Monday, February 10, 2014

Down A Historical Sinkhole With Illingworth Grindrod

A few years ago I discovered psychogeography - the exploration of the physical environment based on the interaction of chance and individual perspectives. Or rather, psychogeography discovered me as I was contacted by some keen psychogeographers who informed me that my quest to discover my local county via randomly generated 500 metre squares (West Yorkshire in Ten Squares) was a good example of psychogeography. I have always preferred the haphazard to the planned, serendipity to programming : but now that it is raining outside I am experimenting with extending the approach to time travel rather than real travel. So say hello to psychohistory.

My particular approach to psychohistory involves visiting a local antique centre and buying up a dozen or so old postcards for a few pence each and using the messages on the reverse of the cards as sinkholes to the past. The first part of the experiment makes use of a dog-eared old postcard of the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Northampton. The reverse reveals the following message:

The card was sent in August 1911 to Mrs Priestley in Halifax (the antique centre was just outside Halifax, so that fits in). It appears that Mrs Priestley ran the Albion Restaurant in the Borough Market in Halifax. The market still exists, but the Albion Restaurant is long gone and it is difficult to imagine a restaurant in the bag-of-chips and mug-of-tea atmosphere of the busy market.

A little investigation suggests that Martha - the sender of the card - was staying with the family of Illingworth Grindrod, a Life Assurance Agent of 8, Princes Street, Northampton. Illingworth Grindrod (what a wonderfully Dickensian name that is) had been born in Halifax and had lived there before moving to Northampton, so the chances are that Martha was visiting relations.

And there we are : a little psychohistory can transport us back to that hot and humid day in August 1911 when Illingworth Grindrod and his family met Martha at Northampton Station. Just the kind of journey for a cold and wet afternoon in February.


  1. It's amazing that all of the place names this post mentions are ones that are within a few miles of where I sit here in Massachusetts. I'm inspired to research a bit of psychohistory myself. Wonderful post Allen!

  2. Love it, Alan. And what a great name, Illingworth Grindrod!

  3. Sounds like a lot of fun!

  4. Anonymous1:19 AM

    Well, well ! To think that I have been doing psychohistory without even knowing it. But a couple of cards that I had bought i was able to trace a member of the family and return the card to them. Of course they might have immediately resold it to a collectables stall but i hope not.

  5. The brief messages on the old postcards give us a snap shot of life at a precise time. Interesting when you have a way of looking at things.

  6. I looked up this word - Psychogeography - and scanned the Wikipedia entry long enough to recognize that this is how I like to explore a city. Random walking that avoids the straight line or predictable path, though my dog prefers her familiar regular route.

  7. What a great name. Also, 'the trains were packed, and it was so hot'; not a lot changes in the interim.

  8. Oh just the kind of research I enjoy! Illingworth Grindrod (presumably it would be pronounced Grind - rod?) is a fine name, and I'm sure he is worthy of further study.
    On a postal history note, Martha has some old stamps to use up, as she is using an Edward VII over a year after his death.

  9. Any idea of what the illingworth link is genetically?


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