Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Evening Out At Hammersmith Town Hall

Old picture postcards can take you to the strangest places. This card, which features the Via Mercanti in Milan, was sent back in September 1924 to Miss Rose Innes of Churchfield Road, East Acton, London. But the card didn't take me to Milan's Palazzo Camera di Commercio, it took me to Hammersmith Town Hall on a Tuesday night. Rose was being invited to a Gramophone recital, which, from our modern perspective, sounds like a strange event for what was an important local hall, but back in the 1920s, such recitals were a popular crowd-puller.

I wasn't able to discover the Hammersmith Town Hall programme but I wouldn't be surprised to discover that it was just the same as the recital held in Dundee a couple of months later. A little bit of old pasteboard, some ink and a postage stamp has the ability to transport me back in time so I can join in with Rose and Ernest Hemmings in a chorus of "My Word You Do Look Queer"!

The popularity of the gramophone, and "His Master's Voice” records in particular, was illustrated yesterday, when two gramophone recitals were given in the Foresters' Hall, Dundee. At the evening performance the size of the audience taxed to the utmost the capacity of the hall. The programme was delightfully varied, and gave a fine illustration of the large musical field covered by H.M.V. records. On the latest type of gramophone, where the horn, tone-arm, and sound-box are dispensed with, was played the difficult violin solo, Ronde des Lutins." The artist was Jascha Heifetz. The tones of the violin were clearly brought out, and it could quite easily have been supposed that the musician was playing in the hall itself. In the Caird Hall on Monday night Madame Galli-Curci sang Dell 'Acqua's "La Villanelle." She was heard last night in this same song with excellent effect. As an encore Mr H. L. Rink, who was in charge of the demonstration, put on another record of " Una voce poco fa," which Madame Galli-Curci also sang on Monday. The 'cello record, "Le Cynge," in which the wonderful whistling of nightingales forms a most effective background, preceded that well-known tenor, John M'Cormack, in "Down in the Forest." This was a very beautiful item. Edward German's familiar Nell Gwynn Dances, played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, was followed by a dainty melody with a delightful lilt, Russell's " Just Because the Violets." Every word of the song (sung by Walter Glynne) was distinctly heard. Excitement rang in every note of that spirited song of the barber in Rossini's opera, " The Barber of Seville," " Largo Factotum," and in the impassioned Spanish love-song, "Ay, Ay, Ay." a comparatively new tenor, Michele Fleta, was heard to much advantage. A pianoforte accompaniment to the gramophone adds much to the beauty of whatever theme is being played, which was illustrated when Mr Rink accompanied different classes of music. To the continued applause Mr Rink replied with two Australian Bush songs. " Comrades of Mine" and " Rider," given in characteristic style by Peter Dawson. One of the original solos sung by Caruso for " His Master's Voice," " Ombra Mai Fu," better known as Handel's Largo was reproduced, and that well-known contralto. Miss Edna Thornton, gave a rendering of "Softly Awakes My Heart" the recording of which is well-nigh perfect. The programme finished with the amusing record, "My Word, You Do Look Queer," by Ernest Hastings.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Day What's-His-Name Came To The Office

Scanned 24mm square negatives of unknown origin - of workplace and people of equally unknown origin.
People take photographs for all sorts of different reasons - a beautiful sunset, a cute grandchild, a shiny new car. Or perhaps it was the day what's-his-name came to visit the office. You know who I mean, he was really famous; all the girls couldn't keep their eyes off of him and he even gave us one of his trademark cool points of the finger. It's a day we will remember for ever.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Halifax : Hope And Hunger - Then And Now

A recently re-scanned strip of six 35mm black and white negatives I must have originally shot back in the 1970s. It is the area just south of Halifax town centre around Hope Hall Street, Union Street and the splendidly named Hunger Hill. It is an area I still wander around today, and I have just discovered a shot I took last year (below) which is almost identical to the one in the picture above. Whilst the sky has now got a touch of blue and the cars are more modern - little else changes - either in Back Hope Street or my photography.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sepia Saturday 323 : Losing My Marbles in Langholm

