Saturday, July 30, 2016

Sepia Saturday 341 : It's Just The Way It Changes Like The Shoreline And The Sea

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a rowing boat deep underground at the Speedwell Caverns in Derbyshire. I am keeping the boat but moving up a few hundred feet and featuring a picture of my mother leaning against a rowing boat in her favourite location of all - where the shoreline meets the sea. I featured another picture of Gladys a couple of days ago on what would have been her 105th birthday. This photograph must have been taken thirty years before the Blackpool picture and the location has changed to Shanklin in the Isle of Wight. My mother has changed as well - changed into this slim fashionable woman of the 1930s. But when you are looking from the perspective of time, change is a function that exists irrespective of the direction of travel.

To see other changes, take a visit to the Sepia Saturday Blog and see what other old photographs people have discovered.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Satisfaction Of The Dark

Around about the same time that I was bouncing political peas off the poor population of Halifax, I was also taking their photographs. This is a sequence of photographs I took at Halifax Gala in the mid 1960s. I don't know why it should be so, but old photographs mature with age, like a half-decent wine. There is something rather satisfying about these dark monochrome shots, something that cannot be reproduced by the pin-sharp, perfectly exposed, multi-pixel pictures of today.

Peas Bounce Off The Walls Of Marathon 50 Years Ago

I have just received an email from my brother on the other side of the world containing a scan of an old press cutting which must date back fifty years. The young chap who is clinging the microphone like some semi-adolescent crooner is indeed myself, an age and a half ago. The rather stout chap to my left was Clifford Ward the Secretary and Agent of Halifax Labour Party and his research had led him top believe that an ancient public speaking pitch existed in the town centre (Halifax's equivalent of Speakers' Corner) which had been forgotten about for generations. It happened to be in the middle of a car park in Bull Green. The Young Socialists decided to exercise their right to speak to the citizens of the town so the police were called in to erect no parking signs and we set up our soapbox. As the newspaper reports, we organised speakers from all over Yorkshire and attempted to bring about the revolution by boring the people into submission. 

I always recall Lenin once writing about the Russian revolution and saying, "Socialism bounced off the peasants like peas off a wall". It was a bit like that in Halifax fifty years ago. But we gathered around and listened to ourselves. And we lay down rich memories that could be excavated half a century later.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gladys In Blackpool : A Birthday Celebration

July 27th was my mother's birthday and she would have been 105 years old today. To mark the day I have dug deep into the box containing old photographic odds and ends and discovered an unframed 35mm colour slide dating back to the 1960s. When scanned and cleaned-up it shows my mother, Gladys, stood on the sands at Blackpool - at that point where the land and the water meet, a point that was always her favourite location. The fact that it was Blackpool didn't really matter, she would have been just as happy in Scarborough, or Bournemouth or, I suspect, Tristan da Cunha: as long as she was at the point where sand and sea met and she could gaze out towards the distant horizon looking for - who knows what?

I don't know what because, I regret to say, I never asked her. I doubt that it was the sea that was the draw: she didn't particularly enjoy being on the sea as such. And it wasn't the established seaside paraphernalia that attracted her: she wasn't one for deck chairs and pony rides, hot dogs and cold bathing. I like to think that it was the merging and the margin that appealed to her - the point and which land became sea; the point at which one state became another.

I enjoy the seaside as well as the next man, but it doesn't draw me like it drew my mother. However I am fond of the merging at the margins, the transformation of one thing into something else. I am drawn to that place where an image is transformed from being a factual record into something else. I am not quite sure what that something else is, but the very same photograph of my mother in Blackpool provides a good example. The left of the photograph shows a perfect representation of my mother: wrapped up against the wind blowing off the Irish Sea, anchored to the wet sands in her fur boots. By the time your eye has reached the right of the photograph, something else is taking place - something to do with impressions and shapes and colours and memory.

So this birthday celebration allows both my mother and I to wander the place we love the best, observing the coming together of sea and land, reality and memory. Happy birthday Mam.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sepia Saturday 340 : Time Travel To The Trouville

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a promotional postcard from the Hotel Imperial, Ostend, Belgium. I can match it with another hotel promotional card - this one from the Trouville Hotel, Long Beach, New York. The Trouville was one of many such fine hotels built on Long Beach, Long Island at the height of the resort's fame and fortune at the beginning of the twentieth century. The hotel stood until the 1960s and I can be fairly certain about the date of the drawing which forms the image on the card because of a pencil-written comment on the reverse of the card. This states:

"Original drawing from which this reproduction was made was set up and coloured in water colours by me. It was about three and a half by two and a half inches. Drawn in 1913. R"

It looks like a splendid place to stay. As soon as time travel is perfected, I'm off there for a short break.

