Thursday, September 30, 2010

With Dotty At The Boundary Fence

We live in a strange virtual half-world us bloggers, never sure of the boundary between reality and fantasy. Tonight, for example, I am heading for the eagerly-awaited 3rd Annual Willow Ball with my date for the evening, the delightful Dorothy Parker. I had arranged to meet the acerbic Miss Parker at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, and I found her there surrounded by a rather strange collection of characters, many of whom seemed to have crossed over that boundary I spoke about earlier (was that really Harpo Marx and was he really talking!!). I quickly explained to Dotty (she insisted that I call her Dotty which made me feel very grown up) that it was a virtual ball that we were attending and I tried to explain a little about how such things work (I had rightly surmised that she hadn't kept up with technological developments since her unfortunate death in 1967). But she seemed to understand the mechanics of blogging, the internet and virtual gatherings remarkably easily, and I was moved to congratulate her on her perspicaciousness. Quickly correcting me on my grammar - "the word is perspicacity dear boy, try not to get it wrong in future" - she went on to say something which I thought was so significant I tried to make some quick notes on the collar of a passing waiter so I could share it with you. Here is what she said:

"You talk as if this virtual reality of yours is something new or something special. Be assured, it is not. Every writer since Homer has inhabited a virtual world : the difference between your Willow Ball and his Trojan Horse is merely a matter of time and spatial distance. Every playwright, every dramatist, every poet has investigated that boundary you speak of between reality and fantasy. That boundary is where artists live, where they thrive, where they meet together and share ideas. My Algonquin Hotel is your Willow Manor. My Robert Benchley is your Jeffscape, My Alexander Woollcott is your Brian Miller, my Tallulah Bankhead is your Betsy, and my Harpo Marx is your ... (here she paused and smiled at me) ... well work it out for yourself. Never apologise for your virtual world, Alan, celebrate it and gorge on its creativity. Walk that boundary between what some would call reality and what some would denounce as fantasy with the pride and excitement of an explorer. (At this point she finished off her drink, stubbed out her cigarette, pushed her hair back into some order). Right Alan, take me to the Ball."

So Willow, we are on our way. Not sure what time we will arrive, but we both look forward to meeting up with you and all the other guests later today. As Dotty said "see you at the boundary".

Join Us All At The Boundary At The Willow Manor Ball HERE

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pub Crawl : 1. The Black Bull, Brighouse

Is there any finer place than a pub? Not just for drinking, or reading or soaking up the atmosphere by a process of contemplative osmosis : but for writing. So here's the plan. Take a pub, take a pint, take a set of 4" x 4" Post-It notes, and take a pen. And see what emerges. I am not sure where this is going - I only invented the game a couple of hours ago. This time the words are vaguely about the pub, next time they may be about ... well who knows!. The notes were as written in the Black Bull in Brighouse whilst supping a pint of Tetleys' bitter. In case you have trouble following my writing, I have added a transcription. Cheers.

"Town pub dating from a time when a town needed a pub for commercial travelers to stay, Oddfellows to meet, and smart young men about town to greet a lass and buy her an anticipatory port and lemon. Dates from a time when pubs were not measured in square-footish parcels. It is ample, like the legions of ample Aldermen it will have been home-from-home to. Ample like a town beadle : proud, embellished, showy, large than the life of this small Yorkshire town. Now it struggles with its Sky TV that will never quite fill its terraces, its lunchtime carvery which will never quite tempt the foodies, its stainless steel electric larger pumps which will never, ever, win the beer-heads. Poor, poor Brighouse : its Corporation was lost years ago, its newspaper is a sad shadow of its former self. Somebody please protect its Black Bull."

Monday, September 27, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 7 - Stirley Hill

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

It has always been the fate of some to live in the shadow of their bigger, better or more celebrated companion. Think of Robin, who would have been nothing more than a three-wheel car had it not been for his friend Batman. Think of Little John, who was undoubtedly bigger than Robin Hood, but always walking in his shadow. Think of Mycroft Holmes who may have been smarter than his brother Sherlock, but never got to solve any mysteries. Occasionally minor planets escape the gravitational pull of their grander neighbours - British readers might want to consider the case of Ed Milliband and his older brother David - but normally they continue to play Ganymede to someone else's Jupiter. Or - in terms of our little West Yorkshire odyssey - Stirley Hill to someone else's Castle Hill.

