Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sepia Saturday 268 : A Tale Of Tolpuddle And A Sepia Revolutionary

Strange as it may seem, I was not actually present at either of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 or 1917 and therefore I am unable to link directly to this week's Sepia Saturday theme image which features a group of demonstrators marching down Nevsky Prospect in Petrograd. After some digging around within my archives I did, however, come up with this photograph I too back in July 1974 at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset. Amongst the various Labour Party and Trade Union banners, I can see one from the Communist Party, so it nudges up to the themes like a paid-up fellow traveller.  The photograph also seems to sum up why we have never had a revolution in this country - although undeniably there have been, and are, times when we could do with one. Compare the angular, strident, determined faces of the Russian demonstrators with the arms-folded, passivity of their British counterparts. And how on earth could you have a meaningful revolution starting in a village with a name like Tolpuddle?

For those who don't know the story, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of six early nineteenth century agricultural workers from the Dorset village who were sentenced to seven years penal transportation to Australia for forming a trade union to fight against wage cuts. The British revolutionary fervour following this harsh sentence was limited to signing petitions, marching with banners and renaming streets after the martyrs and this led to their release after just a couple of years.

As I re-scanned the photograph I took in 1974 I noticed that it was beginning to acquire that sepia tone of age. I am all too familiar with this in photographs of my grandparents and even my parents generation, but this is the first time I have noticed it on one of my photographs. I am beginning to turn sepia. Now that is a thought profound enough to spark a revolution.

You can find more takes on this week's Sepia Saturday theme by visiting the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the various links.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Corinthian Columns Of Lino And Temples Of Non-Conformity

Take a quick look at the photograph and imagine where we might be. Athens perhaps, or maybe Rome. Possibly it is on one of the finer streets of London; a great gallery maybe or a finely endowed museum. Perhaps it is the home of an Earl or a Duke or some other long forgotten and seldom missed aristocrat. By now you will have read the description and realised that you are not in Florence or Paris, but in Cleckheaton. 

Cleckheaton, hidden away up the non-conformist back valleys of West Yorkshire. It's a place where the established churches cling to the periphery and hope not to be noticed but where the chapels shout out with all the figure of a revivalist meeting. When they built the Providence Congregational Chapel in 1857 they didn't do things in half measures. They were proud chaps, those chapel elders, and if the Greeks and Romans could have Corinthian columns, then so could the folk of Cleckheaton.

The chapel closed its doors to worshipers in 1991 and it looked as though it was destined, like so many other chapels in the Spen Valley, to be demolished to make way for a supermarket or a car park (amazingly enough, only the gateposts of this magnificent monument are listed). It was saved, however, by the most unusual of benefactors - it was transformed into the Aakash Restaurant and staked a claim to be the largest Indian Restaurant in the world.

Just a few hundred yards down Bradford Road, two cut-price carpet stores stand facing each other like shag-pile sentinels. Outside one stands a row of rolls of cheap linoleum mimicking the stone columns just up the road. It's a funny place Cleckheaton, a place where temples have been built to Indian cuisine and where linoleum paves the cobbled streets.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Staying Out Of Mischief In The Burnett Family Archives

The Library of Congress has its archive, as does the British Library. Henry Ford has his archive and the Marx Brothers have theirs. There are, it would appear, archives of typewriters and trees, dreams and love letters, and even an archive concerned with dirty linen (which is not generally open to the public its website states without a hint of irony). Today, I am pleased to announce, a new on-line archive has joined  the shelf-full of archives out there: let me introduce you to the Burnett Family Archives.

I have always been a collector and a classifier. Whatever occupies my time and attention - be it tobacco pipes or flat caps, vintage postcards or 78 rpm records - before too long I have started a database to record it and a classification system to encompass it. So it is inevitable that, as I have become more and more fixated with my own family history, I have gathered material together - photographs, diaries, postcards and odds and ends - into an archive of sorts.

I would like to hand all this material on to whichever member of the next generation of my extended family steps forward to carry the genealogical torch into the future; but you can never be sure who that is going to be. I could leave the material in a cardboard box - whether real or digital -  in the hope that someone might discover it, but such an approach is full of dangers. Computer-held information has a habit of dying when computers die, and storage devices have a life expectancy shorter than that of a moth.

