NB - the meeting planned for 6 April 2020 has been cancelled

Last Meeting - 9 March 2020 - Understanding Russia Today

Michael Blackwell gave a thought-provoking talk on the subject of understanding Russia today. 

Whilst Russia has a rich cultural heritage which is admired by the West and the Russian people are invariably friendly to visitors to the West, its behaviour on an international stage remains puzzling. 

Russia’s foreign policy is influenced by its past history of invasions. Since 1989 it has lost the buffer states along its western frontier, which are now members of NATO and the EU, making it feel exposed across the North European plain. When Ukraine showed signs of moving towards EU membership and possibly even NATO, Russia feared it would be exposed along its Southern border too and also risked losing its warm water port in the Crimea. When America, in particular, started providing significant support to anti-Russian groups in Ukraine, the Russians felt they had to seize the Russian-speaking Crimea and the crucial port of Sevastopol before it was too late. Russia’s support of Assad in Syria has a similar motivation given that she leases a naval base at Tartus from the Syrian government and a change of regime in Syria could lead to the loss of Russia’s only dependable ally in the Middle East.

More generally, Putin’s foreign policy has sought to undermine the EU and also EU-American unity, reasoning that this will make it less likely that the Western countries will gang up aggressively against Russia. 

At home Vladimir Putin retains much popular support despite the limits on political expression. There is widespread feeling that with such a massive country with so many different ethnic groups, a strong leader is required to provide stability and respect for the nation, and that this will ensure that Russia will not be pushed around by the West.

Meeting - 10 February 2020 - The Rebirth Of The Blues

David Horsley gave a talk on the fascinating biology of blue butterflies and their interaction with ants in their life style. Of the 10 species of blue butterfly in the UK, 5 can be found in Norfolk.

The Large Blue Butterfly has been introduced to Norfolk. It needs the ground to be grazed to allow Myrmia ant to thrive. It’s caterpillar produces a secretion so that the ants think it is an ant grub and take it into their nest, where it acts as a parasite on the ant grubs.

The Silver-studded Blue butterfly has been reintroduced to Norfolk. It lives on heathland where the vegetation should be short to allow ants to thrive. Eggs are laid on gorse or heather and the ants take the caterpillar in to their nest. The ants bring it out in the day to feed on the heather or gorse and take it back it in at night. It secretes sugar for the ants to feed on and so exhibits mutualism with the ants. In June the pupa makes a noise and the ants dig a hole to bring out the butterfly.

The Chalkhill butterfly was illegally introduced in to Norfolk but has survived. It produces sugar and amino acids for ants (supplying one quarter to a half of their energy needs) whilst the ants protect it from predation. It has 2 generations per summer and in the gap between the generations the Adonis Blue caterpillar provides sugars for the ants.

Meeting - 13 January 2020 - The Friendly Invasion - US Forces in East Anglia

Ian MacLachlan, aviation author and historian, gave an informative and entertaining talk on the social effect of the United States Army Airforce in East Anglia in World War Two.

Between 1942 and 1945 approximately 450,000 US airmen were based in the UK (the vast majority in East Anglia). To the local population they appeared to be  undisciplined and noisy  and sometimes drank a pub dry. They popularised Coca Cola, peanut butter and chilli con carne over here, whilst they were introduced to fish and chips.

They integrated with the local population, bringing nylons and cigarettes for bartering, befriending local people and organising Christmas parties for the local children. There were 70,000 GI brides. Ultimately the US airmen paid a heavy price during the war with 50,000 killed or missing in action and 3,811 remain in the UK, buried in the US Military Cemetery at Madingley.

Meeting - 9 December 2019 - Protecting The Royals

David Reeve was in command of the Royal Protection Department in Sandringham and retired from Norfolk Police with the rank of Chief Superintendent. He gave a humorous and entertaining talk recounting a series of incidents and mishaps that happened to him whilst he was in charge of the Royal Protection Department.


Meeting - 11 November 2019 - Robert Toppes The Mercer

Richard Matthew, author of “Robert Toppes: Medieval Mercer of Norwich” gave a fascinating talk on the life of Robert Toppes. Not only was Robert Toppes a merchant who built Dragon Hall, but he was an Alderman, Mayor and MP for Norwich. He traded with the Low Countries, was involved in money lending and trading in property. He was indicted and exiled to Bristol for 6 months as a result of a riot in a dispute with the Cathedral.
After his death it took about 30 years to enact his Will due to the slowness of his executor, but he bequeathed money for road improvements (to help with movement of trade) and to a number of churches.

Meeting - 14 October 2019 - Woodforde's Brewery

Neil Bain, Operations Director at Woodforde’s brewery, gave an entertaining talk on his 42 year career in brewing and talked us through the process of brewing beer. With a degree in industrial biochemistry and not knowing what to do, his mother’s suggested writing to Davenport’s brewery. As a result he was take  on  in the high speed canning department, later moving to Mitchell and Butler as brewing supervisor, before moving to Highgate brewery and then Woodfordes.

