Monday, 19 August 2019

Dripping With Meaning

Photo trouvée : noun - an image found by an artist and displayed with no, or minimal, alteration as a work of art.

I'm no artist, but I could put together a pretty good case to suggest that this is a work of art. In the best traditions of "objet trouvée", I found it amongst a pile of old and forgotten photographs. I know not when or where it was taken, or who it features; but it drips with meaning, and is infused with art.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Through The Viewfinder

This photograph comes from a collection of old photos bought as a job lot on eBay for less than the price of a pint. I am a great fan of the novel "Sweet Caress" by William Boyd, and as soon as I saw this photograph I thought of Amory Clay, the heroine of that fine book. Boyd himself is an enthusiastic collector of anonymous photographs and "Sweet Caress" is richly illustrated with them. If there is ever a second edition of the book, I will be happy to contribute this fine photograph.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

A Question Of Sport

This is an old, real photographic postcard that must date from the first part of the twentieth century, and is full of questions. I can not be certain about the date, the place, the sport or the team. There are eleven players so I am immediately drawn to a football team (soccer team). The only real clue is a name and address on the reverse of the card:-

W Bate, 43, Shroggs Terrace, Shroggs Road, Halifax

The only W Bate I have been able to track down in Halifax at about the right time was a prominent member of the Independent Order of Oddfellows (a PPGM  which might mean Past Provincial Grand Master).  I might, however, be barking up the wrong sporting tree. If any of my Halifax contacts recognises any of these sportsmen, they are welcome to the card.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

A Paper Portal To The Past

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.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

A Decorative Basket Of Fruit

This decorative basket of fruit is non other than Olive Prosser. Who, you might well ask? This theatre postcard is signed by an actress called Olive Prosser and is dated 1931. On the reverse has been written "Robinson Crusoe. Liverpool Empire, 1931". That is enough information to track down an old newspaper advert from the Liverpool Echo from January 1931, which shows that Olive's co-stars included the slightly more famous Dorothy Ward and her husband Shaun Glenville. I have managed to track down a variety artist called Olive Prosser who was in the Broadway performance of Chou Chin Chow in 1919, but whether that was the same lady, I do not know. There is even mention of a young actress called Olive Prosser doing the circuit of Australian variety theatres at the start of the twentieth century, but that would mean that - if it was the same lady - she would have been well into middle age by the time of her performance at the Liverpool Empire. Perhaps all that fruit she carried around kept her young!

A postcard signed in 1931 by the variety and pantomime performer, Olive Prosser. We know that in January of that year she was one of the stars of Robinson Crusoe in the Empire Theatre, Liverpool; but before then or after then - who knows?

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Panel Portraits

This rather unusually shaped portrait of a studious young boy is described on the reverse as a "Panel Portrait" and is by the Blackpool photographer J Bamber of 69, Church Street. The only other reference I can find online to a "panel portrait" is by the same photographer and dates from the 1920s, so we can assume that Mr Bamber was experimenting with different shapes for his studio output in this period.  The name may have been derived from the panel paintings of the medieval and renaissance period, which would be long portraits painted on wooden panels. The style obviously never caught on and is out of keeping with the modern trend towards wide-angle landscape formats. 

A somewhat unusually shaped portrait of a studious young boy from the 1920s, which was described by the photographer - J Bamber of Blackpool - as a "panel portrait". It's a term and a shape that Mr Bamber seems to have invented ... and which never caught on.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

With Love From Hilda And Leo

There is something rather joyous about this little sepia print. The caption on the reverse simply says "With love from Hilda and Leo", and it is the smile on Hilda's face that is so striking. The photograph must have been taken during the mid 1920s, which suggests that Leo might have been one of those lucky men to have survived the Great War - or even luckier ones to have been too young to sacrifice. That smile is a smile of the times, the kind of smile you never got in the tight-knit confines of an Edwardian studio. The previous generation can just be made out at that back of the shot; half there, looking on from an earlier, sadder era. Hilda and Leo are happy and in love ... and alive.

