Friday, June 22, 2018

Random History : A Dying Man And A Missing Girl

Historical events are not random: each follows from a series of previous events and leads to a range of future events. Causes and consequences hold history together like the threads of a spiders' web. Sometimes, however, the best way to examine these limitless connections is to jump into history at random: one day, one year, one newspaper - selected by a random number generator.

DAILY HERALD : 14 NOVEMBER 1933

Nothing changes: disarmament talks are going nowhere, trade wars are rife, there's a war in Afghanistan, daylight robbery and old people killed by speeding cars! But there is one story that you don't see every week - a Hollywood starlet being divorced by her husband because he "does not want her to be tied to a dying man!"

Ahh - if only it were true. It turns out that Judith Allen was the one doing the divorcing whilst her husband of a few months was recovering from a heart attack in hospital. She had already been seen out on a date with Gary Cooper. Sonnenberg, in fact, survived another nine years (and another marriage) and died of illness whilst serving in the American Navy during the Second World War.

Judith Allen lived a long life (1911-1996) and married a couple more times after leaving poor Gus Sonnenberg in his hospital bed. She starred in a number of not very well known films during the 1930s, including one entitled "The Port Of Missing Girls". By some unfortunate coincidence, Judith Allen shares the front page of the Daily Herald with a story of a young woman, Mrs Madeleine Buxton, who went missing from a ship en route to the port of Southampton.




Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Mystery Of William In Katoomba

I have no idea where some of the old prints in my collection come from. This particular picture, however, comes from Tatler's Candid Camera Studio in Katoomba, New South Wales. I can also tell you that it features the unmistakable features of William O'Neill. How William got from one side of the world to the other is, however, a mystery.




Monday, June 18, 2018

Swinging Drainpipes At The Charity Gala

I took this photograph over fifty years ago at the Halifax Charity Gala. Even though it was the infamous "swinging sixties"; times were simpler then, and high-tech entertainment consisted of a hardboard bowing alley and some half drainpipes.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Yawningly Boring Postcard Of The Month


My entry for this month's "Most Boring Picture Postcard In the World" competition is this postcard from the "La France Touristique" series which features a car parked outside a house: all in stunning monochrome. According to the caption, it is a photograph of the town of Les Matelles, which is an ancient town in southern France surrounded by beautiful pine forests. None of this is highlighted by the yawningly boring photograph.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Third Time Lucky In Brighouse Art Gallery


The thing about vintage picture postcards is that so often it is a trial of strength between the photograph on the front and the message on the back as to which can be the best source of historical interest. A perfect example is provided by a recent acquisition: a 1907 postcard of the Smith Art Gallery in Brighouse, Yorkshire. The Smith Gallery, and many of its paintings, were a gift to the town by Alderman William Smith, a local mill owner and benefactor. The gallery was built in 1906 and opened in the following year, and therefore this picture postcard must have been published to commemorate its opening. The gallery reflects a time when the northern mill town would compete with each other in terms of the grandness of their public buildings and the breadth of their provision for the arts.


The reverse of the card contains a message sent to Miss Lottie Roberts of Cleckheaton from her friend Laura in Brighouse. These were the days before holidays to the Costas or Dating Apps would provide the opportunity to meet the partner of your dreams, and young people were limited to the simple pleasures of a walk in the park.

Dear Lottie,
We have arranged to go to the park on Tuesday evening. Surely we shall get off this time, it is always said the third time pays off for all. Come down with Clara.
Love from Laura.

I hope Laura was lucky in love and lucky in her third walk in the park. I was certainly lucky to find this fine old postcard and the store of social history that it contained.


Friday, June 08, 2018

Different Times, Different People (Sepia Saturday 422)


Our Sepia Saturday image for this week features a lonely soul sat on the beach in Bridlington in 1922. My photograph moves forward nineteen years and switches coast from the East to the West coast of England. The print comes from one of the photograph albums of my Uncle, Frank Fieldhouse, and therefore we know precisely when and where the photograph was taken. It shows the sands at St Annes On Sea and it was taken in 1941. You might be tempted to think that it is the miserable dull weather that is responsible for the isolated souls who had taken to the beach, but it is - of course - the year. This was 1941 and World War II was at its height, and the Lancashire coastal area was coming under heaver attack from enemy bombing raids almost on a daily basis. It may seem strange, in these circumstances, that people would still visit the seaside and even sit on deckchairs to watch the sea go out (and the bombing raids come in!). These, however, were different times and different people: people whose measure of danger had taken on a whole new scale.

