The Bikers In Colour

For the last decade or so, I have been producing a family calendar which gets distributed to various relatives for Christmas each year. Over the years I have worked my way through many of the old photographs that chart the history of the Beanland, Berry, Burnett and Usher families. For next year, I have decided to revisit some of the best of those photographs but, with the aid of AI smart programmes, to give them a more colourful presentation. The first of the bunch is this photograph from the 1930s of four bikers taking a break during a road trip. The couple of the left are my mother and father, and the man in the middle is Charlie Pitts, a close friend of the family. I am not sure who the man on the right is.

A Bridge Between Then And Now

Waterloo Bridge, 1970

For well over a decade, Sepia Saturday has been a place where lovers of old photographs can share their images. For the last six months, the theme images have been taken from an alphabetical sampling of on-line photographic archives. The image provides some people with a prompt or theme to match with old photographs from their own collections. For others it is simply a way to mark the weeks, leaving them free to feature any old photograph they want to. The last of the alphabetical archive images comes from the National Library of New Zealand, and it features an image of a bridge. Bridges join places together, just as old photographs join times together, allowing memories free access to the mind.

My photograph was taken in 1970 and features myself, my then girlfriend and for the last 48 years my wife, Isobel, and a third person whose name I cannot recall. That third person was a friend of a friend, and that friend, Mike, was taking the photograph. Mike and I had just spent a year together at Fircroft College in Birmingham, and we had met up in London where he was then studying. Isobel was also at University in London, and I had come down for the weekend to stay with her. It was a perfect opportunity to meet up with Mike, who brought along to the meeting a friend of his from his home country of Singapore. We met up, we walked around a little, no doubt we had a drink together, and we stopped for our photographs taking on Waterloo Bridge. A moment in time brought four people together, a photographic image captures three of them for posterity. I don’t think I ever saw Mike again, nor his friend, but the memory of that meeting on the bridge lingers on. That’s what photographs do – they provide a bridge between then and now.


Albert And The Machine

This is one of my favourite photographs from the family archives – or rather the box of old photographs that has been given that somewhat grandiose title. It features my father, Albert, and a group of other mechanics, gathered around a machine that looks like a prop from a 1950s low-budget science fiction film.  I think the photograph must have been taken in the early to mid 1950s – when my father would have been in his forties – and if that is the case, it will have been taken at Mackintosh’s factory in Halifax. The machine will have had some part to play in either making or wrapping chocolates and toffees – part of the famous Quality Street range. My father was a mechanic at Macks from the early 1950s until he retired over twenty years later.

Irrespective of the personal connection it has for me, the photograph is an important social document in its own right. You could quite happily construct a two-hour lecture on social and industrial history around it. The machine itself, with its dials and levers, tells of an age of cogs, gears and wheels: an age before computers and microelectronics. The gathering of workers seems to tell of a time when the connection between workers, machines and products was closer than it is today. The seeds of future change may, however, be visible in this seventy year old photograph: these people, these overalled mechanical midwives, are celebrating the birth of a robot.

Forget the lecture, it’s just another of my pointless flights of fancy. Look at the photograph, it says it all.

Dog-Eared Days

Like memories, old photographs age. They physically fade, get scratched, bent, dog-eared: they interact with life. So when we look back at old photographs we see blurred memories of dog-eared days. Was my fathers’ hair ever that long, was my brother ever that young?

But what of the digital generations; those reared on pixel counts and jpegs? For them images will always be crisp and clear – historical documents rather than faded memories. Certainty will replace possibility, and that’s not always a good thing.

Family 1 : Miriam In London

It’s a far from perfect photograph: the composition is unconventional, the focus is unsteady and my Uncle Frank’s finger seems to have obliterated the bottom corner of the shot: but still it is one of my favourite family photographs. Frank Fieldhouse took the photograph whilst on a trip to London with his wife-to-be Miriam Burnett in August 1938. He captures Miriam and even gets in some of the famous horses trotting up Rotten Row alongside Hyde Park. He gets so much more however: he captures history, mood, emotions. It is a great photograph for Lockdown (what on earth would the people captured in this image make of the concept of Lockdown eighty years into their future?) because you can spend days discovering new pictures hidden amongst the old. Here are just a couple:-

Six Tented Heads

Six Tented Heads : Bradford c1928

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!

The Burnett Family

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.

Memories Within Cardboard Confines

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.