Category Archives: News From Nowhere

Letters Patent For Artistic Improvement

According to the scrawled date on the reverse of this Victorian Cabinet Card, it was taken somewhere around the 11th November 1889. The clothing and the photographic style fits well with this date, and we know that the studio – Brown, Barnes & Bell of Liverpool and London – were active at the time.

The reverse of the card has all the usual flourish of Victorian studio portraits, including an intriguing claim that the studio possessed “Letters patent for artistic improvements”

If only Mssrs Brown, Barnes or Bell had been lucky enough to be around 130 years later, they would have been able to take advantage of the multitude of mobile apps that can perform endless degrees of artistic improvement in this day and age. I conducted a small experiment on their behalf, which, I hope, the original sitter would have been pleased with. Let’s say it is the first portrait from the studio of Brown, Barnes, Bell & Burnett.

Letters From Almondbury

For years I have been fascinated by the decorative tiles in the entrance hall to Wesley Hall in Almondbury, near Huddersfield. They were, no doubt, a memorial to the founders of the church – now they are also a memorial to decorative style.

When, a few years ago, I first visited the Parish Hall at Almondbury Methodist Church near Huddersfield, I became captivated by the display on monographed tiles in the entrance hall. Each time I go – usually for their cricket club Christmas Fair and Coffee Morning, I fall in love with them again. Instead of trawling the stalls for Christmas baubles and cake, I can be happily found in the entrance hall, trying once again to capture the magnificence of these old tiles that must have been memorials to early sponsors of the church. Here is a sample of my efforts this year.

Rock Of Ages

“It is a matter of intense debate amongst mathematicians and theoretical particle physicists as to whether it is possible for any three dimensional object to have just three edges. It is clear that none of the participants involved in such discussions have ever been to Elland – for Elland has just three edges: Hullen Edge, Lower Edge and Upper Edge. The fact that Elland is unique in the known physical universe will come as no surprise to its inhabitants, most of whom have firmly held such a belief for as long as history has been recorded. It is, however, the uniqueness of just one of these three edges – Upper Edge – that concerns us here, and the special part of that uniqueness that is represented by the building that proudly sits at the summit of the long climb up from Elland township – the Rock Tavern”

That is the opening paragraph of “Rock Of Ages – A History Of The Rock Tavern, Elland“, a book that Martin Williams and myself have been writing for the past couple of years. We have now worked our way through the history of the pub – from the tropical swamps of the Carboniferous Period right through to the mid 1980s – and we need to write the final chapter which covers the history of the pub during living memory. To do this, we are abandoning dusty census records and faded newspaper cuttings, and depending on the memories of real customers, past and present. 

Anyone with a memory to share or a story to tell is invited up to the pub on Saturday 19th October at 7.30pm, when there will be an opportunity to include these in the final chapter of the book we are hoping to publish at the beginning of 2020. There will be a pie and pea supper and friends old and new to meet. Martin and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on Saturday.

Sepia Saturday : Dark Satanic Mills

My mother worked in the mill, so did my father. My Auntie Annie, Aunty Miriam, and Auntie Amy all worked in the mill, as did my grandfather and great-grandfather. The mill – its noises, smells, heat, dirt and grease – forms the warp and weft of my family tree. Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week therefore has a very personal resonance for me. I am sure that I have shared this particular photograph before on at least one of the last 490 Sepia Saturdays, but I make no apologies, it is one of my favourite family photographs. 

As far as I can work out, the photograph must have been taken in the early 1930s, and it features both my mother and my Auntie Amy – my mother is standing at the front on the left in the photo and a slightly out of focus Aunty Amy is on the right. I am not sure which will it was that they worked in: by the time I came into the world fifteen or more years later, most of the mills were in the process of closing down and their names were like whispered memories.

Within a few years of this photograph being taken, my mother had left the mill to start trying for a family. My father had only spent a short time in the mill as a young lad before becoming a mechanic. My aunties and uncles also left the mill behind: although in some cases it left them with lasting illnesses and diseases as a legacy. The looms of Bradford fell silent and the world changed.

The mill is still central to my family history, however. I cannot pass one of those silent, brooding stone edifices without visualising generation after generation of my forebears, tramping through the dark, damp streets to start their daily shifts in the dark, satanic mills of Yorkshire.

