Friday, 20 May 2011


Recently The Better Half and I were watching a TV programme set in post war 1940s Britain, the authenticity was good up to a point. The clothes were right, the hairstyles and makeup was right and I can be sure of these because firstly, I was around then and secondly I have lots of pictures of my family from that time and they match. The one detail they got wrong was the photographs they took. The characters in the story took some snaps and had them developed and they came out BROWN!
Photos were not brown in the nineteen twenties, thirties, forties or fifties. Probably not before then either, they were black and white. This seems to have become a modern myth that old photos were all sepia brown, maybe some very early ones were before the process of developing pictures became an industry standard, but since there is no one alive today who saw them as new, we may never know.
Old photos often turn brown over a period of time, maybe fifty years or more but they were black and white when they were new.
I have several ancient photos of my ancestors, many of which have turned brown, even have some pictures I took and developed myself as a teenager, which have also turned brown with age. These were black and white when I developed them, I can assure you.
With the magic of computers I can turn them into black and white or turn black and white into sepia, but they should be black and white, at least as far back as the 1920s.
My father and his older brother were both keen photographers and snapped pictures endlessly from the 1920s on and I have a lot of them. My uncle in particular was fanatical about photographs and belonged to different amateur photographer’s clubs. Because of this he took thousands of photos in black and white and in colour when 35mm colour film became easily obtainable. He worked for Kodak and so got his processing done wholesale and as a result of this he took more pictures than one would expect most people to manage in a lifetime. I have recently inherited the task of scanning and sorting his myriad pictures and because so many of them are excellent pictures in their own right, I decided that I would share a few here on BlogSpot.

This is one of my ancestors from the 18  somethings and is expected to be brown, although it may have been black and white originally

This is one of my uncle's photos.  A favourite subject throughout Britain, the Red Arrows.

I have to confess that I do not know where many of these pictures were taken and this is no exception.  No doubt someone will be able to tell me which cathedral this is.  

British Calvary 

A field somewhere in the UK c 1980

A converted mill


A clipper ship

Re thatching a roof.  Not a cheap job, this will cost around 30,000 GBP these days, depending on the size of the roof.

A field somewhere in the UK, a good subject for water colours

A Windmill also somewhere in the UK

A canal bridge
This is just a very small sample of the massive collection I have, some of his colour slides date from the 1950s, through to the 1980s when he died.  Many have historic content because they show cars that have long gone to the breaker's yard and places that no longer look the way they did when the pictures were taken.  He did  a lot of portraits and a whole set of pictures of his workplace, which shows the massive kind of equipment that Kodak used to process the streams of film that was used before the advent of the digital camera.


  1. Oh heck I'll do some thinking and see if I can recognise any of those places for you. The cathedral is, I think, either Norwich or Salisbury, based on the height of the spire. I'd go for Salisbury because of the buildings just visible in the background - but I'll need to do some research.

    Someone that knows about canals should be able to identify which waterway it is just from the shape of the bridge. At least they'll know which engineer was behind it. Then all you need to do is put the number (in the oval plaque) and the canal name into a search engine. There are a lot of anoraks out there!

    The mills will take work. But I'll see what I can find. I love a challenge. :)

  2. Ta da!

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  4. Ta for that, for some reason I had dismissed Salisbury, but you are right.
    The black mill is on a tidal estuary, there are other shots with the tide out and it was in a box, amongst a few pictures of the Isle of Man. But uncle got about so it could be anywhere in the UK.
    Only 2989 to go.
    I wish you could edit comments on Blogspot, it looks like I have censored my comment when all I wanted to do was change the spelling and grammar. ={

  5. Yes - I hate that too... It's usually when I try to put a link in and I mess up the html.

  6. You're in luck - for one thing I'm not very busy today and for another there are only two Bridge 163s on the UK system (as far as I can see) So I think your canal bridge is the turnover at Lady Capel's Wharf on the Grand Union (at Watford) Turnover means it carries the towpath from one side of the canal to the other.

  7. Watford makes sense, my uncle lived quite near there. You can see it is a turnover, because the tow path ends just past the bridge. Clever piece of engineering, allowed the tow rope to pass over the bridge without needing to un-hitch the horse.
    I am not sure why that picture was taken in Leeds or Skipton, the family did not live there. We are from the Fens originally and most of that generation were born around Peterborough.

  8. AJ beat me to it. There was something about the bridge that made me think Union Canal near Watford. I think I have walked along that path, not too long ago. Well done, AJ.

