Dorridge U3A

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    Visit to the Victorian Radicals exhibition in The Gas Hall, Birmingham         (April 2024)

    Throughout the winter our Sunday Activities have tended to be inside one of the many local hostelries, sharing a convivial lunch. All very enjoyable, but for our April meeting Group Leader Margaret Thompson took us in a more cultural direction and into Birmingham. 

    Waiting for the train at Dorridge Station

    Arriving at Snow Hill station gave us the opportunity to take the midway exit and so enjoy the many fine examples of Victorian architecture that line Edmund Street as we made our way to the Gas Hall.

    The Victorian Radicals exhibition explores the work of three generations of British artists, designers and makers who revolutionised the visual arts in the second half of the 19th century. The pre[1]Raphaelites, William Morris and his circle, and the men and women of the Arts & Crafts movement transformed art and design.

    The exhibition presents paintings and drawings alongside jewellery, glass, textiles and metalwork from the City of Birmingham’s collection, all exploring the artists’ radical vision for art and society. 

    The exhibition runs until 31 October 2024, and is open Wednesday – Friday. 

    Spring Outing to Bletchley Park - Station x (March 2024)

    It didn’t rain – well not until we boarded the coach for home. We arrived in good time, ready for a full day at the Park!

    Spring Outing to Bletchley Park

    We collected our multi-media guides and set off to explore. The Park was buzzing with excited school parties (noisy but well behaved), and lots of visitors. However, it never felt too crowded and uncomfortable because the attraction is spread over a wide area.

    The Mansion is splendid inside, with the rooms recreated as they were in WW2. There were many separate codebreaking huts to explore and discover life at Bletchley during WW2. Some of us joined the informative outdoor guided tour undertaken by volunteers. Two members visited the National Museum of Computing (a five-minute walk away) which is now home to the Colossus Computer.

    Our entry ticket is an annual pass. It’s definitely worth another visit as there is so much to see. They also offer pre-booked afternoon tea in the Mansion’s Victorian Dining Room. Something to think about for next time

    Pat Lawrence, what a fine way to end your time as Trips Organiser!   A hearty “Well Done” from all our readers with thanks and admiration.

    Questers February visit: The Coffin Works in Birmingham (February 2024)

    Doesn’t sound too promising, does it?  Read on . . .

    This was a fascinating visit; not a mournful collection of boxes as some of us may have imagined, but a peep back into the past when Birmingham was ‘the city of a thousand trades’ and this company – Newman Brothers – was among the best of them.

    The Sewing Shop

    The company began trading in 1894, making ancillaries for coffins; elaborate castings of coffin ‘furniture’, shrouds, and coffin linings.  Their coffin furniture was used for the funerals of King George V, King George VI, and Winston Churchill.  There is a strong suspicion (but no proof) that it may even have been used more recently for a similar funeral as, when company closure became imminent, they contacted their customers, who bought up all remaining stock . . .

    The premises give a feel for the harshness of manufacturing life from Victorian to comparatively recent times.  The Stamping Shop, long and narrow, lit mainly by the south-facing windows, its heavy drop presses for stamping metal into the hand-crafted moulds, and fly presses used to trim excess metal from the stampings, would have proved a loud, dim and frankly brutal working environment.

    A die for a coffin plaque

    The Shroud Room was a surprise: here we saw a comprehensive display of Newman Bros wares, from elaborate Victorian coffin plaques to modern-day metal-plated plastic handles for cremations.  We’d all noticed the three elaborate ‘dresses’ as we reached the top of the stairs but hadn’t realised that these were examples of some of the high-end shrouds that were made there as late as the 1960s.

    High-end 1960s shroud

    The Shroud Room seamstresses made shrouds for the 116 children and 28 adults who lost their lives in the 1966 Aberfan disaster.  The lead seamstress reported that she had never experienced such silence from the ‘girls’ as during that week.

    The final owner of Newman Bros was Joyce Green; she started work as secretary to Mr Newman in 1949 and over the years bought shares in the company when possible. She became Company Secretary in the 1950s and in 1976 became the main shareholder director, following the deaths of the two other directors.

    The company ceased trading in 1999, in part because they, like many other firms, had failed fully to recognise the change in their ‘market’.  The decline in Victorian-style funerals began with the first World War and gathered even more momentum after WW2, when cremations began to outstrip the number of interments.

    Chris holding a photo of Miss GreenWhen it became apparent that the business would have to close, Miss Green was determined that the premises should live on as a museum and she refused lucrative offers for the site from would-be developers.  She sold to Advantage West Midlands (AWM) in 2003, with a veto on residential building on the site for 5 years – this to give time to raise the funds necessary to bring her dream to reality.  AWM’s withdrawal of funding following the 2008 financial crash was a major setback but thanks to money from Birmingham Conservation Trust, English Heritage, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Coffin Works opened its doors to the public as a museum in 2014.

