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A Bath, Some Militia, And An Ode To Japan Blacking

As we enter the year 2020, everything in the news is far too depressing to dwell upon. I am therefore taking refuge in the news of the past – if for no other reason, than to confirm that things were just as depressing in the past.

Today I am returning 200 years to the 3 January 1820, and my newspaper of choice is the splendidly named Leeds Intelligencer And Yorkshire General Advertiser.

Let us start with a look at education (for the privileged classes) two hundred years ago; and an announcement from Mrs Wilks of Parsonage House, Thornhill, near Wakefield. Mrs Wilks “takes a limited number of young ladies into her house for the purpose of instruction”. Yorkshire parents will have been pleased to learn that they “may rely on every attention being paid to (their daughters) health, morals and general improvement”. The pricing structure looks a little complicated – there appears to be a flat rate for accommodation, extra for tuition, not to mention an additional fifteen shillings a quarter for washing (although whether that is for the child or their clothes isn’t stated). The most delightful sentence in the entire announcement is undoubtedly the penultimate one: – “The Young Ladies are accommodated with Cold and Warm Baths”!

Page two contains a piece that possibly deserves a three-year PhD thesis. It is a public announcement from the officers of the Halifax Regiment of the Local Militia which regrets that the Commanding Officer of Regiment has resigned his commission at a time when “sedition and disloyalty are so notoriously abroad”. Context is everything in understanding this somewhat strange announcement by the Halifax militia officers: the battle of Waterloo was less than five years in the past, and the massacre at Peterloo took place only the previous August. The officers proclaim in their statement that “until it is formally intimated to us, that our services, as a body, are no longer needed, we shall be found at our post, ready for such service, as we may consistently be called upon to perform”. Before we all give the Halifax officers a resounding cheer, it must be remembered that the perceived enemy at the gates was not a foreign army, but the impoverished and disenfranchised English working man and woman.

Let us finish on a more light-hearted note, with an advertisement from Richard Turner, the manufacturer of “Real Japan Blacking”. Japan blacking was a varnish used to coat iron and steel and was very popular in the early nineteenth century. At a time of the year when we have all had a surfeit of mindless television commercial jingles, it is worth remember that the genre is not all that new. All together now ….

“Turner, it is to thee we oweThis all resplendent beauteous glow”

On Two Wheels Through The Thirties

My parents, Albert and Gladys Burnett, spent much of the 1930s on two wheels. They started on a tandem, and then at some point they progressed to a motorbike. At times they flirted with three wheels, but such experiments were short-lived. Once, my father bought a Morgan Super Sports three wheeled car – it had the look of the progeny of a drunken mismatch between a sports car and a motor cycle – but had to sell it after a couple of days when the back wheel got caught in a tram line in Bull Green, Halifax. Following this incident, my mother refused to get into the vehicle ever again, and it was returned to the dealers. Decades later, Albert’s face would still cloud over whenever we drove around Bull Green roundabout, the site of the death of a young man’s dreams. When he was in his seventies, I bought him a plastic model of a Morgan Super Sports – by then they had gained quite a classic car cult status – and he displayed it proudly on the sideboard, close to the re-corked bottle of QC Sherry, next to the tasteful china desk lamp in the shape of a semi-naked native beauty.

The point when they switched from muscle-power to petrol power, can be best identified by their clothing. Their cycling outfits were quite distinctive and featured matching jackets, shorts and rather fetching cloth hats. Such outfits, no doubt, provided them with the physical freedom to peddle their way up some of the more challenging climbs of the Yorkshire Dales. Although Gladys looks energetically engaged in providing the necessary motive power for their tandem, in some of the photographs that remain from this period, photographs can, perhaps, be deceptive. My father would always claim that she would sit at the back of the tandem with her feet off the peddles and let him do all the necessary work. Indeed, on one occasion, at some traffic lights on the Harrogate Road, she dismounted to look in a shop window whilst the lights were at red. My father didn’t notice her absence, and when the lights changed, he set off and peddled on for a further mile before realising that she was missing. He returned to the traffic lights to find my abandoned mother in tears by the side of the road.

