Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

Today's agenda featured a trip to the Meandowhall Shopping Centre in order to stock up with whatever will be needed for the next phase of our holidays. But four hours in what non-shoppers often call "Meadowhell" was too much of an undertaking for me, and therefore I managed to escape for a couple of hours and take a walk along the tow-path of the South Yorkshire Canal.

Some thirty-five years ago I undertook a few weeks teaching Economic and Social History at Rotherham College, a couple of miles east of what today is Meadowhall. Very quickly I realised that trying to teach the subject in a sterile lecture-room was a bit pointless and eventually took the entire class for a walk along the canal, in the belief that the existence, so close, of a living laboratory of British Economic and Social history was too good an opportunity to miss. And we saw it all: the steelworks, the little workshops, the large factories, the railways, roads and canals. I was anxious to discover how much had changed in thirty-five years.

And there were many changes. The rotting bedsteads had been replaced by pretty barges and the dark factories had become lush leisure opportunities. Sheds were now shops, cobbled tracks were now tiled malls. I walked for mile after mile along the tow-path, thinking about change and listening to Sandy Denny singing "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". It was my idea of a nice day out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Buildings Ancient And Modern In Regent's Park

We were in London last week to celebrate The Lad becoming a Member of the Royal College of Physicians. It was a glorious few days: the weather was kind, the accommodation was excellent, the company was thoroughly enjoyable, and we had the benefit of being transported everywhere upon a cloud of intense pride. The ceremony itself was held in the headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians which is in Regent's Park. Whilst the Park is bordered by a ring of fine Georgian mansions, the RCP building stands out as being startlingly modern. Designed in 1964 by the architect Sir Denys Lasdun, it is one of the few post-war Grade 1 listed buildings in Britain. Feelings amongst our party about it were mixed, but as soon as I got into the building I was converted - the spectacular lines of the interior blended wonderfully with the immediate surroundings.

Before going to the ceremony, we walked in Regent's Park and paid a sentimental visit to St John's Lodge which used to be part of London University and was were Isobel studied back in the late sixties and early seventies. I managed to find an old photograph I took of the college back in those days, when it served as the Latin and Greek Departments of Bedford College. Later it was leased to the Sultan of Brunei and it is currently undergoing substantial renovations. 

Designed in 1812 by the architect John Ruffield, it was the first house to be built in the Park. Despite all that, the building has only ever achieved a Grade II listing status, making it very much second division when compared the glass and concrete of the physicians on the other side of the park.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES : Fending For Yourself In Liverpool

3. Fending For Yourself In Liverpool

For this third image we are switching from my immediate family to that of Isobel, my wife - specifically, her mothers' family, the Ushers of Liverpool. This is a partially repaired scan of an old memo sheet from what was the family firm - Usher Brothers, Ship's Fender Experts.

I cannot be entirely certain of either who features in the photograph or when it was taken: but I suspect that the older of the four men (second from the right) is Charles Frederick Usher, Isobel's maternal grandfather.

If that is indeed Charles Frederick ( 1867-1940), then it is likely that the other three are his eldest sons - in no particular order - Charles Frederick McKernon Usher (1892-1943); William Henry Whittingham Usher (1893-1949); and John Usher (1896-1954). 

The date is likely to be either just before or just after the first World War. The memo has been amended to remove the Dryden Road address - and we know that the firm was still listed at that address in Gore's Directory of 1911. Such dates also fit in with the perceived age of the four men: if the photograph had been taken in, for example 1914, Charles Frederick Senior would have been 47, and the three boys would have been 22, 21 and 18.

The "W H Usher" of whom the firm is descended from is William Henry Usher (1846-1905), Charles Frederick's father. William Henry had been a rope-maker with connections to both this part of Liverpool and Great Crosby, a town a few miles north of the city. When his father, Henry Usher, died in 1888, the firm seems to have split between the Great Crosby side of the family and the Liverpool side, and later Charles Frederick appears to have shifted the firm into rope fender making as distinct from rope-making itself.

All this is a little unclear and - like any good seafaring rope - the story consists of numerous strands that have been woven together with a fair degree of uncertainty and then coated with a rich layer of the pitch tar of time. It may be possible - before I reach the end of my 100 images - to unravel the story a little.

