Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Random Times : A Butterman, Some Onions, And The Great Eastern

RANDOM TIMES : 21 September 1863

Our Random Number Generated Time Machine has, this week, whisked us back close to the beginnings of time itself (well the beginnings of time as defined in this series), to September 1863, We have come to rest in the Port of Liverpool and our news is provided by the Liverpool Daily Post. Reading newspapers which are 150 years old highlights the tremendous social and economic changes that have taken place in that time. A week or two before our time machine landed, 100,000 people had gathered in Liverpool on a sunny afternoon to watch the public execution of four men. Earlier in the year, Queen Victoria's wayward son, Edward, had married Princess Alexandra of Denmark, But there were also the beginnings of some of the things that would go on to craft the very shape of the century and a half that followed: the first line of the London Underground system was opened, the Football Association was founded, and linoleum was patented. In Liverpool, Frank Hornby - the man who would go on to invent some of the most iconic toys of the twentieth century - was born.

For all those who bemoan modern newspapers for sacrificing news at the altar of advertising revenue, it is instructive to look back at the local newspapers of the time. What news there is, is hidden amongst column after column, and page after page of advertising. And what news there was, was dominated by events in America, where the Civil War was at its mid-point.

A Butterman, Some Onions, And The Great Eastern

Scattered around the pages of the Liverpool Daily Post are reports from America on the progress of the Civil War which had been taking place for over two years and, tragically, still had another two years yet to run. The idea of the news being "scattered" is quite appropriate: this is the age before instantaneous news could be beamed around the world. Whilst the telegraph system had been in commercial use for some thirty years by 1863, trans-Atlantic telegraph cables were still three years in the future. Thus for news of the progress of the Civil War, people were still dependent on despatches sent by sea, as can be seen by these two examples from the pages of the Daily Post.

The war in America was the major foreign news story of the period, but it had a special significance for Liverpool. That city was the major port for the trans-Atlantic trade and in particular the importation of cotton from the southern States. The war and the Union blockade of the Confederate States had a considerable impact on the local economy. The great shipowners were losing money and the shipbuilders were also suffering. Various attempts had been made to build ships that were intended for the Confederate Navy, but the ships had been seized by the British Government for being in breach of their policy of neutrality.

The interruption of supplies of cotton from America coincided with a widespread reversal in trading conditions and the two things together led to what became known as the "Lancashire Cotton Famine" of 1861-5. There was widespread unemployment and poverty amongst the textile workers of the county and relief efforts were established throughout the country (this is an example from the pages of the Daily Post of a relief society dedicating its efforts to the managers and overlookers of Preston. Despite the detrimental impact of the Civil War, cotton workers in Manchester supported the cause of the Union and its efforts to end slavery in the southern states.

The hindsight of history does not make everything clear! The meaning of this strange public announcement in the columns of the Daily Post remains a mystery, which, perhaps, is better not solved.

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was one of the axioms of the high Victorian period, but the 1860s were a time of great controversy over precisely how best to achieve such a state of near-Godliness. One of the main protagonists in this "heated" discussion was a certain Dr Barter, known as the "father of the Turkish Bath" The very idea that the "shores and sewers" of the human body must be flushed (at two shillings a time) is one that still attracts support in the twenty-first century.

When they were not flushing their personal sewers out, the residents of Liverpool were invited to buy a ticket for a day return trip to the Birmingham Onion Fair. This annual fair had been taking place since the eighteenth century and originally it provided an opportunity for city dwellers and country people from all around the Midlands to buy and sell agricultural produce: in particular that favourite delicacy of these parts, the onion. By the 1860s, the fair had almost outgrown its traditional home in the Birmingham Bull Ring and had become associated with every type of amusement, menagerie, and showmanship. Following protests by local shopkeepers it was eventually moved out of the centre of the city, but it was still active as an annual funfair well into the twentieth century.

Brunel's SS Great Eastern was the Branwell Bronte of the Brunel family of ships. Whilst the Great Western and the Great Britain went on to find fame and fortune and a permanent dry dock in history, the Great Eastern led a life punctuated by accident, failure and ignominy. She was built as the largest and most ambitious of the Brunel steam ships, intended for the long distance eastern voyages to India, China and Australia. Work started on building the ship in 1854 and as it was intended to be six times larger by volume than any ship then afloat, the task was a daunting one. The project was jinxed from the very outset: the company given the contract to build her went bankrupt, the launch failed, a boiler exploded on her maiden voyage, and the perceived market of voyages to the far east never materialised. Instead she joined the already overcrowded North Atlantic market sailing out of Liverpool, just at the point when trade with America was beginning to be badly affected by the Civil War. Even when she made trans-Atlantic voyages they tended to be plagued with bad fortune: as we can see, in September she ran into and sunk the ship, Jane. In January 1864 she was put up for sale, but nobody seemed to want to buy her and an idea was even floated to make her the prize in a public lottery (luckily, this came to nothing - what on earth could you do if you won a steamship in a lottery!). Eventually she was bought and leased to a company responsible for laying the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable The great ship that had been intended to carry passengers in luxury to the East, earned her keep by laying out cables on the bed of the Atlantic. At the end of her cable-laying career she was used as a floating billboard on the River Mersey for Lewis's Department Store before eventually being broken up in 1889, just thirty short years after her maiden voyage.

