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During a regular scanning session of my old negatives, I came across this 35mm negative from the late 1960s – and I suspected that it had been taken in Brighouse Canal Basin. In order to confirm my suspicions, I took a walk there this morning and took a series of shots of the canal basin fifty years on. Everything has changed but the basic shape and structure of the canal and locks. So much of what has happened over the last fifty years can be seen in the changes between these two photographs: the gas works and mill chimneys are gone, the pleasure craft moorings and waterside bar restaurants have arrived.
Whilst walking around the moorings I was reminded of an incident that occurred there some 55 years ago. My brother had a canal barge that was moored in the canal basin, and my father and I were visiting him one evening. His was the only boat in the basin – the scene was just as bleak and empty as in that old negative of mine. All of a sudden we heard an almighty splash, and as we emerged from his boat we saw a car slowly sinking below the dark waters of the canal. Assuming there must have been a driver in the car, my brother was on the point of diving into the water to see if he could rescue anyone, when my father – a Yorkshireman of the old school – warned him that by doing so he would ruin a perfectly good pair of trousers! Our debate was curtailed by the sight of the driver emerging from below the surface of the water, and we managed to drag him out of the canal from the comparative safety of the towpath, without risking our health and our trousers.
The water is much cleaner these days and there wasn’t a sinking car nor a suicidal driver to be seen.
This is a scan of an old negative of mine which gives rise to a couple of questions. I am not sure about the date – there is a train in the image, but trains change so slowly in these parts, it could be anytime during the last sixty years. You can make out the old Riding Hall Carpet Mill in the background, and that, I think, was demolished sometime around 1980. The other question relates to the two main buildings you can see in the picture: both at the time were factories for John Mackintosh & Sons. One was called Bailey Hall and the other was Albion Mills, but I can’t remember which was which. If my brother is reading this far away on his sunny Caribbean island, he might be able to tell me, as he worked there fifty or more years ago.
The delightful thing about Sepia Saturday prompts is that they spark visual links that defy language. I cannot really explain in words why this weeks prompt image sent me off in search of a particular photograph of my mother, Gladys Burnett, but it did. It may be something about the shape of the lips, quite possibly it is the chin: but with images, explanations are unnecessary. Quite literally, you can see what I mean.
In fact, it is not a photograph in its own right but a detail from a larger photograph that features Gladys Beanland (as she then was) and her older sister Amy. Gladys was born in 1911 and I suspect that she was about eight or nine when this photograph was taken, which dates it as about 1919 or 1920.
Can I see my mother – the Gladys of some thirty years later – in this photograph? It’s difficult to say. It’s not the face, certainly it isn’t the hair. But there may be something about the shape of the lips and the chin. I can see what I mean.
This rather stern looking lady was captured by the Heckmondwike studio of John S Shaw. John Shaw was born near Halifax in 1815, and for most of his working life was a farmer in Staffordshire. Only when he was in his sixties to he return to his native West Yorkshire to climb aboard the commercial band-wagon which was studio photography. The last two decades of the nineteenth century was the great age of the popular studio portrait. Production techniques meant that studio portraits were no longer the preserve of the wealthy, and the new age of home photography had not yet arrived. Every town and village needed its photographic studio, and a wide range of men – and a few notable women – were attracted into the profession. They were the computer repair shops, mobile phone case sellers, and Turkish barbers of their day. Unlike all such recent trends, however, they left a lasting legacy which still can be appreciated over one hundred years later.