Castle Hill must be one of the most prominent landmarks in the Huddersfield area, and it does just what it says on the tin : there is a mock castle structure on top of a prominent hill. OK, the castle that you can see is a late nineteenth century fake, and the hill rises to a mere 305 metres above sea level, but it is chock-full of history. It's a genuine scheduled ancient monument, site of one of the most important iron-age forts in the County, home to settlements from the Mesolithic Age right through to the late middle ages. It's a class act. When the ancient Greeks were defeating the invading Persians at the Battle of Marathon and runners were hot-footing it to Athens to pass on the news, early iron-age settlers were knocking up a hill fort on the top of Castle Hill. When the Romans invaded Britain in the first century AD, the locals took to their fort on top of Castle Hill and chucked stones at the visitors. Even though the original forts are long gone, when the occasional visitor finds their way to Huddersfield it is Castle Hill they want to see. Bold, beautiful, majestic Castle Hill.

But my random number generator is a bit of a tease. By changing just the odd digit it could have sent me to Castle Hill and I could have told tales of chivalry and courage in prose Sir Walter Scott would have been proud of. But instead it sent me a mile away to Stirley Hill from where all I can do is to bask in the views of its more famous neighbour.

To give Stirley Hill its due, it is a good place for views. If I turn my back on Castle Hill I can look down on Huddersfield and, if I had remembered to pack my telescope, I might have been able to see my own house on the distant hillside.

It's a green place which reminds you that if we weren't known as the Blue Planet we might make a claim on the Green Planet franchise. Crops grow, birds sing, insects buzz around and horses graze in field that tempt you to forget that you are within engine-chugging, grease-spitting distance of the heartland of the first industrial revolution. You might think that Stirley Hill has taken an easy path through time, untouched by all that iron-age fighting above it on Castle Hill and all that weaving and wefting down in the valleys of industrial Huddersfield. But you would be wrong. Stirley Hill has had its moment in history, its five-minutes of fame. 

To discover it you need to go back almost seventy years. It is the height of the Second World War. Down in the distant valley is the tractor factory of David Brown which, during the war-time emergency, has been converted to making the gearboxes of the famous Spitfire aircraft. During the Battle of Britain the Spitfires and the Hurricanes were just managing to keep the invaders at bay and the David Brown factory was keeping the fighter planes in the air. 

Castle Hill provided a wonderful navigation beacon for German bombers who were intent on destroying the David Brown factory. The only defense was to sight a number of anti-aircraft batteries in the vicinity and attempt to shoot the invaders down. And Stirley Hill was the sight of one such battery.

For a moment I feel proud of this triumph of the underdog. As I walk down Hey Lane which dissects my square I search for what remains of the old gun emplacements but my way is barred by a large gate and a larger padlock. But I find a Google Earth image and I am able to transmit a defiant gesture at nearby Castle Hill which always seems to be looking down on its less lofty neighbour. But later, when I get home, I read a report which suggests that the real gun emplacement was on Castle Hill itself and the one on Stirley Hill was merely a dummy built of canvas and poles to purposely attract enemy bombing. I decide not to investigate further, too much information can sometimes be a bad thing.

Whether or not it has paid its historical dues, Stirley Hill is a glorious place. If I was an artist I would want to paint it, to capture its light and shade, its shape and form. And Stirley Hill will always have one thing its more famous neighbour will never have : wonderful views of the glory that is Castle Hill.

To read the other installments of this series follow these links :

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sepia Saturday 42 : Tempus Fugit (When You're Enjoying Yourself)

School photographs feature prominently amongst all of our Sepia Saturday collections because in the days before digital cameras and Facebook profiles, school photographs were amongst the very few "rights of passage" images that most people possessed. My photograph this week comes from my "Family Photo" box, but like so many old images, it poses more questions than it provides answers. The main questions are : where, when, who and what.

Let us start with "where". The clue should be the flag, but which flag is it? (it is times such as this that you wish that colour photography had been invented a little earlier). Under normal circumstances I would bet good money that the schoolroom must be in Yorkshire (going back 200 years I have never discovered any of my immediate ancestors who were not born or brought up in Yorkshire). But if this was the case, why are the children holding what I can only imagine is the St. Patricks' Cross flag of Northern Ireland? 

The clue as to the "when" question is provided by the portrait of Queen Victoria which hangs on the school wall. Victoria died in 1901 so we can perhaps assume that the photograph pre-dates her death. But maybe the years had moved on and the old picture had been left in place. Is that, perhaps, a little piece of black mourning crepe that you can see near the bottom of the portrait? So for time we have a fairly wide "window of opportunity", ranging from about 1885 right through to 1910. 

