Saturday, April 29, 2017

20 Images : 5. Bathers at Asnières

20 Images : 5. Bathers at Asnières

All too often it is the incidental background detail of an image that can be just as interesting - or just as striking - as what appears in the foreground. My thoughts were launched in this particular direction by the incidental background detail on my last image which some of you may have noticed. In order not to dwell too long on that particular artistic obsession of a teenage boy, let me give you another example.

Above our mantle piece hangs a copy of Georges Seurat's wonderful 1884 painting "Bathers at Asnières". It has pride of place in our house as one of the very few paintings my wife and myself both like - most of the other walls remain bare due to a complex "black-balling" system which has resulted in a shortage of art and an excess of black balls. Some time ago, we were explaining this situation to friends and I happened to say that what I particularly liked about it was the incorporation into the scene of all the factories and chimneys and railway bridges. My dear wife accused me of going gaga, insisting that it was a charming picture of some young bathers by a lovely river. We were, of course, both correct: she had focused on the foreground whilst I had focused on the background: one had seen the beauty of nature, the other the beauty of manufactured grandeur.

Friday, April 28, 2017

20 Images : 4. Burnett Photographics

20 Images : 4. Burnett Photographics

The very thought of it - two brothers starting a photographic business! What the Watson Brothers did in Birkenhead in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Burnett Brothers, in their own small way, did in Halifax sixty years later. Burnett Photographics was run from the cellar in my parents' house. Rolls of film from friends, family and respondents to an advert in the local fish and chip shop would arrive, then be developed, printed and placed in little folders to return to the customer. 

I can't remember how long this want on for - the chances are it wasn't very long at all. It left a distinct impression on my memory however: the hours spent in that cold and dark cellar poring over images of unknown people in unknown places. How strange, therefore, that decades later I happily spend my spare time poring over pictures of unknown people in unknown places.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

20 Images : 3. Portrait Of A Lady From Birkenhead

20 Images : 3. Portrait Of A Lady From Birkenhead

In my mind I still have the image of poor deaf Sue communicating with passing ships in order to warn them about the crooks of international notoriety. And the thought of passing ships somehow takes me to Liverpool and the River Mersey and holidays we would take when I was a child at New Brighton where I would watch the ships from Liverpool and Birkenhead pass by. Perhaps this bonnie lass used to watch the ships pass by from her home in Birkenhead - she appeared in a small collection of Victorian and Edwardian Carte de Visites I bought the other day. Whenever I acquire such a photograph which has the photographer's name on it, I immediately go in search of further information about the firm. There is, however, precious little to discover about the Watson Brothers who had a studio at 85, Argyle Street - they are difficult to track down via the usual sources such as census records and trade directories. 

There is, however, one intriguing possibility - there was an artist called Watson living in Birkenhead at the time along with two of his children - Walter and Sydney Watson - who were also listed in the 1901 census as artists. Most studio photographers of the era would credit themselves as being "artists and photographers", so it may be that they two Watson boys set themselves up, for a short time at least, as studio photographers. Their father, William Watson Jnr (1847-1921) was a moderately famous artist whose work still manages to fetch a tidy sum in auction houses. Like his father before him, and like at least three of his children after him (Sydney being one of them), he specialised in pictures of highland cattle and sheep in cloud-shrouded Scottish Glens - the kind of scene that appealed enormously to the Victorian upper middle classes. Could it be that the gaze of the young lady in the portrait had been caught by a herd of passing highland cattle?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

20 Images : 2. Picture Stories Magazine

20 Images : 2. Picture Stories Magazine, September 1914

The advert for the Midland Hair Manufacturing Company appeared in the September 1914 edition of the British periodical, Picture Stories Magazine. Picture Stories was one of a new generation of magazines aimed at the growing cinema audience - magazines that tried to make up for the fact that films were still silent and plots could only be indicated by dramatic movements and the occasional truncated subtitle. Picture Stories would provide the back-story so the watching audience could get the full benefits of the on-screen action. The film featured on the front cover is "The Voice Of Silence", a dramatic crime caper from the Edison Company. A summary of the plot of the film goes as follows: "Sue, a deaf mute, becomes acquainted with a wireless operator at Cliff Island and learns to use the apparatus. Three "crooks" of international notoriety overpower the operator when trying to communicate with the yacht on which they plan to escape, but Sue warns passing ships. They are captured and Sue gets a reward."