If you want a short break - pop on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Сообщение для русских читателей

Мои дорогие друзья,
Я надеюсь, вы не против, что я пишу, как это, но что-то довольно странно, что происходит в последнее время. Хотя мой блог был пыхтит за последние десять лет, привлекая немного интереса здесь и немного меньше есть, количество посещений каждый день оставалась довольно постоянной. Он не поставил ни одного звон колоколов, не выпустили ни одного ракеты в небо, равно как и не беспокоили какие-либо из своих читателей, заставляя их думать слишком много. Это мягкий блог, который вы могли бы сказать, почти был разработан, чтобы быть проигнорировано.

А потом вдруг, пару месяцев назад, ситуация начала меняться. Число посещений страниц подскочила, количество обращений в два раза и удвоить и снова удвоены. Я получаю больше хитов страниц в день, чем я обычно удается через месяц. Многое, как я хотел бы заявить, что это просто потому, что мои таланты как автор прекрасной и совершенно скульптурные прозы, наконец, был признан, материал я оказываясь в течение последних нескольких недель является самостоятельной же тургесцентной мусор я месили в течение многих лет.

При дальнейшем исследовании я обнаружил, что подавляющее большинство моих новых читателей в России, которая является еще более любопытна я ни писать на русском языке (этот кусок, который был произведен с помощью лучших услуг деньги машинного перевода не может купить, это исключение) и я не пишу о России.

Возможно, один из пяти тысяч или около того русских, которые будут посещать мой блог сегодня может сэкономить минуту или две, дайте мне знать, что привлекает их так много. Я был бы очарован, чтобы знать. В то же время я могу отправить вам мои самые теплые пожелания. Я поднимаю стакан водки, чтобы цементировать теплую солидарность, которая существует между людьми из News From Nowhere Дневник и всего русского народа.

Братски ваш,

(My dear friends,

I hope you don’t mind me writing like this, but something rather odd has been happening recently. Whilst my blog has been chugging along for the last ten years, attracting a bit of interest here and a bit less there, the number of visits each day has remained rather constant. It has set no bells ringing, fired no rockets into the sky, nor has it disturbed any of its readers by making them think too much. It is a gentle blog which you might almost say has been designed to be ignored.

And then all of a sudden, a couple of months ago, things started to change. The number of page visits shot up, the number of hits doubled and redoubled and redoubled again. I have been getting more page hits in a day than I normally manage in a month. Much as I would like to claim that this is simply because my talents as a writer of fine and perfectly sculptured prose has finally been recognised, the stuff I have been turning out for the last few weeks is the self-same turgid rubbish I have churned out for years.

On further investigation I have discovered that the vast majority of my new readers are based in Russia which is even more curious for I neither write in Russian (this piece, which has been produced by the finest machine translation service money can’t buy, is the exception) nor do I write about Russia. 

Perhaps one of the five thousand or so Russians who will visit my blog today could spare a moment or two to let me know what attracts them so much. I would be fascinated to know. In the meantime may I send you my very warmest wishes. I raise a glass of vodka to cement the warm solidarity that exists between the people from the News From Nowhere Blog and the entire Russian people.

Fraternally yours,

Alan Burnett)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pictures From Nowhere : Portrait Of D. M. Thornily (1936)

A strong face of the 1930s emerges from this glass negative. The photographer has managed to pass down the generations that the image was created with an exposure of three seconds at an aperture of f4.8 and he (or she) even tells us that there was a 60 watt light bulb five feet from the subject. Having told us all that, they have forgotten to tell us who the sitter was. We will have to leave it to our imagination.

A photograph of the novelist Daniel Thornily, taken at the height of his fame a few months after the publication of the second volume of his "Masters of Bainbridge" trilogy. A year later, Thornily was to marry the actress Celia Lester, a liaison that was to bring tragedy to both parties. The photograph was taken by Edna McBrian at her studio in St Albans.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Postcards From Home : An Edwardian Google Street View

I took delivery of a newly acquired Edwardian picture postcard the other day - a view looking up Manningham Lane in Bradford. There was something rather familiar about the scene, especially the wrought iron canopy on the right of the photograph. After a little digging I discovered I had another old postcard featuring the same canopy and looking the other way - down Manningham Lane towards the city centre.

