Friday, July 31, 2015

Sepia Saturday 290 : On The Boardwalk With Grandma Kate

To the best of my knowledge my grandmother, Kate Beanland, never went to Ostend; and I can pronounce with an even greater degree of certainty that she never stayed at the Hotel Ostend in Atlantic City. It would therefore be a perfectly reasonable question to ask why, given that the prompt for Sepia Saturday 290 features the said hotel in all its wooden glory, am I sharing a Victorian portrait of my mothers' mother. The answer is that the rules of Sepia Saturday allow the most relaxed interpretation of what passes for a weekly theme (I know they do because I made them up) and this week I am going to embrace thematic relaxation in the company of a lady I can only just remember.
Catherine "Kate" Kellam was born in the village of Morcott in Rutland in 1877, the second daughter of a strangely itinerant grocer, Albert Kellam. The family moved to South Wales where her father died when Kate was just 13 and later to Middlesborough in the North East of England. By means that are uncertain in fact and clouded in family rumour, she ended up working as a barmaid in Keighley at the turn of the century and it was there, in the best Beanland traditions, that she met my grandfather (yet another of those endless Alberts).

She lived the rest of her life in Keighley and Bradford and died in 1960 when I was twelve. I remember going to see her (she lived with my mothers' sister Amy and her husband) and recall a little old lady with false teeth and spectacles who smelt vaguely of camphor balls. The image is a hundred miles from the rather pretty young woman in my main photograph and a thousand miles away from the exotic sophistication of the Hotel Ostend in Atlantic City. 

But it doesn't take much effort to start constructing connections. Where did Albert Beanland meet is wife to be other than in the King's Head Hotel in Keighley: so that means we have a hotel connection straight away. The hotel might not have been in America, but take a look at the studio where Kate's portrait was taken and you have the grandly named "American Art Studio" of Mr J Lister.

But it is the design of the reverse of the studio portrait and the advert for the Hotel Ostend that is my favourite connection - that harmony of design, typography and line drawing that is such a feature of the period - whichever side of the Atlantic Ocean you happened to be on.

Kate Beanland may not have been to Atlantic City in her lifetime, but - in my mind - she is accompanying me there now. Her camphor balls and wire spectacles have been left behind and she is as beautiful as she was when she was 23. We walk along the boardwalk, tasting the salty spray of the Atlantic waves. People speak in strange and exotic accents and we are thousands of miles from the woollen mills of Yorkshire. We sit for a second, leaning against two lamp-posts on the sea wall and look back at the Hotel Ostend and think, "what a strange world this Sepia Saturday allows us to inhabit".

If you would like to investigate even more of the strange world of Sepia Saturday then go along to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Going To A Funeral With An Ormolu Gas Mantle

I was browsing through an old copy of the Dublin Evening Packet yesterday - as one does - when I came across a group of adverts that brought home to me the pace of economic and social change. The adverts in question were the first four listed on the front page of the paper and therefore we can assume provide a representative sample of the type of economic activity that was taking place 150 years ago. But like my Fancy Draper of the other day, these old occupations have been swept aside by the march of technology, washed over the waterfall of antiquity in the great Amazon jungle.

J D'Arcy Scrivener can no longer find employment copying out legal documents carefully and promptly, his efforts, his services and his enterprise having been flattened under the office photocopier. What nobility, clergy and gentry that are left (and considering recent goings-on in the House of Lords, that's very few), no longer need to make an appointment with Joseph Lennan of Dame Street to inspect his first-class saddles, harnesses and horses. They will not be buying a double Brougham from Robert Grady, making do with a Toyota Yaris instead. And neither Mr Gregg nor his son will sell many gas brackets or pendants - either in ormolu or prismatic crystal - this season.

Even if we go back just 100 or so years, we are still dealing with a very different society. An advert in the Yorkshire Post caught my eye (I really must have a word with the newsagent, the papers seem to be delivered later and later) for a splendid outpost of Victorian propriety - the Leeds Mourning Warehouse. It would appear that when your Auntie Betty finally pops her clogs all you need to do is to send a telegram to Frederick Forster and his response will be immediate: not with sympathy, nor a coffin - but with a new mourning suit for your butler.

