Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sepia Saturday 268 : A Tale Of Tolpuddle And A Sepia Revolutionary

Strange as it may seem, I was not actually present at either of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 or 1917 and therefore I am unable to link directly to this week's Sepia Saturday theme image which features a group of demonstrators marching down Nevsky Prospect in Petrograd. After some digging around within my archives I did, however, come up with this photograph I too back in July 1974 at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset. Amongst the various Labour Party and Trade Union banners, I can see one from the Communist Party, so it nudges up to the themes like a paid-up fellow traveller.  The photograph also seems to sum up why we have never had a revolution in this country - although undeniably there have been, and are, times when we could do with one. Compare the angular, strident, determined faces of the Russian demonstrators with the arms-folded, passivity of their British counterparts. And how on earth could you have a meaningful revolution starting in a village with a name like Tolpuddle?

For those who don't know the story, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of six early nineteenth century agricultural workers from the Dorset village who were sentenced to seven years penal transportation to Australia for forming a trade union to fight against wage cuts. The British revolutionary fervour following this harsh sentence was limited to signing petitions, marching with banners and renaming streets after the martyrs and this led to their release after just a couple of years.

As I re-scanned the photograph I took in 1974 I noticed that it was beginning to acquire that sepia tone of age. I am all too familiar with this in photographs of my grandparents and even my parents generation, but this is the first time I have noticed it on one of my photographs. I am beginning to turn sepia. Now that is a thought profound enough to spark a revolution.

You can find more takes on this week's Sepia Saturday theme by visiting the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the various links.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Corinthian Columns Of Lino And Temples Of Non-Conformity

Take a quick look at the photograph and imagine where we might be. Athens perhaps, or maybe Rome. Possibly it is on one of the finer streets of London; a great gallery maybe or a finely endowed museum. Perhaps it is the home of an Earl or a Duke or some other long forgotten and seldom missed aristocrat. By now you will have read the description and realised that you are not in Florence or Paris, but in Cleckheaton. 

Cleckheaton, hidden away up the non-conformist back valleys of West Yorkshire. It's a place where the established churches cling to the periphery and hope not to be noticed but where the chapels shout out with all the figure of a revivalist meeting. When they built the Providence Congregational Chapel in 1857 they didn't do things in half measures. They were proud chaps, those chapel elders, and if the Greeks and Romans could have Corinthian columns, then so could the folk of Cleckheaton.

The chapel closed its doors to worshipers in 1991 and it looked as though it was destined, like so many other chapels in the Spen Valley, to be demolished to make way for a supermarket or a car park (amazingly enough, only the gateposts of this magnificent monument are listed). It was saved, however, by the most unusual of benefactors - it was transformed into the Aakash Restaurant and staked a claim to be the largest Indian Restaurant in the world.

Just a few hundred yards down Bradford Road, two cut-price carpet stores stand facing each other like shag-pile sentinels. Outside one stands a row of rolls of cheap linoleum mimicking the stone columns just up the road. It's a funny place Cleckheaton, a place where temples have been built to Indian cuisine and where linoleum paves the cobbled streets.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Staying Out Of Mischief In The Burnett Family Archives

The Library of Congress has its archive, as does the British Library. Henry Ford has his archive and the Marx Brothers have theirs. There are, it would appear, archives of typewriters and trees, dreams and love letters, and even an archive concerned with dirty linen (which is not generally open to the public its website states without a hint of irony). Today, I am pleased to announce, a new on-line archive has joined  the shelf-full of archives out there: let me introduce you to the Burnett Family Archives.

I have always been a collector and a classifier. Whatever occupies my time and attention - be it tobacco pipes or flat caps, vintage postcards or 78 rpm records - before too long I have started a database to record it and a classification system to encompass it. So it is inevitable that, as I have become more and more fixated with my own family history, I have gathered material together - photographs, diaries, postcards and odds and ends - into an archive of sorts.

I would like to hand all this material on to whichever member of the next generation of my extended family steps forward to carry the genealogical torch into the future; but you can never be sure who that is going to be. I could leave the material in a cardboard box - whether real or digital -  in the hope that someone might discover it, but such an approach is full of dangers. Computer-held information has a habit of dying when computers die, and storage devices have a life expectancy shorter than that of a moth.

