Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week could be made to measure for the two photos I am going to share. Although I chose the theme image, its connection to two old photographs I took some 52 years ago didn’t occur to me until the other day when I was trawling through my collection of old colour slides looking for an image to post. The theme image comes from the Flickr Commons collection of the Belgian organisation Liberas, which is devoted to preserving and managing the heritage of liberal organisations in that country. The actual image features a canal barge in the Belgian town of Ghent in 1897.
Jump forward 71 years and move north-east by fifty kilometres and you will get to Bruges in the summer of 1968. My photograph features my niece, Diana, two of my friends, Dave Hebblethwaite and Darrel Oldfield, on my brothers barge, Brookfoot, which was moored on a canal in the beautiful city of Bruges. If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1968 was the famous Summer of Discontent, People throughout Europe were protesting on the streets and calling for a new solidarity between workers and students, friendship between all European people, and the creation of a new society. Darrel, Dave and myself had left our native West Yorkshire, and, carrying a banner proclaiming that “Workers Unity Wins”, we had started hitchhiking around Europe, seeing the sites, meeting up with other groups of students, and luxuriating in our youthful freedom.
My brother, his wife and daughter, were on a different European mission. They had recently sailed their flat-bottomed Yorkshire barge across the English Channel, and had embarked on a tour of the canal system of Northern Europe. Our paths crossed in Bruges, and we stayed on the barge for a couple of nights. Following the meeting which is preserved in these two old photographs, Darrel, Dave and myself continued our journey around Belgium and Holland and then returned home to go our separate ways to University, and to whatever life had in store for us. My brother and his family continued sailing through the canals of Europe and then swapped canal boats for sailing boats and headed for the Caribbean. We are all still waiting a new society, and – on this day when the UK officially leaves the European Union – I fear that it might be further away than ever.
There is something very appealing about this old photograph which must date from the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. It is the look, which is pitched somewhere between haughty and flirtatious. There is a dedication in the bottom corner, but all that remains legible is the word “love”. The photograph comes from the Bingley studio of the photographer George Tillett.
LINDLEY CLOCK TOWER, HUDDERSFIELD : An inscription above the door reads “erected by James Nield Sykes Esq JP of Field Head, Lindley, for the benefit of the inhabitants of his village” It was built in 1902, and, at the time, the word was that it was erected to make sure the villagers arrived on time at Sykes’ nearby Acre Mills.
The Brighouse News of Saturday 2 July 1870 contains a lengthy report of the meeting of the Brighouse Local Board. Local Boards were the precursors to Urban District Councils, and were charged with supervising the provision of such services as water supply, drainage, sewers and gas lighting. Their remit was particularly concerned with public health: they had been established in an attempt to counter the growing threat from disease in the rapidly expanding urban areas of the country.
The June meeting of the Brighouse Local Board seems to have been a fairly dull affair: various sub-committees had been established; there were lengthy debates about people getting access to water stop taps who shouldn’t have access to them; the case of how much to charge someone who wanted water for his garden but not his house was debated at length; and complaints about water being supplied to Clifton without the express permission – and payment to – the Halifax Waterworks Committee were heard. The Local Board then met with a deputation from the Brighouse Temperance Society, and there was a lively debate about the evils of public houses and the dangers of drink being available to the working classes. The meeting didn’t end until a report from the Cemetery Committee had been heard, by which time most members of the Board and the officials attending the meeting were probably in great need of refreshments of one kind or another.
Directly under this report of the Board meeting there is a short item of correspondence which reads as follows:-
BRIGHOUSE LOCAL BOARD To the Editor of the Brighouse News SIR, Amid the innumerable demands for money for all sorts of things, can you spare me a corner in which to plead for funds for so small an object as paying the members of your Local Board by day; as I am sure the little business they have to do (if worth doing at all) will be better done in business hours, than at midnight, and the change would not only benefit them, but would give the reporters an opportunity of going home by DAYLIGHT
You have to admire the reporters who managed to sneak this item into the columns of the paper. Who says the Victorians didn’t have a sense of humour!
An advert in an old newspaper advertises sewing machines, and lists the machines available. It is 1870 and the machine age is beginning to make the transition from factory to home. The machines are ornate and their names are as cursively evocative as their shapes. You can choose between a Tudor and a Little American, a Princess and a Paragon. You can cast your eye over a Tom Hood or a Queen Mabb, or be tempted by a Cleopatra. You might want to take a chance with a Seamstress or blow your savings on a Wanzer. The present-day world of iPhone 11’s, Galaxy S10’s and Huawei Y6’s somehow just does not compare.
In 1966 I took a walk around Godley Road and Beacon Hill in Halifax, taking photographs looking down on the town from the hillside. Halifax was already in transition – the mills were falling and the tower blocks rising – and the new Burdock Way would shortly cut through this part of town.
This little faded photograph worked its way to the top of my “To Scan” pile. The couple sitting on the left are instantly recognisable – my uncle and aunt, Harry and Annie Moore. The photo appears to have been taken in one of those British seaside spa resorts that were fashionable in the 1930s, with their mock Greek columns and potted palms. Over the years, it has faded into those warm brown sepia tones that radiate photographic antiquity. The crimping to the edges of the photo are another sure sign of the times: an era when photographs were intended to be stuck in albums for posterity.
A better camera and a more seasoned photographer might have cropped the shot and concentrated on the two smiling holiday couples. Whilst they are interesting in themselves – their contrived happiness, their relaxed style – it is the extraneous detail that is fascinating. One is tempted to follow the couples walking along the promenade towards the sepia sea.
These are four photographs I took in Halifax in the late 1960s. I remember the day well: I was walking up towards the library at Belle Vue when I came across a fire in one of the mills towards the bottom of Pellon Lane. I have published individual shots from this sequence before, but here – for the first time – are all four shots.