There is a wonderful Flickr Group I am a member of called "The Museum Of Found Photographs" and every so often I submit a new exhibit. My latest is this slightly lop-sided quartet from the 1930s. Where they were or what they were doing I am not sure: but it has to be said that they don't seem very happy about it. "Smile for the camera ... for heaven's sake, smile"
Thursday, December 20, 2018
This is an old postcard from my collection and it features a view of Thornhills Lane in Brighouse. Once the sun returns to the sky I will take a walk up the Lane and record what has changed in the last 110 years, but as far as I remember from the last time I was up that way, the answer will be not a lot.
The card was sent by Phebe to Tom Holland in Gorton, Manchester. As far as I can make out the message is as follows:-
I hope you arrived home alright. I found all safe, also my rings. Came on to Brighouse yesterday with mother and I stayed overnight, but am going back to Halifax tonight. Kind regards to Mr Pickles,
Please bring Scottish Song Book by request of Mr E Atkins.
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Our random date generating time machine has taken us back to Friday 31st August 1945 and given us a copy of the Yorkshire Post to read.
Just over three months ago the war in Europe came to an end, just under three weeks ago the war in the Far East also came to an end, so it is little wonder that the newspapers are still focusing on the impact of that horrendous world war and the prospects for the future. The Yorkshire Post leads with the first eye-witness reports of the situation in Tokyo - "a city of ashes". "Most of the people are living in huts with thatched roofs on the outskirts Tokyo or crude dug-outs and air raid shelters in the ruined areas", writes Robert Reuben, the Reuter correspondent. "The food situation is critical in some areas. A lorry filled with Japanese soldiers passed us, but only one drew his sword. None raised their guns". Another article tells us that in Germany, charcoal is now the main fuel of motor cars.
"Northerner II" in his "This World Of Ours" column, bemoans the shortage of cigarettes which has befallen on post-war England. The likely culprits, he informs us, are British troops in the Rhineland who are using cigarettes as a currency to buy cameras and watches from German civilians. Cameras are obviously in great demand because a camera shop in Leeds has just experienced its second smash and grab raid of the summer.
The rest of the newspaper is full of that meaningful minutia that is the stuff of social history. A farmer wins a new tractor in a raffle, and they are hay making down on the farm. You can buy a new fur coat (ocelot-coney, no less) for just 19 guineas - but you will still need 18 clothing coupons because rationing is still in place and will be for many years to come. If you can't afford the coat you can always treat yourself to a night out at the cinema to see Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan and the Amazons", or perhaps Penny Singleton in "Leave It To Blondie". On the way home you can buy fish and chips - complemented by a liberal sprinkling of Champion's Malt Vinegar.
Monday, December 17, 2018
A thing of beauty can be found in the most unlikely places. This tiny old print was found sticking to the side of an envelope that must have contained a collection of photographs of more supposed interest. It was lost and forgotten for all the reasons such tiny works of photographic art are lost and forgotten: it didn't show Auntie Beth or Uncle Sam, it was a bit too black and white, and it wasn't pretty. It is, however, a gem of both social and photographic imagery: packed full of movement and interesting shapes. At a guess it must date from the mid to late 1920s, and I suspect it was taken somewhere in London.
Throughout the photograph, people have been captured in mid motion; frozen in time as only photography can do. The lack of detail merely accentuates this, making it the movement that is important rather than personal details. I have no idea of was responsible for the original photograph, who printed it, who discarded it, who lost it. They created, however, a little masterpiece which I am happy to share with the rest of the world.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
My post today features two images from my family photograph collection. Between them they feature three girls – and three methods of identification. The first photograph is the later of the two, and probably dates from around 1928. It shows two teenage girls with a Japanese umbrella and the hint of a painted Japanese scene in the background: the kind of props that were popular in photographic studios in the 1920s. The girl on the right – as you look at the photograph – is my mother, Gladys Beanland. The girl on the left is called Florrie – and I know that because of a pencilled description on the reverse of the print.
If the first photograph depends on familial recognition and pencilled annotation, in order to accurately identify the second photograph, I had to turn to new technology. I thought I recognised the young girl in the studio portrait, that must have been taken in the first half of the 1920s, but I couldn’t be sure. I then submitted the image to the facial recognition programme on Photoshop Lightroom, and it agrees with me – the sitter is Gladys’s sister – my Auntie, Amy Beanland. Two lovely old photographs, three lovely young ladies, and – thanks to modern facial recognition and old-fashioned pencilled notes – three identifications.
