’s Institute meeting or Twickenham it never fails to move and inspire. For many people this is England’s Other National Anthem.

THE FIND OF A LIFETIME

The exciting stories behind the discovery of buried treasures in East Anglia:  Snettisham, Mildenhall, Hoxne, Sutton Hoo and more

Stories of buried treasure are always popular. Since earliest times East Anglia has been a rich region of England and over the centuries treasure has been buried there for all sorts of reasons - to confound invaders, to accompany a hero into the afterlife, or simply by accident! Here are tales of exciting discoveries in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Of course many are worth fabulous sums of money, but they are also beautiful objects and fascinating historical “artefacts”.

SUFFOLK: A PORTRAIT

Evocative pictures of this beautiful county throughout the seasons, with English music and verse

Suffolk is a beautiful county which has inspired many artists, writers and musicians. Its quiet market towns, pretty villages and wide skies are a source of great pleasure in these busy times. This celebration of the Suffolk landscape encompasses the coast, rivers, farming scenes and historical locations throughout the year, from spring flowers, harvest fields to snowy wastes! The many hundreds of photographs by Mark Mitchels (some familiar from his published books) are accompanied by English music by the most popular and loved composers. Throughout, Mark reads appropriate extracts from poems in praise of the countryside in all its moods.

 
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EDWARD THOMAS AND ADLESTROP

The story of a poet and his much-loved poem

Edward Thomas worked to an exhausting schedule for most of his life, reviewing other people’s poetry, and writing travel books. It was the American poet Robert Frost who suggested to him that he should write poetry, and from that moment Thomas found his voice. His poem Adlestrop perfectly illustrates his gift of being able to create an entire experience in a few words.  Thomas enlisted in the army when the First World War began and was killed in 1917, leaving fewer than 200 poems, nearly all of them unpublished. This talk provides a biography of Edward Thomas, showing how troubled he was by feelings of guilt and inadequacy which stayed with him to the end.

LANDMARKS IN MOVIE HISTORY

How the movies were invented and changed the world (lasts about 90 minutes and is illustrated by many famous movie clips)

The movies have been described as the greatest invention for happiness in history! Perhaps that is a bit strong, but they have changed the world we live in. The movies began in the last years of the 19th century, and were a step on from the invention of photography. The French took the lead and through their first films the Lumiere Brothers earned their place in history. The First World War caused European film-makers to surrender the lead to America, and the Hollywood story had begun. The lecture includes clips from the earliest films made, and goes through the silent era and the birth of talkies, and the invention of colour. Here are all the wonderful films of the golden age of the movies and by the end there will not be a dry eye in the house!

THE CRETINGHAM MURDER MYSTERY

Murder most violent in a 19th century Suffolk village (not illustrated)

In October 1887 the vicar of the pretty Suffolk village of Cretingham had his throat cut by his curate! The vicar’s wife was the only witness to the deed, and her part in the whole business has fascinated all who have delved into these murky depths of village life, long ago. The inquest and trial which followed were covered by the local and national newspapers with an enthusiasm bordering on delight. The inquest took place in The Bell Inn the next day and a detailed record of the occasion survives. In many ways this was the most dramatic moment in the story. Accordingly, Mark Mitchels recreates the cross-examinations which took place that morning, while the events were barely a day old. It is a grim story which continues to divide opinion. He pursues the case to its final sad verdict. As in all the best whodunnits, we shall never know what really happened, but that does not stop us from reaching a conclusion!

 
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A CHRISTMAS MISCELLANY

A celebration of all things to do with Christmas

(not illustrated)

Christmas is the time of the year for anthologies, and here is a collection of some of the best material to be found, all performed with the gusto that they deserve. Of course there are wonderful moments from Dickens and other classic writers, but here too are the poems and stories which have become much-loved features of the festive season. Favourite carols and traditions are also explained, providing a thoroughly entertaining journey. There will be laughter, of course, but there could be tears, too.

 

THE STORY OF THE ALDEBURGH FESTIVAL

A Suffolk music festival which is famous worldwide

When Benjamin Britten and his friends began the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 they can hardly have expected it to survive them, let alone go from strength to strength. But now it is not just a key diary event in British cultural life, but across the world it is known and loved. When it began it was hoped it would celebrate contemporary music and that inevitably included the works of Britten, but never to the detriment of others. Mark Mitchels tells how the Festival came into existence and compares the carefree times of the early years with the performances of today. But this is not only about music but about people. His talk includes many amusing anecdotes showing how eccentric festival goers can be! The conversion of Snape Maltings signalled a profound change in the nature of the Festival which some concert-goers found hard to accept, but now it is all forgotten – at least until you hear this talk!