Monday, April 24, 2017

20 Images : 1. The Midland Hair Manufacturing Company

It is getting close to holiday time again, and real life is starting to interfere with blogging. It is not so much the being away on holiday which distracts my blogging mind, it is the pre-departure tension I suffer badly from. Instead of musing on the meaning of life I am checking my passport for the tenth time, making sure that all the electricity sockets have their plugs fully withdrawn, and anxiously calculating when will be the optimum time to purchase my handful of Euros. I cannot give these vital issues the full consideration they so obviously require whilst juggling numerous blogs like a third- rate music hall performer. Thus I will close everything down for a week or two with the exception of a single series of image-based posts, which will be called "20 Images". At this stage, I have no idea what these images will be (except, of course for the first one which can be found below) : I will be as interested as anyone in seeing precisely where this project leads me.

20 Images : 1 The Midland Hair Manufacturing Company

This is a scan of an old glass plate negative which, I suspects, dates back to the mid 1920s. From the various clues, the location is fairly easy to pin down - the buildings are on Radford Road in Nottingham. The businesses featured in the photograph provide a good socio-economic feel of the time - and the location. The shop on the left specialises in the sale of sewing machines, whilst next door, there is a stationery and fancy goods shop. I am slightly intrigued by the phrase "High Frequency" which features in the central window - the shop does not appear to sell radios and even if it did would these be described as "high frequency" at the time? The most prominent signage is for the wonderfully named "Midland Hair Manufacturing Company" which had been trading from this address since the 1890s. An advert for the company in a September 1914 issue of Picture Stories Magazine states: "Our transformations, wigs, Empire curls, covered pads, chignons, fringes and switches are famous for their elegance and style ... and are made up in the latest modes from the very finest quality of healthy, human hair."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sepia Saturday 364 : The Disappointing Spartan

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week is a photograph taken at a school sports day in Carshalton back in 1907. The subject instantly rang bells in what is left of my photographic memory - I remember taking a series of photographs at my own school sports day way back in 1966. If I had been a different person, no doubt I would have been kitted out in shorts and running shoes, my lungs gasping for that last breath of oxygen to power me towards the finishing line. But I was not that kind of kid. I far preferred to wander around the sport's field, camera in hand, taking photographs of my school friends and any pretty girl I might pass.

Just in case there is anyone out there who might recognise themselves - the date was, I think, 1966. The school was the Crossley and Porter School in Halifax and the sports day was being held at the Spring Hall Athletics Ground in Halifax.

It was an inter-house competition - the four houses in the boy's side of the school (Trojans, Vikings, Paladins and Spartans) would compete for points that would contribute to an ornate inter-house trophy. I was a Spartan, and Spartans had a long and fine reputation of being a sporting house. I was a disappointment.

​I seem to recall that the last race of the day was an open long-distance race and houses could enter as many runners as they could muster. A point would be gained for the house for each competitor who made it to the finishing line, irrespective of their finishing positions. Towards the close of proceedings House Masters would patrol the sports field in order to press-gang unwilling entrants. It was at this time that I, along with a coterie of other sporting disappointments, would head for safe hiding havens. Ah, school days - the best years of our life!

To see what others were up to on their school sports days - go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

George (Of Surrey), It Is Impossible To Do This ...

Back in the "good old days", before people had access to a free National Health Service, before there were dedicated health phone lines to use in order to receive advice, before even there was Google to nervously type your symptoms into, people would turn to the newspaper columns to get medical advice. Newspapers such as "The People - A Weekly Newspaper For All Classes" would have sections entitled "Replies To Readers' Queries" and there would usually be a medical section. These were made even more fascinating to the casual reader by the habit of - in an act of sham confidentiality - not printing the original question but simply the answer. Here are a few examples from the paper of one hundred years ago - the 22nd April 1917.

