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.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Every Lid Opened Is A New Adventure...

More finds from my uncle's (now empty) house. We had to wonder how long it had been since he actually saw any of this stuff himself? Looking through the possessions left after a relative dies is in turns nostalgic, surprising, incredibly sad, wondrous and, in the next moment, hilarious. Who, for instance, would have had any idea of the incredible number of cookery books that Uncle Geoff had amassed? Every now and then he would say he had baked some buns, or made some mince pies near Christmas. But I'm talking a stack of books by TV chefs that would reach as high as three feet...

Upstairs in what had been the main bedroom we uncovered a treadmill Singer sewing machine. My other Nana had one of these and we used to love it when she disengaged the sewing mechanism to let us sit at it, treadling away making the wheel spin so fast it burned your hand if you tried to stop it by grabbing the wheel! Of course (ahem) I was only a kid in my fifties then...

There were tins everywhere. Not all in great condition perhaps, as can be seen from this photograph. The tin is obviously one brought out around the time of Queen Elizabeth II's ascendency to the throne, or Coronation perhaps. But a label had been stuck over her face at one time and although removed, it has left remnants of gum that I couldn't shift. The tin contained oddments of buttons. There's something like it in every grandparent's house, whether a tin or a jar. My other Nana had a big Oxo tin and my Mum had a massive glass sweets jar...

Crawford's Red Lion Shortbread from Edinburgh. Scottish shortbread was one of those regular Christmas purchases. Still is, if it comes to that... I wonder if there's any left...

It contained combs. And a couple of fierce looking fancy combs designed to be worn rather than just for combing through your hair. The spikes on one look as though it is secured right down into the brain and beyond... There's also a couple of forerunners of those 1970s K-Tel comb-with-a-razor-blade instruments of torture. The cream coloured Sabo which bears the message "Do it yourself hairdresser" and the grey Easytrim towards the bottom. Top right is a blue long-handled comb with bristles on the side for that extra tug on your tangles (ouch!) There's enough samples of DNA attached to clone a few members of the family too...

This tin from many Christmases past doesn't give away what it was intended to contain but has a design of fruit trees, acorns, birds, deer and squirrels.

Roka Cheese Crispies. I don't remember these at all. But it all serves to remind us that there was a time before Twiglets and After Eight... Just the thing to go with your Cherry B.

Would you believe it? All the cheese crispies have gone and it now holds a bunch of candles. Memories of all those power cuts during the 1970s perhaps.

Elastoplast in a tin. It came in a massive roll and you cut off how much you needed. As kids in the 1950s our play areas were not spongy, impact absorbing soft-surfaced ground coverings. As likely as not public playgrounds were thoughtfully protected with a covering of rock hard, irregular shaped, lumpy, pointy, nasty tearing things called cinders. They were the charred clinker left over from fires and furnaces that were almost indestructable and would certainly come off best in a match against knees and elbows. Grown-ups would tut in sympathy and wash the grit out of your cuts and then splash on the iodine, which not only stained your skin purple, but was incredibly painful as it stung every exposed bit of flesh. "There, you'll be alright now..."

There were so many tins. My Grandad Burke was a pipe smoker for most of his life. As often as not instead of flaked tobacco he would buy rough cut which had to be rubbed in the hand to break it up before stuffing it into the pipe bowl. We saw an Iron Jelloids tin in yesterday's article. Let's have a look inside...

Paper clips and strips of rubber letters that look as though they have come from some sort of printing toy.

We did, in fact, find a John Bull Printing Outfit No.6. The little letters were mirrored and you arranged them to spell your message between the runners of the stamp (the red thing with the handle on the left in the box). The tweezers were so you didn't get ink on your fingers, but were incredibly good at springing a line of letters all over the room so you inevitably lost some. Inky fingers were much to be preferred than losing letters... Then the stamp pad - the other red bit) and hey presto! You could create a message. Though some letters would be darker than others because you hadn't pressed them as deep into the runners as other letters... The box also contains a rubber eraser that has seen better days and a box of gummed reinforcers. In the days when we used to put a lot of papers into ring binders, these were for reinforcing the punch holes so they wouldn't tear.

