Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Caversham Heights Society

MEMBERS experienced three very different events during March.

MEMBERS experienced three very different events during March.

The first was rather disappointing but the second and third were both inspiring and enjoyable.

On March 2 Chris Chadwell gave an illustrated talk entitled “Wild Alaska: glaciers, king salmon, mountain flowers and moose”.

While there were a couple of slides of a king salmon and a moose, most of the talk was devoted to different species of mountain flowers, clearly a passion for the speaker, who is a leading world expert on flowers in the Himalayas and the European Alps.

Some of the photographs were excellent and would have been of great interest to botanists of a like mind, for whom the talk was originally designed.

Unfortunately, for a generalist audience such as ours, they were too specialist. The slides kept getting muddled up and the delivery was far from clear. On the whole a disappointing evening.

Our next meeting on March 16 was, by way of a contrast, an outstanding and informative talk about the history, trials and tribulations of the Royal Albert Hall.

Tony Weston called his talk “Mushrooms and a marathon: the history of the Royal Albert Hall”.

By general acclaim, this was one of the most interesting and enthralling talks that we have had.

Tony told us about the building of the Crystal Palace to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, paid for by a public subsidy.

It attracted more than six million visitors, one-third of the total population at the time.

The profits from the Great Exhibition helped to finance the building of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 and the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.

Other offshoots from this dynamic period of expansion and invention were Kew Gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society. Originally, the design for the Royal Albert Hall was to be modelled on the amphitheatre in Nimes and was to seat more than 30,000. This ambitious number was gradually reduced to 15,000, then to 7,000. The current seating capacity is for 5,900.

Built in an elliptical shape, the Royal Albert Hall is recognised as one of the finest musical venues in the world.

It is also one which has evolved over time. For example, visitors originally had to cross the road to use the toilets in the Crystal Palace!

More recently, it took a computer more than three months to design the carpets for each floor to fit with only one join.

From the outset, the acoustics left much to be desired since there was a slightly delayed echo. Despite numerous attempts to resolve this issue, it was only in 1969 that the BBC came up with the idea of installing 85 “mushrooms” suspended from the ceiling to help defeat the echo.

Although the Royal Albert Hall is best known for its musical concerts, most notably the BBC Promenade Concerts each summer, it has been used for conferences, speeches from leading statesmen and women, tennis matches, boxing matches, dinners and dances and even a marathon between an Italian and an Englishman, which the latter won.

Apart from the fascinating insights that we were given into different parts of the hall, we were also entertained by music from the Last Night of the Proms.

This was particularly appropriate because more than 50 members went on the following evening to hear and see a classical spectacular in the Royal Albert Hall, something that has become an annual event for the  society.

The Caversham Heights Society meets in the Highmoor Road Methodist Church hall at 7.30pm on alternate Wednesdays from September to April.

New members are always welcome and enquiries should be made to Jill Hodges either by calling 0118 959 5397 or by email to

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