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.
Not many people have a picture of their mother dressed as a bathroom! All I know about this delightful photograph is that it was taken in 1928 when my mother, Gladys, was just seventeen years old. I recall her telling me that the occasion was a fancy dress competition and the design of this rather unique costume was all her own idea. Whether she won the competition or not, I have no idea: it doesn’t matter. The photograph is a prize in itself.
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.
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.
These two photographs are central to the story of my family because they feature my paternal grandfather, Enoch Burnett. Enoch died a few months after I was born in 1948, and therefore I never knew him, other than by the store of stories and anecdotes that have flowed down the family tree like some rich and thick syrup.
Born in Bradford in 1878, Enoch was the third of five children of John Burnett, a weaving overlooker in the Bradford woollen mills, and his wife Phoebe. Whilst the daughters, Ruth-Annie and Miriam, followed their father into the mills, the three sons seem to have had a different life journey planned for them. Israel, the eldest son, became an apprentice butcher and later owned a butchers shop in Bradford. The youngest son, Albert, became a carriage builder and involved in the early years of the motor trade. Enoch seemed to take a different path, one less planned, one less certain. The family story suggests that when he was in his early teens he ran away from home and joined a travelling fair. By the latter half of 1898, we know he is back in Bradford and working as a general labourer, and about to marry the local girl he has got pregnant, Harriet Ellen Maxfield. His first child, John Arthur, was born six months later.
According to the 1901 census he was recorded as a “mason’s labourer”, but with a growing family – his daughters Miriam and Annie-Elizabeth were born in 1901 and 1903 – he decided to branch out into business on his own account as a window cleaning contractor. For this he had a donkey and cart, and I am delighted that I have not one, but two, photographs from this period in his life where he poses proudly next to his donkey.
I think the first of the two photographs is the earlier one, and whilst the donkey is probably the same, the cart is more basic and without the extra bit of sign writing that provides an address – 50 Town End Great Horton, Bradford. According to the 1911 census he was then living at 28 Town End, so this first photograph probably dates from some time between 1906 (when the sign on the later cart claims the business was established) and 1917, when we know for certain that he had moved to 50 Town End.
The additional sign writing on the cart in the second photograph was probably added at the time he changed his address, and therefore this second photograph probably dates from just before or during the first part of the Great War. I have pictures of him taken in 1918 when he was on leave from the trenches of Flanders, and by then he had physically aged. These two photographs represent a golden period in Enoch’s life, when he ran his own business and tried to keep the local windows free from the soot and grime of industrial Bradford.
This is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. It is my attempt to match this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt image – which is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. The prompt photograph dates from the early years of the twentieth century, and my little photograph is of a similar vintage. We know that the prompt image was taken somewhere in Mexico, and with a similar degree of certainty, we know my photograph was taken in Yorkshire.
I am not sure exactly who the girl in my photograph is, but if it was possible to extract DNA from a photograph, I would think there is a good chance you could match it with mine. It is a tiny photograph – about one inch square – that was stuck in the back of the postcard album kept by my mother’s uncle, Fowler Beanland. It might be my mother or her sister Amy, or it might be an earlier generation of Beanland girls. When I ask my Lightroom facial recognition for suggestions, it suggests my niece, which is obviously inaccurate in terms of date, but accurate in terms of DNA.
Whoever it turns out to be, it is a charming little photo and a rather good Sepia Saturday match.
This tiny photograph was pasted onto the back page of the postcard album of my mother’s uncle, Fowler Beanland. It was only when the print was scanned and cleaned up that I begun to fully appreciate it for the charming portrait that it was: a picture of a little girl with an awfully big hat. Given that it had pride of place in Fowler’s album, the chances were that it was a family member – but which one? Fowler never married and had no children of his own, but there were a good many nieces who could potentially fit the bill. I have never been very good with faces, but even to me there seemed something vaguely familiar about that slightly quizzical look.
Luckily, these days, most photographic programmes come with some form of facial recognition software, and therefore I was able to submit the girl with the awfully big hat to Adobe Lightroom for a considered judgement, and Lightroom quickly came up with a very definite suggestion. The young girl is Amy Beanland, my mother’s sister, and favourite niece of Fowler Beanland.
Amy was very much a woman of the twentieth century. She was born in Keighley in 1904 – which means this photograph must have been taken in about 1909 – and eventually died in 2001 in Scarborough. Between these two dates she managed three husbands and a lifetime of experience. The girl with an awfully big hat had an awfully full life.