Mourning was not something to be taken lightly (or cheaply) back in the Victorian age. Intrigued by the idea of a Leeds Mourning Warehouse, I did an online search and discovered this receipt - "for ready money" - for a variety of mourning goods I can't quite interpret. Let us hope that when the time came to read Auntie Betty's will, the expenditure of two pounds eighteen shillings and threepence was worth it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Steep Streets Of Bradford And An Iced Bun

This morning, the rain clouds took a couple of hours off from their depressing task of drowning the entire population of the north of England, so I caught a bus to Bradford and went for a walk. I was in search of hills to walk up and down : my watch demands such things so that it can record my activity levels. If I manage to meet the targets it sets me I can reward myself with a pint of beer and an iced bun. One of the streets I managed to pull my aching body up was the eponymously named Burnett Street, the kind of grand, steep street that Bradford does so well.

The second of my Steep Streets of Bradford is Queensgate, another of those cobbled hills that dissect fine sandstone terraces. At one time it would be the home of wool merchants, grocers and provisioners - but now it hosts a slot machine arcade. I avoided calling in for a flutter, deciding that I would be better to press onwards, achieve my exercise goal, and buy an iced bun.

Politics And The Co-op Brass Band

I went to the Royal Armouries in Leeds last night listen to Andy Burnham, one of the four candidates in the current Labour Party leadership campaign. Given that the contest now seems to be coming to life (American readers can think of it as a kind of Primary contest in order to pick the person who will lead Labour for the 2020 General Election), the venue for the meeting might have been rather suitable.

As I listened to him calling for a revival of the spirit of 1945 (and that great, reforming post-war Labour government) and setting out what the Labour Party should be campaigning for in the twenty-first century, I couldn't help thinking that the rather slick and media managed performance was very different to the last time I went to Leeds to listen to a Labour Party leader. That was back in 1966 - before Andy Burnham was born! - and the leader (and Prime Minister) in question was Harold Wilson. He was speaking at Leeds Town Hall and behind him were the uniformed ranks of the Co-operative Wholesale Society Brass Band. Before he came on stage they played a selection of Socialist anthems and then onto the stage strolled Harold, smoking his pipe and talking about his vision of the future. Last night there was no brass band, just a couple of Soap stars to introduce the main speaker. But Andy Burnham spoke about his vision for the future with almost Wilson-like conviction. If I get the opportunity I will go and listen to the other contenders - who knows, one of them might have brought along the Co-op Brass Band.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On The Road To The Brewery With Blanche Ring

Another of my experiments with a weekly edition of News From Nowhere; one which will grow day-by-day and track the circuitous route of my random thoughts. In this week's edition:

*  A Round Of Breweries
*  On The Road With Blanche Ring
*  Happy Birthday Gladys


I have always been drawn to breweries. It's not just the purpose of them, not just the smell of them, but the look of them as well. Ever since I have been old enough to hold a pint glass in one hand and a camera in another I have been taking photographs of breweries. A recent batch of negative scans threw up a couple: a round of breweries so to speak. The first photograph was taken in the North Yorkshire village of Masham and dates back to the mid 1970s. At that time it would have been the Theakston Brewery but twenty years later - following a split in the family - it would become the Black Sheep Brewery. 

The second photograph was taken some ten years later and was taken in that capital of the British brewing industry, Burton-on-Trent. Whilst Masham is rustic, Burton is on a different scale with grand towers and barrel stores. Looking at the two locations now, it is Burton - the home of the big brewers - that has suffered the most. The small-scale has prospered, the rustic has risen again.


When I was young my father had a motor scooter. Some days we would go off together, my father at the front and his ten-year old balanced on the pillion, out into the wide world to explore. The rules of this game were that we would have no destination in mind, we would go out and see where the road took us. They were some of the happiest days of my childhood.

One of the delights of being an aimless blogger is that I can  adopt the same approach to my blog: I can set off with no destination in mind, invite who I want to sit on my pillion, and see where the road takes me. And so I set out this morning with a picture postcard of Blanche Ring in my hand - a card snatched at random from a batch of old picture postcards I bought on eBay a few weeks ago. 

Blanche was an American star of the musical theatre and early Hollywood films, born in Boston in 1871 and part of a family whose links with show business went back several generations. She was lucky because her fame coincided with a series of technological innovations which was able to spread her image and her voice worldwide. She was a popular star in the first decade of the twentieth century and therefore an obvious choice for the postcard printers during that decade of picture postcard madness.

She was a singer of popular songs in the age when the gramophone was becoming a popular form of home entertainment, one of the very first of the record stars. During the early years of the twentieth century she recorded a number of hit songs - The Good Old Summertime; Bedelia; and the impressively named Come Josephine in My Flying Machine - and her 1909 recording of Yip-I-Addy-I-Aye was one of the top selling records of 1909. Here is a sample of Blanche's voice:

And by the second decade of the century, Blanche had struck it lucky again - technology had brought along moving pictures, and Blanche could certainly move. So off she went to Hollywood and starred in films with the likes of W C Fields and Bing Crosby.