And so we come to the "who". Which of the five children had significance to our family? I have enlarged each of the five faces in an attempt to find a distinctive look or feature that I can match to one branch of the family or another. The best I have been able to come up with is a vague feeling that there is a Beanland girl there somewhere. I can see quite a lot of my mother in the girl holding the flag just to the right of the boy : but it can't be her because the dates are all wring.

So, as usual, more questions than answers : but that is what makes these Sepia Saturday posts so enjoyable. And one final question to leave you with : what on earth is the young boy holding over his shoulder? Any suggested answers with regard to the where, when, who and what questions would be most welcome.

You can check out all the other Sepia Saturday posts by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Applying The Reverse Polarity Theory To Bora Bora.

By next Tuesday our final house guests will have left us and the Good lady Wife and I can start rattling around inside the house by ourselves again. It has been great having an almost constant stream of visitors for the last couple of months, and one of the advantages of house guests is that you get to "reverse the polarity of the visit" and visit them once they have returned home. It is therefore always advisable to choose your house-guests with care with regard to their own domestic alignments. From this perspective, this summers' crop of visitors have been particularly fruitful.

Earlier in the summer we had Cousins Carrie and Rob staying with us whilst they waited for their new house to be completed. They have been in the new house - which is a few miles inland from the Yorkshire coastal town of Scarborough - for a couple of weeks now and yesterday, on a glorious late summer day, we got the chance to go and see them. The first picture shows us all - along with Cousins Dave and Jenny - and serves to remind me why I usually prefer to remain on the other side of the camera lens. The second picture shows the countryside around Burniston - the village where they live. If you had walked to the top of the hill in the distance you would have been able to see the North Sea.

Our second batch of guests were, of course, Jane and Edwin from Oxford, and we frequently take advantage of the "reverse polarity" theory by visiting them in that magnificent city. Our current guests - my niece Di and her family - provide a particularly attractive prospect for the "reverse polarity" theory as they live in the British Virgin Islands. If all goes well and the hurricanes keep well away, we look forward to dropping in on them in a few weeks time.

In the meantime, I am keen to expand the reverse polarity experiment in new directions. Is there anyone out there from Bora Bora just longing to visit Huddersfield?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rhodes Street Makes The Cut

Things are still fairly hectic over here and they will be for another week or so, and therefore I will take this opportunity of including one of my re-discovered 1960s and 1970s images. There is something quite peaceful and satisfying in feeding a strip of old negatives into the scanner and seeing what comes out of the other end. It is a form of time travel and a journey of rediscovery and an eminently suitable occupation for a time when everything outside seems to be as cold and grey as many of the old 35mm negatives themselves. For those interested in detail, this particular negative shows Rhodes Street in Halifax and I must have taken it in the late 1960s. Shortly after the area was re-developed and although some of the buildings survived they were "cleaned up" ind inter-spaced with bright new brick boxes. There is something about the atmosphere of this old shot which seems to mirror my mood today. Over on my Daily Photo Blog I have, for the last week or so, been featuring some of my re-scanned forty-year old images of Halifax. By the end of September I hope to have chosen the 12 I will incorporate into my 2011 Calendar. This one, I think, will make the cut.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sepia Saturday : The Funny Old World Of Sir Luke White MP

My Sepia Saturday offering this week marks a change from the usual family photo of Uncle Jim or Aunt Ruth-Annie in that the subject is no relation of mine. Just why a signed photograph of Luke White MP should have been amongst the photos and cards collected by my Great Uncle Fowler I have no idea. Whilst Sir Luke White - to give him his full title - was a Yorkshire Member of Parliament, he was from a very different part of the County. Luke White was born in, worked in, lived in and represented the East Riding of Yorkshire from his birth in 1845 to his death in 1920. He was a solicitor by training and from 1897 he served as the Coroner for the East Riding. He was first elected to Parliament as a Liberal Party Member in the 1900 election and re-elected in 1906, and the two elections of 1910. He served in Parliament until the end of the Great War when he announced that he would not be fighting the December 1918 election due to his declining health. He only had a short retirement, and not a particularly happy one. After the election it emerged that White had debts of over £21,000 (the equivalent to about £1,000,000 these days) and he was summonsed to attend Scarborough Bankruptcy Court. He didn't attend and initially a warrant was issued for his arrest but was later withdrawn given his declining mental and physical state. He died a few months later.

