I was looking through my photographs the other day for one of the old Northowram Hospital, and I came across this photograph, which I took just a little further along Lands Head Lane showing Marsh Hall. When I took this photograph fifty years ago, the 16th/17th century Hall was showing its age; towards the end of last century, however, it was spruced up and renovated. I went to the Hall back in the 1950s when it was occupied by a farmer and milkman whose son was in the same class as me at Junior School. I remember being fascinated by those wonderful old windows which, when seen from the dark interior, seemed to let light flood into the room. If it was anywhere else other than West Yorkshire, the house would probably be famous with people travelling miles to see it. Here, it keeps itself and its history to itself, not wanting to make a fuss.
Category Archives: Scanned Negatives
I found this reflection of a gable end in the polished signage of Elland sweet maker and seller, Joseph Dobson And Sons, whilst I was sorting through some old colour negatives yesterday. The photograph probably dates from the late 1970s or early 1980s, and the sign must have been on the shop in Southgate, Elland, rather than the factory in Northgate, but I can’t be sure of that. The story of Dobson’s – the originator of the famous Yorkshire Mixture – is a fascinating one and can be found on their website. Like a good boiled sweet it contains flavours that are both familiar and unexpected – the family connections to other sweet makers, the early medicinal connections, and the chance discovery of Yorkshire Mixture when a tray of boiled sweets was dropped. You can’t rush a boiled sweet, and therefore it is quite right that this fine bit of lettering will be in front of me for a full day. It is something to savour.
Back in the olden days, when the sun shone every summer and when kids were happy with a mouldy orange for a Christmas present, photography was partly a chemical process. After you had carefully clicked a shutter – and, be careful, film costs money you know – you would disappear into a dark room and start mixing chemical solutions in the pale glow of an amber lamp. Sometimes things could go wrong, and if they did, there was no “undo the last action” command. You would occasionally be left with negatives that had strange markings, grain that would gather together in the manner of congealed soup, and shades of grey that were even more bizarre than an erotic dream. When it came to the enlarging process, you would often pass such negatives by – they weren’t worth the investment in expensive bromide paper and developing solution. What the hell, you would think, I will leave that one for fifty years until I am old and locked down, with nothing better to do than to rescan the negative, remix the colours, remaster the grain and remember the days when Halifax had mill chimneys punctuating the sky.
There is something about seaside funfairs – something about the noise and energy of them, and the way that gets mixed with the smell of fish and chips and seasoned with gusts of salty North Sea spray. The dodgem cars add an extra sensory perception – that spark of raw electricity that leaks from the overhead contact points. The time is forty years ago, the place is on the sea front at Bridlington. The signs that caution “No Bumping” are about as meaningful as a Trumpian promise.
I can’t be certain, but it must have been around 1967. I had been to the Central Library – which, at the time, was perversely located about a mile from the centre of Halifax – and I was walking back to the bus station, down Hanson Lane. I had my camera with me (which was more of a creative investment back in those days when cameras were bulky, heavy, far from smart, and unable to make the simplest of phone calls), and I was anxious to capture something of interest. The fire engines, hosepipes and watching crowds provided me with just the opportunity I needed: a fire in Halifax.
The original shot was in black and white, but I couldn’t resist adding a touch of colour to brighten up my daily calendar on a very damp and monochrome day.
If you ask me where I come from, I will say Halifax: even though I was not born in the town. For the first five years of my life, I lived far away in Bradford, and we only moved across the border when I was five. Even though I wasn’t born in the town, and I have not lived there most of my adult life, Halifax is where I spent my formative years, and therefore my home. My son was born in Sheffield, and even though I managed to get him back to the Halifax area by the time he was five – and keep him here for those self-same formative years – by the age of eighteen he had gravitated back to the steel city. If I ask him where he comes from, he will probably wave his Wednesday scarf in the air and say Sheffield. I will often show him my old photographs and ask him to identify the location. If they are of Halifax, he will shrug his shoulders with the kind of indifference that only a non-native of the town can muster, and ask for pictures of that southern city he calls home. So, today’s calendar picture is for Alexander – where is this? It is somewhere in the city (or it was when I took it forty years ago), but where? I have removed the street signs so as not to give it away. (Note to Sheffield Council: when I say removed, I mean removed via Photoshop rather than a bolt-cutter and crow-bar).
My calendar today shows a scene I am very familiar with as it was taken from the front window of the house I lived in forty years ago. Some of the Photoshopping may be new, but the photograph, the moodiness, the compelling shapeliness of the scene, all date back to my time living in Oxford Street, Sheffield. The magnificent building is the Grade II listed University of Sheffield Arts Tower (1965) which used to dominate the view from the small terraced house where we lived. Some times the sun would reflect off its glass panels, sometimes it would fade into the Sheffield mist; always it was there. I sometimes imagined the great Gods of the Arts, residing in the upper floors, like some twentieth century equivalent of Mount Olympus. My life has moved on over the last forty years, but the Arts Tower remains. The inevitable little aches and pains that are such a part of one’s seventies, serve only to remind me of the carved aphorism on the wall of the Medical School which was just behind the Arts Tower, “Ars longa, vita brevis“
Artificial Intelligence (AI) colouring programmes are all the rage at the moment, and can be quite successful when it comes to adding yellow sands and blue skies to an old snap of Blackpool, or even a bit of colour to the cheeks of your Great Aunt Maude. The real test, however, is asking the AI wizard to colourise something a little more gritty, and a little less likely to feature in the coded algorithms of blue dresses and green leaves. As a test – and for want of something better to do whilst being half bored to death by a tedious goal-less FA Cup tie on the telly – I subjected one of my old photographs of Dean Clough to Deep Blue and his/her mates. The result is some mucky looking steam, enough browns to kit out a small army, and a few greys with smiley faces. On the whole, not bad! (Update: there were two goals in the last five minutes of extra time).
I was lying in bed last night thinking, the way one does, about neural pathways. I can’t be sure that is the correct name for the strange threads that connect memories together, but if it isn’t, it will do until a better one comes along. Like country pathways, they tend to avoid straight lines, and cannot resist going from A to B via J, Q and G. What started this thought journey off was the random choice for my daily calendar for today which is a photograph I took at the Halifax Labour Party Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Show some fifty-three or fifty-four years ago. Leaving behind the somewhat quaint vision of these fathers and mothers of modern socialism with their entries for best dressed dahlias and presentation plates of soft fruit, my memory was quickly striding off down every neural pathway in sight. Yes, that is the then Halifax MP, Shirley Summerskill, anxiously awaiting the presentation of prizes. The hall is, I think, the one that used to be below the Halifax Labour Party rooms in St James Street: my memory of the internal layout of the building is less than perfect, although I can remember those stage curtains and back wallpaper as if it was yesterday. From that hall, the neural pathways lead to all manner of people and places, and with the photograph on my desk for this coming day of twenty-first century lockdown, it will provide me with endless opportunities to go rambling in my mind.