Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week could be made to measure for the two photos I am going to share. Although I chose the theme image, its connection to two old photographs I took some 52 years ago didn’t occur to me until the other day when I was trawling through my collection of old colour slides looking for an image to post. The theme image comes from the Flickr Commons collection of the Belgian organisation Liberas, which is devoted to preserving and managing the heritage of liberal organisations in that country. The actual image features a canal barge in the Belgian town of Ghent in 1897.
Jump forward 71 years and move north-east by fifty kilometres and you will get to Bruges in the summer of 1968. My photograph features my niece, Diana, two of my friends, Dave Hebblethwaite and Darrel Oldfield, on my brothers barge, Brookfoot, which was moored on a canal in the beautiful city of Bruges. If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1968 was the famous Summer of Discontent, People throughout Europe were protesting on the streets and calling for a new solidarity between workers and students, friendship between all European people, and the creation of a new society. Darrel, Dave and myself had left our native West Yorkshire, and, carrying a banner proclaiming that “Workers Unity Wins”, we had started hitchhiking around Europe, seeing the sites, meeting up with other groups of students, and luxuriating in our youthful freedom.
My brother, his wife and daughter, were on a different European mission. They had recently sailed their flat-bottomed Yorkshire barge across the English Channel, and had embarked on a tour of the canal system of Northern Europe. Our paths crossed in Bruges, and we stayed on the barge for a couple of nights. Following the meeting which is preserved in these two old photographs, Darrel, Dave and myself continued our journey around Belgium and Holland and then returned home to go our separate ways to University, and to whatever life had in store for us. My brother and his family continued sailing through the canals of Europe and then swapped canal boats for sailing boats and headed for the Caribbean. We are all still waiting a new society, and – on this day when the UK officially leaves the European Union – I fear that it might be further away than ever.
In 1966 I took a walk around Godley Road and Beacon Hill in Halifax, taking photographs looking down on the town from the hillside. Halifax was already in transition – the mills were falling and the tower blocks rising – and the new Burdock Way would shortly cut through this part of town.
These are four photographs I took in Halifax in the late 1960s. I remember the day well: I was walking up towards the library at Belle Vue when I came across a fire in one of the mills towards the bottom of Pellon Lane. I have published individual shots from this sequence before, but here – for the first time – are all four shots.
I took this photograph of Salterhebble Hill in Halifax in the late 1960s for someone who wanted it as evidence in claim for compensation following an accident. Looking at it now, it is fascinating to see long-forgotten buildings such as Nahum’s Union Mill standing where the Water Mill pub and restaurant now stands. This area is undergoing more changes at this current time as part of the road widening scheme.
On a regular trawl through my old negatives, I came across one of my favourite photographs from almost fifty years ago. It shows two young girls with the familiar sights of 1970s Halifax as a backdrop. Those two young girls from all those years ago are still part of my life: I married the one on the right, and the one on the left is still one of our closest friends.
What is just as fascinating as the two subjects of this photograph is the backdrop. This is the Halifax of fifty years ago: a busy place full of industrial buildings and warehouses. The railway line still snakes its way to North Bridge Station and the cooling towers still overpower more familiar landmarks.
I can zoom in on that backdrop and – in my mind – walk down Winding Road to meet my father at the factory gate at Albion Mills. I can still smell the smoke in the air, I can still hear the trains rattle past. I can still imagine that I can stride up Southowram Bank and take photographs of two girls, with Halifax as a backdrop.
During a regular scanning session of my old negatives, I came across this 35mm negative from the late 1960s – and I suspected that it had been taken in Brighouse Canal Basin. In order to confirm my suspicions, I took a walk there this morning and took a series of shots of the canal basin fifty years on. Everything has changed but the basic shape and structure of the canal and locks. So much of what has happened over the last fifty years can be seen in the changes between these two photographs: the gas works and mill chimneys are gone, the pleasure craft moorings and waterside bar restaurants have arrived.
Whilst walking around the moorings I was reminded of an incident that occurred there some 55 years ago. My brother had a canal barge that was moored in the canal basin, and my father and I were visiting him one evening. His was the only boat in the basin – the scene was just as bleak and empty as in that old negative of mine. All of a sudden we heard an almighty splash, and as we emerged from his boat we saw a car slowly sinking below the dark waters of the canal. Assuming there must have been a driver in the car, my brother was on the point of diving into the water to see if he could rescue anyone, when my father – a Yorkshireman of the old school – warned him that by doing so he would ruin a perfectly good pair of trousers! Our debate was curtailed by the sight of the driver emerging from below the surface of the water, and we managed to drag him out of the canal from the comparative safety of the towpath, without risking our health and our trousers.
The water is much cleaner these days and there wasn’t a sinking car nor a suicidal driver to be seen.
The final two negatives from a 35mm strip shot almost forty years ago show what was left then – and I suspect, what still exists now – of the very first Halifax Station. Built at Shaw Syke in 1844 as the terminus for a branch of the Manchester and Leeds Railway, it survived less than ten years before being replaced by the new station a few hundred yards to the north-east.