Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Get A Life


Well, there you go - doesn't three months go quickly when you have nothing better to do than produce your own daily calendar. When I started the project, I thought it might last a week or two - a month at the most, but now I am surrounded by calendar pages, and I have posted one to my blog every day since the beginning of the year. But now the sky is blue, the lockdown is easing and life pops its head around the corner to remind you its there. I will keep on producing the daily calendars, for the next week or two at least, but I will abandon the daily posts and get a life.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"Little Housewives" Learn How To Boil An Egg!

My room is packed from floor to ceiling with boxes full of old photos, old newspapers, old writings and old memories. Occasionally I randomly dip into a box and scan what emerges. Today it is a copy of the New Penny Magazine from - as far as I can make out - about 1898. It contains an article entitled "Little Housewives" which could form the basis of a PhD thesis on gender stereotyping at the turn of the twentieth century. Here is but a short extract:-

LITTLE HOUSEWIVES : A Visit To A Housewifery Centre
The frying-pan rules the world, or rather those who wield that powerful weapon do so; or to put it in a more matter-of-fact way, the happiness of man depends in great part upon the skill or otherwise of those who manage the household; or to come really to the point, a good housewife is a boon and a blessing to the man who is lucky enough to win her for his mate.

Bearing this weighty fact in mind, I turned my steps one afternoon towards Walworth, S.E. or, to be precise, I went down there by train, and found myself first in Beresford Street, then in a school-yard, full of merry maidens of immature age, who looked on me, I have no doubt, as a strange thing strayed from another world, for what business had a man there? Before me stood a small house, at whose door I timidly knocked, I entered to find myself in a neat kitchen, on the left I saw an equally neat scullery, on the right a cool-looking tidy sitting room. I was in the "housewifery centre", which I had come to see, where I had heard that girls were initiated into the mysteries of house-keeping.

LESSON IX : Theory - (a) Eggs; their chief constituents. (b) How to test and preserve them. Demonstration - Poaching an egg. Custard pudding. Boiled batter pudding. Class Practice - In above and boiling an egg. Principle Taught - Dietary value of eggs, various methods of using and cooking them.

LESSON IV : Theory - The process of washing, rinsing and blueing clothes. Blue and whence obtained. Demonstration - Washing "fine things", rinsing and blueing.

It will form a suitable calendar photo for today, and perhaps remind me how to boil an egg.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Who, What, Where?


I have always had a fondness for old photographs, and I am lucky to have lived long enough for my new photos to have become, themselves, examples of the genre. The emergence of Facebook local history groups has changed the nature of pictorial history, moving it from the arena of relatively obscure printed books and pamphlets into a far more public realm. As with all changes, there are good and bad consequences, the enumeration of which is best reserved for a quiet night over a pint or two in a local pub. Two definite advantages, however, are the increase in the number of old photographs of local interest being published and shared, and the improvements in tracking down forgotten locations. My featured photograph today was taken over fifty years ago. From the adjacent shots on the negative strip, I know I must have taken it somewhere in the Brighouse area, but where? I will post it today on a couple of the local Brighouse history groups and, no doubt, by the end of the day I will have a precise location, the name of the chap crossing the road, and the ownership of the washing hanging on the line.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

You Can't Beat Tradition


The Theakston family have a long tradition of brewing in the North Yorkshire town of Masham, the original brewery having been founded getting on for two hundred years ago. I have a long tradition of taking photographs of pubs and breweries, these photographs of the Masham brewery and the nearby White Bear Hotel, were taken getting on for fifty years ago. You can't beat tradition.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Cardhu And Queensbury

This image of Queensbury, a village high on the hills between Bradford and Halifax, was the result of a whisky-fuelled Photoshop accident. Somehow, it has captured the very essence of the place. Based on the evidence of the well-drained bottle on my desk this morning, the whisky concerned was Cardhu Gold Reserve. I would like to compliment it on its artistic powers.

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Look

In the midst of busy family photographs, you sometimes find a special moment: a look, a touch, a smile that can scream down the generations and remind you that the great thing about common humanity is that it is common to all. 

