It is many years since I first walked down Coley Lane and caught sight of Coley Hall. Memories from those days have already turned sepia, and therefore discovering this old picture postcard of the rear of the Hall, seems somehow appropriate. These days the Hall looks very smart, a most desirable residence, very different to the old hall I remember.
Records suggest that there has been a property on the site since the thirteenth century, and parts of the current Hall date from the seventeenth century. A certain John de Coldeley was recorded has living there in 1286, and by the time of the English Civil War, it was owned by Langdale Sunderland, a committed supporter of the Royalist cause. He was a Cavalier Captain, and he was supposed to have kept a regiment of horse at the Hall during the conflict. The Hall came under attack from Commonwealth troops and part of the frontage of the house was destroyed.
Members of the Langale Sunderland family were living in the Hall well into the twentieth century – about the time I first started walking down Coley Lane.
My career as an artist was relatively brief by modern standards: it started yesterday tea-time and ended this morning at about ten o’ clock. The body of my work is equally elusive, comprising as it does of just the one picture, illustrated above. Whilst some take to the charcoal stick and paint brush, driven by a need to find their soul or explore the very nature of being, my motive was somewhat less prosaic – I was in search of the perfect white balance.
My brother – whose career as a real artist has spanned six decades – emailed me with a technical problem yesterday, concerning the best way to photograph his watercolour sketches without getting a blue background tint resulting from incorrect white balance in the photographic process itself. “Try sketching a few lines on a white sheet of paper and find out what setting you find works best”, he wrote. I should have pointed out to him that was a little like asking Harry Houdini’s second cousin to wrap himself in chains and jump in an alligator swamp; but no, I kept my counsel, took a piece of white paper and started “sketching a few lines“. It would be nice to say that I took to it like a duck to water, but it is more accurate to say that I took to it like Harry Houdini’s second cousin wrapped in chains takes to the Everglades swamp.
I left things overnight in the hope that inspiration (and skill and technique) would come with the dawn, but it didn’t. My last hope of redemption was to use my technical skills and solve the white balance problem – but as the sample sheet I came up with proves, I couldn’t even do that.
I have therefore decided to retire as an artist with immediate effect. After all, in the words of the great prophet, “why keep a dog and bark yourself“. Over to you, Roger.
Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows three men posing on a beach in California. My submission is one very young man posing on a beach in Yorkshire. The young man in question is my brother, the artist and sculptor, Roger Burnett. The date must have been sometime I’m the mid to late 1940s, and the place was probably Bridlington on the East Coast. The pose is rather familiar, I have a photograph of my brother and myself taken in February this year where he is striking a similar pose some seventy years on. The beaches he walks these days are in the Caribbean rather than East Yorkshire, but a sandy beach on a warm summers’ day is a fine location, wherever it is situated.
I am not sure where this little print came from – no doubt it was part of some job lot of old photographs I bought. It shows the crowded deck of a boat, and must have been taken at some point in the 1920s. It could be a ferry, but the people seem a little too well-dressed to be crossing the Mersey, or even the Solent. The other possibility is that it was taken on a cruise ship. Cruising isn’t just a modern phenomenon: cruises to Europe and even more exotic locations, were popular during the 1920s (last year I published a little book – “Heading North” – based on a collection of photographs taken on a 1925 cruise to Scandinavia).
It would be too much of a coincidence for this photograph to come from the same cruise as the one featured in my book, but as I focus on the individual faces, I see the same styles, the same features, the same times.
That has always been one of the real delights of collecting unknown, old photographs: cruising through the faces, looking for stories. Is the man looking over his shoulder to the past? Is the young woman with the long hair seeing the future? We can only imagine.
If there is a nineteenth century park or public building in Halifax, there is a fair chance that it was set out or erected by one of the Crossley Brothers. If not, it will be a near certainty that it was the work of Colonel Edward Ackroyd. Their names are woven into the very fabric of the town – in buildings streets and public spaces. Shroggs Park, was the work of Colonel Edward Ackroyd: built on a piece of waste ground overlooking the Wheatley Valley in 1872. Ackroyd was a fascinating character and his contribution to the area was considerable – note to whoever may be listening: if you want a good follow-up to Gentleman Jack, you could do worse than make a TV series about Edward Ackroyd – and Shroggs Park is one of many of his legacies that has lasted well into the twenty-first century.
Nobody seems to be quite sure of the origins – or indeed the eventual fate – of the cannons that appear in this 1910 photograph, but from the way they have been stationed, the town is well protected from invaders from both east and west.
The card was posted in June 1910 to a Miss Cissie Servant in Jordanhill, Glasgow, and reads as follows:-
My Dear Cissie, I am having a delightful time of it, and getting good weather. Have been through the mill today. It was most interesting. Love to all, Jeannie. Leaving here Thursday
One can only assume that Jeannie had “been through the mill” in a literal sense rather than an idiomatic one. Could it, perhaps, have been one of the mills of Colonel Ackroyd?
This midget gem dropped through my letter box yesterday, along with a dozen or so more old vintage postcards (is there a word for people who are addicted to buying useless ephemera on eBay?) I have never come across a “Midget Post Card” before, but they appear to have been popular for a short period during the height of the postcard craze of the early twentieth century, They weigh-in (so to speak) at a featherweight three and a half inch by two and three quarters, and the reverse side already appears overcrowded once a stamp and an address have been added.
There is, however, something about the shape which is quite satisfying – especially when it provides a frame for one of the great beauties of the Edwardian era, Lily Brayton. Lily was born in Lancashire in 1876, the daughter of a local doctor. Acting must have been in the family somewhere, because both her and her sister went on this stage, and in 1898 she married the Australian actor, director and writer, Oscar Asche. They became the celebrity couple of their era: if it had been a century later, Lily and Oscar would have TV programmes made about their lives and millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Because it was the start of the twentieth century, Lily had her image on hundreds of picture postcards.
This particular tiny postcard was sent to Mrs Hailes of the Royal Marine Barracks in Stonehouse, Plymouth in July 1904. The message is short and to the point (they had to be on midget postcards – a little like Twitter you were restricted in the number of characters you could use! “Train leaves Millbay at 2.20pm. We shall be delighted to have the children for the night, EH.”
You can make of that what you will. Alternatively, you can look into the eyes of the midget gem that is Lily Brayton.
This photograph comes from a collection of old photos bought as a job lot on eBay for less than the price of a pint. I am a great fan of the novel “Sweet Caress” by William Boyd, and as soon as I saw this photograph I thought of Amory Clay, the heroine of that fine book. Boyd himself is an enthusiastic collector of anonymous photographs and “Sweet Caress” is richly illustrated with them. If there is ever a second edition of the book, I will be happy to contribute this fine photograph.