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Braintree: Pictures of the past - thanks to Alf

PUBLISHED: 06:38 14 October 2013

Members of a bygone Braintree swimming club

Members of a bygone Braintree swimming club

Archant

It’s easy to forget how different life was... and not so long ago, either, really. An exhibition in Essex shines a light on the places and people of the past. STEVEN RUSSELL reports

You won't see this today... Bradford Street, Bocking, BraintreeYou won't see this today... Bradford Street, Bocking, Braintree

Alf Whybrow, you imagine, would be quite pleased – and, possibly, even a little proud. He was a man with an eye for an image. A passionate photographer, Alf took pictures of hometown Braintree and recorded life for posterity. Not only that, he accumulated a collection of older images – postcards and suchlike.

Often, such treasure-troves fall victim to the passage of time – thrown out during house moves because of lack of space, for instance. But the fruits of Alf’s hobby have lived on.

Some have pride of place at Braintree District Museum until the spring, on display as an exhibition called Capturing Braintree’s Past: A Photographic Story of Our Town.

Alf worked at Crittall Manufacturing Company’s Manor Works for many years, in the sales drawing office and the enquiry drawing office. The firm was famous for its steel windows and other housing-related products.

An historic shot of Braintree High Street. Note the men in uniform on the rightAn historic shot of Braintree High Street. Note the men in uniform on the right

Alf Whybrow died in the summer of 2010, aged 88. The Friends of Braintree Museum bought the images he had amassed. A selection forms the exhibition that runs until March 29 next year.

Some evocative scenes date back to the 1880s, and many of the images have most likely never before been seen in public. Museum staff feel the collection provides a striking snapshot of local landmarks and occasions from bygone eras.

“He gathered up in his lifetime many rare historic photographs and postcards of Braintree,” explains James Ashbey, the museum’s education and marketing officer. “There’s about 600 of them the Friends have kindly purchased.

“The exhibition ties in with the anniversary of the museum. We’ve been in this building for 20 years this year and have got a celebration coming up on the 26th of October.

A shot of James Bontell’s Grocery and Provisions shop, in Bank Street, Braintree. The exact date is unknownA shot of James Bontell’s Grocery and Provisions shop, in Bank Street, Braintree. The exact date is unknown

“In terms of the exhibition itself, I was having a look through it and four different main themes occur to me. One of them is the public occasions in Braintree. There’s a number of royal events in national history. There’s a scene of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, for example, in 1897, and that shows a procession through town. We also have coronation images, such as the celebrations for Edward VII.

“More locally speaking, we also have civic processions, such as the opening of Braintree swimming baths in 1914 and the opening of the fountain near St Michael’s Church in 1939.

“Another interesting aspect is the street scenes and shop scenes. Many of the pictures show familiar areas, like Braintree High Street, but in a very different age, with different shopfronts and very different fashions. We’ve got some nice shots of the interiors of Braintree shops as well, like local grocers and butchers, which is quite a nice portrait of local businesses from an earlier time.

“I think, as well, a big section of the display is the people and communities of the Braintree district. So, for example, we have industrial shots – like the Crittall employees from as far back as 1897. We have female factory workers during the First World War, which was a big role they played – particularly in the Crittall factory, making shells.

“More light-hearted, we have all the different sports teams: swimming clubs, cricket clubs and so on.

“We’ve also got some nice images of Manor Street School, which is of course where we’re now based as a museum. That was a Victorian school before we moved in. There are lots of interesting photographs of pupils and the building itself.

“We’ve had visitors recognising relatives of theirs, which has been nice. And one thing that makes it a bit more exciting for visitors is that they can order reproductions of the images. We’ve also got some historic cameras and very, very old photographs on display, which have been loaned to us by a friend of the museum – a number of early handheld cameras which go alongside the actual photographs quite nicely. They give a sense of the technology that was being used to capture those scenes.

“The cameras date from the 1890s to about the 1930s and they’re quite unusual by today’s standards. I think it’s a nice reflection in a time when technology is moving so fast and everyone’s getting new gadgets to see the progression of cameras from over 100 years ago.

“Alongside those, he’s loaned us some 19th Century early types of photographs which are very interesting. Daguerreotypes are images on silver-coated copper, and he’s loaned us some ambrotypes, which are on glass, and then a tintype (made by creating a “positive” image on metal blackened by painting, lacquering or enamelling) – quite obscure things, but it’s interesting to see those scenes captured on the earliest forms of technology.”

Volunteer John Adlam and wife Sandra have been pivotal in putting the exhibition together. “They’ve been working on it for many months and doing a lot of the cataloguing and research.

“He’s a postcard collector himself of many years, and many of the scenes are completely new to him, so it is a really important

collection that the Friends have acquired for us.

“There are a few scenes, in fact, where we’re still unsure of their locations. That gives us a bit of a chance to ask the public if they can identify things.

“We’ve got a couple of frames that have a kind of lift-the-flap activity next to them, which ask people to try to identify things we haven’t been able to locate. That’s been a source of discussion and some fun for visitors, I think, in trying to pinpoint where these very old photos were taken!”

Is there a picture that stands out for James?

“One thing I particularly like is the images of Braintree Carnival. It still takes place now, but seeing scenes from the ’20s is really interesting. Even though they’re black and white, they clearly show a vivid and ‘colourful’ event, with floats from various businesses, and show the amount of work that went into them.

