Category Archives: News From Nowhere

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)

Sticking To A Good Idea

I have a book, somewhere on my bookshelf, which charts the history of great ideas and how they came about. It starts off by imagining how our ancestors might have thought up the idea of the wheel ,and goes on to describe the moment of sublime insight that gave us such inventions as the vacuum cleaner, penicillin, and the one-sheet toilet roll dispenser. I have a new chapter to add to this volume; an idea of grace and beauty which emerged over a meal out at the pub last night.

We were having dinner with two good friends and they brought their granddaughter along with them. The delightful Phoebe was presented with a sticker book to keep her occupied whilst the grown-ups put the problems of the world to right, and decided on the location of their next shopping outing. Paul and I, having abandoned any hope of putting the world to right, and lacking sufficient interest in shopping expeditions, started to wonder why we couldn’t be supplied with sticker books to keep us occupied.

We decided that our interest in creatures of the deep (the subject of Phoebe’s book) was limited to the question of how many of them we could eat with chips, so a different subject matter came to mind. And that is how the concept of the Scottish Malt Whisky Sticker Book came about. A series of maps of the Highlands and Islands along with page after page of small stickers illustrated with a whisky bottle. The stickers are, of course, of the “scratch ‘n sniff” variety, so connoisseurs can firstly identify, then locate, then stick each of the glorious stickers.

Boredom can be a thing of the past. Hour upon hour of harmless entertainment is at hand. Buy the whisky lover in your life a Scottish Malt Whisky Sticker Book today.

Five From Brighouse : 5. Hitchcock In Brighouse

Brighouse Market, 1966 (Alan Burnett or A N Other)

I am ending this short tour of Brighouse back in the 1960s with a return to the market. There is, however, something slightly odd about this final negative scan. Looking carefully at the young chap towards the right of the group of market shoppers, I have the distinct impression that it might be me. But if it is, who took the photograph? I am sure that I was responsible for the rest of the shots on this particular strip of film, but did I have a sturdy tripod and time delay, or an accommodating assistant? However it was done it appears that, like Alfred Hitchcock, I have made a guest appearance in one of my own films.

Getting Lyrical About The Old Bridge

We had a meal out at the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden last night. Lovely pub, glorious food and drink, and special friends. I could have got lyrical about it, but then I realised I did 9 years ago. Here’s what I wrote then:-

Imagine the scene. You are walking through a West Yorkshire village. The nearby Pennine hills scrape puddles of moisture from clouds en-route from the Atlantic to Siberia. But there is a freshness in the air that reminds you that you are alive, and why it is good to be alive. The sun breaks through the clouds and starts to warm the rich brown stone and buildings suddenly seem to come alive like stone reptiles reinvigorated by the sun’s warming rays. The sounds of the modern world – the cars, the screeches, the bangs, and the buzzes – are buried beneath the sound of the Ryburn River racing down to the far off sea. You walk over an old stone packhorse bridge and there in front of you is a sight that is vaguely familiar. It is a sight that you have dreamt about ever since you became too old to dream of pretty young women. It is a perfect pub : warm, welcoming, and exquisitely beautiful. You have arrived at the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden.

It is easy to was lyrical about the Old Bridge, it is that kind of place. A plaque above the door tells you that it’s “probably Yorkshire’s oldest hostelry”, but dozens of similar plaques grace the walls of dozens of similar pubs within the county. If you insist on reviewing the evidence – records dating back to the fourteenth century and talk of Roman roads from Chester to York – at least step inside and do so over a pint of ale. That’s real ale of course, it would be a sin to drink anything else at such an establishment. But if you simply can’t take the taste of beer then go ahead and sin : until just over a hundred years ago the pub was owned by the adjacent church and therefore forgiveness is in as plentiful supply as Timothy Taylor’s Prize Winning Beers. And whilst you sup your blessed beer or your sinful chardonnay, have a look around and marvel at the place : the crooked floors, the low-slung doors, the wooden tables, the uninterrupted, undiluted sheer history of the place. And marvel at the fact that it has not been over-prettied, nor turned into a Sunday Supplement bistro. 

There has been a spate of books recently with titles like “1001 places to see before you die”and  “500 Books You Must Read Before You Expire”. Well I have just come up with another one in the same series : “101 Pubs To Drink In Before You Collapse”. And the first in the book is the Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden. Catch a bus, hire a train, hitch a lift. Do whatever you need to do. Just see it.

Five From Brighouse : 3. A Time Of Ajax And Omo

Brighouse Market 1966 (Alan Burnett)

We are still in Brighouse, still in the old open air market. We are still in the time of Ajax and Omo; we are still in the land of plastic rain hats and eggs piled high on trays. It is raining, which is surprising, because it never rained when I was young.

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