BRADLEY ROAD, FIXBY
The description “black and white” always seems to be underselling the medium. There is grey, of course, but there is also line and shape. And you seem to notice these two far more when your eye is not distracted by all those flashy reads and bumptious greens.
The Theatre Royal, Halifax. Boarded-up, deserted. Tucked away down Shakespeare Street is the old actor’s entrance. Once the gateway to music hall, melodrama, classical theatre and opera it is now the repository for stale urine and empty bottles. A Shakespearean tragedy in Halifax.
The theme image for Sepia Saturday 273 features a couple of Edwardian ladies riding their bicycles through Battersea Park in London. My best efforts at a match involves half the ladies, half the bikes and a park of unknown origins. The photograph itself comes from the ubiquitous suitcase of old family photographs and measures just three inches by two. But so much life, so many memories, so much history is distilled into that small space, it has a rare and fine distinction – a vintage single malt whisky of a photograph.
The photograph features my mother, Gladys Burnett, and must have been taken in the early to mid 1930s. At the time my father and mother had a tandem and their holidays would involve tours around Britain. Later my father graduated to a motorbike and sidecar, a graduation my mother welcomed because – given that the predominant climatic conditions were wet and the predominant topography was hilly – she was happier under the protection of a canvas awning and the motive power of an internal combustion engine.
Looking at the photograph now – eleven years after my mother died – I can still recognise the smile; a lovely warm rich smile, a Lagavulin smile (lovers of malt whisky will know what I mean).
I must have taken this photograph of Bank Bottom, Halifax almost fifty years ago. On the right of the picture is part of the old Halifax Gas Works and on the left is the mill of Riding Hall Carpets. The railway viaduct in the mid-distance carries the line that ran from Halifax via Queensbury to Bradford. The church spire is that of Square Church – the church itself was later destroyed by fire although the spire was saved.
Around 1969 I worked for a time at the carpet mill on the left of the photograph as a warehouse labourer. The mill was built up against Beacon Hill and the road climbed around the building like a slide on a shelter-skelter ride. I may have taken this photograph whilst I was working at the mill, but I suspect it is a year or two earlier.
Other than the spire of Square Church, most of the buildings that can be seen in my original photograph have now long gone. Trees have recolonised some of the site and a Matalan hypermarket stands where my carpet mill used to be. In addition to the change in the actual buildings themselves, the whole scale of the scene seems to have changed. Then such space at the industrial heart of a busy manufacturing town was precious – space to be used, space to be built upon. Today it is almost an afterthought – too hilly for a car-park, too bleak for a call centre.
I must not fall into the trap of blinkered nostalgia: life even fifty years ago was dirty, boring and often short. But the towns looked better, looked more purposeful: there was a sooty pride about them which seemed to say – “here’s where it’s made”.
Halifax Courier : Saturday 4th April 1868
One cannot help wondering whether Professor Stokes was able to deliver his lecture without notes. He would claim that he could teach his system of memory enhancement in less than three hours and it was all based on his golden rule for memory which was “observe, reflect, link thought with thought and think of the impressions” He would give his students sentences to memorise – here is the one from Exercise 38 : “My memory men may memorise my matchless mouth martyrdomising memory medley”. Which reminds me of something I once read in a book …. but unfortunately I have forgotten what it was.
I do know how Mr J G Lee feels. The Good Lady Wife has just set out for the shops in Huddersfield – so I am tempted to issue my own public announcement in a similar vein. However, before we attach too much blame to the poor Mrs Lee we should remember that 1868 was 14 years before the Married Woman’s Property Act came into force and at this time married women were not able to own property in their own right. She would have to use Mr Lee’s credit card as she was not allowed one herself.
A legal case with a convoluted plot of Morsian complexity. I still can’t quite work out who gave who what – but it appears that a watch changed hands in exchange for a pig. The complaint seems to be that the pig died immediately after it was handed over but given the fact that the chap it was given to was a butcher in Sowerby, this is hardly surprising. The judge awarded the plaintiff £1-7-6d in compensation and in return took delivery of some belly pork, a pair of pork chops and a pound of streaky bacon.
I am taking a walk along the path where history interacts with geography and words rub shoulders with images – the vintage postcard path. The destination doesn’t matter and the route is determined by the random selection of old postcards I have bought at an antique fair. Number 11 in the series sees us in the schoolroom of a famous 19th century author.
George Eliot was full of contradictions: a woman using the name of a man, a pillar of the Victorian establishment who lived a life of a bohemian, a girl from the provinces who lived life in the big city. It was a contradiction of my own that first came to mind when I picked this particular postcard from the pile I have accumulated over recent months – for here is an name I know so well but I don’t think I have actually read any of her books. That is a contradiction I need to put right in the near future, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the connectivity of time.
George Eliot was born in 1819 and her relatively short life came to an end in December 1880. So when this postcard was sent in 1905, Eliot had only been dead some 25 years and would be more in the realms of a recent celebrity rather than a historical icon. The card was sent to William Edward Crabtree of Elliott Street (different spelling, different Elliott) in Rochdale who, at the time, was a 25 year old architectural assistant. The glorious connectivity of time means that Crabtree was born whilst George Eliot was still alive. The card was sent by Gertrude Hodgson of Denton near Manchester who at the time was a 13 year old girl. It would be nice – in a George Eliot kind of way – to be able to tell you that Gertrude grew up and fell in love with the handsome architect, but alas, that is not the case (she went on to marry a builder called Harrison). William Crabtree married a girl called Fanny and lived in the Rochdale area until his death in 1963. In 1963 I was myself a 15 year old, living just the other side of the Pennines in Halifax – less than 25 miles away from Elliott Street as the Ted Hughesian crow flies.
So there you have it: a crumpled old postcard linking me to George Eliot. It is amazing where you end up once you take a walk along the Vintage Postcard Path.
Life has been up to its old tricks again – getting in the way of blogging. Monday was shopping in Leeds (although I was allowed to abandon the GLW in the new Trinity Centre and wander off on my own taking photographs). I spent a large chunk of Tuesday at the bank moving relatively small amounts of money from one bank account to another. I am still unclear as to why I did this other than the bank manager said he thought it was a good idea. I was so mentally exhausted by this mindless activity that I could do little for the rest of the day other than scan a few old negatives. One was a picture of Halifax back in the 1960s : a time when shops were not encased in glass and concrete and when bank managers worried that your overdraft was too large rather than too small.
Wednesday was a pleasant Spring day and a fine day to kick off a new project that my mate Steve and I are undertaking. I won’t go into detail about the nature of the project now other than to say we made our way to the Wapentake of Agbrigg and Morley to undertake some photographic explorations. Thursday has already faded into a beery blur brought about by a lunchtime meeting of the Old Gits Luncheon Club. One of our members is about to move permanently to France so it was an occasion of fond farewells and endless pints of beer, nonsensical speeches and …… even more pints of beer. Which takes us to Friday – more shopping and just enough time to squeeze out this blog post.
As I scan my old 35mm negatives, I see my life in terms of contiguous images which serve to remind me – thirty years down the timeline – that I went to Halifax the day after Auntie Amy got married (or some such thing). The problem with digital images is that they come in individual lumps – each file is sacred and alone like some Paul Simon Rock or Island. So this week I am sewing a few images together within a 35mm framework so that, if I make it to 2040, I will remember this busy little week.