Monday, July 29, 2013

Riding In The TT Races

It was my mothers' birthday last Saturday - she would have been 102. And that means that it is just ten years since she died. This photograph of her was taken in the 1930s when both her and my father we keen motorcyclists. One of their favourite destination in summer was the Isle of Man where they would go to watch the famous TT Races. Motorcycle racing was a massively popular sport eighty years ago, and coachloads of folk from the northern industrial towns would make for Liverpool and Heysham in order to get the ferry over to the island. There was even a George Formby film called "No Limit" about the races in which he sung his famous song, "Riding in the TT Races". 

Although the island is less than 150 miles from where we live, I have never visited it and I have always had difficulty imagining what this small island in the middle of the Irish Sea was really like. I was saying this some time ago to our friends, D&S, and on one of those whims that make life worth living, we all decided to go. And so as you read this, the four of us will be on our way to Liverpool to catch the ferry to Douglas in the Isle of Man. We are only staying a couple of days so I will be able to report back to you later in the week. Until then, here is a flavour of what the island was like back in 1935, from that George Formby film. And don't worry, I will steer well clear of motorbikes.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday 187 : Strange Ancestral Flows

Family Bibles are odd things. Unlike full sets of china or suitcases full of pound notes, they can't be divided, they can't be equitably distributed between all surviving offspring. You can't pass the Old Testament on to Cousin Ronnie and keep the New Testament to pass on to your favourite grandson. Family Bibles tend to follow a strange ancestral flow : being swept clear of childless lines and being drawn towards the fecund tributaries, like leaves swept down a swift stream.

That strange ancestral flow meant that the Family Bible of Arthur Beanland (1867-1944) came into the possession of his niece, my mother. Although Arthur was married three times and had seven children, none of them went on to have children of their own - three died in their youth and the other four lived long, unmarried lives. The Bible was handed down by Arthur to his daughters - Ada, Ellen and Clara. These three girls - known as the Clayton Cousins (they lived in Clayton, near Bradford) - were legends in the family. They were supposed to be great misers (the walls of their Clayton cottage were whitewashed to avoid the expense of wallpaper) and were consequently courted by anyone with a wedding or a birthday due in the hope of a substantial gift. By the time Isobel and I got married only Ada survived and my mother was most insistent that she was invited to the wedding, in the hope of a substantial gift for the newly-weds. In the event, we got a candlewick bedspread, and a few months later, Ada, the last of Arthur's children, died. My Mother and her sister Amy, inherited the worldly possessions of the Clayton Cousins - but there was little more than a back-to-back house and a Family Bible. 

Auntie Amy had no children so that particular tributary dried up and consequently the Bible came into the possession of my Mother. When she died, the Bible went to my brother as the older of her two children. And so today, that Bible "presented by the Committee of the New Jerusalem Church Sunday School, Keighley" sits in the sun on some far-off Caribbean island. But the digital age means that the essence of that historic volume, the images of those names and anniversaries, can follow a variety of channels and live for ever more.

Sepia Saturday 187 has family bibles for its' theme. You can see how others have interpreted the theme by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the various links.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Lost Pubs Of Brighouse : 2. The Ring 'O Bells Inn.

At one time or another there have been over 100 pubs, inns, beerhouses and taverns in the streets around Brighouse and Rastrick. Today, only a handful are left. Before time is called on too many more, I decided to go on a historical pub-crawl in search of the lost pubs of Brighouse.


Living in an age where insurance groups and utility companies change their names with alarming frequency, we tend to think of the practice of re-branding as a modern one. However, amongst the dusty annals of the pubs of Brighouse there are many examples of tactical rebranding, some of them reaching far back into the nineteenth century. Let us take, for example, the case of the Staff Of Life, a beerhouse on Commercial Street, Brighouse. The Staff was one of those pubs that blossomed into existence in that unregulated period between the 1830 Beerhouse Act and the return of regulation in 1869. Sometimes such places were referred to as "common beerhouses" and one suspects that the Staff was common in most senses of the word. After a visit there in 1873, a local diarist suggested that it would be better named "The Staff of Death".

It may have been from such comments as this that the idea of rebranding came about and sure enough, the following year, a new sign was erected and a new reputation was built. In May 1874, Brighouse Parish Church took delivery of a new peal of bells. Before the age of TV soaps and computer games, such events were the cause of considerable local celebration and a crowd of several hundred - proceeded by the Brighouse Subscription Brass Band - marched through the streets of the town to escort the bells on their journey from the railway sidings to Saint Martins' Church.

The procession was halted near the open ground at the end of Commercial Streets and the crowds thronged around to inspect the three an a half ton bells. One can imagine Frederick Pearson, the keeper of the Staff of Life, looking from his window at the sight of the celebrations and the spark of a brainwave developing.