What I have finished up with, of course, is a kind of Edwardian Google Street View. This gave rise to the thought that if I can ever gather together enough old vintage postcards of West Yorkshire I can somehow stitch them all together to provide a dynamic bridge to the past.

I wrote about the original postcard (the second one displayed here) back in 2009 and the discovery of a second view of essentially the same buildings gives me an excuse to share the short description I first published seven years ago. 

"I recently acquired a new postcard which shows Manningham Lane in Bradford in 1902. On the left of the Francis Frith card are the Royal Standard Hotel, the Theatre Royal, and the Theatre Tavern, all of which are now sadly gone. The grand building in the centre background was the Bradford office of the Yorkshire Penny Bank. The last time I checked - about a year ago - it was occupied by a bar called "Brass" which had, thank goodness, retained a fair amount of the internal decorations.

All the buildings in the foreground were still in existence until the 1980s and 90s when they either burnt down or were demolished to make way for a monstrous new inner ring road. The Royal Standard was originally built as a Turkish Bath which came to have its own licenced refreshment rooms. Eventually the refreshments superseded the bathing and it changed its name to the Royal Standard Hotel. Towards the end of its life the Royal Standard became a bit of a dive (the whole Manningham Lane area had fallen on hard times by then) and it was a regular haunt of Peter Sutcliffe, more famously known as The Yorkshire Ripper."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures From Nowhere : The Unclean Beard

You know the face, don't you? It is, of course, that well known Victorian poet and social anthropologist ... No, perhaps not, of course I recognise him now, it's that 19th century artist and geologist ..... Or perhaps it is a perfect likeness of that pioneer of domestic science and author of the seminal work "The Unclean Gene". In fact it could be any of them or all of them. There is something about Victorian gentlemen with big beards which meant that their thoughts strayed as far as their permed facial hair.

Whoever he was, he was a toff. Hills and Saunders was no end of the pier snapshot booth. They photographed the Queen (Victoria) and most of the members of her family. They photographed Eton scholars and Harrow masters, Cambridge Dons and Cheltenham ladies.

And what was he thinking whilst he sat there, waiting for the shutter to complete it's painfully slow sweep? Maybe pictures, maybe stones; maybe words, maybe bones. Or maybe he was just thinking about that annoying itch in his beard which was demanding a really good scratch.

Monday, July 18, 2016

News From Yesterday : Ring That Bell

By 1916 most able bodied men were engaged in war work and this meant that women were taking over many civilian jobs which had previously been done by men. Tram conductors would take the fares and signal the tram to start and stop by ringing a bell. The sudden appearance of women in such jobs put a strain on the Edwardian "gallantry" of many men who were eager to help "the weaker sex". Such gallantry landed several citizens of Huddersfield in court before a magistrate who confessed that he too had been guilty of such a crime. It didn't stop him fining them, however. Once the poor prisoner had been taken down, perhaps he rang a bell to indicate that the next miscreant should be brought in front of him.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Getting Service At The Crispin Inn

This is a picture I must have taken in the mid to late 1960s. It shows the Crispin Service Station on Winding Road, Halifax. It is no use going looking for it now because it is long gone and it is the buildings that stood here before that I am primarily interested in. As is often the case, the historic thread is represented by the name rather than the building: this is the site of the famous Saint Crispin Inn.

Nobody seems to know when the first Saint Crispin Inn was built (St Crispin was the patron saint of shoemakers) but even in the nineteenth century it was being referred to as "an ancient inn". In the early eighteen hundreds it became a popular meeting place of local radicals and republicans, men that at the time were often known as "Tom Painers" for their support of the radical and libertarian views of the political philosopher, Tom Paine. It was from the Crispin Inn that a group of men set off in March 1812 to march to Cartwright's mill in Liversedge to destroy the shearing frames which, they believed, were putting them out of work.

The Crispin Inn was demolished in 1844 and immediately replaced by a new inn which, perversely, was called the Old Crispin Inn.  That inn survived until a few years before my photograph was taken when it too was demolished and replaced by the Mobil Service Station. When they pulled the Old Crispin Inn down, they removed the interior to Shibden Hall Museum where it can be seen to this day. When they pulled the service station down, they did no such thing.

