Category Archives: Random History

Expectation And Warning

All photographs capture time: old photographs capture history. This is a random image from my “Lost and Found” box – I know neither man nor dog, neither time nor place. There was a pencilled caption on the reverse of the tiny print which said “D and Louchs“, but which is which I have no idea. The image, unknown as it is, now features on my daily desk calendar: D and Louchs have been brought back to life for a day, looking out at the world with a mixture of expectation and warning.

Compressed History : Down The Pit

Is it possible to compress more history into such a small space as with cigarette cards? These tiny illustrated cards were given away free with packs of cigarettes back in the mid-twentieth century, so all the family could benefit from the tobacco trade: mum and dad could smoke themselves to death whilst smiling children stuck the cards in albums! I have a collection of my own – from the 1950s – put away somewhere in a box or cupboard, but the one illustrated here comes from the collection of my Uncle Frank – who managed to both smoke himself to death and collect the cards at the same time! The cards were published in series, and the task facing all collectors was to acquire the complete set. This gave rise to the usual cycle of buying, selling, swapping and stealing. This particular series dating from the 1930s is entitled “Our King and Queen”, and Card No. 49 shows the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The photograph used on the card was taken at a visit to a Durham pit (conveniently owned by the Queen’s family) in 1936, in the months just before the abdication of King Edward VIII. It’s another of those photographs that you could base a social and economic history seminar on.

This is a Sepia Saturday Post. To see more on the same theme, visit the Sepia Saturday website by clicking the link above.

Scented Ink And Typewritten Confessions

I don’t know about you, but I seem to be surrounded by adverts. The magazines that drop through my letter-box seem to be almost exclusively adverts for dentists, plasterers and barbers. If I attempt to reach out to the rest of the world via the wonders of social media, my browsing is constantly interrupted by adverts for opticians, hotels and, bizarrely enough, woodworking lathes. My email inbox is cluttered with adverts for services that would make a Bishop blush, and don’t get me started on day-time TV with its low-cost cremations and folding wheelchairs. Oh, how I yearn for the days when newspapers were full of news. Talking of which, I was reading a copy of the Brighouse Gazette from July 1896 the other day and I came across some fascinating …. adverts.

“You cannot afford to do your writing in the old way” – now, there’s a catchy slogan for you!
I love the idea of this. Free insurance against dying in a train accident if you happen to have a copy of the Brighouse Gazette with you at the time and have signed your name in ink.
And talking of ink, make sure you use Lyon’s Ink because, says this rather faded advert, it never fades!
And tell me why, a booklet describing the wonders of the Wincycle would be scented!1
And no media, old or new, would be complete without being able to read the confessions of Mr W H Brown (and the like) who suffers from despondency and liver complaints due to :the errors of youth”

Arsenic And Old HAlifax

It’s time for another helping of mindless rants from some self-obsessed old fool with too much time on his hands. Now, I know what you’re thinking – it will be something like “You are being a little too hard on yourself …. but, there again, I can see where you are coming from“; but you misunderstand me, I am not talking about my own pointless ramblings, I am talking about another extract from that paragon of early 20th century journalism, the Halifax Comet. I have been working my way through copies of the Comet for a good few weeks now and I still can’t decide whether it is a failed attempt at serious journalism or an early experiment in post-modern satire. As the publication reaches its tenth birthday in 1901, the editorial content gets shorter whilst the adverts get longer. It is a little like one of the present day advertising magazines you get delivered through your letter box …. but without the interesting adverts for teeth whitening and roof repairs.

The leading news item in the edition of the 20th April 1901 is a lengthy rant against the Amalgamated Association Of Tramway And Vehicle Workers who have had the audacity to demand such things as a week’s paid holiday, time-and-a-half for overtime, and an end to the practice of workers having to pay for broken tools. “How can tramway workers expect a full week’s paid holiday a year when they only work six days a week”, thunders the editorial? As far as premium payments for overtime and Sunday working is concerned, “perhaps the public would like to pay a fare-and-a-half to meet this”!

The editorial will no doubt have dripped from the pen of the owner, publisher, and editor of the Comet, the irrepressible Alderman Joe Turner Spencer. One would like to think that the propagation of these views was without a trace of vested interests, but that was as unlikely then of a media baron as it is now. The last page of this particular edition of the Comet carries an advert for the Hipperholme brewers, Brear And Brown Ltd. The advert carries a copy of an analyst’s report which proudly proclaims: “I have analysed samples of brewing materials and beer and stout and as a result of my careful examination I certify that they contained no trace of arsenic”! If the Public Analyst had examined the pages of the Halifax Comet, he might not have come to the same conclusion.

“Little Housewives” Learn How To Boil An Egg!