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a group of schoolboys playing marbles. Schoolboys grow up, but here in the North of England, they don't stop playing marbles - the marbles just get a bit bigger. The game in question is, of course, crown green bowling and my pictures shows Langholm New Bowling Green in Cumbria. For those not familiar with it, the game is played on a grass green which has a "crown" in the middle (that is, the edges slightly slope away from the centre).  The bowls were originally made of wood (and are still called "woods") but more commonly they are now made of composite plastics. The bowls have a off-centre weight (or "bias") which means they do not normally travel in a straight path, but curve one way or the other depending how they are rolled. The aim of the game is to deliver your woods closest to a small "jack", taking into account the curve of the crown and the positioning off other bowls.

My great uncle, Fowler Beanland, had two passions in his life - picture postcards and crown green bowling (I suspect he had more passions than that but that is another story). The picture of Langholm New Bowling Green comes from a postcard in his collection and on the reverse of the card he recorded that this was the location of his teams' - he played for Longtown - worst defeat, when they lost by 33 points.

I have occasionally played "an end" of crown green bowling and - in all my playing career - I have never won a game. Perhaps I had better go back to marbles. 

To see how other Sepians have lost their marbles - go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Grand Day On The Manchester Ship Canal

This is just a grand photograph. It radiates pride in a hard job well done and the companionship of people who work together. It is a scan of a glass negative I have just acquired which, I would guess, dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s. I admit that this is very late for a glass negative, but the clothing doesn't appear to be pre-war. The only information I have is that the subjects of the photograph are the crew of a tug boat on the Manchester Ship Canal at Eastham (which is the point that the Ship Canal merges with the River Mersey). Further information about the men pictured here may be forthcoming, but if not it doesn't matter. It is still a grand photograph.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dear Daley, Not!

I bought this old picture postcard of Elm Cottages which still stand on Bradford Road between Brighouse and Bailiff Bridge because of the subject matter. The photograph captures landscape I am very familiar with, but captures it 100 years in the past. For those who live in these parts it is full of fascinating detail - the tramlines on the road, the greenhouses which were part of Kershaw's market gardening business - the street lights, the mill chimney, the past.

But there are two sides to every postcard, and the message on the reverse tells a fascinating story in its own right. It is addressed to Mr and Mrs Ralson, a "tailor" of Bondgate in the North Yorkshire market town of Helmsley and was sent by someone called "Daley" who looks as though they might have been on holiday in Blackpool. The message reads as follows:

Dear Mrs Ralson,
Whatever in the world is the matter? We can't understand it at all why you haven't written. Is your knee better? I hope it is. Having some awful weather over here. Dear Mrs Ralson you must write and let us know whether you are alive or not. Love Daley.

Christopher and Mary Ralson are easily traceable via the 1901 census - although it appears that Mr Ralson was a milk seller rather than a tailor - when they were living on Bondgate with their two daughters Mary and Ada. But by the time of the 1911 census (a few months after this card was sent), Mr Ralson is listed as a widower, and Mary is gone. So, a little late in the day, we can now write back to Daley with the simple message: "not".

Man Walking

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dripping With Bennett : A Sad Tale Of The Five Towns

Luckily the location of this old 35mm negative is obvious from the church notice board and the proud lettering over the portico, but if not I suspect I would have guessed it was one of towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent. The church drips Arnold Bennett : I can see Constance Baines fussily climbing the church steps, Edwin Clayhanger walking down the street dreaming of a different life and Anna Tellwright planning her wedding to tragedy. I must have taken the photograph in 1971 or '72 when I was at the university up the road and would take a break from macroeconomic theory by walking the streets of the "Five Towns". If you were to walk that street today you would be met by a sad sight indeed - in 1977 a fire destroyed most of the building and now only the portico remains.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Exceptional Photographs Of John Walker Wood

"Unknown Man - Positive Slide (Mid Victorian?)

