Category Archives: News From Nowhere

Posing On A Beach

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows three men posing on a beach in California. My submission is one very young man posing on a beach in Yorkshire. The young man in question is my brother, the artist and sculptor, Roger Burnett. The date must have been sometime I’m the mid to late 1940s, and the place was probably Bridlington on the East Coast. The pose is rather familiar, I have a photograph of my brother and myself taken in February this year where he is striking a similar pose some seventy years on. The beaches he walks these days are in the Caribbean rather than East Yorkshire, but a sandy beach on a warm summers’ day is a fine location, wherever it is situated.

The Midget Gem That Is Lily Brayton

This midget gem dropped through my letter box yesterday, along with a dozen or so more old vintage postcards (is there a word for people who are addicted to buying useless ephemera on eBay?) I have never come across a “Midget Post Card” before, but they appear to have been popular for a short period during the height of the postcard craze of the early twentieth century, They weigh-in (so to speak) at a featherweight three and a half inch by two and three quarters, and the reverse side already appears overcrowded once a stamp and an address have been added.

There is, however, something about the shape which is quite satisfying – especially when it provides a frame for one of the great beauties of the Edwardian era, Lily Brayton. Lily was born in Lancashire in 1876, the daughter of a local doctor. Acting must have been in the family somewhere, because both her and her sister went on this stage, and in 1898 she married the Australian actor, director and writer, Oscar Asche. They became the celebrity couple of their era: if it had been a century later, Lily and Oscar would have TV programmes made about their lives and millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Because it was the start of the twentieth century, Lily had her image on hundreds of picture postcards.

This particular tiny postcard was sent to Mrs Hailes of the Royal Marine Barracks in Stonehouse, Plymouth in July 1904. The message is short and to the point (they had to be on midget postcards – a little like Twitter you were restricted in the number of characters you could use! “Train leaves Millbay at 2.20pm. We shall be delighted to have the children for the night, EH.”

You can make of that what you will. Alternatively, you can look into the eyes of the midget gem that is Lily Brayton.

Creativity Is An Act Of Defiance

I was walking through Elsecar yesterday when I spotted a pencil that had been left on a wall. It looked as though it had been left there intentionally, rather than accidentally dropped, and when I examined it I discovered a printed legend on the main body of the wooden shaft: “Creativity is an act of defiance”! Whether this was just some random abandonment, or the start of a new counter-culture, I do not know, but ex-pit villages in South Yorkshire have had more than their fair share of cultural resurrections. I decided that the rules required me to create something with the pencil, and then abandon it in a similar fashion, for somebody else to carry this act of cultural defiance forward. I apologise for my efforts, I am no artist (I have a brother for that kind of thing), but defiance does not recognise accepted conventions. I will abandon the pencil later today – so be on the look out.

Walking Man With Blue Spots

Back in the days when picture postcards were all the rage and the demand for colour photographs outstripped the technological ability to be able to deliver them, monochrome photographs were hand coloured. Most were done with skill and care, but occasionally short cuts were taken. It was nearly going-home time and the weekend was just around the corner. It was just a photograph of a “modern business block” in Ravenna, Ohio. Surely nobody would ever notice the walking man with the blue spots.

Coincidence At Clark Bridge Mills

A strange set of coincidences took me on a virtual trip to Clark Bridge Mills in Halifax yesterday. It started with my never-ending quest to prune my bookshelves – the Good lady Wife keeps threatening to bring in a structural engineer as she believes that the beams and floorboards can no longer support the weight of books. One volume under consideration for the knackers yard of literature (aka the Charity Book Shop) was a slim volume entitled “British Trademarks of the 1920s and 1930s“, by John Mendenhall. On review, the book was far too slim and far too interesting to be consigned to ignominy, so there is no point searching your local Oxfam shop for my copy – it remains on my straining shelves for future reference. The review process I use is a complex one, and one that has resulted from many years of experimentation: I sit down with a mug of tea and a chocolate biscuit and randomly browse the contents of the book in question. Whilst doing so I came across the illustration reproduced above, which was a trade mark used by the firm Patons & Baldwins of Clark Bridge Mills, Halifax in 1927. Whilst Patons and Baldwins is a name I am familiar with as being a well known manufacturer of knitting yarns, I wasn’t familiar with their link to Halifax, so I did some digging. 

Clark Bridge Mills were just below the Parish Church and were the original home of J&J Baldwins, which later became Patons & Baldwins. The mills were damaged by flooding in 1914 and by fire in 1925, so before pestilence could descend on the undertaking, Patons & Baldwin moved to Darlington, where they built the world’s largest knitting yarn factory. The mill was eventually demolished in 1980, and now the Halifax branch of Matalan occupies part of the site.