"Last night, about twenty minutes to nine o'clock, a young man of short stature, dressed in black, took a run on the Seacombe slip and plunged into the river. He was heard immediately to cry for help. A boat was put off to his assistance, but no trace of him could be discovered" Comment, on some occasions, is quite superfluous.

What finer way to finish than with a concert by the "Yorkshire Queen of Song", Mrs Susannah Sunderland? She was born in Brighouse (just a mile or so from where I am writing this) in 1819 and her singing ability was first noted by the local blacksmith. She went on to perform throughout Yorkshire, and as the expanding railway system made travel easier, her fame was recognised throughout the land. When she sang for Queen Victoria in London, the Queen is supposed to have said, "I may be Queen of England, but you are the Queen of song ", and she carried the tag-line throughout her career. The performance in September 1863 was, indeed' her last in Liverpool: she retired from singing the following year. A famous singing competition - the “Mrs Sunderland Competition" still takes place in Huddersfield in her memory.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES : A Bradford Family Icon


1 : A Bradford Family Icon

ENOCH BURNETT (1878-1948)  : Enoch was thirty-nine years old at the time of this photograph. He was married and had the four children pictured with him and his wife, Harriet Ellen. When the photograph was taken he was absent, serving in France in the Labour Corps, digging trenches and tunnels - the very architecture of that most difficult time in the history of mankind. At the end of the war, Enoch returned to Bradford and returned to the life he knew before - cleaning windows in the summer, mending watches and clocks in the winter and playing the euphonium at Chapel music evenings.

HARRIET-ELLEN BURNETT (1871-1956) : Already in her mid-forties when this photograph was taken, Harriet-Ellen was, I suspect, the glue that kept the family together in good times and bad. There is a strength in that face and a calmness; both qualities that would be needed in the years ahead. She was never listed as having an occupation, but that doesn't mean she didn't work: like so many housewives of the era she worked unceasingly - cooking, cleaning, giving birth and giving comfort.

JOHN ARTHUR BURNETT (1899-1974) : Whilst the family might have been confident enough to leave a space in the photograph for Enoch who was over in France digging trenches, they were realistic enough to know that once a young man went to the front, there was a fair chance that he might not return. And this is probably the reason for the photograph in the first place: for it was taken shortly after John Arthur joined the army a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday. After a few months training in England he was sent to the slaughter fields of France and within three months of arriving there he was posted as missing. But he survived; he was taken a prisoner of war and in 1919 returned to Bradford and his family.

MIRIAM BURNETT (1901-1987) : Miriam was 16 years old when this photograph was taken and already working in the Bradford mills. By the 1930s she was still unmarried but was involved in a lengthy courtship with a local lad, Frank Fieldhouse. They didn't marry until England was once again plunged into war and whether by choice or fate, Frank and Miriam never had children. For a time she ran a seaside boarding house in Great Yarmouth and in her old age, when Frank had died, she returned to live in West Yorkshire.

ANNIE ELIZABETH BURNETT (1903-1980) : Annie was the beauty of the family: a young girl with talent and personality and so much to give. She fell in love with a handsome, young Concert Party pianist and tenor vocalist, Harry Moore and in 1933 they were married. It wasn't a particularly happy or successful marriage, although they remained together until Annie died in 1980. Harry was probably gay, but these were times when such a fact had to be hidden within the camouflage of a childless marriage. Annie was left with significant psychological scars that remained with her all her life. A tragic story, but a common one.

