Thursday, October 27, 2016

All At Sea

For the next two or three weeks I am going to be all at sea. Our ship, alas, is not the delightfully named "Fako", but the good ship Oceana. We are sailing south from Britain in search of the sun, with stops in Madeira, the Canaries, Spain and Portugal. Whilst we are away, News From Nowhere will be celebrating it's tenth birthday with a quiet party, a few drinks, and a decent lie-in. When it returns - in the middle of November - it will be in its eleventh year. Happy birthday to my blog, best regards to all of you, and - calm seas for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Four Pubs And A Tram-shed

The Bull’s Head, Mexborough, South Yorkshire
“Mr William Biggs, or 27, Wood Street, Mexborough, a highly prominent figure in variety of sporting circles at Mexborough upwards of 40 years ago, died yesterday at the age of 68. He was formerly licensee of the Bull's Head Hotel for 20 years, and there were very few sports in which he did not indulge with a considerable measure of success. Outside Mexborough he was perhaps most widely known as the man who trained “Iron” Hague to the heavyweight championship of England”.
Sheffield Independent, 23 September 1938

The Falcon, Mexborough, South Yorkshire
The Falcon was previously called “The Old Mason’s Arms”
“Wanted good clean maid for private work; age 35 to 40: good references - Apply Mrs Neath, Old Mason’s Arms, Mexborough, Near Rotherham”.
Yorkshire Post, 31 August 1929

The Noose And Gibbet Inn, Sheffield
The pub stands a few yards away from the site where the body of the highwayman, Spence Broughton, was left hanging for some thirty years as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to rob the mail coach. In 1792, Broughton’s body was brought from Tyburn in York and attracted considerable crowds - 40,000 people were reported to have viewed the body on the first day. Such crowds, of course, soon became hungry and thirsty and the local pubs did very well indeed from the spectacle. Broughton’s body was finally removed in 1827 after a complaint by the local landowner who was fed up of trespassers on his land.

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield
"Carbrook Hall is a historic house in Sheffield, England. Located in the Attercliffe district of the city, the original building was owned by the Blunt family from 1176. This was rebuilt in 1462, and was bought by Thomas Bright (Lord of the manor of Ecclesall) in the late 16th century. His descendant, John Bright, was an active Parliamentarian during the English Civil War, and the building was used as a Roundhead meeting place during the siege of Sheffield Castle. Most of the building was demolished in the 19th century, what survives is a Grade II listed stone wing that was added c. 1620. It is now used as a public house that claims to be "Sheffield's most haunted public house”. (Wikipedia)

Tinsley Tram-sheds, Sheffield
"Built in 1874 for the first horse-drawn tram service in Sheffield. In 1899 they were extended to house electric trams. In 1960 the last Sheffield tram terminated here". (Text of Blue Plaque)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

Today's agenda featured a trip to the Meandowhall Shopping Centre in order to stock up with whatever will be needed for the next phase of our holidays. But four hours in what non-shoppers often call "Meadowhell" was too much of an undertaking for me, and therefore I managed to escape for a couple of hours and take a walk along the tow-path of the South Yorkshire Canal.

Some thirty-five years ago I undertook a few weeks teaching Economic and Social History at Rotherham College, a couple of miles east of what today is Meadowhall. Very quickly I realised that trying to teach the subject in a sterile lecture-room was a bit pointless and eventually took the entire class for a walk along the canal, in the belief that the existence, so close, of a living laboratory of British Economic and Social history was too good an opportunity to miss. And we saw it all: the steelworks, the little workshops, the large factories, the railways, roads and canals. I was anxious to discover how much had changed in thirty-five years.

And there were many changes. The rotting bedsteads had been replaced by pretty barges and the dark factories had become lush leisure opportunities. Sheds were now shops, cobbled tracks were now tiled malls. I walked for mile after mile along the tow-path, thinking about change and listening to Sandy Denny singing "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". It was my idea of a nice day out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Buildings Ancient And Modern In Regent's Park

We were in London last week to celebrate The Lad becoming a Member of the Royal College of Physicians. It was a glorious few days: the weather was kind, the accommodation was excellent, the company was thoroughly enjoyable, and we had the benefit of being transported everywhere upon a cloud of intense pride. The ceremony itself was held in the headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians which is in Regent's Park. Whilst the Park is bordered by a ring of fine Georgian mansions, the RCP building stands out as being startlingly modern. Designed in 1964 by the architect Sir Denys Lasdun, it is one of the few post-war Grade 1 listed buildings in Britain. Feelings amongst our party about it were mixed, but as soon as I got into the building I was converted - the spectacular lines of the interior blended wonderfully with the immediate surroundings.