Thursday, December 06, 2018
Vocabulary has always a tendency to lag behind technological progress - which is why we have a word for a merchant who deals in candles made out of sheep's intestines ("tallower" in case you are interested), but no word to adequately describe those people who use social media to tell you what they had for breakfast. One activity there really should be a word for is that of adding something unique to the World Wide Web. Obviously we are well past the stage where that is going to be something of great interest to humanity - such as an image of an undiscovered Van Gogh or a cute cat jumping up at a sewing basket - but even the most esoteric of things will be go interest to someone, either now or 500 years in the future. The internet provides us all with an opportunity of adding something to that monumental time capsule called documentary history.
So whatever the word for the activity might be - I am doing it now with this scan of a small (9cm x 6cm) card which must date from the Second World War. It is calling for women to volunteer for the 69th Anti-Aircraft Command Troop of the Royal Artillery, which had a camp on Dewsbury Road, Leeds. Women between the ages of 18 and 40 (seventeen and a half with parent's consent) were urgently needed to supply target information for anti-aircraft guns. Not only was there full rates of pay in camp, there was also a bounty of £9 per year!
The card comes from the collection of my late Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam, although there is no record of Aunty Miriam ever signing up. Perhaps the bounty wasn't attractive enough. I have carefully checked Google and as far as I can discover there are no other images of such cards - so this is my own personal contribution to documentary history, whatever that might be called.
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
This is a scan of a negative I took over fifty years ago, in the mid 1960s. I can date it because of the rest of the shots on the strip of negatives - but even if they had not been there, I would have some idea of the date by the shape of the straw bales. These are good, old-fashioned, farmers' back-breaking, rectangular bales which would emerge from the baler machines of the 1960s. Just about the time I was taking this photograph a young graduate student at Iowa State University was working on his masters thesis which incorporated a design for a baling machine that could produce circular bales which could be easily pushed around. By the end of the decade, the shape of the countryside was changing and my photograph had become history.
Monday, December 03, 2018
Stories abound about so-called primitive tribes who would shun photographers in the belief that cameras can capture the spirit of the photographers' subjects. As with many such stories, it is of dubious veracity: but if such tribes ever did exist I have a degree of sympathy with their beliefs. Nothing comes close to capturing the very essence of a person like a photograph. That was true of the 1930s - when this photograph of my father, Albert, was taken - and it is still true in this modern age of the digital selfie (although the spirit exposed by some filter-bleached offerings might not be what the subject intended).
When I look at this photograph of my father on a seaside beach (the chances are it will have been Cleethorpes), I see him ... and then I see my brother, and then myself, and then my son, and even - if I squint a little - my grandson. What that box camera of eighty years ago did was to capture, not the soul or the spirit, but a decent chunk of DNA.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
What a wonderful invention: a machine that takes your photograph and weighs you at the same time. And even better - it prints the resulting weight on the photograph so that you have something to remind you of that day you had an extra large portion of fish and chips, not to mention the knickerbocker glory. And if that isn't enough, you can have the whole experienced enlarged for an extra three pence. There can only be one thing better: get you nephew to scan the photograph eighty two years later and put it on the internet for all the world to see.
The photograph shows Miriam Burnett with her then fiancé (later husband), Frank Fieldhouse. When this photograph was taken in 1936, they were only a few years into their twelve year engagement.
Friday, November 23, 2018
My life continues to be dominated by the Herculean task of clearing the garage of thirty years of accumulated rubbish, so that a new door can be installed in ten days time. I have managed to dispose of a library's worth of books, a china shop's worth of cups and saucers, and enough old files, forms and facsimiles to keep a bureaucrat happy for months. A big part of the problem is that I find so many of the things I am supposed to put into rubbish sacks or charity bags fascinating, and so I attempt to rescue them from the shredder, and share them with all those other people who find 1931 adverts for Armstrong Siddeley cars equally enthralling. And that, of course, means you.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
If you spend your life digging in the genealogical allotments of ephemera, you learn to welcome an unusual name. You can keep your "John Smiths" and your "Tom Browns" : give me a "Roderick Trencheon-Philpotts" any day. Or, more specifically, give me a Booth Denton - which is the name pencilled-in on the reverse of this Victorian Cabinet Card. I bought it because it comes from a local Huddersfield studio (Sellman & Co), and because it features a beard you ignore at your peril. A little spade work reveals that Booth Denton was a grocer from Mirfield (a few miles to the east of where I live) who was born in 1831 and died in 1894. He not only weighed out the tea, and parcelled up the cheddar cheese, he was also a bit of a pillar of the local community, who sought election to the local Board of Guardians on at least one occasion. He looks a formidable character - you wouldn't be too keen on going back to the shop to complain that your butter had gone rancid, or your flour had mouse droppings in it.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
The great garage clear-out brought to light a crumbling old copy of the Halifax Courier and Guardian dated the 4th February 1922. The big news of the day was not the economic and political crisis that Britain was going through, nor was it the developing Irish Civil War: it was the delivery of a new motor hearse to the Halifax undertakers, Messrs J Marsh & Co.
