Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sepia Saturday 179: Fun on the Sands - The Pleasure Palaces of Southport


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

Although the temptation for me with this week's Sepia Saturday image prompt is to travel with the itinerant photographer's wagon following fairground folk around the countryside, I've decided instead to stick with the non-professional side of photography. I've covered travelling photographers a number of times here on Photo-Sleuth, so will use the opportunity to enjoy the fun of the fair through the eye and lens of an amateur.

I recently acquired a collection of 177 glass plate and roll film negatives and have spent a couple of weeks scanning them. Although they were sourced locally, the majority appear to have been taken in England, possibly by a young couple who later emigrated to New Zealand. I've selected a few which I've identified as being on the Lancashire coast. More images will no doubt make their way into my posts over the next few months, but I do hope to study the collection as a whole, ultimately with a view to identifying the family depicted although that's very much a long shot at present.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Entrance to Southport Pier and Pavilion, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Regular Photo-Sleuth readers might find this view of a pier entrance familiar, since two of my recent articles have dealt with seaside photographers in Blackpool, namely Charles Howell and Young Burns. This, however, is the entrance to Southport Pier, not only one of the first piers to be erected in iron but also the second longest in Great Britain.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Along the turreted frontage of the entrance are a number of signs and posters advertising the attractions for those prepared to pay the admission fee (2d. for children). One sign offers tickets for a ride on the electric tram to the head of the 1465 yard-long pier, where Professor Powsey, Champion High Diver of the World promised to entertain three times daily.


Professor Powsey's Terrible Cycle Dive, West Pier, Brighton, c.1910

Image © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com Image © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com
Professor Powsey, The World's Greatest Diver, Southport Show Ground
Images © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com

Powsey and his wife Gladys both operated in a number of coastal towns in the pre-Great War years, including Brighton, Yarmouth, Inverness and Southport. Historian Alan Taylor lived nearby the Southport Pier from from 1908 to 1913, and recalled seeing Bert Powsey's act:
His most sensational dive ... he tied both his hands to his sides, tied his legs togethr, then plunged in and emerged safe and sound with all his ropes loosened. The climax ... was the bicycle dive, an expedition which he conducted down a steep board into the sea with the bicycle alight and blazing around him.

(Wrigley, 2006)

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

At the pier head, close to the refreshment rooms, you might attend a performance of "The Aristocrats" by the Pier Company's Orchestra or, should you have tired of Southport's attractions, you might prefer to take a passage on a steam boat for the brief trip across to Blackpool.


Southpost Pier and Pavilion, c.1910

The main attraction, however, appears to have been Fred Karno's Company playing at the magnificent Pier Pavilion, built in 1902 and sadly demolished in 1968, the domed roof of which is clearly visible above the hoardings pasted with a variety of Karno's posters. In the postcard view above, a set of very similar posters is just visible to the right of the entrance to the very grand building.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Fred Karno, best known for his role in the early careers of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, had been visiting Merseyside for well over a decade. The earliest event I can find is the record of a performance at Liverpool's Prince of Wales Theatre, then managed by Captain Fred Wombwell (of Bostock & Wombwell's Menagerie fame) in March 1895. The two productions advertised on this occasion were The G.P.O. and Wakes Week.

Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills
Poster for Fred Karno's The G.P.O., Leeds Hippodrome, 6 Oct 1913
Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills

Karno claimed that it was in the successful sketch The G.P.O. that Walter Groves first created the famed "Tramp Walk," later passed on to Charlie Chaplin when he took on the role. The earliest records that I have been able to find for this burlesque show was when it was staged at the Sheffield Empire and Paragon theatres in October and November 1908 respectively (Clarence, 1909). An entry in the 4 June 1908 issue of The Stage newspaper confirms that "a colossal production, entitled 'G.P.O.'" was in active preparation.

Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills
Poster for Fred Karno's Wakes Week, Leeds Hippodrome, 28 Oct 1912
Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills

It is not clear when Wakes Week was first produced, but the paucity of references to it on the net suggest that it was not particularly successful, and may not have been around for long when this poster was printed in late 1912 for a performance in Leeds. After war broke out in 1914, the popularity of such entertainment waned considerably. After the war, the advent of cinematography more or less ensured its demise.