The best answer I have been able to come up with is the cloud, and I have therefore established the Burnett Family Archives as a Flickr Group. Anyone can access the material and any member of the family can add to it. It might not result in the story of the Burnett Family being carved in everlasting granite, but it keeps me out of mischief for an hour or two.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Defeating Google And Spending Your Blue Pension On Colourful Relatives


I spent a fair amount of time on Friday trying to track down the "feast" referred to on the old postcard I featured in my post "The Mills Are Silent And The Feasts Are Gone". I let loose the heavy artillery of the internet age, and searched Wikipedia and interrogated Google. I even trawled the limits of new technology and, using voice command, said to my iPhone "tell me all about the Huddersfield Feast". Although the response added nothing to my knowledge of possible local holidays, it did enlighten me on some of the salacious facts about the activities of a local priest.

But then on Saturday night I was sat in a pub on the far side of Huddersfield, enjoying a drink and a meal with a party of delightful in-laws, so I decided to circulate a short note amongst the gathering asking whether anyone new about a local feast that took place in September. With the speed of the very broadest of broadband, the answer came back: I must be referring to the Honley Feast which did, and still does, take place each September. So well done the Travellers' Rest in Brockholes, you have beaten Google at its own game .... and you serve up a fat better pint as well.


I was chatting to the chap next door this morning and we were complementing each other on living to see another day (it's the kind of thing you do when you get old). We were saying that one of the joys of retirement was that one day could happily be like any other - there was no need for high days and holidays when all days were equally high. But, he reminded me, one month was not necessarily like any other, because of the peculiarity of the British State Pension system. Whilst most occupational and private pensions are paid monthly and therefore on the same date each month, the state pension is paid every four weeks. One of the consequences of this is that if you are engaged in any kind of financial planning you need both a calculator and a set of astrological tables. But one advantage, we agreed, was that very occasionally you got a single month which would include two state pension payments - the pension equivalent of a blue moon. We went our separate ways - he to his garden me to walk the dog - trying to think of a name we could give this new phenomenon, but the best I have been able to come up with is a "blue pension".


The problem with Photoshop is that it is addictive. You start off with just a little adjustment - something to take the edge off, something to get you through the night - and you finish up getting sucked further and further into the mire. Oh, there is nothing wrong with a little re-framing, a bit of selective cropping, or the removal of a minor scratch or two. But then you start thinking, whilst I am here, why don't I get rid of that troublesome mole Auntie Annie was plagued with all her life. And then there is Uncle Harry: looking less than his colourful self in this old black and white print. He wouldn't want remembering by history like this - if nothing else he was always though of in the family as a colourful character. Why don't I just change the colour balance a tiny bit, and whilst I am at it, why don't I just increase the hue? And that is the problem with addiction. You wake up in the morning knowing that you went a bit too far last night and wondering why poor Uncle Harry looks a bit off colour.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 7 - The Mills Are Silent And The Feasts Are Gone

My seventh found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1905 vintage postcard from Blackpool.

The seaside is a special place: a place where land gives way to the sea. Where the crowded streets of back to back houses suddenly ceases, like a straight line drawn in the sand - or just above the sand. And if you happen to be in Blackpool, on the west coast of England, first there is a road, then there are the tram tracks, then there is a wide promenade, then the sand, then the sea. You can revisit the scene of this 1905 vintage postcard one hundred and ten years after it was sent and nothing much will have changed. Still the houses, still the road, still the tram tracks and still the promenade.

Few cards are sent from the seaside these days. But when Fanny sent this card to her friend Beatrice Milnes back in September 1905, the postage stamp cost just a half penny and the card would have been about the same. Beatrice was just 21 when she received this card, a mill worker living in Huddersfield. Fanny might have been a friend, a fellow worker or a relative. The "feast" referred to will have been one of the local holidays, peculiar to each northern working class town, when all the mills and factories would close down for a few precious days.