There is something rather joyous about this sepia print from the 1920s, which carries the message "With love from Hilda & Leo". It's the smile on Hilda's face - a smile of the 1920s, a smile of the times.

Monday, 27 May 2019

There's Tons Of Money At The Palace

Walking To The Palace (1924)  : Taken from a photograph album of unknown origin.
It is August 1924 and we are walking to the cinema to see Leslie Henson in his latest film, "Tons of Money". Where the cinema is and who we are is unknown, but film itself provides a date stamp. The advert for the film claimed it was "the greatest British comedy ever filmed!". It wasn't.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

A Grand Old Age

This is an old sepia photograph of a seaside resort, which was taken, I suspect, in the early twentieth century. I don't know where it was taken: I am sure it is somewhere in England, but there are few clues in the photograph itself. There is what looks like a ruined castle on the top of a hill in the background, and for a time I flirted with the idea of Scarborough. The wall is too high, however, the buildings in the centre are too grand, and the harbour is missing. Wherever the photograph was taken it is evocative of a grand old age.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Stone Antiquities And Tree Trunk Props

This little Victorian Carte de Visite dates from a time when photographs were for special occasions, rather than the result of a selfie-click on a smartphone. Young men or women would have their photographs taken on birthdays and holidays, wearing their very best clothes, and posing against a background of stone antiquities and tree-trunk props (the props really were to prop you up and keep you still to accommodate the lengthy shutter speeds of the Victorian cameras). Every northern mill town would have its fill of photographic studios, and these would often have branches in the seaside towns that were becoming more and more popular for Bank Holiday trips.

Who this young lady is, I have no idea, but she has the look of a woman of strong character, who might just have severed that tree branch all by herself.

Saturday, 27 April 2019


Two Couples Walking Along The Prom (1930s)

There was a time when people would dress up to walk along the prom. A time of hats and coats and canes. A time of conversations through pipe-clenched teeth.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Removals, Renovations, Warehousing

Sometimes, old photographs lay around for ages, decades, centuries - holding within them images of great beauty. They are warehouses of history, repositories of memories, constantly being removed from pillar to post, from old cupboard to old shoebox. And then someone comes and with the help of a little digital renovation, a new image emerges from the shadows.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Going To Ski Down A Mountain

Unknown Man Up A Mountain (1930s)

I won't be around next week, I'm going to ski down a mountain. To be accurate, I am going to sit at the bottom of a mountain looking after t'grandson whilst his parents ski down a mountain. To be even more accurate, I am going to sip a cold beer at the bottom of a mountain, whilst the Good Lady Wife looks after t'grandson, whilst his parents ski down a mountain. Nevertheless, I won't be around next week.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Confidence Of Post-War Youth

My first thoughts about this studio photograph of an unknown young woman was that it might have been taken during the Great War. There is a confidence about her - the kind of confidence which came from women working in the factories and workshops, a confidence that somehow rose above the dangers of the workplace and the tragedy taking place in the trenches. On the reverse of the photograph is the name of the photographer: N.G. Woodhead of 27, Midland Road, Wellingborough. I have only found one reference to Mr Woodhead on-line, and that suggests that he didn't take charge of the Wellingborough studio until 1918. So maybe that look is the confidence of post-war youth.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

A Sinkhole In History Takes Us To A Missionary In China

This is an old photograph of a wedding party that must have been in a job lot of old photos I bought recently. Someone has kindly written some basic information on the reverse of the photograph: "Francis Henry and Alice Evangeline Mosse, Married at the Legation Church, Peking, November 8th 1921". Thirty years ago that might have been a piece of mildly interesting but totally useless information. Now, however, I have the greatest research library ever known to mankind in front of me on my desk, and I am therefore able to travel back in time and expand on these minimal details. Dr, Francis Henry Mosse was born in Buckinghamshire in January 1885, the son of the Rev E H Mosse, vicar of St Paul's, Covent Garden. He was educated at King's School Canterbury and Trinity College Oxford, and he studied medicine at King's College Hospital, qualifying in 1913. During the war he served as a temporary captain in the Royal Army Medical Corp in Egypt and Palestine, and was with General Allenby's forces at the capture of Jerusalem. After the war he decided to dedicate his working life to being a medical missionary, and in 1920 he sailed for China to take up a post as a physician to the Cheloo Christian University, under the auspices of the Society For The Propagation Of The Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) In 1921 he married Alice Evangeline Anderson, a young missionary from Duluth, Minnesota.

