Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a man stood outside a tent. My contribution is six men inside a tent – and to add to the numerical complexity of the situation, the tent is tent number four. The one man in the theme image was, it appears, Lewis Payne Powell, an American Confederate soldier who was part of the plot to assassinate not just President Lincoln, but also the Vice President and the Secretary of State as well. The six in my photograph have, I hope, a far less notorious pedigree.
My photograph comes from a box of unsorted family photographs and must date from the late 1920s or early 1930s. It certainly appears that the third head down in this collection of tented heads, has a strong resemblance to my father, Albert, and, as he would have been in his late teens at the time, the dates seem to fit. The confusing element is the naval cap he appears to be wearing: his only military service was in the Home Guard much later during World War II. My best guess that it was some kind of Boys’ Brigade or Sea Cadet camp, and the tent was pitched on some spare ground far from the sea, somewhere around Bradford.
But who knows! Family histories are delightfully full of gaps and holes. Maybe my father was part of a conspiracy to kidnap Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister at the time. Who knows!
This is the only photograph I have of my grandparents and their four children. It must have been taken in 1917, when my father, Albert (in the sailor suit), was just six years old. His elder brother, John, was behind him in the photograph, dressed in his uniform and about to leave for France. My grandmother, Harriet-Ellen, is seated and her daughters, Annie (left) and Miriam (right) are pictured with her. Mt grandfather, Enoch, was already serving in France when the picture was taken, so an earlier photograph was “burnt” onto the print by the photographer. His almost ghostly appearance did not presage his fate, however: both he and his son John, survived the war and returned to their home in Bradford. The original print is cracked and very fragile, so I have made a new, high-resolution, digital copy to preserve it for future generations.
Is it just age that makes you far more susceptible to time travel? Sometimes it can be a word like advocaat, sometimes a pattern like the geometric madness of 1960s wallpapers; most times it is an image.
These two photographs were taken at a Christmas Party at my parent’s house, sometime around 1965. They are full of memories, and by themselves could provide a rich itinerary for a week’s worth of time travel. The table with the Christmas drinks – it was always a bottle of advocaat, a small bottle of Babycham, and a bottle of sweet sherry. There may have been some port left over from a previous Christmas, but I can’t recall there ever having been beer, and wine was unheard of. There is that wallpaper which is guilty of assault and battery on the senses, and the posed expressions on the faces of my aunts and uncles. There was a dish of biscuits – maybe even a chocolate one – an artificial tree and a warm sausage roll or two. It was a moment or two in time, captured within the cardboard confines of a colour slide. Now it is a rich vein of memories.
When you add colour to an old photograph – or rather when some artificial intelligence source sat high in cyberspace adds colour to an old photograph – you tend to notice things more. This is an old photo of my mother and my grandfather which must date from either the 1930s or the 1940s – but which? The addition of colour makes her dress quite distinctive, and potentially more useful in dating the photograph. My wife – who knows about such things – tells me it is 1950s, but that can’t be the case, unless the same artificial intelligence has brought my grandfather back from the dead. Before seeing the colourised version of the photo, I had assumed that it was the early 1930s, but now I am beginning to think that was too early. The logical conclusion is the period around World War 2, but I tend to think of the clothing of that period as somewhat drab and uncolourful. Could the photographer – possibly my father – have captured a moment towards the end of the decade when the colours were about to go out all over Europe?
In the midst of busy family photographs, you sometimes find a special moment: a look, a touch, a smile that can scream down the generations and remind you that the great thing about common humanity is that it is common to all.
This photograph was taken shortly after my brother, Roger, was born in 1943. He was the first of a new generation in the family and his arrival provided an opportunity for all the grandparents and uncles and aunts to gather together. I won’t name them all, they are of limited interest to those outside the family,
Focus, however on the lady with her arm in a sling – it is my grandmother, Harriet-Ellen Burnett. And focus, in particular, on that look – a look almost dangerously overloaded with pride and hope. I know the look well – I saw my grandchildren this morning.
I am not sure which seaside this “seaside snap” from the 1930s was taken at. If it was any other member of my family I would say Bridlington, Scarborough , Blackpool, or – if they were being adventurous – Skegness. This, however, is Auntie Annie (left) and Uncle Harry (second from left), and they led a far more glamorous lifestyle. Harry had flirted with the performing arts, settled to become a clerical worker, and together with Annie, bought the first semi-detached house the family had ever seen, and spent their money on leather settees and decorative ornaments. This could well have been Bournemouth. Enough said!
This is a photograph from forty years ago of Cannon Mills in Great Horton, Bradford. It is a hundred yards away from where my father was born and grew up. It is a mile away from where I was born and spent the first four years of my life. And yet, I hardly know the area other than through street names that ring distant bells of memory, and the scent of heritage that clings to the flagstones. Like most people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit and revisit once this lockdown is over, and on that you will find your sunny Spain and your colourful Caribbean Islands. Such places have to fight for space, however, with the streets of the West Riding I proudly call my home.
I was sorting through some old family photographs yesterday, and I came across this somewhat sombre study of two, somewhat distant, relatives: Wilson and Clara Fieldhouse. They were the parents of my Uncle Frank and they lived their life in Bradford, Yorkshire. I never met them, and they may well have been perfectly charming people – although, it has to be said, that their son was somewhat strange – but I am not sure I would want to be at the wrong end of an argument with Clara. I decided that they could be made a little more presentable as the kind of relatives you want to show off to all your Facebook and Twitter friends, by the addition of a touch of colour, so I headed over to one of the sites that uses Artificial Intelligence to bring old photos back to life. Whilst the results improve matters a little, I still have to live with them at the end of my desk, looking at me all day. The alternative was to go one step further, and use the Artifial Intelligence to bring the faces back to life. I must confess, I tried it. The results were so frightening, I wouldn’t want to share it with others who might be of a nervous disposition.
My Grandfather and Great Uncle Fowler made these machines in Keighley. My mother and numerous aunties worked on these machines in Bradford. My Uncle Wilf sorted wool to be spun by them; my father shifted bobbins between them. My entire family history is constrained by their cast-iron frames.