    Miss Green died in 2009 so she didn’t live to see her dream realised, but even so her legacy lives on for future generations to appreciate.  To find out more about the Coffin Works, visit their website:  

    Questers visit to HS2 depot at Lea Marston
     (Thursday 14th September 2023)

    Members of the Questers Group, together with other members of Dorridge U3A, met at the new HS2 training and manufacturing facility at the Lea Marston depot, for an HS2 programme update and an opportunity to ask questions about the project in Solihull and Warwickshire.

    Andy de Bell, Balfour Beatty VINCIWe were met by Rick Nelson of HS2 and Andy de Bell of Balfour Beaty VINCI, the main civil engineering contractors for the project, who then proceeded to give us an in-depth overview of the project, with particular reference to our section from the tunnel under Long Itchington Wood to the Birmingham interchange close to the Lea Marston depot.

    During the presentation, we were given the opportunity to ask some fairly searching questions, and the answers to these were quite surprising.

    a)  How do you justify spending £100 billion just to knock 10 minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham?   Isn't this just a vanity project?   Unfortunately, the HS (High Speed) in HS2 is a misnomer, because the principal benefit of the project will be increased capacity, not speed, on the West Coast main line.  Perhaps HC, High Capacity, would have been a better name.

    b)   In that case, why not save money by downgrading the line to take lower-speed trains?   A good idea in principle, but in practice it would save very little, as the project would still require the same tunnels, viaducts and bridges.

    c)  What is the status of the extensions to Crewe and Manchester?  The extension to Crewe has received Royal Assent and will be started soon.  The route beyond Crewe to Manchester has not yet received Royal Assent, and is consequently at risk.

    A comment was made that the line should have been started in the North of England - there would never be any question of it not being extended to London!

    Box Girder Bridge sections

    All those who took part in the visit appreciated the open and frank discussion that took place.  Whatever your views on the viability of HS2, there is no doubt that it will be an incredible engineering achievement.

    Science & IT Group visit to Birmingham University (Tuesday 8th August 2023)

    Science & IT Group members meeting at Dorridge Station

    Over 20 members of Dorridge U3A Science & IT Groups gathered on platform 2 of Dorridge station in time to catch the 09:34am train to Birmingham Moor Street, as the first leg of our visit to the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) of Birmingham University.  After a short walk from Moor Street to New Street station, we caught the Redditch train for the short journey out to the University campus.

    The UKRRIN initiative has been built on the development of three Centres of Excellence formed by a consortium of universities, Birmingham, Southampton & Huddersfield in collaboration with existing industry testing and trialling facilities such as Network Rail’s Rail Innovation and Development Centres.   Birmingham specialise in Digital Systems, in partnership with Lancaster University, Imperial College London, Swansea University and the University of Hull.

    UKKRIN Building

    After a welcome cup of coffee, we were met by our hosts for the day, Business Operations Manager Jenny Illingworth and Hydrogen Specialist, Dr Stuart Hillmansen, who has been heavily involved in the University HydroFlex project.  Dr Hillmansen led us into an adjacent lecture theatre where he gave us a presentation on the function of the department and an overview of the HydroFlex project.  I suspect that this did not go exactly as planned, as we ended up having a fascinating but alarming discussion on research findings involving measured atmospheric CO2 levels in the Mauna Loa mountains around Hawaii.  This is continuing to grow at an exponential rate, with no apparent levelling-off even during the lock-down period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    CO2 levels

    Train Simulator

    Following this, we were invited to visit the department laboratories, where we were shown some of their simulation facilities.

    These can be used for both predicting the likely operating performance of new infrastructure projects, such as HS2, but also to optimise the performance of existing trains from both an economic and environmental point of view.

    Our visit ended with the obligatory group photo, after a fascinating and illuminating visit to the University of Birmingham.  Our thanks to all members of staff who treated us so cordially, and also to Tony Cheshire and Roger Williams for organising the visit.

    U3A Science & IT Group

    One final thought, I personally won't be forgetting the definition of a Joule - the energy required to raise a British Standard Apple by 1 metre in 1 second.   Priceless!

    Morgan Motor Company (Wednesday 19th April 2023)

    U3A members at the Morgan Motor Company

    Wednesday 19 April saw 20 members meet up in the cafe at Morgan Motor Company in Malvern for our fascinating guided tour of the factory.   We were taken round by two very knowledgeable guides.  We went into each section of the factory (except paint spraying for health and safety reasons) to see how the beautiful Morgan car is made.  The tour lasted about two and half hours and we didn't see one robot!  Each car is built to order and all the work is undertaken individually by craftsmen.  From panel beating to the wooden frame forming, there wasn't one department less interesting than the other.  

