Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Driving Down The Lanes Of Nostalgia With A Shot Of Redex


As soon as the scan of this old negative of mine emerged from the digital equivalent of the developing solution, I knew there was something wrong. Not wrong, perhaps, as we all know that photographs and Prime Ministers can never lie, but something not quite right, something different. The photograph is of the Newlands Filling Station in the village of Northowram, near Halifax. I must have taken it sometime around 1980 as the old Crown Brewery building had been demolished and the newer carpet and furniture showroom had not been constructed. It was a view I was very familiar with as I spent most of my childhood living opposite the garage, down Oaklands Avenue. I used to walk between the garage and the old brewery on my way to the village school. My first ever job was at the petrol station, doing what the Americans so evocatively describe as "pumping gas".  It was the 1960s when I worked there and I remember the price of a gallon of petrol reaching five shillings (25p) - a challenge to cash hungry motorists but a blessing to petrol pump attendants who had to calculate prices and change. For those wishing to saunter down the inflationary lanes of nostalgia, the current price of petrol is £7.50 per gallon. 

Looking at the photograph transported me back over half a century: to the clinging smell of petrol, to those white uniform coats, to the shot of Redex in the petrol tank. And then, the penny dropped (to those still sauntering down the inflationary lanes of nostalgia, the .4 of a new pence dropped) - when I worked there, it was a BP filling station not a Shell one. Such things mattered, in those days, people would have a brand loyalty when filling their cars with petrol. They would argue that they went better on BP as compared to Shell, they would go further on Esso as compared to Mobil, and they would go faster on National Benzole compared to Jet. Such brand loyalties were reinforced by massive advertising campaigns, not to mention promotional toys, beer glasses and Green Shield Stamps.

No doubt, sometime after I had left the village, it changed from being a BP garage to a Shell garage. It also started selling second-hand cars, which it never did in my day. It's all history now. The petrol station has been replaced by a housing development - I wonder if they can still catch the faint aroma of four star petrol when the wind is in a certain direction? - the furniture showroom that replaced the brewery has itself been replaced by a supermarket ... and petrol has become faceless, nameless and very expensive.

Documentary evidence of my days working at the BP Filling Station

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Indelible Rough Sea At Scarborough


A lovely old early twentieth century picture postcard of Scarborough, showing, if nothing else, that extreme weather conditions are not just a twenty-first century phenomenon. I have managed to find a large number of vintage postcard views of rough seas at Scarborough - but not this precise photograph, so dating it is more difficult, especially as it has no postmark or stamp.

The reverse of the card is hardly an object lesson in the lost art of correspondence!  The message is somewhat limited: "Dear Margaret, I hope you are very well. We are very busy at school now. Must close. xxxx"

One very noticeable thing about the message and the address is that they have been written in indelible pencil - the purplish colour is typical of such pencils that were still commonly used when I was young. They were the kind of pencil where you would lick them to get them to write more clearly. I looked them up and was somewhat concerned to discover that they were highly poisonous because of the aniline dyes they contained. Exposure could lead to eczema, acne and carcinoma. Penetration of the dye from the pencil lead into the body commonly leads to severe and debilitating effects such as fever, anaemia, elevated white cell count, gastro-intestinal upset, kidney and liver damage, anorexia, and necrosis of the tissue. Given all that, it was perhaps a good job that our correspondent closed early.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Photographic Tale Of Several Wilkinsons


I have a new printer due to arrive today, so I spend a bit of time sorting out a suitable image to test it out with. Eventually I decided on this Victorian portrait of a young lady from the studio of a local photographer, Wilkinsons. A high resolution scan of the old Carte de Visite means that I will be able to test the quality of the printing when I stoke it up to its full A3 capacity.

The choice is a particularly good one because Mr Wilkinson (and I am assuming it was a Mr, although given the prominent role women played in the development of nineteenth century photography, this may well be a false assumption) advertises himself as the "inventor and sole proprietor of the new Photo Mechanical Process". Given that he lists his address as the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield and lists branches in Halifax, Cleckheaton and Sheffield, it was rather exciting to discover a local photographer who seems to have pushed back the technological barriers of photographic printing the best part of one hundred and fifty years ago.

Tracking W T Wilkinson down is not difficult, he seems to have published a number of books on photographic printing from the mid 1880s onwards. Indeed you can still download copies of his worldwide hit "Photo-Engraving, Photo-Etching & Photo-Lithography in Line and Half-tone; also Collotype and Heliotype" from Project Gutenberg today. In the 1890s he published another volume entitled "Photo Mechanical Process : A Practical Guide To The Production of Letterpress Blocks in Line and Tone", and this would certainly seem to link WT Wilkinson with our Wilkinson based at the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield. Nevertheless, all the published books by W T Wilkinson state that he is "of London"  and there is even records of him being a "teacher of photography and the Photo-Mechanical Process at Goldsmith's Institute, London".

Meanwhile, the excellent Huddersfield Exposed website has an article on the Huddersfield photographers J and F A Wilkinson and quotes an advert from 1890 in which their photographic studio at Claremont Hall, Newhouse, Huddersfield was put up for auction. This was obviously brought about by a reversal in the fortunes of their business because in 1894 poor old J A Wilkinson is sent to Wakefield Prison for "non-payment of Poor Rate" and in the early twentieth century he appears to be living in poverty in London.

I discovered one further piece of evidence in back copies of the Wakefield Free Press from April 1898 and this seems to imply that W T Wilkinson, "Photographer and Photo-Mechanical Printer" had a business in Wakefield in 1898. His advert claims that portraits of "yourself or friends ... your house, horse, dog, etc" can be printed up to 15x12inches for just five shillings. I doubt whether my new printer will be able to compete with that, but I will user the portrait of the young lady from the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield to test it out.

And whilst I am waiting for the new printer to arrive, I might just flick through Wilkinson's Photo-Engraving, Etching and Lithography" in order to get a few hints on the photographic printing process, and a few clues about the various photographic Wilkinsons.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Dean Clough In Transition


I probably took this in the early 1980s at a time when the Dean Clough was about to start a journey of transition from a redundant carpet mill to the busy complex of offices, galleries, restaurants and bars we know today. I wonder what the horse would have made of it all?

Monday, July 04, 2022

Risky Holly


I accept that this might not be an accurate representation of the scene: the lens had an angle wider than a wheat field and the filters came from a paint box. Nevertheless accuracy can be an overvalued characteristic in photography. Taken from Shepherds Thorn Lane (///holly.risky.mutual), looking towards Brighouse and Clifton.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Impressionism Please

I'd like to think of it as an experiment in impressionism, but, in fact, it was the result of a cheap camera, a badly focussed lens, a dark night, and a lot of rain. Those with long memories might recognise the shops around George Square, Halifax fifty years ago.

Fowler's Cards: 6. Knaresborough


"Been boating on this river on which were several couples affected with the "Spring Complaint". The trees were covered with blossom making it an ideal and quiet rendezvous. Should not mind a visit to Silloth. No reply Carlisle. AP"

Like any half decent mystery, the more you delve into Great Uncle Fowler's postcard collection, the more unanswered questions emerge. A pretty view of the River Nidd at Knaresborough provides a vehicle for a pretty description of the timeless courting rituals that so often accompany a pleasant day's boating on the river. But who is AP? Why has the card been hand-delivered? What happens on visits to Silloth? And what is the meaning of "No reply Carlisle"?

I can provide a geographical context. Silloth is a small seaside town in Cumbria within relatively easy travelling distance of both Carlisle, the county town of Cumbria, and Longtown, the town where Fowler was living during the early days of the twentieth century. The rest of the story, you can make up for yourselves.

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...