Category Archives: News From Nowhere

A Chess Box Full Of Memories

18CA42Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows two railway workers in Finland playing chess during a break from work. That stance of studied concentration is matched perfectly by my picture which features a chess game between my father and myself. The photograph must have been taken by my brother, Roger, and it dates from around 1965 when we were on a family holiday in Scotland.
That red striped Dennis-the-Menace shirt, I can remember with such clarity I am almost tempted to check to see if it is still in my wardrobe. Those boots which have been set out to dry in the sun, just before (or possibly just after) they were cleaned and “dubbined” to waterproof the leather. They were used to climb the mountains that can be seen in the background which, I believe, were on the banks of Kinlochleven in Scotland. The car and the tartan travel blanket open up another box full of memories: that shade of pale blue, the shine of the chrome bumpers, the wing mirrors sticking out like antlers. My mother, Gladys, pinny-wrapped, watching with a degree of proprietorial interest.
I dare say that I can enlarge the image and review the state of the game and decide whether or not I was in a winning position. That, however, would take my attention away from the image itself: a random image, but one dripping with memories.

The Language Of The Mill And The Stone Terraced House

I have always found old photographs to be the best stimulus for rekindling memories. This is a photograph of my grandfather, Albert Beanland (1875-1948) which must have been taken in the 1930s or 1940s when he was living along with his wife, Catherine, in Bradford. Albert died in the same year I was born, so I never got to know him – but that smile, those features, that solid Yorkshire stance is very familiar to me.
Whilst reviewing the various on-line records about Albert, I took a look at his entry in the 1939 Register – the special register which was taken just before the outbreak of World War II. By then he was 64 years old and of little interest as far as military conscription was concerned, but he was still working as a textile mechanic and living at 12, Lawrence Street, Princeville, Bradford.
I was vaguely aware that my mother grew up in the Princeville area of Bradford, and this meant that my grandfather had probably spent the last thirty or so years of his life in the same house in Lawrence Street – and that was probably the house that can be seen in the photograph above. 
I managed to find Lawrence Street on an old OS map of Bradford which dates from about the time he moved there from his home town of Keighley. And it was then, that I started to realise that maps can be just as good a stimulus to memories as old photographs. To the best of my knowledge, I have never been to Princeville, but looking at the old map was like a conducted tour of names and places that were handed down to me by generations long gone. Horton Dye Works, Legrams Mill, Bradford Beck, Lidget Green : all are names that resonate. My mother spoke this language as did that generation of my Bradford family. It’s the language of the mill and the stone terraced house.

Highly Pleased With My Forthcoming Funeral

It seems impossible to watch daytime TV at the moment without being continuously assailed by elderly actors and celebrities reminding you that you need to take care of those “final expenses”. Whilst this obsession with paying a few quid a week to pay for your own funeral is not new, it does seem to have skipped a few generations (Message to The Lad: when “my time comes” you can pick up the bill for the “lovely send-off”, it’s the least you can do to pay back all those years of spending money I forked out for you). The modern approach to paying for your own funeral is not half as entertaining as the one favoured by the working class in nineteenth century Britain. That was the great age of Friendly and Burial societies, where you paid the equivalent of a few quid into a fund and got in return, not just a decent send-off, but a good time as well, whilst you were still around to enjoy it.
Browsing through an old copy of The Leeds Times the other day (as one does), I came across this announcement concerning the activities of local Friendly and Burial Societies. Organisations such as the Honourable Order Of The Peaceful Dove and the Ancient Order Of Druids saw no contradiction between describing themselves as “Secret Orders” and advertising their activities in the columns of the local newspaper. Once you had paid your “subs” into the kitty, you not only got a good send off and a few pound for you surviving relatives, you also got regular dinners, useful conversation, and – given that meetings were always held in pubs – a goodly amount of ale as well. 
However good their “lifetime payment guarantees” and the like are, I can’t imagine that many pensioners these days, after paying their weekly subscription, go home “highly pleased with a well spent day”.

The Musical Boy Scouts


This trio of musicians appears on the front of a vintage post card which was sent to a Mr E A Hopkins in Cardiff in October 1913. The message on the reverse is as follows:-

Lydney, 18/10/13
Dearest,  These are poor cards. The boy at the back is the cleverest, he plays cello alright. Best love, Mame xxxxxx
Lydney is a small town in Gloucestershire near the Forest of Dean, and Mame’s “dearest” lived some 50 miles away in Cardiff.

The Singer Trio – who were also known as “The Musical Boy Scouts” – toured the variety halls and music halls of Britain in the early part of the twentieth century. In an advert in the variety newspaper “The Era” in November 1913, they described themselves as follows in an advert for tour dates:
“SINGER TRIO : Wonderful musicians. 15 stringed instruments (not toys) played (not played with). Great success everywhere. Wanted. Known at liberty Oct 17, 24.