View Larger Map

This is the view today - nothing remains of the old pier entrance, but there is still an old-style a merry-go-round, and the top of the 2004 Marine Way Bridge is visible above Silcock's gaudy Funland. If you use your mouse to navigate Google's Streetview above by 180 degrees (click and drag to the left or right), wou will see a view almost identical to that in the second slide chosen from the collection, pictured below.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Statue of Queen Victoria, Nevill Street, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The sharper-eyed readers will spot that Queen Victoria appears to have turned around some time in the last century or so. The bronze statue was unveiled in July 1904 in the Town Hall Gardens, in front of the Atkinson Art Gallery, now Stockport Library, but moved to the junction of Nevill Street and the Promenade on 20 December 1912 (Anon, n.d. & Wright, 1992). In 2005-2006, the statue was removed for restoration and, when reinstated, the decision was made that she should move a short distance to the south-east and face the town centre instead of the sea (Anon, 2004 & 2006).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The buildings to the left of the statue, which have survived largely intact, are adorned with signs and flags advertising the culinary delights available at the Victoria Baths Cafe and Restaurant. There is also a curious sign with a rather obvious "We Shall Have Rain," which I have deduced must be situated directly above a purveyor of umbrellas. I might add that, although they look a bit like rain, the pale brush strokes diagonally across the image are, I think, actually a result of a lack of care during the plate developing process.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Probably North Marine Gardens, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The next poorly focussed photograph shows several figures on a footpath, taken from across a pond, complete with swan, and it seems likely that it was taken in the North Marine Gardens, shown on the 1911 map below.

Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group
Southport Pier Entrance, Pavilion, Nevill St and North Marine Gardens
Portion of 1911 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map
Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Shelter/bandstand in South Marine Gardens, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The Marine Gardens and Promenade also extended to the south-west of the pier, and this photograph shows a bandstand which can be exactly matched with that in the two postcards below, dating from roughly 1910-1915, situated overlooking the southern arm of the Marine Lake.


The Promenade, Southport, c.1910-1915
Postcard by James Valentine (206845)


Lake and Gardens, Southport, c.1910-1915
Postcard by unidentified publisher

The second of these views gives a hint of the next destination of our photographer, on the far side of a lake adorned with row boats. Originally a cluster of amusement stalls, simple rides and side shows had formed around the pier entrance at the top of Nevill Street, but with the development of the area as the Promenade and River Gardens in 1887, what were deemed "less desirable" amenities had been forced to relocate to the southern end of the Marine Lake.

Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group
Southport Fair Ground and South Marine Gardens
Portion of 1911 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map
Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group

By the turn of the century, the attractions had evolved into a more extravagent enterprise, eventually known officially as the "White City," and continued to expand, with the stalls and sideshows becoming more elaborate and numerous.
1895 - Aerial Ride/Glide (closed in 1911) and Switchback Railway
1903 - Water Chute
1904 - Hiram Maxim's Flying Machine
1905 - Helter Skelter Lighthouse
1908 - Figure-of-Eight Toboggan Railway and River Caves
1911 - Lakeside Miniature Railway, connecting fair ground and pier

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Water Chute and Flying Machine, Fair Ground, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The photographer took two views of the Water Chute in action. The first was from the eastern shoreline of the lake, immediately in front of the stalls and adjcent to the chute's Landing Stage (marked on the OS map of 1911) and captures the big splash at the moment of impact.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

An enlarged image includes some nice detail of the shallow, flat-bottomed skiffs used on the chute, the Flying Machine at rest (one of the "spaceships" is just visible behind the chute), and the superstructure of what appears from the map to be the Toboggan Railway in the background.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Water Chute and Helter Skelter House, Fair Ground, Southport, undated
Roll film or sheet negative (109 x 62mm, 4¼" x 2½")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

A second view, using roll or sheet film rather than a glass plate, was taken from the western shore of the lake, directly to the north of the chute, and freezes a skiff half-way down the slide. It may be that the photographs in this collection were taken with more than one camera, and even by more than one photographer. From a consideration of the similarity of the shooting styles and the sequence of shots outlined, it seems quite possible that they are from the same camera. If so, then it would have been of a type for use with spooled 116-format (4¼" x 2½") daylight-loading film, or a removable back could be replaced with a holder for sheet film or dry plates.

Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection
Ensign Folding Klito, unidentified model, c.1900-1920
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection

The Ensign Folding Klito, manufactured by Houghton Ltd. of London, was just such a camera, popular with many amateurs. However, there were several other makes available, such as the No 3 Sibyl, first produced in 1908.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

At far right is the Helter Skelter Light House, opened in 1905 ...

