Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Last Afternoon At Sea


Over the last couple of months I have been slowly scanning my way through a 1925 photograph album I bought on a second hand stall. Entitled "Cruise To The Northern Capitals of Europe on the SS City of Nagpur, July-August 1925", the album contains over 50 sepia photographs our unknown photographer took on a cruise to Denmark and Norway. In addition to showing some wonderful 1920s fashions and some tram-lined streets, the photographs illustrate a relaxed atmosphere on board a small cruise ship of ninety years ago.

It is perhaps fitting that I am now getting to the end of the album - the photograph above is entitled "The Last Afternoon At Sea", because I am starting top pack my bags for my own cruise to the Norwegian fjords in a few days time. Perhaps I will ask the First Officer on my oversized cruise ship to pose on a deckchair with the Good Lady Wife.


Sunday, August 05, 2018

Thomas Boxell of Brighton ... and Halifax and Pickering and Scarborough


This small photograph of a seated woman is the work of a Victorian photographer called Thomas Boxell, who - at the time this photograph was taken in the late 1870s - was operating out of a studio in Pickering, Yorkshire. The story of Thomas Boxell is typical of so many of the semi-itinerant studio photographers of the Victorian portrait era: pioneers of a new art and industry who moved from town to town to increasingly spread the wonders of photography to more and more people. Their professional equipment - camera, backdrops, lighting - was reasonably portable and therefore such photographers would often move their business to take advantage of new markets.

Thomas Boxell was born in Brighton in 1847, the son of a tailor. Within three years of his birth, the family were resident in the Brighton Workhouse, but two of his uncles had become photographers in Brighton, and eventually Thomas was able to get a job with them and learn his trade. During the 1860s and 1870s he moved around the country making a living as a studio photographer - including periods in both Halifax and Pickering - before settling in the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough. His photographic business was eventually taken over by two of his sons, and, on retirement, Thomas moved to live with his daughter in Whitby, where he died in 1939.


Friday, August 03, 2018

Politicians On Postcards 1 : Bob's His Uncle

 For want of something better to do, I thought I would start a short series entitled "Politicians On Postcards". The length of the series will, no doubt, be determined by how many examples of this rather specialised genre I can find in my collection.


There can only be one place to start a series on "Politicians On Postcards" and that is with the British Prime Minister at the time of the great postcard boom of the early twentieth century, and that is Arthur J Balfour (1848-1930), who was Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. Balfour was born into a well connected Scottish aristocratic family, and like so many from that background he progressed with little effort and less talent to become a Conservative Member of Parliament. He did not show any particular enthusiasm for political or public works, but soon found himself promoted to senior political office by his uncle, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, who just happened to be the Prime Minister of the day. When political pundits questioned the reason for the appointment of Balfour to the important post of Secretary of State for Ireland, the popular explanation was "Bob's Your Uncle", which was the origin of that particular phrase.

In 1902, Balfour went on to replace his Uncle as Prime Minister, but his Premiership was characterised by rifts within the Conservative and Unionist Party about free trade. In the elections of 1905, Balfour lost his job and his Parliamentary seat. The postcard portrait must date from the period when he was still climbing the political ladder, propelled by nepotism and the support of his Uncle Bob.



Saturday, July 28, 2018

Winking At A Carpenter




At a meeting of the Old Gits Luncheon Club the other day we got to talking - as one does when you've had a pint or two - about the latest developments in geo-positioning technology. There is now a system available, it appears, which has assigned a three word code to every three metre square on planet earth; and the good news is that the three words are in English! Some suggests that these three word addresses will soon replace old fashioned approaches such as postcodes and grid references. In particular, the precision and simplicity of the three word system - it is suggested - makes it ideal for use in drones and other robotic delivery systems.

We were anxious to discover how old fashioned technologies such as picture postcards would be able to cope, so, as an experiment, it was agreed that I would attempt to send a postcard to another Git member using only the What3Word code for his front door. Would the Royal Mail be able to work out what was happening and interpret the address? 
One of the great advantages of the system is that the three word code is, theoretically, much easier to remember that a complex and lengthy numerical grid reference. Equally it is far more precise than a post code that can cover half a street. One problem, however is that the three words are random and therefore not sequential. The front door of my fellow Git is at carpentry.wink.printouts, but the code for his front room will be something entirely different. Therefore, if you make the slightest error in transposing the code you can send your drone/card/nuclear warhead to entirely the wrong place. In my first attempt to write is address I mistakenly put carpentry.winks.printouts which turns out to be in the middle of the jungle just north of Ouagadougou in Burkino Faso!

I will let you know if the card ever arrives at its intended destination. In the meantime, if you would like to find out more about the system and discover your unique three word location code, you can do so by going to the What3Words website.