Blanche was married four times but none of the marriages lasted long: "she sacrificed her home for her art", her mother once said. She was still making movies in the 1940s and she still sung occasionally until a major operation on her larynx in 1955. By then, her health had gone into decline and she had a stroke in 1959 and eventually died in a nursing home in Santa Monica in 1961, aged 89.

Until I picked that postcard up I had never heard of Blanche Ring, but now that I have shared a brief motor scooter outing with her, I feel that she is a friend. As we motor our way home, you could join in as we sing The Good Old Summertime.


It would have been my mothers' 104th birthday today.  I found this old, crumbling, tissue-paper thin birth certificate in one of my Family History files and decided to scan it and save it for posterity before it crumbles into paper-dust. Think of it as my birthday card for Gladys.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sepia Saturday 289 : Let's Not Forget The Donkey

Sepia Saturday 289 : Let's Not Forget The Donkey

It's a seasonal Sepia Saturday theme this week: a sandy beach, a salty sea and the sun beaming down. When you look back you always tend to look through sun glasses because the sun always shone when you were young, the sands were always crystalline yellow, and the sea was always warm and sparkling. And there was always a donkey. Let's not forget the donkey.

My main picture must have been taken in 1949 because the young chap on the donkey looks about a year old and I was born in 1948 (yes, it is me!). Let me introduce the other two dramatis personae: that is my brother Roger on the left, steadying the beast, and my mother, Gladys, steadying the rider. I am pleased I was able to feature Gladys in my post this week as it would have been her birthday on Sunday; she was born on the 27th July 1911. Looking at the photograph, there is a good solid Yorkshire goodness in her face and a clear pleasure at being at the seaside. She loved the seaside, and even when she was in her eighties, her face would light up at the sight of the sea and she would walk along the sands and paddle in the sea water.

It is the donkey that is the star of the show. It appears his name was Hero, an apt description for an animal who dedicated his life to carrying little children up and down Bridlington sands. All things are comparative, however: a few generations earlier and Hero's forebears were probably carting tubs full of coal deep underground. There are many worse ways to spend you days than feeling the hot sands beneath your hooves and listening to the happy chuckles of generations of toddlers.

So thank you Hero, for carrying me all those years ago, and thank you for taking me back to my childhood today. Thank you for reminding me that Yorkshire skies can be blue and the sun can occasionally shine down in this country I still call home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Day My Mind Was Hijacked By A Fancy Draper

I was walking down Commercial Street in Brighouse last night when I got hijacked: or to be more accurate, my mind got hijacked. I suppose that my mind was susceptible to seizure as my senses had been dulled by several shops displaying "To Let" signs inter-spaced with layers of Charity Shops and pawnbrokers. Only the western end of Commercial Street is faceless concrete and further down the street I was looking at one of the older buildings with its yard passage and its leaded windows and wondering what it was like 100 years ago. And that is when my mind got hijacked; a total prisoner of this thought until I had found some form of answer. My plans to write Chapter 11 of the Great Novel of the twenty-first century (*) were put on hold and I abandoned work on my 3rd concerto. Everything else now takes second place to my exploration of the history of Commercial Street, Brighouse.

All I have managed to acquire so far is a rough picture of the street based on 1911 census returns, but even this provides a fascinating window into social history in the early twentieth century. 

Number    Head of Household and Occupation
5               James Rogers, Corporation Labourer
7               Ann Thornton, Beerhouse Keeper, Royal Oak Inn
9               David Pearson,  Shopkeeper - Wine and Spirits and Confectionery
13             James Stott Atkinson, Pork Butcher
17             Frances Furness, Shopkeeper, General and Fancy Goods
19             George Henry Threapleton, Boot and Shoe Salesman
21             David Walshaw, Butcher
47             Joseph Henry Lancaster, Fish and Game Dealer
51             William Hensworth, Harness Maker
55             Ann Jane Normanton,  Widow
57             James Pilling, Beerseller,  The Ring O' Bells
59             George Henry Beard,  Manager, Grocery and Provision Shop
63             Thomas Herrod,   Butcher
67             Victor Holland, Hotel Keeper, The Wellington Hotel

2               James Dyson, Licensed Victualler and Brewer, The George Hotel
4               George Clayton,  Butcher
6               Frederick Blackburn, Hairdresser and Fancy Dealer
24             Albert Thornton, Tailor and Outfitter
26             Eva Wright, Baker and Confectioner
44             Charles Naylor, Hairdresser
46             Caroline Sykes, Greengrocer
56             James Ball, Gentleman's Clothier
62             Annie Turner, Baker
66             James Crowther, Cab Proprietor
80             Willie Aspinall, Silk Waste Dresser
84             Herbert Pearson, Refreshment House Keeper
86             Emma Stansfield,  Boot and Shoe Dealer
90             Revis Anson,  Fancy Draper
92             Benjamin Turner, House Painter
96             Annie Lizzie Cussens,  Confectioner
102           John Hodgson,  Hardware Dealer
104           Miles Knowles, House Painter and Decorator.

