PEEK INTO PAST: Importance of saving old photos and postcards

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IN last week’s article I published three pictures of Burnley taken from a collection of photos compiled in the late 1950s and 1960s when Burnley Council’s former lighting department was in the process of renewing street lighting in various parts of the town.

The photos are an example of the great importance of not disposing of old images of the town. The ones I published were significant as they included images now lost to us.

Recently, I have given a talk to the Briercliffe Society’s Local History Group about the importance of retaining even more recent photos. In the selection I chose, I decided not to use an image (they were all slides) taken before 1970. Some of them were much more recent, dating back only 20 years or so, but those present agreed with me that images, even as recent as these, are important if we are to have a full historic and visual record of our town.

I have heard that several local communities are compiling local image collections. We have been doing this in Briercliffe since the foundation of the Briercliffe Society in 1983 and Padiham Archive Project has been doing the same, and more, for that town. In recent years Worsthorne and Cliviger have been collecting images of their townships and Ightenhill Parish Council has joined them.

It is important that those of you who have images – photos, postcards, advertising ephemera etc. from the past – make the effort to contact these and other bodies. They will be pleased to accept images into their collections and, if that is not possible, will make copies to ensure the information is available for future use.

Storage of the kind of information which I have been referring to has been a problem until recently. The arrival of the computer, regardless of its other problems, has made the storage of images a simple matter. The Briercliffe Society has now established a website which contains lots of images which can be found elsewhere in the collection and the same is true of Padiham Archive Project.

Other groups are moving in the same direction but, occasionally, information, from a past era, comes to us by more traditional means. A case in point is the image today. It is in the form of a composite postcard – in this case five images – all, doubtlessly published as separate cards and available in Burnley in the years either side of the First World War. The card was posted in mid-July, 1920 and was sent by a Mrs Hartley, of 172 Oxford Road, Burnley, to a Mrs Tomlin, who lived in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

The message is addressed to “My Dear Friend” and refers to arriving home at 5 o’ clock and the weather being very wet. It looks as if Mrs Hartley had taken advantage of the annual holidays to spend time with an old friend but, as is often the case, the weather intervened.

However, it is not the message which is important with this card, which, incidentally, is in beautiful condition. It must have been kept in an album and was much valued by its owner until the collection was broken up and came on the market to be bought by the Briercliffe Society for £2.50!

The card was produced by Lilywhite, the Yorkshire-based postcard firm, and, as you can, see consists of black and white photos set off with an arrangement of coloured flowers.

There are a few things that can be said about the images. At the top left, there is a picture described as “Burnley New Centre” and, of course, much of it was new at the time the photo was taken, perhaps 100 years ago.

The 1910 Ordnance Survey map of Burnley, which was re-surveyed in 1890/1 and revised in 1909/10, does not show any buildings between Hall Street (the steep street that gave access to Wapping) and the former Billiard Hall next door to the Palace Hippodrome. Both of these latter buildings had just been completed, so this part of Burnley was, not long before the card was posted, Burnley’s New Centre. The picture, which has shop awnings drawn on St James’s Street and double-decker trams waiting outside the Tram Office, was published as a postcard in its own right.

The image at the top right was also a popular postcard and, as I hope you can see, shows Towneley Hall.

The picture in the middle is of the gates to Towneley Park at Handbrig Castle which was in Todmorden Road, Burnley. The loss of the castle was a great mistake by the council which could have found tenants for the building but decided, instead, to demolish it.

To the right, at the bottom, there is a common photo of Heasandford which afforded the people of the area some lovely, and educational, walks along the banks of the river Brun, Swinden Water and the river Don. There was access to the first two but walking the latter was more difficult.

The last picture, at the bottom, left, is the rarity. This is the only copy I have seen of this image which shows two boys (I think) walking across the once famous, but no more, stepping stones across the Calder at Ightenhill. It could be that a full-sized image has survived in a local collection but Ightenhill Parish Council has not got one and it would love to have at least a copy.

Postcards, photos and other images give us a momentary glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. They show us how and where they worked, how they enjoyed their pastimes, how and where they shopped. Each image represents, as I indicate, a mere moment in time but these can add up to something much more useful and a card, like this, helps to recreate an era which has passed into history.

Don’t throw away your old postcards and photos. Contact one of the organisations above or Burnley Library or Towneley Hall. They will be pleased to ensure the images can be enjoyed by everyone. For advice about your collections, contact me on 01282 435863. I am not a dealer though I have collected postcards for the best part of 50 years.

To finish this week, could I let you know the new book “The Heyday of Palatine Square”, edited by Mollie Haines and Margaret Jones on behalf of Burnley and District U3A Local History Group, is now available, at £7.50, at Badger Books in Standish Street, Burnley.

A number of people have contacted me about the book since I gave it a mention in my column. I hope a reprint is needed.