Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Random Times : Taking A Holiday To Photograph The King's False Teeth

RANDOM TIMES : 30 August 1902 

Our random time machine has this week taken us back to the beginning ofd the twentieth century and north to Morpeth in Northumberland. Our news is being delivered by the Morpeth Herald which, as well as serving the towns of Morpeth, Blyth and Bedlington, seems to be the "local organ" for every town and village north of the Tyne. It is the end of August 1902. The news is dominated by the coronation of King Edward VII which took place earlier in the month after being postponed from earlier in the year due to the King being ill. Edison had just invented the battery, Renault had just won the first Paris to Vienna motor car race and the United States Government bought the Panama Canal. Closer to our northern home, other items dominated the news.

The second annual general meeting of the Broomhill Collieries Ltd was held at the offices of the company, 10 Dean Street, Newcastle, on Friday. Sir Christopher Furness M.P. (chairman) presided, and those present included Mr Davison Dalziel and Mr Montague Maclean (members of the Board)...... The Chairman (reported a worrying trend, telling the meeting that ......) he might tell them that the output of their coal last year was 616,819 tons. It was quite true that was between 30,000 and 40,000 tons less than the previous year, but that reduction was caused by two circumstances. First, they had too many holidays during the past year, and as one engaged with large commercial and industrial concerns, employing thousands of workmen, and knowing the disturbing influence of these stoppages, he trusted that they might not continue to encourage, as had been the case during the past two or three years, the frequency of holidays. It added to their cost, and placed them at a disadvantage as a nation with the countries with whom they had to compete.

How lucky we are to have the likes of Baron Furness and Baron Dalziel, not to mention the Hon Montague Maclean to remind us that providing workers with too many holidays can be bad for trade - and bad for profits. How unlucky it is that those eighty-four miners who were killed whilst trying to earn a living digging coal from Broomhill Colliery over the seventy or so years of its existence where not on holiday on that dreadful day when they descended into the earth never to see the light of day again.

Although false teeth had been available in Britain since the end of the eighteenth century, being made out of gold and porcelain they were an expensive luxury available only to the rich. By the latter part of the nineteenth century artificial teeth made from porcelain and Vulcanite were becoming widely available at a price that made them an option for a far broader spectrum of society. At a time when dental hygiene was poor and dental treatment expensive, the idea of having all of your natural teeth removed and replaced with a full artificial set for a guinea or two was attractive. This trend continued for the first half of the 20th century and a survey conducted in 1968 revealed that 80% of those aged over 65 had no natural teeth at all. 

A large gathering of the friends of Mr. Marlow of Barrington, met at Mr. G. A. Scott's, Choppington Inn, Scotland Gate, on Saturday evening to wish him god-speed and good luck on the occasion of his leaving for South Africa. Mr. Jas. Cox, under manager, Choppington Colliery, occupied the chair and said they were all sorry to part with their friend, Mr Marlow, but as the step he was about to take was made for the best he could assure him he took with him the heartiest and sincerest wishes of his numerous friends for his future success and well being. The war was now happily over, and England had obtained another very rich colony which she would undoubtedly develop and make it possible for the industrious settler to become highly prosperous. They all knew Mr. Marlow to be an industrious, steady, sober young man fitted to make his way in a new country, and although they parted with their friend with regret they confidently looked for early news of his success. (Applause). Mr. Geo. Atkinson gave the health of Mr. Marlow and spoke in eulogistic terms of him. The following programme was gone through;— Song,"Home, Sweet Home" Mr. T. Phillips; hornpipe. Mr. James Thompson; song, "Genevieve" Mr. James Jordan; song, “Full of Contradiction" Mr. G. Atkinson; song, “Goodbye, Sweetheart" Mr. James Thomson; song, "Sweet Silver Light Bonny Moon" Mr. James Cox; song, "Kiss Me Mother in my Dreams" Mr. Jas. Jordan; song, " “Sentenced to Death" Mr. C. Teasdale; song, "Annie Dear" Mr. W. Marlow; violin solo, "Robin Gray" Mr. S. Tait; song, "Far Away" Mr. Edward Carr; song, "Under Her Apron" Mr. R. Donald; song, "The Blackbird" Mr. G. F. Barnfather; song, "Queen of the Earth" Mr. J. Marlow; song, "Break the News to Mother" Mr. R. Robson. Messrs. M. Lackie and S. Tait accompanied on the violins. A vote of thanks to the Chairman and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" brought a pleasant evening to close.