“I think, also, the sports teams for me. There’s the rifle club, the football club, the swimming club from 1908, and it definitely brings home the human element.”

Braintree’s museum, in Manor Street, is open from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Adult admission is £3, concessions £1.50. Children get in free.

Braintree in old pictures – thanks to Alf

It’s easy to forget how different life was... and not so long ago, either, really. A new exhibition in Essex shines a light on the places and people of the past. STEVEN RUSSELL reports

Alf Whybrow, you imagine, would be quite pleased – and, possibly, even a little proud. He was a man with an eye for an image. A passionate photographer, Alf took pictures of hometown Braintree and recorded life for posterity. Not only that, he accumulated a collection of older images – postcards and suchlike.

Often, such treasure-troves fall victim to the passage of time – thrown out during house moves because of lack of space, for instance. But the fruits of Alf’s hobby have lived on.

Some have pride of place at Braintree District Museum until the spring, on display as an exhibition called Capturing Braintree’s Past: A Photographic Story of Our Town.

Alf worked at Crittall Manufacturing Company’s Manor Works for many years, in the sales drawing office and the enquiry drawing office. The firm was famous for its steel windows and other housing-related products.

Alf Whybrow died in the summer of 2010, aged 88. The Friends of Braintree Museum bought the images he had amassed. A selection forms the exhibition that runs until March 29 next year.

Some evocative scenes date back to the 1880s, and many of the images have most likely never before been seen in public. Museum staff feel the collection provides a striking snapshot of local landmarks and occasions from bygone eras.

“He gathered up in his lifetime many rare historic photographs and postcards of Braintree,” explains James Ashbey, the museum’s education and marketing officer. “There’s about 600 of them the Friends have kindly purchased.

“The exhibition ties in with the anniversary of the museum. We’ve been in this building for 20 years this year and have got a celebration coming up on the 26th of October.

“In terms of the exhibition itself, I was having a look through it and four different main themes occur to me. One of them is the public occasions in Braintree. There’s a number of royal events in national history. There’s a scene of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, for example, in 1897, and that shows a procession through town. We also have coronation images, such as the celebrations for Edward VII.

“More locally speaking, we also have civic processions, such as the opening of Braintree swimming baths in 1914 and the opening of the fountain near St Michael’s Church in 1939.

“Another interesting aspect is the street scenes and shop scenes. Many of the pictures show familiar areas, like Braintree High Street, but in a very different age, with different shopfronts and very different fashions. We’ve got some nice shots of the interiors of Braintree shops as well, like local grocers and butchers, which is quite a nice portrait of local businesses from an earlier time.

“I think, as well, a big section of the display is the people and communities of the Braintree district. So, for example, we have industrial shots – like the Crittall employees from as far back as 1897. We have female factory workers during the First World War, which was a big role they played – particularly in the Crittall factory, making shells.

“More light-hearted, we have all the different sports teams: swimming clubs, cricket clubs and so on.

“We’ve also got some nice images of Manor Street School, which is of course where we’re now based as a museum. That was a Victorian school before we moved in. There are lots of interesting photographs of pupils and the building itself.

“We’ve had visitors recognising relatives of theirs, which has been nice. And one thing that makes it a bit more exciting for visitors is that they can order reproductions of the images. We’ve also got some historic cameras and very, very old photographs on display, which have been loaned to us by a friend of the museum – a number of early handheld cameras which go alongside the actual photographs quite nicely. They give a sense of the technology that was being used to capture those scenes.

“The cameras date from the 1890s to about the 1930s and they’re quite unusual by today’s standards. I think it’s a nice reflection in a time when technology is moving so fast and everyone’s getting new gadgets to see the progression of cameras from over 100 years ago.

“Alongside those, he’s loaned us some 19th Century early types of photographs which are very interesting. Daguerreotypes are images on silver-coated copper, and he’s loaned us some ambrotypes, which are on glass, and then a tintype (made by creating a “positive” image on metal blackened by painting, lacquering or enamelling) – quite obscure things, but it’s interesting to see those scenes captured on the earliest forms of technology.”

Volunteer John Adlam and wife Sandra have been pivotal in putting the exhibition together. “They’ve been working on it for many months and doing a lot of the cataloguing and research.

“He’s a postcard collector himself of many years, and many of the scenes are completely new to him, so it is a really important

collection that the Friends have acquired for us.

“There are a few scenes, in fact, where we’re still unsure of their locations. That gives us a bit of a chance to ask the public if they can identify things.

“We’ve got a couple of frames that have a kind of lift-the-flap activity next to them, which ask people to try to identify things we haven’t been able to locate. That’s been a source of discussion and some fun for visitors, I think, in trying to pinpoint where these very old photos were taken!”

Is there a picture that stands out for James?

“One thing I particularly like is the images of Braintree Carnival. It still takes place now, but seeing scenes from the ’20s is really interesting. Even though they’re black and white, they clearly show a vivid and ‘colourful’ event, with floats from various businesses, and show the amount of work that went into them.

“I think, also, the sports teams for me. There’s the rifle club, the football club, the swimming club from 1908, and it definitely brings home the human element.”

Braintree’s museum, in Manor Street, is open from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Adult admission is £3, concessions £1.50. Children get in free.


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