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne

... while other signs advertise the River Caves and Switchback rides.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Also visible is a crowd in front of the bowling alley.


Helter Skelter House, Water Chute and Flying Machine, Southport, PM 1907
Postcard by unidentified publisher

This colourised card, postmarked 1907, and a similar black-and-white view posted in 1912, show a fair ground area with fewer buildings, nevertheless with the Helter Skelter, Water Chute and Flying Machine already in place. A slightly earlier version of a similar view, posted in 1905, is lacking the Helter Skelter, which was only built that year.

The fair ground gradually shifted between 1922 and 1924 to the new Pleasureland site on reclaimed land to the north-west. This was after the River Gardens had been redeveloped as the King's Gardens, the latter having been opened by King George V and Queen Mary on 8 July 1913.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Marine Lanke, Southport, undated
Roll film or sheet negative (109 x 62mm, 4¼" x 2½")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Finally, it appears that the photographer travelled north along the Marine Walk, which at that time separated the Marine Lake from the beach. This view is taken from due north of the Pier Pavilion, looking back towards the pier, pavilion and the town frontage along the Promenade. That's the end of the images that can be clearly identified as emanating from Southport, and a suitable point at which to take a breather. He also visited Blackpool, but those delights can wait for another time.

If you've lasted this long, thank you for persevering. It's a little premature to deduce much about the photographer at present. After all, the seven images discussed here are a tiny proprotion of the collection, and don't appear to include any of the photographer's companions. Nor can I be certain that all of these photographs were taken on the same visit to the town. However, it has been possible to deduce that at least some of the photographs were taken after December 1912, when Queen Victoria's statue arrived on Nevill Street. I also think it unlikely that they were taken after late 1914, when the war would have changed much of the atmosphere in Southport. This narrows the date range right down to a very comfortable two-year period, and forms a good anchor point around which to view the remaining photographs in the collection ... in due course.

References

Fred Karno's Company Stage Listings, 4 June 1908, on the Fred Karno Company web site.

Khaotic, The Fred Karno Story

Fred Karno and the Karsino from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.

ER Promenade Appraisal, Historic Development and Movement Report, Sefton Council.

Anon (n.d.) King's Gardens Conservation Management Plan and Historic Development of Southport and its Seafront, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council Conservation Management Plan.

Anon (n.d.) Statue of Queen Victoria, Public Monuments & Sculpture Association.

Anon (1895) Amusements in Liverpool, in The Era (London, England), Saturday, March 16, 1895; Issue 2947, courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning.

Anon (2004) Sefton Council Measure Up Queen Victoria, courtesy of Southport.gb.com.

Anon (2006) Queen Victoria is on her way back to Southport, in Champion, 26 April 2006.

Clarence, Reginald (1909) The Stage Cyclopaedia, A Bibliography of Plays, London: The Stage, p.167, courtesy of The Internet Archive.

Cook, Evelyn (2006) Pleasureland Amusement Park, Marine Drive, Southport, courtesy of Coasterforce.com.

Copnall, Stephen (2005) Pleasureland Memories: A History of Southport's Amusement Park, Skelter Publishing, in Historic Development of Southport and its Seafront, Anon (see above).

Kamin, Dan (2008) The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion, Scarecrow Press, p.11, courtesy of Google Books.

Wright, Geoff (1992) Southport, a Century Ago, courtesy of Southport.gb.com.

Wrigley, C.J. (2006) A.J.P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe, I.B.Tauris, p.12-13, courtesy of Google Books.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Sepia Saturday 178: Polyfoto, The Natural Photography


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

I do appreciate that, for Saturday Sepians at least, sepia is a state of mind rather than a colour, shade or bygone photographic hue, but this week I will share a photograph in the traditionally sepian style from my aunt's family collection.

Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Lieutenant Charles Leslie Lionel Payne, 1941
Unmounted silver gelatin print (76 x 98mm)
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

Her father - my grandfather - had served as a machine gunner in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War but, when the Second World War broke out, at 47 he was a little old to head off abroad, and was commissioned as an officer in the Pioneer Corps. Judging by the number of passport-style shots of my grandfather taken during the war years, he and the rest of the family were rather proud of his achievements, and justifiably so. In early 1942 he was promoted from Lieutenant to the rank of Captain, and by mid-1943 he was Major Payne, Officer Commanding 315 Company at Newport, Monmouthshire.

Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Reverse of silver gelatin print (76 x 98mm)
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

The back of an almost identical print has the remains of stamp edging stuck to the four edges, suggesting that it may at one time have been affixed to a mount or frame of some sort. Both this and the previous print have a small number 60 pencilled on the back, in the lower right-hand corner.

Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Lieutenant Charles Leslie Lionel Payne, 1941
Unmounted silver gelatin prints (each strip 110 x 37mm)
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

The prints are sepia-toned enlargements of a negative which also resulted in the two strips of 1¼"-square portraits above, and are almost certainly a product of the Polyfoto process. Unfortunately the reverse only has the date 1941 (corrected from 1940) written in blue ink by my grandmother. Derby had its own Polyfoto studio during and after the war, situated first at The Spot, and later in the Midland Drapery Co. Building on the corner of St Peter's and East Streets.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Two portraits of an unidentified woman, undated, estd. c1935-1945
Unmounted silver gelatin Polyfoto prints (37 x 37mm)
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

One of these two similar-sized head-and-shoulders portraits from my own collection fortunately does have the remnants of the manufacturer's name on the back, as well as the number 22 written in purple pencil, although the subject sadly remains anonymous.

Image © and courtesy of the National Media Museum
The Polyfoto camera, made in England by Kodak Limited, 1933
Image © and courtesy of the National Media Museum

The camera used to produce these photographs was a rather unusual one, employing an automated process which reduced costs dramatically, although it did not, such as with Photomatic photobooths, dispense with the need for an operator. Originally of Danish design, and subsequently manufactured under license in England by Williamson Maunfacturing and Kodak Ltd from 1933, they used a repeating back, a series of 48 half-inch-square exposures being made on a 7" x 5" glass plate negative as a handle on the side was cranked.

Image © and courtesy of the Polyfoto web site
Taking portraits in a Polyfoto studio, c.1949
Image © and courtesy of the Polyfoto web site

They were deployed in booths located in all the major towns in England, Scotland and Wales. Caulton (2010) lists 109 of them existing around 1950, most operated as concessions in large department stores, although there were a number of stand-alone studios in busy central locations.

Image © and courtesy of British Pathé
Sabrina at a Polyfoto studio in a department store, 1956
Image © and courtesy of British Pathé

British Pathé has a wonderfully evocative film clip of Sabrina in her sweater (for those among you familiar with the Goon show) having her portrait taken at a Polyfoto booth in Bourne and Hollingsworth's department store (click on image above to view the clip). They advertised themselves as "the only system of photography giving natural and truly characteristic portraits, since the sitter can move and converse freely whilst the 48 photographs are being taken."

The sitter was asked to look this way and that. Sometimes the session was stopped, to remove a hat or coat. The photographer would chat to the sitter to put them at ease and often induced a genuine smile. Children were often given a ball or balloon to play with.

(Geoff Caulton, 2010)

A former employee of Polyfoto describes here how the camera was operated and the glass plates then dispatched to the Head Office and factory at Stanmore in North London (later located at Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire) (Anon, 2006).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Polyfoto proof sheet envelope
Image © and collection of Brett Payne, courtesy of Anthony Norton

After developing the glass plate negative, 48-photo proof sheets were printed using fixed-focus enlargers and sent back to the studios. The envelope shown above, marked with the address of Derby's Polyfoto studio at number 3 The Spot, is presumed to be one in which the proof sheet was delivered to the studio, ready for collection by the customer.

Image © and courtesy of Alison Richards
Yvonne Chevalier, De Gruchy's Department Store, St Helier, Jersey, c.1948
Proof sheet (silver gelatin print, 225 x 300mm) and numbered plastic sleeve by Polyfoto Ltd.
Image © and courtesy of Alison Richards

This proof sheet shows 48 different photographs arranged in a 6x8 grid, together with a numbered plastic sleeve or overlay, from which the customer could choose to have one or more shots enlarged at an additional cost.

Image © and courtesy of Barbara EllisonImage © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Variation in degree of sepia-toning of Polyfoto print enlargements
Images © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

The enlargements could be supplied in a number of different formats, ranging from 4" x 5" to 10" x 12", and with a variety of finishes, including sepia toning and colouring.