Such skilfully woven rope fenders have long been replaced by generations of rubber and plastic devices which can stop ships crashing into docks. In a few weeks time I will be getting on a large ship and sailing south to find some sun. As we dock in some semi-tropical paradise, I will look down at the harbour walls and spare a thought for those ancestors sat astride their ship's fender in dark and drizzly Liverpool. .... Then I will go and have a pleasant drink in the bar and give thanks for being born when I was.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sepia Saturday 344 : The Fellow Travellers

Our Sepia Saturday theme this month is travel, and the odd chap who thinks these things up has given it the title "From Here To There". This is most appropriate for me, as I am in the process of travelling from here to there, and have been doing so for weeks. Of course the "here" and the "there" are constantly changing (today “here” is Huddersfield and tomorrow “there” will be London), and that feeling of not knowing quite where you are or where you are going to, is nicely summed up in this old photograph. It is a selective scan of an old photograph I acquired somewhere on my travels, and - as with all the best photographs - I have no idea who the people are. In the finest meaning of the phrase, they are fellow-travellers.

Have a look what everyone else is doing from here to there by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

POSTCARDS FROM HOME : The Day The King Came To Town

The other day I bought a small collection old unused postcards dating back to October 1937 and commemorating the day the King and Queen visited Halifax. Just why they came to Halifax is unclear: it seems to be one ofd those occasional tours the royal family makes of distant parts of their empires, like Calgary, Christchurch and Cleckheaton. The King in question was George VI and he came with his wife, Elizabeth (who throughout most of my life I knew as "Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother") - the parents of the current Queen Elizabeth. They visited Shibden Hall, the splendid Elizabethan Hall - that is yet another Queen Elizabeth - I realise this is getting very confusing - that lies in the centre of Shibden Park, where they had lunch and then they had a civic reception at the town hall. It would appear that the photographs were taken by a staff photographer from the local Halifax Courier, and by a curious coincidence we are able to witness the event some eighty years later, thanks to a surviving film that is held by the Yorkshire Film Archives and available on the British Film Institute website

Watching the film is a bit like looking at a mirror which is reflected in another mirror. You can clearly see the photographer from the Courier taking the photographs that feature on these postcards - and you like to imagine that there was yet another photographer taking a photograph of the film-maker making a film of the photographer .... and so on into infinity. The two records - the film and the photographs - provide quite different interpretations of the day, and provide us with a fine example of the comparative values of both mediums in terms of preserving the past. Strangely enough, the film seems to be from a time much earlier than the photographs. Whilst the film contains far more raw information than the photographs - it is a bit like comparing a ton of topsoil with a handful of glass beads - both, in their own way, provide an opportunity to get under the skin of history. 

Photograph 1 : I would love to know what was behind the strange pose adopted by the King. Was his hand cold? Or was it a reaction to being forced to write right-handed, despite his natural left-handedness? 

Photograph 2 : The Mayoress has such a delightful name - and by the look of it, a quite appropriate one as well. Why is she looking so cross? 

Photograph 3 : The King again, with his hidden right hand, again. One can almost imagine the conversation : "I say old chap, your wife has just bitten my hand!" 

Photograph 5 : I have no idea what has happened to photograph 4 in the series. Perhaps that is the one that provides an explanation for the King's hidden hand and the cross expression on the face of the Lady Mayoress.

Monday, October 03, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES - Working Class Edwardian Respectability

2. Working Class Edwardian Respectability

The second of my chosen images introduces the second of the four compass points that make up any family history, (and for the purposes of this exercise, my "family" is the extended family of both myself and my wife). We have already taken a first look at my fathers' immediate family, and now it is the turn of my mother's family, the Beanlands. And as our starting point we have a family photograph of almost the same vintage, dating, as it does, to either 1916 or perhaps 1917. It is a formal studio portrait which seems to portray the very nature of Edwardian prosperity and respectability : although Edward was long gone and the prosperity - if perhaps not the respectability - was merely a veneer. Despite their shining boots, gold watch chains and satin frocks, these were working class folk who were more familiar with the mills of West Yorkshire than they were with Edwardian tea parties. And as with many veneers, time has the habit of wearing away the surface to show what lies underneath.

At the time of the photograph, my grandfather, Albert Beanland, was in his early forties and living in the Princeville district of Bradford with his wife, Catherine, and two young daughters. By trade he was a mechanic who had experience working on all types of textile machines. He had not lived in Bradford for long, he had spent most of this first forty years living a few miles up the valley in Keighley, where his family had lived for several generations. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Albert's father, Fowler Beanland, and his two brothers, Arthur and Fowler Jnr went into business on their own account as manufacturers of textile wringing machines in the Worth Valley near Keighley. They took a lease on Lower Holme Mill and in the 1901 census, Fowler Snr and Fowler Jnr are listed as "Spindle Manufacturer"s, Arthur is listed as a "Spindle and Flyer Manufacturer". How this fits together with the official description of the firm, Fowler Beanland & Sons, as "Wringing Machine Manufacturers" is unclear. That official description comes from the Receiving Order which was issued in 1904 when the company went bankrupt. That event will have had a powerful impact on the family and meant that Albert spent his life working for others rather than working for himself. He died, in Bradford, in September 1948, a couple of months after I was born.

