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Jan 2017

Joseph Priestley in Calne

Dr. Norman Beale
Apr 2017 The Jewel of Oman John Bowman
May 2017 The Bloodhound Project Martin Evans
Jun 2017 Hillforts to Pillboxes Nick Baxter
Jul 2017 Eight records, a book & a luxury 75th Anniversary Malcolm Lewis
Aug 2017 Traitors – Philby, Burgess, Maclean & Blunt Paul Booy
Sep 2017 Alzheimer’s Society Sheila Ashley
Oct 2017 The World of Puppets Fred Ward & Diana Humphrey
Nov 2017 The Frome Hoard Dave Crisp
Dec 2017 What really happened at Chernobyl Robert MacLachlan

Joseph Priestley in Calne

Devizes Moonrakers Probus was delighted to welcome Dr. Norman Beale to give a talk on Joseph Priestley in Calne, but it was more than that is was a thorough biography. Priestley is one of the truly greats of British science yet is little known. Norman’s aim was to restore Priestley to the high esteem in which he was briefly held during his lifetime that is until he found that he had no soul, but we are jumping ahead.

Norman introduced the character of  Priestley through a few pictures of well know personalities, for example Ian Paisley (religious fervour) Einstein (for his brain), Geoffrey Boycott (stubbornness).

Priestley was born in Yorkshire in 1733 to Dissenting parents. Religion played a large part in Priestley’s life as he went on to become a clergyman who was interested in science. Whilst he was ill for many years during his early teens with suspected TB and did not attend school, he therefore educated himself.  Being a Unitarian dissident meant that he reject the 39 Articles of the Church of England and as consequence could not study at Oxford or Cambridge. He therefore chose the Dissenting Academy in Daventry.  After matriculating in theological studies, he went on to be a clergyman, after a spell in Needham Market, Suffolk he went to the Dissenting Academy in Warrington.  It was there that he started to experiment with static electricity; became ordained; married Mary Wilkinson.

Priestley through his experiments started to be widely known in scientific circles becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society. Whilst living in Leeds he collected fixed air (aka Carbon Dioxide) from a brewery vat. Fixed air dissolves in water making carbonated (soda) water. Unfortunately, Priestley was not an entrepreneur but a certain Herr Schweppes was.

In 1773, the Earl of Shelburne asked Priestley to serve as a sort of intellectual companion, tutor for the earl's offspring, and librarian for his estate at Bowood House. He took the offer and moved into the  Old Parsonage in Calne. It was at Bowood House that, he conducted his famous experiment to discover oxygen. He observed that a flame went out when placed in a jar in which a mouse would die due to lack of air. Putting a mint plant in the jar and exposing it to sunlight would "refresh" the air, permitting a flame to burn and a mouse to breathe. The mouse seemed to require something in the air that the plant gave back; this process became known as photosynthesis. In another experiment, he focused sunlight on mercuric oxide inside a glass container thereby creating what he called dephlogisticated air, now better known as oxygen.

Priestley was a supporter of the French Revolution and continued to correspond with Franklin even though Franklin was now a rebel in Paris, raising funds for the American Revolution. Correspondence with a rebel plus his Materialism view of having no soul (atheist) meant that he was hounded out of society and eventually had to flee the country for America, after his home in Birmingham had been destroyed. He was welcomed in America and died in 1804 in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Norman also managed to connect the wealthy Harris family of Calne, with Priestley’s wife's friends. She called them to come to Calne from Yorkshire to stay with her, due to her depression caused by Priestley’s lack of child rearing support. Good work Norman you set the record straight.

The Jewel of Oman

Interesting times in the Sultanate, The delightful countryside and people, the politics and his personal reminiscences.

The Bloodhound Project

The trials and tribulations of trying to break a world record. Mighty hand crafted car powered by a fighter jet engine and driven by a pilot. The story so far.

Hillforts to Pillboxes

Wiltshire and warfare have been intertwined for millennia. Saxon, Vikings and at least two civil wars have raged across the county. Salisbury plain helped two world wars and an empire take British military training and skills across the world.

Eight records, a book & a luxury 75th Anniversary

This may well be about Roy Plomley and the totally absorbing, sometimes world-renowned individuals who agreed to be exiled to a mere dangerous dot on a map with little in the way of conventional resources.

Traitors – Philby, Burgess, Maclean & Blunt

After a career in the Royal Navy Paul Booy became a teacher with a profound interest in the Cambridge spies and others who claimed that betrayal of their country to our perceived enemies and tyrants is and was justified.

Alzheimer’s Society

Sheila Ashley is a project worker responsible for raising awareness of Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is an initiative to massively change people’s perception of the condition. How to get engaged and informed by this intriguing event.