    We all came away with a memento of a piece of ash wood with a rubber stamp of a Morgan car on it and also a leather offcut from the seats.   Sadly, at a cost of at least £89,000 a car it won't be appearing on my Christmas present list this year, but I might be tempted to put a day's hire of a Morgan car on it!

    Spring Outing (Wednesday 22nd March 2023)

    Concorde at the Bristol Aerospace MuseumThis year’s Spring Outing was to The Bristol Aerospace Museum.   As this was the 20th anniversary of the last Concorde flight and its arrival at the museum there were special talks and tours of Concorde for groups.  35 members enthusiastically booked so I booked a just right 35-seater coach.  Johnsons generously sent us a 53-seater, so we had plenty of space in the end!!   The weather was better than predicted and there was minimal disruption on the M5 so we arrived in good time. 

    Coffee & Toasted Teacakes in illustrious company

    On arrival we were delighted to have our tea/coffee and toasted teacakes in the pop-up café under the tail of Concorde!

    After refreshments we had a really fascinating guided tour of Concorde and learnt lots about its research and development phases.   Two of our group told us they worked on research and development of the glass that was used and said they had to buy frozen chickens, which were then thrown at the glass to see how the glass reacted!!   You couldn’t make it up could you!    After the tour we joined the queue to go on Concorde and saw the banks of dials and switches in the cockpit - in those days planes travelled with two pilots and an engineer.  We learnt that the creation of the plane – a joint Anglo-French enterprise with lots of politics had the longest and most complicated development phase ever.  For the pilots it was the longest conversion course to fly it.  Interestingly, a major task for the engineer was to move the tons of fuel around the wings to maintain the equilibrium of the plane so that it didn’t nosedive.  

    After the tour we had time to explore the rest of the museum and go on the free guided tour to see the conservation work undertaken by third age volunteers – all who had worked in the Bristol aerospace industry.   We get everywhere don’t we!!!


    Du3a Panto Rides Again (December 2022)

    Oh, yes it does – but we need your help and support.

    After a 2-year Covid hiatus, the du3a Panto came back with vigour in the build-up to Christmas 2022 for our 2 afternoon performances of ‘Dick Turpin Rides Again’.  Our audience – u3a members plus family and friends – had a memorable afternoon of jollity and, to quote the sentiments of more than one satisfied customer:

    “What a bargain.  An afternoon of laughter PLUS a free choc ice in the interval, and only £5.00 a ticket”.

    There are high expectations of another panto for Christmas 2023 so please read on.  The existing members of the Panto Group are still keen and willing, but time does take its toll and our numbers are reducing.  We’d love to welcome some more, possibly younger, members into our happy band – and remember, in u3a terms, ‘younger’ means in your ‘60s!

    Don’t write yourself off by thinking that we need only people on stage; far from it.  While we’d appreciate that, we’d also welcome:

    ·         Backstage help – scenery painting; making props; help with lighting; help with costumes; stage management etc.

    ·         Front facing – musicians; actors; refreshment service; ticket sales and lots more.

    Our current group membership ranges from people who’ve been involved in am-dram for years, to those who came ‘to help’ and eventually found themselves happy to be on stage – or not.  There’s absolutely NO compulsion; our group is fun.

    This year’s panto is Cinderella, being specially written for us.  The two performances will be at 2pm on Thursday 30th November and Saturday 2nd December, in Dorridge Village Hall.

    We’re holding an initial information and get-to-know-you meeting for everyone who might be interested in being involved in the production of Cinderella.   The meeting will be from 2pm ‘til 3.30pm approx, on Tuesday 14th March in the Meeting Room at Dorridge Village Hall.  Access to the Meeting Room is via the path to the right of and around the Main Hall.  Please don’t try to short-cut through the hall as it is often in use.

    Don’t hesitate because you feel that inexperience is a bar to joining the Panto Group – many of us have just learned as we’ve gone along.  This is a very happy group, and it’s great to feel part of the team.  Do just roll up and find out about what goes on.  See you on 14 March!


    For more information, or an informal chat, contact:

    Margaret Fulford on 01564 772617

    The Science of Taste (November 2022 & January 2023)

    In November 2022, Dorridge U3A Science group had a presentation by Professor Alan Chalmers of Warwick University on his work on virtual flavour generation. He is working on a project to replicate real world flavour sensations using a combination of artificial smells, mouthfeels and tastes. In one approach too, he is also replicating the sight and bite sensations associated with a real-world flavours using a virtual reality system; but he also has a simpler system which is confined to taste, mouthfeel and smell sensations delivered in a container. 

