Author Meets Evening Book Group

HGS U3A Evening Book Group entertained and were entertained by the author of the group’s most recent read.

Rick Friend, author of The Pope’s Son, joined the Evening Book Group to inform our discussion about his novel. Rick, the brother of one of the members of the group, made his debut as an author with this book—based 90% on fact—about the “virtual kidnapping” of a little Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, on the orders of Pope Pius IV in 1858. Rick Friend came across this extraordinary story in the archives of Swiss Cottage Library where he read a piece about it in the Jewish Chronicle. He was intrigued and continued to research the case—leading eventually to writing this gripping novel.

Rick Friend

Rick told the group “It seemed like a hidden story, as none of my Jewish or Catholic friends had ever heard about it.” Rick told us that he had spent months researching in the British Library and the Vatican to find out more about the case and about Pope Pius IV. The case was well documented in the Catholic press of the time, and also The Times of London. It took many years of painstaking research and visits to Liège, Bologna, and Rome to complete the work.

It was a cause celèbre of the time that the Pope had arranged that Edgardo Mortara was taken from his parents’ home, orthodox Jews, and brought to the Papal court “in order to guide the boy’s soul to heaven”. Edgardo had been secretly baptised by his 14 year nursemaid when as a baby he was very ill. This baptism formed the basis for the “abduction” by the Papal emissaries.

The group learnt from Rick that, at the time, almost every country in the world was aware of this great injustice—particularly of course the parents of Edgardo who never recovered the trauma of losing their son in this way. Many countries and their representatives had urged the Pope to let the boy go, including Sir Moses Montefiore, the British aristocrat—all to no avail.

This “first” for the Evening Book Group of being able to talk to the author about their work, is something we hope to repeat—as our understanding and enjoyment of The Pope’s Son was greatly enhanced by having Rick Friend join us.

Report by Tanya Ossack and Tina Stanton of the HGS U3A Evening Book Group

Silver Vaults and Drapers Hall

In February and March, the Days Out group have had two very interesting outings. The visit to the London Silver Vaults on 2 February was amazing. After we all had to go through a security check at the reception desk, we made our way to the selection of 30 shop units, all filled to the ceilings with such an enormous array of items that was really mind boggling. All the owners were enthusiastic and willing to talk about the collections of items in their shops and gave us information about some of the most unusual intricate and elaborate presentation items on display explaining the history of who owned them and the occasions of when they were presented.

Unfortunately, the afternoon turned out to be quite a challenge as the walk to and from the restaurant and a delay when leaving made us late. This meant the visit to Dr Johnson’s House in the afternoon involved far more walking than was envisaged, and regrettably we were late meeting up with the members who we had arranged to meet at the House.  

Dining room inside Drapers Hall with portrait of Queen Victoria
U3A members inspect the magnificent dining room at Drapers Hall

Our visit and journey to Drapers Hall on 3 March went much more smoothly and when we arrived we were welcomed with beautifully served tea and biscuits in the huge reception hall. The curator gave a talk about the history of the Livery Houses and the charities they support and took us on a guided tour of the magnificently decorated rooms. As you can see by the photos that on the day we visited two rooms were laid out ready for a Charity Dinner and  a Card Tournament that evening.

Room with chandeliers, mirrors, and gilt decorations
Opulent surroundings for a charity card tournament

If you would like to join us on our next visit on the Wednesday 1 May to Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, please visit the Outdoor Activities page for more information and a booking form.

Report and photos by Barbara Bliss

Visit to Lloyd’s of London

On 21 January 2019, Daphne Berkovi took a group of HGS U3A members to Lloyd’s of London for a tour. Lloyd’s has always had significant involvement in Europe and the USA but now seeks to increase its networks in China, India and other non-traditional markets. In light of Brexit, Lloyd’s has established an office in Brussels to ensure continuity of business arrangements.

Lloyd’s is now 330 years old. The idea of insurance is believed to have started some 100 years beforehand in the Netherlands. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, concern grew about the risks being faced particularly by ships. So, in 1688 Edward Lloyd in his coffee shop started to offer mariners the opportunity to insure each other’s ships. They recognised that mariners could share the element of risk arising and that spreading this risk was mutually beneficial. The action of the mariners writing their names under each other lead to the term “underwriting”. For the first 200 years Lloyd’s was only involved in insuring ships and their cargos, and in ship auctions. A huge international intelligence network underpinned the business and Lloyd’s List (now considered to be the oldest newspaper) was established to report on ships’ progress and problems.