My room is packed from floor to ceiling with boxes full of old photos, old newspapers, old writings and old memories. Occasionally I randomly dip into a box and scan what emerges. Today it is a copy of the New Penny Magazine from – as far as I can make out – about 1898. It contains an article entitled “Little Housewives” which could form the basis of a PhD thesis on gender stereotyping at the turn of the twentieth century. Here is but a short extract:-

LITTLE HOUSEWIVES : A Visit To A Housewifery Centre. The frying-pan rules the world, or rather those who wield that powerful weapon do so; or to put it in a more matter-of-fact way, the happiness of man depends in great part upon the skill or otherwise of those who manage the household; or to come really to the point, a good housewife is a boon and a blessing to the man who is lucky enough to win her for his mate.
Bearing this weighty fact in mind, I turned my steps one afternoon towards Walworth, S.E. or, to be precise, I went down there by train, and found myself first in Beresford Street, then in a school-yard, full of merry maidens of immature age, who looked on me, I have no doubt, as a strange thing strayed from another world, for what business had a man there? Before me stood a small house, at whose door I timidly knocked, I entered to find myself in a neat kitchen, on the left I saw an equally neat scullery, on the right a cool-looking tidy sitting room. I was in the “housewifery centre”, which I had come to see, where I had heard that girls were initiated into the mysteries of house-keeping.
COOKERY AND DOMESTIC ECONOMYLESSON IX : Theory – (a) Eggs; their chief constituents. (b) How to test and preserve them. Demonstration – Poaching an egg. Custard pudding. Boiled batter pudding. Class Practice – In above and boiling an egg. Principle Taught – Dietary value of eggs, various methods of using and cooking them.
DOMESTIC ECONOMY AND LAUNRY WORKLESSON IV : Theory – The process of washing, rinsing and blueing clothes. Blue and whence obtained. Demonstration – Washing “fine things”, rinsing and blueing.


It will form a suitable calendar photo for today, and perhaps remind me, not only how to boil an egg, but of the importance of social change.

A Comet Over Halifax

A couple of years worth of copies of a newspaper called “The Halifax Comet” have just been added to the collection of the ever-splendid British Newspaper Archives, and as I had never heard of this newspaper, I was anxious to dive in and see what it was like. I would like to report back and say that it was full of insightful reporting about conditions in the town at the close of the nineteenth century, but I am unable to do so – because I couldn’t really understand a word of it. The entire thing is written in a strange style that contains vaguely recognisable words that have been drained of all meaning by the way they have put together. To illustrate my point, I will quote just one paragraph in the leading article of the edition of the 29th December 1894. It comes from an article which appears to be about the appointment of abstaining vegetarians as Poor Law Guardians! 

All this, unexplained, is exceeding mysterious in the eyes of the uninitiated . It so happens, however, that at the dinner aforesaid, a gentleman connected with this journal was entrusted with the records of this peculiar Society, and also was desired to edit and publish the same – so far as they may be suitable for publication -for the benefit particularly of the members of the said Society who , may themselves be but partially instructed in its history, and generally of the Readers of THE HALIFAX COMET, which is equivalent to saying, of the Public itself. The records will occupy a little time in examination, and notes upon them will be published after the close of our articles on City Finance.

It may be that the entire publication is supposed to be satirical, and satire tends not to age well. I will continue to work my way through at least one of the thirty-six page issues in search of enlightenment and if I find it, I will report back. Equally, I will see what I can discover about the paper’s somewhat eccentric owner and editor, Joe Turner Spencer, one time Halifax Councillor, Alderman and Chairman of the Morecambe Pier Company!

Hope Over Elland

According to my Little Oxford Dictionary, the definition of “wandering” is to aimlessly move from place to place in a casual fashion. That being the case, I declare myself a wanderer, indeed I will consider putting that down as my religion when the census forms arrive in a few weeks time. The Lockdown places a severe restriction on my ability to aimlessly wander, of course, but even within the confines of a definable “local area”, I am still able to practice my religion. Yesterday we wandered around the lower part of Elland and up Exley Bank (like all good religions, wandering needs a bit of sacrifice in its devotions – that’s why hills were invented), and for the first time in my life, I discovered Elland Cemetery. For those who haven’t been, it is one of those expansion cemeteries, added to towns in the nineteenth century when the local churchyard became too full. It occupies a spot high on the hill, looking down on where Elland Hall used to stand, and where endless vehicles now by-pass Elland. There are some fine gravestones and monuments, but one in particular caught my eye – a fine stone statue that appeared to be pointing departed souls in the direction of Ainley Top and the road to Huddersfield.

One of the great things about wandering as a religion, is that it can be practiced just as easily from a desktop; and so on my return home I went wandering through the records to find out more information about the statue – which was on top of the grave of Eli Garnett and his family. After consulting the sacred texts – the prophets Google, Malcolm Bull, Census records and the British Newspaper Archives – I eventually found the following piece from the Halifax Guardian of 21 September 1889.

