From Tea to the Tate Gallery

Each month over sixty of us retired fellows meet up to learn something we might not otherwise hear about and to share our humour and knowledge in a relaxed environment

Since September we have learned of the history of the Watts Gallery in Compton, just south of Guildford, the tea trade (did you know most of our tea comes from Kenya?), Samuel Cody, and Big Ben. In just three talks we’ve included Surrey art, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, America, cowboys, planes, tea and the best known clock in the world! All from a chair in Ember Sports Club!

Tea originated in China over 5,000 years ago. At one time it was exchanged for opium fostered by British companies! Two Scots, C. A. Bruce and C. Gordon, developed the tea industry in India. Even Yorkshire tea comes from Kenya!

Samuel Cody was a Texas cattle driver who learned to fly kites at the rodeos. He was in Buffalo Bill’s circus, but developed kite and balloon-borne machines and eventually was retained by the MOD in England to develop flying machines for them. Over 100,000 people observed his military funeral.

When it’s operating, Big Ben is accurate to the nearest second. Edward Dent designed the present clock and, contrary to the impression given in ‘The 39 Steps’, the minute hand can easily be moved.

At the end of that talk we celebrated our 500th meeting.

It is no sad surprise that in a club where men in their later years meet, we have lost a few nonagenarians. Harold served in Aden in his teens – brave for a young Jewish boy wandering the Arab streets. We shall miss his humour and his unique, slightly risqué, entertainment.

John had worked in music hall as a sound man, and later on bought his own plane, which he managed to ditch in the channel!

Brian was in the MOD and could not even tell his boss what his secret assignments were.

There is never a lack of interesting people
in our club.

George Frederic Watts was a founder member of the Tate Gallery and donated over 40 portraits to the National Portrait Gallery. He was the most famous artist of his time in England, his most famous painting being ‘Hope’. He founded the music department at Roedean.

Watts first married Ellen Terry when she was 16 and he was 46. Then, in 1887, aged 69, he married Mary, aged 31 – who was his ‘true wife’. Their adopted daughter, Lilian returned to Compton and died in 1991. The Watts Gallery opened in Compton in 1904 and was restored in 2011.

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