Before going to the ceremony, we walked in Regent's Park and paid a sentimental visit to St John's Lodge which used to be part of London University and was were Isobel studied back in the late sixties and early seventies. I managed to find an old photograph I took of the college back in those days, when it served as the Latin and Greek Departments of Bedford College. Later it was leased to the Sultan of Brunei and it is currently undergoing substantial renovations. 

Designed in 1812 by the architect John Ruffield, it was the first house to be built in the Park. Despite all that, the building has only ever achieved a Grade II listing status, making it very much second division when compared the glass and concrete of the physicians on the other side of the park.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES : Fending For Yourself In Liverpool

3. Fending For Yourself In Liverpool

For this third image we are switching from my immediate family to that of Isobel, my wife - specifically, her mothers' family, the Ushers of Liverpool. This is a partially repaired scan of an old memo sheet from what was the family firm - Usher Brothers, Ship's Fender Experts.

I cannot be entirely certain of either who features in the photograph or when it was taken: but I suspect that the older of the four men (second from the right) is Charles Frederick Usher, Isobel's maternal grandfather.

If that is indeed Charles Frederick ( 1867-1940), then it is likely that the other three are his eldest sons - in no particular order - Charles Frederick McKernon Usher (1892-1943); William Henry Whittingham Usher (1893-1949); and John Usher (1896-1954). 

The date is likely to be either just before or just after the first World War. The memo has been amended to remove the Dryden Road address - and we know that the firm was still listed at that address in Gore's Directory of 1911. Such dates also fit in with the perceived age of the four men: if the photograph had been taken in, for example 1914, Charles Frederick Senior would have been 47, and the three boys would have been 22, 21 and 18.

The "W H Usher" of whom the firm is descended from is William Henry Usher (1846-1905), Charles Frederick's father. William Henry had been a rope-maker with connections to both this part of Liverpool and Great Crosby, a town a few miles north of the city. When his father, Henry Usher, died in 1888, the firm seems to have split between the Great Crosby side of the family and the Liverpool side, and later Charles Frederick appears to have shifted the firm into rope fender making as distinct from rope-making itself.

All this is a little unclear and - like any good seafaring rope - the story consists of numerous strands that have been woven together with a fair degree of uncertainty and then coated with a rich layer of the pitch tar of time. It may be possible - before I reach the end of my 100 images - to unravel the story a little.

Such skilfully woven rope fenders have long been replaced by generations of rubber and plastic devices which can stop ships crashing into docks. In a few weeks time I will be getting on a large ship and sailing south to find some sun. As we dock in some semi-tropical paradise, I will look down at the harbour walls and spare a thought for those ancestors sat astride their ship's fender in dark and drizzly Liverpool. .... Then I will go and have a pleasant drink in the bar and give thanks for being born when I was.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sepia Saturday 344 : The Fellow Travellers

Our Sepia Saturday theme this month is travel, and the odd chap who thinks these things up has given it the title "From Here To There". This is most appropriate for me, as I am in the process of travelling from here to there, and have been doing so for weeks. Of course the "here" and the "there" are constantly changing (today “here” is Huddersfield and tomorrow “there” will be London), and that feeling of not knowing quite where you are or where you are going to, is nicely summed up in this old photograph. It is a selective scan of an old photograph I acquired somewhere on my travels, and - as with all the best photographs - I have no idea who the people are. In the finest meaning of the phrase, they are fellow-travellers.

Have a look what everyone else is doing from here to there by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

POSTCARDS FROM HOME : The Day The King Came To Town

The other day I bought a small collection old unused postcards dating back to October 1937 and commemorating the day the King and Queen visited Halifax. Just why they came to Halifax is unclear: it seems to be one ofd those occasional tours the royal family makes of distant parts of their empires, like Calgary, Christchurch and Cleckheaton. The King in question was George VI and he came with his wife, Elizabeth (who throughout most of my life I knew as "Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother") - the parents of the current Queen Elizabeth. They visited Shibden Hall, the splendid Elizabethan Hall - that is yet another Queen Elizabeth - I realise this is getting very confusing - that lies in the centre of Shibden Park, where they had lunch and then they had a civic reception at the town hall. It would appear that the photographs were taken by a staff photographer from the local Halifax Courier, and by a curious coincidence we are able to witness the event some eighty years later, thanks to a surviving film that is held by the Yorkshire Film Archives and available on the British Film Institute website

Watching the film is a bit like looking at a mirror which is reflected in another mirror. You can clearly see the photographer from the Courier taking the photographs that feature on these postcards - and you like to imagine that there was yet another photographer taking a photograph of the film-maker making a film of the photographer .... and so on into infinity. The two records - the film and the photographs - provide quite different interpretations of the day, and provide us with a fine example of the comparative values of both mediums in terms of preserving the past. Strangely enough, the film seems to be from a time much earlier than the photographs. Whilst the film contains far more raw information than the photographs - it is a bit like comparing a ton of topsoil with a handful of glass beads - both, in their own way, provide an opportunity to get under the skin of history. 

