Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Albert And The Machine


This is one of my favourite photographs from the family archives - or rather the box of old photographs that has been given that somewhat grandiose title. It features my father, Albert, and a group of other mechanics, gathered around a machine that looks like a prop from a 1950s low-budget science fiction film.  I think the photograph must have been taken in the early to mid 1950s - when my father would have been in his forties - and if that is the case, it will have been taken at Mackintosh's factory in Halifax. The machine will have had some part to play in either making or wrapping chocolates and toffees - part of the famous Quality Street range. My father was a mechanic at Macks from the early 1950s until he retired over twenty years later.

Irrespective of the personal connection it has for me, the photograph is an important social document in its own right. You could quite happily construct a two-hour lecture on social and industrial history around it. The machine itself, with its dials and levers, tells of an age of cogs, gears and wheels: an age before computers and microelectronics. The gathering of workers seems to tell of a time when the connection between workers, machines and products was closer than it is today. The seeds of future change may, however, be visible in this seventy year old photograph: these people, these overalled mechanical midwives, are celebrating the birth of a robot.

Forget the lecture, it's just another of my pointless flights of fancy. Look at the photograph, it says it all.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Home 6 : A Bridge Too Far


The line went from Halifax Station to North Bridge Station via the Gas Works. At one time it carried people and goods to exotic places like Ovenden and Queensbury. It was closed in the 1950s and, thirty years later, the solid stone structure was demolished. It had become a bridge too far.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Scented Ink And Typewritten Confessions

I don't know about you, but I seem to be surrounded by adverts. The magazines that drop through my letter-box seem to be almost exclusively adverts for dentists, plasterers and barbers. If I attempt to reach out to the rest of the world via the wonders of social media, my browsing is constantly interrupted by adverts for opticians, hotels and, bizarrely enough, woodworking lathes. My email inbox is cluttered with adverts for services that would make a Bishop blush, and don't get me started on day-time TV with its low-cost cremations and folding wheelchairs. Oh, how I yearn for the days when newspapers were full of news. Talking of which, I was reading a copy of the Brighouse Gazette from July 1896 the other day and I came across some fascinating .... adverts.

You cannot afford to do your writing in the old way - now, how about that for a slogan!

I love the idea of this. Free insurance against dying in a train accident if you happen to have a copy of the Brighouse Gazette with you at the time and have signed your name in ink.

And talking of ink, make sure you use Lyon's Ink because, says this rather faded advert, it never fades!

And tell me why, a booklet describing the wonders of the Wincycle would be scented!1

And no media, old or new, would be complete without being able to read the confessions of Mr W H Brown (and the like) who suffers from despondency and liver complaints due to :the errors of youth"

Thursday, July 15, 2021

It Didn't Do For Mrs Read

Vintage picture postcards sent during the great postcard craze of the first decade of the twentieth century not only provide us with a picture of the physical landscape of our towns and villages at this transformative moment in time, but they also provide us with an insight into the everyday lives of the ordinary people who sent and received them. Such cards are an exercise in historical voyeurism, and all the more fascinating for that: they are instagram messages from a bygone era. 

This particular postcard shows City Square in Leeds and provides a prospect which will be familiar to those who know Leeds in the twenty-first century. The post office building, thankfully, remains largely unchanged - although you are more likely to get your lunch there these days than to post a letter. The Black Prince still trots motionless in the centre of the square and, no doubt, still wonders what on earth he is doing in Leeds.  These days there are some additional concrete sore thumbs and a good deal more traffic, but the picture side of the card doesn't raise any unanswerable questions.

Turn the card over and you are immediately reminded that the idea that in these good old days children were taught to write neatly, spell correctly, and punctuate properly is just another of those urban myths. The card comes from Mabel to her friend Miss M Baines, who lives in Altofts on the outskirts of Leeds. The message reads - as far as I can tell - as follows:-

3rd May 1906 : Dear M just a line hoping you are all well as it leaves me quite well how are they all getting on I heare you are all very busy I have not much time had the old ------ for dinner won't do for Mrs Read love to all Mabel.

The missing word is indecipherable and could be anything from damselle to Devon hen, and probably a lot in-between. Whatever they had for dinner probably didn't do for Mrs Read, but there again, whatever will?

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Ding, Dong, Bell


Ding, dong, bell,
Pussy’s in the well.
Who put her in?
Little Johnny Flynn.
And, meanwhile, Little Alan Stout simply walked past and took a photograph.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Dog-Eared Days

Like memories, old photographs age. They physically fade, get scratched, bent, dog-eared: they interact with life. So when we look back at old photographs we see blurred memories of dog-eared days. Was my fathers’ hair ever that long, was my brother ever that young?

But what of the digital generations; those reared on pixel counts and jpegs? For them images will always be crisp and clear - historical documents rather than faded memories. Certainty will replace possibility, and that's not always a good thing.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Away 2 : Boating Under The Pier

Boating under the pier is prohibited. So is swimming in the birdbath, cycling down the drainpipe, and painting your toenails in the coal cellar. But when liberty returns to the world, we will be able to board cruise ships for trips under the great piers of Britain.

Friday, July 02, 2021

The Kids These Days


You can't look at the papers these days without seeing it: pointless vandalism, violence, murder. The kids these days - with their social media and lives of material comfort. It was never like that when I was young, back in the 1950s when there was national service, discipline in home and school, and policemen still walked the beat. Oh hang on a minute, this paper's a bit old - 1st July 1957!!!

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...