Demolition Site – Near Bailey Hall, Halifax (1980)

Yesterday evening I was sorting through some of my old negatives – films I had shot in the 1970s and 1980s, and by complete coincidence I came across one I had captioned “Demolition site, near Bailey Hall, Halifax, 1980“, which includes my father in the foreground, gazing wistfully towards Bailey Hall, his former workplace. It didn’t take me long to work out that the building being demolished in my photograph was Clark Bridge Mills.

The third coincidence only hit me later when I realised that Clark Bridge Mills had gone under a different name between 1945 when it was abandoned by Patons & Baldwin, and 1980 when it was demolished. It was known as Riding Hall Mill, and was the home of the carpet manufacturer of that name. No wonder the mill had a familiar feel about it, for I worked there for a time in the early 1970s. So what started with a sheep’s head and went via a demolished mill, ended up with a little bit of my own personal history. What a coincidence at Clark Bridge Mills.

Fancy Goods And Photographs

In Search Of Edward Gregson Part 2

My research into the life and times of Edward Gregson, photographer, of Halifax and Blackpool is both illogical and unstructured: flitting between odd facts and unrelated times, and punctuated by portraits of anonymous Victorian worthies. It is a journey of discovery in which gazing out of the window and enjoying the scenery is far more important than any promised destination. Today, it takes me back 150 years to January 1869, when Edward appears to have branched out from his core photographic business, to supplying everything from ear drops to book slides, from tooth brushes to toilet soaps.

An advert in the Halifax Courier of the 7th January 1869 gives notice of the type of sale that has been a familiar feature of markets, fairgrounds, and auction houses over the centuries; a sale of surplus, damaged or delayed stock, which promises the type of bargain that you cannot afford to miss. If we take the description of the items in the sale as being “surplus stock” which has been delayed – by those familiarly unreliable railway companies – with a pinch of salt (one of the few items not being sold at the sale), we get the impression of Edward Gregson as an entrepreneur who is branching out far beyond the confines of his photographic studios, into all manner of fancy goods. The musical boxes, watch stands, china ornaments and mechanical toys might well have sold well in the Blackpool studios of Edward Gregson, and he may have seen the opportunity of making them available to the Halifax public.

If nothing else, it shows that by as early as 1869, Gregson – still in his thirties – already had a well established photographic business in both Halifax and Blackpool, and was confident enough to describe himself as a “photographer and dealer in fancy goods“.

This little Carte de Visite from Gregson’s studio probably dates from a few years after the sale of fancy goods mentioned above. Nevertheless, could this rather stern-looking lady, captured by E Gregson the photographer, be wearing a necklace and bracelet supplied by E Gregson the fancy goods merchant?

In Search Of Edward Gregson : Part 1

There is an advert doing the rounds on television at the moment for some new family history database service which is supposed to make tracing your ancestors as easy as sending a Paypal transfer for £100. Just press a computer key and: “Oh goodness, my grandmother was the daughter of the Duke of Beaudung“, says the happy customer, followed by “Well fancy that, my Great Uncle Percy” was with Nelson at Trafalgar“! Those of us who have actually dipped our genealogical toes into the world of old census returns and births, marriages and death notices, know it is never as easy as that. The tangled web we leave when first we practice to deceive, has nothing on the convoluted web that connects us with the past. Take, for example, Edward Gregson.

Portrait Of Unknown Couple, E Gregson

Edward Gregson was not – as far as I am aware – any relative of mine, but he was a photographer and native of my own home town of Halifax. Over the years, I have managed to collect a small number of his photographs which date from the latter half of the nineteenth century. I have featured several of these in my various blogs, and on the last occasion that I featured one of his Carte de Visites, I recklessly vowed that I was off in search of his story. We know from the studio details printed on his various photographs that he had studios both in Halifax and Blackpool, and several Halifax addresses are associated with his name, including the Central Portrait Rooms, Waterhouse Street, Bedford Street,  and Lister Lane.  We can’t even be sure of his name – there are referenced to both Edward Gregson and Edgar Gregson, both of whom were Halifax photographers – nor the dates when they were active. Quite clearly we have a photographic dynasty at work, and untangling it is going to be just as difficult as getting your portrait subjects to stand or sit still for long enough for your Victorian shutter to click open and closed.

What I should do, of course, is to lock myself away in a dark room, do lots of research and eventually come back to you with the fruit of my labours in the form of a clear and precise account of E Gregson, photographer and businessman. But that would be boring for me, and probably excruciatingly boring for you. Far better to join me as I dig and delve into whatever I can find out, in no particular order, and with the possibility of no precise conclusions. It is not, perhaps, as satisfying as being told that your Cousin Mabel was a pony driver for Scott’s Expedition to the Antarctic …. but at least it won’t cost you £100. 

Let us start with a bit of solid evidence, which is a death notice from the Halifax Courier of 12th January 1889, of one Edward Gregson, photographer of Halifax and Blackpool who died of dropsy at the age of 56. We now have a definite birth year (1833); a death year (1889), and a definite name, Edward Gregson. Let us see where this takes us…..  (to be continued …. probably)

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