Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Feel Of History

My negative scanning moves on to a new strip of negatives, one with just three negatives on it. It dates, I think, from the mid to late 1960s, and all three photographs are from the area around Halifax.

I am almost certain that the first shows the tower of Coley Church, brooding in the background, slightly aloof then - and now - from everything that goes on around it. I think, but can't be certain, that the building with the carts is Sowood House at the bottom of Coley Lane. You could probably take exactly the same scene in 2020 and little will have structurally changed: the house still stands, the church tower can still be seen in the background. You could turn the digital image into monochrome, you could apply every Photoshop ageing filter in your package: you could scratch it, add dust to it, tire it, and fade it. And yet, you would not be able to make it feel as old as this image. Quite clearly, it was taken in my lifetime (I took it!), but it is another age, it has the feel of history.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

One Of The Grandest Views

The final shot in this particular strip of six negatives, and all the climbing and scaling of hillside and stone steps is worthwhile. The view from the top of Godley Bank, when you suddenly catch sight of that carpet of industry and activity that is Halifax, must be one of the grandest views of the north of England. Even better when seen from the top of a bus. Again, this must date from around 1967: a year or two before those houses to the right of the road were demolished.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Halifax's Answer To A Triumphal Arch

Anyone who has been following the progress of my scans for the last few days will know where I had arrived at by the end of this strip of negatives from the late 1960s. It is Halifax's answer to a triumphal arch: built by the Borough Engineer in 1900 out of stone and cast iron; a monument to the power of hard work and industry. It is the stone steps leading up to Godley Bridge.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

God And Industry

A hundred yards or so after taking yesterday's photograph, I must have turned again towards Halifax and taken this next one in the series. It captures the old railway sidings at North Bridge particularly well, along with Smith's Wire Works. Monuments to both God and industry vie for control of the skyline.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Grand Scenes

This has always been one of my favourite photographs from the late 1960s. I strongly suspect that the back yard I took this from no longer exists: indeed, nor does the house, nor does the street. And the view no longer exists. Gone are the cooling towers, the gasometers, and the chimneys, and all you would see if you stood there today, would be a lot of trees. This is a different Halifax of fifty or so years ago: a little lost, a lot dirtier; but full of grand scenes.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Venetian Chimneys

Following on from yesterday's virtual day at the seaside, today we are back in Halifax, and where better than down behind Halifax Gas Works. I have always thought there was something vaguely Venetian about Halifax. Canaletto would have felt at home here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Exotic Bridlington

It is easy to get the impression that, during the 1960s and 70s, I did little other than take photographs of rainy days in Halifax. Occasionally, however, I escaped to the sun, and, as I scan my way through my negatives, I will find shots from some exotic location or other. These example are from Bridlington and, I think, date from the mid 1970s. It was a time when boat rides on the Bridlington Queen followed by a game of Bingo (where the prize was a 50 pence food voucher) constituted an exciting day out. It was a time when social distancing referred to the space you would leave between your deck chair and the next one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Stepping Back

Stepping back slightly from yesterday's photograph, this gives a better idea of where the snicket was - and still is. Again, this was taken in the 1980s, a time of transition for this part of Halifax. Old Lane seems to justify its name, the various mills seem to be in search of a new future.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Snicket Revisited

I took this photo 40 years ago. I have taken the same scene many times over the years; and so have many other photographers far better than me. The most famous version is Bill Brandt's 1937 "Snicket In Halifax", which forms part of the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. A classic image of a classic town.

Bill Brandt : Snicket in Halifax 1937

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

News From Nowhere : 13 May - The Look Of Faded History


With nothing much to do other than read old newspapers, I found this article in a copy of the local Brighouse News from exactly 140 years ago. It was a report by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Britton, on efforts being taken to combat the outbreak of scarlet fever (Scarlatina) in the town. Reading through the list of measures – social distancing, quarantining, closing schools, limiting funeral ceremonies, even gratuitous disinfectants – you are suddenly reminded that little is new in this world. Granted, we have yet to see the reintroduction of “Nuisance Inspectors”, but it is probably just a matter of time. All I need to do now is to find a copy of the newspaper from a year later to see whether things will ever return to normal.