A Lithuanian Jew called John Julius Angerstein saw the opportunity to expand Lloyd’s market into the Royal Exchange in Cornhill. From 1900 they increased their scope to property including in the USA. A big shock came with San Francisco earthquake and fires in 1906; but the fact that Lloyd’s ensured that all valid claims were paid immediately, in cash, improved Lloyd’s reputation worldwide.

The Lloyd’s building at 1 Lime Street stands on the site of a Roman market place. The current building was designed by Richard Rogers and erected between 1978–1986. The “Functional” architectural style is made primarily from concrete and glass with stainless steel cladding, including many round windows to reflect portals in a ship.

Exterior of Lloyd's building showing pipes

Lord Rodgers wanted the space to work as market place with uninterrupted views across the floors so brokers can quickly scan the available underwriters. Thus, Rodgers designed an “inside out” building exposing the pipes for utilities, air conditioning and heating and the services such as staircases and lifts all on the exterior so these do not impose on the trading area. The sub-terrain floors also house generator engines to provide independent power supplies. In 2011 it became the youngest Grade 1 listed building in country, so nothing can change without special permission; but consent was granted to change the original frosted glass windows to transparent glass to improve the natural light for staff.

Each floor in the building concentrates on different business sectors but the basic approach is the same. The underwriters are technicians sitting at computer screens in their “box” whilst the brokers rush around the “Room” carrying documents with details of their business to get best quote, traditionally based on face-to-face personal connections. The documentation “slips” are then stamped with an emblem, confirming the lead underwriters who agreed the business and other underwriters then take a share. In the past, wealthy individuals provided capital to provide funds to pay claims. These “names” often earnt good returns, but their unlimited liability meant they could also suffer calamitous personal losses. Since 1980 Lloyd’s intervened to phase out individuals and reformed their arrangements to make sure underwriter’ syndicates manage the risk, and oversee they have enough premiums and capital to pay valid claims.

Interior view of Lloyd's of London with underwriters at desks

Despite the modernity of the building, history is remembered by the central location of the Loss Book inscribed with major losses and the Lutine Bell that is traditionally rung. The last such occasion was the destruction of the Twin Towers. Also included in the original brief was the wish to incorporate the old library from a previous Lloyd’s building on the site; and this is now the main meeting room, which oozes history both from its historical style and from the paintings of past chairmen hanging around its walls. Whilst the original brief made provisions for these historical factors, plans were fairly advanced before the council chamber was incorporated. The Adams Room was rebuilt brick by brick into the space and, being two storeys high, resulted in truncating the headroom of the floor above.

5000 staff work in the building. Facilities include a wellbeing centre and restaurant. Lloyd’s continues to review and reform its practices in line with current thinking. For example, until the 1970s no women could join the staff and there remains a predominantly white, male, upper-class profile; but there is increased awareness of the need to improve diversification amongst its staff. Similar adaptations have replaced the red-clothed “waiters” that passed messages in the previous 1956 Lloyd’s building. Lloyd’s will no doubt find ways to adapt with modern technology communications systems.

Report and photos by Carmel Eilon

A gem of a talk on cabaret

Our February Topical Talk was an absolute gem as our members were fortunate to hear Ruth Leon talk about the history of cabaret.

Ruth Leon head and shouldersRuth is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning television producer and director of music, theatre, and arts programmes; a Visiting Professor of Drama at the University of Kingston Upon Thames, where she teaches courses on Musical Theatre, Criticism, and Cabaret. She has written/ co-written, with her husband, the late Sheridan Morley, eleven books about the theatre and music.

Her talk recounted not only the historical aspects of cabaret and where it emanated from, but we were taken on a ‘whistle stop tour’ of cabaret across the continents — from North America to the highlights of Europe.  We were entertained by some wonderful film clips from Maurice Chevalier, Noel Coward, Can Can dancers at the Folies Bergère, and Marlene Dietrich amongst many others.  Ruth can frequently be found at the Pheasantry in Chelsea enjoying cabaret and music, or in the stalls of London theatres, frantically scribbling her reviews.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photo by Myke Jacobs

Partnership with Middlesex University off to a great start

Our U3A felt very privileged to commence our new partnership with Middlesex University conducted by Professor Antonia Bifulco, Head of the Department of Psychology at the University and Co-director of the Centre of Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS).

Lisa Woolfson, Emeritus Professor who is a new member of our U3A and is our University Liaision Coordinator, facilitating the partnership, welcomed our members for the first taster session and introduced Professor Bifulco.

Professor Antonia Bifulco
Professor Antonia Bifulco addressing the first session of the HGS U3A partnership with Middlesex University

Antonia’s talk was entitled Family history and the search for identity. This was based on Professor Bifulco’s publication Identity, Attachment and Resilience: Exploring Three Generations of a Polish Family.