RULE BRITANNIA

The transformation of the Royal Navy in the 19th Century

The Royal Navy in the years following Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar [1805] was without rivals. For decades it controlled the world’s seaways and made them safe from pirates, slavers and all manner of threats to trade. But the 19th century witnessed profound changes in all aspects of naval life: sail gave way to steam; the wooden walls were replaced with iron and steel; the mighty broadside of muzzle-loading guns firing round shot became the turret-guns sending shells miles across the water. And there were torpedoes, submarines and aircraft to be understood. Manning the fleet was also transformed as technology required a new type of officer and rating. This is a fascinating story of a great and trusted object of national pride at a time of unprecedented change. When in 1914 the navy was again at war the public expectation was enormous – would the fleet prove worthy of its reputation?

PARSON WOODFORDE'S DIARY

The diary of an 18th century country parson

In one sense James Woodforde did nothing of interest during his 44 years as a country parson in the second half of the 18th century. But that’s exactly what makes him so interesting to us today. He tells us about the Norfolk parish of Weston Longville, its people, the seasons they shared and the world they lived in. There are dramatic events, country rituals, constant human dilemmas and throughout there is a touching portrait of a man who always tried to live to the highest moral standards, except when the smugglers left a barrel of gin at his door! This talk will provide an introduction to this marvellous diary and the extraordinary country parson who kept it.

A HISTORY OF THE SUFFOLK LANDSCAPE

The evolution of the county we know today

For many people the Suffolk landscape is the landscape of England – passed down to us through the paintings of John Constable. But the Stour he painted has lock gates, a sure sign of Man’s intervention! So it is with almost everything we see in Suffolk: the landscape has been moulded to suit the times and each century has left us things we value today. The wonderful churches of the medieval period, the delightful wool towns and the rich, rolling fields are all products of their time and we now regard them as valuable tourist attractions. This illustrated talk will examine the changes which have occurred in Suffolk across the centuries and show the ways in which they have left their mark on the county today.

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE EAST ANGLIAN HERRING

From triumph to disaster in half a century

They were known as the Silver Darlings and for centuries the herring provided a way of life for the ports which fished the North Sea. Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft were perfectly placed to exploit the harvest of the sea once the railways made it possible to supply the cities with all the fish they required. For decades entire communities thrived during the herring season, accepting the hard work and danger which came with them. Almost as famous as the crews themselves were the Scottish fisher girls who followed the shoals and produced barrels of salted herring, kippers and bloaters which were loved around the world. But in time the herring stocks were exhausted and now only photographs give us an idea of the industry at its prime.

 
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THE HISTORY OF A MEDIEVAL PARISH CHURCH

From St Augustine to Queen Elizabeth (not illustrated)

There are thousands of medieval churches in England, and they all have their unique story. But for all of them there are shared experiences: the Faith they celebrated; the Seasons of the Church’s Year; the clergy and their congregations; and the buildings and churchyards themselves. What was it like to enter a medieval parish church? How did people use them and how important were they to their communities? And what happened to English parish churches during the Reformation in the 16th century? How much of the past really survives in our present buildings? This talk hopes to provide answers to these and other questions, while celebrating the heritage we enjoy.

BENJAMIN BRITTEN - A SUFFOLK COMPOSER

His life and work

Britten was born in Suffolk and on his own admission never wanted to leave. It gave him the inspiration for many of his finest works. In 1948 with the creation of the Aldeburgh Festival he began an annual series of concerts in Suffolk which continue to this day, and have achieved world-wide fame both for their excellence and their unique character.  His own story is exceptional: from the age of 5 he was composing, and by 17 he was winning prizes at the Royal College of Music. His opera Peter Grimes marked the arrival of a major international talent and for the rest of his life he was hailed as the finest British composer. He became a life peer in 1976, just months before his death in Aldeburgh.

THOMAS SECKFORD: LIFE AND LEGACY

The extraordinary story of a Tudor benefactor

When Master Thomas Seckford died in 1587 he was known as a distinguished judge and a loyal servant to Queen Elizabeth 1. He could so easily have faded from history as one of those people whose name only matters to serious scholars of history’s hidden corners! But Seckford left behind him a legacy which not only ensures his name is known and revered, but to this day continues to improve the lives of people he could never have imagined being in his debt. He provided money for an Almshouse in Woodbridge, Suffolk which was to endure and grow until it encompassed a School, Library, Hospital and many other things which enrich the lives of the townspeople to this day. Wherever you look his legacy remains and his desire to leave good works behind him has been triumphantly achieved.