I accept that the above may sound like a boring list to some people, but to me it is poetry. The names are like a list of Coronation Street characters from the 1960s, and some of the occupations fit the names like a kid glove. How could Revis Anson grow up to be anything other than a fancy draper?

Those who know me will appreciate that my eyes were immediately drawn to the four pubs on the list (one of which, The George Hotel, is still in existence). That is where my search will start and we shall see where it takes us to. That is if nothing else comes along to hijack my mind in the meantime.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Commercial Break At The George Inn, Southwark

News From Nowhere doesn't normally do book reviews, preferring to use its precious column inches to concentrate on deep analysis of major political and economic trends whilst pondering the mysteries of Yorkshire Pudding making and competitive knot-tying. However, just occasionally a book comes along which demands recognition: the perfect storm of a book which brings together one of my favourite writers writing about one of my favourite subjects. Such a book is "Shakespeare's Local" by Pete Brown (Pan/Macmillan 2012). It is an entire book about a single pub - The George in Southwark. It is a pub I know well, a pub I used to take groups of foreign visitors to back in the 1970s, a pub that has always been my preferred spot to keel over and drop dead aged 110 whilst draining my fourth pint. But to say it is an entire book about a single pub is to sell it short - it is a book about history, about literature, about theatre, about philosophy, about transport, about almost any subject that is worthy of being written about. If you do nothing more for yourself in 2015, you could do worse than ordering a copy and taking yourself off to your nearest pub or bar and ordering a decent beer and settling down to read it.

By one of those strange chances that make life more interesting than stamp collecting, I was scanning some of my old medium format negatives the other day when I came across a picture of the George I must have taken in the early 1980s. By that time we had moved from London to return to our native Yorkshire but I would always seek out an excuse to return to the capital to revisit my spiritual home. On this occasion I believe I had brought a group of students down to a Health and Safety exhibition and I realised that with a minor six mile detour I could manage to pop into the George for a quick one. 

The George is still going strong - well into its sixth century (or its third depending on your interpretation of the paradox of Trigger's Broom - see Chapter 2). So why not really treat yourself: buy a copy of the book, jump on a plane or a train to London, nip down to Borough High Street and grab yourself a comfy table in the George, a pint of beer and start to read.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sepia Saturday 288 : Gimmie A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer

Our Sepia Saturday theme image for this week shows an old butchers shop with some pig carcasses hanging outside. I don't think I can match either the pigs or the specialist shop, but my photograph does manage to capture a particular moment in retail evolution - the shopping street supermarket. I took the photograph in the early 1980s and, as far as I can remember it was taken in the town of Burton-on-Trent. I was there taking a series of photographs of the great breweries of that splendid town: in the 1980s beer still flowed down the streets of Burton, metaphorically at least. It was towards the end of an era when breweries were central to many of the towns and cities of Britain, standing proud like some nineteenth century commercial castle in the centre of towns, spreading their rich aromas of hops and malted barley. And it was a time when food shops were still clinging to their town centre locations, even if the small independent butchers and bakers and greengrocers had already started to be replaced by the supermarkets.

During the next couple of decades the behemoths of both the brewing and the retail world would quit town centres - making for the out of town industrial and retail parks. Food - be it loaves of bread, tins of soup or pigs' feet - would be sold under cantilevered concrete and glass roofs amid tarmac car-parks. Beer would be brewed in aluminium silos in sterile anonymity.

But before we drown in the flood waters of nostalgia, it is worth noting that there has been the beginnings of a reverse in the trend towards the soulless. The big supermarkets got it wrong in believing that shops would become ever-bigger and ever more marginalised, and are rapidly reintroducing "local stores". The big brewers were mistaken in the belief that bulk quantity and rigid standardisation would always rule the world and the last ten years has seen a wonderful revival in small breweries producing a liquid cornucopia of tasty beers. Small specialists shops are making a bit of a comeback in our towns and it may not be too long before the descendants of Mr J Morgan will open a pork butchers near you.