ALICE (Highbury) - (Rheumatism) : Wear warm woollen stockings and stout soled shoes. Avoid sweets, sugar, and have the feet rubbed every night with some of the following embrocation - Lin terebinth acet (this turns out to be a mixture of turps, camphor and lemon juice).....
FRANGIPANI : Nothing can be done for this except a rather severe operation to cure the fistula. Should be inclined to put up with the discomfort......
INQUIRER : Unsuitable for publication, read rules.
DRUMMER : Wash the child's head once a week with powdered borax and hot water instead of soap .....
TREBLIG : She might try the vaccine treatment and can be no worse after it.....
GEORGE (Surrey) : Impossible to do this ....
GEORGE (Tufnell Park) : A teaspoon of cod liver oil daily during cold weather is very good .... Wear woollen underclothing and get what outdoor exercise you can ....
HUGO : Answer as for George (Surrey) ....
TROUBLED (Portland) : There is no reason to worry; it is nothing unusual at your age.....
STUDENT : There is nothing for this trouble ....
ANXIOUS : As for "Student" ....
THACKER (Giddiness) : Your stomach is clearly out of order and you must have very light meals, no stimulants and plenty of time over your food. Drink hot water on rising and going to bed ....
HAIR : We don't recommend dye, and nothing else could do what you require ....
DIGESTION (Wilts) : Drink a glass of hot water every night at bedtime and eat your food slowly and masticate thoroughly ....

I realise that a whole century has elapsed since the onset of these symptoms, but just in case any of the sufferers are still around I would like to wish them continued good health, Could I just add to both Hugo and George (Surrey) that medical science has advanced a lot in the last hundred years so it might well be possible to do it now! And finally, if Inquirer would care to get in touch with me I will happily publicise his or her problem in this more enlightened era when few things are unsuitable for publication.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

COACH : The George, Stamford

There is something about a coaching inn - the thought of it conjures up the sound of iron horseshoes on granite cobbles, the smell of rain-soaked leather jerkins, the blast of a post horn cutting through a misty morning. Nobody this side of two hundred can effectively claim to have experienced any of these first hand, but our consciousness has soaked the sensations up from Morocco-bound volumes of Pickwick Papers or Fielding's Tom Jones. 

​Surely one of the finest voyages of discovery one can embark upon is an expedition to discover what is left of the great coaching inns of Britain, and, along with some old friends, Isobel and I started such an expedition recently. Our first objective was perhaps one of the finest - and most probably the most luxurious, coaching inns of the old Great North Road - the George at Stamford.

​There has probably been an inn at this location close to the river in Stamford, Lincolnshire for nine hundred years or more, but the current building "only" dates back to the end of the sixteenth century. It is a wonderfully rambling buildings with ancient rooms set at wonderful angles, overlooking gardens and courtyards and the main road that once took travellers from London to the north. King Charles stayed in those rooms as did any eighteenth or nineteenth politician, writer or artist worth his or her salt. If you were travelling north you would wait in the York Room, whilst travellers heading south would congregate in the London Room. If you were wanting an excellent breakfast to see you on your way, and here I speak from experience, you would make your way to the Oak Panelled Restaurant.

The George has set the bar high as far as judging the standards of coaching inns we are yet to visit is concerned. But what fun we will have discovering whether or not they meet it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Come Friendly Bombs And Fall On The Third Largest Lake in England : The Rock Tavern Quiz

As a Easter holiday treat, here is a shortened version of Friday's Rock Tavern Quiz. You can find the answers by looking at the comments on the original blog post. The usual prize of a pint of best beer to the highest score (for which you will need to personally turn up to the Rock Tavern in order to claim it from me)

1. Who wrote a poem opening: “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough; It isn’t fit for humans now”?
2. Where would you find the Sea of Death and the Lake of Cleverness?
3. Which toy takes its name for the Danish for “play well”?
4. Catherine Earnshaw is a central character in which novel?
5. Which are the three largest lakes (by surface area) in England? Point for each and a bonus for getting them in the right order.

