There is something wonderful about working with anonymous old photographs. There is no back story to complicate things. When this girl walked into the Ideal Studios in Perth she may or may not have had brown eyes. When she walked out she had a monochrome portrait with monochrome eyes. But for reasons beyond the comprehension of mortal men, Photoshop decided that she had brown eyes - beautiful brown eyes.
Occasionally, when you scan old negatives, you come across one which you have never seen before because you may have developed the film thirty odd years ago but you never got around to printing the negative. In the case of this particular picture, I must have taken it during a quiet moment at my own wedding, back in August 1973. That is my brother taking the wedding photographs - all I can assume is that the particular picture he was taking didn't include me.
A couple of adverts taken from the Halifax Courier of November 1899 featuring iconic brands in the local Halifax economy. In the century just about to dawn, Mackintosh's would become a major national and international brand in the sweet confectionery industry. And Ramsden's brewery became one of the big three Halifax brewers. One hundred years after these adverts had been published, both companies had vanished.
This is my mother, Gladys Burnett. Lopsided or not, the location is Southmere Drive, Great Horton, Bradford, where we lived until moving to Halifax in 1952. I suspect that this photograph must have been taken around 1950. The motorbike was the pride of my father's life, but he sold it before we moved and I only remember it from old photographs.
A celebration of the days when negatives came in strips of six. You can revisit the strip, trying to remember where you might have taken these photographs fifty years ago. You try to identify shops long vanished, streets long demolished. But then you eventually find just one reference - an old market stall sign and everything falls into place. Brighouse market in days long, long gone.
Fifty years ago someone may have been looking over my shoulder and said "why on earth are you taking a photograph of the pantry?" The answer would have been "I have no idea". But as I scan through reels of old film I realise that scenes change little, people change slowly, but domestic details such as this change lots over time. This was the age before the refrigerator was common. The age when milk had to be bought in pints each day, and when bacon was stored on a cold slab under a bit of greaseproof paper. These days it would be the stuff of historical documentary. But, I remember them far too well. (Scanned 35mm negative. Mid 1960s. 1511C-42)
A lovely old card dating back to 1906. It must have been one of the first vintage postcards I ever bought - I got it from a second-hand shop in Rotherham back in the early eighties for 20 or 30 pence. The message to Mrs Bailey of Fitzwilliam Road, Rotherham reads as follows:
Dear Mrs B,
Bring your husband here to spend your holidays, it is A10.
Yours affectionately, Florrie
Given the delights that clearly await Mr Bailey at Blackpool, it would seem like an excellent suggestion.
I must have taken this photograph of the girl who was to become my wife (right) and her best friend Jane back in 1970 or perhaps 1971. As is the case with many old photographs, it is the background which is just as fascinating as the two girls in the foreground. That is Halifax back in the day when you could still play the game of counting the number of mill chimneys you could see in the background. I picked out fifteen in this photograph.
You used to have an excuse. An excuse for all those times you beheaded your mother-in-law or cut your grandfathers legs off. And then there came the "Ensign Ful-Vue" (British throughout and a bargain at only 25 shillings) and a whole raft-full of excuses for familial decapitation was removed from the amateur photographic at a stroke. But 75 years down the line and using technology that would have been the stuff of science fiction back then, I can still manage to acquire a tree growing out of my subject's head.
Smedley's Hydro in Matlock Bath Derbyshire was one of the finest monuments to the passion in the nineteenth and early twentieth century for water cures of one kind or another. Built in 1853 by John Smedley, a man who combined a belief in the restorative powers of natural spring water with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit, it was the largest hydro in the town and in the twentieth century it had become world famous. Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Thomas Beecham and Ivor Novello are amongst the rich and famous who flocked there. By the 1950s custom had drained away and the building was bought by Derbyshire County Council as part of their County Hall complex. (Scan of a 1930s Postcard - AB Collection)
Those were the days. Travelling fairs used to come to town and grass-bald recreation fields would be transported into the Halifax equivalent of the Tivoli Gardens. You could spin around and around, dodge from car to car, and waltz 'till you were dizzy. Then you could settle your stomach with candy floss and chats. (Scan of a 1965 negative - Halifax Fairground)
THE NEW PENNY MAGAZINE 17 May 1834
St Nicholas Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
"This borough, sea-port, and county-town occupies the north bank of the river Tyne, over which there is a handsome stone bridge connecting the place with Gateshead in the neighbouring county of Durham. Newcastle is of great antiquity, and of considerable note in history. ....
The town within and without the walls extends for more than two miles along the river, and about one mile from the river towards the north and north-west, rising along the hill and crowning its summit ..."
This is a scan of a negative I took back in the early 1980s. It was at a Yorkshire Miners' Gala in either Rotherham or Doncaster: back in the days before the miners' strike, back in the days when there were miners to go on strike. The old couple are waiting for the speeches to start: waiting for Arthur.
GLADYS AT SEA
A picture of my mother, Gladys Burnett, looking happy and all at sea. She loved the seaside: when she was young (this photograph must have been taken in the early 1930s) she obviously enjoyed being out at sea and in her later life she was never happier than when she stood on the seashore looking out to sea.
Amy and Wilf Sykes With Dog
Amy Beanland was my mother's sister and in 1929 she married Wilf Sykes, a woolsorter from Bradford. This picture must have been taken in the early 1930s. I am not sure about the dog - when I knew them twenty years later they didn't have a dog, but it looks more than just a passing stray. When we got our dog in 2002 we called it Amy in memory of Aunty Amy.
A vintage postcard which incorporates a stunning real photograph of Boar Lane in Leeds. The detail is a credit to the photographers and cameras of one hundred years ago. Every tram line, every wrought iron stem, every sign-written letter is as clear as the day the photograph was taken. It's the kind of image that vibrates history.