You can imagine the scene. It's Mr Marlow's leaving party and friends and family are gathered together at the Choppington Inn to give him a good send-off before he leaves to start a new life in South Africa. The South African war is over and the new colony is now seen as a land of opportunity where a young man can make his fortune. But South Africa was a long way away and in those days emigration was for life. Picture his old mother, sat in a corner listening to the eulogies about her son. Drinks are drunk, tunes are played, and songs are sung. And then Mr R Robson starts to sing that well known ballad, "Break The News To Mother" :

"Just break the news to mother, 
she knows how dear I love her
And tell her not to wait for me 
For, I'm not coming home;
Just say there is no other 
can take the place of mother
Then kiss her dear, 
sweet lips for me, 
and break the news to her." 

The coronation of King Edward VII coincided with the birth of popular photography. By the early years of the twentieth century, cameras and photography was leaving behind the confines of the specialist in his or her studio and becoming a practical possibility for the enthusiastic amateur. In today's prices, the cost of these cameras varies between £48 and £280. Darkroom equipment was not as easily available and therefore photographic suppliers would often make darkrooms available for customers to use.

Two women jumped from a train as it was passing through Pelaw Station, near Newcastle on Tuesday, and fell full length on the platform. When they picked themselves up they explained to the astonished railway officials that as the train had not stopped where they lived they decided to jump out at the next station, which happened to be Pelaw. Neither of the two women appeared to be hurt, and they seemed quite pleased that they managed to escape being carried further from their homes.

I wouldn't fancy the chances of someone trying this trick today. If they weren't killed by the jump from a high speed train, they would no doubt be arrested by the transport police. Perhaps the women would have been better off with a horse and cart, if they only hadn't sold the horse to John Gibson in the first place.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Here Are The Football Results : Questions 4, Answers 2

There is such a story behind this photograph, bought for a few pence in a second hand shop. There is such a story behind this odd collection of individuals that together make up a football team. Thanks to a stray pen we know a couple of answers: that is Ray, second from the left of the back row, and that is Bert, the tall one in the middle of that row. 

But the questions have a clear lead. When? Where? Who are the rest of them? Why are they all smoking cigarettes? This wonderful collection of sporting individuals is a million miles from the carbon-fibre professionals of the modern game, but they seem to have enjoyed the game they have just played. And that makes them winners.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sepia Saturday 342 : The Drainpipe Leading To My Grandmother's Head

My final contribution in the Sepia Saturday Love and Marriage Month is this wedding photograph which features my uncle, John Arthur Burnett, and his bride Doris Metcalfe. Some of the other faces are fairly easily recognised, others are not. From the left are my grandparents, Harriet and Enoch, my Auntie Annie, my Father holding on to my cutely-dressed page-boy brother, and that is, of course, Auntie Miriam, third from the right. Neither my mother nor I were present: she was in the process of giving birth to me at the time and therefore the date is June 1948.

I have photographed many weddings in my time and it is a task I always dread given the importance of the occasion and the likelihood of something going wrong. These digital days you have instant feedback and assurance that the necessary photographs are being captured, but back in these bygone days you would just have to hope for the best until the film was developed. Even if the shots were not a complete disaster, there would often be some minor irritation that would kidnap the attention and drag it away from the important factor which is the bride and groom and guests. 

Being otherwise engaged, I was not responsible for the photographs at this wedding and therefore the drainpipe which appears to come straight out of my grandmothers head and the wanted sign that hovers just behind the bride are nothing at all to do with me.