This photograph was taken shortly after my brother, Roger, was born in 1943. He was the first of a new generation in the family and his arrival provided an opportunity for all the grandparents and uncles and aunts to gather together. I won't name them all, they are of limited interest to those outside the family,

Focus, however on the lady with her arm in a sling - it is my grandmother, Harriet-Ellen Burnett. And focus, in particular, on that look - a look almost dangerously overloaded with pride and hope. I know the look well - I saw my grandchildren this morning.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

I Will Return


Whilst on a walk yesterday, I got to thinking about all the things I have missed over this last lockdown year. There are, of course, family and friends, holidays in the sun, meals out and parties at home. And there is the pub: that depot of contented neutrality, that refuge from the outside world; that reading room, that meeting space, that home from home. I miss your beery smells, your casual choice of pointless chatter or drinking peace. Soon, my friend, soon, I will return.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

History Hitting You With A Punch


We had a computer when I was at university. When I say "we", I mean the university had a computer. Just the one. An enormous mainframe job which had a building to itself. If you were lucky you might get to use it once in your university career. When I say "you" would get to use it, I mean someone would use it on your behalf; normal folk weren't let within an airlock of it. You could ask it to do things: not fun things like play space invaders or send messages to the other side of the world, but process data, calculate stuff, find patterns in numbers. Communications with the computer were by way of punched cards: bits of cardboard with holes punched in them. Once your data had been transferred to punched cards, fed into the computer and the results had eventually emerged from the other end of the machine you were given your bundle of punched cards to keep. They made good book marks. And then 51 years later, as you were sorting out some old books, one would drop out and history would hit you with a punch.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Brighouse River And Bank


This photograph of mine of Brighouse from fifty or more years ago has always been one of my favourites, and for years I have assume that it was taken from River Street, looking west towards the town. Stuck in the fag-end of lockdown, I have little better to do with my time these days but to go through these old photos of mine, adding a sprinkling of colour here and there, and endlessly re-sorting them into virtual boxes. Which is how, yesterday, for the first time in almost 55 years, I realised that I can't have taken this from River Street as the Brighouse flour mill would have been the other way around. I immediately went into full exploration mode, dived into Google Street View, and eventually tracked down the one remaining building in this photograph. And it turns out that I was not in River Street looking west, but in Bank Street looking east! The self-satisfied glow of achievement radiated from me for hours .... and then I realised what a sad, lockdown life I am beginning to lead.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Impossible Honley

We took a walk around Honley yesterday, with its cobbled streets and picturesque stone cottages. It was all very pretty and a welcome escape from a lockdown winter, but by the end of the walk I wasn't sure what was real and what was imagined.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

This Could Well Have Been Bournemouth.


This week's Sepia Saturday theme image shows a bit of a crowd at a football match. My best match is a bit of a crowd at the seaside - and amongst that crowd are my Auntie Annie and Uncle Harry.

For more Sepia Saturday Posts, go to the website and follow the LINKS

I am not sure which seaside this photograph from the 1930s was taken at. If it was any other member of my family I would say Bridlington, Scarborough , Blackpool, or - if they were being adventurous - Skegness. This, however, is Auntie Annie (left) and Uncle Harry (second from left), and they led a far more glamorous lifestyle. Harry had flirted with the performing arts, settled to become a clerical worker, and together with Annie, bought the first semi-detached house the family had ever seen and spent their money on leather settees and decorative ornaments. This could well have been Bournemouth. Enough said!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Grass Is Green, Sky Is Blue


To prove a point I made yesterday, here is a hand-coloured postcard view the Lock-keepers cottage at Salterhebble from around 1905. The artificial intelligence behind this bit of colouring would have been a studio artist, but they would have worked on the same basis as their modern AI equivalent: grass is green, sky is blue, and flowers are normally pink. I passed this scene only this morning and I am pleased to say that not all that much has changed: the cottage still guards the lock, the railway line still directs the hill and All Saints Church still looks down on the world below. And the grass is still green, but, this morning, the sky wasn't blue.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