He described how the industry had changed from the unionisation of the 1970’s and the effects of removing the workforce’s beer allowance.

Changes in legislation had affected the brewing industry, helping smaller breweries and being a factor in the growth of craft beers. 

His talk raised a number of questions from the membership including the question of how to produce a good quality non-alcoholic beer. 

Meeting - 9 Sept 2019 - Norfolk Coast, Where Geology & Archaeology Coincide

David Stannard, retired lecturer and geologist gave a fascinating talk on the history of the dynamic coastline of Norfolk. There is documentation of erosion of the coast for hundreds of years and this continues damaging property and yet revealing rocks, fossils and archaeological artefacts of considerable interest.
The geology of Norfolk includes chalk from the Cretaceous period, and later clay and peat. Flint, laid down as fossils in chalk, has been used to advance society as axe heads in neolithic times, in flint walls, and flushwork (in decorative walls). Fishermen benefit as Cromer crabs thrive where chalk provides a source of calcium carbonate for their shells.
Amber (fossilised tree resin) can be found on Norfolk beaches. At West Runton the near complete remains of an ancient elephant have been found and at Happisburgh erosion has revealed a 750,000 year old flint hand axe. Human footprints dating back 800,000 years have been found in clay, providing the oldest known evidence of human habitation outside Africa.

Meeting - 12 August 2019 - The Blickling Belles

Kate Barns, house and library ambassador at Blickling Hall gave an entertaining talk on the subject “The Blickling Belles- the Georgian daughters of Blickling Hall”.

We learnt about the extraordinary lives they lived, some causing scandals and in an age dominated by men, one married for love and in the absence of a male heir, Blickling Hall estate passed down the female line. 

Henrietta Howard, unhappily married to Charles Howard, became a mistress to the future George II. After Charles’ death she married George Berkley and on her death passed Blickling Hall to her nephew, John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckingham.

John had no surviving children but several daughters including Henrietta, Caroline and Amelia.

His daughter Henrietta married Lord Belmore, who married her for her dowry and to acquire Blickling Hall. The marriage quickly failed and they were legally separated. Refused a divorce she became pregnant by William Kerr, 6th Marquess of Lothian. Having finally been divorced she married William soon after the birth of the child.

Caroline had no children but had an apple named after her.

Amelia married for love Viscount Castlereagh (British Foreign Secretary). She became a leader of fashion, attending the Congress of Vienna, where she entertained everyone, helping her husband to meet representatives and negotiate the future of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Amelia’s husband committed suicide but she ensured it was recorded he did this whilst insane, allowing him to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Meeting - 8 July 2019 - Storm Chasing in the Great Plains

Chris Bell, Forecasting Director at Weatherquest, described how as a child in Texas he had ambitions for studying the weather or being an astronaut, but decided that chasing storms was safer than travelling in space. His entertaining and informative talk, icovered the differences between hurricanes and tornadoes, how tornadoes form and why the American Mid-West is a hot spot for tornadoes. Then he took us on his adventures chasing tornadoes in the American Mid-West.

Meeting - 10 June 2019 - Norfolk Survivors  of the Titanic

John Balls is a founder of the Norfolk Titanic Association. He gave an entertaining talk, with video clips, on the building and sinking of the Titanic- a tragic story, highlighting the arrogance of the Edwardian Age when the ship had inadequate sea trials, too few lifeboats and was thought to be virtually unsinkable. He recounted the stories of the five people from Norfolk who survived the Titanic. Their stories captured the lottery of survival, two being pulled out of the sea into a life boat. Another survivor was a maid lucky to be travelling in first class and put in a lifeboat by her employer who then stayed on the ship to be with her husband and died with him.

Meeting - 13 May 2019 - Annual General Meeting 

Chris Hutchinson took over from Anthony Rosie as President at the AGM and Richard Drew became Vice-President. Chris thanked Anthony for his hard work over the last year, particularly in raising the profile of the Club.
Following the AGM there was a quiz with John Cobbold as quizmaster. Questions ranged from identifying sites in Norfolk, a famous painting in the Scottish National Gallery and on Classical Mythology. The quiz was enjoyed by all.

Meeting - 8 April 2019 - Lady Molecatcher

Louise Chapman entertained us with tales of her work as the Lady Mole Catcher. She delivers training courses for Traditional Mole Catching in the UK.

Louise has appeared on UKTV's “Deadliest Pests Down Under” where she worked with Australian pest controllers across the east coast of Australia, tackling pests including crocodiles, venomous snakes and spiders, wild pigs and rabbits.