 
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SIR EDWARD ELGAR - A LIFE IN MUSIC

The story of a composer who is regarded as a national treasure (accompanied by music)

The story of Elgar’s life would seem to embody our dream of a composer: from very humble beginnings in Worcester, where his father ran a music shop, his exceptional talent took him to the heights of English society including a knighthood, the Order of Merit and finally a peerage. His music spoke directly to the public who loved its grandeur, pathos and sense of place. He was a patriotic composer who was proud of his melodies. But throughout his life Elgar was troubled by doubt, resentment and insecurity. He was not always an easy man to like. Only his wife remained beside him throughout his career, constantly providing encouragement and reassurance. Elgar was far from the simple hero we like to suppose, but that makes him much more interesting. Astonishingly, he believed that his music would die with him!

 

THE ROYAL NAVY IN WORLD WAR I

How the Royal Navy helped to ensure victory in the Great War

For most British people the First World War conjures up images of soldiers suffering in the trenches of the Western Front. The Royal Navy would appear to have done little to contribute to the victory, as there were few naval battles, and the most famous, Jutland, was hardly the glorious triumph expected from the heirs of Nelson. But Germany was starved into surrender by the Royal Navy’s blockade of the homeland and the destruction of its U-Boats. Once again the Royal Navy had fulfilled its traditional role: it had kept the trade routes open for itself, while depriving the enemy of the freedom of the seas. This is a story which deserves to be told, if only to correct the imbalance created by the intervening century.

SIR EDWARD ELGAR - A LIFE IN MUSIC

The story of a composer who is regarded as a national treasure (accompanied by music)

The story of Elgar’s life would seem to embody our dream of a composer: from very humble beginnings in Worcester, where his father ran a music shop, his exceptional talent took him to the heights of English society including a knighthood, the Order of Merit and finally a peerage. His music spoke directly to the public who loved its grandeur, pathos and sense of place. He was a patriotic composer who was proud of his melodies. But throughout his life Elgar was troubled by doubt, resentment and insecurity. He was not always an easy man to like. Only his wife remained beside him throughout his career, constantly providing encouragement and reassurance. Elgar was far from the simple hero we like to suppose, but that makes him much more interesting. Astonishingly, he believed that his music would die with him!

MAGNA CARTA

The inspiration of liberty

Hardly a day goes by without someone appealing to Magna Carta to set right a wicked wrong. But our confidence that the document of 1215 will restore justice and happiness to the land is entirely misplaced! The story of why King John allowed some of his rebellious barons to restrict his power (albeit only for a few weeks) is worth telling, both because it is a good story, and because it shows how we have accepted the legend over historical fact. Magna Carta went through several versions over many decades and only at the end of this period of re-drafting did it lend itself to supporters of freedom and justice for all throughout the English-speaking world. It’s not what it says that matters – it’s what we think it says!

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON

"The man who saved the world"

Arthur Wellesley became a soldier because his family could not think of anything else he could do. After success in India he returned to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, and transformed the fortunes of the British military during the Peninsula Campaign. His reputation was built on his extraordinary grasp of logistical detail and determination to offer battle only when he could win! In 1814 he played a major part in securing the abdication of Napoleon, but when the Emperor returned a year later at the head of a great army, it was the Tsar of Russia who told the Duke of Wellington, “It is for you to save the world again.” At the Battle of Waterloo the Allies faced a formidable enemy and the outcome was described as “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” but it was a victory and Europe sent Napoleon to exile and death on St Helena. Unlike his opponent, Wellington did not want his troops’ adoration, just their respect. He got it because it was so richly deserved.

THE MARY ROSE

The Life and Loss of a Tudor Warship

The Mary Rose is famous for sinking in 1545, and for being raised from the depths of the Solent in 1982. Now she is brilliantly displayed in a purpose-built museum in Portsmouth, where she is admired by millions of visitors. But there is more to her story than her dramatic loss in battle. Mary Rose was built in the first year of Henry Vlll’s reign and she represents the first modern warship possessing a gun deck for the cannon which were about to transform naval warfare. This is the story of her life, and her discovery centuries later.