    I love these photos, snafu. I knew Uncle was a photographer but had no idea he was such a good one! I'll bet that ChrisJ would like a copy of the trees in the field to paint. His photo aare quite stunning. Do you know who the ancestor is/was?

  9. Kaybee, I believe it is Emily Jane (Pem), Granddad's older sister by about 9 years.

  10. Now that you mention her name, I think you are right. I have other photos of her taken when she was older. I'll have to compare them!

  11. Great assortment of photos Snafu. I don't think I ever met Auntie Pem but heard relatives talking about her many times. Now which uncle are we talking about here. The one with only one child or the one with three children? Actually the red arrows shot looks very familiar and I'm wondering if it's one my brother took.
    Boy! AJ certainly knows her stuff, though Norwich Cathedral would actually make more sense because that's where that part of the family originated. Kaybee knows more about these people than I do.
    Poor AJ. Have you figured out yet that we are all family members?
    Sorry I missed commenting. Been too wrapped up in the cat business in addition my fibro... is still making it hard to sit at the computer for long.

  12. P.S. Re the brown tinted photos, my father did a lot of sepia tinting when we were in Finchley in particular.

  13. Hey Chris - it's kind of dawning on me that you're all actually related - I knew you were close but didn't realise HOW close.

    The worrying thing is though - my dad was born in Werrington. I still have quite a few cousins etc in Dogsthorpe, Yaxley and Peterborough itself. If we're not careful I could be family too!

  14. Oh heck - I really should read all the coments before I put my nose in.... Red Arrows. Used to practice over the sea off Scarborough. We used to be able to see them from the back field at Eastfield. So Chris - your brother could well have taken it if it was while you were in Flamborough. I'd say 1965 or thereabouts. They were based at the RAF station near Beverley/Driffield that I can't remember the name of at the moment. (old age)

  15. M-AJ, The Red Arrows were most likely at Portsmouth, which is where, (Chris, the uncle with the single daughter, not the professional photographer,) lived too and which has a big military event every year and lots of little ones too.
    M-AJ, Our maternal Great grandfather and Great grandmother were both born in Werrington, so you may well be a relation.

  16. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

  17. I just love these old photos, Snafu. That field is just beautiful - it looks almost like a porcelain painting.
    AJ is right in a way; The Red Arrows are based at Scampton, but they have had a temporary base at Leconfield in the past and they still practice over the North York Moors and Scarborough, though they are only allowed to use the coloured smoke for official displays now. I'm wondering if your uncle could have captured them at one of the many air shows they do, or, as it is Portsmouth, some kind of forces do involving the Navy as well? Incidentally, with the RAF re-shuffle the Red Arrows are due to be re-located next year - first thought was Waddington but I think they are now considering somewhere in Cornwall. x

  18. The red arrows were formed in 1965 and they did not adopt the Hawk aircraft until 1979, which is the kind of aircraft in the picture. Portsmouth has an event called Navy Days, which is an important event for the navy but they do have guest aircraft too. Our uncle lived in Portsmouth in the 70s and 80s. At one College I taught at we had a private Red Arrows display every year on graduation day.

  19. Well, that sounds as though you have a possible answer then! The Hawk looks so elegant in formation.

    I was just thinking about the sepia photographs.The one I included of mum, here - - came from a strip, like the photo booth strips that we have today. Mam was born in 1913 but I don't know how old she is on the photo. I have earlier family photographs in definate black and white, so I'm just wondering whether it could have been a certain type of photography that produced the sepia tint, whilst others were black and white? x

  20. Sepia processing is still available and was introduced way back to make portraits look old, so the concept of old pictures being brown was well established long before I was born.
    There used to be a studio portrait system called Polyphoto, which took a rapid series of shots and printed out page of small images for you chose the best ones to be enlarged. If your mother's portraits were from somewhere like Polyphoto, that could account for them going brown as they were only samples, not the final picture.

  21. That is hilarious with that TV show - all those other details correct except that one. If they were looking back at old photographs then I can understand sepia, but not if the photos are supposed to be of the same time as them. Sepia is used to age photographs - clue in the wording! Heehee.

    And I am so impressed that other people have managed to work out the bridge and cathedral. It sounds like you have a huge task ahead sorting and scanning those photographs but you may find some gems amongst them. I love old photographs - people, scenes, views - they speak through the paper. :)