50 Shades Of Reality


An old negative of mine from 50 years ago with a dusting of colour provided by some Artificial Intelligence App. The results of such experiments remind me of the artificial colouring of vintage postcards during the first decade of the twentieth century: the results are not exactly accurate, but are attractive to the eye and make a change. We should equally avoid the trap of thinking that such experiments with colour somehow interfere with the "reality" of the original monochrome image: there is nothing real about a world reduced to a greyscale colour chart.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Ticket To Ride


Uncle Frank collected bus tickets. That's not all; he also collected tape recordings of tv adverts from the 1950s, cigarette cards, and the occasional stamp. It was a relatively harmless pastime and nothing like as disruptive to the family as, say, Auntie Amy, who collected husbands. I still have some of his old bus tickets and they are true works of art. The look, the colour, the very feel of them can transport you through time with the same effectiveness as the buses could transport you into town.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Walking The Dog


One element of the Peace Agreement which brought an end to the Where Shall We Go For Our Daily Walk Marital War, was a stipulation, insisted upon by my wife, that we had to go for a walk up Greetland at least once a month. Yesterday was the day, and a beautiful day it was.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Britannia Over Elland


For over a century, Britannia has sat on top of the old bank building and the end of Elland Bridge, flanked by columns of Aberdeen granite, two pubs, and a host of mill chimneys. Whether she was looking at the old gas works, watching the traffic of the new by-pass or scanning Elland Woods - is that a meandering bear I see? - remains a mystery. Pubs, chimneys, gas works - and even bears - come and go, but Britannia remains, resolute in stone, ruling the occasional waves that appear in the Calder And Hebble Canal.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Rediscovering The Plans


This is a photograph of unknown origin, the type of thing some people call an orphan image, which I must have acquired at some point as part of a job lot of old photographs nobody wanted any more. There is, however, an almost painterly quality about it: someone has taken the time to pose the group and the composition is outstanding. Equally, it has the ability to suggest both famous people and occasions: blink and I see President Roosevelt inspecting plans for the Panama Canal, blink again and it is Eiffel planning his tower.  I've coloured it a bit and cropped it a bit, just to prove that you can't spoil a good photo by messing with it. I even did a Google Image search to see if it was a copy of a more famous photo, and surprise, surprise, I found an exact match! It appeared in a blogpost five years ago by someone who said: "I have found this old photo and I don't know where it came from!".  The post was from me - which just goes to prove two things: that life is a constant process of rediscovery ..... and my mind is beginning to go!

Saturday, March 13, 2021


The colour has gone from my life. What was once a rainbow's worth of saturated hues is now an endless progression of grey on grey on slightly more grey. This chromatic calamity occurred suddenly yesterday evening, and was apparently due to a blocked nozzle. I attempted to clear the blockage with some patent mixture I bought from a man on the internet. The process was long, and some people may find a full description of it upsetting, so I will limit myself to saying it involved plastic tubes, syringes and sheets of blotting paper. After a few hours I was left with blotting paper images that could give any Turner Prize winner a run for their money, colour-coded fingers ...... and a blocked nozzle. I would be more than happy to ditch the blessed thing in the nearest natural beauty spot, but it is built like a tank and I'm not as young as I once was. Anyway, it still prints in black and white. It sits at the end of my desk and whispers things like, "monochrome used to be good enough for you, until you started all this colourising nonsense". It taunts me and teases me with an occasional cyan promise. It was once my best friend, now it is nothing but a dead printer. RIP in DPI.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Scent Of Heritage

This is a photograph from forty years ago of Cannon Mills in Great Horton, Bradford. It is a hundred yards away from where my father was born and grew up. It is a mile away from where I was born and spent the first four years of my life. And yet, I hardly know the area other than through street names that ring distant bells of memory, and the scent of heritage that clings to the flagstones. Like most people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit and revisit once this lockdown is over, and on that you will find your sunny Spain and your colourful Caribbean Islands. Such places have to fight for space, however, with the streets of the West Riding I proudly call my home.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Beerage