There are a month's worth of Sepia Saturday Love and Marriage photos to see over at the Sepia Saturday Blog

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Random Times : Why Mischievous Boys Should Avoid Foreign Concoctions And Consume Their Own Steam

Random Times : 23 August 1884

This week our random number generated time machine is whisking us back to 1884 and the very heart of Victorian Britain. Gladstone was Prime Minister and the Third Reform Act was passed by parliament. However, this did not make Britain a democracy: many men - and all women - were still denied the right to vote. That year saw the foundation of both the National Society For The Protection Of Children (compare and contrast with the Royal Society for the Protection Of Animals!) and the Fabian Society. The first skyscraper was being built in Chicago and bicycles were just beginning to become popular throughout the world. For reasons best known to itself, our time machine has landed in Whitstable, Kent and therefore our news comes via the pages of the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald.

"Acting on the advice of the Government Astronomer, two WALTHAM WATCHES were procured for Mr Morrison (the explorer of New Guinea). These were kept at the Melbourne Observatory for a fortnight, and thoroughly and carefully tested, and were pronounced by Mr Ellery (Government Astronomer) at the end of that time, to be better suited for Mr Morrison's requirements than any Chronometer" Extract, Melbourne Age. H W BEDFORD, Agent to the Company, 67 Regent Street (next St Jame's Hall)

I am sure that the two Waltham watches will have been great comfort to Mr Morrison when he was struck by two spears thrown by the angry residents of New Guinea during his expedition to that land. No doubt he could take comfort from being able to tell the exact time whilst he was lashed to the back of a horse and transported through the jungle in search of medical assistance. He was eventually evacuated back to Australia complete with the two spear heads that remained lodged in his body. Whether or not he was complete with the two Waltham watches, history does not record.


Alfred Gambie, 13, Samuel Sweetman, 13, and Alfred Milles, 10, respectable looking boys, were charged with stealing a quantity of milk. John Clinch, a farmer, living at Westgate Court, deposed: I was going along the Whitehall Road when I saw prisoner and two other boys driving one of my cows, They drove it through a dyke before I could get to them. I drove into the field, and got within four rods of the boys before they saw me. One had hold of the cow by the head and the other by the tail and the big boy (Gambie) was milking her into a cap. I value the milk taken at a penny. Prisoners ran away, but I drove after them. I overtook one of them and conveyed him to the station. This cow has been milked before. The Town Council pay me to let boys bathe there, and it is hard for me that they should behave so.

The Bench sentenced each of the prisoners to receive twelve strokes with the birch rod. Superintendent McBean said that the offence with which the prisoners were charged was getting very common. Prisoners were removed crying, and the mother of one of them was seized with hysterics.

Perhaps Mr Morrison in New Guinea should count himself lucky - he only had angry spear-throwing natives to content with. These three lads from Whitstable had the town magistrates determining their punishment and it was a harsh punishment indeed. The use of the birch was not abolished in Britain until 1948 (and it was still in use in the Isle of Man in the 1960s). If anyone for a single moment thinks that such punishment might restore order to society, I urge them to think for a second of a frightened ten year old who is about to be beaten for holding a cow by its tail.

STRAYED OR STOLEN : On Sunday last a BLECK RETRIEVER and BROWN OTTER HOUND. A reward of 5s will be given to any person taking the same to the Town Crier, Whitstable; and any person keeping the same after this notice will be prosecuted.

What is interesting here is not that someone pinched the otter hound (they are grand looking dogs) but the role played by the Town Crier. It would appear that the post of Whitstable Town Crier still exists today and the current incumbent is a Mr DP Allen. Perhaps I will take my dog to him and claim the five bob reward.

In these days of chemical adulteration the public will do wisely to see that they get STONES BRITISH WINES. The high reputation of which has stood the test of more than two centuries. STONES celebrated QUININE WINE. Specially prepared. Strongly recommended by the highest medical authorities. Sold everywhere. FOR PARTIES AND FAMILY USE. WHOLESOME FOR CHILDREN

Only the British could advertise wine - and quinine wine at that - with a headline that proclaimed HOME GROWN WINES v FOREIGN CONCOCTIONS. In these days when we seem to have turned our backs on the rest of the world, perhaps we will need to start drinking Stone's British Wine once again. Pass a glass of quinine if you please!