 
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JOHN CHURCHILL, FIRST DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH

The General who gave his Queen “A Glorious Victory”

John Churchill, the lst Duke of Marlborough is considered to be England’s finest general. Even the Duke of Wellington acknowledged his supremacy. Churchill is famous for winning the great victory at Blenheim for which he was rewarded by a grateful nation with a palace in the Oxfordshire countryside. He began his career in the royal bedrooms of Charles ll where his handsome features and willingness to oblige his mistresses soon translated into rapid promotion in the army, where he acquired a reputation as a brave and clever soldier. The friendship of his wife Sarah with Queen Anne was an enormous advantage but with the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702 Europe came to accept that the English army under Churchill was the finest on the continent. His final years were miserable: rejected by his Queen and her government he spent some time in exile before returning to the half-built Blenheim Palace where he could reflect on how easily power could be given and withdrawn.

SAMUEL PEPYS

And the making of the Royal Navy

Samuel Pepys has left us a diary which is justly famous: it gives us a view of 17th century England at the time of the Restoration in 1660. So many of the entries are quoted – plague, Fire of London, theatre performances, lustful dalliances and so on, that it is easy to ignore Pepys’ life after 1669 when he closed the diary. But he achieved far more in his lifetime than just entertain us with his day to day reflections. He could be said to have created the Royal Navy and set it on course to dominate the seas in the centuries after his death in 1703. He was appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board in 1660 and confessed he knew nothing about ships, sailors or ship-building, but he was determined to learn, and from that time he became the expert on every detail of naval administration. He struggled to eradicate corrupt practices in ships and dockyards (allowing himself some leeway when they could affect his personal circumstances!) and put in place measures to ensure naval officers were suitably qualified. And all while England was at war with the Dutch. This talk celebrates Samuel Pepys the Diarist – and the creator of the modern Royal Navy.

 
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CLASSIC COMIC NOVELS

A celebration of English humour in print (not illustrated)

If you made a list of the great works of literature in English it’s a fair bet not one of them would be a comedy. And yet comic writing is perhaps the most difficult of all. Unlike the others – romance, crime, thrillers and so on, the individual readers impose their own taste. Sadly, the writers of this most demanding form are frequently ignored when prizes and honours are being distributed. But as we all know, there are few more satisfying experiences than reading a thoroughly amusing book – the sort that has you in uncontrollable fits of laughter even in a public space. There have been many comic classics written in the last century, and tastes are always changing, but some titles just keep on going, delighting generation after generation. I’ve taken a few of the very best and I hope you approve of my choice. To whet your appetite – Three Men in a Boat; Right Ho, Jeeves and Cold Comfort Farm, and there are more!

THE SWEDISH WARSHIP VASA

Lost in the 17th century and found in the 20th

On 10th August 1628 the Swedish flagship Vasa moved away from the quayside in Stockholm on her maiden voyage. Just over 1,000 metres from her departure point she was caught by a gust of wind which caused her to heel over. To the astonishment of the watching crowds Vasa did not recover, but slipped beneath the waves. Soon only the mast-heads remained visible. It was a catastrophic and humiliating loss for the entire Swedish people.
In 1961 Vasa was brought back to the surface and is now on display in a purpose-built museum just metres from the place where she sank. Incredibly, almost 98% of her timber remained and she has been restored to her sailing condition. Today it is Sweden’s main tourist attraction with a million visitors a year. This is the story of the Vasa from construction to its extraordinary recovery and magnificent display.

 
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DICKENS AND SCROOGE

The writing of a classic Christmas story

(not illustrated)

A Christmas Carol is one of the most popular books written by Charles Dickens. He wrote it in 1843 and within days it was a best seller. But where did he get the ideas and how was Christmas celebrated at this time? The story of Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit is about rich and poor in London and Dickens was concerned to show how dangerous it was for society to ignore those who struggled to survive. Christmas Carol is not a religious work, indeed it is accused of creating a secular version of the festival. Once the book was on every person’s bookshelf Dickens decided to exploit his popularity – and improve his bank balance – by giving readings to audiences of up to 3,000 people. The reaction was sensational, with one critic exclaiming: “Mr Dickens is the greatest reader of the greatest writer of the age.”  And of course this talk includes extracts from this wonderful classic.

