At first I thought that this was one of the hundreds of lost and abandoned old photographs that I provide a home for. They live in boxes and cases, they hang in filing cabinets and folders; they create a hazard to anyone trying to navigate their way through my office. Every so often I reach into one of the boxes and pull a photograph out, scan it, and then file it away with a title such as “Unknown Girl No 573“.
But with this one, something stopped me and it wasn’t just the quality of the picture and the eye-catching look. I suddenly saw my wife of 47 years. Clearly it is not actually her, but the resemblance is sufficient to make me think it might be a close relative. It wouldn’t be the first time such relatives had turned up in one of my lost and abandoned files. Rather than dash downstairs to see if she recognises the person in the photograph, I shall leave it here for her to discover when she looks at my blog later. So message to my wife: who is it?
ENOCH BURNETT AND BETTY : Enoch Burnett pictured with his dog, Betty. The picture shows Enoch aged around 30, which would mean it was taken in 1908 or there about. By then, he had been married for three years and already had three children: John Arthur (b.1899); Miriam (b.1901); and Annie Elizabeth (b.1903).
A family photograph from, probably, the summer of 1950. The small child is me, the head and shoulder belong to my brother, Roger, and the knees belong to my father, Albert. I suspect the photograph was taken at Bridlington, and I suspect that the North Sea was as cold then as it is now.
A holiday snap taken just after the close of World War II, probably about 1946. It shows my mother, Gladys Burnett, along with my brother, Roger. I can’t be certain as to which seaside sands are featured in this photograph: it could be Bridlington or it could be New Brighton – both were popular seaside resorts for our family.
Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week could be made to measure for the two photos I am going to share. Although I chose the theme image, its connection to two old photographs I took some 52 years ago didn’t occur to me until the other day when I was trawling through my collection of old colour slides looking for an image to post. The theme image comes from the Flickr Commons collection of the Belgian organisation Liberas, which is devoted to preserving and managing the heritage of liberal organisations in that country. The actual image features a canal barge in the Belgian town of Ghent in 1897.
Jump forward 71 years and move north-east by fifty kilometres and you will get to Bruges in the summer of 1968. My photograph features my niece, Diana, two of my friends, Dave Hebblethwaite and Darrel Oldfield, on my brothers barge, Brookfoot, which was moored on a canal in the beautiful city of Bruges. If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1968 was the famous Summer of Discontent, People throughout Europe were protesting on the streets and calling for a new solidarity between workers and students, friendship between all European people, and the creation of a new society. Darrel, Dave and myself had left our native West Yorkshire, and, carrying a banner proclaiming that “Workers Unity Wins”, we had started hitchhiking around Europe, seeing the sites, meeting up with other groups of students, and luxuriating in our youthful freedom.
My brother, his wife and daughter, were on a different European mission. They had recently sailed their flat-bottomed Yorkshire barge across the English Channel, and had embarked on a tour of the canal system of Northern Europe. Our paths crossed in Bruges, and we stayed on the barge for a couple of nights. Following the meeting which is preserved in these two old photographs, Darrel, Dave and myself continued our journey around Belgium and Holland and then returned home to go our separate ways to University, and to whatever life had in store for us. My brother and his family continued sailing through the canals of Europe and then swapped canal boats for sailing boats and headed for the Caribbean. We are all still waiting a new society, and – on this day when the UK officially leaves the European Union – I fear that it might be further away than ever.
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.