This is a photograph from forty years ago of the statue to Michael Arthur Bass, First Baron Burton. It stood - indeed if Google StreetView is to be believed, it still stands - in front of Burton Town Hall, where the bronze baron supervises the car park. I took the photograph to illustrate a book on the lives of the great brewers, I was working on at the time (which like most of my books never progressed much further than a few scribbled notes on the back of a damp beer mat). Michael Arthur Bass - the great grandson of William Bass the founder of the brewery - was a prime example of members of the great brewing families that were elevated to the House of Lords, and collectively were known as "The Beerage". 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021



I had prepared a lengthy explanation of this image, but, on mature reflection, it is better off left unexplained.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Artificial Intelligence And The Fieldhouses

I was sorting through some old family photographs yesterday, and I came across this somewhat sombre study of two, somewhat distant, relatives: Wilson and Clara Fieldhouse. They were the parents of my Uncle Frank and they lived their life in Bradford, Yorkshire. I never met them, and they may well have been perfectly charming people - although, it has to be said, that their son was somewhat strange - but I am not sure I would want to be at the wrong end of an argument with Clara. I decided that they could be made a little more presentable as the kind of relatives you want to show off to all your Facebook and Twitter friends, by the addition of a touch of colour, so I headed over to one of the sites that uses Artificial Intelligence to bring old photos back to life. Whilst the results improve matters a little, I still have to live with them at the end of my desk, looking at me all day. The alternative was to go one step further, and use the Artifial Intelligence to bring the faces back to life. I must confess, I tried it. The results were so frightening, I wouldn't want to share it with others who might be of a nervous disposition.

Monday, March 08, 2021

A Comet Over Halifax


A couple of years worth of copies of a newspaper called "The Halifax Comet" have just been added to the collection of the ever-splendid British Newspaper Archives, and as I had never heard of this newspaper, I was anxious to dive in and see what it was like. I would like to report back and say that it was full of insightful reporting about conditions in the town at the close of the nineteenth century, but I am unable to do so - because I couldn't really understand a word of it. The entire thing is written in a strange style that contains vaguely recognisable words that have been drained of all meaning by the way they have put together. To illustrate my point, I will quote just one paragraph in the leading article of the edition of the 29th December 1894. It comes from an article which appears to be about the appointment of abstaining vegetarians as Poor Law Guardians! 

All this, unexplained, is exceeding mysterious in the eyes of the uninitiated . It so happens, however, that at the dinner aforesaid, a gentleman connected with this journal was entrusted with the records of this peculiar Society, and also was desired to edit and publish the same - so far as they may be suitable for publication -for the benefit particularly of the members of the said Society who , may themselves be but partially instructed in its history, and generally of the Readers of THE HALIFAX COMET, which is equivalent to saying, of the Public itself. The records will occupy a little time in examination, and notes upon them will be published after the close of our articles on City Finance.

It may be that the entire publication is supposed to be satirical, and satire tends not to age well. I will continue to work my way through at least one of the thirty-six page issues in search of enlightenment and if I find it, I will report back. Equally, I will see what I can discover about the paper's somewhat eccentric owner and editor, Joe Turner Spencer, one time Halifax Councillor, Alderman and Chairman of the Morecambe Pier Company!

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Cast-Iron History


My Grandfather and Great Uncle Fowler made these machines in Keighley. My mother and numerous aunties worked on these machines in Bradford. My Uncle Wilf sorted wool to be spun by them; my father shifted bobbins between them. My entire family history is constrained by their cast-iron frames.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

A Story To Tell


This post is, perhaps, better late than never. There is a story behind these two brothers - a story that, sadly, illustrates that it is not always better to be late than never. But the post is so late going up that I don't have time to tell the story today. I will, however, come back to it one day, so just keep the face of the boy sitting on the left in your mind, until his extraordinary story can be told.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Tablets Of Stone


