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.
If Shakespeare had been around in the days of Brexit, he might have written a play called Two Gentlemen Of Brighouse, in which two friends, Herbert and Wilfred, travelled to Bradford in pursuit of the same girl, Ethel. This lovely little Victorian photo from the studio of the Brighouse photographer, Martin Manley, would have made a perfect illustration for such a play.
The career of Martin Manley traces the rise and fall of the Victorian studio photography craze. Born in Brighouse in 1850, he was the son of a family of moderate means who owned land and houses in the Bonegate area of the town. In the 1871 census, he is listed as “living from income derived from homes and land“, but by 1881 he is listed as being a photographer. This little Carte de Visite must date from the 1880s or 1890s and he is now listing himself as an “Artist in Photography, Miniature and Portrait Painter Etc“. By the time of the 1901 census the boom years for Victorian studio photographers are beginning to fade, and Manley is now listed as an “optician and photographer“, and ten years later all reference to photography are dropped.
Irrespective of his career path, Martin Manley appears to have remained a keen photographer all his life. He was one of the founder members of the Brighouse Photographic Society, and as early as 1874 there are newspaper reports of him exhibiting his photographs of members of the Royal Family and “famous views of London” at local gatherings.
There is a modern passion for “colourising” old monochrome photographs and films, and when this is skilfully done, it can provide a more accurate link to the past. Reproducing scenes in various shades of grey was simply a short interlude in our visual history – imposed by the technical limitations of early photographic techniques. Neither the cave painters of Lascaux nor the old masters of the Renaissance would have dreamt of limiting their palettes to black and white. When we close our eyes and conjure up a scene, we conjure with reds, and blues, and greens.
The early manufacturers of picture postcards refused to be limited by the photographic processes that were available to them at the turn of the twentieth century. Using the monochrome outlines provided by their cameras, they applied colour with bravado rather than accuracy, tinting and colourising the streets of our towns and cities.
This early twentieth century postcard of Commercial Street in Brighouse is a particularly good example of the tinter’s art, with its too blue sky and its mustard coloured streets. The buildings are real enough, however, and a walk down Commercial Street today would reveal most of these nineteenth century shops still in place: although the original owners have long left the scene. Thomas Clayton’s Central Mart was Brighouse’s equivalent of a department store, where you could buy everything from knicker elastic to linoleum. Think of it as an Amazon of the High Street.
The message on the reverse of the card is satisfyingly prosaic.
Dear Friends, We arrived home about 9 o’clock on Sat having spent a very pleasant time in Skipton. Father is a lot better and going about his work as usual, we hope that at some future time we may be able to spend a few more days with you, we always feel so much better after coming. With the best of love to you. From Mr and Mrs Turner.
The card was addressed to Mr and Mrs Whitlock in Morecambe, and we can surmise that the Turners had just returned from a holiday by the sea. No doubt whilst they were away, they bought many postcards of Morecambe to send to their friends back home; and the same postcard colourists had done a similar justice to the blue skies and mustard coloured sands of Morecambe Bay.
If there is one thing you would have needed in 1919, it is a bit of a tonic. The memories of the carnage on the fields of Flanders are still raw, and the influenza epidemic is now picking off many of the people who survived. So this old photographic postcard from exactly 100 years ago seems most appropriate.
Someone has usefully identified this group of young people as “The Tonics Concert Party” of Birds Royd Mission in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. These days, the Birds Royd area of Brighouse – which is just down the road from where I live – is mainly a bustling business and industrial estate, but 100 years ago it was still a crowded residential area, with street after street of terraced housing. Where there were nineteenth century houses in the industrial north of England, there were Methodist churches and chapels and missions of every possible variety; and in Birds Royd there was a thriving Mission Church – with its own Concert Party to provide entertainment for the congregation.
This old postcard, which I seem to recall I acquired from an Antique Centre, is a unique paper portal to a different age, albeit only 100 years ago. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the number of young men in the Concert Party is half that of young women. The Great War still cast a cloud over areas such as Birds Royd. Any kind of tonic was most welcome.
I finally made it to Cliffe Castle Museum and Park in Keighley on Thursday and I am so glad that I did. I went there to see the fabulous stained glass windows by William Morris, Burne-Jones and Rosetti, that were from the former St James Church in Brighouse. They are displayed magnificently along with many other examples of stained glass by the Arts and Crafts movement. In addition to the stained glass, the house itself is wonderful and the museum it contains is one of the best I have been to. The gardens are glorious, the tea-shop is charming, and if that is not enough, at the moment there is an exhibition of photographs by the Ilkley Camera Club which includes work by my friend, the photographer Andrée Freeman. What better afternoon out could you possibly have?
There is something rather lovely about this old gravestone, standing snug against the sandstone walls of St Martin’s in Brighouse. Perhaps it’s the almost Pre-Raphaelite design, perhaps it is the challenge presented by the Roman numerals. It stands out not by its size or dominance of the graveyard, but by the fact that it hides its beauty and challenges you to discover it.
JOSEPH BARBER DIED
MARCH XIX MDCCCLXII
AGED LVII YEARS
MARIANNE BARBER DIED
SEPTEMBER XIII MDCCCLXXV
Joseph Barber was a Brighouse solicitor and mill-owner. His son, William (who may well have commissioned the gravestone), at one stage contested the Halifax constituency as a Conservative candidate and later became a High Court Judge.