Sunday, 16 July 2017

Grandma's 1920s Photo Album

Amongst all the many sentimental treasures discovered following the death of my uncle earlier this year was a photo album belonging to my grandmother. Labelled in her handwriting the inside front cover proclaimed "Annie Burke, 1927" and approximately half of the pages contained photographs most of them labelled (yahoo!) with dates and place names but sadly not with the names of the people shown... Take back some of that "yahoo"! The photos I have scanned so far date from between 1918 and 1927.

Some of the photos are very small. An inch along the longest edge. Most have been closely cropped with a pair of scissors. Some are sepia toned. Some are black and white - well... grey and lighter grey... Many show areas of damage from fogged light on the film, wear and tear, stains and cracks or fold marks. I've spent some time preparing them therefore and the following photographs and those of the follow-on articles (there will be a few...) have been repaired as best I can and are presented in a consistent sepia tone.

On the left is a 1920 photo of Annie Brierley, who in 1921 would marry John (Johnnie) Burke and then in time become my grandmother. Until this year I had never seen any of the photographs in this article. Apart from family members who I personally remember in their later age, I had never looked on some of my forebears that appear here. On the right is Annie's sister Elsie, who I would know as my great-aunt. This photo was taken in 1919.

Here are the girls again with their mother, Margaret (Maggie) Brierley who I would know as (Great) Grandma Brierley. The photo was taken in 1921 and both girls were to marry within a few months, so perhaps a last chance to be photographed as "Brierleys".

A different occasion but also from 1921, the girls are seen here with their father, who died before I was born. Until recently I had never seen a photo of him and I'm afraid I still don't know his name.

Two unknowns I'm afraid. They could be Maggie's husband's parents, or Johnnie's grandparents perhaps - the man has a slight resemblance. It's equally possible that they weren't even related to each other... The man's photograph is dated 1919 and the woman's photo a year earlier in 1918.

I have no idea who the man on the left is, but the other two are (centre) Percy Alston, my great-uncle, who I remember as a very jolly chap. The photo was taken on Morecambe beach in 1927, so by this time Percy was Elsie's husband. I've mentioned him on this blog before - he ran a photographic shop on Spotland Road in Rochdale through the 1950s and 60s and they retired to a bungalow in Overton, near Morecambe. On the right is my grandfather John Burke, for whom I was named. A pipe smoker, he kept the habit all his life, preferring flake tobacco which he would rub in the palm of his hand before loading his pipe with it.

I've already showed a photograph of Johnnie and Annie's wedding in an earlier article so here is the wedding of Percy and Elsie Alston. Of all the people on the photograph, I only know John, standing on the far left next to Percy and Elsie and Annie on the front row. Elsie has a new hat for her wedding, Annie is wearing the hat that she got married in, a few weeks previously. The girl sitting on the far left of the front row appears to be wearing Elsie's hat from that previous wedding! I would hazard a guess that the younger girl standing on the right is Percy's sister, but there must have been some family fall out at some point and I know nothing about and certainly never met or heard about any of his family at all.

Four years later, it's 1925 and there is a family holiday to Blackpool. Again I don't know, but the couple on the far left back and front I take to be man and wife (as they appear together on other photos) and perhaps they are Percy's parents? Next to him, second left on the back is Great-Grandad Brierley - he of the mystery first name and I think the lady in front of him is Maggie - strangely, she looks so like her mother it is hard sometimes to tell them apart but given the date, Maggie would be 45 so I think this is her. Percy Parasol is next - I'm sorry - I mean Percy with a parasol! I did say he was jolly... Johnnie brings the back row to a close. Making up the centre and right of the front row are Elsie in the middle and Annie on the far right flanking a young lady who could be the 18-19 year old version of the 14-15 year old girl seen at Percy and Elsie's wedding above.

Middleton Sands, Morecambe in 1927. This must have been the same trip that we saw these three gentlemen on Morecambe beach earlier. Both Johnnie and Percy had motorcycle combinations - as a motorbike and sidecar was known in those days. I think they were members of a club in fact. At one time my Grandad had had the much coveted Ariel Square Four, but it backfired once when he was kicking it over. The whiplash of the kick pedal broke his ankle and he sold it straight afterwards without riding it again. Johnnie is in the centre, Percy - somewhat blurred - on the left.

There are not many purely scenic photographs in the album, but I'll finish with this one. It was taken from the top of Blackpool Tower in 1920 and shows a Promenade Road virtually empty of cars. Even on the expanded version that I can look at I can identify few cars for definite. There is just one car or van behind a horse-drawn landau about to disappear off the bottom edge but all other larger vehicles could be cars or landaus. I remember when there were a few boats that used to take half-hour sea trips but there are at least 16 on the Promenade in this photo! Apart from the novelty of being on the water, a boat trip at Blackpool doesn't compare to most other places. There are no rocks, no headlands to go round - just a straight coast so that the bit between sky and sea got thinner and thinner for quarter of an hour and then thicker as you came back again... The other novelty to see, almost 100 years after this photograph was taken are the two rows of bathing machines lined up below the boats with a number already by the water's edge near the pier.