I have just taken delivery of a small collection of old glass negatives which would appear to be the work of a Glasgow photographer called John Walker Wood. The majority of the photographs are lovingly catalogued 4" x 3" Glass negatives taken in the 1920s and 1930s and featuring the Kelvingrove area of Glasgow. There are also a series of negatives featuring the gravestones of his family.

Glasgow University and Kelvingrove Park from Partick Road Bridge over the River Kelvin opposite to Kelvin Hall, 1935"

Included in the package was a single positive glass plate which seems to be from a much earlier period - quite possibly the mid-Victorian years. The quality of both the photograph and the glass plate is quite exceptional and there is something about the subject that appears almost familiar.

"Tombstone at Lambhill Cemetery in Memory of Father, Mother abd Uncle John. 1932

It's all a bit of a mystery - well worth the few pounds I paid for the collection.

Aerial View of Kelvingrove Park showing Prince of Wales Bridge, Park Circus, UP Church College Etc. From Glasgow University Tower, 1926"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Perspectives From A Railway Carriage

I went to Bradford today and for reasons too boring to mention I came back on the train rather than the bus. I have been travelling to and from Bradford most of my life but it has usually been by bus or car and - whilst I am familiar with every hill and every valley, every mill and every terraced house - it was strange, indeed fascinating, seeing things from a new perspective. I took this photograph out of the carriage window as the train was leaving Halifax Station. From whichever perspective it is West Yorkshire, from whichever perspective it is home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mice, Debs And Air Raid Shelters

Selections From The Halifax Courier And Guardian, 11th March 1939

We tend to forget just how dangerous the roads were seventy-five years ago, Despite the fact that traffic levels were just a fraction of what they are today, roads were dangerous places back in the 1930s and 40s. In 1930 7,305 people were killed in traffic accidents in the UK and by 1940 the figure had increased to 8,609. The figure for 2013 - the last years for which comparable statistics are available - was just 1,713.


London Judge Impressed By Local Enthusiasm

The Calder Valley Mouse Club held its first show of the year in the Ambulance Rooms, Sowerby Bridge, on Saturday. There was a record entry of 169 mice from all parts of the country being shown. Mr A Tuck FZS of London, who officiated as judge, owns the largest mousery in the world, his stock being in the neighbourhood of 250,000. He has a staff of 28 and he is known in all parts of the country.

Mouse Clubs were popular in the North of England in the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed Mouse and Fancy Rat Societies still exist. The Calderdale Club eventually merged with other local societies to form the Yorkshire Mouse Club.

As one drinks ones sangria under the endless Costa sun, it is easy to forget the troubled history of Spain. The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 so endless suffering with a half a million Spaniards killed and similar numbers fleeing into exile. The response of Britain to this tragedy was very different to the attitudes that exist seventy-five years later when another civil war brings chaos to another country.

An ARP Shelter was a Air Raid Precautions Shelter. War was only a few months away and people knew that this would be a war of aerial bombardment. And if you had bought a new Ford Eight it wouldn't really matter how economical it was - very soon there would be no petrol to be had.

The idea of a roomful of lunching ladies being entertained by Miss Edith Tims and her character studies seems strange to us from the perspective of our modern age. But this was still the age of the monologue and the short comedy sketch. However the idea of achieving your lunchtime entertainment by way of a re-enactment of a miners' wife’s reaction to a pit disaster is difficult to understand.

Debutantes - or Debs - were the young daughters of the rich who would take part in an annual circuit to find rich and respectable husbands which would start with them being "presented at court" during which they would get to meet the reigning monarch. I have no idea whether it stood Miss Winter in good stead or not.

I would often walk to school each morning through the Newlands Estate that Mr Windle built. Good, solid semi's for just £450. They are currently selling for around £150,000 to £200,000.