Life seems to be getting in the way of blogging again. If it is not clearing out my various back passages it is helping my son and his wife prepare for moving house later this month. My life seems to flash by in a series of images, so the least I can do is to share them.
The first is a scan of a playing card from the early part of last century - part of a set that was kindly given to me. I dedicate this particular image to my moving children and all their colleagues who somehow manage to care for patients, their own families and move house - all at the same time.
Friday, November 09, 2018
EXCAVATIONS UP MY BACK PASSAGE : SERIES II
The need to initiate a second series of "Excavations Up My Back Passage" has been brought about by the impending arrival of a new garage door. In order to install it, the garage needs clearing of a twenty year accumulation of rubbish - an extension of the accumulation that already fills the back passage running behind the bedrooms. So once again our intrepid blogger goes into domestic archaeological mode .... and his first find is something rather special.
Hidden within a cardboard box containing a set of unused Filofax Diary pages from 1998, I came across a white envelope containing five Polaroid photographs. They appeared to be a set of graphic photographs of an operation - in one of them a scalpel is clearly visible. I didn't take me long to realise that I was, in fact, looking at my own brain. The photographs date from the Spring of 1998 when I underwent surgery to have my cochlear implant fitted - the device that miraculously allowed me to hear again! I now remember the surgeon giving me the photographs after the operation - both to illustrate what he had been able to do and to assure me that, indeed, I did actually have a brain. In the illustration above, the wire can be seen that takes the electronic signal from the receiver - that is bolted in there somewhere - to the hearing nerve fibres and onwards deep into my brain. It was a remarkable piece of surgery and a remarkable piece of bio-engineering. Twenty years later, the system is still in place and working just fine; and allowing me to hear the clicking of the computer keyboard as I type this post.
Thursday, November 08, 2018
"Random History" is what happens when you mix together a newspaper archive, a random number generator and a man with too much time on his hands. Today our random-driven time machine takes us back to SATURDAY 21 JULY 1934, and the West Yorkshire town of Shipley.
The front page of the Shipley Times and Express seems to be totally dominated by a speech from the local Member of Parliament, J Horace Lockwood, to the Annual Garden Fete at the Windhill Conservative Club. The speech is a lengthy one and about as interesting as a mouldy corned-beef sandwich. I have the full text, and I will happily provide it to anyone who can come up with a good reason for wanting to read it.
To understand the degree of inappropriateness of the MPs words, you need to see them in the context of the economic and social situation of the times. Britain remained in the grips of the Great Depression, and unemployment in many northern towns was still in the realms of 30%. Poverty was widespread, housing conditions were appalling, and any social benefits available were based on the cruel system of "the means test". Singing the praises of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, Mr Lockwood told his Conservative audience: "He has tried to make our national income greater than our national expenditure and because of that we have comfort, financial safety, safety of property and of persons.”
Large parts of his speech are self-congratulatory and contain warnings about lies and half-truths from opponents and the press alike: the words almost have a Trumpian feel about them. No MP works harder for his constituents, he declares. Criticism was acceptable, he said, "but continual back biting, under-hand methods, and the sayings of untruths or, worse still, half truths, was a very difficult thing to combat". It is unclear what the criticism and half-truths were, but it is interesting to note that within twelve months of the speech, he had been deselected by the local Conservative Party and went on to come fourth in the 1935 General Election in Shipley, standing as an independent Conservative.
Leaving politics aside, 1934 was a good year to buy a motor car - if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one. Appleyard's of Leeds were advertising 1933 Morris cars from as little as £110, and as an added bonus, every car was fitted with four new Dunlop tyres! But if you really wanted a bargain, you could turn to the second-hand cars being sold by local garages, and, in particular, the 1929 4.5 litre Bentley which was on sale for just £350 (taking inflation into account that is equivalent of around £17,500 today). It is interesting to note that a similar 1929 Bentley 4.5 litre car was sold at auction last year for about £750,000 (which is the equivalent of a lot of money today).