6. In the USA, what was prohibited by the 18th amendment? Note: a factually accurate answer is required! 
7. Who played the female lead in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s and for a bonus what was the name of her character?
8. Which famous fashion chain went into administration earlier this week?
9. How should a piece of music marked “adagio” be played?
10. Which are the three longest rivers wholly or partly in England? Point for each and a bonus for getting them in the right order.

11. Which two sets of fathers and sons have won the Formula 1 Drivers World Championships? Point for each pair.
12. Which Rugby League team are nicknamed the Vikings and also are known as the Chemics?
13. The city of Portsmouth saw the birth in 1812 of which famous writer and in 1912 which Prime Minister? - point for each
14. Who broke records earlier this year with 16 songs in the top 20 at the same time?
15. Which three football clubs have won the most Premier League champions titles? Point for each and a bonus for the right order.

16. Who was the first and who was the last 20th century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Point for each.
17. How many sides has the new £1 coin?
18. How many stomachs has a cow?
19. Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie is the real name of which singer, who has had hits in every decade since the 1960s?

20. Which are the three longest seaside piers in England? Point for each and a bonus for the right order.
21. The Simplon railway tunnel is located in which two countries? Point for each
22. What was the name of the park where Yogi Bear lived?
23. In which city do the main sessions of the European Parliament take place?
24. Who was the captain of HMS Bounty?

25. Which are the world’s three most populated islands? A point for each and a bonus for the right order.
26. What cricket score is nicknamed “Nelson”?
27. In which year was the Cuban Missile Crisis?
28. Where in London would you find the Strangers Gallery?
29. Which snooker player won the first 15 annual World Professional Snooker Championships before retiring undefeated in 1946?
30. Which was the biggest grossing film in terms of worldwide sales in 2016?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Picture Books : The Second World War In Photographs

I have a set of rules when it comes to books, some of which I have set myself whilst others have been imposed by my Good Lady Wife. Given my gas-like ability to expand my bookshelves into whatever space might be available she has imposed a "one in, one out rule" which requires the disposal of a volume before another can cross the threshold. The second rule I have imposed on myself, and that is that I will now only buy physical books which have as much space dedicated to pictures as to words. It is not that I am boycotting "word books", it is just that they have a home on my eBook Reader, a home that does not take up precious shelf-space.

If you look through a list of book genres, you will be hard pressed to find one entitled "picture books", but it is a genre I have become more and more fascinated by as I have got older. Theoretically, "picture books" can stray into the province of any of the traditional genres (see William Boyd's Sweet Caress as an example of a novel that makes excellent use of pictures), but they are best represented in the field of non-fiction, particularly history and travel. By providing occasional reviews of some of the picture books that make it into my collection, I get an excuse for sharing some of the images themselves (by definition a review of a picture book should be based just as much on images as on words).

Richard Holmes' "The Second World War In Photographs" is a splendidly weighty tome that is brim-full of archive images from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. These images provide a fascinating window into the life of both ordinary citizens and members of the armed forces during those tumultuous years of world war. The vast majority of the images are in monochrome, which somehow suits the spirit of the times (the occasional colour photograph appears almost unreal). The photographs not only tell the story of the conflict, but also the human story of millions of people whose lives were changed forever. It is the kind of book which clearly demonstrates that picture books can make a real contribution to the study of social history.

"The Second World War In Photographs" by Richard Holmes. Andre Deutche (2000)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Six From .... Burghley House


We seem to have been out and about a lot over the last week or two and I have a pocket-full of SD cards with photographs of many of the places we have visited. One of the problems, of course, of modern digital photography is that we take far too many photographs and save far too few. Most of mine go into a ubiquitous file with the apt name of "Dump", and remain there until either the computer - or possibly myself - fades into dust. At times I would happily swap the convenience of unlimited instant images for the lasting physicality of a strip of acetate film. At least I can pretend that my photographs are still joined together at the hip and present them as collectively and at the same time provide a link to my Flickr account where they can be viewed individually.