And thus the Ring O' Bells was born, and so it remained for the next 90 years. It even made the most of its new theme and became the venue for competitive handbell ringing contests. In 1888, the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle reports  a change ringing contest held at the pub involving teams with wonderful names such as the Almondberry Wanderers. On that occasion it was the Saddleworth Ringers who scooped the considerable first prize of £2.10s. 

The pub survived the first half of the twentieth century, even though it was surrounded by a host of competing hotels, inns, taverns and beerhouses. But in the 1960s it fell victim to the scourge of "redevelopment" and was demolished in order to make way for the Wellington Arcade Shopping Centre (named after its' neighbour, the Wellington Hotel). You can now stand at the end of Commercial Street and not see a pub. The Ring 'O Bells has faded into a distant memory. But the bells are still at St Martins and the sound of them ringing the changes still drifts down the hill from Church Lane

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thinking, Sending .... Friendship

Can any finer greeting arrive from across the ocean than a note which starts : "Enclosed is a postcard for your enjoyment. I thought of you when I saw the card". People often make fun of the virtual friendships us bloggers form, but what is seeing something and thinking, sending something and thinking, other than the very definition of friendship. The postcard sent by my Blog friend C from Far Side Of Fifty was a 1924 postcard of Manchester Square, Blackpool. It is a year or two since I have visited Blackpool and the last time I saw a Blackpool tram was clattering down The Embarcadero in San Francisco!. But that could be Uncle Fowler or Auntie Miriam wandering along the sepia Lancashire promenade.

So what was a postcard of Blackpool doing in the United States? Back in July 1924 it crossed the Atlantic heading to the Rev Harding in Nesland, South Dakota from (possibly) "Amy and Uncle Tom". I am glad to say that 89 years later it recrossed the ocean in my direction. Thanks to C for thinking of me and sending me the card, I will find a suitable card to return home to the USA.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trimming Your Toenails With A Scythe Whilst Drinking A Mug Of Tea

After a busy week, I am enjoying sitting quietly at my desk, vaguely watching the news roll by, scanning old negatives and drinking mugs of tea (yes, tea, but worry not, it is still early in the day). Here is one of my colour slides from the 1960s, but I have no idea where it is. I decided to try an image search engine, but its a bit like trimming your toenails with a scythe : it has yet to develop into an exact science. Google seemed to think that it might be an aeroplane or a sports car and it was quite insistent on building a bridge where no bridge was needed.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sepia Saturday 186 : An Imposing Looking Structure

Our theme image this week shows a imposing looking lady described as "Boadecea or Mother England or possibly Britannia". When I posted the call on our Sepia Saturday Facebook page, I commented that the image reminded me of something. The suggestion immediately came back : "Auntie Miriam?" Perish the thought. No I was thinking of the Britannia Pier in Great Yarmouth - an imposing structure if ever there was one. Here is a picture taken some sixty years ago. Whilst the structure might have been imposing, it was remarkably susceptible to fire, burning down four times since it was first built. The imposing looking lady in front of the pier? It's Auntie Miriam, of course.

You can see many more imposing sepia posts by going to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the links.

My apologies for my absence recently. Last week was an endless round of ceremonies of one kind or another. Things should be back to normal this week.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sepia Saturday 185 : A Static Print That Strains To Move

Looking through my collection of old photographs for something to fit in with this weeks' Sepia Saturday theme of rain, puddles, umbrellas and all things wet, I quickly realised that photographers avoid the rain like ducks avoid orange sauce. The problem isn't so much that dull scenes make dull photographs, it is that camera equipment isn't all that fond of rain. At best you would get raindrops blurring your lens, at worst you would get moisture in your mechanisms : when the rain clouds burst, most photographers would duck into their darkrooms.

I spent some time searching through my negative files looking for things like puddle shots or umbrella patterns without too much success. But I did come across this rather pleasant photograph I took thirty or forty years ago. It is not raining, nor is there an umbrella in site : but there is a bit of water in the bottom left of the photograph. I can't really remember taking the photograph, but clearly it was on the Oxford Canal and I think that is my mate Des on the right of the photograph. There is a lovely feeling of movement in the shot : a static print that strains to move.

To see how other bloggers responded to the rain, dash on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Lost Pubs Of Brighouse : 1. The Duke of York Inn.

At one time or another there have been over 100 pubs, inns, beerhouses and taverns in the streets around Brighouse and Rastrick. Today, only a handful are left. Before time is called on too many more, I decided to go on a historical pub-crawl in search of the lost pubs of Brighouse.