Monday, March 14, 2016

In Praise Of Television Aerials

Like totems from a bygone age, forgotten now but once so common they were unseen. Even when the fabric of the houses were well into demolition, these totems remain: black steel and wire spiders against a grey sky

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

Happy Birthday Harold

Photograph : Tyne & Wear Archives via FLICKR Commons
Harold Wilson - one of the finest British politicians of the twentieth century, was born 100 years ago today (11 March 1916) a few miles down the road from here in Huddersfield. A Member of Parliament before he was 30, a Cabinet Minister at 31 and Prime Minister before he was 50, he was also one of the finest academics of his generation. But more than that he was a politician who understood both people and politics and a Party Leader who helped transform society making it a better and more equal place for all. Over the years he has fallen out of favour and fashion which is a great shame because he achieved more than most of the politicians who followed him combined. During the 1970s, when I worked at Labour Party HQ, I met Harold on a number of occasions and always found him to be a kind man, a masterful judge of everyday politics and a committed socialist. Happy Birthday Harold.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Downfall Of Ibbotson Flats

THE DOWNFALL OF IBBOTSON FLATS : Born in 1961, raised on hopes and aspirations, with commanding views over the future of mankind. Died in 2016, a victim of intermittent claudication of the lift shafts.

Blood On His Sword - Silver Halide Salts On His Gelatin

For a few pence less than a fiver, I bought a set of 10x8 monochrome negatives the other day. Don't ask me why - it was between that and climbing Mont Blanc and I have had some sciatica twinges recently so the negatives got the casting vote.

The negatives are of stills from the 1961 French swashbuckling epic Le Miracle des Loups which circulated in the English-speaking world under the title "Blood On His Sword". Buying old negatives unseen is always a hit and miss business - when they arrived this collection looked as though it had been badly affected by damp and heat and cold and rat-bites.

But I always think that if I can recapture one decent image from a stock of old negatives I am happy, and the image of the girl and the dog is a memorable one. According the the movie databases, the actress is the Italian Rosanna Schiaffino and I am delighted that the original silver halide salts have remained attach to the gelatin for long enough for me to scan it and preserve it here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


What little I can remember of the geology I studied at school reminds me that discontinuities are important. Sometimes things change with such suddenness that a line is drawn in the sand and changes in the strata provide us with a fixed point from which we can look both backwards and forwards. Discontinuities in our lives can provide the same reference points - the day we married, the year we took a new job or the year we moved. Like most people, I have only chance memories of my early life; those first few years when summers were long and worries were brief. But in trying to organise such chance memories into something like chronological order, I am helped by the first and most memorable discontinuity of my early life - the day we moved house from Bradford to our new house seven or eight miles away in a village on the outskirts of Halifax.

That change in physical and domestic landscape took place in the summer of 1953 and it divided my childhood in two and provided me with the first real reference point in my life. There was Great Horton in Bradford with its disconnected memories - little more than a pocketful of scenes - and then there was Northowram in Halifax and a time when memories began to flow together and create a continuing narrative. When I look back to this time - back over sixty or more years - I see my arrival at our new house at 32, Oaklands Avenue, Northowram as the start of my life, my story. Great Horton was a foreign land, a place of fables and stories told at family gatherings. Northowram was home.

What drew the family that seven miles or so south from Bradford was my fathers' job. By them he had been working as a wrapping mechanic at the Halifax works of chocolate and toffee manufacturers, Mackintoshes, for a year and he had probably grown more confident in his belief that this was a job he would spend the rest of his working life doing, and therefore it was time to abandon the long bus ride and look for something nearer to his workplace.