Also in the photo are a John Bull fountain pen, a bottle of ink, a Marathon pad for cleaning suede, a Progress typewriter ribbon tin now containing dip pen nibs and drawing pins, a maroon rubber endorsing ink container that was squeezed onto stamp pads in the John Bull outfit, and roll of gummed tape - pre-cursor to sticky tape but requiring you to lick it!

Old halfpennies or ha'pennies. There were several tins with old coins and some complete sets of pre-decimal coinage in old paper change bags. There's a few larger coins in there too. They are pennies.

This one contained farthings. There were four of these to the penny and 240 pennies to the pound. Hands up if you can imagine there being anything to buy using a 1/960th of a pound? The last issue of the farthing had a picture of a wren on the reverse (there's one in the middle of the tin). Earlier ones had that truly British image of Britannia with her shield. Even earlier ones had her between a ship and a lighthouse. There are some of those visible too.

Yardley's Brilliantine. It was hair oil. You put some into your hand, rubbed your hands together to make a horrible squelchy slapping noise...and then slapped both hands into your hair and rubbed the oil and goo all over your head. This gave your hair a brilliant shine as the light reflected off it (hence "brilliantine") and also made it possible to create horns and waves and sculptures of Blenheim Palace with your hair... Uncle Geoff had a habit of plastering on the hair oil and then grabbing lines between his fingers to create four deep waves. Always one for a bargain he must have bought it by the case... He wasn't planning on going bald, was he?

No, he wasn't...!

Friday, 17 November 2017

One Man's Treasure - More Finds...

Today we are back at my uncle's house with so many more varied things to find yet. Please note, this house has been emptied, none of this stuff is still there. Finding all these things, many of which I remembered from visiting my grandparents' house as a child was like plunging into emotional turmoil. We murmured in recognition, we gasped in amazement. We burst out laughing a number of times. We burst into tears a few times too.

My uncle's tape recorder. It was older than me. The Truvox Tape Deck Mark III came as a kit. You got the tape deck itself - the rectangle of cream-coloured material and then found yourself a box to put it into and bought or made an amplifier and bought a loudspeaker. Uncle Geoff made the box out of plywood and covered it in green material. I presume he made the amplifier as well with the three knobs on the right hand side. Bottom right is a Magic Eye. It glowed green except for a tiny arc at the bottom which acted like a meter needle - the gap between the two edges of green light got larger or smaller depending on the volume, both when recording and playing back. If the edges touched when recording then you were overloading the tape and the sound would be distorted.

I'm not exactly certain of the date, but in 1953 the colour of that black cover over the recording and playback heads became gold coloured on new models. Compared to most tape recorders it ran backwards. The full spool of tape went on the right and it travelled to the left hand spool. This of course makes it impossible to play any of the tapes recorded on it on a more modern player without a bit of jiggery pokery. It was two-speed. The deck could be used at either 7½ inches per second or a more economic 3¾, though this did affect the quality of sound. There wasn't a switch to select the speed. Instead you will notice that there are two wheels of different sizes on top of the machine next to the empty spool. One of these was put on the spindle on the left of the tape heads and acted as a pinch wheel. Large wheel for 7½ inches per second and the smaller one for the slower speed.

Stamps. Oh my goodness... Stamps... Uncle Geoff had always collected stamps. There were boxes and suitcases and albums and envelopes full of stamps. There were envelopes from the Post Office with full sets of new stamps, which he had on subscription as they came out. Unfortunately as he got older he found it too much trouble to open them, take the stamps and mount them in his special stamp albums, held in special holders to preserve their mint condition.

Likewise he hadn't opened any junk mail for quite a while. We found we had to open about ten years of mail in case anything referred to or contained anything of value... It took a while... It ended up with immense piles of leaflets, envelopes, demands from TV licensing to license the TV in the "empty" house. "We will send someone round!" these said regularly every six months... Whoever they sent should have looked through the letterbox - the pile must have almost reached it...