At the time of this photograph, my grandmother, Catherine - who was always known as Kate - will have been thirty none or forty years old. She had been married to Albert since April 1903 and had not had a job since her marriage, although before it she worked as a waitress in both coffee houses and pubs. And just like Albert's family bankruptcy must have had a powerful impact on the course of his life, Kate's early life was influenced by the death of her father, Albert, a grocer, when she was just fourteen years old. Although not yet forty at the time of this photograph she had lived in various parts of the country: she was born in Rutland, spent her childhood in Wales, and lived in Middlesborough and Leeds before eventually getting a job as a barmaid in Keighley. And it was there that she met Albert. Having moved to Bradford a few years before this photograph was taken, herb wandering life was at an end. She continued to live in the city until she died there in 1960, aged 83.

AMY BEANLAND (1904-2001)
Amy was Albert and Kate's first child and she would have been about twelve years old at the time of this photograph. Her story is a long and colourful one (and no doubt will feature in more detail in some of the other images that represent the history of my family. She was married three times - getting married for the last time when she was in her eighties - and lived well into her nineties, ending her life in a retirement home in Scarborough.

GLADYS BEANLAND (1911-2004) 
The "baby" of the picture is, of course, my mother, Gladys. Although she had been born in Keighley, the family had moved to Bradford when she was very young, so it was that city she always looked on as "home". She was married - to my father, Albert - in 1936 and her new family eventually moved the few miles south to Halifax in the early 1950s.. Towards the end of her life she moved another few miles south to the West Yorkshire town of Brighouse, and it was there that she died in July 2004 - on her ninety-third birthday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Random Times : A Butterman, Some Onions, And The Great Eastern

RANDOM TIMES : 21 September 1863

Our Random Number Generated Time Machine has, this week, whisked us back close to the beginnings of time itself (well the beginnings of time as defined in this series), to September 1863, We have come to rest in the Port of Liverpool and our news is provided by the Liverpool Daily Post. Reading newspapers which are 150 years old highlights the tremendous social and economic changes that have taken place in that time. A week or two before our time machine landed, 100,000 people had gathered in Liverpool on a sunny afternoon to watch the public execution of four men. Earlier in the year, Queen Victoria's wayward son, Edward, had married Princess Alexandra of Denmark, But there were also the beginnings of some of the things that would go on to craft the very shape of the century and a half that followed: the first line of the London Underground system was opened, the Football Association was founded, and linoleum was patented. In Liverpool, Frank Hornby - the man who would go on to invent some of the most iconic toys of the twentieth century - was born.

For all those who bemoan modern newspapers for sacrificing news at the altar of advertising revenue, it is instructive to look back at the local newspapers of the time. What news there is, is hidden amongst column after column, and page after page of advertising. And what news there was, was dominated by events in America, where the Civil War was at its mid-point.

A Butterman, Some Onions, And The Great Eastern

Scattered around the pages of the Liverpool Daily Post are reports from America on the progress of the Civil War which had been taking place for over two years and, tragically, still had another two years yet to run. The idea of the news being "scattered" is quite appropriate: this is the age before instantaneous news could be beamed around the world. Whilst the telegraph system had been in commercial use for some thirty years by 1863, trans-Atlantic telegraph cables were still three years in the future. Thus for news of the progress of the Civil War, people were still dependent on despatches sent by sea, as can be seen by these two examples from the pages of the Daily Post.

The war in America was the major foreign news story of the period, but it had a special significance for Liverpool. That city was the major port for the trans-Atlantic trade and in particular the importation of cotton from the southern States. The war and the Union blockade of the Confederate States had a considerable impact on the local economy. The great shipowners were losing money and the shipbuilders were also suffering. Various attempts had been made to build ships that were intended for the Confederate Navy, but the ships had been seized by the British Government for being in breach of their policy of neutrality.

The interruption of supplies of cotton from America coincided with a widespread reversal in trading conditions and the two things together led to what became known as the "Lancashire Cotton Famine" of 1861-5. There was widespread unemployment and poverty amongst the textile workers of the county and relief efforts were established throughout the country (this is an example from the pages of the Daily Post of a relief society dedicating its efforts to the managers and overlookers of Preston. Despite the detrimental impact of the Civil War, cotton workers in Manchester supported the cause of the Union and its efforts to end slavery in the southern states.

The hindsight of history does not make everything clear! The meaning of this strange public announcement in the columns of the Daily Post remains a mystery, which, perhaps, is better not solved.