I have not been able to discover what Mr Lockwood did after losing his seat in the 1935 elections - perhaps he bought a second-hand Bentley and rode off into the political sunset.
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
This is a scan of a quarter-plate glass negative which must date from the end of the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The seven featured subjects are an interesting collection: they could be the staff of a draper's shop or a saloon bar. There is something vaguely H G Wells about them - that might be a young Mr Polly at the back on the left ... or an old Mr Polly in the front centre. As with any good novel, the question we must ask when we first meet the main characters is - "what's in store for them?"
Saturday, November 03, 2018
The theme based nature of Sepia Saturday always encourages me to look at images as entities in themselves rather than as a portrayal of Aunty Clara, Uncle Walter or whoever. My Sepia Saturday contribution this week falls into the latter category - "whoever", for I have no idea who this particular piano player is. I suspect I acquired her within one of the boxes of old photographs that are attracted to me like iron filings to a magnet.You can argue that any old image has three elements or layers of interest. The first is as an image, and in this sense it is represented by composition, shapes, areas of light and shade and all the other superstructures of what is known as "art". The second element is as a historical insight: the clues, the costumes, the objects all of which provide a narrative about a particular time frame. The third is as a personal statement about the subject - Uncle Frank in his prime or Aunty Miriam with a perm or whatever.
This third element is missing with this particular piano player of mine: if she was someone's Aunty Miriam, it certainly wasn't mine. But there is a fair chunk of social history hiding in the shadows: look at the lamp, look at the wires, look at the dress. It is, however, as an image that this particular photograph works the best: the image is the key.
Friday, November 02, 2018
This is another studio portrait from the Halifax photographer, Edgar Gregson. Gregson had studios in both the seaside resort of Blackpool and the Yorkshire textile town of Halifax, which, on the surface, seems like a strange combination. By the later part of the Victorian period, however, mill workers were beginning to benefit from bank holidays and cheap railway excursions to the coast. A popular bank holiday treat would be a trip to a studio to get your photograph taken - to be collected later at the Halifax branch of the firm. What better reason for a Halifax - Blackpool axis?
Thursday, November 01, 2018
These days certain activities have become everyday events. We can take endless photographs with our smart phones without a second thought. We can walk into a supermarket and buy a change of clothes for little more than the cost of a packed lunch. For a Victorian Lady, however, a new dress would mark a milestone in life: an event of such significance that it could be marked by indulging in that other special event - having your photograph taken. Quite who this dressed up lady was, I do not know: but the photographer was a certain T Jones of 51, Broad Street in Ludlow. The date - at a guess - will have been the mid 1880s.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Today, our Daily Victorian has the look of a working man about him. Class can be an important aid in dating early photographs : in the 1850s the subjects tended to be the famous, in the 1860s and 1870s it was the rich and then the middle classes, and by the 1880s and 1890s prices had fallen and a studio portrait was within the means of working people. In this case, the studio was that of W Dawson of Brighouse. This particular example refers to studios in Waring Green, which is no more than a mile from Brighouse town centre, but I have also found reference to a studio on Huddersfield Road in Brighouse itself. I know nothing else about Mr Dawson, except that he was a competent Victorian photographer.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
If you take a man away from his desk for a week and isolate him in the Scottish wilderness with nothing to do other than sample rare malt whisky, he gets to thinking up new projects he can embark on when he returns to the safety of his study. For some reason, I decided to catalogue my collection of Victorian carte de visites and share them in the form of a Daily Victorian. It is a silly and pointless exercise (which is what attracted me to it in the first place), but one you will just have to put up with. Blame the Lagavulin.
We start with an example from my favourite city - Sheffield; and the studio of George Vernon Yates. He had his studios in Davy's Building which, if you are familiar with modern day Sheffield, is now W.H. Smith's. The portrait must date from the early to mid 1890s and features, one supposes, a mother and child. Given that the child must have been born around 1890, there is a good chance that he (she?) was still alive in the late 1970s when I lived in the city. George Yates doesn't explain just who the distinguished patronage he claims was: but, if it counts, when I lived in Sheffield I would visit W.H. Smith's a lot.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Fifty years ago I took a series of photographs of a fire in Halifax. It was just a relatively small fire in one of the mills; none of the photographs actually show the fire itself. It was the fire engines, the hose pipes and, in particular, the watching crowds that fascinated me then, and still do: fifty years down the line. The bee-hive hair styles, the bow-legged man, the housewives with babies and children who go out to watch the goings-on: Halifax folk in a world gone by.