    Professor Alan Chalmers from Warwick University

    The original talk generated a lot of interest, and he returned in January 2023 with his virtual flavour dispensing equipment, seen in the picture. He was accompanied by his PhD student, Danel Zholzhanova from Kazakhstan (to Alan’s right in the picture below). The equipment has several of containers containing the UK Food Standards Agency food safe chemicals to recreate the five key taste components, namely: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, umami, and mouth feel astringency, capsaicin, oiliness; and three smell components. The equipment enables the components to be mixed to replicate real flavours. The mixing is computer controlled, based on stored “recipes” representing real flavours, but to save time for the demonstration, the mixtures were pre-made. 

    One of the symptoms of the earlier versions of Covid 19 was the loss or distortion of taste. And part of the research programme being conducted by Prof Chalmers and Danel is to try and find out whether changes in taste and smell are associated with other illnesses and diseases, and if so which. The aim eventual is to provide system to assist early diagnosis. For example, a recent break though in the treatment of some forms Alzheimer’s is effective only if the disease is identified in its earliest stage.  Longer term the system has potential to be part of an artificial intelligence system used in medical screening.      

    Professor Chalmers & Danel ZholzanovaAs part of the research programme, the Science Group was asked to help produce evidence and data as part of a larger programme to record the typical flavour perceptions for the population. For this eight comparative flavour samples were dispensed, each sample being two cups one containing a real flavour and one an artificial flavour.  The group was asked to indicate how similar the flavours in the two cups were, which they preferred, and how confident they were in their judgement. The results were taken away for further analysis and it is hoped that they will return in early spring to present the results, alongside those of other similar exercises that they are going to carry out using students at the University.

    This was a very different experience for the science group members, and we are very much looking forward to seeing the results and the longer term outcome of the work.

    Visit to Windsor Castle (September 2022)

    Our outing to Windsor Castle on Thursday 8 September turned out to be a bittersweet event.  

    When we arrived, a few of us walked over the bridge to sleepy enchanting Eton with “fresher” students in their new tailcoat uniforms trying to find their way from one department to another.   Some of us even trespassed – well, when you see a cannon, who could resist the photo opportunity!!

    John Spanton and Rodger Lawrence

    Our timed audio tours of the castle were at 1.30 pm so just enough time for lunch beforehand.   The castle was extremely busy and well worth the visit.   Queen Mary’s Dolls House was back from its extensive repair and there was a special exhibition to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.  We were also allowed to visit the beautiful St George’s Chapel. 

    Little did I know when I organised the outing that it would be on this day that the Queen passed away.   Even though this was expected, it was still a great shock to be greeted by the sad news of her death on the television when we got home.  I am sure those of us who were on the outing to Windsor will all remember where we were the day that Queen Elizabeth II died.

    Hopefully, the Spring outing in March next year will be memorable but less noteworthy. 

    Questers visit to Little Oaks vineyard (August 2022)

    For their August outing in 2022 Questers visited Little Oaks vineyard in Chipping Campden.  28 of us enjoyed a very informative trip round the estate where we learnt how the vines were planted, which grapes they had selected for the current British climate, how they needed to be pruned, and also what might be needed in the future to cope with global warming. 


    Questers visit to Little Oak vineyard in Chipping Campden

    This was followed by a wine tasting and then a delicious lunch, accompanied by even more wine.  It was a very sociable and enjoyable day out – and thank goodness we’d gone by coach!

     Questers visit to Little Oak vineyard in Chipping Campden

    "And they said Monday wasn't a busy day in Parliament!!" (June 2022)

    We had an excellent outing to the Houses of Parliament on Monday 27 June 2022.  Some of us met Saqib Bhatti (our MP) and had our photograph taken with him (our current and past chairmen are either side of him) and two of our members got to lobby him about various issues as well.

    When I booked the date his aide said "Monday's not a busy day in Parliament".   Interesting to know what a busy day is as not only did we have two excellent guides to show us round but some saw the inauguration of the new Labour MP for Wakefield;  others saw a rousing welcome to him by many Labour MPs headed by Sir Keir Starmer and followed by a group photograph.

    HoP visit with Saqib Bhatti our MP

    We got to see the Speaker's Procession into the House of Commons, then sit in the Public Galleries.  There was a protest about Climate Change in the Central Lobby as we went from one Gallery to the other.   Finally, a member of Security said that there were two F1 cars outside and showed us some photographs he had taken of them.   Not bad for a quiet Monday!!!"    

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