For those who don't know the area, you can think of Brighouse and Rastrick as the Budapest of the Calder Valley. To the north of the River Calder stands the town of Brighouse; busy, somewhat full of itself with its municipal buildings and self-righteous chapels. To the south of the river stands the older parish of Rastrick, an elderly uncle fallen on harder times. As with all river-side communities, the crossing point become the focal point of settlement, and ever since the thirteenth century, the crossing point has been at Rastrick Bridge. A succession of wooden bridges were followed by a succession of stone bridges and until the new bridge was built for the Huddersfield to Bradford Turnpike Road in the early nineteenth century, Rastrick Bridge was the only crossing point in these parts. It was a house near this old bridge that gave Brighouse (bridge house) its' name. These days the old bridge looks a little tired, surrounded by boarded-up buildings and empty plots of land. On one of these plots, at the southern end of the bridge, once stood the Duke of York Inn.

The Duke of York wasn't the oldest pub in Brighouse, nor was it the smartest. But it was what modern managers would call "fit for purpose", and it served that purpose for well over 100 years until it was finally demolished in 1933. In Pigot's 1828 Directory it is listed as one of the 18 inns, taverns and public houses in the local area, and its' list of landlords and licensees contains a string of recurring surnames - the Websters, the Sutcliffes, the Eastwoods and the Fieldings - which give it the feel of a liquid memorial to the hard-working families of the area.

It never quite reached the status of grander gathering places in the town, but during the nineteenth century it was a favourite location of inquests into the deaths of local citizens. It was within the tobacco stained walls of the Duke of York that a jury heard the details of the tragic death of John Latham in 1843 who had slipped and fallen under the wheels of a train at Brighouse station. And one can't help wondering whether the Duke of York itself had in some small way contributed to the death of James Garside, whose inquest was held at the pub in 1870, who became intoxicated and fell into the River Calder and drowned.

By the turn of the twentieth century, business was getting harder for many local innkeepers, and the Duke of York featured twice in the list of local bankruptcies. By the 1920s, the local licensing authorities were keen to cull the number of pubs and alehouses in the Brighouse area and the Duke of York fell victim to the move and closed its doors for a last time in 1927. The building was demolished a few years later, ostensibly in the interests of road widening. But the road wasn't widened, and the footprint of the old inn lives on as a parking lot for taxis, like some palaeolithic relic of a former age.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Confluence Of Old And New

Many years ago, down some stellar back street of a parallel universe, I was lecturing to a group of students about the potential impact of "new technology". This was over thirty years ago when new technology was represented by an early Apple Computer bolted onto a dinner trolley so that it could be wheeled from lecture room to lecture room. I well remember standing in front of a group of students and saying something like this :

"Within our lifetimes, these things will revolutionise the way all manner of things are done. In thirty or forty years time you will be able to tell your grandchildren that in the old days information would be sent from place to place by writing it down in ink on bits of wood pulp, folding up such messages and placing them inside paper bags, paying men and women to carry them up and down streets and drop them through slots in a door. They will look at you in amazement, because the sound of a stout envelope dropping through a letter box will be foreign to their ears...."

Oh I could tell a good tale back in those days and my predictions were not too far off the mark. But thank goodness there are a few people still left who commit greetings in ink on the back of pasteboard cards and that happy sight of a postcard falling through the letter box can still make a twenty-first century day that little brighter.

I was reminded of all this the other day when a card arrived from my Sepia Friend Mike Brubaker. He was in England on holiday but we couldn't meet up because whilst he was on my continent, I was on his. He was visiting a gallery in Newcastle and found some fine old Sepia postcards and - I am pleased to say - couldn't resist sending me one. Here is Mike's postcard to me and my return postcard back to him. By sharing them with my other friends via the Internet we have a confluence of old and new technology.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Nobbut Grass On't Top

Minchinhampton Common : July 2013 (Alan Burnett)
If you fancy a change of scene you can move house. But there is all that packing and cleaning and sorting and searching. Far better to get some of your closest friends to move and then visit them. Having successfully relocated D&S to Spain and thus opening up a whole new landscape to us, we have just returned from a few days in Gloucestershire where our oldest friends J&E have just relocated to. Their new home is in Minchinhampton, a very old market town a few miles away from Stroud. In many ways the scenery is not unlike the steep West Yorkshire valleys that we are so familiar with. The industrial ancestry of the area is similar to these parts : textile mills made full use of the fast flowing streams that swept down the valley sides. And at the top of the steep valley sides there are open, unfenced area. But whereas round these parts, those open areas are bog-filled, heather-clad moors, down there they are common pastures upon which cattle and horses roam freely. as we would say in these parts, "there is nobbut grass on't top". 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Sepia Saturday 184 : One Theme, Two Cards

Ah Bless! The smiling face, that look of determination, the feeling of being impervious to the flurries of accepted wisdom : yes, that is my brother Roger. I suppose the photograph must have been taken about 65 years ago and I publish it here to celebrate the fact that in a few days he will become a Sepia Seventy. Happy birthday, dear boy.