The houses, road, tram tracks and promenades may not have changed, but so many other things have changed profoundly. The mills are largely silent and the feasts have gone.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Some Things Are Best Left Unexplained

To the pub last night for an evening of Valentine's Day songs.  The singer had a lovely voice, but to my near deaf ears too many of her songs sounded like those you sing as the Titanic is about to sink. So I started doodling on a post-it note I happened to have in my pocket. "What's that?" one of my companions asked. The question launched the stream of consciousness reproduced above. When I had finished she looked at it and asked again, "what's that?". "Read my blog tomorrow and I will explain it", I said. But I have had second thoughts. Some things are best left unexplained.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday 266 : Copperplate Kisses

It is St Valentine's Day and on Sepia Saturday we are having a topical theme this week. And if you are in search of slushy, over-the-top, saccharine-sweet sentimentality, where better to find it than in that first decade of the twentieth century that was the apogee of kitsch.

In a time when postage was quick and cheap, telephones were rare, and people for the first time were beginning to move away from their home town and villages, picture postcards met an important need. Despite what myopic correspondents to the Daily Telegraph might think, prior to the age of text messages and Facebook, there did not exist a golden age when people would put fountain pen to paper and write long, intimate, copperplate letters. They scribbled quick notes on the back of postcards: notes that had dubious grammar, inventive spelling, and were peppered with cult abbreviations.

This card - which comes from the collection of my Great Uncle, Fowler Beanland - is probably not a Valentine card. But when messages bounced back and forth on a daily basis, people didn't feel the need to save their love and kisses for a designated day.

And what a promise the message holds out! When the card was sent, Fowler was 34 years old and working in Longtown in Cumbria as a spindle maker. But whatever was to follow it did not include marriage and children and all the usual things. Fowler remained a confirmed bachelor, dying at the age of 87 back in his home town of Keighley. Happy Valentine's Day, Fowler.

For more sepia Valentine posts, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In Search Of A Dream In Heckmondwike

I have been in search of a dream. It is not a recent dream, indeed it is just a small element of a dream I had a long time ago. But like wet putty it has stuck in my mind. It is just the smallest scene of a dream, the plot of which I have long forgotten, but I can describe the scene with documentary precision. I am on a bus, sat on the top deck at the front, those seats which give you an almost IMAX intimacy with the outside world, when the bus enters a town. It is vaguely familiar, probably Yorkshire, certainly industrial. Although I have the feeling that it is close to home, it seems that I am seeing it for the first time. The buildings have a grandeur that is endearing rather than deserved, you feel as though they are the architectural equivalent of a tribute band appearing on a Tuesday night at a Working Men's Club. There is a town hall, a church, a chapel and some marble-faced banks. There are the types of shops that used to be run by people rather than commercial chains. The town holds out the prospect of further discoveries given an hour or two's exploration. But for reasons unknown I am unable to get off the bus so I promise to return at some stage in the near future and examine the place in detail.  And then I wake up and I can't go back because I can't remember where the town is.

For years I have been in search of that town. If the weather is fine and the afternoon holds out no better prospect than old re-runs of once-funny sitcoms, I will sometimes get in the car and drive off to some familiar but rarely visited settlement just in case it might be the town of my dreams. Today I went to Heckmondwike. It wasn't.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 6 - The Story Of Maud And The Texas Rat Snake

My sixth found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1911 vintage postcard of Folkestone.

This is the second of the batch of old postcards that features the Kent seaside town of Folkestone but it is from a different sender to a different recipient. The card was sent to Miss L M Hardy of The Birchlands, Killamarsh, near Sheffield, and the message reads as follows:

12, London Street, Folkestone,  24 Aug 11
Dear Maud,
I am glad Babs is so enjoying her stay with you and I thank you all for making her happy. This is my third wk alone and I begin to feel quite used to it. I had last week in Canterbury. Reg is still there. These strikes have again interfered with your book and I cannot get the parts regularly. Love to all and all good wishes from yours affectionately,
Uncle Alex

The strikes referred to will be the railway strikes that were taking place fairly frequently during the summer of 1911. The reference to the book is far more intriguing; from what Uncle Alex is saying it would appear that Maud is writing a book and sending the parts to her Uncle Alex. I have tried searching for any authors named Hardy living in Killamarsh at the time but without success. Someone called LM Hardy was a co-author of a book entitled "The Lone Star Field Guide To Texas Snakes", but this would seem to be stretching credulity about as far as a Texas Rat Snake.