The best answer I have been able to come up with is the cloud, and I have therefore established the Burnett Family Archives as a Flickr Group. Anyone can access the material and any member of the family can add to it. It might not result in the story of the Burnett Family being carved in everlasting granite, but it keeps me out of mischief for an hour or two.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Defeating Google And Spending Your Blue Pension On Colourful Relatives


I spent a fair amount of time on Friday trying to track down the "feast" referred to on the old postcard I featured in my post "The Mills Are Silent And The Feasts Are Gone". I let loose the heavy artillery of the internet age, and searched Wikipedia and interrogated Google. I even trawled the limits of new technology and, using voice command, said to my iPhone "tell me all about the Huddersfield Feast". Although the response added nothing to my knowledge of possible local holidays, it did enlighten me on some of the salacious facts about the activities of a local priest.

But then on Saturday night I was sat in a pub on the far side of Huddersfield, enjoying a drink and a meal with a party of delightful in-laws, so I decided to circulate a short note amongst the gathering asking whether anyone new about a local feast that took place in September. With the speed of the very broadest of broadband, the answer came back: I must be referring to the Honley Feast which did, and still does, take place each September. So well done the Travellers' Rest in Brockholes, you have beaten Google at its own game .... and you serve up a fat better pint as well.


I was chatting to the chap next door this morning and we were complementing each other on living to see another day (it's the kind of thing you do when you get old). We were saying that one of the joys of retirement was that one day could happily be like any other - there was no need for high days and holidays when all days were equally high. But, he reminded me, one month was not necessarily like any other, because of the peculiarity of the British State Pension system. Whilst most occupational and private pensions are paid monthly and therefore on the same date each month, the state pension is paid every four weeks. One of the consequences of this is that if you are engaged in any kind of financial planning you need both a calculator and a set of astrological tables. But one advantage, we agreed, was that very occasionally you got a single month which would include two state pension payments - the pension equivalent of a blue moon. We went our separate ways - he to his garden me to walk the dog - trying to think of a name we could give this new phenomenon, but the best I have been able to come up with is a "blue pension".


The problem with Photoshop is that it is addictive. You start off with just a little adjustment - something to take the edge off, something to get you through the night - and you finish up getting sucked further and further into the mire. Oh, there is nothing wrong with a little re-framing, a bit of selective cropping, or the removal of a minor scratch or two. But then you start thinking, whilst I am here, why don't I get rid of that troublesome mole Auntie Annie was plagued with all her life. And then there is Uncle Harry: looking less than his colourful self in this old black and white print. He wouldn't want remembering by history like this - if nothing else he was always though of in the family as a colourful character. Why don't I just change the colour balance a tiny bit, and whilst I am at it, why don't I just increase the hue? And that is the problem with addiction. You wake up in the morning knowing that you went a bit too far last night and wondering why poor Uncle Harry looks a bit off colour.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 7 - The Mills Are Silent And The Feasts Are Gone

My seventh found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1905 vintage postcard from Blackpool.

The seaside is a special place: a place where land gives way to the sea. Where the crowded streets of back to back houses suddenly ceases, like a straight line drawn in the sand - or just above the sand. And if you happen to be in Blackpool, on the west coast of England, first there is a road, then there are the tram tracks, then there is a wide promenade, then the sand, then the sea. You can revisit the scene of this 1905 vintage postcard one hundred and ten years after it was sent and nothing much will have changed. Still the houses, still the road, still the tram tracks and still the promenade.

Few cards are sent from the seaside these days. But when Fanny sent this card to her friend Beatrice Milnes back in September 1905, the postage stamp cost just a half penny and the card would have been about the same. Beatrice was just 21 when she received this card, a mill worker living in Huddersfield. Fanny might have been a friend, a fellow worker or a relative. The "feast" referred to will have been one of the local holidays, peculiar to each northern working class town, when all the mills and factories would close down for a few precious days.

The houses, road, tram tracks and promenades may not have changed, but so many other things have changed profoundly. The mills are largely silent and the feasts have gone.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Some Things Are Best Left Unexplained

To the pub last night for an evening of Valentine's Day songs.  The singer had a lovely voice, but to my near deaf ears too many of her songs sounded like those you sing as the Titanic is about to sink. So I started doodling on a post-it note I happened to have in my pocket. "What's that?" one of my companions asked. The question launched the stream of consciousness reproduced above. When I had finished she looked at it and asked again, "what's that?". "Read my blog tomorrow and I will explain it", I said. But I have had second thoughts. Some things are best left unexplained.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday 266 : Copperplate Kisses

It is St Valentine's Day and on Sepia Saturday we are having a topical theme this week. And if you are in search of slushy, over-the-top, saccharine-sweet sentimentality, where better to find it than in that first decade of the twentieth century that was the apogee of kitsch.

