• another window opens in the album

    Still on the track of my William H. Thomas and three of the images suddenly came to life today.

    The three photos below clearly show the inauguration of a new lifeboat. The first picture shows a parade coming past The Hoe Grammar School, so straight away we know it's Plymouth. Checked out a couple of sites which go into some detail about the history of Plymouth's lifeboats and find that one Alan Salsbury wrote a book about twelve years back which cites the RNLB Robert and Marcella Beck being on station at Plymouth from 1926 to 1943. She was a 60 foot Barnett Class lifeboat (only 4 were ever built) constructed at Cowes, Isle of Wight by J.S. White. The boat arrived on station 1 June 1926, had her first service launch 12 January 1927 and her inauguration ceremony took place during Plymouth Civic Week on 12 July 1927.

    The name on the bow of the boat is indeed RNLB Robert and Marcella Beck so we have a confirmed date for the pictures. I put the event and date into Google and amazingly found that Pathe News had been there to record the event, and the title told us that the lucky lady wielding the bottle across the bows was Lady Jellicoe. The footage is brief, but it somehow seemed slightly surreal to see the whole event unfolding 88 years ago, knowing that our man was there taking photos. I scanned the footage in vain, hoping I might catch a glimpse of him taking his pictures. Sadly, to no avail.

    I don't know why I feel so excited by this tiny insight, but there it is - see what you think & Google the bit of newsreel.

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  • Back to that album

    You may recall that a couple of weeks back I offered you a short selection from my Christmas present album of photographs by William H. Thomas. Well, on and off over the last few weeks I've been carefully copying many more of this very eclectic collection of pictures. I think 'gifted amateur' is a very fair assessment of WHT's capabilities, but the more I study some idividual images the more I am finding out about the man and his life - if he had an eye for the obvious then he also had another eye for the weird, the wacky, and the sort of pictures that might easily have been rejected or overlooked by others. Sometimes it's the very commonplace day to day events that find their way into his album, changes in his familiar haunts, or simply photographic serendipity. See what you think.....

    The great shame about the whole album is that WHT chose not to annotate almost all the photographs so it's a massive task to pin most of them down, but I'll get there. One of the few and perhaps most poignant of WHT's additions was the heart he drew between the two tiny postage stamp sized studio portraits of himself and his wife on the first page of the album.

    If anyone out there knows of a Thomas family who appear to have ended up in Herefordshire before, I suspect, the last remaining member passed away, I'd love to hear from you. However, if my guess is right it may be that WHT's daughter was the last of the line. If she was a spinster then the name might register with someone. If she married then perhaps we'll never know.

    I have found this whole process totally absorbing, maybe even a little obsessive, but I'm beginning to see the germ of a book and a tale to tell - a fine example of the sort of snapshot of life that we may not have when people look back at the early 21st century in another hundred years.

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  • New hotel opens for business & mistletoe on the up

    Up on our local Bromyard Downs yesterday & discovered that some bright sparks have built a new bug hotel out of old pallets and bits'n'bobs. Great idea - hope it survives the weather and the idiots (there's alway one or two) as it will be a wonderful haven for all sorts of beasties. In a way it's a shame it wasn't ready before winter set in, so there were hibernation chambers for insects like ladybirds, but it will be ready for next winter and all those lovely holes & hollows will be ideal for insects like solitary bees nesting in the spring. I think it's also rather a fine bit of rustic sculpture too.

    En route to see a couple of my card customers in Malvern this morning & turning out of Albert Park Road, heading down to Malvern Link, I was struck by the amazing infestation of mistletoe in some of the common limes along the roadside - one or two of the trees to the point where they almost looked as if they were already in leaf with the sheer bulk of greenery. Having lived in the area for 25 years now I am firmly convinced that mistletoe is progressively responding to global warming by growing faster and with greater vigour so that it often totally infests individual trees. Although this semi-parasite relies on the host tree for its survival the bulk of its ever expanding bundles can have catastrophic consequences. With trees like these limes there's a good chance that the mistletoe will block out much of the sunlight that the emerging foliage will need in a couple of months. The incredible weight of the plant on this tree will cause stress - many of those larger bundles will be 10-20 lbs in weight. If we have spring gales the windsail effect of all those masses could well lead to failure of branches or even the whole tree. Malvern Hills Council really needs to think about some management on these.....& pretty quickly I reckon.

