Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sepia Saturday 89: W. Barnes & Co shop front

After a lengthy break from blogging - my last contribution was seven weeks ago - I will resume my weekly Sepia Saturday posts with a gentle start. Alan Burnett's photo prompt displays a Sydney, New South Wales shop front in 1934, and is titled "Depression Bread Wars: Corner Shop ..."

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Despite the wealth of perhaps far more interesting themes that I could explore, I'm instead going to share a sedate photograph of a shop front from my own collection, one which has little in common with that sad scene from the Depression era. It is a loose paper print (149.5 x 109.5 mm) which may at one time have been mounted on card, although all sign of that has long since disappeared, along with its provenance and any external identification of the subjects.

The shop front is that of W. Barnes & Co who, according to the signs, offer a full range of services: glovers, general drapers, milliners/hat specialists, mercers and tailors. I'm guessing that it's winter as they are offering "warm winter gloves" and "jumpers." The group arrayed in and around the front doorway consist of two men and six women. From the women's hairstyles, I'm guessing that it dates from either just before or during the Great War, say between 1910 and 1916ish. A tradesman's bicycle with the firm's name on it is leaning against the window. The shop forms the ground floor of what appears to be a three-storey building. The doorway and the left hand display window are illuminated by electric lights. The pavement is formed, but a little uneven, and the roadway looks to be rather muddy.

If anyone knows where W. Barnes & Co. plied their trade, or can ferret out further clues as to their location, please do leave a hint in the form of a comment below. For the moment, we'll have to just enjoy the photograph, and perhaps some others offered over at Sepia Saturday.

Buckeye Baby's Bombardier Bud and Philomena's Sweetheart Pin

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon
Print of unidentified woman mounted in cardboard folder
by A Seaman & Sons

It's not often that I feature portraits on Photo-Sleuth from as late as the Second World War, but this reflects a paucity of such photographs in my own collection, rather than a lack of interest on my part. Mark Scanlon sent me scans of this portrait of a smartly dressed young woman taken at the studio of A. Seaman & Sons in the latter stages of the war. The print (60 x 80mm) is mounted in a cardboard folder (177 x 128mm, open) with a King George VI crown embossed on the left hand side, and the studio stamp with negative number (90301) on the reverse. Handwritten on the inside cover is the following message:

Not very good. but it serves its purpose - if you know what I mean!! - Happy landings Bud -

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon
Backstamp from the studio of A Seaman & Sons

Sadly, although the name of the studio, the negative number and other text is visible, I can't quite make out the studio location, which I believe must be on the last line. Alfred Seaman's great-grand-daughter Anne Williams informs me that although her grandfather F.J. Seaman was operating the Chesterfield studio in the 1940s, it was under his own name, rather than the original title. She believes that probably the only branch which might have been still practising under the "A. Seaman & Sons" moniker at that time was the Scarborough studio, run by her uncle. It is perhaps worth noting that the stamped negative number is in a very similar style to that used on the reverse of a postcard portrait from the firm's Sheffield branch in 1936.

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon
Click to enlarge

The photograph was amongst the war papers of Mark's father William Morgan (Bud) Scanlon, who served as a B-17 bombardier in the 401 bomb group, 613 bomb squad, flying 30 missions out of Deenethorpe, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom between August 1944 and April 1945. Mark says, "He obviously knew this woman, and she him! ... I regret not getting into this research years ago when dad would have been able to provide the actual story. Bud died 9 Sept 84, much too young at 61."

The woman's clothing and hairstyle fit well with the "Wartime look" as described by Geoff Caulton on his excellent PhotoDetective web site. Her "lifted" hairstyle, pinned at the back, and arched eyebrows - plucked and shaped, no doubt - were typical fashion for the period.

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon
Image © and courtesy of Iain Williams
Image of Bombardier Badge © and courtesy of Iain Williams

At first, seeing the "winged" badge on her lapel, I wondered whether the woman was a member of some branch of the Royal Air Force (RAF), but this page demonstrates that the badges worn by members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were quite different. Besides, she is probably wearing civilian clothing, rather than a uniform. Further investigation, and comparison with this display of Aviation Wings from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and a fine collection of America Aviator Wings presented by Iain Williams, identified the badge as that of a Bombardier in the United States Air Force (USAF). A further selection can be found on Bob Schwartz's web site Aviation Wings and Badges of World War II.

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon
Letterhead, Lt. William M. Scanlon & "Buckeye Baby"

The natural conclusion is that Bud gave his Bombardier's badge to this woung woman prior to his departure, I suppose therefore making it a "sweetheart pin." Mark writes further:

I code-named the mystery woman Phylis because my dad mentioned someone with that name in a letter he wrote home on 15 October 1944. At least I think it's Phylis, the actual word is hard to make out. The letter includes a request of his sister to send him some 'films' to give to Phylis who can't seem to obtain any. Dad goes on to say he hasn't received his 'cheesecake' from her yet! This passage lends credence to Phylis being a local. And she may be our mystery gal.

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My own interpretation of the writing in the letter is that the name is written as "Philo," which may be short for Philomena. Philomena wasn't that common a name - at least compared with Phyllis or its variants - but there were still well over a thousand Philomenas married in England between 1945 and 1955. Only nine of these married in Northamptonshire, and one in the registration district of Kettering, which includes Weldon and Corby, the closest towns to the former air force base at Deenethorpe. Of course, she may not have been from that area at all!

Image © and courtesy of Mark Scanlon

Mark sent me this engaging snap of his dad - from his uniform, what I presume is his bomber jacket, and the star on the aircraft fuselage, clearly taken while he was in service. He is also shown along with the rest of the crew of "Buckeye Baby," piloted by 2nd Lt. William A. Shackleford, in a group photograph on the web site of the 401st Bombardment Group Association (shown below).

Image © and courtesy of 401st Bombardment Group Association
Crew of "Buckeye Baby" (2nd Lt. William A. Shackleford), 613th Bomb Squadron - Bud Scanlon at front right
Image © and courtesy of 401st Bombardment Group Association

For the moment at least, the identity of Bud's presumed sweetheart must remain a mystery, but perhaps she went on to marry and have children. Perhaps also one day someone will stumble across this page and recognise her from the portrait, a credit to whichever member of the Seaman family was running that particular studio at the end of the war. Many thanks for Mark for sharing the photographs, ephemera and story.
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