Storm Clouds Over Livorno

Extract From A Holiday Diary:
We arrived early in the morning at Livorno to be greeted by a storm of epic proportions. It was rather like the God Vulcan tossing thunderbolts at his mate Jupiter, whilst Persephone had a screaming fit because someone had trodden on her toe. Nero and Augustus would have cringed in the cabins of their trireme, we – seasoned travellers that we are – calmly went for our breakfast.

Picture The Scene If You Will

Picture the scene if you will. It is the summer of 1588 and Britain faces the threat of naval defeat and invasion as an armada of Spanish ships sails up the English Channel and an army of 30,000 soldiers wait in the Netherlands to capitalise on the expected defeat of the British Navy. The British fleet is a rag-tag collection of old warships, privateers’ galleons and rough trading vessels : not unlike the collection of little boats that would evacuate the troops from the Dunkirk beaches some 352 years later.

At the heart of the British fleet are the 34 ships of the royal fleet, and the largest and most imposing of them all is the White Bear. Built in 1564, the 40 gun White Bear was seen as one of the grand old ships of the British Fleet at a time when the average life of a galleon was just 10 years. But under the command of Lord Edmund Sheffield, the White Bear played a central part in the routing of the Spanish Fleet and, in triumph, returned to port in Harwich on the 18th August. During the height of the great battle, one can almost imagine her captain gripping onto those sturdy timbers searching for the resolve to carry the battle through to a successful conclusion.

Picture the scene if you will. It is 1593 and we are in the port of Hull on the east coast of England. The country is now safe from invasion and Queen Elizabeth is secure on the throne of a country that is beginning to build a worldwide empire. The lessons of naval defense have been long learnt and the Royal Navy is renewing, re-equippping and re-building.

The life of the White Bear comes to an end in the breakers’ yards of Hull, where the timbers that once provided the very skeleton of the countries’ salvation or now ripped from the heart of the ancient hulk. But wood was too precious to rot and to waste : there are always buyers for ships’ timbers for the quality is good and the cuts are the best. One can imagine the salvage merchants appraising those timbers and thinking where they might be sold and how they might be used.

Picture the scene if you will. It is early June 2010 : a warm evening in West Yorkshire. An old blogger, his Good Lady Wife and his faithful dog decide that it is a perfect evening for a pint of foaming beer and they head to one of their favourite pubs, in the West Yorkshire village of Norwood Green. Our hero enters the bar – wife and dog having settled at one of the outside tables – to appraise the range of excellent traditional hand-pulled beers on offer. With a sense of anticipation, he runs his fingers along the ancient wooden bar top and makes his choice.

NOTE : The White Beare was originally built as a farmhouse and alehouse in 1533 on the Old Packhorse track running between Halifax and Leeds. It was rebuilt some 60 years later following a fire using timbers from the Elizabethan Galleon called ‘The White Bear’ and was renamed in honour of the ship.

First published on “News From Nowhere” in 2010 – revived in celebration of a grand night out at the Old White Beare, August 2019.

A Few Words On The Retirement Of An Artist

My career as an artist was relatively brief by modern standards: it started yesterday tea-time and ended this morning at about ten o’ clock. The body of my work is equally elusive, comprising as it does of just the one picture, illustrated above. Whilst some take to the charcoal stick and paint brush, driven by a need to find their soul or explore the very nature of being, my motive was somewhat less prosaic – I was in search of the perfect white balance.

My brother – whose career as a real artist has spanned six decades – emailed me with a technical problem yesterday, concerning the best way to photograph his watercolour sketches without getting a blue background tint resulting from incorrect white balance in the photographic process itself. “Try sketching a few lines on a white sheet of paper and find out what setting you find works best”, he wrote. I should have pointed out to him that was a little like asking Harry Houdini’s second cousin to wrap himself in chains and jump in an alligator swamp; but no, I kept my counsel, took a piece of white paper and started “sketching a few lines“. It would be nice to say that I took to it like a duck to water, but it is more accurate to say that I took to it like Harry Houdini’s second cousin wrapped in chains takes to the Everglades swamp.

I left things overnight in the hope that inspiration (and skill and technique) would come with the dawn, but it didn’t. My last hope of redemption was to use my technical skills and solve the white balance problem – but as the sample sheet I came up with proves, I couldn’t even do that.

I have therefore decided to retire as an artist with immediate effect. After all, in the words of the great prophet, “why keep a dog and bark yourself“. Over to you, Roger.

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