AN ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY : The large elephant which belonged to Wombwell's Menagerie was disposed of, it will be remembered, to Mssrs Sanger, and it was decided, owing to its aversion to railway travelling, that it should walk from Liverpool on July 31, and reached Margate on August 14 at eleven o'clock a.m. and covered the distance in 13 days (not reckoning Sundays when the animal did not travel), doing an average of 22 miles a day...... The animals daily diet on the road was ten loaves (two at each of five meals), half a bushel of oats, half a sack of bran, 12 pailful of oatmeal and water, a truss of hay night and morning, and a gallon of beer.

Travelling menageries were all the rage in Victorian Britain and people loved to see exotic animals. Both George Wombwell and George Sanger were leaders in this form of popular entertainment. It is not clear why Wombwell sold the elephant to Sanger, but the fact of the matter was that, at the time, Wombwell was in Liverpool and Sanger was at the other end of the country in Margate. The elephant, quite understandably, had an aversion to rail travel and therefore the only alternative was to walk the two hundred and eighty miles. The completion of such a hike is quite an achievement given that during the journey the elephant ate more than 100 loaves of bread and drank fifteen gallon of beer.

CANTERBURY POLICE COURT : CHARGE AGAINST AN ENGINE DRIVER. Richard Butler was summoned for having in Lower Bridge Street used a locomotive which did not, as far as practicable, consume its own smoke. Defendant pleaded guilty, but said that he had been through the town several times before without any complaint being made. There was very little smoke at the time. The Mayor said the question was whether everything practicable was done to consume the smoke. Police constable Smith said that there was a great deal of smoke and it came down as far as the wheels. Mr Bing, the grocer, complained about it. When defendant saw witness he turned off the smoke. The Bench fined defendant 2s 6d and 16s costs. The money was paid.

What we are talking about here is a steam carriage running on the public road and not a steam train on a railway. Not being mechanically minded, I am at a loss to see how it could be expected to consume its own steam. It is fascinating to note, however, the environmental cost of road transport was an issue over 130 years ago.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars, Walkley Cowboys.

I found myself in the Walkley area of Sheffield earlier this week and I called in Beeches wonderful Inner City Farmshop. where I found a volume of local history - "Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars" - which has been prepared by a group called "The Walkley Historians" and published by the Walkley Community Centre. The one thing I can never resist buying is local history books and therefore I was anxious to acquire a copy of the book. "How much?" I asked the lady behind the counter. "It's a minimum donation of £3 but you can pay what you think it is worth above that" I have to admit, this is a new approach to bookselling as far as I am concerned, but I happily handed over £10 and left the shop still believing I had got a bargain. 

I have not had time to read it yet, but I look forward dipping into what is a richly illustrated volume of local history. As I left the shop, I could not resist taking a photograph of the magnificent former Ebenezer Primative Methodist Church on the other side of the main road. I look forward to discovering if there is further information about this fine building in the book. 

And I couldn't help thinking of the "Walkley Hoard" of old large format negatives I bought on eBay earliet this week. When I got home I had a quick look through the collection to see if there were any photographs of Walkley itseld. The best I could come up with is this fine photograph of a Walkley cowboy, which must date back to the 1940s or 1950s. I am not entirely sure where it was taken, but those back yards have a distinctive Walkley look about them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Random Times :The Price Of Coal And An Oxydised Silver Electric Fire

This week, our random time machine is taking is back 82 years to the 16th August 1934, and it has come down to land in Derby in the North Midlands. Our cuttings are taken from the Late Final Edition of the Derby Evening Telegraph. To put local events in context, in Germany, President Hindenburg died and was replaced as Head of State by Adolph Hitler (who had been Chancellor since the previous year), in America the bank robber John Dillinger was shot dead, and the British Government published plans for a substantial expansion in the Royal Air Force.

A letter from the Blackwell Rural Council, read at South Normanton Parish Council's meeting last night, stated the unemployed cannot be allowed to pick coke on the Council's refuse tips.
The sanitary Inspector, in his report to the Rural Council, stated that coke pickers were destructive and left the tips in an untidy condition.
In one case, he stated, a bank was fired and four men were occupied for three days cutting round it.

