My calendar today features two photographs of me from sixty-odd years ago, both of which celebrate those dreams of youth that somehow get lost in the process of living.
This first photograph was taken in the field just behind our house in Northowram. It was an empty field undergoing a lengthy transition between stone quarry and housing development. My youth occupied that window between the departure of the quarrymen and the arrival of the builders, and therefore the field was our playground, adventure park, campsite and racetrack. My brother and some of the other neighbourhood children had laid out a running track – marked with granite sets from the quarry – and we would run laps of the track in our own version of the Olympic Games. This photograph of me, must have been taken by my brother – probably around 1957.
My dreams of becoming a world famous athlete never came to fruition and were quickly replaced by my transition into an equally world famous racing car driver. Like most others of my generation I fell in love with the form and beauty of the E-Type Jaguar, and I dreamed of becoming rich and famous and driving such a car throughout the land. I never missed the opportunity to stand next to one and have my photograph taken. I never had the opportunity to sit inside one. But dreams are not just for youth – there is still perhaps time!
This photograph, which according to Uncle Frank’s detailed caption-writing was taken in Douglas in the Isle of Man in the summer of 1947, features my Auntie Miriam in front of the Packet Steamer, Manx Maid. With suitable apologies to my late Aunt, I have to say that the ship is the star of the photograph, for this somewhat prosaic little ferry boat had a rich and heroic history.
She was built in the Camel Laird shipyards of Birkenhead ion 1910 (and let me repeat once again, I am referring to the ship not my Auntie Miriam) and went into service later that year as a Channel Island ferryboat with the London and Southwestern Railway Company. At the time she was called The Caesarea and she ferried passengers between Southampton and the Channel Islands until July 1923, when, in a thick fog, she struck a rock off the coast of Jersey and began to sink. Somehow she made it back to the harbour at St Helier and all her passengers and crew were evacuated before the ship foundered inside the harbour. She was successfully refloated two weeks later on the Spring tide and towed away for repairs.
Having somewhat blotted her copy book, she was sold to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company for £9,000, repaired, refitted, and renamed, The Manx Maid. She worked on the Isle of Man route throughout the twenties and thirties before being requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1939 for war service. She was undergoing repairs during the evacuation at Dunkirk, but saw active service later in 1940 when she successfully evacuated 3.000 troops from the French port of Brest. After the war she returned to ferrying tourists to and from the Isle of Man, and, in 1947, had her photograph taken with my Auntie Miriam. Sadly, three years later, she was towed off to Barrow-In-Furness and broken up (yes, the ship, not Auntie Miriam).
Although I have been scanning old family photographs for more than a decade, there are still some that remain unscanned, uncategorised, and unshared. Today I get to share two, both of which, I believe, were taken on the same outing almost ninety years ago. From the youthful and recognisable handwriting on the back of each photograph, it appears that I did question my parents about the location of the trip, and therefore I know that the first shows my father, Albert, balanced astride a log bridge over the Gordale Beck, near Malham in North Yorkshire, whilst the second shows my mother, Gladys, along with two companions sat in front of Janet’s Foss Waterfall near Malham Tarn.
There is a quote from Albert Einstein in which he says “Photographs never grow old …. How nice to look at a photograph of mother and father taken many years ago – you see them as you remember them“. This is a classic example of Einstein being tripped up by his own theories of relativity. These photographs are not of my parents as I remember them – these are unknown people who grew into my parents fifteen years later. Photographs can grow old and they can grow young as well. This could have been Einstein’s Photographic Theory of Relativity if he had taken the trouble to sit down and think about it.
If, during my lifetime, I had accumulated paper money with the same skill and dexterity that I have accumulated paper ephemera, I would be a rich old man. As it is, I am an old man surrounded by plastic boxes full of old papers of every description, united only in my ability to find a justification for not consigning them to the paper bin. During one for my regular sweeps through my archives of detritus the other day, I came across a copy of the sheet music for the song “For You Alone“. I don’t play the piano, nor the violin. There is a United Nations Resolution on file somewhere that has banned me from singing within 100 metres of another living person. And even if I had the voice of an angel and the instrumental skills of a Paganini, I would not choose to perform “For You Alone“. Its tune is forgettable and its lyrics are best forgotten. The best that could happen to it is to – and here I quote the lyrics – “let it flame before thy shrine“.
