Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Photographs from The Geoff Burke Collection

My late uncle was a keen photographer, but didn't exactly show us very many of his photographs... Perhaps it might be said he was a photo enthusiast more than a photographer, for although he had lots of photographs from the 1950s, 60s and even into the 1970s, after that they sort of peter out. Even though, during these later years he spent a great deal of money on darkroom and other equipment, much of which is of only academic interest these days.

So today I am going to delve into the collection of photographs uncovered after his death, with the focus being mainly on his lifetime, either photographs of him, or family, or taken by him.

A hand-coloured studio portrait of Uncle Geoff on the left sitting with his brother, Allan, my father on the right. This photograph always sat in a frame on top of the piano in the parlour which was only used at weekends and special occasions.

Uncle Geoff with his parents, my grandparents, at his Christening in 1934.

A street photograph of all the children living in the street. Taken around 1936, Geoff Burke is sitting on the knee of the young lad on the front row, third from the right. This must be Church Street in Rochdale, near the gasworks and the general poverty of the times can be seen particularly by the state of the two cricket bats, proudly held by boys in the photo. Both are splitting and coming apart, yet bound together by string, rags, anything that could be used to extend their life as precious playthings.

There were very many photographs, loose, framed and in albums, that were older (in some cases much older) than Geoff and I'll just include a couple here. Labelled on the back: "Charabang trip, Rochdale, early 1900s". The correct term was "charabanc" but they were commonly called "charabangs". I suspect they did bang quite a bit... The two ladies towards the back of the carriage - third and fourth from the left of the photo - are both relatives: my Great-Grandma Brierley and the other being Great-Gt-Grandma Woolfenden or Brearley. I've no way of knowing which.

The same two ladies are seen on a spanking new form of transport a year or two later, back row, fourth and fifth from the left.

This photo is of the Nativity play at St Alban's, Rochdale somewhere from 1948 to 1951. My Dad stands behind his mother who is looking somewhat glum. She was always apt to be a bit maudlin at Christmas and could be counted upon to stop most Christmas parties with "Eeh, our [name] would have been here last year..." Making the most of this hobby, the X markings are made by her to highlight people who have died since the photo was taken. Names and dates are listed on the back...

My Mum and Dad at Belle Vue Manchester, 1952/53. The zoo and amusement park had opened in 1836 and at their peak covered 165 acres and attracted in excess of two million visitors a year. The zoo closed in 1977 and the amusement park in 1980.

Dated 1966, Uncle Geoff picks up a prize at Rochdale Photographic Society. His attic still held a small collection of large prints of some of his photographs from competitions and exhibitions. A couple of the subjects were quite stunning young ladies. He used to hire photographic studios in Manchester along with models during the early 1960s. These young ladies would be in their 80s, if still surviving today. He had meticulously written records to be kept with the negatives. "x: petite, good figure, poses well, very good indeed." or "y:" (less enthusiastic description) "no good at all..."

My grandparents outside at the back of their house. This is the one we have just cleared. This will be in the first half of the 1960s.

In the harsh winter of 1962/63 the local beauty spot, Hollingworth Lake, above Rochdale froze over solid enough for people to enjoy a February day walking across it. Today if we had such a winter again there would be chains and "DANGER - DO NOT CROSS" signs everywhere!

Very rare are photographs of possessions. In the days when photography was film based and required expensive developing and printing, few people thought to "waste" film on what was then quite ordinary day-to-day objects. This type of travelling alarm clock, again from the early sixties, can still be found today, but the modern ones do not glow in the dark like this one would have. The green cloured dots at each number and on the hands was radioactive paint. So radioactive that it would glow in the dark. They were commonplace. Everyone had a watch with similar properties. Even my cherished Mickey Mouse watch glowed in the dark. In pitch dark we would hold it right up to our eyes to see how bright it could be! I'm still alive...

Many of the workers at factories though contracted cancer and died early. They had been told the radium/paint mix was harmless and as japes they would paint their fingernails and teeth, turn the lights out and smile at each other... They had also been told to ensure a fine point on the brush using their lips... Do a search for radium girls to find out more.

And we'll finish this time with a slightly less tragic story, but one much closer to home, as the fire in Uncle Geoff's photo here is his garage and car which was set ablaze by arson on 7 May 2002. Two garages and cars were destroyed, my uncle's Nissan Bluebird being only a few months old at the time.

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