I couldn't resist leaving the subject of "Alone on the Beach" without sharing a photograph that I took some 25 years after the St Annes photograph. This is a photograph I took in Ireland and it shows two nuns walking along a totally deserted beach. Different times, different people.




Friday, June 01, 2018

Picture Post Style In Burnley


I have always thought that the British magazine, Picture Post (1938-57),  represented photojournalism at its very best and for some time now I have been trying to build up a collection of original copies. A new bundle arrived the other day which were all from the period 1942/3: the very height of World War II. The stories in each issue not only represent the key problems of the day, but they also often look forward to the kind of world that will exist when the long war is finally over.
The issue of the 7th February 1942 led with the danger facing Australia from invasion by the Axis Powers. The other contents ranged over a variety of issues from canteens for wartime farm workers to American students dancing to raise funds for the Free French. There was even a wonderful polemic aimed at the poor quality of film still photography.

One of the outstanding features of Picture Post magazine was the quality of its own photographs and some of the finest British photographers of the twentieth century worked for the magazine including Bert Hardy and Bill Brandt. One article in the 7th February 1942 edition tells the story of how one of the great opera companies – Sadler’s Wells – took to the road during the war to bring entertainment, and culture, to wartime workers. When they visited Burnley in Lancashire photographers from Picture Post were there to record the event. And they did so with considerable style.
Burnley housewives queue for seats : You still see shawls and clogs in Burnley. Their wearers line up at the box office of the Victoria Theatre to book seats for “Madame Butterfly” (Picture Post)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Three Views And A Dollop Of History


You get three views of Huddersfield for the price of one on this vintage postcard I acquired the other day, but as with all postcards from one hundred years or more ago, you get an awful lot of history as well. Those familiar with Huddersfield, will probably recognise the three views: most of the buildings featured are still standing today. The General Post Office is no longer the post office, but the building still exists and is directly across the street from the current post office which was built in 1914. The view of Church Street was a little confusing until I realised that it is, in fact, Cross Church Street, and that is clearly St Peters Parish Church at the far end. 

Turn the card over and the potential interest is maintained. The postmark date is unreadable, but every indication would be that the card was sent at the height of the postcard boom in the period 1903-1907. The recipient was a certain Miss L A Kiddell-Monroe in Clacton-on-Sea and that name, date and location suggests that this was probably the sister of the famous children's illustrator Joan Kiddell-Monroe who was born in Clacton in 1908.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Constantly Updating Amy


This photograph of Amy and Wilf Sykes must have been taken in the mid 1930s. Amy Beanland was born in August 1904 in Keighley, Yorkshire, the eldest daughter of Albert and Kate Beanland (my mother Gladys was Amy's younger sister). Wilf was born in the Yorkshire town of Pontefract, the son of a local policeman. His family later moved to Bradford and Wilf trained to become a wool-sorter and easily found work in what was then the wool capital of the world. Amy, the daughter of a mill mechanic, also worked in the mill and met and - in 1929 - married Wilf and settled down to a settled life in a Bradford suburb.

​In 1939 (according to the 1939 Register) they were living at 1, Yarwood Grove in Great Horton, Bradford in a smart new semi. It was a house I was familiar with as we would often visit it for family parties when I was a young boy. The settled nature of their future came apart in 1963 when Wilf - still in his 50s - died. It would be easy to imagine that Amy would settle into the life of a lonely widow, but she would have none of it - she was to marry twice more before eventually passing away aged 98 in 2001. 

In tracing the long and romantically active life of Amy through the various public records, what I was really surprised to discover was how that 1939 Register was continuously updated, decades after it had been first introduced to organise wartime ration-books and conscription. Careful handwritten amendments have been added to the original records to update her details following her marriage to Leslie Hanby in 1969 and Joseph Barker in 1974.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Streets Ahead Of Its Time


Street photography is all the rage at the moment. As a photographic genre it is usually said to date from the introduction of miniature 35mm cameras in the 1930s. But this old print - which appeared in a mixed batch of old photographs bought an eBay - dates from at least a decade earlier. It really is a fine example: whatever the camera, it has managed to capture the moment in time with both style and substance. That look between the two girls is worth a short novella, that busy background could give rise to a short thesis on social history.