Burghley House and Gardens cling to the southern extremities of the county of Lincolnshire. The house was built by William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth 1st. The extensive parkland surrounding the Elizabethan mansion consists of formal gardens, sculpture parks, woods and meadows - the park is the home of the internationally famous annual horse trials. Cecil is remembered as one of the most powerful men of Elizabethan times, a consummate political animal who once said of himself  that "he was sprung from the willow rather than the oak, and he was not the man to suffer for convictions". Cecil, it appeared, had a great interest in heraldry and genealogy, and was anxious to establish a new English aristocracy from the ruins of the old Catholic order.  His success can perhaps be judged by the fact that one of his direct descendants still lives in Burghley House today.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

A Tribute To A Fine Photographer

No Interflora, No Taxis : By Geoffrey K Beaumont, October 1999

I attended the funeral yesterday of my daughter-in-law's grandfather; a man of considerable charm and boundless good humour, a man who went out of his way to welcome Isobel, Alexander and I into his wonderful extended family. At the Service of Thanksgiving, the church was packed, as befitted a man who was at the very centre of his community and his family. Geoff, however, was not just a respected member of his local community, Geoff was also a passionate photographer, and his family had brought down to the church a large collection of his mounted prints, where they were displayed on the walls. After the service we were each invited to select a few of the prints and take them away with us as a lasting memorial to a fine gentleman.

Geoff was not just a great photographer, he was also a gifted print-maker and I therefore confess that I helped myself to what was probably more than my fair share. The one I have chosen to share is one he took of King Street in Huddersfield some eighteen years ago. It is a photograph I wish I had taken, a photograph which drips with history and social comment.

The idea of distributing some of his many fine prints to family and friends is a wonderful one, but sadly one which will not be able to be repeated too often for future photographers in this new age when digital images exist for only as long as a pixilated screen is lit. Geoff's print now resides in my office and every time I look at it I think, "I wish I'd have taken that". There is no finer tribute to a photographer than that.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Sepia Saturday 361 : The Three Burnett Boys

Our Sepia Saturday theme image for this Saturday - April Fool's Day - shows two brothers having some fun with an optical illusion on the beach. We sometimes forget how lucky we are these days; with Photoshop and the like we can remove heads from shoulders with a flick of a mouse's tail. Back in the bad old days in order to achieve a similar effect you had to bury one brother deep in the sands and get the other to bend his young head back at an unnatural angle. You'd be locked up for it today. To match the theme I can offer you two brothers having some fun with an optical illusion on the beach - although the illusion was much easier to achieve. And yes, in case you need to ask, those are the Burnett brothers again.

There were, at one time, three Burnett brothers, but for the life of me I can't remember what my other brother was called. In case you think this is a heartless and cruel confession, I should quickly point out that the third brother was merely a fictional convenience. At about the same time as this photograph must have been taken - the early 1960s, I guess - both Roger and I were voracious readers and dependent on the excellent stock of books then held by the local library. However, Halifax Public Library had a policy of issuing only three readers' tickets per member, which, we felt, placed unnecessary restrictions on our thirst for knowledge. We therefore invented the third brother and enrolled him as a member and shared his three tickets between the two of us.

For a time things worked well, but this was back in the days when library staff would take a genuine interest in their readers, and before too long they started wondering why brother Kenneth (I suspect that was his name) never went to the library himself, but sent his brothers to collect his books. We invented some chronic illness to explain the circumstances, but things soon got out of hand. The problems we had were twofold: Roger and I tended to visit the library at different times, and there was an element of competitive mischievousness between the two of us. Thus Roger would visit the Library on a Tuesday and embroider some tale about Kenneth and his sad existence, but fail to update me on the story before my Thursday visit. I would be met with questions about a brother that didn't exist suffering from an illness I knew nothing about; and would respond by notching the strangeness of the story up a peg or two without warning my brother before his regular Tuesday visit. This went on for some time and the life of Kenneth Burnett became an exercise in surrealist fantasy, until we both decided it was time for poor Kenneth to find lasting peace.

I don't recall whether during his short and bizarre life Kenneth ever had his head chopped off whilst on the beach, but - if my memory of those far off days serves me well - that would have been the least of his problems.

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...