Today, our Daily Victorian has the look of a working man about him. Class can be an important aid in dating early photographs : in the 1850s the subjects tended to be the famous, in the 1860s and 1870s it was the rich and then the middle classes, and by the 1880s and 1890s prices had fallen and a studio portrait was within the means of working people. In this case, the studio was that of W Dawson of Brighouse. This particular example refers to studios in Waring Green, which is no more than a mile from Brighouse town centre, but I have also found reference to a studio on Huddersfield Road in Brighouse itself. I know nothing else about Mr Dawson, except that he was a competent Victorian photographer.
The second of the nine distilleries was Bruichladdich on the Rhinns of Islay. Built in 1881 – comparatively recently in Islay terms – it was the creation of the Harvey Brothers of Glasgow. It was designed by brother John, engineered by brother Robert, and financed by brother William. Despite its “modern” design, the fortunes of the distillery have reflected those of the wider whisky industry, and it has been mothballed four times: 1907-18, 1929-35, 1941-45, and 1994-2000. Today it is thriving under the ownership of the Remy-Cointreau Group.
If you take a man away from his desk for a week and isolate him in the Scottish wilderness with nothing to do other than sample rare malt whisky, he gets to thinking up new projects he can embark on when he returns to the safety of his study. For some reason, I decided to catalogue my collection of Victorian carte de visites and share them in the form of a Daily Victorian. It is a silly and pointless exercise (which is what attracted me to it in the first place), but one you will just have to put up with. Blame the Lagavulin.
We start with an example from my favourite city – Sheffield; and the studio of George Vernon Yates. He had his studios in Davy’s Building which, if you are familiar with modern day Sheffield, is now W.H. Smith’s. The portrait must date from the early to mid 1890s and features, one supposes, a mother and child. Given that the child must have been born around 1890, there is a good chance that he (she?) was still alive in the late 1970s when I lived in the city. George Yates doesn’t explain just who the distinguished patronage he claims was: but, if it counts, when I lived in Sheffield I would visit W.H. Smith’s a lot.
I have just returned from a week on the beautiful island of Islay during which I managed to fit in a visit to each of the island’s eight distilleries. Add on to that a quick trip over to the neighbouring island of Jura, and that is nine distilleries in total.
The first visit was only an unhealthy walk away from where we were staying – the Laphroaig Distillery, about a mile or so from Port Ellen. It had the classic look of an Islay distillery – whitewashed walls stacked up against a seaweed-brown beach.
Fifty years ago I took a series of photographs of a fire in Halifax. It was just a relatively small fire in one of the mills; none of the photographs actually show the fire itself. It was the fire engines, the hose pipes and, in particular, the watching crowds that fascinated me then, and still do: fifty years down the line. The bee-hive hair styles, the bow-legged man, the housewives with babies and children who go out to watch the goings-on: Halifax folk in a world gone by.
This is a new scan of a negative I must have taken fifty or more years ago. It was taken from the churchyard of St Thomas’ Church, Claremount, and shows the bottom part of Halifax back in the days when the buildings were still soot-black and the chimneys that made them so were still smoking. Halifax Minster is half hidden by a gravestone, but Square Church can be seen on the right of the picture and this helps to date the photograph as the main body of the church was destroyed by fire in 1971.
Scanning and retouching old photographs is a little like doing a jig-saw puzzle – it allows you to get up close to detail. Cast a passing glance at a photograph from eighty-odd years ago – you can use this photograph of my mother, Gladys, on the seaside sands as an example – and you might notice the main subject or the approximate location, and then you move on to something else entirely like making a cup of tea or watching Coronation Street. When you are scanning and retouching however, you dedicate time to detail – the shape of the handbag, the activity of the crowds in the background, the pattern of the dress. You sit down and talk to the people and share memories.