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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.