I came across a fascinating series of photographs this morning from an exhibition by John Bulmer, a former photographer for The Sunday Times magazine.
The exhibition is entitled “The North” and features working-class scenes from the north of England, although the inclusion of the Black Country, in the West Midlands, stretches the definition of the north of England to breaking point. The photographs were taken in the 1960s, the period I grew up in and capture a way of life I experienced at first hand.
It was a time of cobbled streets devoid of cars and lined with terraced houses whose chimneys belched smoke from coal fires. The street lighting was gas, which created pools of a dim yellow light every 25 yards.
Front steps were scrubbed on a weekly basis in the days when elbow grease had real meaning. Washing was hung out to dry on lines in back yards or across the street and invariably ended up catching particles of soot from the grimy atmosphere and had to be washed for a second time.
It was time when men wore flat caps and for women headscarves were de rigueur; women who became old before their time and acted as the unpaid police of the streets. There were certain houses where you did not play football outside for fear of incurring the wrath of these women and, at times, losing the ball. These dragons and self-appointed militia did not think twice about confiscating the ball if their censure was ignored. And you never dared complain to your own parents.
The 1960s was also a time of redevelopment of the major cities, when vast tracts of slum housing were cleared to be replaced by ugly pre-fabricated concrete monstrosities that created more social problems than they solved and robbed people of their back yard privacy and privy.
Bulmer’s photographs capture the spirit of a bygone age, which to today’s youngsters must look as remote as photographs of the Victorian and Edwardian era did in my youth — such is the dissonance of time.
His exhibition is being held at the Third Floor Gallery, in Cardiff, and runs through June 12. It moves to Chris Beetles Art Gallery, London, in October.
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