It's a simple little picture with a signature that looks as if it has been quickly added. You can almost imagine Sir Luke sat at his desk in the Palace of Westminster signing a pile of stock photos and sending them out to constituents and the like. Hoping it might bring a few more votes. Hoping it might cement his position in politics, his position in society, his position in history. He could never have imagined that 100 years later the same photograph would be flashed across the world as a Sepia Saturday post. But there again, he could never have imagined that he would end his days in the dock of the Bankruptcy Court. It's a funny old world.

Take a tour of the other Sepia Saturday posts by following the links from the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Playing With Bronowski And Cohen At The Edge Of Uncertainty

One of my great heroes, Dr Jacob Bronowski, once said "knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty" It's a fine quotation because it devalues neither knowledge nor uncertainty but recognises the continuum between them. As another of my great heroes, the Sainted Leonard, once sang, "It's just the way it changes like the shoreline and the sea". "Where is this going?" you might well ask. "I have no idea", I might well reply.

I still have no answers in the strange affair of the prescient David Cuthill and the wedding of George and Queenie Obey. My best theory at the moment is that the said Cousin Dave is lying about his age and in fact he was born in 1938. The bad news for him is that he is unlikely to be able to take advantage of escape velocity in relation to regenerative technology, the good news is that he is owed a fair amount in back pension payments.

My efforts to play around at the edge of uncertainty are a little constrained at the moment because we still have visitors and I once again find myself having to apologise for both the lack of posts and the even more lamentable lack of visits to other blogs. Things will return to normal soon and I intend to re-launch myself into Blogland at the eagerly anticipated Willow Ball on September 30th (at which, I am pleased to confirm, Dorothy Parker will be my guest). In the meantime I will try and post the occasional recce into the Land of Uncertainty.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Few Answers But A Lot Of Questions

I left you last time with a question and a promise to try and find an answer. At the Pub Quiz on Friday (in answer to your question B&N, a pub quiz is like a trivia quiz with the added advantage of alcohol) I did manage to ask our question master, Cousin Dave, about the identity of the couple in the wedding photograph only to be told that he had no idea and he had never seen them before in his life. If you look through the comments to the last post you will see that, on sobering up, he later changed his mind and suggested that they might be George and Queenie Obey. George Emile Obey (1916 - 1992) was a cousin of David's (and therefore a cousin of the Good Lady Wife) and the records suggest that he married a certain Janet Cubbin in 1940. The date of the wedding and the style of clothes would seen to fit in with this suggestion. But before you decide that all our questions have been answered, I need to point out that Cousin D was not born until 1944 (or so he assures me) and therefore how could he have attended a wedding in 1940. The explanation for the fine penmanship of a two-year old put forward by Chairman Bill in a comment to the last post ("the standard of education in the 40s was obviously much better than today") would hardly seem to cover such a premature arrival.

Another question has been occupying my mind over the last couple of days : who should I invite as my guest to the Third Annual Willow Ball. I wasn't able to attend last year and therefore I am determined to make the trip this time around. But who should I take with me? The Good Lady Wife doesn't travel well in the early morning (when the moon is rising in Willow Land the morning is breaking over Bog Green) and therefore I have invited an alternative date. The only problem is that however many times I e-mail her, I can never get a straight answer to my questions. When I asked her what she might be wearing, she simply quipped "brevity is the soul of lingerie". When I checked to ensure that she could hold her liquor she shot back "I like to have a martini, Two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host" (Willow you might want to lock up your men-folk). 

Not having seen a picture of her for some time I asked her to send me one and I was rather surprised when it arrived as she doesn't seem to have aged at all. By my calculations she must now be 117 years old, so whether or not this is a faithful representation of her is a question that we will only find the answer to on Thursday September 30th.  But whatever she looks like, I think that we can be pretty sure that, with her around, it will be anything but a boring evening. There is no question of that.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sepia Saturday 40 : A Pub Quiz Question

An old photograph. It looks like a wedding photograph. It looks like the 1940s. But who are they? I certainly don't recognise any of the faces, but the evidence suggests that they belong to the Good Lady Wife's family and not to mine. The evidence is a brief note written on the folder which contains the photograph. The Auntie Edie in question was Isobel's mother and the David Cuthill is Isobel's cousin. Whilst the idea that the two-year old David Cuthill actually wrote the dedication would be to stretch credulity a little too far, he could perhaps throw light on who the people might be. Tonight I will find out. Tonight is the pub quiz and by a happy chance, the very same David Cuthill (now a few years older) will be asking the questions. Following the usual 50 questions of the quiz I will pose him a question. Who on earth are the people in this photograph? I will report back with any answer I manage to get.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Madge, Abandon Reason And Let Saint Serendipity Into Your Life