There were childhood collections of stamps. Small albums with a page for every country. By the time he got to adulthood he stopped buying stamps from anywhere apart from the UK - which included stamps issued in Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The only exception was for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. When that occurred he bought 3 copies of every single stamp that commemorated the event from all over the world. That's what this box is. Unfortunately all other stamp maniacs (sorry! philatelists!) did the same...

So how big was this collection? Well, he only had five stamps from the reign of Queen Victoria. But he had every other single stamp, in mint condition, ever issued since the start of the reign of King Edward VII, whose very first stamps are shown here. They were issued in 1902 and lasted until 1913. They are shown mounted in holders so as not to be spoiled by the gum of a stamp hinge. There were also lots of other duplicates of used stamps both loose and in albums.

Terrified at the thought of sending them by carrier, we stuffed the collection into the back of my car and took it to a specialist dealer in Warwick. Apart from those two boxes by the wall on the left, which are someone else's, all of those boxes are full and contain my uncle's stamp collection. Selling in the middle of the current austerity etc. was not a great experience...

Anyway, so that's the stamps. Now for the medicines! My uncle had inherited from my Grandma Burke the habit of taking the phrase "How are you?" as a desire of the enquirer to know every single symptom down to the weight, dimensions and number of "I've been coughing up green chunks all week..." Long before the Internet they had a massive tome - an encyclopedia of ailments, illnesses and limb loss that was consulted as soon as anyone sneezed or even sniffed. "Oh, I have been poorly..." my grandma would say, "but we've looked it up and we know what it is!"

"But Grandma, you can't have licked a Peruvian tree frog..." we would point out. Unfortunately one of the bottles in this Biochemic Medicine Chest has been broken at some point but, fearful of not being able to treat any outbreak of Galloping Gob-rot, it has thankfully been replaced and filled with the required antidote.

Nu-San Burnojel somehow manages to bring napalm to mind more than a jel for the relief of burns and wounds... Luckily it also sorts out abrasions, cuts, sunburn and general affections of the skin as well. I might try some, as sometimes my skin feels like it wants to get far too affectionate and Miss Franny has to pull me away by my ear...

Kaolin is a type of clay and widely used in medicine. In fact the medicinal use of clays both internally and externally go all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Before you start to recoil in horror, let me remind you that use of clays in spa treatments is still in wide use and the preparation of Kaolin and Morphine as an oral medicine for diarhoea is also still available but not as widely as it used to be due to newer treatments. Such were the horrors of skin ailments in that encyclopedia of grandma's that she invested in two massive half-pound tubs of the stuff!

And yes, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the tins seem to be standing on top of an arcade pinball machine. Correct. There were three, but I'll deal with them in a future article. The nice man who took them says we can go for a game when he's got them going...

Iron Jelloids. To be taken like a pill and one to be swallowed three times a day with or after food. Note for the unsure - that is three different pills - you don't have to regurgitate it to be swallowed again... Oh, the fun we had with Grandma and a good magnet...

What the heck is a Derbac comb, I hear you say?

It's for getting nits out of your hair... Or fleas off the cat... Or Peruvian tree frogs before you feel the urge to lick one...

Wylex plugs. Before the standard three-pin plugs that we have today in the UK, this is what your plugs would look like with the earth being the round pin.

We started with a reel-to-reel tape recorder so we'll end with this. This is a tape splicer. Using this handy little device you could chop the tape into bits and rearrange them all in a different order using the razor blade and then the Scotch tape. Or any old clear sticky-backed tape. The razor blade was very sharp and just shoved any old how in the box. I found it with a shout.

"Hey our kid - pass me the medical encyclopedia, the Biochemic Medicine Chest and Burnojel please!"

