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Photographs and Photograph Albums

May 5, 2013

Photographs are a joy. One of the pleasures of the digital age is that it is so easy to take a photograph. Some photographers might still want to take images and have them processed onto slides or film but  I found even a Box Brownie a challenge. Putting films in a camera never seemed that simple. By the time you had remembered how to put the film in on one holiday, that holiday was over. By the next year you had to learn all over again. Eventually I graduated to a really nice camera. I can see it now, a Zeiss Ikon, in a lovely leather case and it came with a separate light meter. The two of us were just getting to know each other when a friend who is a good photographer came and laughed at my clumsy efforts. He, of course, has long forgotten his response but I never touched that camera again and eventually it went to a jumble sale. In fact I never touched any camera again until digital cameras were introduced.

Fortunately there were many competent photographers pre digital and many photos remain which we can enjoy.  In the Victorian age people visited the photographer and had their photo taken in a studio or more unusually outdoors. This photograph is of working class families having a picnic, I believe, near to Old Hill in Staffordshire. http://www.sharehistory.org/janes/uploads/591-a-fab-picnic

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Photographs needed to be  put somewhere safe and the Victorians produced ornate photograph albums many of which survive today. Look on ebay and you will see  them for sale at very high prices. Most of the people are not named and any link with the family they represent has gone. They will probably end up  far away from the place to which they once belonged or split up and sold as individual carte de visite. Lost to history they become just   pretty or interesting pictures. Take this image thought to be from a Red Cross hospital somewhere in France in World War 1. http://www.sharehistory.org/lesmiff/uploads/3827-care-on-the-front-line-ww1 Bought at an auction the trail leading from the family has long gone cold and there would seem to be no way of identifying the people or the place – at the moment. The Red Cross does not know the location. Yet there are nine people here who will very likely have living relatives and it is very sad that they cannot be reconnected with their families. This is especially so in view of the circumstances in which this photograph was taken.

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Years ago I thought if I could take images of these photos before they went to auction, then more historical value might be retained. That didn’t work because of a clash of values – money versus history. But I am always interested in other people’s images and indeed have set up www.sharehistory.org so they can be kept for posterity. Most people say, ‘Oh, that’s a really nice idea,’ and at the same time their photos and other history stay firmly in a cupboard waiting to be disposed of when they die. Every history fair I do people come with carrier bags full of history, take them home, put them away and wait  for the next time to bring them out, talk to someone and give the history an airing. They will tell you fantastic stories but as far as history is concerned it is lost. Even if they deposit what they have in an archive, much of the history will be lost because they can add to and embellish each photograph or document. They want to share what they have but they want to keep it in thei own hands and with the internet that can be done. The problem is that many are not good with computers.

Oliver Leese ensured that his photographs would be safe by handing them over to the new owner of his house in 1963. That owner is still living at Lower Hall today and was happy to share the photographs with a wider audience as long as I uploaded them. In fact, like many people he was delighted to share them. They can be seen here at  http://www.sharehistory.org/projects/86-oliver-leese-photo-album 

There are family photographs, photographs relating to the history of the house and photographs of a local historical interest. This photograph is of Sir Oliver Leese and his wife, Margaret (nee Leicester-Warren.)

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It is a lovely photograph, professionally taken, which reflects the time late 1940s but more likely the early 1950s. To many people it would simply be a couple enjoying the flowers in the garden but these flowers are indicative of the time. Russell’s Lupins were developed by George Russell and grown at Baker’s Nurseries, Codsall, in abundance. When I was at school in Codsall, Staffordshire, in the early 1950s there was a field close by which was a mass of vivid colour. So this is  a nostalgic photo for me.

The house is impressive, of course. Lower Hall Worfield is one of the oldest houses in the village of Worfield.There are details of the building of a new wall, garden features and also interior shots. This picture of the dining room shows a wonderful old fireplace and Oliver Leese’s army interests. In the Second World War he had a distinguished career and civilian life must have been a struggle to come to terms with. Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 08.53.07http://www.sharehistory.org/janes/uploads/6751-lower-hall-worfield-5

Worfield is a village which visually has changed little over the centuries. It is blessed by a  topography which means that the Main Street goes nowhere and this has saved it from the over development which has befallen many villages. Nonetheless there are important landmarks which have disappeared. One such was Worfield Mill, photographed as  it was being demolished in 1939.

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There is one other photograph whose significance one might miss. The black and white building on the right is the Old Grammar School but next to it is the Workhouse and with the windows flung open wide it would seem that it was still in use. Those are the small details one can get from old photographs.

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The question I suppose is would history be any poorer if such photographs didn’t exist.  I think it would but I leave you to decide.

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