Looking at this old photograph - which is one of my lost and found collection of unknown and unwanted old photographs - I was initially fascinated by the obvious narrative. It is clearly a demonstration of the venom being removed from poisonous snakes in either Africa or India, and it would appear too date from the 1930s. Soon, however, my attention was captured, not by the snakes or their brave handlers, but by the watching crowd. Every photograph, no matter how old, or how forgotten, has an endless series of other photographs within it.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Outside, the snow is thick on the ground and the wind has the bite of a Rottweiler with a hang-over. Even Lucy the Dog refuses to set paw outside the door. The enforced incarceration means that I have to turn to that list of jobs I have been putting off - and in particular the massive challenge of tidying my room. I am an addict, a hopeless hoarder: the kind of compulsive collector whose life has been ruined by the mass production of plastic boxes. I keep things, I put them in plastic boxes, and then I put the plastic boxes in other plastic boxes. My room is a labyrinth of plastic: each box bursting at the Polyethylene Terephthalate seam with papers, photographs and books. When I eventually get around to trying to tidy things up, I get distracted by the first thing I come across. Which brings me on to "The Contour Road Book Of Scotland"
I have no idea where I acquired this small book from - it has been happily housed in one of the many plastic boxes for years. My tidying resolution caused me to examine it and to fall in love with what is a wonderful item of social history. Published in 1913, the book forms part of a series of small handbooks which were designed for the early motorist. It contains maps, descriptions of places of interest, a guide to common road signs (it appears there were only four in use at the time), and a detailed description of the gradients and conditions of all the roads in the land. These were the days when a hill might pose a challenge too far to early petrol engines.
A motorist setting out 105 years ago was setting out on an adventure.
"338 LAIRG TO LOCHINVER
Description : Class II. A narrow road like the most of the other Sutherland roads. Fair surface but long hill over to Rosehall; thereafter an undulating road, with surface inclining to be loose and gravelly according to season, almost the whole way to Lochinver. On the whole it is a very good road for this County. Care must be taken on the hill descending into Lochinver"
The challenges were not just in terms of the steep hills and the state of the roads - anxious moments could arise from meeting other motorists out on the road.
"A TRAFFIC SUGGESTION
As the priority of position at Road junctions, Crossings, and Forks, is frequently the cause of anxious moments, it is suggested that the nautical rule be adhered to, and that all traffic should give place to that approaching on the right"
It all seems so very long ago. Then, however, I look out of the window and see the line of abandoned cars, set still in the snow and the ice, beaten into submission by the gradient of the road outside. Their drivers should have had a copy of the appropriate "Contour Road Book" in their glove compartment.
Friday, March 09, 2018
This week, I did have a perfect match for the Sepia Saturday theme image which shows an oversized loud speaker at some kind of sports event. There was a photograph from one of the albums of Frank Fieldhouse which had been taken at some kind of sporting event in the 1930s or 1940s, and which had a large public address speaker mounted on an old van. Sadly, however, the photograph has fallen through one of the many holes in my family archives, and - for the time being at least - must remain a kind of sepia memory of what was. I mentally reviewed the other suggested themes - oversized objects and strange objects - but nothing seemed to come to mind.
Motivated by my search for the lost loudspeaker, I decided to press ahead with my digital aspiration to scan, copiously file and selflessly preserve all my family photographs and chose, at random, the next print from the "to do" pile. And who should appear than the very same Frank Fieldhouse along with his then fiancé and later wife, Miriam Burnett. The studio photograph, which is dated 1939, shows the couple all dressed up and ready for the ballroom. It may be that they were seasoned performers on the dance floors of West Yorkshire, if that is the case no record has been handed down (and the one thing you can say about Uncle Frank is that if there was a record to be handed down, handed down it would be).
Therefore my contribution to Sepia Saturday this week may not be strange or oversized, but it is sure to be memorable. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Frank Fieldhouse and Miriam Burnett dancing the foxtrot.
For more strange and oversized objects go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.
Tuesday, March 06, 2018
This photograph of my uncle, John Arthur Burnett (left), must have been taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. By that time, John had served in the Great War in France, been taken prisoner by the Germans, been married and divorced. The vehicle looks like it might have belonged to a coal merchant. Such coal wagons were regular features along Yorkshire streets in the first half of the twentieth century, delivering the coal that kept the home fires burning.
Monday, March 05, 2018
I am not sure at what point an old, faded photograph becomes something more; or if, indeed, it ever does. This is an old, faded image of I know not who. Three women stand in front of a sedan: relaxed, somewhat stately. The man is in front of a different kind of beast: raw, sporty, full of pent-up energy. Nothing is clear, nothing is sharp. It is a twentieth century icon, an effigy of the petrol age.
Friday, March 02, 2018
Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a group of golf caddies in Vancouver, Canada. My contributions does not feature a group, has nothing to do with golf, and was taken oceans away from Canada. Nevertheless, as I looked at the capped figure solidly sat in the centre of the group, I couldn't help thinking of my great Uncle Fowler Beanland.