A scan of the front cover of Hulton's Picture Post magazine for the 1st July 1939. World war was only a couple of months away, but all the focus was on the upcoming Wimbledon tennis championships. Jean Nicholl was the British hope for the women's championships, at the time she was the British champion at both tennis and table tennis. The war interrupted her career and she tragically died in her forties in 1965.
Scan of a vintage postcard of Brighton Aquarium dating from 1908. The card was sent to Phyllis Boorer, a thirteen year old girl, by her mother. Phyllis later became an assistant to a linen draper. The wonderfully Italianate aquarium building is still there - although the tower and clock are gone - and is now the home of the Brighton Sea Life Centre.
The kind of souvenir postcard you can still buy in the famous beer cellars of Munich (although the modern versions are a little more colourful). What makes this unused postcard particularly poignant is the date written on the back in pencil : August 28th 1938 (by chance, 77 years ago today). But think what a year would bring!
A scan of a postcard I acquired from somewhere or other - but who knows where. The enlarged image reveals a sign saying "Margate College London Offices 1928" which is intriguing as I can't find any mention of such an institution. But it gives us a date which looks around right. Any bird flying these skies today would need the ability to dodge in and out of the skyscrapers.
A scan of a picture which arrived in a job-lot of old photos bought on eBay. A British battleship from sometime around the turn of the twentieth century. The occasion would appear to be some kind of naval review - the ship is all dressed up in her Sunday best.
A scan of a 35mm negative I shot forty-some years ago when I was living in North Staffordshire. This is the Trent and Mersey Canal at Etruria, the home of the famous pottery of Josiah Wedgwood. Today it is far more colourful - willow pattern bone china compared to cheap stoneware.
This is a scan from one of my 1905 editions of Punch Magazine. As far as I can work out it represents Alfred Lyttelton (the "current" Colonial Secretary) and Joseph Chamberlain (the "past" Colonial Secretary). The thing I love most about it is the description "a pencil Kodak" - what a wonderful phrase that is. Kodak cameras where just capturing the world and pencil sketches must have seemed things of the past. Just like Kodak cameras now.
A photograph of an unknown man, a man of consummate style, a man who came to me via a plastic bag full of old photographs. He doesn't deserve to be nameless, he deserves a back-story as finely designed as his clothing. He was an accountant, a town hall official, maybe a solicitor. He lived in a smart villa in the suburbs. He married and had beautiful children. He perished in the mud of Flanders.
I can't quite make out the caption on this old photographic postcard which was part of a job-lot of unknown old photographs given to me by a Welsh cousin. It seems to be the Lintz Wesleyan Women's Something-or-Other. Any attempt to interpret the caption pales into insignificance compared with an attempt to try and work out what on earth they are doing and why they are dressed as they are. Maybe we are better not knowing.
I think that is my grandmother, waddling towards the camera with a smile on her face. And if that is her, then that would be my grandfather Enoch walking at a detached distance. I can see something of my father and my brother in the face and the smile is as familiar as home-baked parkin.
My brother is a gifted artist, but my bit of the parental genepool seems to be lacking that bit of DNA which can represent a given scene via paint and brush. 30 years ago, whilst on holiday in France, I did try and paint something. What resulted was a disaster and I haven't picked up a paint brush in anger since.
A scan of a colour negative dating back to the 1980s. It must have been about 1987 and we were on a few days holiday in Northumberland. I am not sure what the fire in the background was but it seemed to fit in with the overall scene. Coal was being washed up on the beach and there seemed to be thirty shades of purple.
A scan of an advert from an old newspaper and a reminder of how the public conception of cigarettes and tobacco have changed over the years. I can still remember that familiar design on the front of Players Navy Cut Cigarettes. Now smile - no: just shake my head in sadness.
The last of the first set of glass negatives (I confess, I have bought another set). This is by far the best of the photographs and - given the location of many of the set being Bolton Abbey - I suspect this is the River Wharf. A lovely photograph - from one hundred years ago.
The penultimate glass slide and the one which allowed me to pin down the location of the negatives. I did suspect that the first of the negatives showed Bolton Abbey but later ones caused me to go off the idea. But with this one the dedication of what is a memorial fountain can be clearly read - Frederick Charles Cavendish. The fountain still exists - and is on the Bolton Abbey estate in North Yorkshire.
A picture of Elland taken from the top of Blackley in either the 1970s or early 1980s. Elland Power Station is long gone, as is the memory of how much pollution such undertakings created. It might be a tall chimney, but these valleys have steep hillsides.
Crookes Valley Road, Sheffield. I must have taken this photograph back in the early 1980s. At the time we were living at the top of Oxford Street, just to the right from where the photograph was taken. Most of the buildings still exist today - but somehow they don't seem as grey and colourless.
A scanned negative from my own family collection - a 127 format negative which must have been taken in the late 1950s. It shows my brother, Roger, who was on a school trip to Blankenberge on the Belgian coast. I vaguely remember him being away (I would have been about ten at the time) : away in a foreign country, far, far, away.
Continuing my exploration of the 12 recently purchased glass plate negatives, this intriguing picture of a lighthouse shines no light at all on the area covered by the unknown photographer in question. My first thoughts were that it must be the Yorkshire coast - I am fairly confident that a number of the other negatives were of Yorkshire subjects - but I have looked at mugshots of possible Yorkshire lighthouses until I am blue in the face without pinning this one down.
1707-133 : TWO THEATRICALS Two more smilers, but this time I suspect there are differences. First of all we have, I think, two women ...
1707-130 : VICTORIAN COUPLE WITH SMILES This Victorian couple are both smiling, which is rare for photographs of this age. It wasn...
This small Victorian portrait card measures just 2.5 by 1.5 inches and was of a size known, appropriately enough, as a midget . Such car...