The unemployment rate in the UK in 1934 was still over 16% and in mining areas such as South Normanton, it will have been much higher. And life upon the meagre benefits that were available was very hard indeed. The dreaded means-test was still in operation, so in order to get what benefits there were, families had to undergo a rigorous and demeaning investigation into what resources and possessions they still had. Searching tips and spoil heaps for coke and coal waste that could still be used was the only means many families had of providing some heating for the coming winter. The decision by the Council to ban such activities because they made the tip "untidy" is a powerful reflection of the state of society after four years of the Great Depression. The bank that "was fired" was not - some may say alas - a financial institution, but a bank of rubbish in the local tip.

Land which is being cleared in the Willows Row area under the Derby Corporation slum clearance scheme.

The slogan at the end of the Great War was the need to construct "homes fit for heroes". In August 1934 it was announced that 2.3 million new homes had been built in the UK since 1918, but poor housing was still an issue and the slums wouldn't finally begin to go until after the Second World War. In 2016 another new housing development is taking place in Willow Row, replacing the development that was built on the newly cleared land in 1934.

Jam, cucumber and tomatoes were scattered over the High Street, Weedon, Northamptonshire, today when three lorries were involved in a collision.....
How a company sergeant-major in the Territorial Army met his death during special aircraft training at Telscombe on July 26 was related at a Brighton inquest today on William George Outlaw (35) of Lowestoft, a lamplighter by occupation ...

The early 1930s were a period of transition for transport in Britain. By 1934 there were some two and a half million motor vehicles on the streets and roads of Britain. Road accidents were becoming more common, a fact brought home to the new Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, earlier that year when he was almost run over in Camden. One of the ways in which he tried to make roads safer was the introduction of the flashing beacon (which was named after him) at road crossings. In the air, plane crashes were widespread, and as the case of William Outlaw so sadly shows, the dangers were not limited to the air passengers.


The wedding has taken place at St. Giles's Church, Normanton, of Miss Margaret Phyllis Jane Brayfield Memmory, daughter of Mr. Brayfleld Memmory, building contractor, and Mrs. Memmory, of Brayfield House, Littleover, and Mr. Cyril Bell, of Osmaston Park Road, Derby. The bride wore a white gown with Brussels lace veil and wreath of orange blossom, and carried a shower bouquet of dark red roses and white heather. She was given away by her father and was attended by four bridesmaids. Miss C. Bell, sister of the bridegroom, and Miss Vera Bonner, the elder attendants, were in powder blue lace model gowns with small net frills and wreaths of silver leaves. The smaller bridesmaids, Miss Marjorie Memmory and Miss Sheila Johnson, the bride's niece, wore powder blue crepe-de-chine dresses and headdresses. The bride's mother wore a dress of cream Swiss embroidered lace and net with picture hat. Mr. Walter Memmory, of Farm Street, uncle of the bride, was the best man. Forty guests were present at the reception held in a marquee on the lawn at Brayfield House. The honeymoon is being spent at Scarborough. 