Antonia explained that the talk was about family history and ideas about the psychological themes that it involved. Firstly, Antonia described that it was quantitive — personal, illustrative. She clarified that having a family narrative gave its members a sense of security and its storytelling gave a sense of identity. Asking our U3A members at this point to discuss why family history was important to them, one member responded that he had made an album and presentation to pass on to his grandchildren.

Antonia then described that she had set out to research her family history and looked at three generations on her father’s side of the family, which were Polish as her father was Polish. She also included some of her mother’s family because her maternal grandmother had travelled to Poland in the 1930s. The themes of the research were:

  • Attachment
  • Resilience
  • Emotional geography
  • Secrecy and camouflage
  • Loss and restoration

Emotional history: Antonia clarified was how it affects us personally; emotional geography was the attachment to certain countries, people, location and places. She also showed us various slides of documentation that she had gathered during her research, including the historical background of Poland. Her personal account of her father’s first wife Myszka (Maria) who worked for the Red Cross in Warsaw and perished in Auschwitz was very moving. This was a piece of history that was not disclosed to Antonia; it had been kept a secret in the family. Yet letters were found that Myszka wrote to Antonia’s father whilst he was in France.

Antonia concluded that the messages about family history ultimately give us a sense of identity, and empathy with the previous generations.

Our members thoroughly enjoyed the talk and were enthusiastic to start the exciting programme in April. We are extremely appreciative of this new collaboration; of having the opportunity to enjoy first class academic lectures and the opportunity for our members to reciprocate by helping students with skills that they may need.

Lisa gave a round of thanks to Professor Bifulco and to our members and explained that the full programme will be commencing in April. The feedback from our members was very positive and they were enthusiastic to start the forthcoming programme. We are appreciative of this new collaboration and the experience and expertise of Lisa in assisting us. This is an opportunity to enjoy first class academic lectures and for our members to reciprocate by helping students with skills that they may need.

Full details of the series of pyschology lectures at the Hendon Campus of Middlesex University can be found on the Middlesex Partnership page.

Report by Daphne Berkovi

Exciting collaboration between HGS U3A and Middlesex University

Several U3As across the UK have arranged partnerships with their local university.  We had our first positive experience of Middlesex University in October 2017 when Dr Emma Ward, from their Department of Psychology, delivered a presentation on Memory Matters at our first Topical Talk.

Middlesex University London logoWe are delighted to announce that such a collaboration is being launched between HGS U3A and Middlesex University. Our University Liaison is Emeritus Professor Lisa Woolfson who joined HGS U3A recently. The collaboration allows for a reciprocal arrangement and may include  attending a series of lectures, working on research projects, and mentoring students.

A programme launch is planned for Tuesday 19 February 2019 when HGS U3A members will have an opportunity to learn what is involved and how to participate.

The first programme offered is Lifespan Psychology, a series of short modules at Middlesex University in Hendon, on Mondays at 4.00 – 5.30 pm. The first module, entitled Family history and the search for identity, is delivered by Antonia Bifulco, Head of Department, Professor of Psychology.

If you would like to be included in this new venture, please complete and submit the booking form on the History and Humanities page of our site.

British Foreign Policy in the Real World

On 9 January Sir Thomas Harris, formerly UK Ambassador to Korea and British Consul-General in New York, led the discussion at our Current Affairs Group 1. The theme was “British Foreign Policy in the Real World.”

He recorded with regret the reduced role of the Foreign Office. Its International Development, Trade, and Brexit roles had been transferred to other Government departments. Moreover, instead of teaching young officials foreign languages and placing them in foreign embassies and consulates, the FO appointed local staff who might be competent but lacked diplomatic immunity which curbed their scope.

Sir Thomas Harris (right) with the leader of Current Affairs 1 Malcolm Brahams

Much of his initial talk and subsequent discussion dwelt on the perils of a “No-Deal Brexit”. After retiring from the Diplomatic Service, Sir Thomas held senior posts at Standard Chartered Bank and other City institutions; and this lent weight to his analysis of the consequences of leaving the EU. Quite apart from slower growth, we would lose not only our trading relationship with other EU members (accounting for 45% of our exports) but also the benefit of the EU’s trade deals with third parties which accounted for around 17% of our export trade. We should not take it for granted that countries like India were anxious to sign trade deals.

He also recalled Dean Acheson’s comment in 1962 that Britain had lost and empire and had yet to find a role. He speculated we might lose our permanent seat at the Security Council.

The session was attended by twenty-seven members of the Group whose appreciation of Sir Thomas’s contribution was demonstrated by their enthusiastic applause.