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was one of the axioms of the high Victorian period, but the 1860s were a time of great controversy over precisely how best to achieve such a state of near-Godliness. One of the main protagonists in this "heated" discussion was a certain Dr Barter, known as the "father of the Turkish Bath" The very idea that the "shores and sewers" of the human body must be flushed (at two shillings a time) is one that still attracts support in the twenty-first century.

When they were not flushing their personal sewers out, the residents of Liverpool were invited to buy a ticket for a day return trip to the Birmingham Onion Fair. This annual fair had been taking place since the eighteenth century and originally it provided an opportunity for city dwellers and country people from all around the Midlands to buy and sell agricultural produce: in particular that favourite delicacy of these parts, the onion. By the 1860s, the fair had almost outgrown its traditional home in the Birmingham Bull Ring and had become associated with every type of amusement, menagerie, and showmanship. Following protests by local shopkeepers it was eventually moved out of the centre of the city, but it was still active as an annual funfair well into the twentieth century.

Brunel's SS Great Eastern was the Branwell Bronte of the Brunel family of ships. Whilst the Great Western and the Great Britain went on to find fame and fortune and a permanent dry dock in history, the Great Eastern led a life punctuated by accident, failure and ignominy. She was built as the largest and most ambitious of the Brunel steam ships, intended for the long distance eastern voyages to India, China and Australia. Work started on building the ship in 1854 and as it was intended to be six times larger by volume than any ship then afloat, the task was a daunting one. The project was jinxed from the very outset: the company given the contract to build her went bankrupt, the launch failed, a boiler exploded on her maiden voyage, and the perceived market of voyages to the far east never materialised. Instead she joined the already overcrowded North Atlantic market sailing out of Liverpool, just at the point when trade with America was beginning to be badly affected by the Civil War. Even when she made trans-Atlantic voyages they tended to be plagued with bad fortune: as we can see, in September she ran into and sunk the ship, Jane. In January 1864 she was put up for sale, but nobody seemed to want to buy her and an idea was even floated to make her the prize in a public lottery (luckily, this came to nothing - what on earth could you do if you won a steamship in a lottery!). Eventually she was bought and leased to a company responsible for laying the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable The great ship that had been intended to carry passengers in luxury to the East, earned her keep by laying out cables on the bed of the Atlantic. At the end of her cable-laying career she was used as a floating billboard on the River Mersey for Lewis's Department Store before eventually being broken up in 1889, just thirty short years after her maiden voyage.

"Last night, about twenty minutes to nine o'clock, a young man of short stature, dressed in black, took a run on the Seacombe slip and plunged into the river. He was heard immediately to cry for help. A boat was put off to his assistance, but no trace of him could be discovered" Comment, on some occasions, is quite superfluous.

What finer way to finish than with a concert by the "Yorkshire Queen of Song", Mrs Susannah Sunderland? She was born in Brighouse (just a mile or so from where I am writing this) in 1819 and her singing ability was first noted by the local blacksmith. She went on to perform throughout Yorkshire, and as the expanding railway system made travel easier, her fame was recognised throughout the land. When she sang for Queen Victoria in London, the Queen is supposed to have said, "I may be Queen of England, but you are the Queen of song ", and she carried the tag-line throughout her career. The performance in September 1863 was, indeed' her last in Liverpool: she retired from singing the following year. A famous singing competition - the “Mrs Sunderland Competition" still takes place in Huddersfield in her memory.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES : A Bradford Family Icon


1 : A Bradford Family Icon

ENOCH BURNETT (1878-1948)  : Enoch was thirty-nine years old at the time of this photograph. He was married and had the four children pictured with him and his wife, Harriet Ellen. When the photograph was taken he was absent, serving in France in the Labour Corps, digging trenches and tunnels - the very architecture of that most difficult time in the history of mankind. At the end of the war, Enoch returned to Bradford and returned to the life he knew before - cleaning windows in the summer, mending watches and clocks in the winter and playing the euphonium at Chapel music evenings.

HARRIET-ELLEN BURNETT (1871-1956) : Already in her mid-forties when this photograph was taken, Harriet-Ellen was, I suspect, the glue that kept the family together in good times and bad. There is a strength in that face and a calmness; both qualities that would be needed in the years ahead. She was never listed as having an occupation, but that doesn't mean she didn't work: like so many housewives of the era she worked unceasingly - cooking, cleaning, giving birth and giving comfort.