Presents included: Bride's father to bride, newly-erected detached villa; bride's mother to bride, cheque; bride's late grandfather (to be given her wedding day), case of engraved silver dessert spoons; bridegroom's father and mother, oak clock; bridegroom's sister, case of tea spoons and sugar tongs; bride's sister and brother-in-Iaw, oxydised silver companion set and blue plush nightdress case forming a doll; bride's adopted sister, salad servers; Mr. and Mrs. Waiter Memmory, Pyrex dish in chromium and silver stand; Mr. and Mrs Jess Memmory, silk table runner; Miss Ivy Memmory. afternoon cloth; Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Memmory, glass sandwich dish and fruit bowl and servers; Mrs. Bell (grandmother), embroidered bolster set; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Beil, pair sheets; Mr. and Mrs. Thornham (Hull), case fruit spoons and server: Auntie Florrie, tablecloth; Messrs. A. J. Cash and Sons, solicitors, cut glass; Mr. and Mrs. T. Bonner, electric standard lamp; Miss Vera Bonner, bathroom shower spray. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh, glass trinket set; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur china tea set; Mr. and Mrs. Howe, oak dinner wagon; Miss Joyce Howe. vase; Mr. and Mrs. G Broughton. embroidered silk bedspread: Miss Ward, (bride's godmother) and Ada, case fish knives and forks; Mr. J. L. Shephard (Stapleford), oak canteen of cutlery; Mr. and Mrs. Barker, embroidered afternoon cloth; Miss Walker, china coffee set; Mrs. Fisher and family, embroidered afternoon cloth and jewellery case; Mr. and Mrs. Hockham and Peter, bath towels, tea and glass cloths: Mr. and Mrs. Hodgkinson, oak candle-sticks; Miss Jessie Robson. china coffee set and afternoon cloth; Mr. and Mrs. Philpott. oxydised silver electric fire: Mr. and Mrs. Tester, afternoon cloth and embroidered table centre; Mr. and Mrs. F. Burton, cut glass fruit stand: Mr. George Marsh, chromium plated cheese stand; Mr. and Mrs. Newsham, Empire ware vase. 

Whilst this article is long, it is worth reproducing because it is a near perfect exploration of economic and social history and it provides a fine counterpoint to the unemployed searching for bits of coke on the municipal tips. Not that Mr and Mrs Bell would be needing old bits of coke and coal - their wedding presents included an "oxydised silver electric fire". The gift list itself is a retail list of almost poetic proportions (I can almost imagine Sir John Betjeman reading it). 

The scale of the generosity of Mr Brayfield-Memmory can be judged by the prices of some of the "villas" being advertised in the Evening Telegraph. The villa in Kedleston Road, for example was selling for £450 which in terms of 2016 is the equivalent of about £29,000. If you check on property prices in that road today, the houses are selling for about £300,000. By contrast the oxidised electric fire would be worthless today.

When they returned from their honeymoon in Scarborough, the happy couple could have had a night out at the cinema. Showing at the Cosmo in Derby was that years' "most outstanding screen triumph", "Lady For A Day". Directed by Frank Capra, it was nominated for three academy awards - but sadly got none. 1934 was a great time for the cinema - talking pictures widely available and the restrictions of what could be said and shown set out in the Hays Code had still to take effect.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Where And The When

RAJAR PURCHASE No. 2 : Derwentwater, September 1933

All praise to those scribblers so bold,
Whose story lives on to be told,
Because with pencil and pen,
They told the where and the when,
On the back of those photos so old.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sepia Saturday 342 : Shouting Love In Sepia

Our Sepia Saturday theme this month is "love and marriage" and whilst last week I focussed on the second half of this couplet, today I am looking at the first half - love. 

And if this old, faded photograph of my parents - Albert and Gladys - says anything it says love. It shouts it through the sepia salts, roars it through the cracks and creases of the tiny print. 

You can set this old print next to any million pixel, super high definition digital image fresh from the most mobile of smart phones. You can put it up against the sharpest razor sharp print, the perfectly balanced colour profile, the most competently composed composition. 

And still this old and faded photo would win. It screams love - love that can overcome the ravages of time.

This month our theme is LOVE AND MARRIAGE. See all the posts by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friendship Abides If Distance Divides

This vintage postcard comes from the collection of my Great Uncle, Fowler Beanland. In the early years of the twentieth century, Fowler had moved to Longtown in Cumbria to find work in the bobbin making industry there. He was an avid collector of postcards and many of his friends and relatives from the Keighley area of West Yorkshire would send him cards of that area to add to his collection.

This card of the Victoria Hospital in Keighley was one such card. Originally built as a "cottage hospital" in the 1870s, it was later extended to become the towns' main hospital until the new Airedale Hospital was built in the 1970s and the old Victoria Hospital was demolished.