As someone who once managed to write a fair proportion of a novel on the back of 172 postcards which was mailed to a mate of mine - who quite coincidentally lived just up the road from Killamarsh - I like to think I know where Maud was coming from - with or without her accompanying serpents.

Monday, February 09, 2015

This And That And The Death Of A Salesman

I took this picture this morning, rather liking the way the shadow of the tree through itself across the road like some desperate teenager who had loved and lost.

And the post today brought the first issue of the monthly magazine I invented the weekend before last. It looks rather nice, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you went out and spent your hard-earned money buying a copy. Don't forget, however, that you can download a PDF version free of charge (follow the link in the sidebar).

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Sepia Saturday 265 : Don't Forget To Bring Betty

Our Sepia Saturday theme this week is all about pots, paints, classrooms and artistic young ladies. So let me introduce you to Miss Delia Mason, the celebrity pin-up girl of the Edwardian era and star of that box office hit, "Three Little Maids". And our photograph features Delia posing with a full set of cups and pots and although she is not actually painting them she can be forgiven: she is, after all, a celebrity. I checked out the show "Three Little Maids" and it is described as the story of "three simple curate's daughters who go to London to earn their livings serving tea in a Bond Street tea shop. They become the romantic rivals of three ladies of fashion but succeed because of their freshness".  Whilst such a story in itself is probably enough to make you rush out and book a seat in the stalls, an additional incentive is the inclusion of a song at the end of Act 1 with the title "Golf is an excellent game in its way – But ev'rything's all 'in the way."

The message on the back of the post card, as always, contains more questions than answers, but that is the delight of old postcards (can there be a finer stimulus to the imagination than such short messages scribbled on the back of postcards?) It is the upside down appeal at the very top of the postcard which remains in my mind as I try to find sleep at night. "Don't forget To Bring Betty"

And if you are going to bring Betty, why not bring her to see the other Sepia Saturday posts this week by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Henry Tanner And The Coping Stones That Could Cope With Anything

You can walk past a building 100 times and never notice it. In fact I have probably walked past Halifax Post Office 5,000 times and never really noticed it as a building. I have been in it, on occasions I have even worked in it, and never really noticed it. But I did the other day and I realised that it is a Camelot Castle of a Post Office. It has little towers and cupolas, bulls eye windows and coping stones that could cope with anything.

It was designed by the architect Henry Tanner whilst he was serving as Surveyor at the Leeds Office of Public Works and opened in 1887. A contemporary newspaper report says that it "is a spacious building and has capital frontages to Commercial Street and Old Cock Yard". The cost of the building was £10,000, exclusive of the cost of the site.

When I was younger I worked on the Christmas post and would heave my heavy post bag each morning out of the sorting office around the back of the building and off to catch the bus to take me to my round.

Henry Tanner did not stay in Leeds for long. By the time the new Halifax Post Office was opened, he had returned to London and he want on to design many famous public buildings. He was knighted in 1904 and lived until 1935 when he dropped dead walking through his own front door one day at the age of 88.

His obituaries were sadly brief and concentrated on such things as his Chairmanship of the Royal Sanitary Institute and his Presidency of the Concrete Institute. Fine as these eminent positions may have been, I prefer to think of him as the man who designed the post office I have now started noticing.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 5 - The Last Of The Summer Of The Last Of The Summers

My fifth found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1913 vintage postcard of Lantern Hill, Ilfracombe.

This is another card which is a bit difficult to read, but as far as I can make out, it goes like this:

Dear S, Many thanks for letter, sorry I forgot to mention about the parcel, thank you so much, of course I am busy out hoppicking now it's got hotter, will write you next week and tell you all news. We have only another fortnight here. Kind love from us all, Yours Beat  And On The Front : Was pleased to hear you had a nice time. I really did not expect you to come down here, it is just the same old slog.

