We can’t do smiles like we used to. Despite our endless ability to preen ourselves in front of app-laden mirror lenses, we could never match the enigma-rich smiles of this unknown trio, captured on a Bristol Channel paddle steamer in the 1920s.
Category Archives: Pictures From Nowhere
The classic British seaside: sands, sea, boats and buckets. It doesn’t matter where it is or when it is. It can be a precious day snatched from the steam-filled clutches of a Victorian mill, or an escape from a Corona-driven lockdown. I have photographs of my Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam sat on a beach during World War II watching bombers fly overhead. If the sun is even hinting at the possibility of coming out, then we British will head for the nearest coastline. We are lucky; for most of us they are far enough away to be a change, but near enough not to be a challenge.
This is an old print from a cast-aside album. The photographer may have wanted to capture his (or her) Auntie Vi or little Ernest. What they actually captured was a small work of art, and the very essence of the classic British seaside.
Happier days, when social distancing was all about getting your deck chair as near as possible to your loved ones. Times when faces weren’t covered, but head were. Eras when a tracking app was nothing more than a core left on a railway line.
I acquired this old photograph a couple of weeks ago. It’s a rather fine photograph of a large Edwardian family posing outside a terraced house. My interest in it was sparked in particular, by the address printed on the reverse – like so many photos of that era it was printed as a postcard – which was W. Sykes, Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green, Nr Halifax.
The first decade of the twentieth century saw the coming together of two distinct fashions: amateur photography and postcard collecting. Camera technology had developed to such an extent that family groups and individuals could be photographed outside the confines of a professional studio. Photographic printing papers were manufactured with “postcard backs”, with names and addresses stamped on them for use by keen amateurs. With the postcard collecting mania in full swing, there was a ready market for local views and family groups.
As far as I have been able to discover, W Sykes was not a professional photographer – indeed, I can find little trace of W Sykes of Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green anywhere. Brookroyd Terrace certainly did exist, close up against the side of the massive Brookroyd Mill, but both the mill and the terrace were demolished sometime in the last century. I did manage to track down a photograph of the terrace, and it does seem very similar to the houses in the background of this photograph.
Perhaps the photograph shows W Sykes and his extended family. Possibly, he worked at the adjacent mill and had an interest in photography. I don’t know, but that doesn’t really matter. The photograph is a fine image in its own right.
Collecting old photographs of people you don’t know and have no connection with, is an odd way of passing the time. It ranks up there with lamp-post collecting and knot-tying – and a little behind old-time sequence dancing – as a legitimate way of keeping the mind active in old-age. There is, however, an element of salvation involved, of a type you might reasonably get as a missionary. Abandoned photographs have been abandoned – they are unwanted and unloved, they are monuments to people who are destined to be forgotten. By snatching that old and faded photograph from the jaws of the incinerator, you are helping to save, not the soul, but the image of a human being. And, given time and a reasonable amount of cask-conditioned real ale, I could make a decent case for saying that, at the end of the day, the soul and the image are the same thing.
This is a scan of a tiny print – no more that an inch by an inch and a half – of a young woman stood on top of a hill. It dates, I suspect, from the 1920s. There is something determined in her look, something that demands not to be lost, not to be forgotten. I am sharing this image with the world and making it available for posterity. I am saving her image – and perhaps her soul.
As with so many of my old photographs, I have no idea who this person is, nor where the photograph was taken. The “when” question, however, is far more inviting, and the lady in question whispers “1920s’ to me.
You never see this kind of look these days: today it’s all smiles and Facebook filters. This little Victorian print is less than two inches by one, but it manages to pack so much life into such a confined space.
This rather beautiful studio photograph that somehow found its way into my collection must date from the early years of the twentieth century. There is something about the look and dress of the woman that hints more towards Great War munition worker than Victorian housewife. There is an indented studio name near the bottom of the print that seems to be J. Lister, Crossgates, but I can find no record of such a studio.
At first I thought that this was one of the hundreds of lost and abandoned old photographs that I provide a home for. They live in boxes and cases, they hang in filing cabinets and folders; they create a hazard to anyone trying to navigate their way through my office. Every so often I reach into one of the boxes and pull a photograph out, scan it, and then file it away with a title such as “Unknown Girl No 573“.
But with this one, something stopped me and it wasn’t just the quality of the picture and the eye-catching look. I suddenly saw my wife of 47 years. Clearly it is not actually her, but the resemblance is sufficient to make me think it might be a close relative. It wouldn’t be the first time such relatives had turned up in one of my lost and abandoned files. Rather than dash downstairs to see if she recognises the person in the photograph, I shall leave it here for her to discover when she looks at my blog later. So message to my wife: who is it?