They must have made the change from tandem to motorbike at about the time they got married – in 1936. Sat astride a powerful motor bike – in my fathers’ case, in this photograph, a Royal Enfield – necessitated clothing of a more protective nature. The colourful linen of the early part of the decade gave way to darkened leather, and the lone excursions of the courting couple were replaced by group adventures to more distant places. And to the sound of a high-powered two stroke engine, they motored on towards the nineteen forties.

Birthday Greetings From Shrogg's Park

What better way to end the year than with this fine old picture postcard of Shrogg’s Park in Halifax. I had assumed that the two prominent spires in the background were the Town Hall and Square Church, but now I am not too sure.

In order to confirm the identity of the spires, I took a walk the other day through Shroggs Park and tried to discover the location of the original photograph, and, more importantly, the line of sight. The layout of the park has changed and the circular pond appears to have long gone, and, as always, the trees now crowd-out the scene. The best I could come up with was the photograph below, but the Town Hall and Square Church are not at all visible; although you can just make out the spire of All Soul’s Church on the horizon. That would be a more appropriate landmark, as both the park and All Soul’s Church were built by Colonel Edward Ackroyd.

My postcard was sent in 1904, back in the days when addresses were short and to the point. It is from Addie to Mary Drake, and is an early twentieth century equivalent to those Facebook messages you get every time it is someone’s birthday.

“Dear Mary, Wishing you many happy returns of the day, if not too late, with love to all, Addie”

One is forced to ask: “How many Facebook birthday greetings will be remembered, recorded and reprinted 115 years after the were sent?”

Christmas Greetings To All

For my News From Nowhere Christmas Card this year, I have chosen a vintage postcard of a snow-covered Halifax Parish Church, which forms part of my Postcards From Homeseries. I am having some difficulty in pinning down the precise date of the photograph – the postcard had not been used, which removes one means of dating it – but from the style of the card, I would guess sometime in the 1920s or 1930s.

Work on the Church of St John The Baptist in Halifax was started as early as the 12th century and largely completed by 1438. In 2009 it was made one of the three Minster Churches of West Yorkshire (the others being Dewsbury and Leeds).

At some stage, somebody made the brave decision not to clean up the stone work on the church; and so, even today, in a very physical way, the church tells the story of the hard work and industry that has always been a part of life in the parish.

All that remains is for me to wish everyone a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.

Letters Patent For Artistic Improvement

According to the scrawled date on the reverse of this Victorian Cabinet Card, it was taken somewhere around the 11th November 1889. The clothing and the photographic style fits well with this date, and we know that the studio – Brown, Barnes & Bell of Liverpool and London – were active at the time.

The reverse of the card has all the usual flourish of Victorian studio portraits, including an intriguing claim that the studio possessed “Letters patent for artistic improvements”

If only Mssrs Brown, Barnes or Bell had been lucky enough to be around 130 years later, they would have been able to take advantage of the multitude of mobile apps that can perform endless degrees of artistic improvement in this day and age. I conducted a small experiment on their behalf, which, I hope, the original sitter would have been pleased with. Let’s say it is the first portrait from the studio of Brown, Barnes, Bell & Burnett.

Letters From Almondbury

For years I have been fascinated by the decorative tiles in the entrance hall to Wesley Hall in Almondbury, near Huddersfield. They were, no doubt, a memorial to the founders of the church – now they are also a memorial to decorative style.

When, a few years ago, I first visited the Parish Hall at Almondbury Methodist Church near Huddersfield, I became captivated by the display on monographed tiles in the entrance hall. Each time I go – usually for their cricket club Christmas Fair and Coffee Morning, I fall in love with them again. Instead of trawling the stalls for Christmas baubles and cake, I can be happily found in the entrance hall, trying once again to capture the magnificence of these old tiles that must have been memorials to early sponsors of the church. Here is a sample of my efforts this year.

Stories To Tell From India

This old picture is not exactly from nowhere, but from an album of photographs taken in India in the 1930s. What stories could be told by these nine men?

The album belonged to my wife’s Uncle Jim, who served in the British Army in India in the 1930s. As far as I can make out, however, Jim was not one of the nine men featured in the photograph. I am not sure when the photograph was taken, nor can I explain why at least two of the company look decidedly worse for wear. At their best, photographs can be objects in themselves, without the need for a backstory or a list of dramatic personae. This, I like to think, is one such photograph.

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