Precautions Adopted: I now come to a very important part of this report, viz. - the precautions already adopted to put a stop to, and limit the spread of, the disease. I may say that everything has been done by your authority, and by your officers, with one exception, and that is “isolation”, to which I shall refer later on. Bills of "Precautions" have been twice distributed from house to house, and have also been posted in the district. The masters and mistresses of the various schools have been visited, and requested to exercise the greatest caution not to admit children from infected houses. All cases of which we have had any information, and also all suspected cases, have been regularly and systematically visited by your nuisance inspector, in many cases daily, and by myself at intervals of a few days. Not only have the cases been visited themselves, but careful inquiries have been made in the immediate neighbourhood of any cases, in order to ascertain if any more could be heard of. This has been done both at the inspector's daily rounds, and also at my occasional visits. At these visits to infected houses, the occupants have been cautioned about admitting friends into their houses, and especially children; if they have had any children who remained well, they have been requested to keep them away from school, and not to allow them to mix with other children. They have been supplied with disinfectants gratuitously, and shown how to use them; they have been instructed to use every care in disposing of the slops and secreta from the houses; to observe thorough cleanliness, and to admit as much fresh air as possible into their houses. In cases of death, they have been requested to bury early, to avoid funeral teas, and not to allow children and friends in, to see the corpse; to make a thorough cleansing of house and contents afterwards, as well as after every case of recovery. This is a thing. I am happy to say, that the public generally do.


A high resolution scan of the fallen blossom from the Camellia bush in the back garden. For weeks I have watched the bright pink fading into brown, and now most of the life seems to have gone from it. It leaves, however, a kind of beauty that can rival the boastful loudness of its prime.


The wonderful thing about Victorian Carte de Visite portraits is the measured looks of the sitters. No Facebook smiles or Instagram lips, just the hint of a smile. This excellent example was available for 50 pence in an Antiques Centre and originated in the Blackpool studios of H Wiggins.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

News From Nowhere : 12 May - Flowers, Places & Valleys


The second of my flowers scans features a bloom that was plucked from my garden this morning. I am not sure what the common English name for it is, but I have included the Latin name for all you horticulturalists out there.


I know where this is. It’s familiar. I feel as though I’ve walked down this road, wandered along this canal towpath. In truth, I must have – I took the photograph. It was 35 years ago, and therefore I can be forgiven for forgetting the grid reference or the street name. It left, however, an imprint on my mind; a set of shapes and lines which can be awakened after three and a half decades. I look at the photograph, an alarm goes off somewhere in the distance, and I say to myself – I know where this is.


I took this photograph a couple of days ago whilst walking in Greetland. It shows the view across some fields towards Wainhouse Tower and Crossley Heath school in the distance. It’s a lovely sight, as fine a view as you could find anywhere in this land. What you can’t see, however, is what I love most of all about this place I call home. Behind the first set of trees and before the second, there is a valley. Not some piddling little thing, but a monumental valley carved by glaciers many thousands of years ago. A valley with roads, railway lines, rivers and canals. A valley with houses, factories, offices and workshops. A valley with life and love. We hide these things well in these parts.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Dark Days And Wet Cobbles

Halifax Piece Hall back in the 1970s and 80s: in transition between low carrots and high culture. Half full stalls and half empty walkways: dark days and wet cobbles. Everything is so much brighter now, the scale is so much grander.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Scan To Survive

What else is there to do during lockdown than visit the past? Therefore, I scan to survive; and the strip of negatives that took the journey across the scanner today included a set of photos shot in a typically West Yorkshire field some fifty years ago.

In the first photograph the field divide is a typically Yorkshire dry stone wall. In the next two shots it is something even more distinctive of the area around Halifax, Elland and Southowram, where stone quarries provided a constant crop of high quality flag stones during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. These great stone slabs were like ancient monoliths, dominating the skyline. Many have vanished over the last half century - they must have quite an intrinsic value in their own right - but a few still remain, although they have been partly lost in the post-industrial growth of trees and shrubs.

Escaping from my lockdown yesterday, for a precious hour in the fresh air, I found this surviving example in a lane about a quarter of a mile from where I live.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Kids These Days ....

Kids these days! They're surgically attached to their mobile phones. Never off them. You can't have a good old fashioned conversation with them any more, because they are glued to their phones. Now, when I was a lad ......

I received through the post today, a copy of Lilliput Magazine from October 1947 (has anyone else noted that postal deliveries are slower than normal these days!). Within it, is this wonderful cartoon that sums the telephone situation up perfectly.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Message To My Wife

At first I thought that this was one of the hundreds of lost and abandoned old photographs that I provide a home for. They live in boxes and cases, they hang in filing cabinets and folders; they create a hazard to anyone trying to navigate their way through my office. Every so often I reach into one of the boxes and pull a photograph out, scan it, and then file it away with a title such as "Unknown Girl No 573".