ALBERT BURNETT (1911-2002) : Albert was the baby of the group, born eight years after his closest sibling. Albert became a mechanic who made a career looking after machines in the wrapping and packaging industry. He married Gladys Beanland in 1936 and after a couple of miscarriages, Gladys gave birth to two boys. The eldest, Roger, went on to become a successful artist and sculpture who travelled the world. The younger, Alan, remained in England and started to collect old photographs that could eventually be strung together to provide a history of my family in one hundred images.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Confessions Of A Bookmaker

I make books for two reasons. First of all I am fascinated with the process of making books in this modern digital age. I have become almost addicted to experimenting with different formats, alternative approaches and competing publishing firms in order to discover which is the most effective. In the past I have used Lulu and Blurb, and now I have started using Amazon's own dedicated publishing service, CreateSpace. In some cases these require the use of different software and therefore the challenge is not just to overcome the technical problems posed by the publishing process, but also to become reasonably competent in the use of desktop publishing software.

The second reason is a belief that, despite the obvious and many advantages of digital media and the libraries of books that can be slipped into your back pocket or browsed from your mobile phone, there is something solid, reliable and lasting about physical books. I sometimes think of books like Edwin Muir thought of horses - you may know the poem where  he tells of a time following some apocalyptic war when all the modern machines are of no use and the horses return, "stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent / By an old command to find our whereabouts".  When all the Kindles have crumbled and the tablets have run out of power - these physical books will still be around tempting some great-grandchild to discover what some old fool wasted his time doing.

Anyway, all this is a preface to announcing that my latest book has hit the Amazon shelves. It is called "Pictures From Nowhere" and is a collection of the lost and orphaned photographs that have provided a stimulus for my imagination over the first half of this year.  I can't claim that it was a book that I have slaved over for years: I collected the posts together last Thursday, proofed it on Friday, ordered it on Saturday and it was delivered to me on Sunday.  But it is cheap (£7.50p including free postage if you are an Amazon Prime member) and reasonably cheerful. And as an experiment in relative simple and painless desk-top publishing, I like to think it has been successful.

Pictures From Nowhere is available from Amazon.Com and all the various local manifestations of that monolith (just do a search for "Alan Burnett Pictures From Nowhere"). It's cheap and it's cheerful and for every copy sold I get enough to buy myself half a pint of beer!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sepia Saturday 343 : Working On Inverse Relationships

Our theme this month on Sepia Saturday is "Work And Play".  I will start with work - weren't we always taught that work came before play? - and with these two fine fellows who are obviously kitted-out for a day on the footplate. I have no idea who they are: running, as I do, a home for orphaned old photographs, people often hand me old photographs whose provenance has been long forgotten.  By posing in front of the insignia of their employer we have a good idea of what they did and - because it is "British Railways" and not British Rail nor one of the handful of silly names rail companies now posses - when they did it.

There are no doubt experts out there who will be able to tell us more (feel free to write in, I am a magnet for trivia) by examining the cap badges or the bogey wheels or identifying the precise meaning of what appears to be an Amazon Dash button on the shirt of the cheap on the right. But I love photos for their own intrinsic value and sometimes there is an inverse relationship between added information and added visual value. There should be  a mathematical formula to express that relationship - I will play around with the idea and see if I can work one out.

To see what others are doing with work and play, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Random Times : Depression, Sin And Amy Johnson On Roller Skates

RANDOM TIMES : 7 September 1931

Our random number generated time machine has whisked us back to the start of the 1930s and made a landing alongside the Humber Estuary near the city of Kingston-on-Hull. We can't see the magnificent Humber Bridge because it is still forty years in the future, but the port of Hull is full of deep sea trawlers although the fishing industry, like all others, is suffering from the great economic depression.

Economic problems and their political implications dominate the national, and international, news. The Labour Government had just fallen and been replaced by a National Coalition and the decision of the Labour leader, Ramsey MacDonald to participate in the coalition had split the Labour Party. Our window on history is provided by the pages of the Hull Daily Mail.

he attitude of the Trade Union Congress towards the economic crisis, and their "unalterable" opposition to the National Government, were made plain in the presidential address by Mr A Hayday MP, to the Trades Union Congress in Bristol today. Mr Hayday said: "Political and financial influences of a sinister character, working behind the scenes, have taken advantage of the difficulties arising from policy pursued by private banking interests to dictate to the British Government and people a fundamental change in national policy”.

There is something remarkably familiar about the lead story in the Hull Daily Mail on this day: the power of the banks, economic crisis, a fundamental split in the Labour Party - history may not actually repeat itself, but in tends to wander along familiar pathways! And what the writer of this article didn't know was that this was just the beginning of the crisis. Within a few days the new National Government had devalued the pound, cut the wages of government workers and reduced benefits to a minimum. A long, long economic recession was awaiting Hull, and the rest of Britain, in the 1930s
Bad Weather Keeps Her At Koenigsberg
Berlin, Monday
Unfavourable weather prevented Miss Amy Johnson, who is on her way home from Tokio, from leaving Koenigsberg, East Prussia, at five-o-clock this morning as she had intended. She proposes to start at noon on a direct flight to Hanover, which she expects to reach in four or five hours. Miss Johnson has with her a Siberian pup with which she was presented in Moscow.

