OLD LNWR PHOTOGRAPHS – WHERE AND WHEN?
Part 1 BUSHBURY
In my article on R.H. Bleasdale (Journal June 2001) some of
the picture captions say where the photographs were taken.
A couple of these locations have been questioned by readers
who suggested alternative sites. One of my locations is confidently
described as somewhere else, in the Society’s list of photographs.
What follows is an attempt to sort all this out, before the nineteenth
century become even more remote than it is, and therefore the memory
of past evidence fades.
Most of the early locomotive photographs were published without any
indication of where they were taken, or any note of when – apart from
one or two of Bleasdale’s where the date was chalked on the engine.
Railway photographers had different priorities in those days; a clear
image of a locomotive was what they wanted, and they regarded the
background – even when it only consisted of a few harmless trees –
as an unnecessary distraction. It was often painted out on the negative,
so that the engine stood out against a blank white ‘sky’. Over 120 years
later, these blank backgrounds are irritating, because they usually
prevent us from finding out where the picture was taken. If only we
knew where it was, we could speculate about the work the engine might
have been doing, and the photograph would come alive, no longer just a
print of some old engine somewhere; we could ‘place’ the engine in a
landscape which we know, beyond the frame and all around.
Trying to discover the location is a detective–puzzle. There are often
lots of clues in the picture, although most of the backgrounds (where
they exist) are mysterious in themselves. There have been so very many
changes demolition, rebuilding, trees felled and planted, urban sprawl –
that hardly anywhere or anything looks the way it did in the 1870s.
The first Bleasdale LNWR prints I ever saw featured some very strange
old engines (Long-boiler 0-6-0s, a Bloomer , an 0-4-2T)
standing in the
same unrecognisable location: on gauntletted track ,
with a weed-covered
platform as foreground and a typical LNWR brick wall behind. Beyond the
wall lay open fields with hedges and big elms. Far off, over on the left
there was a big house surrounded by trees. Apart from the Bloomer, the
engines were complete mysteries. Their 18xx duplicate list numbers made
identification (in those pre-Baxter days) impossible, from any printed
source: only the number plates and chimney caps showed the engines really
were LNWR. That background, though, where could it be? I thought about
this a lot; it seemed to be some unreal country where strange LNWR engines
abounded, a sort of dream landscape.
I asked everyone who might know. Vague replies (‘Oh, somewhere round
the back of Wolverton I suppose?’) were delivered casually, with none
of the curiosity I felt. Even after learning the identity of the engines
from Dudley Whitworth, the location remained a mystery.