Sepia Saturday 339 : Eyes Down In Sandringham

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a "Picture Palace" and therefore it seemed appropriate to feature a picture of a palace. And where better to turn to when you want to find a visual commentary of British social history than the collected snapshot albums of Frank Fieldhouse ("Uncle Frank").  The joy of these albums - which cover a twenty year period from the early thirties to the early fifties - is not just the photographs, but the written commentary that has been added to the charcoal black album pages in indelible pencil (I can see the substation figure of Uncle Frank given an encouraging lick to the point of the pencil as I write). I have chosen a couple of pages from an album entitled "Great Yarmouth and Norfolk Tour, July/August 1950"

As you can see the photographs were taken outside Sandringham Castle in Norfolk, and yes, that indeed is Auntie Miriam stood next to the policeman. The King they didn't see was King George the Somethingorother. But they were lucky enough to catch sight of Princess Margaret who will have been on her way to the other palace to play bingo.

To see other Sepia Saturday contributions, stroll on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Friday, July 15, 2016

More Negative Thoughts

I know I have been wittering on about negatives quite a lot recently but in these times of political stress and lamentation I am inclines to retreat within myself and find solace in simpler times when things were all black and white with just a few shades of grey in-between to make life interesting.

A couple of old glass plate negatives arrived through the post in a big box yesterday and, once scanned and printed, they have given rise to  considerable debate as to when they might have been taken and on what occasion. If you forget for a moment that these are glass negatives and clearly about 100 years old, you might imagine that the photographs were taken in the sixties or seventies. There is something almost "modern" about the look of the girl. And what is the story behind the somewhat strange dress she is wearing with its' venus motif?

Here are the two, quite similar, scans;

Someone out there might recognise the young woman or perhaps the occasion. If anyone has any answers I would be most interested to hear them. But, as always, I would be equally interested in your guesses and speculations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Negative Equity

My room is famously full of what most people think of as junk. There are my books, my collection of old Picture Post magazines, my suitcases full of other people's family photographs, and my collection of German inflation banknotes. There are the dinner menus of the Bishop of Rochester (bought for a song on eBay), Uncle Frank's collection of bus tickets, and my rather unique accumulation of old beer mats. When I point out to my dear wife and son that these collections have great value and in the event of me being suddenly taken from this vale of tears we call Brighouse, they should be preserved and cherished, they exchange that knowing look which is the prelude to them searching through the telephone directory for skip-hire firms. I recognise that one man's passion is another man's recycling, but I would like to record here on the internet, in full sight of the world, and in bold capital letters :


These accumulated photographic negatives (and later digital files) which represent almost sixty years of clicking shutters are my legacy to whoever might think of me in years to come. They are my headstone and my obituary, and my entry in the accounts ledger of life.

Here are a couple, I scanned yesterday, dating back to the early 1980s.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Mad Dogs And Englishmen Go Out In The Midday Snow


This is a familiar scene to anyone who knows Halifax, and many of the buildings remain little changed to this day. The clothes are different, the shops are different, and the buildings at the bottom of the street are long gone, but the fine looking neo-gothic building on the right of the photograph is still standing. It was built at the end of the nineteenth century at the same time as the neighbouring Borough Market. It incorporates an arcade - the Old Arcade - that provides a lead-in to one of the main entrances of the market. The shop at the corner at the time of this 1904 postcard was chemist shop of Gibson Dixon who managed to sell everything from corn plasters to tonic wine, patent cures to peppermint cordial. 

The card was posted from Halifax in May 1904 and it was addressed to a certain Mr Neilson who was stationed with the Burma Oil Company in Rangoon. The chances are that this was Richard Gillies Neilson who was a chemist working for the oil company at the start of the twentieth century. It is not clear who is friend in Halifax was who sent him the card. Whoever he was, he was able to inform Richard Neilson that whilst he was sweating in the noonday sun in far-off Burma, it was snowing in Halifax. Little changes.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Sepia Saturday 338 : A Walk Around My Uncle Frank

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week features a man walking down the street. There was an interesting discussion on our group Facebook page as to whether the photo is a "walkie" - that is one of the Walking Snaps that was taken by one of the many photographers that plied their trade by taking random photographs of people walking down the street in the hope of selling prints at a later date. Initially, I decided it wasn't a "walkie" because it wasn't taken at a seaside where walking snaps were most popular; it din't have a details of the photographer or the date on the print; and the print was lop-sided. However on reflection I am not too sure, the chap in the photograph doesn't seem all that interested in having his photograph taken.