JOHN ARTHUR BURNETT (1899-1974) : Whilst the family might have been confident enough to leave a space in the photograph for Enoch who was over in France digging trenches, they were realistic enough to know that once a young man went to the front, there was a fair chance that he might not return. And this is probably the reason for the photograph in the first place: for it was taken shortly after John Arthur joined the army a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday. After a few months training in England he was sent to the slaughter fields of France and within three months of arriving there he was posted as missing. But he survived; he was taken a prisoner of war and in 1919 returned to Bradford and his family.

MIRIAM BURNETT (1901-1987) : Miriam was 16 years old when this photograph was taken and already working in the Bradford mills. By the 1930s she was still unmarried but was involved in a lengthy courtship with a local lad, Frank Fieldhouse. They didn't marry until England was once again plunged into war and whether by choice or fate, Frank and Miriam never had children. For a time she ran a seaside boarding house in Great Yarmouth and in her old age, when Frank had died, she returned to live in West Yorkshire.

ANNIE ELIZABETH BURNETT (1903-1980) : Annie was the beauty of the family: a young girl with talent and personality and so much to give. She fell in love with a handsome, young Concert Party pianist and tenor vocalist, Harry Moore and in 1933 they were married. It wasn't a particularly happy or successful marriage, although they remained together until Annie died in 1980. Harry was probably gay, but these were times when such a fact had to be hidden within the camouflage of a childless marriage. Annie was left with significant psychological scars that remained with her all her life. A tragic story, but a common one.

ALBERT BURNETT (1911-2002) : Albert was the baby of the group, born eight years after his closest sibling. Albert became a mechanic who made a career looking after machines in the wrapping and packaging industry. He married Gladys Beanland in 1936 and after a couple of miscarriages, Gladys gave birth to two boys. The eldest, Roger, went on to become a successful artist and sculpture who travelled the world. The younger, Alan, remained in England and started to collect old photographs that could eventually be strung together to provide a history of my family in one hundred images.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Confessions Of A Bookmaker

I make books for two reasons. First of all I am fascinated with the process of making books in this modern digital age. I have become almost addicted to experimenting with different formats, alternative approaches and competing publishing firms in order to discover which is the most effective. In the past I have used Lulu and Blurb, and now I have started using Amazon's own dedicated publishing service, CreateSpace. In some cases these require the use of different software and therefore the challenge is not just to overcome the technical problems posed by the publishing process, but also to become reasonably competent in the use of desktop publishing software.

The second reason is a belief that, despite the obvious and many advantages of digital media and the libraries of books that can be slipped into your back pocket or browsed from your mobile phone, there is something solid, reliable and lasting about physical books. I sometimes think of books like Edwin Muir thought of horses - you may know the poem where  he tells of a time following some apocalyptic war when all the modern machines are of no use and the horses return, "stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent / By an old command to find our whereabouts".  When all the Kindles have crumbled and the tablets have run out of power - these physical books will still be around tempting some great-grandchild to discover what some old fool wasted his time doing.

Anyway, all this is a preface to announcing that my latest book has hit the Amazon shelves. It is called "Pictures From Nowhere" and is a collection of the lost and orphaned photographs that have provided a stimulus for my imagination over the first half of this year.  I can't claim that it was a book that I have slaved over for years: I collected the posts together last Thursday, proofed it on Friday, ordered it on Saturday and it was delivered to me on Sunday.  But it is cheap (£7.50p including free postage if you are an Amazon Prime member) and reasonably cheerful. And as an experiment in relative simple and painless desk-top publishing, I like to think it has been successful.

Pictures From Nowhere is available from Amazon.Com and all the various local manifestations of that monolith (just do a search for "Alan Burnett Pictures From Nowhere"). It's cheap and it's cheerful and for every copy sold I get enough to buy myself half a pint of beer!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sepia Saturday 343 : Working On Inverse Relationships

Our theme this month on Sepia Saturday is "Work And Play".  I will start with work - weren't we always taught that work came before play? - and with these two fine fellows who are obviously kitted-out for a day on the footplate. I have no idea who they are: running, as I do, a home for orphaned old photographs, people often hand me old photographs whose provenance has been long forgotten.  By posing in front of the insignia of their employer we have a good idea of what they did and - because it is "British Railways" and not British Rail nor one of the handful of silly names rail companies now posses - when they did it.

There are no doubt experts out there who will be able to tell us more (feel free to write in, I am a magnet for trivia) by examining the cap badges or the bogey wheels or identifying the precise meaning of what appears to be an Amazon Dash button on the shirt of the cheap on the right. But I love photos for their own intrinsic value and sometimes there is an inverse relationship between added information and added visual value. There should be  a mathematical formula to express that relationship - I will play around with the idea and see if I can work one out.

To see what others are doing with work and play, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.