Amy Johnson was one of the great British heroines of the 1930s. Born in Hull, she worked as a secretary in a solicitor's office before getting her pilot's licence in 1929. She them embarked on a series of record-breaking flights, becoming in 1930 the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. In July 1931 she had undertaken a series of record-breaking flights to Tokyo and Moscow and she was returning from these when she was delayed in Konigsberg (now known as Kaliningrad). She did manage to leave Konigsberg later that day and she eventually returned safely to the UK. The following year she married fellow pilot Jim Mollison and during the rest of the decade she continued to undertake record-breaking aviation flights. 

At the outbreak of World War II she volunteered for the Air Transport Auxiliary and was responsible for moving RAF planes between bases in the UK. In January 1941 she went missing during one such flight.

The surprising thing about the case of Charles Curtis Hardy is the fact that fowl-stealing was still a specific offence in British law in 1931. I am not sure what sentence he eventually received, let us hope it is not as severe as a certain William Ansell of Bedfordshire who was transported to Australia for 7 years for fowl stealing a hundred years earlier.

The situations vacant columns of local newspapers always provide a powerful economic and social commentary on the state of a local community. Here we see that, whilst there are still jobs available, they tend to be of a specialist nature and - in the majority of cases - for women workers. New skills were at a premium, and in these times shorthand writing and typing were very marketable skills. It is interesting to note that a "Lady Shorthand-Typist" could expect to earn 30s (£1.50) per week, whilst a junior mistress at a school was lucky to be getting £5 per term.

The newspaper situations vacant columns were of little use to the vast numbers of unskilled working men that were being thrown out of work by the Great Depression. In 1931 there were more than 15,000 unemployed men in the city of Hull, men who had little hope or opportunity of finding work for much of the rest of the decade.

How 970 Delegates Will Be Entertained
Excellent arrangements have been made to entertain the 970 delegates and their ladies who are attending the 44th annual conference of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association at Bridlington during next week. Weather permitting, bowls matches on the various greens have been arranged and several social events will be held at the Spa Royal Hall, while motor tours round the district and to Scarborough are included in the programme.

The 970 Sanitary Inspectors hopefully had a good week at Brid and between the games of bowls and motor trips to Scarborough had time to examine the state of public health in the 1930s. Life expectancy was still less than sixty years old and the figures for Hull were some of the lowest in the country. 

We tend to think of the 1930s as a era of cinema classics which is far removed from the puerile dross of the modern screen. But we are, of course, cherry picking and a quick look at the cinema programme in September 1931 in Hull shows us that titillation was even then a prime ingredient of popular entertainment. There seems to be a concentration on marital relationships - "kept husbands", "Bachelor Fathers" and "What a Widow". My favourite title is perhaps "Sin Takes A Holiday" which was a convoluted romantic comedy about a rich divorce lawyer and his "dowdy" secretary. Some movie executive forgot to renew the copyright on the film when it ran out in 1958 and consequently it is now in the public domain and available in full on YouTube.I'd like to say it is worth a viewing - but it's not!

I have not been able to find any evidence that Fred Laverton managed to break the World Roller Skating Record at the Hull White City Skating Rink in September 1931. Such record-breaking attempts were commonplace in the early 1930s - an era of marathon dances and endless skating performances. People would pay a few pence to watch others suffer in an attempt to achieve a meaningless feat. Which, it must be said, sounds like a lot of modern reality TV.

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Generously Muted Municipal Buildings Of Keighley

Towards the end of the nineteenth century municipal competitiveness was all the rage in the north of England. The rivalries between neighbouring mill towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire was fought out on the football field, the cricket field, and the rugby ground: but as town treasury coffers grew in size, that competitiveness began to extend to the scale, design and elegance of the municipal buildings themselves. A Great British Town Hall Race was instigated to achieve the most striking edifice that would reflect the grandeur of the local community.

For some reason, the town of Keighley never seemed to have entered the race. Perhaps the civic leaders were too canny: they spent their money constructing a technical college worthy of a Venetian Prince, and two or three grand looking pubs as well. The Municipal Buildings - which are shown on this early twentieth century postcard from Fowler Beanland's collection - were generously muted and even then they were shared with the town's post office. The post office has now moved across the road to a modern shopping centre: but the municipal buildings are still there and still generously muted.

Daffodil On The Water

When I was young, back in the early 1950s, our family’s annual seaside holiday would alternate between Bridlington on the east coast and New...