I bough this old postcard for a few pence at an Antiques Fair last week. There was no reason behind my choice.  Faced with a box stuffed with two or three hundred old photographs and postcards and time constraints set by a higher authority (the Good Lady Wife had set me free for thirty minutes whilst she explored Marks and Spencer's in York), I had to make some rapid decisions. I could have used reason, established a set of clear criteria, and painstakingly worked my way through the cards, applying criteria, establishing priorities and painstaking building up a short-list of possible purchases. I could have, but I didn't. I said a silent prayer to St Serendipity and plunged in, extracting a half-dozen cards at random. I didn't even examine them, I just paid my £2 and took them home to explore them at a later date.

I am a great lover of reason and a great believer in its' power for universal good. When it comes to the "big" decisions in life - decisions about political systems, economic structures, competing beer choices - I will go with reason every time. Back in the days when there used to be a question about "religious beliefs" on official forms I would always write "rationalist", only giving the practice up because too many people mis-read my handwriting and feared (or in some cases hoped) I had written "nationalist". But just like an Arsenal fan might occasionally admire the graceful footwork of Didier Drogber, or a jazz-head might hum a Abba tune, I sometimes welcome fickle, non-rational, serendipitous chance into my life.

Whilst trying to think of something to write for this week's Theme Thursday, I decided to review my chance purchases of last week. The postcard isn't particularly special. It is about 100 years old and it shows a view of the Indian Lounge in Blackpool's Winter Gardens. The card is torn and dog-eared and has seen very many better days. From what can be interpreted from the message from Madge on the reverse of the card, she too had seen better days than the ones she was spending in Blackpool. "Will you come to tea with us tomorrow?" she asks the unnamed recipient. "There isn't much pleasure in going away anywhere on these holidays, is there? Except if you havent any other time". I do rather sympathise with Madge, but I would urge her - if she is still there in Blackpool, in the rain - to abandon reason and welcome St Serendipity into her life. Don't think too much about things, just go out there and take a chance.

This is a THEME THURSDAY post. Take a look at the other Theme Thursday posts by following the links from the Theme Thursday Blog.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

101 Pubs To Drink In Before You Collapse : No. 1 The Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden

Imagine the scene. You are walking through a West Yorkshire village. The nearby Pennine hills scrape puddles of moisture from clouds en-route from the Atlantic to Siberia. But there is a freshness in the air that reminds you that you are alive, and why it is good to be alive. The sun breaks through the clouds and starts to warm the rich brown stone and buildings suddenly seem to come alive like stone reptiles reinvigorated by the sun's warming rays. The sounds of the modern world - the cars, the screeches, the bangs, and the buzzes - are buried beneath the sound of the Ryburn River racing down to the far off sea. You walk over an old stone packhorse bridge and there in front of you is a sight that is vaguely familiar. It is a sight that you have dreamt about ever since you became too old to dream of pretty young women. It is a perfect pub : warm, welcoming, and exquisitely beautiful. You have arrived at the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden.

It is easy to was lyrical about the Old Bridge, it is that kind of place. A plaque above the door tells you that it's "probably Yorkshire's oldest hostelry", but dozens of similar plaques grace the walls of dozens of similar pubs within the county. If you insist on reviewing the evidence - records dating back to the fourteenth century and talk of Roman roads from Chester to York - at least step inside and do so over a pint of ale. That's real ale of course, it would be a sin to drink anything else at such an establishment. But if you simply can't take the taste of beer then go ahead and sin : until just over a hundred years ago the pub was owned by the adjacent church and therefore forgiveness is in as plentiful supply as Timothy Taylor's Prize Winning Beers. And whilst you sup your blessed beer or your sinful chardonnay, have a look around and marvel at the place : the crooked floors, the low-slung doors, the wooden tables, the uninterrupted, undiluted sheer history of the place. And marvel at the fact that it has not been over-prettied, nor turned into a Sunday Supplement bistro. 

There has been a spate of books recently with titles like "1001 places to see before you die" and  "500 Books You Must Read Before You Expire". Well I have just come up with another one in the same series : "101 Pubs To Drink In Before You Collapse". And the first in the book is the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden. Catch a bus, hire a train, hitch a lift. Do whatever you need to do. Just see it.