The couple stayed in China for twenty years and Francis Henry - who was always known as Robin - trained young Chinese men and women at Cheloo University. He fell ill with tuberculosis in 1941 and was evacuated to the USA for treatment, and he died there later that year. Alice never returned to China and died in America in 1979, aged 90. Thanks to the wonderful British Newspaper Archive, we are able to catch up with Robin Mosse in 1926, when he was on a lecture tour back in the United Kingdom. A cutting in the Warwick Advertiser & Leamington Gazette (Saturday 16 January 1926) tells of his attendance at a meeting of the SPG in Kenilworth, and his talk about his work in China. He is described as follows:

"Dr Robin Mosse, who is not a stranger to Kenilworth, and is known for his self-sacrificing work on the China Medical Missions, more than interested his hearers. His earnestness was impressive, and his personality charming, so the audience could quite understand how he and Mrs Mosse continued year after year to carry on the great work in a country where the presence of foreigners is resented"

Warwick & Warwickshire Advertiser & Leamington Gazette 16 January 1926

This is what I really love about old photos: you can be walking along a path and suddenly fall through a sinkhole in history, and emerge in a world a long way away and a long time ago.

Monday, 25 February 2019

A Bedding To Dispose Of

Old Photograph Of Unknown Origins With Message On Reverse

"You will see from the other side that Mother is keeping better. I sent a p.c. on Saturday week and mentioned having a bedding to dispose of, you have not said anything yet. We want to know as we want it out of the way before we finish the cleaning. It is better than the last. Mother says if you have an old one you could get rid of it".

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Round Hats And Tightly Bobbed Hair

There is a short caption on the reverse of this small print, and it suggests that the photograph was taken in Ramsgate in July 1934. I am no expert on women's fashion, but the 1934 date seems about right for this somewhat distinctive dress. Just looking at the heads on show and I might have thought that it dated from the previous decade: all those round hats and tightly bobbed hair. Some hair styles never seem to come back into fashion - thank goodness!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Oh Susanna - It's Time To Go Back Home

On the reverse of this Victorian Cabinet Card is written the following:  "My Grandmother (Susanna), Dad in black velvet suit, Uncle Dewi next, Uncle Arthur on his Mother's left, Uncle Tom leaning against her". As so often with these Victorian studio cards, I have no idea who all these people are, and there is something rather sad about the fact that the photograph is in my collection rather than gracing the mantelpiece of one of Susanna's relatives. The photograph comes from the studio of A. W. Sargent of Cardiff. If there is anyone out there who wants to claim these people as their own, just get in touch and I will be happy to re-unite them with their family.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A Doorstep-Thick Slice Of History

This is a wonderful old photograph, which, like so many wonderful old photographs, is of unknown people, in unknown places, at an unknown time. There is no need to have the genealogical satisfaction of knowing that Auntie Winnie is the one on the left, or Mabel Cuddlington is the one on the right: the image can be appreciated in its own right and as a slice of history. And what a slice it is: doorstep-thick and dripping with best butter. Were these four ladies just passing and keen to avail themselves of a photo opportunity, or was it their bike? We will never know.

Monday, 18 February 2019

050 : E.M. At 17

I can find no record of any Victorian photographer called "A. Lowe" who was based in Melton - indeed I am not even sure where Melton is, unless it is a shortened form of Melton Mowbray. On the reverse of this little Carte De Visite is written, "E.M. 17 Yrs 1900". As with all such old photographs of unknown subjects, one is left with the question - what happened to her, what life lay ahead?