But with this one, something stopped me and it wasn't just the quality of the picture and the eye-catching look. I suddenly saw my wife of 47 years. Clearly it is not actually her, but the resemblance is sufficient to make me think it might be a close relative. It wouldn't be the first time such relatives had turned up in one of my lost and abandoned files. Rather than dash downstairs to see if she recognises the person in the photograph, I shall leave it here for her to discover when she looks at my blog later. So message to my wife: who is it?

The Day Of The Parade

We all have different ways of occupying ourselves during the Great Lockdown; things we can do that will take our minds off the challenges and dangers that lurk outside the confines of our own houses. As will be obvious to anyone who visits these pages on a regular basis, my own particular approach is to dive deep into my photographic archives and rediscover the places and people of several decades ago.

Back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s I would process my own monochrome films and, after developing, cut them into strips for easy storage. 35mm films would be cut into strips of 6; medium format films would be cut into strips of 3. Perhaps they were once filed in some logical order - strips from the same film next to each other - but any such order has been lost over decades of moving house and changing filing cabinets. The only context that remains is the context of the single strip - it is a fair assumption that neighbouring shots were taken around the same time and place.

The strip of negatives I am working on at the moment features shots taken during the parade at the annual Halifax Charity Gala. The date, I suspect, was the summer of 1967. I was on the point of leaving school and starting a job as a press photographer on the local newspaper. I was out to get some practice in before the start of my working life. I followed the Charity Gala parade as it made its way through the streets of Halifax to its destination in a local park. As I took the photographs, I assumed that my occupational destination would be as certain as that of the parade; but I was very much mistaken. That, however, is another story.

Over the next few days I will add the rescanned photographs from this strip of negatives as I process them, and as I progress through the day of the parade.

The parade started in the streets below Woolshops. Clustered around the Parish Church, these streets were once the centre of the town, but by the late 1960s they had become the home of demolished mills and cindered car parks.

The parade moves on to the top of Woolshops, and if you can divert your eyes for a moment from the Mixenden Gala Queen, you will see the splendid Saddle Hotel at the corner of corner of Russel Street and Market Street in the background. The demolition of this fine building and its replacement with the concrete monstrosity that is there today must be one of the greatest architectural crimes ever committed in Halifax.

The floats wind their way through the centre of Halifax, and half-familiar buildings provide a backdrop to a series of animated displays. The subjects reflect the cultural hotpot that was the middle of the twentieth century: some look back at familiar nursery rhymes, some look forward to the television shows that were increasingly dominating our lives.

All civilisations have their sacred troikas, whether they be Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. For a lad growing up in Halifax in the mid sixties it had to be the three brewers: Websters, Whitakers and Ramsdens. Here, the parade passes Ramsdens Stone Trough Brewery just months before it was demolished to make way for that new twentieth century temple - a bank headquarters.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Bottled Beer And Serial Bankruptcies

The last photo from this strip of six negatives focuses on something which was just visible in the previous image: the monumental end wall of the Old Lane Inn. There must be collective memories out there about this Halifax pub, but the written record is limited to the sad listing of the bankruptcies and liquidations of previous landlords. The oversized bottle of Green Label marks the spot where many a dream has turned sour.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What A Picture (A Sepia Saturday Post)

"Bags, caps, hats and wedding smiles: all lined up for the photograph - what a picture!"

This week our Sepia Saturday theme image shows a group of highly decorative women (and a clutch-bag full of equally decorative men) stood attentively for a photography. Groups and photographs go together like .... well, horses and carriages and occasionally lovers and marriages. 

My features group of strange and wonderous people is my family; pictured at the wedding ceremony of my brother, Roger, in 1964. For the sake of posterity, let me name names: from the left, Cousin Ada, Uncle John, Aunty Amy, Aunty Doris, my mother, Uncle Frank, Aunty Miriam, Uncle Harry, Aunty Annie, and, finally, my father. A finer collection of bags, caps, hats and wedding-smiles you could never find.

For other Sepia Saturday posts go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links

Between Smoke And Soot

Old Lane and Dean Clough, Halifax c.1970
There was a greyness about Halifax back in those days: fifty or more shades between smoke and soot. But it was honest, hard-worked muck - nowt to be ashamed of.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Vicarious Travel

In this strange, modern world in which we live, we travel vicariously: in our minds and in our memories. My particular means of transport is my collection of negatives: photographs I too fifty or so years ago. They not only remind me of a time in my life, but also of people, crowds, cars, noise: the very stuff of life as it used to be lived. Until the next time.

These three pictures were taken in Paris in 1973.

The Feel Of History

My negative scanning moves on to a new strip of negatives, one with just three negatives on it. It dates, I think, from the mid to late 1...