Image © and courtesy of George Plemper
Enid Joan Goacher, Sussex, c.1948
Proof sheet (silver gelatin print, 225 x 300mm) by Polyfoto Ltd.
Image © and courtesy of George Plemper

Of course the individual prints on the proof sheet could themselves be used and, as Geoff Caulton notes (2010), many carefully selected shots were cut out and "carried in purses, wallets and paybooks in every theatre of war."

Image © and courtesy of Paul Godfrey
Paul Godfrey, Arnold's Ltd., Great Yarmouth, 1949
Mounted proof print, taken by Polyfoto Ltd in a department store booth
Image © and courtesy of Paul Godfrey

Many proof prints were individually mounted behind simple pre-printed passe-partout card frames, such as this cute example from fellow photohistory enthusiast Paul Godfrey.

Image © and courtesy of Geoff Caulton Image © and courtesy of Geoff Caulton

Geoff Caulton also has a number of fine specimens displayed on his PhotoDetective web site (click the Gallery button), most of which appear to have been taken during the war years, and I suspect this is when the Polyfoto attained its greatest popularity.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Mary Lavender Wallis in WAAF uniform, before June 1942
Booklet of proofs by Polyfoto Ltd.
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

One could also chose to have the proof sheet cut up into blocks of six and mounted in a plastic-covered album, such as this booklet ordered by Nigel Aspdin's mother, and probably taken at a Polyfoto branch in London shortly before she received a commission in the WAAF in June 1942. She visited the studio for another session in her new officer's uniform sometime after that date, for which Nigel also has an almost complete proof sheet.



It appears that Polyfoto was not restricted to the United Kingdom. The above unidentified and undated print is from Denmark, and I have also seen a characteristically diminutive print originating from Leipzig, Germany. I'd be interested in hearing from readers who have seen examples from even further afield, as I am unsure whether the cameras ever reached North America or the Antipodes.

Image © and courtesy of -fs-
Former Polyfoto studio in Hainstrasse, Leipzig, Germany
Digital image taken with Sigma DP2s camera, 19 February 2012
Image © and courtesy of -fs-

It is not clear how long the Polyfoto network lasted although certainly by the late 1960s, when the head office moved to Watford, its popularity was on the wane. Several sources claim that the reason for its demise was the coin-operated photobooth although I have my doubts, since the operator-free booths were already well established prior to the Second World War, when the Polyfoto network was expanding rapidly.

Image © and courtesy of George Eastman House
Duc de Coimbra, c.1860
Albumen print (201 x 237mm), uncut carte de visite sheet, by Disderi
Image © and courtesy of George Eastman House (GEH NEG:13908)

The idea of exposing multiple frames on a single photographic plate was not a new one. In fact, it had been around for nearly seven decades prior to the Polyfoto camera's debut in 1933, and indeed formed the basis of popular commercial photographic portraiture in the 1860s and 1870s, as introduced by Disderi and others with the carte de visite format in the mid- to late 1850s. Using a multi-lens camera several (usually eight) exposures were made on a single collodion wet-plate which was contact-printed on albumen paper. The images were then cut up and mounted on card separately as cartes de visite.

Image © and courtesy of David Tristram Ludwig
Simon Wing Ajax Multiplying Wet Plate Camera, c.1899-1900
Image © and courtesy of David Tristram Ludwig's Antique Cameras Photo Gallery

This technique of taking several frames on a single plate also found very popular use in the production of gem tintypes, which I will cover in a forthcoming Photo-Sleuth article. The multiplying wet-plate camera designed by Simon Wing and shown above, had a mechanism surprisingly similar to that of the Polyfoto camera of 1933. So, as some say, there is nothing new under the sun.

Before you head over to see what the rest of the Sepia Saturday folk have in store for you this week, have a look at this poignant two-and-a-half-minute Polyfoto compilation by Daniel Meadows about his parents.

References

Polyphoto Portrait Photography Studios web site. [retrieved 19 May 2013]

Anon (2006) Reviving the Polyfoto, on Camster Factor, 2 March 2006. [retrieved 19 May 2013]

Anon (nd) Polyfoto Vintage Style Photobooths, on Ian Johnson Wedding Photographer. [retrieved 19 May 2013]

Caulton, Geoff (2010) The Polyfoto and Polyfoto Studios, on PhotoDetective. [retrieved 19 May 2013]

Coe, Brian (1978) Cameras: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, United States: Crown Publishers.
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