Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Two Pictures, Three Girls


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

There Really Should Be A Word For It


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

Negative Thoughts : Square Bales


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

Experiments With A DNA Camera


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

Why Not Have It Enlarged?


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 fiancĂ© (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

Twenty Images : 4. The Man With The Self-Changing Gear


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

Twenty Images : 3. Booth Denton - The Grocer Of Mirfield


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

Twenty Images : 2. On Finding A New Motor Hearse Up My Back Passage


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.

Twenty Images : 1. Don't Be A Doctor


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

How I Found My Brain Up My Back Passage

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 Times : Riding Off Into The Political Sunset In Shipley In A Bentley



"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

What's In Store?


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

Sepia Saturday 443 : The Image Is The Key


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

Daily Victorian : The Halifax - Blackpool Axis


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

Daily Victorian : Dressed Up In Ludlow


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

Daily Victorian : A Working Man From Brighouse


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

Daily Victorian : Under Distinguished Patronage in Sheffield


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

Fire In Halifax #2


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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Overlooking Halifax



This is a new scan of a negative I must have taken fifty or more years ago. It was taken from the churchyard of St Thomas' Church, Claremount, and shows the bottom part of Halifax back in the days when the buildings were still soot-black and the chimneys that made them so were still smoking.  Halifax Minster is half hidden by a gravestone, but Square Church can be seen on the right of the picture and this helps to date the photograph as the main body of the church was destroyed by fire in 1971.

Talking To Gladys On The Sands


Scanning and retouching old photographs is a little like doing a jig-saw puzzle - it allows you to get up close to detail. Cast a passing glance at a photograph from eighty-odd years ago - you can use this photograph of my mother, Gladys, on the seaside sands as an example - and you might notice the main subject or the approximate location, and then you move on to something else entirely like making a cup of tea or watching Coronation Street. When you are scanning and retouching however, you dedicate time to detail - the shape of the handbag, the activity of the crowds in the background, the pattern of the dress. You sit down and talk to the people and share memories.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Voyage Into West Yorkshire


My brother Roger and I have been discussing book publishing recently. He is about to publish a book he wrote nearly fifty years ago and, for one reason and another, never got published. The book tells the story of a voyage through the canal system of Ireland at a time when "old Ireland" was fast vanishing. He describes the background to the book in a recent post on HIS BLOG.

 By complete coincidence I was attempting to clear out our garage the other day and I came across a pictorial map of the Calder and Hebble Navigation, my brother published back in 1967. If it is time to take a nostalgic return to the canals of Ireland, a revisit to the local canal system fifty years on is even more appropriate. So I have rescanned the map and got rid of as much staining and ageing as I can. Over to you, Roger.

Hashtag Boring


This is the alabaster tomb of James Montagu who was the Bishop of Bath and Wells between 1608 and 1616. The tomb is in Bath Abbey and Jimmy was another of those lifeless figures that stopped me and asked for a selfie. On returning home, I Googled James Montagu in order to discover something of the mildest interest to say about him. There was nothing. Hashtag boring.

Clinging To A Fashionable Youth


I visited the Fashion Museum in Bath last week and, whilst the features exhibits were all very interesting, they tended to concentrate on the clothes being worn by Kings, Queens, Dukes and the like. If I have an interest in fashion, it is as a means of dating photographs - and the photographs I am interested in tend to be about as far removed from the aristocracy as Bath is from Bradford.

I suspect that this photograph dates from the mid 1920s. As is always the case, fashion is the province of the young, and the most distinctive clothing is certainly worn by the young lady on the extreme left of the group.


Her elderly relative - second from the right - clings to the fashion of her Edwardian youth.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Killing Three Birds With A Sea Urchin


My brother Roger sent me an email earlier today complementing me on the new Blog lay-out, and asking me to try and feature more of my old negatives and more old family photographs. I am able to kill two birds with one stone because, by chance, the next strip of negatives awaiting scanning features family members - indeed, none other than my brother himself. The six photographs on the negative strip are featured in the composite image below, and they were all taken during a family holiday to Scotland in the 1960s. 

The featured photograph at the top of this post shows Roger in a rowing boat, on - I think - Loch Levan, and holding a sea urchin shell which he had just pulled from the Loch. I am not entirely sure of the year - my best guess was 1963 - but by featuring the photograph here, there is a good chance that a comment will appear from my brother on the other side of the world, identifying the time precisely. Thus I will be able to date the negatives and kill three birds with one simple negative stone.




Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Second Look At Harry Elk


This is Harry Elk. We know that because someone has kindly written his name under his photograph. A date would have been nice, an address would have been better, perhaps even over generous. A quick check of census records results in nobody of that name with a date of birth around the turn of the twentieth century. Whoever he was, Harry was a thoughtful chap who deserves a second look a century later.