In a time when postage was quick and cheap, telephones were rare, and people for the first time were beginning to move away from their home town and villages, picture postcards met an important need. Despite what myopic correspondents to the Daily Telegraph might think, prior to the age of text messages and Facebook, there did not exist a golden age when people would put fountain pen to paper and write long, intimate, copperplate letters. They scribbled quick notes on the back of postcards: notes that had dubious grammar, inventive spelling, and were peppered with cult abbreviations.

This card - which comes from the collection of my Great Uncle, Fowler Beanland - is probably not a Valentine card. But when messages bounced back and forth on a daily basis, people didn't feel the need to save their love and kisses for a designated day.

And what a promise the message holds out! When the card was sent, Fowler was 34 years old and working in Longtown in Cumbria as a spindle maker. But whatever was to follow it did not include marriage and children and all the usual things. Fowler remained a confirmed bachelor, dying at the age of 87 back in his home town of Keighley. Happy Valentine's Day, Fowler.

For more sepia Valentine posts, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In Search Of A Dream In Heckmondwike

I have been in search of a dream. It is not a recent dream, indeed it is just a small element of a dream I had a long time ago. But like wet putty it has stuck in my mind. It is just the smallest scene of a dream, the plot of which I have long forgotten, but I can describe the scene with documentary precision. I am on a bus, sat on the top deck at the front, those seats which give you an almost IMAX intimacy with the outside world, when the bus enters a town. It is vaguely familiar, probably Yorkshire, certainly industrial. Although I have the feeling that it is close to home, it seems that I am seeing it for the first time. The buildings have a grandeur that is endearing rather than deserved, you feel as though they are the architectural equivalent of a tribute band appearing on a Tuesday night at a Working Men's Club. There is a town hall, a church, a chapel and some marble-faced banks. There are the types of shops that used to be run by people rather than commercial chains. The town holds out the prospect of further discoveries given an hour or two's exploration. But for reasons unknown I am unable to get off the bus so I promise to return at some stage in the near future and examine the place in detail.  And then I wake up and I can't go back because I can't remember where the town is.

For years I have been in search of that town. If the weather is fine and the afternoon holds out no better prospect than old re-runs of once-funny sitcoms, I will sometimes get in the car and drive off to some familiar but rarely visited settlement just in case it might be the town of my dreams. Today I went to Heckmondwike. It wasn't.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 6 - The Story Of Maud And The Texas Rat Snake

My sixth found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1911 vintage postcard of Folkestone.

This is the second of the batch of old postcards that features the Kent seaside town of Folkestone but it is from a different sender to a different recipient. The card was sent to Miss L M Hardy of The Birchlands, Killamarsh, near Sheffield, and the message reads as follows:

12, London Street, Folkestone,  24 Aug 11
Dear Maud,
I am glad Babs is so enjoying her stay with you and I thank you all for making her happy. This is my third wk alone and I begin to feel quite used to it. I had last week in Canterbury. Reg is still there. These strikes have again interfered with your book and I cannot get the parts regularly. Love to all and all good wishes from yours affectionately,
Uncle Alex

The strikes referred to will be the railway strikes that were taking place fairly frequently during the summer of 1911. The reference to the book is far more intriguing; from what Uncle Alex is saying it would appear that Maud is writing a book and sending the parts to her Uncle Alex. I have tried searching for any authors named Hardy living in Killamarsh at the time but without success. Someone called LM Hardy was a co-author of a book entitled "The Lone Star Field Guide To Texas Snakes", but this would seem to be stretching credulity about as far as a Texas Rat Snake.

As someone who once managed to write a fair proportion of a novel on the back of 172 postcards which was mailed to a mate of mine - who quite coincidentally lived just up the road from Killamarsh - I like to think I know where Maud was coming from - with or without her accompanying serpents.

Monday, February 09, 2015

This And That And The Death Of A Salesman

I took this picture this morning, rather liking the way the shadow of the tree through itself across the road like some desperate teenager who had loved and lost.

And the post today brought the first issue of the monthly magazine I invented the weekend before last. It looks rather nice, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you went out and spent your hard-earned money buying a copy. Don't forget, however, that you can download a PDF version free of charge (follow the link in the sidebar).