Wednesday, July 25, 2018

When Boris Says Turn

When Boris Says Turn

1807C.07w
It was a time of political chaos, when the Government of Britain was wracked by internal divisions and factions. Cabinet meetings were characterised by open hostility and serial resignations, and the Prime Minister seemed to stand back and watch the fighting so as not to alienate one faction or another. The issues being argued about were Britain’s place in the world and it’s trading relations with other countries – issues that were essentially economic but which had become lost beneath a jingoistic cloak of patriotism and colonialism. Leading politicians involved in the struggle would change positions with alarming regularity, creating confusion amongst their supporters and a degree of dismay amongst the wider electorate. It would all eventually end in political tears for many of the people involved.
Sounds familiar? It was, of course, the summer of 1903. Joseph Chamberlain – that champion of Liberal free trade who had recently become a convert to the idea of tariffs and Imperial Preference – had resigned from the Government. Whilst he was no longer a member of the cabinet, he was still a powerful political player and his son, Austen Chamberlain, remained in the cabinet to represent his cause. The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, content to stand back and try to gauge which way the wind was blowing, was rendered useless and went on to lose the General Election in 1906.
Now, we tend to look back on the events of 1903 and ask, “What on earth was it all about?” When the country should have been concentrating on modernising its industrial structure and improving the social conditions of its population, it wasted its time with a sterile argument between politicians who were championing their own fanciful ideas. We can look at old vintage postcards of the period like the one above, and shake our twenty-first century heads and say, “what a waste“.
I am not trying to suggest that current events are an exact repeat of the ridiculous arguments of 115 years ago. After all, there is one big difference: there are no political postcards this time around.
Vintage Post Card : When Father Says Turn

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Up And Down Bold Street With Arthur Medrington

Up And Down Bold Street With Arthur Medrington

1807B.14W
Arthur Stanhope Medrington opened an artist studio at 128 Bold Street in Liverpool in the late 1870s. Like so many jobbing artists of the time, his work was largely confined to providing relatively cheap portraits of Victorian middle class families – the type of work and the type of market that the new invention of photography was ideally suited for. By the mid 1880s his work was primarily as a photographer and he opened up a new studio (the Grand Electric or Daylight Studio) at the other end of Bold Street at No. 29. He was later joined in business by his younger brother, Charles Edward, and they continued in business well into the twentieth century.
1807B.15W
This particular Carte-de-Visite from my collection must date from the 1880s when Arthur was still styling himself as an “Art Photographer and Portrait Painter” and his studio is clearly seen on the reverse of the card as being at 29, Bold Street. Where the address on the front of the card – 20 Bold Street – comes from, heavens only knows, perhaps as a result of an annoying printing error. To add to the confusion, the reverse of the card also suggests that he was previously at 33, Bold Street: quite clearly Arthur Medrington was up and down Bold Street like the adjustable legs of a tripod!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pin And Chain

Pin And Chain

180716.02
Unknown Man (1920s)
Photographs only came along only once in a while. This was the age before smart phone selfies, an age when a portrait was an event. An event to get out your Sunday best and put on your best pin and watch chain.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Great Stainland Water Fight