Until that time comes along you can occupy yourself by going over to the Sepia Saturday Blog, and whilst you read the posts, you might want to listen to Billie Holiday singing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The World Where One Learns About Austerity

In these difficult economic times we all have to make savings. News From Nowhere has therefore decided to make its own sacrifice at the hallowed altar of austerity by giving its cartoonist early retirement and recycling old cartoons that originally appeared in Punch Magazine back in 1889 (luckily, the Editor bought a bound copy in an old junk shop in Liverpool for £10). We start with a look at the Euro-zone crisis meeting which ended this morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

That's What Makes Life Interesting

Things are a little disorganised at the moment and my posts have consequently been a little haphazard. But I don't want you to think I have deserted you and therefore I thought I should try and find time to send you a quick postcard. The postcard comes from the village of Mumbles near Swansea, but that doesn't mean I have been to Wales. The postcard was sent in 1903, but that doesn't mean that it has been lost in the post. As you can see, it was sent to Rouen in France, but that doesn't mean I have emigrated. Few things mean anything - and that is what makes life interesting.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Riding A Bike On The Soft Sands Of Cleethorpes

It's raining and therefore I am scanning. I don't really need an excuse to scan, it's one of the great pleasures of life to me, although I would be pushed to explain exactly what it is about the scanning process that I find so addictive. I suppose it has something to do with discovery: finding the unexpected hidden within pictures, finding beauty within beauty with almost Mandelbrot predictability. Scanning becomes a form of photographic archeology in which you can dig down through levels of detail to uncover the unexpected.

When you scan you get within the grain of an image and begin to understand why people in certain parts of the world originally feared cameras and photographers, believing that they were somehow capable of stealing the spirit of a subject. The most prosaic smile becomes enigmatic, the most ordinary clothing becomes extraordinary and the very personality of the sitter dons the equivalent of a high-visibility jacket.

The girl on the left in the above photograph is my mother, Gladys Beanland. She will probably have been about eighteen or nineteen when this photograph was taken which will have made it 1930 or there abouts. If I screw my eyes up and look at that young face I can see the outline of a much older face - it would be another eighteen years before I was born.

Photography has always been able to capture and freeze a moment in time. When you add high-resolution image scanning to the mix you can somehow extend that frozen moment, making it almost timeless. You can also take the unimportant and render it important. 

The entire point of the original image was the three girls enjoying a day away from the mill at an East Coast resort. But out of the background mist appears a Lowry-esque group with what appear to be a series of bicycles. But who would try and ride a bike on the soft sands of Cleethorpes? It is a mystery - just the kind of mystery that scanning is so good at generating. But this is why, rain or fine, I love to scan - I scan not to solve puzzles but to create new ones.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Sepia Saturday 286 : Snapping Fish

The theme image for Sepia Saturday 286 manages to combine fish with the 4th July. The fish in question is a Spot Snapper and the image is from the collection of the Smithsonian Museum, the United States National Museum. Sadly, I will not be able to make it to the USA this year, so I will have to limit myself to fish and snappers.
SC01W.1 Fishing Boats, Grimsby  (Alan Burnett. c.1988)
We start out with a photograph of a Whitby fishing boat in Grimsby Fish Docks, a photograph I must have taken 25 years ago. From the look of her, I suspect the Trudella was laid-up when I took the photograph although she had been at sea a couple of years earlier when records suggest she was given aid by the Humber lifeboat. The photograph dates from a time when the East Coast fishing fleet was contracting and the fish docks at Grimsby were looking more like a rusty graveyard than a fishy nerve-centre.

SF01.1 Miriam Fieldhouse and Boat, East Lynn (Frank Fieldhouse, July 1948)
My second photograph was taken forty years earlier and eighty or so miles further south. The woman is none other than Auntie Miriam (that great figure-head of Sepia Saturday) and the boat is the fishing vessel Sarawara. Records suggest that the Sarawara might have been part of that fleet of tiny boats that was used to evacuate allied troops from the Dunkirk beaches in 1940.

As for the snapper - Auntie Miriam had a reputation for a stinging tongue. Back in the 1960s she had a little terraced house close to the bus stop my brother and I would use. Whenever we were passing we were expected to call in and see her, an activity both of us were keen to avoid as much as possible. The preferred tactic was to crouch down below the level of the wall and make a run for it, but if caught we would be halted in our tracks by a booming voice that echoed through the village "Oy bugger-lugs, where dos thee think tha's going?" You can't buy memories like that.

If you want to fish for some more old images in response to our Sepia Saturday 286 theme, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Not Seeing The Moores For The Trees

This family photograph from the 1930s perfectly captures a marriage of style and elegance. It also captures a marriage between two people, b...