Where my parents, Albert and Gladys, found was Oaklands Avenue, a short cul-de-sac that branched off the main Bradford to Halifax road in the old village of Northowram. A development of twenty or so semi-detached houses had been started in the interwar period but it wasn't until the early fifties that the avenue was completed by a further sixteen semis gathered around a turning circle at the dead end of the development. Looking back at photographs of those houses today, they seem surprisingly large, but they were built in a period when, although most other things were still in short supply, land actually wasn't. Therefore the plots were generous and the interior designs were still rooted in an age when two bedrooms a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room were all that the post-war heart could desire. There were cellars and attics and drives that eventually would expand to accommodate motor cars. There were still fields close by and a bus stop at the end of the road. This was home.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Milltown, Yorkshire

I suspect that I took this photograph fifty years ago and it is so obviously a West Yorkshire milltown. But which one? I recognise it and I don't recognise it; it is familiar and it is different. The valley, the terraced houses, the mills: for the moment we will just call it Milltown but hopefully someone will come forward with a more accurate description.

From Sepia To Digital In A Single Lifetime

The pencilled notation on the back of this old photograph states "Vernon, four and a half months, December 1924" Vernon and his mother have the feel of history about them, but there is a possibility that Vernon might still be alive in his early nineties. A child of the sepia print and old man of the digital era.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Beatrice Fairfax Don't You Dare

Music has a way of invading your mind. For no reason, without any provocation, it can either mount a full-on assault or the sneakiest kind of covert infiltration. Tunes and lyrics can leach into your subconscious with osmotic determination and take you places you never thought of going. This was just as much the case during my years of deafness as it is now I have my digital ears. When I couldn't hear a door slam, a dog bark or my wife asking me to wash up, I could still hear Simon and Garfunkel singing El Condor Pasa in my mind. I suspect that when I am long dead, the strains of Gerry Mulligan's Jeru will come wafting through the crematorium ashes.

It was not so much a tune that woke me up this morning at 6.30am as a snatch of lyrics. What made it worse was that the phrases playing havoc with my mind came from one of those introductory verses of a popular song, the kind that are rarely sung these days although the song itself remains ever-present.

Here is what caused my sleeplessness - I won't tell you what it is from, you can Google it yourself after it has driven you halfway to madness and back.

Old man sunshine listen you
Never tell me dreams come true
Just try it and I'll start a riot
Beatrice Fairfax don't you dare
Ever tell me he will care
I'm certain it's the final curtain
I never want to hear from any cheerful Pollyannas
Who tell you fate supplies a mate
It's all bananas

Once I had solved the mystery of which song it came from I began to delve more carefully into the question that really was driving me crazy: - who the hell was Beatrice Fairfax?

This, of course, is the kind of question which must have occupied a fair amount of your spare time before the internet age. The Great God Google, however, allows you to wander through the poppy fields of trivia with comparative ease.

Beatrice Fairfax was the brainchild of the American author Marie Manning, who invented the name when she initiated America's very first personal advice newspaper column. Readers were invited to address their most intimate problems to "Dear Beatrice Fairfax" protected by nothing but some anonymous initials. Marie Manning started a trend that has been a central feature of journalism ever since. 

I suppose the twenty-first century equivalent of Beatrice Fairfax is, in fact, Google itself. Whether we want to know the exchange rate for the Yen, whether or not to tell our nearest and dearest our proclivity for leather underwear, or to discover who the hell was Beatrice Fairfax, what we do is to write "Dear Google".

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Celluloid Memories And Liquid Assets - Halifax Gala 1965

A strip of six negatives taken over fifty years ago. As a photography project, my brother and I decided to spend the day at the annual Halifax Gala, and from this negative strip I can see that I followed the parade as it made its way from the bottom of Halifax towards Manor Heath. 

The enlarged image is extra special because it shows the parade passing the old Ramsdens Brewery in Wards End. A couple of years after this shot was taken the old Stone Trough Brewery was gone, replaced by the glass and concrete of a new Halifax Building Society HQ. The same Building Society - by then a commercial bank - came near to collapse during the financial crisis of ten years ago. Which probably goes to prove that an economy is sounder built on beer than on non-liquid assets.

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...