The Great Stainland Water Fight

1807A03w
Whenever I walk passed a pub – or better still sit down with a pint in a pub – I can’t stop thinking about the tales the building has to tell. What love or what loss, what joy or what sadness took place in such buildings? When I walked by the Bull and Dog in Stainland the other day, contemplating these strands of social history over a pint was not an option, as the pub is now closed. I could not, however, stop myself from going in search of a story when I got home.
1807A01
The story comes from the pages of the Halifax Courier of Saturday 14th July 1855. It is not a tale of high drama, but a story of a domestic dispute which serves to illustrate two things. First of all, we tend to take our ability to turn on a tap and get an endless supply of fresh drinking water for granted these days. Secondly, people were just as strange, just as petty, just as stubborn and just as daft, a hundred and sixty years ago as they are now. This is the story of the Great Stainland Water Fight.
1807A02
DISPUTED WATER RIGHT
George Beaumont, parochial constable for Stainland, was summoned by Hannah Gledhill, landlady of the Bull and Dog Inn, Stainland, for assaulting her on the 27th ult. Mr. Mitchell appeared for the complainant, and Mr. J. B. Holroyde for the defendant. The case was postponed from the previous Saturday to produce certain witnesses. 
Mr. Mitchell, in opening the case, observed that the assault arose out of a question of right to fetch water from pump which the defendant alleged he had the sole control of. But it would have been much better for so respectable a man as Mr. Beaumont, to have settled the matter out of court. Mr. Mitchell called his client, who stated that her husband was tenant under Mr. James Whiteley, who also was Mr. Beaumont’s landlord. On the day in question she went to a neighbour, Mrs. Davison, and asked her consent to get two cans of water from the pump in the yard adjoining. She got the water and was returning to her house when Mr. Beaumont came up and forced the cans from her hands, the contents of one of them were partly spilt and the remainder she threw over him. He then took the other can, which was nearly full of water, and threw it over her. In her cross-examination by Mr. Holroyde: She said it was not the proper way to the pump through Mrs. Davison’s house, but she went that way because it was nearest. She knew that only those neighbours who paid for the repairs of the pump were entitled to fetch water. She paid her proportion of the cost of the last repair to Mr. Beaumont’s daughter, about nine months since. The amount was 2d. She was upon Beaumont’s property when he stopped her. Her servant girl might have been turned back without water many times. She took two cansfull of rain water instead of clean water, which the defendant saw her take, but said nothing. 
Richard Hall was called, and stated that he was between twenty and thirty yards from the parties when he saw Beaumont throw a canfull of water over the complainant. She then went for some rain water. Beaumont looked into the cans, but did not empty them. Both the parties were very passionate. Betty Davison stated that she lived opposite to Beaumont’s house, and was a tenant under the same landlord. She allowed Mrs. Gledhill to fetch some water, as she had done many times to other neighbours. The tenants kept the pump in repair, but whether the complainant had paid anything or not towards the repairs she could not tell. The defendant has the care of the pump.
Mr. Holroyde, in defence, stated that his client is one of the tenants of the Dobroyd farm, and had the charge of the pump. The complainant had repeatedly been told that she had no right to fetch water since she would not contribute to the repair of the pump. On the day in question his client’s little girl saw the complainant again taking away water, and told her father, who met the complainant in the road, where the quarrel ensued, in consequence of the defendant interfering with her for taking water to which she had no right. The complainant then fetched rain water instead of water from the pump, thus tacitly acknowledging that she had no right to the pump. 
Mr. Whiteley, the landlord, was called, and stated that there were two tenants on Dobroyd farm, and one pump for them, the care of which he gave to Mr. Beaumont, who had a right to prevent all who were not tenants from using the water. Sarah Beaumont, daughter of the defendant, said she saw the water thrown out of the cans. She had been to the complainant’s house some time since for 2d. towards paying for the repair of the pump, but she would not pay the money. Other witnesses were called, who spoke to the quarrel, and gave it as their opinion that the cause of it was the disputed 2d. After some consultation, the magistrates dismissed the case. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Nellie, Empsie And A Carroll Connection

Nellie, Empsie And A Carroll Connection

18Q3E003w
This fine old vintage postcard dates from the first decade of the twentieth century and features photographs of Nellie and Empsie Bowman, a couple of stage and music hall stars of the era. Nellie and Empsie, along with a third sister Isa, were the daughters of Charles Andrew Bowman, a music teacher, and Helen Holmes. All three girls were actresses during the late Victorian period, and all three became friends of the writer Lewis Carroll after a young Isa Bowman played a part in a stage production of Alice In Wonderland. The relationship between Isa and Carroll has been written about and dissected at length, but there has been less focus on the lives of her two other sisters. All three sisters maintained at least a contact with acting, and together they had a small part as “eccentric old ladies” in the 1948 film “Vote For Huggett
18Q3E004w
My card has no message, just an address and a 1904 postmark. No message is needed, however, there is a story enough for anyone in the lives of the two girls on the front of the card.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Crouching Photographer, Hidden Dog

Crouching Photographer, Hidden Dog


I reach into an old box of 35mm colour slides and pull out three random slides for scanning, all of which date from the 1960s.
Fircroft College Room
Fircroft College, Birmingham : September 1968
The first was taken in the Autumn of 1968 and shows my bedroom at Fircroft College in Birmingham complete with Cuban posters and a picture of Karl Marx that was a constant feature of the cork pin-boards that framed all our student lives.
John & Doris Burnett
John & Doris Burnett 1967
The second was probably taken a year earlier at the Bradford home of my Uncle John and Aunty Doris – and their dog which has to remain nameless as my memory fails me. We always think of the sixties as an era of flower-power – but old photographs suggest that the flowers tended to be limited to the wallpaper and the chair covers.
Gladys, Albert, Norma, Roger & Di
Gladys, Albert, Norma, Roger and Diana Burnett  1965
The third photograph is easy to date because it shows my niece, Diana, as a baby, and she was born in 1965. The photograph almost has the look of an early “selfie” and one can almost imagine a selfie-stick – complete with mobile phone – extending from Norma’s hand. But this was the age of immobile Bakelite phones and crouching photographers – in this case, me.