The following year brought the outbreak of the First World War, but the Singer Trio were still touring the theatres, although now they were having to share the billing with moving picture shows about the horrors of war – “a beautifully coloured production”!

There are frequent mentions of the Trio in the stage and variety press until September 1915, after which all mention of them ceases. One can only assume that the “musical boy scouts” were eventually drawn into that most tragic of twentieth century performances – the Great War.

The King, The Prince And The Prestwich Photographer

I would guess that this little Carte de Visite from the studio of W H Martin of Prestwich, Lancashire is Edwardian rather than Victorian. I know nothing about the subject of the photograph other than he seems a bright young fellow with a rather distinctive horseshoe pattern necktie. I don’t know much more about W H Martin, other than I suspect it was William H Martin who was born in Prestwich in 1878. In a description of nineteenth and twentieth century Prestwich published by Bury Metropolitan Council, Martin’s photographic studios are described as follows:
“The studio on the corner of Hacking Street and advertised as “Artist and Military Photographer … under the distinguished Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales”
The part about royal patronage sounds very grand, but every small town photographer in the land was claiming similar associations around the turn of the century. With the best will in the world, I cannot see the King and the Prince of Wales getting a tram up to Prestwich in order to have their likeness captured by Willie Martin.

Manchester With A Shiny Surface


I was in Manchester last week with a group of friends – the famous Old Gits Luncheon Club – and we were walking along the Rochdale Canal en-route to a splendid public house called The Briton’s Protection, when I spotted two buildings, separated by a few hundred yards and a few hundred years in economic history. My first reaction was to praise the old and condemn the new, but on mature old git reflection I shall admire both. Manchester has changed, but the new Manchester is just as vibrant, striking and picturesque as the old; and with a shiny glass surface.


Faces In The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit : Scan of Third Party Print

Looking at this old photograph – which is one of my lost and found collection of unknown and unwanted old photographs – I was initially fascinated by the obvious narrative. It is clearly a demonstration of the venom being removed from poisonous snakes in either Africa or India, and it would appear too date from the 1930s. Soon, however, my attention was captured, not by the snakes or their brave handlers, but by the watching crowd. Every photograph, no matter how old, or how forgotten, has an endless series of other photographs within it.

The Snake Pit IEdit)

Contours In The Snow

1913 Road Maps Of ScotlandOutside, the snow is thick on the ground and the wind has the bite of a Rottweiler with a hang-over. Even Lucy the Dog refuses to set paw outside the door. The enforced incarceration means that I have to turn to that list of jobs I have been putting off – and in particular the massive challenge of tidying my room. I am an addict, a hopeless hoarder: the kind of compulsive collector whose life has been ruined by the mass production of plastic boxes. I keep things, I put them in plastic boxes, and then I put the plastic boxes in other plastic boxes. My room is a labyrinth of plastic: each box bursting at the Polyethylene Terephthalate seam with papers, photographs and books. When I eventually get around to trying to tidy things up, I get distracted by the first thing I come across. Which brings me on to “The Contour Road Book Of Scotland”

1913 Road Maps Of Scotland

I have no idea where I acquired this small book from – it has been happily housed in one of the many plastic boxes for years. My tidying resolution caused me to examine it and to fall in love with what is a wonderful item of social history. Published in 1913, the book forms part of a series of small handbooks which were designed for the early motorist. It contains maps, descriptions of places of interest, a guide to common road signs (it appears there were only four in use at the time), and a detailed description of the gradients and conditions of all the roads in the land. These were the days when a hill might pose a challenge too far to early petrol engines.
A motorist setting out 105 years ago was setting out on an adventure.
Description : Class II.  A narrow road like the most of the other Sutherland roads. Fair surface but long hill over to Rosehall; thereafter an undulating road, with surface inclining to be loose and gravelly according to season, almost the whole way to Lochinver. On the whole it is a very good road for this County. Care must be taken on the hill descending into Lochinver”

1913 Road Maps Of Scotland

The challenges were not just in terms of the steep hills and the state of the roads – anxious moments could arise from meeting other motorists out on the road.
As the priority of position at Road junctions, Crossings, and Forks, is frequently the cause of anxious moments, it is suggested that the nautical rule be adhered to, and that all traffic should give place to that approaching on the right”
1913 Road Maps Of Scotland

It all seems so very long ago. Then, however, I look out of the window and see the line of abandoned cars, set still in the snow and the ice, beaten into submission by the gradient of the road outside. Their drivers should have had a copy of the appropriate “Contour Road Book” in their glove compartment.
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