So what on earth has all that to do with our theme for Sepia Saturday 184? Marilyn suggests "commemorative plaques, memorials, sculptures/ sculptors, group portraits, medical science, famous (or not) scientists/doctors, anything French, mad dogs!". Well Roger isn't French, nor is he a doctor or a scientists. Having lived in the tropics for quite some time he tends to go out in the midday sun, but that is because he is an Englishman rather than a mad dog. But luckily he is an artist and a sculptor and therefore I am able to meet my thematic requirements and my fraternal duties in one single post.

One of my favourite examples of his work can be found just up the valley from here at Sowerby Bridge. Entitled "The Lock Keeper", it was commissioned to mark the regeneration of the old canal basin and has become a well-known local icon. But perhaps my favourite piece of his, is the head he did of our son Alexander, fifteen or so years ago. It proudly sits on top of our old piano, acting as a permanent reminder of The Lad when he was young. And as The lad is due back in the country in a few days time, I can add to the list of ticks this post achieves : theme image, birthday card, and welcome home card.

You can see more examples of my brothers' work on his Blog by following THIS LINK. And you can see more contributions to Sepia Saturday 184 at the Sepia Saturday Blog by following THIS LINK.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Bay Watch 4 : Rooted In The Californian Soil

I wouldn't want people to think that the entire two weeks was one continual brew-pub crawl around the streets of the city. On some days we left the city behind and explored the valleys and the islands of the wider Bay area. One day we went up to the Muir Woods National Monument to pay homage to the few remaining first-growth redwood trees. As we were up north, it seemed like a good idea to combine the woods with calling in on a few vineyards, and it would have been the height of bad manners not to sample a few of the products they were so proud of. After all that wine, I began to see things in the trees that had not been there before. As I gazed at the trunk of an ancient sequoia, could I see myself looking back? A wooden image rooted in the Californian soil, destined to grow here for the next two thousand years. There are worse prospects by far.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Bay Watch 3 : A Broth Of Love, Peace and Freedom

The first Monday of our holiday was my 65th birthday : and it was also the day on which we visited the famous Haight-Ashbury district of the city. On that special day I was able to soak in a broth of love, peace and freedom, served amongst the bookshops, bars and second-hand clothes shops of that splendid district. We called for coffee at the Red Victorian and in the centre of each table was a glass jar filled with conversation topics supplied by previous visitors. We drank coffee, discussed random topics and left a few for future visitors. San Francisco isn't just about sights and tastes - it is about a way of life as well. I could happily return to that city by the bay - again and again and again.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Bay Watch 2 : The Power Lines Of History

My second San Francisco memory is a photograph I took at the Golden Gate Park Visitors Centre which was only a ten minute walk from where we were staying. The Visitors Centre featured some magnificent frescoes by the artist and designer Lucien Labaudt which depict scenes of San Francisco life in the 1930s. History seemed to run down the streets of the city like overhead power lines, making it a wonderfully visual place to be.

Another great advantage of the Visitors Centre was that it housed the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant which became one of our two favourite evening destinations. Some kind people had bought Heather a Guide to the real ales and microbreweries of the West Coast, and we dedicated a fair amount of time to necessary research. So I carry with me delightful memories of not just the sites of the city by the bay, but the unforgettable tastes of the city as well.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Bay Watch 1 : MUNI-ficent

Back from San Francisco. Jet lagged. Bags unpacked. Bags re-packed. Off again.

Yes, with travel dust still clinging to my nasal passages (you check on Google, nobody has ever used that phrase before) we are off again. This time our destination is Gloucestershire to spend a few days with our old friends J&E who have just moved there from Oxford. I thought I would feature a few of the photographs from San Francisco on the blog whilst I am away. But how do you choose just four photographs, four memories, from so many? 

My first photograph seems to encapsulate so many of the delightful aspects of San Francisco. I was so impressed by the public transport system there - the buses, trolleys, trams and cable cars were cheap, frequent and both passenger-friendly and environmentally friendly. Having rented an apartment some way out of the city and not wanting to hire a car, I was slightly worried about how easy it would be to get around. I needn't have worried; the San Francisco Municipal Transport system could teach most British cities a lesson or two. 

We bounced, swayed and lunged around that wonderful city, cheek by jowl with citizens of every colour, creed and persuasion. It was all part of our glorious experience of the city by the bay.

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...