The card was posted in Malvern in Worcestershire, which is not a part of the country I immediately associate with hop picking (one always thinks of the hop fields of Kent), but a quick check online reveals that it used to be quite a centre for hop growing and there is a rich heritage of hop picking in the locality (Bromyard, which is not far away from Malvern, hosts an annual hop festival and the world hop pocket championships!). Miss Lawrence was Miss Sarah Lawrence, who, when she received the card, was a 37 year old parlour maid at the house of Frank Marsh a Consulting Surgeon at the United Hospitals of Birmingham. Marsh was to become a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corp Reserve and serve at the Army's 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham. 
I can't look at the card without looking at the date: September 1913. It is the last of the summer of the last of the summers before war descended. The time when hop picking was about to be replaced by trench digging.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Shoes, Slippers, Boots and Gaiters And A Sense Of Belonging

I was having a lunchtime pint with a mate of mine yesterday and the conversation came around to the idea of a sense of belonging. We are both from these parts and we agreed that we would have difficulty in moving away. I was saying that, for me, that sense of belonging was not just with people and that diverse diorama we call culture, but with the physical built environment. Step through almost every door and there is my family, lift every grave stone and there is my history.

So let us take a gravestone at random and tease out the story, for below every gravestone lies a story far more powerful and resonant than any pile of decaying bones.  The following gravestone can be found in the churchyard of St Martin's Parish Church in Brighouse. When I took the photograph last week, I had no idea who Lydia and George Mitchell were. They are neither part of my extended family nor possessing of any particular fame and fortune. But they are part of the shared history and the shared environment that I belong to.

This is one of those exercises that would have been too troublesome and too difficult before the dawn of the digital age. But now we can access family records, census information, books and newspapers with ease. So all we need to do is to press a few computer keys and George and Lydia begin to come back to life.

George was born in 1801 in Kirkheaton, a few miles south of Brighouse where he later was to settle, marry and bring up his family. On the census records of 1851 and 1861 he is listed as being either a cord maker or a cordwainer. A cordwainer is the old name for a boot and shoe maker. He lived on Commercial Street in Brighouse and his two sons, William and George were also listed as being cordwainers. As we can see, George eventually died in 1877, but by then his children had taken over the business, and Mitchells continued to be the main shoe and boot maker in Brighouse well into the twentieth century. The following description of the business is taken from W.T Pike's 1895 book "An Illustrated Account of Halifax, Brighouse and District" and relates to the time when the business was under the control of George's son, who was also called George.

Mr George Mitchell, Boot and Shoe Maker, 30 Commercial Street, Brighouse.
An old established connection in the boot and shoe trade of Brighouse is held by Mr George Mitchell, whose business was commenced about forty-five years ago some four doors from the present site, which was then occupied by his brother, William Mitchell. On the latter leaver these premises after twelve years residence, Mr George Mitchell removed to them. At that time they were two small shops with dwelling houses, which he afterwards, as a consequence of the growth of the trade, converted into one large business establishment, transferring his residence to South View, Clifton, some little distance from the town. This enabled him to devote the whole of these convenient premises to the purposes of his trade. Their capacity may be noted from the following brief description. There is a large workshop in the basement, the ground floor comprising a substantial and well appointed shop with plate glass windows and large fitting and stock rooms at the rear. On the upper floors, nine rooms in all are fully occupied as store rooms etc. The situation is admirably adapted to the trade, and during the thirty years of Mr Mitchell’s occupation, it has become the accredited centre of this particular trade, with a good general family and better class connection. He keeps in stock leading lines of special gentlemen’s, ladies’, and children’s boots and shoes. As a hand sewn bootmaker, he has the largest trade in the town, and is noted for first class repairing. The bulk of the goods are kept in boxes on neatly arranged shelves, both in the front shop and stock rooms. There is a very large stock of children’s shoes, slippers, boots and gaiters, selected from the very best makers. All the minor goods of the trade are stocked, and hand sewn boots are an important branch. The windows form a very suitable index to the stock, enhanced by very tasteful arrangement. The shop is lit with electric light, it is almost opposite the General Post Office, and has a very fine appearance. The large lamp and signboard, with gilt lettered windows, demoting the name and trade. The staff of hands employed varies according to the requirements of the seasons, but Mr Mitchell has gradually increased his business since its commencement thirty five years ago.

