Author Archives: Alan Burnett

When The Song Thrush Sang

My calendar image today features a view of Throstle Nest Farm in Shepherd’s Thorn Lane, Rastrick, which is only a few minutes walk away from where I live. The farm is long gone, all that remains is part of a vaulted cellar, and therefore this chance to see it as it would have been 100 years ago is a welcome one. The image comes from an old vintage postcard I recently acquired. There is a message on the back, but it has faded into mysterious obscurity.

As I look out of my window, the ground is thick with snow, therefore there will be no walk down Shepherd’s Thorn Lane today. I will content myself with looking at the scene as it was over a century ago, on a sunny summer’s day, when the song thrushes were still singing.

The Arts Tower Is Long, Life Is Short

My calendar today shows a scene I am very familiar with as it was taken from the front window of the house I lived in forty years ago. Some of the Photoshopping may be new, but the photograph, the moodiness, the compelling shapeliness of the scene, all date back to my time living in Oxford Street, Sheffield. The magnificent building is the Grade II listed University of Sheffield Arts Tower (1965) which used to dominate the view from the small terraced house where we lived. Some times the sun would reflect off its glass panels, sometimes it would fade into the Sheffield mist; always it was there. I sometimes imagined the great Gods of the Arts, residing in the upper floors, like some twentieth century equivalent of Mount Olympus. My life has moved on over the last forty years, but the Arts Tower remains. The inevitable little aches and pains that are such a part of one’s seventies, serve only to remind me of the carved aphorism on the wall of the Medical School which was just behind the Arts Tower, “Ars longa, vita brevis

On Discovering Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman In My Freezer

I found Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the bottom of my chest freezer the other day. Not, I hasten to add, the late and somewhat lamented Liberal Prime Minister (1836-1908), but the frozen carton of pie and peas named after him. Now who, in their right mind, would name a dish of pie and peas after a somewhat obscure nineteenth and early twentieth century Prime Minister, I can hear you ask? The answer is, of course, me and my friend (and in-law), Ian. Some time ago, back in the good old days when pubs were still open, we would frequent a pub quiz, where, along with fifty questions, you were given a free dish of pie and peas. Not wanting to interrupt an evenings’ drinking with unnecessary eating these would occasionally be taken home to be consumed later and, in some cases, were consigned to the deep freeze. I cannot remember exactly which one of us started the habit of naming these dishes after former Prime Ministers, but it is a habit that stuck, and at one time or another, the likes of David Lloyd-George and the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham could be found in freezers around Huddersfield.

By chance, I acquired a rather nice vintage postcard featuring Sir Henry, a couple of weeks ago. It dates from 1905, a time when Sir Henry – known to one and all simply as CB – was in power. His pie and peas were, sadly, well beyond their consume-by date and had to be disposed of. However, to make up for it, CB can share my desktop today.

A Waste Of Time

Throughout my life I have experimented with psychogeography (the non-structured exploration of urban environments by chance). As a child, some 65 years ago, my father and I would often go to Halifax Bus Station and catch the first bus that was leaving to “see where it took us”. Ten or more years ago, I embarked on an exploration of West Yorkshire by visiting 500 metre squares chosen by a random number generator. Such exercises in psychogeography are activities for sunnier months – and months when we are not locked down at home. In winter months, therefore, I restrict myself to psychogeography’s first cousin – psychohistory. And by that I mean, the random exploration of history, driven by chance and a delightful lack of purpose. So let us jump on any old newspaper and see where it takes us.

For my exercise today I have not used a random number generator, but simply gone back 100 years to the 11 January 1921. My newspaper of choice is the Daily Mirror, for no other reason than it had an attractive front page, which is useful if I have to live with it on my desktop for the rest of the day. And, as expected, my pointless exploration of the byways of history had fascinating results.

100 years ago today, the Hereford by-election took place and the front page of the Daily Mirror (then a ultra-conservative, right-wing paper controlled by the Harmsworth family) was full of photographs of their favoured candidate in the election, Alderman Ernest Langford. “Alderman Langford, a local man, liked by all who know him, smiles in anticipation of victory” runs one of the captions. Langford was the anti-waste candidate, and the Mirror was a big supporter of the Anti-Waste League (a political party established in 1921), indeed the Mirror owners’ son was the leader of the party. 

You can forget your twenty-first century interpretation of the name of the campaign – this had nothing to do with pollution and the environment. The “waste” they were against was the waste of public expenditure on such things as benefits for the poor, house-building or any kind of state social provision. They wanted a small state and an even smaller rate of income tax. Given their media backers, they were remarkably successful, and soon had the ruling Conservative party fearing an electoral rout: so it quickly took the policies of the League on board and began to push, what we would now call “austerity” in a bid way. They appointed a commission under Sir Eric Geddes to look into public expenditure, and the Committee eventually recommended sweeping cuts in spending on education, health, housing and pensions – the so-called “Geddes Axe”.  Most people now agree that the impact of this was to seriously exacerbate the economic crisis that dominated the 1920s and 1930s.