Report by Malcolm Brahams; photo by Myke Jacobs

Visit to Strawberry Hill House

Our last outing in 2018 was to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham on 13 December, when 26 members took a coach from North Square on a lovely sunny morning. The staff at Strawberry Hill House made us very welcome and the guides to the Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill exhibition were very informative and knowledgeable about all the exhibits. These were originally the lifetime collection of Horace Walpole, the son of the first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.

After Horace died in 1797, the collection was sold at auction and was scattered around the world; and his lovely house went to rack and ruin. In recent years a trust was established, the house has been renovated, and many of the treasures were located and loaned for this exhibition, including two from the Queen’s collection. When the exhibition finishes on 24 February, all the items will be returned to the owners, probably never to be seen in public again.

There will be no outing in January; but the Committee are now arranging the next outings for spring. The first one will be in February. Please keep an eye on Days Out for information.

The Committee wishes all U3A members a very Happy New Year and hopes to welcome you on our outings.

Report by Barbara Bliss

Samosas, mince pies, tea, and music

The scene was set for our local U3A’s end of year Festive Tea on Tuesday 11 December, with a full hall of tables festooned with decorations, scrumptious food, celebrating the different festivals around this time of year. Delicious freshly prepared samosas, doughnuts and mince pies were the order of the day.

Full hall of U3A members sitting round tables laden with cakes and other food

Over 120 members of our U3A sat down to enjoy an afternoon tea and a full programme of music. Marion Godfrey, performed brilliantly as our MC, firstly introducing our own U3A choir ably led by the choir mistress Francoise Geller which began the afternoon’s entertainment.

Choir with ladies wearing matching orange scarfs

This was followed by a mixture of modern jazz, and then a wonderful compilation of classical music performed by the London Flute Quintet.

Pianist, drummer, saxophonist, and double bass player
The finale was a short medley of songs led by two of our members Carole and Jonathan Fenton, with everyone joining in. The afternoon was also a good opportunity for members to meet and socialise, some of whom were very new to our U3A.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photos by Myke Jacobs

Enjoyable Days Out

The Days Out group which was newly formed in the summer has got off to a very successful start.

Ely, Henry Moore, and Secret Map Makers

On 31 August we travelled to Ely by train from Kings Cross and visited the Cathedral’s interesting Stained Glass Museum. We also visited Oliver Cromwell’s House nearby and sat outside for lunch, an extra bonus as it was a beautiful summer day. There was also time to look around Ely’s Town Centre before heading home.

Our first visit in September was to the Henry Moore studios in Hertfordshire on a very hot day. The tour was very interesting around his studios; and the display in the ‘aisled barn’ of his little-known tapestries was amazing as he was an amazing artist as well as a sculptor. The tapestries are huge and priceless. Henry Moore commissioned them from West Dean College in Sussex.  The weavers worked with his original drawings and photographs to dye the wool accurately, to achieve the precise colours and effects of his different drawing media. The work is amazing and so fine, and if you stand back, they look like paintings.

Our second outing in September was to Hughenden Manor and again we were so lucky with the weather.  The grounds and garden were wonderful, and the guided talks were very interesting, especially of the secret work that took place there. Hughenden Manor was the base for a secret map-making operation during WWII, code-named ‘Hillside’ and is believed to have been at the very top of Hitler’s hit list. We saw the actual room that the map makers were confined to for months on end. They were sworn to secrecy of the work they did there. Some were so loyal and patriotic that they never told anyone of the type of work they did, not even their spouses, and some even took the secret to their graves.

Masons and Rotherhithe

In November, we kept closer to home, with visits to the Grand Masonic Lodge in Holborn and the Freemasons Hall, and a separate visit to Rotherhithe. Our guide in Holborn was wonderfully entertaining and knowledgeable; and after the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local Italian restaurant.

Group of people listening to guide
HGS U3A members admiring the splendid interior of the Masonic Lodge

Our visit to Rotherhithe was led by Mary Fraser, who is well acquainted with the area. She led us around old Rotherhithe Village pointing out all the places of interest. At the Brunel Museum an actor who had appeared in Four Weddings and a Funeral gave a talk about the Brunels, father and son.

We decided to go to the Mayflower pub for lunch which was very enjoyable. After lunch some of the group headed home, while the rest of us went on to the Scandinavian Christmas Market which is held every year around the Norwegian and Finnish churches.

More to Come

Our last outing of the year, which is fully booked, is to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, the home of Horace Walpole, to see The Treasures of Strawberry Hill, a rare exhibition of his extensive collection.

The Days Out committee wish you all Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year. We hope we will see you on our outings planned for 2019.

Report by Barbara Bliss on behalf of the Days Out committee