Consider the journey, if you will. This beautiful photograph of a young woman was taken at the studios of P & H Koch in the city of Crefeld (now Krefeld), just north of Dusseldorf in Germany. The reverse of the Carte de Visite makes reference to the Koch studio having won medals at a photographic exhibition in Dusseldorf in 1896, so that probably dates this portrait to around the turn of the twentieth century. How did this young lady get from pre-Great War Germany to a box at the end of my desk?
Did she dance at balls in Rhineland-Westphalia and shop on the elegant boulevards of Dusseldorf? Did she lose a lover or a son in the mud-caked trenches of the Great War? Did she scrape for food during the Great Inflation and the depression years that followed? Did she hide in the shadows, or cheer in the streets, during the rise and fall of Hitler? Did she survive to see hope and prosperity again?
Her secrets are hidden deep within the pasteboard, at rest – and at peace – in the box at the end of my desk.
This is a rather strange picture postcard featuring the Victorian and Edwardian entertainer, Marie Studholme. The photograph is fetching enough: she sits suspended in a hammock next to a table bearing a tennis racket. The table, however, also contains a basket full f some strange unidentified objects that look rather like a cross between a modern polythene-wrapped sandwich and a folded pocket handkerchief.
The photograph is signed CN, which is clearly not Marie Studholme herself. Marie – who was one of the original Gaiety Girls and a noted animal lover – was renowned for charging sixpence each time she signed postcards, and gave the proceeds to an animal charity. One can only assume that whoever sent this card to Miss Pattison was no great supporter of such charities.
The expansive address field clearly indicates that no message was required.
A moment in history captured by a cheap picture postcard. It is April 1906 and MBD is in Washington DC. He – or could it be, she – is there for the day: and that can mean either Washington or, more specifically, the Pensions Building. The building is a grand affair, built in the mid 1880s to serve the needs of Union veterans after the American Civil War. The message says, “Hand Still Improving“, and it was sent to J Hemmings Esq, Nobel House, Scotland. Nobel House was the Scottish headquarters of Nobel’s Explosive Company and was situated on West George Street.
When you have nothing better to do, you can let your mind explore the land of possibilities. MBD, in a fetching kilt, wandering around the battlefields of the Civil War with his travelling salesman’s suitcase full of samples of explosives. A missed footing, a stumble, a small explosion, a damaged hand: and a thirty-year old pension claim? More likely, a Victorian tourist doing the rounds of the sights of Washington. More likely, but less engaging.
It was a glorious Spring day today and we were tempted outside. Wanting to respect the Government advice on social distancing and the avoidance of parks and beauty spots, we decided to attempt the ascent of Mount Blackley by taking the old footpath from South Lane in Elland to the top of the hill in Blackley. It was a long and arduous climb – and an even longer descent – but we managed to avoid the crowds without any difficulty. If we were attempting to avoid beauty spots, we failed miserably: the scenery was spectacular.
I was scanning some of my old negatives yesterday and came across this photograph of Halifax Borough market, which dates from around 1967 (say what you want about decimalisation, it provides invaluable help in dating old photographs). Halifax’s indoor market was – and still is – one of the finest examples of these Victorian cast-iron framed markets in the country, with it’s fan-like windows and suspended gas heaters.
By complete coincidence, I was later browsing on YouTube and discovered, to my delight, that someone had posted an episode of the 1975 series “Nairn’s Journeys“, in which Halifax Borough Market has a starring role. Ian Nairn (1930-1983) was a British architectural critic and writer who was famous for his outspoken criticism of certain aspects of British town planning in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1959 he published a book, “Outrage” which highlighted what he saw as the modern trend in unimaginative town planning. I was introduced to his ideas by my brother, Roger, who had one of the first copies of his book and was a great follower of his work. The “Nairn’s Journeys” series was a wonderful series in which he conducted “architectural football matches” between northern towns. One memorable episode was devoted to a contest between Huddersfield and Halifax.
If you have never seen the episode, I apologise for spoiling things by telling you that Halifax won the contest by five goals to two! Part of that victory was down to the splendid Halifax Borough Market, but most of it was brought about by the fact that “Halifax had managed to express itself“. The film is particularly fascinating for its praise for the modern architecture of Halifax – the, then, new Building Society HQ – and its footage of the Piece Hall during a time of transition (it was due to be turned into a car park!)
Thinking of that same architectural football context 45 years on, I am convinced that the outcome would be just as positive in Halifax’s favour. It continues to express itself as a town proud of its heritage but with an eye to the future.
An advert in an old newspaper advertises sewing machines, and lists the machines available. It is 1870 and the machine age is beginning to make the transition from factory to home. The machines are ornate and their names are as cursively evocative as their shapes. You can choose between a Tudor and a Little American, a Princess and a Paragon. You can cast your eye over a Tom Hood or a Queen Mabb, or be tempted by a Cleopatra. You might want to take a chance with a Seamstress or blow your savings on a Wanzer. The present-day world of iPhone 11’s, Galaxy S10’s and Huawei Y6’s somehow just does not compare.
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.
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.