Photograph 1 : I would love to know what was behind the strange pose adopted by the King. Was his hand cold? Or was it a reaction to being forced to write right-handed, despite his natural left-handedness? 

Photograph 2 : The Mayoress has such a delightful name - and by the look of it, a quite appropriate one as well. Why is she looking so cross? 

Photograph 3 : The King again, with his hidden right hand, again. One can almost imagine the conversation : "I say old chap, your wife has just bitten my hand!" 

Photograph 5 : I have no idea what has happened to photograph 4 in the series. Perhaps that is the one that provides an explanation for the King's hidden hand and the cross expression on the face of the Lady Mayoress.

Monday, October 03, 2016

A HISTORY OF MY FAMILY IN 100 IMAGES - Working Class Edwardian Respectability

2. Working Class Edwardian Respectability

The second of my chosen images introduces the second of the four compass points that make up any family history, (and for the purposes of this exercise, my "family" is the extended family of both myself and my wife). We have already taken a first look at my fathers' immediate family, and now it is the turn of my mother's family, the Beanlands. And as our starting point we have a family photograph of almost the same vintage, dating, as it does, to either 1916 or perhaps 1917. It is a formal studio portrait which seems to portray the very nature of Edwardian prosperity and respectability : although Edward was long gone and the prosperity - if perhaps not the respectability - was merely a veneer. Despite their shining boots, gold watch chains and satin frocks, these were working class folk who were more familiar with the mills of West Yorkshire than they were with Edwardian tea parties. And as with many veneers, time has the habit of wearing away the surface to show what lies underneath.

At the time of the photograph, my grandfather, Albert Beanland, was in his early forties and living in the Princeville district of Bradford with his wife, Catherine, and two young daughters. By trade he was a mechanic who had experience working on all types of textile machines. He had not lived in Bradford for long, he had spent most of this first forty years living a few miles up the valley in Keighley, where his family had lived for several generations. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Albert's father, Fowler Beanland, and his two brothers, Arthur and Fowler Jnr went into business on their own account as manufacturers of textile wringing machines in the Worth Valley near Keighley. They took a lease on Lower Holme Mill and in the 1901 census, Fowler Snr and Fowler Jnr are listed as "Spindle Manufacturer"s, Arthur is listed as a "Spindle and Flyer Manufacturer". How this fits together with the official description of the firm, Fowler Beanland & Sons, as "Wringing Machine Manufacturers" is unclear. That official description comes from the Receiving Order which was issued in 1904 when the company went bankrupt. That event will have had a powerful impact on the family and meant that Albert spent his life working for others rather than working for himself. He died, in Bradford, in September 1948, a couple of months after I was born.

At the time of this photograph, my grandmother, Catherine - who was always known as Kate - will have been thirty none or forty years old. She had been married to Albert since April 1903 and had not had a job since her marriage, although before it she worked as a waitress in both coffee houses and pubs. And just like Albert's family bankruptcy must have had a powerful impact on the course of his life, Kate's early life was influenced by the death of her father, Albert, a grocer, when she was just fourteen years old. Although not yet forty at the time of this photograph she had lived in various parts of the country: she was born in Rutland, spent her childhood in Wales, and lived in Middlesborough and Leeds before eventually getting a job as a barmaid in Keighley. And it was there that she met Albert. Having moved to Bradford a few years before this photograph was taken, herb wandering life was at an end. She continued to live in the city until she died there in 1960, aged 83.

AMY BEANLAND (1904-2001)
Amy was Albert and Kate's first child and she would have been about twelve years old at the time of this photograph. Her story is a long and colourful one (and no doubt will feature in more detail in some of the other images that represent the history of my family. She was married three times - getting married for the last time when she was in her eighties - and lived well into her nineties, ending her life in a retirement home in Scarborough.

GLADYS BEANLAND (1911-2004) 
The "baby" of the picture is, of course, my mother, Gladys. Although she had been born in Keighley, the family had moved to Bradford when she was very young, so it was that city she always looked on as "home". She was married - to my father, Albert - in 1936 and her new family eventually moved the few miles south to Halifax in the early 1950s.. Towards the end of her life she moved another few miles south to the West Yorkshire town of Brighouse, and it was there that she died in July 2004 - on her ninety-third birthday.

A Lot Of Gas And Some Empty Chairs

  You can decide which jet of nostalgia is turned on by this advert which I found in my copy of the 1931 Souvenir Book of the Historical Pag...