The Old Bridge Inn
Priest Lane, Ripponden,
Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire HX6 4DF
Tel : 01422 822595

Monday, September 06, 2010

Here's To The Next 938 Years

I was listening to a fascinating piece about life expectancy on my favourite radio programme (the BBC's More or Less) yesterday when a claim about escape velocity grabbed my attention. We are used to the concept of escape velocity in relation to space ships breaking free from the gravitational pull of the earth, but the phrase can also be used in other situations in which the scientific ground rules undergo a sea-change after passing a specific point of time. In an interview, Dr Aubrey de Grey, the Chief Scientific Officer of an organisation called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), applied the concept to human regenerative engineering. He puts forward the idea that technology is advancing at such a pace, in thirty or so years there will be enough technology around to keep the average person alive for another 30 years. During that 30 years enough technology will have been developed to keep you alive for a further 30 years ... and so on. Escape velocity will have been achieved. One might believe that you would then live for ever, but Dr de Grey suggests that non-age-related factors will still get you in the end (falling under a bus for example) but they won't see you off until you are, on average, a thousand years old. A quick calculation based on the fact that I am now 62 years old suggests that if everything goes according to plan I might still be around when escape velocity is reached and therefore I have a further 938 years to look forward to.

To find out what I might look like during the next 900 years or so of my life, I turned to University of St Andrews Face Transformation software. This wonderful piece of kit allows you to upload a photograph of yourself and then age it. I was quite impressed with the results, indeed the photograph I got back (see above) makes me look no older than a sprightly 368 year old. 

Friday, September 03, 2010

Sepia Saturday 39 : Di

It's going to be a busy weekend and therefore I am posting a little early again. We need to get ready for the visit of my niece Diana and her family who will be travelling over from the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday. They will be staying with us for about three weeks whilst Junior, their son, will be staying here and going on to University in Sheffield. So there are rooms to get ready, food to buy and plans to make. It is only fitting that this week's Sepia Saturday offering should be one of Di herself, taken forty years or so ago. I am not sure that she has a copy of this photograph, if not it will be interesting for her to see how many objects she can still recognise. Safe journey over, Di, Nat and Junior : we are looking forward to seeing you.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Rarely Have Potatoes Been Used To More Beautiful Ends

With images, it is surprising how much we use colour as a quick yardstick to determine age. Originally, sepia photographs were sepia because they were old (the early chemicals used to produce the positive image gave the warm sepia brown tones we are familiar with), but once new techniques had been developed to create rich and lasting black tones, photographers would use special dyes to turn the blacks back into sepia in order to make the photographs appear old. In a similar way we tend to assume that colour photographs post-date monochrome images. Have a quick glance at the following two images :

Commercial Street, Brighouse. Circa 1970 : Alan Burnett
Mother and Child by Henry Essenhigh Corke. Circa 1910 (National Media Museum Collection)
The second image predates the first by some 60 years, although you would be more likely to think it was a modern photograph making use of antique clothing. The process used was known as "autochrome", and it made use of a glass plate covered in microscopic, red, green and blue grains of potato starch. It is a beautiful picture. Rarely have potatoes been used to more beautiful ends.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Thing Of Beauty And A 50p Joy Forever

I always think that there is as much interest and pleasure to be found on the reverse of an old postcards as on the picture side. Those half understood messages that can hint of so much are tantalizing to someone who has both time and imagination to spare. With Victorian carte de visites, the interest is usually focused on the picture on the front, but the reverse side can often provide a visual feast which can match any bustled beauty or cuirasse-bodiced coquette. Take, for example, this cdv of an unknown woman which comes from the studio of the Cumbrian photographer James Hargreaves, which I managed to buy the other day for 50 pence. Flip the card over and you discover the printed back.

Little seems to be known of James Hargreaves although it would appear that he owned a whole chain of photographic studios in the Lake District at the end of the nineteenth century. We know that he was born in Ambleside in 1852 and that by the time of the 1871 census he was already listed as working as a photographer. He certainly seemed to have connections and proudly lists himself as being "photographer to His Grace the Duke of Buccleugh and Queensberry". I did check to see if I could find a picture of the relevant Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry just in case she had a resemblance to our unknown woman, but I could find no portrait. Anyway, it is the trade advert on the reverse of the card which is the thing of beauty and a 50p joy forever.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...