Archive for the ‘photographs’ Tag

Return to The Box – Three Imaginary Boys

The next handful of photos from The Box.

beach trio bathers england vintage photograph

It’s certainly in Britain – it has postcard printing on the reverse including “British Made”. It has the feel of a South coast town – maybe Kent. Or perhaps further West. I don’t recognise the people – if anyone is related it’s the boy. It could be my grandfather, Ian, whose box this was. On the back of the photo in pencil is written I Harris in childish, non-joined-up handwriting.

The swimming costumes are old-fashionedly modest one-pieces. The man on the right’s has something written on it – tantalisingly all we can see under his folded arms is “S S”. His Chaplin (or perhaps slightly broader than Chaplin) moustache is of a time. The man on the left is pretty dench.

In the background are equally modestly dressed female bathers. The beach looks fairly rammed and tents or huts take up plenty of space. The scene is redolent of Victorian England though probably it is the early 20s (if that boy is my grandfather – who was born in 1915). The house on the right looks pre-Victorian, probably Georgian.

It’s striking that the photographer is in the water too, so presumably he’s using light-weight equipment without a tripod. His (I assume) composition is slightly eccentric with nearly half the shot made up of shallow sea.

In the sea is the number T668. It doesn’t feel like it’s on the surface of the print. There are tiny white dots in the figures as if it’s been scratched into something. No idea what T668 signifies.

toy car vintage photo

This next one has also got postcard printing on the back but no handwriting: Post Card – For Correspondence – Address Only. There is just an inky fingerprint – adult – my grandfather’s I hope.

I don’t recognise the boy – he looks less like my family than the bathing boy above.

The sleeves of his knitted jumper are noticeably short – bad knitter or hand-me-down? He has leather boots, shorts, and that cap, so perfect for driving.

The cycleable car is very old fashioned – more carriage than automobile, with its carriage lantern, thin wheels and boxy body-work. It is nicely finished with its striping, detailed radiator and number plate. So quite a posh looking toy.

It looks like he’s in a front garden, with no fence between it and the street, US-style. No sign of big-boy cars in the road. An open, quiet corner of a bygone age.

choc and marie vintage family photograph

These boys I do recognise for sure – and their parents. The taller boy is my grandfather so this must be around 1926/7. The shorter one is his brother Henry, born 1921. Henry became a gardener. He had a magical death – went to White Hart Lane with one of his sons for football and Spurs actually won; went home and did his garden; took a snooze in his favourite armchair – and never woke up again. Way to go. And a lovely man.

The father is Choc Harris (name origin was in The Box). He was a working class man from Dagenham, a cabinetmaker.

The mother, my great-grandmother Marie, was profoundly deaf. I believe this made Ian’s aka Pop’s upbringing difficult in some ways. I think she was quite angry. Her maiden name was Cohen which probably explains how come it is her line I can follow furthest back in the family tree I have been working on sporadically for some years. Her line currently goes back to 1544 in Prague. If she had a religious lineage, perhaps they keep much better records. Her antecedents founded both UCL (university, with Jeremy Bentham) and UCH (hospital) in London where both my boys were born.

Her face is very reminiscent of my grandfather as an adult. She looks slightly taller than my great-grandfather and fairly masculine. They were both born in 1886, making them about 40 in this photo. It looks like they are in a back garden, which may be in Becontree, Essex.

My grandfather, with a hand on both their shoulders, seems to be holding the family together. He’s the smartly dressed one in the group with a jacket and expansive wings-of-a-dove collar (ironic, as in later life he never gave a stuff about what he wore, in contrast to the other (German) grandpa who was positively dapper). He is the darker, solid centre among their pale clothes, the anchor.

Dive into The Box

Here are the first three photos from The Box

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The photos and documents in The Box seem to belong to both Ian Harris (my maternal grandfather) and Samuel ‘Choc’ Harris (his father). Ian was born in 1915. Choc in 1886. As a child, I did get to meet Choc and his wife, Marie. He died in 1977; Ian died in 2004.

