Sheffield is built on hills and therefore back yards are often more like back cliff faces. This was the back yard of the house we lived in forty years ago: big enough for a dustbin and a pushbike. Washing hung like kites, getting ready to launch once a decent breeze got up, destined for the skies over distant Rotherham.
Today’s calendar photograph is somewhere in Sheffield. Or rather, it was somewhere in Sheffield forty years ago when I took the photograph. Whether it is still there remains to be seen, and whether we will see or not depends on my two friends F&K who like the challenge of trying to spot where my old Sheffield photographs were taken from. This one is for them, and accordingly carries the enigmatic caption – somewhere in Sheffield.
It’s a strange lockdown world we live in where dog grooming is classed as an essential service but the human equivalent is not. The result is that our dog is today walking around like a well-coiffured matinee idol, whilst I look like an over-enthusiastic kitchen mop. It would be nice to think that my abundant whiskers were as well cared for as those of this unknown sitter for a little Carte de Visite from the Barnsley studio of Warner Gothard – but, alas, they are not.
Warner Gothard was a great example of those nineteenth century pioneers of commercial studio photography. He started his first studio along with his brother in 1852 in Grimsby and later moved to Wakefield and then, in1893, to Barnsley. Several of his twelve children followed him into the photography business and, in addition to studio photography, the family specialised in postcard production. Warner Gothard is particularly remembered for his “montage postcards” of the early twentieth century, which commemorated major events and disasters. In the first two decades of the twentieth century there was hardly a coal mining disaster taking place, or a ship sinking off the coast of Britain, without a Warner Gothard commemorative postcard being produced. Perhaps this strange world we live in pre-dates the lockdown after all.
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“
Another foggy, snow-covered day in Sheffield in the early 1980s (did I only ever venture out with my camera when there was Snow on the ground?). Even I don’t need help with the location of this particular photograph: whilst there have been so many changes to this part of the city, the buildings shown on both sides of Trippet Lane still exist today (although their functions have inevitably changed). I am not sure why people seem to be wandering around all over the place: maybe it is the ice on the roads, maybe it was one of the things we did back in the 80s.
Colour photographs used to be a luxury. Colour film was much more expensive than black and white film, and home processing was not a cheap option. Family pressure meant that I would have to load my camera with a colour film for holidays, but for when I was wandering around the streets of Halifax, Sheffield or Stoke, cheap monochrome film was the norm. Occasionally, however, I would return from holiday and there might have been a colour film, half-used, in the camera. So, equally occasionally, I would walk around whichever town or city I was living in, capturing it in colour. This photograph shows Infirmary Road and Penistone Road in Sheffield, taken, I think, from the vantage point of the Kelvin flats. The date must have been around the mid 1980s.
I must have take this photograph of the iconic Hyde Park and Park Hill flats in Sheffield when I was living in the city in the 1980s. Some fifteen years earlier – as a young man, I should point out – I remember being part of a delegation visiting the development when it was still comparatively new. It was still being held up as a blueprint for the future, a city in the sky. By the time I moved to Sheffield, it had become old and tired. Since I left the city, a considerable part of the development has been demolished and the parts that remain have been renewed and revitalised
The kids these days have it easy: pick up their smartphones, click the button, and applecadabra they have a photograph which is automatically dated and geolocated to within a metre of where they are standing. When I was a young lad – alright, when I was pushing middle age – you had to be inventive if, in your dotage, you wanted to remember where you took a photograph. You had to find a convenient building with a name on and incorporate that into the photograph. What better than a timeless, solid, signal box. The only problem was, within a few years someone had come along and demolished your geotag, it had vanished like a puff of steam.