L.P. sent the card to Fowler, but I have no idea who L.P. was and therefore I can't tell you whether friendship did abide for long.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sat On A Deckchair Reviewing The Rajar Purchase


I have been at it again! Another day, another eBay purchase : accumulating more "junk" just at the time of life I should be divesting myself of worldly possessions. The purchase this time was a small collection of old photographs contained within a vintage "film and print wallet" bearing the name "Rajar". This is a famous name in terms of British photographic history, a pioneer in the production of photographic film and papers which eventually became part of the "Ilford" company.

The wallet, I suspect, dates from the mid 1920s, although the twenty-odd photos within it are an eclectic bunch. The fact that I don't know anything about them makes them even more interesting in terms of exploration. So with the photos in front of me I stand on the shores of a new and unexplored continent - or rather I sit in my deckchair enjoying the summer sun whilst sifting through the "Rajar Purchase".

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Random Times : A Time Machine To The Light, The Dark, And A Jolly Good Hiding

A few years ago I did a series of blog posts in which I used a random number generator to identify small areas of West Yorkshire to visit and photograph ("West Yorkshire In Ten Squares"). Randomness is a great approach to investigating areas where the subject matter is almost limitless and one's ability to undertake a detailed and comprehensive analysis is constrained by an enhanced susceptibility to boredom. I have decided to once again crank up my steam driven random number generator and, this time, to harness it to a time machine. I am visiting the past via the archives of British local newspapers. The date will be determined by the date of my posts - the year will be the chance product of my random number generator. The first year it has selected is 1940, so we are going to investigate the random lives of British people courtesy of the Gloucester Journal.

What the police described as irresponsible behaviour on the part of soldiers on leave and other unauthorised persons in telling motorists to extinguish all their lights while enemy planes were over the south-west of England, was alleged at Gloucester City Petty Sessions on Tuesday to have caused no fewer than 14 or 15 road casualties. It was emphasised that only the police or soldiers on duty possessed the authority to order motorists to put out lights, and then only the headlights should be extinguished as long as the car was on the highway. Before the magistrates was Eric Brown, a soldier, stated to belong to Dudley. He pleaded guilty to having been drunk and disorderly in Westgate Street on Monday night.


Fines totalling £14 were imposed on Friday on six defendants who were summoned for having failed to obscure lights inside premises to prevent any illumination therefrom being visible outside.

Our random number powered time machine has landed us back in wartime Britain. By August 1940, the war had been in progress for almost a year and the so-called "phoney war" that dominated the first few months of conflict is now a distant memory. France has been overrun by the Germans, British troops have had to flee from Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain is in full force. People looked with fear to the skies, especially at night. And the authorities were constantly on the lookout for any stray lights that would help pinpoint Britain's town and cities.

Situations Vacant 
PROBATIONER NURSE required, commencing salary £25; uniform provided - Apply Matron, Cotswold Sanatorium, Cranham, Gloucester.
HOUSEMAIDS wanted, wages according to experience; uniform provided - Apply Matron, Cotswold Sanatorium, Cranham, Gloucester.
EXPERIENCED LADY SHORTHAND-TYPIST required in old established Company Office in Gloucestershire (12 miles from Bristol). Would be required to reside locally. Permanency. Write stating age, experience and salary required, 625 Journal, Gloucester.
GIRL leaving school, daily. 8.30 to 3.00: no Sundays - Abbotsford, Chosen Way, Hucclecote.

The Situations Vacant column is by now the exclusive territory of women workers - conscription has already more or less removed men from the open job market. If the salary of £25 for a probationary nurse looks generous, it should be remembered that this is an annual salary and not a weekly or monthly one. If the nurses or the housemaids had stayed at the Cotswold Sanatorium, by 1949 they would discover that George Orwell was a patient there whilst finishing off his book 1984. The "girl, leaving school" advert we must assume, is an advert for a school-leaver to become some kind of daily housemaid.

PRIVATE E W KENT R.A.O.C. of 131 New Street, Gloucester, who is missing from the Lancastria, sunk by enemy action on June 17. Aged 24, he was formerly employed in the butchery department by the Gloucester Co-operative Society.

Edgar William Kent had worked in the butchery department of Gloucester Co-op. He died on the 17th June 1940 when the ex-Cunard liner, "Lancastria" was sunk whilst taking part in the evacuation of British troops from northern France during Operation Ariel.