“A WORK OF ART – At the monumental works of Mr J Noble, West Vale, there is a monument which is about to be erected in Elland Cemetery to the memory of the late Mr Joseph Garnett, son of Mr Eli Garnett, of Lowfield House, Elland. The monument is in classical design, and stands on a massive pedestal, and an inscription stone containing a marble panel, which is an exact facsimile of a medallion representing an emblem of music copied from the monument of Jenny Lind. The total height of the monument is 13ft, the pedestal, which is 7ft 6in high, being surmounted by a life-sized figure of Hope. The whole is executed from Bolton Wood stone, and has been done at Mr Noble’s works at West Vale. The figure itself has been carved by Mr Arthur S Rogers, Holywell Green, and is a fine example of delicate and skilful workmanship”

I too, think that the figure of Hope is a fine example of skilful workmanship, but I will leave it to my brother to provide a proper professional assessment. Skilful or not, meeting Hope standing high over Elland, made my day.

The Socialist Matrons Of Brighouse

Someone was saying to me the other day that they had just been to a Labour Party meeting (virtually, of course) and it had seemed terribly old fashioned – like something from the nineteen seventies. That’s nothing, said I in the way only annoying old men can, when I was a lad, Labour Party meetings were positively antediluvian. Reading a copy of the Brighouse News from February 1910 a couple of days later, I came across a report of a meeting of the Brighouse Independent Labour Party (its complicated, but the ILP were at the time affiliated to the wider Labour Party), which seemed to prove my point. It brought back fond memories to me, but surely even I cannot be old enough to remember going to political meetings in the run up to the Great War!. If that is the case, however, how come an embroidered silk bookmark from the 1913 ILP Conference fell out of the back of one of the books I was reading recently?

ILP MATRONS’ EFFORT. The matrons connected with the Brighouse Independent Labour Party have been the promoters of many profitable functions in the past and a tea, concert and dance held by these untiring ladies on Saturday was quite up to the average, if not more successful than any previously held. Tea was first served to a large number of persons in the Institute, Bradford Road, the matrons being responsible for the placing of an excellent repast before their guests. These proceedings concluded, an adjournment was made to the Oddfellows’ Hall, across the way, where the first half of the evening was occupied by an entertainment sustained by the matrons. The programme consisted of the following items:—Chorus, “The dawn of day”; song. “And a little child shall lead them.” Mrs. Cottingham; recitation. “Broken hearted.” Mrs. Tattersall; musical sketch, “Our night out.” eight matrons; song, “Grandma,” Mrs. Smith: dialect, “The baby lapped in flannel.” Mrs. Morrison; musical sketch. “Caller herrin,” eight matrons; song. “The light of day.” Mrs. Cottingham; recitation. “The old maid’s soliloquy,” Mrs. Tattersall; duet. “Silver moonlight.” Mrs. Bottomley and Mrs. Bates; musical sketch. “Could we but rule.” eight matrons; recitation ” Uncle Joss.” Mrs. Cottingham; song, “Home. dearie home,” Mrs. Smith; sketch, ” An unexpected entertainment,” five matrons. Mrs. Truelove acted as accompanist. The remainder of the evening spent in dancing to music supplied by the Clifton Prize Band. 

A Waste Of Time

Throughout my life I have experimented with psychogeography (the non-structured exploration of urban environments by chance). As a child, some 65 years ago, my father and I would often go to Halifax Bus Station and catch the first bus that was leaving to “see where it took us”. Ten or more years ago, I embarked on an exploration of West Yorkshire by visiting 500 metre squares chosen by a random number generator. Such exercises in psychogeography are activities for sunnier months – and months when we are not locked down at home. In winter months, therefore, I restrict myself to psychogeography’s first cousin – psychohistory. And by that I mean, the random exploration of history, driven by chance and a delightful lack of purpose. So let us jump on any old newspaper and see where it takes us.

For my exercise today I have not used a random number generator, but simply gone back 100 years to the 11 January 1921. My newspaper of choice is the Daily Mirror, for no other reason than it had an attractive front page, which is useful if I have to live with it on my desktop for the rest of the day. And, as expected, my pointless exploration of the byways of history had fascinating results.

100 years ago today, the Hereford by-election took place and the front page of the Daily Mirror (then a ultra-conservative, right-wing paper controlled by the Harmsworth family) was full of photographs of their favoured candidate in the election, Alderman Ernest Langford. “Alderman Langford, a local man, liked by all who know him, smiles in anticipation of victory” runs one of the captions. Langford was the anti-waste candidate, and the Mirror was a big supporter of the Anti-Waste League (a political party established in 1921), indeed the Mirror owners’ son was the leader of the party. 

You can forget your twenty-first century interpretation of the name of the campaign – this had nothing to do with pollution and the environment. The “waste” they were against was the waste of public expenditure on such things as benefits for the poor, house-building or any kind of state social provision. They wanted a small state and an even smaller rate of income tax. Given their media backers, they were remarkably successful, and soon had the ruling Conservative party fearing an electoral rout: so it quickly took the policies of the League on board and began to push, what we would now call “austerity” in a bid way. They appointed a commission under Sir Eric Geddes to look into public expenditure, and the Committee eventually recommended sweeping cuts in spending on education, health, housing and pensions – the so-called “Geddes Axe”.  Most people now agree that the impact of this was to seriously exacerbate the economic crisis that dominated the 1920s and 1930s.

Who says you can’t learn anything from history!

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