Return to Found Photos Index Page

Monday, 3 July 2017

A Bit of Family History

In March 2017 we lost my Uncle Geoff at the age of 83. He had gone into hospital the week before Christmas and had spent a few weeks in February and March in a care home with a few more spells in hospital. It had almost been a long standing joke that although he was a keen photographer, we virtually never saw any of his photos. But I'm not sure we expected to find the wealth of early family photos that we came across, once we started to sort through his estate. Here are family members as I had never seen them before. Some of them I had never seen full stop. Some of them I didn't know their names until recently. Some, sadly, I still don't know quite who they are...

This is my Great-Grandma Margaret (Maggie) Brierley, aged 18 in 1898. In the May of that year she gave birth to my grandmother so I'm guessing this is either late in the year or very early and the hand is strategically placed... Incredibly a couple of months after I scanned this professionally produced card, I unwrapped the paper from around what I thought was a framed photo and found the original glass negative of this photo!

I had never seen a photograph of this man before. He is my Great-Grandad Brierley. I'm afraid I don't know his name even now. And I presume he is standing with either his own mother or Maggie's mother so she must be one of my great-great-grandmothers!

Coming down a generation, this could almost have come from those incredible photographs in the book Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. However, this is my grandmother, Annie Brierley who would later marry John Burke (after whom I was named) and her sister, my Great-Aunty Elsie.

By the age of 17, Annie was quite the beauty. This would be 1915, the year she met "Johnny".

Taken the previous year in 1914, this is John Burke, my grandfather. He never went away to war, being a trained engineer, his work was essential to the war effort back home and he had already lost two fingers from his right hand in an accident at work. Whilst no doubt a relief to John's family, the photo of him in the uniform with Royal Field Artillery badge probably suggests he would have wanted to go. The cap badge was carefully kept and stored away for us to find (below) along with RFA shoulder badges and a few other mementoes.

John's badges denoting him as being on War Service. Without these identifiers he would have been in danger of receiving the infamous white feathers from patriotic women, suggesting he was a coward. The badge on the left is from David Bridges engineering firm in Castleton, Rochdale. Dated 1915 it would that year be outlawed by the Government as they thought firms were trying to keep their trained workers by issuing their own badges. The Government brought out their own enamelled badges, but then realised just how many men were essential to the war effort in factories at home and very quickly issued the plain brass badge seen on the right. Individually numbered on the back, the identity of anyone wearing one could be quickly ascertained by the authorities.

William Thomas Burke was John's father, my great-grandfather. A man who I knew nothing about whatsoever until we found this and a few other bits of information. I previously had never seen a photo, nor knew his name. I still know next to nothing about him other than the name. A postcard he sent tells me that he had a dog named Lady and there we are - my only knowledge about him.

Mary Burke was John's sister. She hated the fact that people in Rochdale pronounced "Mary" to rhyme with "furry" and decided she would be known as "Cissie", by which name she was known all of her life.

Cissie never married, though according to my Mum, she had had a string of admirers and in this photograph from the 1920s/1930s she certainly did not lack for confidence! I only remember her as a grey-haired and very wrinkled old lady who smoked one cigarette after the other until eventually in her eighties, she succumbed to lung cancer. She remained slim all of her life and had a good sense of humour and lived in the house that her parents had lived in on the main road in Castleton, Rochdale. I remember she had an outside loo with a long drop over an open sewer far below which you could glimpse by shining a torch down. It terrified me as a kid...

The marriage of my grandparents, John Burke to Annie Brierley on 11 June 1921. From left to right: Percy Alston, my Great-Uncle by marriage as he was soon to marry Annie's sister, Elsie Brierley, who stands next to him. John has been posed carefully so that it might appear that his missing two fingers on his right hand are merely folded back to hold the glove; Annie, looking a little lost in the moment of it all; Jim Ivory - I know the name but nothing else; and finally Cissie, seated at the right. The wide and low brims of Annie and Cissie's hats have led the photographer to employ some trickery to make their eyes visible. I suspect the use of a masking device when printing allows the whites of their eyes to show and their eyes have then been drawn in at least partly with pencil. Unfortunately in Cissie's case this has given her a slight squint which she definitely did not have in real life!

Fifty years later in June 1971 this was taken on John and Annie's Golden Wedding celebration. Johnny had been let out of hospital especially for the occasion. He had been walking to Great-Grandma Brierley's one day in 1970, forgot where he was going in the middle of crossing the main road and just turned round to walk back home - straight into the path of a car. Horribly injured, whilst he survived, his mind wandered and this would be the only time he came out of hospital before he died in December 1973.

Back Row: Evelyne Burke, my Mum; Elsie Alston, Annie's sister; Florrie Woolfenden, Annie and Elsie's aunt, my great-great-aunt and sister to Maggie Brierley; Cissie Burke.
Front Row: Annie and John Burke, my grandparents; Maggie Brierley, Annie's mother and my great-grandmother. Two years later 1973 would be a terrible year for the family, bringing the deaths of Elsie Alston (Percy had died in 1971 not long before this gathering), Cissie Burke, Johnny Burke, and Maggie Brierley.