Less well-known than Operation Dynamo (the Dunkirk evacuations which had taken place two weeks earlier), Operation Ariel was the name given to the attempts to evacuate British troops and civilians from Western France during the fall of that country to the German occupation. The 1,300 passenger Cunard liner, Lancastria, was crammed with up to 5,000 troops and civilians when it was bombed and sunk in St Nazaire at the mouth of the River Loire. No one knows exactly how many people lost their lives in that disaster, but it is at least 3,500, making it the largest British maritime disaster in history. One of that number was Edgar William Kent.


Addressing four boys who had admitted at Gloucestershire Juvenile Court Monday the theft of growing fruit, the Chairman (Mr H G Norman) said: "One of these days you will find someone who will catch hold of you and give you a jolly good hiding, which I think will be the best thing for you". The boys, two 10 years of age, one 11 and the other 12, were fined a shilling each. The value of the fruit was said to be a shilling.

Surely nothing illustrates the passage of time so much as this report of what was little more than youthful scrumping. Today it would have been Mr Norman who would have been thrashed for saying such things.


One of the outstanding events in Army camp life is the arrival of smokes for Gloucester and District lads sent by "The Citizen" Cigarette and Tobacco Fund.


The party of children who raised 45/- at a concert given in Theresa Street.

Perhaps this is another illustration of the passage of time. Today, sending a box of cigarettes to someone would be seen in itself as a declaration of war.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Church Street, Morley And The Postcard Pecking Order

During that first decade of the twentieth century - the decade of the picture postcard - the frenzied desire for postcards to send here, there and everywhere soon used up all available stocks of scenes of pretty woodland and sterling castles. And as postcard albums got their fill of views of Edinburgh's Royal Mile or Harrogate's Regal Baths, local photographers became more adventurous in their selection of views to temp their customers with.

I don't have anything against Morley (on the outskirts of Leeds), but it must be said that this view of Church Street must be well down the postcard pecking order. Even the obligatory waifs and strays who stare back at every Edwardian photographer, seem to look in wonderment about the choice of subject.

As far as I can make out, that is St Peter's Church in the background and in front of it are ... some houses. If you were take the same photograph today you would see sign boards advertising "Shake, Latte And Roll", the "Image Hair Studios" and a nail bar called "Nail'd It". It would be a little brighter and a little more lively. But alas, it would be too late - picture postcards have had their day.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Night Charles Hawtrey Crushed A Wooden Behemoth

It was the contest of the century, the great decider, the true test of wills. It was David against Goliath, Tyrannosaurus Rex against a butterfly, Muhammad Ali versus Charles Hawtrey. It was wood against wood, candle wax against candle wax and elastic bands stretched to the tautness of a dress shirt on a fat man. Yes, at long last it was the Great Tank Race.

Paul had stretched the rules to their limits and entered a wooden behemoth straight out of a derelict Yorkshire wooden mill. In its previous incarnation, the bobbin had held enough thread to make socks for a whole army. By comparison, my little effort - modestly known for racing purposes as "Invincible" - had been home to a dainty skein of sewing thread.

After a false start or two when over-enthusiasm had caused elastic bands to curl beyond their limit of curliness and repairs had to be carried out in the pits, the race was on. The behemoth vibrated a little but thought better of it and remained stuck to its spot on the starting line like a housefly on a tray of treacle.

Little "Invincible" stormed into a lead, like a cotton reel bat out of hell.  Eventually the judges had to intervene to prevent further unnecessary punishment to the rooted behemoth. A winner was declared and the winner - it the best traditions of British sportsmanship - shook hands with the defeated loser, drank a hearty toast in rather splendid Japanese whisky, and returned "Invincible" to his little plastic box and a well-earned retirement. 

Of course, I will not boast about my success on the cotton reel tank racing circuit, I'm not that kind of chap. I let plucky little "Invincible" do my talking for me and we will let the photographs tell the true tale of the night.

(Please Note : the final photograph has been digitally edited to better portray the winning margin)

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...