She has provided interviews with expert comment for BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio 4's Farming Today and Radio New Zealand. She has also been featured in The Times, The Guardian, Daily Mail and Wall Street Journal newspapers.


Meeting - 11 March 2019 - Local Men and the First World War

Rosemary Steer is an archivist and historian with a wide range of academic interests. In talking about the men of Norfolk in the first world war she drew on life histories including some of her own family. She brought the records to life tracing what happened to the men and who survived the conflict. Her audience contained many with experience of military conflict and national service who were particularly interested and moved by her presentation. Rosemary also talks to British Legion groups.

Meeting - 11 February 2019 - Norwich Cathedral
The Very Reverend Jane Hedges spoke to the the group outlining her background in ministry in Devon and at Westminster Abbey before moving to Norwich as Dean. She then spoke about her job, how it brought ministry to the diocese through clergy, parishes and many volunteers. The cathedral itself has over two hundred staff. Much of her job involved lisison and management, sometimes with groups and individuals with shared perspectives and sometimes with colleagues with different viewpoints. Her work was that of a senior manager. Her primary focus behind everything she did was that of ministry. 

Meeting - 14 January 2019 -Norfolk Libraries: Supporting Local Communities
Jan Holden, Head of Norfolk County Council's Libraries and Information Service, told us of the aims and challenges facing the Libraries Service in Norfolk. In an era of financial cutbacks Norfolk is the only local authority to have avoided closing libraries and the Service has widened its role in the community with the aim of libraries becoming social meeting places. Her informative and amusing talk covered rates of literacy, library provision in schools and prisons in Norfolk and the ways in which local libraries are helping to support those who need help in coping with computers and use of the internet.


Meeting - 10 December 2018 - Elizabeth Fry

We were able to host Betsy Fry who greeted guests on arrival in Quaker style. Her talk was an account of her life going through how she became involved in reform particularly at Newgate. She brought to life the full horror of prison conditions and how she and others sought to make life better where she could. She told us about her life as wife and mother, she had eleven children, and her struggles with health issues in later life. Throughout, her determination to reform where she could and improve people's lives came through. Betsy was lively and provocative through Georgette Vale's recreation based on her research and interest in the lives of women from different ages.

Meeting - 12 November 2018 - St Martins Housing Trust

Dr Jan Sheldon is the CEO of St Martins, a charity founded in 1972 to support and care for homeless people in Norwich. Dr Sheldon gave us an insight into how homelessness in Norwich compares with the problem in the country as a whole and how St Martins delivers a wide range of both prevention and crisis management services. At any one time the team at St Martins are supporting in the region of 200 people in Norwich and they are finding an increasing need for the help they are able to organise and deliver.

Meeting - 8 October 2018 - Anne Boleyn - Saint or Sinner?

Brian Butcher's  talk covered the life and times of the second wife of Henry 8th and whether she was guilty of the crimes with which she was charged, including incest with her brother. Anne is believed to have been born at Blicking around 1501 and was the first of Henry's wives to be executed. 

Brian was a Chief Superintendent with Norfolk Police and is now the Volunteer Programme Manager for the National Trust at Blickling Hall.

Meeting - 10 September 2018 - The Broads and the Broads Authority

Bill Dickson gave us an entertaining and absorbing view of the aims of the Authority, the challenges it faces and the work of its staff and volunteers.

Bill is the newly elected Vice-Chairman of the Broads Authority, replacing Sir Peter Dixon whose term ended earlier this year. He is a retired diplomat, and former President of the Probus Club of Broadlands. 

Meeting - 13 August 2018 - The  History of the Norwich Theatre Royal

Jason Raper looked back at 260 years of theatre in Norwich from its beginnings in Georgian times, and took us through the Regency and Victorian years, World War 2, the destruction of the old theatre, Dick Condon's reign and other developments up to the present day. He talked about some of the many famous names who have passed through the Stage Door and how this theatre has achieved such fame and longevity.

Jason is the theatre's Groups Co-ordinator and Historical Archive Manager. 

Meeting - 9 July 2018 - Anything from a pin to an elephant

Chris Armstrong gave us a talk on independent family-run stores in Norfolk. These included Roys, Palmers, Aldiss, and Jarrolds. He brought out the entrepreneurial spirit shown through anecdotes and memories of interviewees. Chris’s book 'Anything from a pin to an elephant' sets out the histories of these stores; his earlier book 'Mustard, Boots and Beer' features the biographies of eight Norfolk businessmen. Chris is a former trustee of Break and outlined the work of this organisation and its support for young people.

Meeting - 11 June 2018 - Norwich down the drain

Matt Williams gave us a talk based on his book 'Subterranean Norwich' to show us how the city's sewer-network was built over time, the difficulties engineers faced and what a superb system of engineering was involved. 


at Park Farm Hotel Hethersett Norwich Norfolk NR9 3DL