MATTHEW HOPKINS - THE WITCH-FINDER GENERAL

An East Anglian horror story

All of us have at times wished that we lived in an earlier period of history, avoiding the pressures and complexities of modern life. Well, the story of the Witch-Finder-General should help to squash that particular fantasy. During the English Civil Wars, in 1645, Matthew Hopkins travelled throughout East Anglia identifying those women (and some men) whom he declared to be witches. It was an age when faith and superstition were dangerously close together and communities readily turned against those who were in any way different or troublesome. Hopkins caused the deaths of over a hundred people – all of them innocent – and destroyed the lives of hundreds more. And to this day there are no accurate records to even give us the names of these victims of ignorance and bitterness. Incredibly, he wreaked his misery in the space of just two years. This is a sad and distressing story but it deserves to be told. To live in the 21st century suddenly seems to be a piece of good fortune!

HENRY V AND THE BATTLE OF AGINCOURT

The true story of a famous battle

Without Shakespeare’s play, the story of Henry V and the battle of Agincourt would probably be confined to university libraries and battlefield enthusiasts. In the great sweep of our national history it was soon forgotten - justly so. It achieved very little and the failure of the subsequent English campaigns in France can be said to have produced the chaos and pain of the so-called Wars of the Roses a generation later. The Bard was writing 184 years after the events he describes, and his sources were dubious to say the least. However he did create a national epic which occupies a place in patriotic English hearts that has never diminished. So what actually took place on the field of Agincourt on Friday, 25th of October 1415? That’s what I hope to tell you!

 
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DICKENS AND SCROOGE

The writing of a classic Christmas story

(not illustrated)

A Christmas Carol is one of the most popular books written by Charles Dickens. He wrote it in 1843 and within days it was a best seller. But where did he get the ideas and how was Christmas celebrated at this time? The story of Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit is about rich and poor in London and Dickens was concerned to show how dangerous it was for society to ignore those who struggled to survive. Christmas Carol is not a religious work, indeed it is accused of creating a secular version of the festival. Once the book was on every person’s bookshelf Dickens decided to exploit his popularity – and improve his bank balance – by giving readings to audiences of up to 3,000 people. The reaction was sensational, with one critic exclaiming: “Mr Dickens is the greatest reader of the greatest writer of the age.”  And of course this talk includes extracts from this wonderful classic.

MATTHEW HOPKINS - THE WITCH-FINDER GENERAL

An East Anglian horror story

All of us have at times wished that we lived in an earlier period of history, avoiding the pressures and complexities of modern life. Well, the story of the Witch-Finder-General should help to squash that particular fantasy. During the English Civil Wars, in 1645, Matthew Hopkins travelled throughout East Anglia identifying those women (and some men) whom he declared to be witches. It was an age when faith and superstition were dangerously close together and communities readily turned against those who were in any way different or troublesome. Hopkins caused the deaths of over a hundred people – all of them innocent – and destroyed the lives of hundreds more. And to this day there are no accurate records to even give us the names of these victims of ignorance and bitterness. Incredibly, he wreaked his misery in the space of just two years. This is a sad and distressing story but it deserves to be told. To live in the 21st century suddenly seems to be a piece of good fortune!

HENRY V AND THE BATTLE OF AGINCOURT

The true story of a famous battle

Without Shakespeare’s play, the story of Henry V and the battle of Agincourt would probably be confined to university libraries and battlefield enthusiasts. In the great sweep of our national history it was soon forgotten - justly so. It achieved very little and the failure of the subsequent English campaigns in France can be said to have produced the chaos and pain of the so-called Wars of the Roses a generation later. The Bard was writing 184 years after the events he describes, and his sources were dubious to say the least. However he did create a national epic which occupies a place in patriotic English hearts which has never diminished. So what actually took place on the field of Agincourt on Friday, 25th of October 1415? That’s what I hope to tell you!

CARDINAL THOMAS WOLSEY

The Ipswich man known as “alter rex” – the other king

Although Wolsey rose from being the son of an Ipswich butcher to become Lord Chancellor and Chief Minister of King Henry VIII his career is perceived to be a failure. This is most unfair: he served his sovereign for two decades and in that time advanced England’s reputation both at home and abroad. However, when the king wanted to change his wife Wolsey was caught between impossible demands as both councillor and cleric. Once his fall from power was inevitable only those who had reason to fear or resent him would be heard – and their voices have dominated his story. It’s time the other side of Wolsey’s life story was told, and while far from perfect he deserves credit for his contribution to Henry’s early years – not least saving him from all the mistakes he made thereafter!