I have several photographs of Fowler surrounded by crown green bowlers and cricket batters, most of which I have shared on Sepia Saturday before. My photograph this week just shows Fowler and friend (that is Fowler B on the right), neither of whom seem to be brimming over with joy. Indeed, the prize-winning scowl of the friend is a collectors piece in itself.
From the looks of the car in the background, I would guess that the photograph dates from the 1930s when Fowler would by in his early 60s. There is not enough of a background to identify a location, but there is a good chance that it was taken in Keighley - the West Yorkshire town where he was born and lived most of his life.
(You can see more Sepia Saturday contributions by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links)
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The "Beast From The East" has finally arrived, after more media fanfare and frenzy than preceded the threatened entry of Hannibal's elephants into Rome. It must be said that the forecasters have got it right; there is snow on the ground and it is a little chilly out of doors. Whether this "extreme" weather justifies the hour upon frosty hour of news coverage it has received in recent days, is quite another question.
On our walk this morning, LucyDog, found the conditions entertaining enough, mistaking the layer of fresh snow for icing sugar.
Huddersfield Golf Course is just down the road and I was intrigued to find a newspaper report from 1909 which told of a similar blizzard back in 1909. The golfers of those times were obviously a hardy breed, and a little snow didn't keep them in the clubhouse.
"The snow was thick on the links, and sleet was falling, as the players drove from the first tee. The wet snow caked in lumps and clung to the boots of the players. This led to an unexpected incident at the seventh hole in the match of Ray and Hayles against Beck and Cassidy. The caddie of the last named player was wearing heavy wooden clogs, and the snow caked on the soles to the thickness of three or four inches. At the seventh hole, the ball played by Cassidy and Beck, which was painted blue, could not be found. The spectators, players and caddies wandered about in search of the lost ball for some minutes, and eventually the caddie with the clogs, kicked the gathered snow off, and the lost ball was discovered firmly embedded in the snow, which was clung to his clogs. The hole, of course, was lost through this extraordinary incident".
Just in case you are tempted to take comfort from the fact that these century-old incidents took place in January, and we must now be seeing the last throws of the winter, I also came across this headline from 1911. It would seem that the "Beast From The East" has visited these parts before.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
There are some old photographs which just capture your interest, pull you into them, make you marvel at them. They don't need to be technically good - these two old prints from the camera of my Uncle Frank are anything but - they just need to be dripping with social history. Most people will recognise the location - it is, of course, Blackpool. But when was the sea so full, when were the beaches so crowded?
As it is one of Uncle Frank's photos, I am able to give a definitive answer, because Frank Fieldhouse was a great captioner. The photographs were taken on Bank Holiday Monday in 1940. August 1940 was, of course, right at the height of the Battle of Britain, when British cities were being bombed and the war was at its most critical phase. Thousands, however, obviously found the need to flock to the Lancashire seaside in order to indulge in the age-old British pleasure of paddling in the sea.
The second of the two small prints concentrates on the beach - a beach upon which it would have been impossible to swing even a skinny cat. When you survey all these people enjoying a rare day out, you can't help but wonder what dangers they were bound to face in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Whilst the newspapers of the day were full of dire warnings of the dangers from the air, from invasion, and from shortages caused by the sinking of British shipping, sadly it was a far more prosaic danger which was to face a dozen of these trippers to Blackpool on this particular Bank Holiday Monday. As the Lancashire Daily Post reported the next day, twelve people died in a coach crash as they made their way home from a Bank Holiday trip to Blackpool.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Normally the lover of old and unknown photographs is beset by a shortage of information, but this little print comes with an essay pencilled on the reverse. To quote it in full: -
"Winnie in doorway of hut, flowers in front, and marigolds - new variety. August 1926"
There is nothing further to be said.
Monday, February 19, 2018
Scanning old colour negatives always seems to give results that don't carry the same weight of history as you get with monochrome negatives. We are so used to dividing photographic images into two mutually exclusive categories: the fist five decades were black and white decades, the last five were in colour. We therefore "see" colour images as more modern than photographs that may have been taken on the same day but were shot in black and white.
This sequence of negatives were taken in Athens and Piraeus over thirty years ago, but you need to dig down to find the dating clues. Cars are always a useful standby, as - to a lesser extent - are clothes and hair styles. The fact that I have a full head of curly brown hair on the second shot in the sequence below, suggests a date which must be almost pre-historical.
There is also a shot which was taken outside what I think was (is) the National Historical Museum, which shows the museum attendant quietly nodding off on a chair near the entrance. This, of course, was the era before security guards, bag scanning and closed-circuit TV.
We can, perhaps, turn to the price of pineapples in the first picture to get a more definitive guide to the date, but a lot has changed since the 1980s. So perhaps it is best to stick with my memories of the holiday, which - I guess - must have been in about 1985.