Allen Valleys Local History Group

Yesterday evening I spent an intriguing hour with the Local History Group as Paul Mingard explained the fascinating story of some old glass plate negatives delivered over a decade ago into the hands of Margaret Stonehouse, then District Councillor. I played a tiny part in that story too, in terms of passing the slides along at least, and in commissioning contemporary views of the same spots where the old photos were taken, so I was interested to hear about the current status of the images.

The photos seem to have been taken between about 1928 and 1934, as part of Bellingham photographer Walter Collier’s grand project to photograph every possible scene (or ‘peeps’ as the eventual photographic collages called them) within a 40 mile radius of that village. Of the thousands of glass plates in the collection (Collier lugged a large camera and tripod, of the type operated with a bellows and a black cape, everywhere on his Raleigh motorbike) some 55 of the Allendale area made their way to Paul and eventual high resolution scanning at Woodhorn Colliery. It was this high resolution insight into the old negatives that Paul presented last night.

So scenes outside the old Midland Bank showed Isaac’s well quite clearly, while a couple of gentlemen talking quietly outside the old Lloyds bank could almost be identified. Arnison Terrace’s collection of shops and cafés, the popularity of Gold Leaf tobacco, and an apparent conclave of severely dressed women chatting in a circle at Lonkley (probably on their way to a funeral tea) could all be discerned when the negatives were blown up some 300x. It felt a bit like Antonioni’s Blowup but there didn’t seem to be any foul play involved, just an intriguing glimpse back in time as viewed, almost always, from the background of the shots Collier seemed to be wanting to emphasise.

The shop windows on the Co-op revealed goods and merchandising techniques that looked like those displayed at the store in Beamish Museum. A child propelled a little pedal car in the middle of the road. Some dapper folks (and a previously unseen dog) stood precariously on Holmes Linn falls, while at The Ducket a pair of gentlemen enjoyed a lunchtime sandwich as the photographer snapped the newly emerging New Line. A goods train was stopped at Catton Station. A bus had just dropped three passengers off. The communal oven at the gable end of the old heather-thatched bakery was identified by enthusiastic members of the audience. The blacksmith’s shop at the Blackett Level was still an identifiable building, while pikes or stooks of hay dotted the meadows.

People so enjoyed piecing bits of the enlarged photographs together; it was clear that the Local History Group has a particular interest in the times of 80-90 years ago (grandparents’ time). The petrol stations: on the corner which became Allendale Motor Company’s workshop and then the Forge Studios; at the beginning of the New Line; were identified to acclaim. The very distinctive telegraph poles with their half-dozen lateral racks were remarked. It was fun to zoom in on the old road signs, to see how closely distances were reckoned, to the nearest 1/4 mile. You could see that the Hare & Hounds was selling Aitch’s Ales, and that the benches for seating, as one strolled around the town, avoiding the coal wagon, were in fine repair.

The dairy behind Catton Station with its pig shed; the already dismantled railway spur on to Allen Mill beyond where the turntable had been sited; the old signage for the Golden Lion Hotel, or Allen House; the view down into Allendale square from Prospect Hill with flocks of chickens scattered about in the foreground; the joiner’s shop where the public toilets now stand; the old front entrance to the First School play area, even by that date closed off. The Christian Union Adult School at Brideshill. Such a lot of intriguing information.

I wondered if, in future times, historians might peruse the pages of Allendale Diary, looking with their early 22nd century tools, for similar clues to folks’ habits and proclivities, searching desperately for things that seem unimportant, unremarkable, to us today. At least they will know that the diary has been a project of not dissimilar aspirations to those of Collier, though not particularly concentrating on scenery, but rather aiming to show the customs, practices, activities and pursuits of the people who lived here in 2019. Much more of a contemporary social commentary then. Someday this too will be intriguing history.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Larry
    I think the promise of your year long journal, is that it will not only reflect back to us many aspects of our lives, but that it will grow in value as the decades pass. Certainly, in the twenty-second century people will be using it as a tool to understand life in Allendale today. And you’re right, it will be the things we take for granted that will show up as indicative of or unique to our era.

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