My own contribution to Sepia Saturday 338 is a similar photograph and once again I am unclear as to whether it was a "walkie" or simply that Uncle Frank (for it is he) is cultivating a careful image of a man-about-town who is as used to casual photographers snapping his likeness as some suburban Errol Flynn. Whether it is a "walkie", a "snappy", or some carefully executed "selfie": as with all such old photographs there is a wealth of what can be called collateral detail. Let's just examine a little of it.

A : Let is start with that pipe (and you may want to click and enlarge the original photograph to see it in more detail). Uncle Frank certainly smoked but I have no recollection of him smoking a pipe - nor have I any other photos of him doing so. But there is something slightly odd about the shape of the pipe and all I can imagine is that there is a cigar butt within the pipe (this is a practice I have often noticed in Belgium and the Netherlands, but never seen in this country)
B : The tell-tale strap of the gas mask holder gives us our first clue as to the date of the photograph. In some strange way gas masks have come to prove far more useful to daters of old photographs than they ever were to that poor generation who had to carry them around.
C : A man in uniform strides into the picture from the left. My feeling is that this is a civil uniform rather than a military one (perhaps a railway worker or park keeper) but this would suggest an early stage of the war before such workers were conscripted into the armed forces.
D : That looks like it might be a park and those certain look like iron park railings. If that is the case once again it would suggest an early stage of the war before all such precious objects were gathered up and melted down to make aircraft parts, shells and other such instruments of warfare.

Any old photograph contains layer after layer of detail. You can keep digging and discovering more and more. It is a walk into history - and a fascinating walk at that.

To see more such walks take a stroll over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

A Bicycle Tour Around Some Edwardian Faces

I bought an Edwardian half-plate glass negative on eBay which shows a group of cyclists dressed in typical Edwardian cycling costumes. The joy of these old half-plate negatives is their size (six and a half by four and a half inch) and therefore the quality of the image once they have been scanned. And glass negatives tend to be more resilient to scratches and tears. The quality of the image will, of course, depend on the quality of the original camera, but in my experience the larger the negative size (whole plate or half plate) and the better the quality of the camera.

The level of detail you get with a high resolution scan of such a large negative is rather impressive. This could almost be a modern group of cyclists dressed in Edwardian costume indulging in some kind of historical re-enactment. No doubt the cyclists out there will recognise the bicycles and I suspect that they will be harder to source these days than costumes.

Who they were or what outing they were on will remain a mystery. But the quality of the image almost allows us to join them on their day out. Take a few moments to click and enlarge the original scan and take a tour around those Edwardian faces. But don't take too long: it will soon be time to get back on your bikes and start peddling.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Sepia Saturday 337 : His Very Last Illusion Broke And Crumbled Away To Dust

Our prompt for Sepia Saturday 337 is a promotional postcard featuring "Ashwood's Merrymakers", who were one of the many variety troops entertaining holiday makers in British seaside resorts during the 1920s and 1930s. What little information I have on the troop can be found on our Sepia Saturday Facebook Group page.

I have, perhaps, the most perfect match for the prompt image in a similar promotional postcard featuring a troop called "The Silhouettes Concert Party", who were equally touring the seaside resorts of Britain in the interwar years. But I have used this photograph in a previous Sepia Saturday entry and therefore it would be cheating to use it again. Having said that, my love of images forces me share it again - but if you want the background to it you will need to look back to a post of mine in 2011.

For this Sepia Saturday I would like to feature another photograph of my uncle, Harry Moore, who was a member of the Silhouettes (that is him second from the right on the back row - the one with his hair being wafted by the smog-infused breeze). This is a studio photograph which no doubt was part of the portfolio he used in getting jobs in the entertainment industry in the early 1930s.

I am not sure which character he was portraying, but there is a kind of period charm about the picture. Alas, it was not successful in attracting work, by 1933 he had abandoned his hopes of following a professional career, and had settled down to marry my fathers' sister. As Noel Coward once so memorably wrote: "Poor Uncle Harry looked at her, in whom he had placed his trust, His very last illusion broke and crumbled away to dust".

To see other Sepia Saturday contributions, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

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...