Who says you can’t learn anything from history!

AI Over Halifax

Artificial Intelligence (AI) colouring programmes are all the rage at the moment, and can be quite successful when it comes to adding yellow sands and blue skies to an old snap of Blackpool, or even a bit of colour to the cheeks of your Great Aunt Maude. The real test, however, is asking the AI wizard to colourise something a little more gritty, and a little less likely to feature in the coded algorithms of blue dresses and green leaves. As a test – and for want of something better to do whilst being half bored to death by a tedious goal-less FA Cup tie on the telly – I subjected one of my old photographs of Dean Clough to Deep Blue and his/her mates. The result is some mucky looking steam, enough browns to kit out a small army, and a few greys with smiley faces. On the whole, not bad!  (Update: there were two goals in the last five minutes of extra time).

Time For A Tin Bath

Sepia Saturday was established over eleven years ago, during the golden age of blogging, as a weekly exchange of blog posts based on, and around, old photographs. During the Great Days of Blogging it would attract up to one hundred contributions each week, but now it is the home of a small band of regular posters, who still enjoy the opportunity to share old images. Whilst our fascination for old photographs has not waned – look at the popularity of photo-sharing groups on platforms such as Facebook – our willingness to spend that little longer creating and responding in this cut-and-past era, may have. I recently asked the few remaining Sepia diehards whether it was time to roll up the shutters and consign our sepia contributions to the digital equivalent of an old tea chest; but I am pleased to say that they all thought that we should carry on. And so we do. 

This week the Sepia theme image celebrates the letter T and an old tram has been chosen as a theme image. Nevertheless, I am giving the tram a miss, and rather spotlighting two other t’s : time and a tin bath. The photograph of a child being washed in a tin bath in front of an old kitchen range seems to belong to another era: but is part of my own contemporary history. The woman is my mother, Gladys, and the child is my brother Roger, and the photograph must have been taken in either 1943 or 1944. In some ways the image – and the way of life it represents – seems ancient; and yet it spans less than one generation. That small child in the tin bath, will be looking at this photograph later today from the warm seclusion of his Caribbean island home. That’s a long way to travel in a tin bath.

Watchman, What Of The Night?

In the main, I try to steer clear of politics in my posts; not because politics isn’t important (it is, vitally important), and not because I don’t have political views (I do, very definite ones), but I believe that the problems facing us as a society today are not so simple that they can be solved in a cut-and-pasted tweet or Facebook post. The politics of the populist rant are causing enough problems these days (good morning, America, how are you this morning!). Nevertheless, I could not resist making my calendar post for today this vintage postcard from 1910. Interpret it as you will: better still get together with whoever is in your social bubble and discuss it calmly and logically. That seems to be what’s needed.

Fooling Around In Keighley

My love of old vintage picture postcards goes back to my childhood when I would accompany my mother on occasional visits to her uncle, who lived in Keighley, the town of her birth. Fowler Beanland, who was always known in the family – without any trace of sarcasm – as “Uncle Fooler”, lived in what was at the time, a smart terraced house a few minutes walk from the town centre. I would look forward to such visits because the preferred way of keeping me quiet whilst the grown-ups discussed family matters, was to let me look through Fowler’s album of old postcards. He had collected these postcards during the great postcard-collecting craze of the first decade of the twentieth century. When I used to look at the album, when I was a child of six or seven, they would appeal to me because of their colour and their depiction of exotic locations such as Rochdale, Carlisle and Blackpool. Later, when I inherited the album, they would appeal to both my love of old photographs and my fascination for family history. I still have the collection intact, and I look forward to passing it on to my grandchildren. My desktop calendar image today features just one of these postcards, a view of North Street in Keighley in the early 1900s.

Somebody’s Short Of A Happy New Year

I am a man of simple tastes. As far as food is concerned, all I ask for is a fried egg and a plate of chips. In the drinks department, you can cast me adrift with a crate of pale ale and a bottle or two of single malt whisky, and I would complain to nobody. My friends and relatives are aware of my uncomplicated requirements, and for Christmas I managed to acquire three bottles of malt, two crates of beer and a 10kg bag of Maris Pipers. Only yesterday, I finished the first crate of beer and went in search of the second; only to find it contentedly waiting for me under the Christmas Tree. I shouldn’t have worried, except earlier in the day I had been reading a copy of the Halifax Courier from January 1922 (papers are so boring these days, full of the same old stuff), and found an advert for Whitakers Brewery – one of the holy Trinity of former Halifax breweries. In the advert, Doc Shire comes across a crate of beer that has evidently fallen off the back of a wagon, and declared: “There’s somebody short of a Happy New Year“. I was so pleased that somebody wasn’t me, I adopted the advert as my daily calendar image – and even added a touch of colour for good measure.

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