I can half imagine my great-grandfather entering the shop and perusing those neatly arranged shelves of boots, shoes and accessories. I can almost imagine my Great Uncle Israel Burnett, who was a butcher, chatting with George Mitchell and speculating about trade. My grandfather Enoch may have cleaned those plate glass windows. That is belonging.

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History : 4 - It's Our Ernest Again

My fourth found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1908 vintage postcard of Pimpernel Cross and Church.

Here we have another card addressed to Mr Saunders of Taunton (see Dollop No. 3). The handwriting is difficult to interpret in places, but based on the existing evidence I think we can conclude that it is the same Ernest Saunders of Kingston St Mary, a few miles north of Taunton in Somerset. I tried another search for Captain Saunders (at least we know he was a Captain in the Somerset Light Infantry by the following Christmas) but it turns out that, according to Google, the acknowledged expert in the field is the chap that writes the News From Nowhere Blog.

It is another Christmas card, this time from someone whose name defies even my powers of interpretation, but I think we can conclude that the daughter referred to in the last card is the same Dorothy mentioned in this card. By now I feel that I know Ernest quite well - in my own sweet if rather eccentric way I refer to him as "our Ernest" - but just how his collection of old postcards migrated from rural Somerset to an Antique Centre in Mytholmroyd, is still beyond me. Perhaps amongst the remaining eight cards I will discover another addressed to our Ernest (I purposely haven't peeped ahead to see what else is there, at my age I need all the excitement I can get) so who knows what awaits us in the next dollop around the corner.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Inconsequential Love Child Of A Man With Nothing Better To Do And An Apple

It is a cold and icy weekend, so with nothing better to do, I decided to publish a magazine. Say hello to "News From Nowhere Monthly", the somewhat inconsequential love-child of a man with nothing better to do and an Apple.  For many years I have been a great admirer of those wonderful Victorian weekly and monthly magazines that surfed on the wave of working class literacy and brought their readers everything from recipes to travel writing, popular science to part-works of fiction. Bound volumes of The Penny Magazine, The Cornhill Magazine, and The People's Friend can still be found on the top shelves of second hand book shops and, in exchange for a few pounds, can provide endless fascination to the twenty-first century reader. Strange as it may seem, what such popular magazines were, was in fact blogs - blogs that were a  hundred and thirty years ahead of their time. So why not turn the process the other way around and convert a twenty-first century blog into a Victorian popular magazine.

So I have gathered together the January 2015 content from my three main blogs - News From Nowhere, Picture Post, and Great Yorkshire Pubs - added one or two other things just for the fun of it, and published it as a magazine. What you end up with is a cross between blogging and traditional magazines - magging.  The January 2015 issue of the magazine contains, as a special feature, the first chapter of my great unpublished novel of the twenty-first century, Double Crossing (a somewhat lightweight thriller set in 1934). One consequence of this initiative is that, if the monthly magazine continues (and that is by no means certain), I will be forced to set about finishing the book before too long.

The magazine is currently available in grown-up published form and in PDF format, although I have still not worked out how to deliver the PDF files to the wider world. Equally, it would be rather nice if it was downloadable as an e-Book, but that also needs further technical research (especially as it is image-heavy). The published magazine comes in at £6 a copy - from Lulu, there is a link on the sidebar - but this seems a little on the pricey side of things. I will continue to work on ways of making it available digitally and free of charge and report back if I make a breakthrough.

But, there again, the sun might come out and the ice might melt and the pub might open ..... and the January 2015 issue of the News From Nowhere Magazine might be the only issue ever produced.

UPDATE : I think I may have discovered a way of making the PDF file of the January issue of News From Nowhere Magazine available. CLICK HERE to try it.

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...