Neither of the dapper young men in this photograph remind me facially of any family members. They are evidently on a camping trip, probably in England, given the tent is supplied by Smith & Co. They seem to be part of a club or team in light of the casual uniform they are sporting. I’m not sure when those huge collars, thin belts and high-waisted trousers were in vogue – I guess the interwar years. The shoes are similar to a rather eccentric pair of Adidas my younger son has just acquired online – that’s fashion for you, round and round.

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This one has a hand-written note in ink on the reverse.

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The 3rd Eleven football team. October 1930 – Ian would have been 15 so it could well be his team. U Coopers? There’s a school called The Coopers’ Company & Coborn School in St. Marys Lane, Upminster just 6 miles from where Ian grew up in Becontree or Dagenham, East London. However in 1930 it was still located at 86 Bow Road in the East End (Bow, London E3) which is 18 miles further into the city, due west. It’s possible Ian went to school there.

I’m pretty certain that is Ian front row, 2nd from right with his right foot almost touching the ball. The 1930s boots make a stark contrast with his great-grandson’s boots who plays for Fulham FC. The goalie’s polo-neck is also charmingly period. Choc must have trained Ian up although the 3rd Eleven status indicates football was not his passion – as an adult I only ever saw him swim to keep fit.

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This is a curious find. On the back my grandfather has written his name in pencil in what looks like his childhood script:

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So presumably he was given this around 1920 which makes sense, in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. Choc was 28 at the outbreak of the war – I’m not sure if he served. He was a cabinet maker and quite slight of build when I knew him in his old age. I guess somewhere among these 21 is a blood relative.

Why the two civilians at the heart of the military unit? Perhaps they were patrons or sponsors of some kind? Perhaps they headed an institution or school associated with the unit?

The man doesn’t look that much older than the soldiers. The pair of them have clearly dressed up for the occasion of a formal photograph session at Empire Studio(s).

There’s still an Empire Studio located between Hackney and Bethnal Green, East London, on the top floor of the Empire building. Both Empire Studio and Empire Studios are listed on this Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland (1840-1940) website.

Details that stand out include the cane or swagger stick (front, 2nd from L); the corporal with the darker complexion (front, 2nd from R); the uniform with the wide lapels and broad ties (front, far R); the jaunty angle a number of them wear their cap, something we tend to think of as American.

The Box

Last week I was given this box

box of telephone equipment

It seems to be from some kind of telephonic equipment, some sort of exchange

box of telephone equipment detail

Inside was a load of family photographs and a couple of old documents

pile of family photos photographs

My plan is to upload and explore two or three a day starting today. Here’s the first – a document from my grandparents:

wedding party menu murrays soho london

It’s the menu from their wedding party in 1938

wedding party menu murrays soho london 1938

Why it caught my eye was because of the venue, Murray’s in Beak Street, Soho – that’s where Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, made notorious through the Profumo Affair in 1963, worked as dancers/good-time girls. Here’s Keeler in 1960

christine keeler 1960 murrays club

Murray’s had opened just five years before the wedding (under that particular name – the venue originates from 1913 and finally closed in 1975). The sign is still there, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I noticed it walking by.

Murrays Cabaret Club 16-18 Beak St soho london profumo affair

16-18 Beak Street, Soho

menu murrays club soho 1938

So this was the era of French menus (to posh things up) and 3-letter telephone exchanges (STE for Stepney). Consomme Palestine is an interesting item. All in all not a bad meal.

My last Profumo adventure is here

The second document to catch my eye was this one from 1943:

national registration identity card britain

It belonged to my great-grandfather, Samuel, who was known as Choc. This was because he was rewarded with chocolate for good performances on the football field as a boy – and it stuck.

national registration identity card britain 1943

I’ll have to take a trip to Lichfield Road, Dagenham sometime soon. I did a talk out that way for Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools this time last year  and knew I was in my grandfather’s manor for the first time.

identity card 1943 britain

“You must produce it on demand by a Police Officer in uniform” – how very unBritish. I blame the Nazis.

I’m currently working on a feature documentary about the Nazis with journalist Martin Bright and director André Singer. The Nazis, they do quickly get you down – the dregs of humanity.

Tinkety tonk old fruit, and down with the Nazis

Sign-off used by the Queen Mother in a letter two years before this Identity Card (in February 1941) and later adopted by Kermode & Mayo on their movies podcast.

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