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  • Wasdale Head & Great Gable

    Up in Cumbria for last couple of days and managed to get out for a bit of a walk with my brother, Simon, yesterday. Took a cautious drive up to the end of Wasdale and then walked up to the snow line on the lower slopes of Great Gable - a proper mountain shaped mountain. The light was so sharply defining every single tiny contour, rock and boulder of the mountains and the low sunlight sweeping up the valley gave great saturation to the winter browns and greens. We gazed up at the craggy peak of gable & just for a moment flirted with the idea of hitting the summit, but the common sense sensor kicked in - we knew we barely had enough time, as it was already mid afternoon and without ice axes or crampons tackling serious snow was out of the question. Still, when you're sitting on the lower slopes, protected from the bitter wind, basking in winter sunshine, there is something of a temptation. Reluctantly we retraced our steps, but I still have some handsome shots to mark the day.

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  • A photographic gem from the past

    Many years ago I used to own an extensive collection of Victorian photographs, collected over about 30 years, and they were a fascinating record of the life and times (principally of the middle classes admittedly) of Victorian Britain. Part of the fun was the treasure hunting aspect, with the chance of a great find the constant lure, but as more and more people wised up on the value, both historically and financially, of old photographs the pool began to dry up. Unable to find new images the collection went into a kind of stasis, and eventually, tempted by an offer I couldn't refuse the collection was sold on.

    Ever since that time my interest in vintage photographs has not waned and every so often something exciting will turn up....but rarely. Imagine my excitement on Christmas day when I unwrapped a large buff coloured photograph album, bulging with photographs from the early 20th century. Jan had dropped on this remarkable collection in a charity shop and could hardly contain her excitement at the discovery. And rightly so! Here is a collection of photographs by one W.H. Thomas, who appears to have been a very gifted amateur keen to document the world about him in the early years of the 20th century. Yes, there are plenty of photographs of friends, family, pets, home and holidays, but there is so much more. It appears that our Mr. Thomas worked for a period at Avonmouth Docks near Bristol - there are many shots of the day to day activities around the docks. He also appears to have been particularly interested in ships and boats of all descriptions - from the ocean going liners and battleships to submarines, racing yachts and paddle steamers. He travelled around South Wales and the West Country a fair bit documenting his excursions, even going up to London too, but what really makes this album sparkle are the obscure documentations, the weird events and even the occasional 'art' photograph. There are over 1,000 photographs in the album and I am having a glorious time trying to discover more about Mr. Thomas and his family. I am coming to the conclusion that in another life I would have been an archivist of some sort. It's a sad reflection that so many family albums like this must have been thrown out in the past, so I feel relieved that this splendid document of life almost a century ago has been saved for posterity. I am gathering that Mr. Thomas and his wife appear to have had one daughter, probably born around 1920, so perhaps this album has come from the deceased estate of that daughter (she would have been getting on for 100 if still alive today). It's all conjecture at the moment, but I'm going to do my best to find out more.

    Studying the background detail to many pictures is illuminating. In WHT's casual group photograph of his family sitting waiting for a train on the station platform he appears to have captured the essence of the individuals and their interrelationships - sister sits, beaming, cuddling her English setter, wife (or perhaps still girlfriend) looks a little shy, slightly abashed by the moment, grandmama pointedly ignores the whole business, lost in slightly grumpy contemplation, while mother dotes on her boy with his photographic passion. In the background we can see that the station belongs to the London & North Western Railway and the poster gently suggests to travellers that they might like to consider taking 'Early Holidays' as there is 'More sunshine in June than there is in August'. Frustratingly, the board on the right has just been clipped through the date so we can only see 19, but one suspects this would have been around 1910.

    Have a look at just a few of the images copied so far. More to come at a later date.

    Oh, and happy new year to you all.

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Archie Miles photography

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