And yet I keep it, for what it lacks in musicality it makes up for in memories. The song was made famous by Signor Caruso (you can hear him sing it on YouTube, but its hardly worth the WiFi time). More importantly the music was signed by my uncle, Harry Moore. I can have a photo of Uncle Harry at the piano if I want to, but today I choose some of his sheet music. For me, alone.
My calendar today features a photograph from over ninety years ago of two girls posing in a seaside studio with a parasol. The photograph was taken in Cleethorpes on the stormy east coast of Britain, where parasols tended to be confined to the photographers’ studio. The date of the photograph I estimate as 1929 or there about. The young girl on the right of the picture, as we look at it, is my mother, Gladys. I remember her telling me about the photograph when, as a child, I would leaf through the photograph albums. Was the other girl called Florrie? – I forget. They were two young girls on a day trip to the seaside from their jobs in the woollen mills of Bradford. It was a lifetime ago – and, as I face the prospect of trudging through the snow today, it feels increasingly like two lifetimes ago. But after my trip out to walk the dog, I can come back into my slightly warmer office and look at that smile I remember so well.
Sepia Saturday was established over eleven years ago, during the golden age of blogging, as a weekly exchange of blog posts based on, and around, old photographs. During the Great Days of Blogging it would attract up to one hundred contributions each week, but now it is the home of a small band of regular posters, who still enjoy the opportunity to share old images. Whilst our fascination for old photographs has not waned – look at the popularity of photo-sharing groups on platforms such as Facebook – our willingness to spend that little longer creating and responding in this cut-and-past era, may have. I recently asked the few remaining Sepia diehards whether it was time to roll up the shutters and consign our sepia contributions to the digital equivalent of an old tea chest; but I am pleased to say that they all thought that we should carry on. And so we do.
This week the Sepia theme image celebrates the letter T and an old tram has been chosen as a theme image. Nevertheless, I am giving the tram a miss, and rather spotlighting two other t’s : time and a tin bath. The photograph of a child being washed in a tin bath in front of an old kitchen range seems to belong to another era: but is part of my own contemporary history. The woman is my mother, Gladys, and the child is my brother Roger, and the photograph must have been taken in either 1943 or 1944. In some ways the image – and the way of life it represents – seems ancient; and yet it spans less than one generation. That small child in the tin bath, will be looking at this photograph later today from the warm seclusion of his Caribbean island home. That’s a long way to travel in a tin bath.
I was trying to explain to someone the other day why I have always steered clear of moving images. Ever since I first picked a camera up back in the sepia days of my youth, people have always seemed to see still images as a poor second-cousin to the magic of moving pictures. At first there was home cine film, and then video cameras; and I was able to explain my reluctance by pointing out that the equipment was bulky and the media was expensive. Once digital video via a smart phone button came on the scene, such excuses became as redundant as a director’s clapperboard. However, despite protestations that wanted a record of little Holroyd running on the sands swinging his bucket and spade, I stood firm and my pictures stood still. It is difficult to rationally explain, but there is something about the way a still image focusses attention on a specific moment, and invites you almost to become an active participant in a scene rather than a passive viewer. Faced with an old film which included two men sat on a rock near the seaside, you would perhaps give them a passing glance – it would be the most you would be able to afford in a world where images were coming at you 24 frames per second. Given a still image, however, you can invest time and attention. You can explore the background, examine their clothes, note the cigarettes, wonder what they might be drinking. You learn to live with a particular moment – a questioning look, a carefree smile – and it becomes more than just a moment in time. In this particular case, I know that the sitting man on the left of the photograph was my father, and it must have been taken in the 1930s. The photograph appears on my daily calendar, and therefore I have him for a full day whilst I sit at my desk. We can sit, chat, and this evening share a drink. Try doing that with an old VHS cassette.
Sometime, all you need is a shape. Detail is superfluous when outlines tell a story. This is my mother, Gladys, fifty-five years ago. I probably mis-judged the back-lighting, but I like to think that I was concerned only with capturing a shape.
This is one of a batch of old photographs which was sent to me through the post. There was no indication as to who sent them, but the envelope also contained the funeral programme of one of my wife’s cousins. I can only assume that the two children featured in this particular photograph are members of that extended family. Written on the back of the photograph is the single word: “unknown”.
I can only express my thanks to whoever sent these photographs: the fact that the subject is unknown is of no consequence. The photograph is superb.