We were walking up the tops of Northowram the other day, up past were all the old stone quarries used to be, and I suddenly spotted an abandoned pile of stone slates. Somebody had kindly chiselled numbers on each of them so they turned into a traditional stone equivalent of my daily calendar I was thrilled with this authentic historical discovery, and as someone had equally carved the name of the quarry on each stone, I headed home to see if I could pin down their origin to perhaps Northowram or the Shibden Valley. Oh, Burnett, Burnett, Burnett .... you gullible fool. A quick quarry of the internet revealed their origin. They are "reconstructed stone" made from glue and stone dust. They have been "authentically recreated" to even incorporate tool marks. You can even buy a version with fake green lichen clinging to them. They come from a factory somewhere down south. They are the stone equivalent of MDF. They are as genuine as a politicians promise to support NHS workers.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

It's Spring, After All


It's spring - well meteorological spring at least - and the sun is making the kind of half-hearted effort I would make in chemistry lessons at school. The various neighbours are out in their gardens, pruning or digging or doing the things gardeners do. To my mind, however, it is still cold enough to send an anticipatory shiver down the spine of a brass monkey, and therefore I am more than happy to confine my digging to my photographic archives. These are allotment size - getting on for small-holding - and need regular dead-heading, sorting, grafting and cultivating. To speed me on with my efforts I have a bird, sat up in a tree - I wish I could be more exact but I was never much good at nature studies at school either. It can sit on my desk all day and sing to me. It's spring, after all.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Good Wishes Yvette


To Edith, Good wishes : The Edith in question was my later mother-in-law, who, as a teenager in Liverpool, would stand outside the stage door at the Liverpool Empire and collect celebrity autographs. The sender of these sentiments and the subject of the postcard portrait was the actress Yvette Anning. Yvette was a successful singer and actress in the 1920s and 30s, who seems to have left few digital footprints for the modern Information Age. As far as I can see, this is the only photograph of her on the internet, and if this is the case, I am proud top be its sponsor. Good wishes, Yvette.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Six Queen Mary's Up The Elland Canal


My calendar today features a photograph I took forty or so year ago of Elland Power Station.  When I took the photograph, the power station was relatively new - the Official Opening took place seventy years ago this year - but it was already reaching the end of its life. Within ten years it had been decommissioned, within twenty it had been demolished. In checking the various facts about its life history, I came across the press report of the official opening ceremony, which was performed by a certain Mr A R Cooper (M.Eng, M.I.E.E., M.Inst.F), accompanied by the new station superintendent Mr W Poppleton (Assoc.I.E.E. A.M.Inst.F). How on earth they managed to fit all those letters within even the cavernous turbo house is a mystery, and it has to be said that the praise being heaped upon the new power station was less than fulsome. Mr Poppleton said "that the Elland station was not an unusual one, but reliable. It was built there not because the site was ideal, but because generation was needed in this part of Yorkshire". When he went on to describe the generating power of the new station, however, his language became far more energised. The new station, he declared, would generate enough power of a town of 200,000 people or enough to power a fleet of half a dozen Queen Mary's! The vision of half a dozen Queen Mary's sailing in formation along the River Calder is an analogy that would put even Prof Jonathan Van-Tam to shame.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Where Have All The Days Gone?


Where have all the days gone? It is a question people of a certain age - such as myself - ask with increasing frequency, as we realise that what we call yesterday, younger folk call history. It is a recurring question to those of us who watch things like The History Channel and say, "that's not history, it's current affairs".  It is a question on the lips of people who meet together for a cup of tea and talk about wartime rationing, 425 lines on television sets, and ask "do you remember the farthing?"

I have an answer to this fundamentally philosophical question, because in my case, they go on the back of the door. When they no longer fit in my Daily Calendar plastic holder, I take the daily images and stick them on the back of my office door. They will soon be spreading to what little wall space there is left in my room, but after that they can spread no further (says my wife). Time passes - and the longer this calendar project goes on, the greater the problem becomes: has anyone got a mill wall they are not using?

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...