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Unexpected Finds at My Uncle's House

Following on from our look at my Uncle's cameras and photographic stuff yesterday, here is a record of just some of the things we found on our first visit to his house in Rochdale. I have known this house all of my life. It was my grandparents' house and Uncle Geoff lived there until 2002 when he moved to Blackpool to be closer to his brother, my father, and the rest of us. Despite much prompting over the years, the house in Rochdale remained full of stuff that he had told us he had got rid of and other stuff that we knew was still there. I hadn't seen the house since 2002 and was not really prepared for all that we found... I'll just stress now that it is now empty.

Fran and my brother admire the garden which has somewhat overgrown and come seeking warmth through the kitchen door...

On top of the sideboard were my Grandad's glasses with a locket containing photos of my grandparents. My Grandad, John Burke for whom I was named, died in 1973, my Grandma, Annie, followed at the ripe old age of 90 in 1988. The photos come from a single group photograph taken at their wedding in 1921.

The 1950s family washing machine was standing in the corner of the room. The Hotpoint Electric Washing Machine had a modestly disreet little on/off switch modelled on the gear lever of a Morris Minor...

I hadn't seen it since the 1950s and was amazed at how small it was. The last time I saw it I could not see over the edge...

Upstairs in what had been my Grandma's bedroom, we were preparing ourselves for finding things that might trigger an emotional reaction. What we were not expecting was a massive hank of human hair. Probably my grandmother's but it could also be from some other relative. Explains where my daughter's red hair comes from. Hmmm... not the milkman then... An old toffee tin contained more examples of my family's ability to produce long flowing locks. What the heck happened when I was born...?

Phew! My Grandad always shaved with a cut throat razor until late in life when his hand was becoming unsteady. Quite sensibly he placed his razors in their boxes and left them for his grandsons to find some 50 years later and wonder what the heck to do with them.

This is a wooden box with poker work design on top. Poker work was exactly what it sounds like. The fireside poker was placed in the coals of the fire until glowing red hot and was then used to char or burn a design in the wood. Perhaps the trend started with the Spanish Inquisition, whose inquisitors would practice on chunks of wood whenever Protestant or heretics were unavailable... Unfortunately the wood had suffered over the years and had the consistency of soft cardboard...

It contained my Grandad's spats. White leather covers for his shoes. Watch a 1920s/30s gangster film to get the idea.

The house was four storeys, with both an attic and a cellar. Traditionally the places where people left junk. Y-e-s... Sorting through some of this was in turns amazing, hilarious and totally gross. One massive box of textiles material had a can of liquid furniture polish under the first layer. It had rusted through and all the bottom contents were soaked in a dark sticky substance that I couldn't immediately identify. I of course had found it the hard way...

There was so much paper. In the 1930s when paper was the medium for lots of play - drawing, writing, battleships, paper aeroplanes etc. - my Grandparents must have kept and stored as much as was humanly possible. There were blank cards from rotary filing systems. There were sheets of blank invoices from various places of work. There were lots of schoolbooks kept for the blank pages still in them. Not just Dad's and Uncle Geoff's school books... They must have asked school mates if they could take their books at the end of each school year...

Uncle Geoff was the first in the family to get into hi-fi. Here is a 1950s Leak valve amplifier. Top left is the pre-amplifier for it. Bottom left is a radio FM tuner. Bottom right is a 1930s Bakelite radio

A "Princess Mary" Tin from Christmas 1914 with the countries: Belgium, Japan, Russia, Montenegro, Servia, and France inscribed on it. A fund was set up by Princess Mary to provide a Christmas gift from the nation to every person in the King's uniform serving afloat, overseas or having been wounded.

From the attic to the cellar. Here my Grandad had his workbench. An engineer by trade he not only had tools; he made tools! There were lots of examples: boxes of files, nuts, bolts, dies and taps for making nuts and bolts...

On the floor was this metal box, looking suspiciously like an ammunition box... I looked it up on the Internet. It is an ammunition box, used to transport four 25 pound shells during World War II. We opened it very carefully...

Oh, what a disappointment!

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