This is Hornby Street in East Belfast - the place where my mother's father, Tommy Graham, grew up. And the street which his family was 'burnt out' from about a century ago.
You can see in the distance one of the cranes of the Harland and Wolff ship repair yard. Harland and Wolff was once the biggest shipyard in the world. It's where the Titanic was built - and where, a few years later, my grandfather was apprenticed.
This is the only family possession that links the Grahams to Hornby Street - just about the last remnant of the Northern Ireland connection. As you can see, it's tatty and the stamp has been soaked off. It's written by 'T. Graham' - not my grandfather but his father - to his 'Dear Wife' (her name was Maggie) and addressed to 39 Hornby Street off the Newtonards Road.
According to family folklore, Tommy senior was a merchant seaman - I still have a couple of his brass seafaring canisters, designed (I think) to measure specific gravity.
This postcard was sent from the SS Pakeha, then docked at a port in New Zealand. The mariner hopes that 'Tomy is being a good Boy'. There's no date - but it's probably from about 1910 or a couple of years either side.
This is an undated photograph found online of the Steam Ship Pakeha docked at Port Chalmers near Dunedin in New Zealand. The 8,115 ton ship was built, appropriately, by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. It was acquired for war duties during the First World War, reverted to a merchant role and was sold for breaking up in 1950.
So, what else can I find out about my family's Belfast pedigree? Well, here's my grandfather's birth certificate from September 1902.
This seems to be before the family moved to Hornby Street - though Connisbrook Avenue is not far away. Thomas senior is listed as a boiler maker, the craft to which my grandfather was apprenticed. As so often in artisan trades, the son followed in the father's footsteps.
Thomas senior seems to have moved from a tough job in the shipyards to a life I imagine was every bit as arduous at sea.
My grandfather's birth was reported by his mother - and as you can she didn't sign but made a mark, suggesting that she was illiterate.
At the time of the 1911 census, Maggie Graham was listed as the head of household, presumably because her husband was at sea. Nine-year-old Tommy - the oldest of what was then five children - was the only member of the household who could read and write.
What is really surprsing is that all of the household are listed as Roman Catholics. Hornby Street was, and remains, in a fiercely Protestant working class area.
The story I remember being told is that this was a mixed marriage - Tommy senior was a Protestant and his wife a Catholic. Her mother was a McKeown and had a sweet shop. All the boys of the marriage were brought up as Protestant; all the girls - I remember one of them, Jeannie - were Catholics. But as far as the census enumerator was concerned, all the children were listed as of the same religion as the head of household.
We can put some faces to these names - here's Maggie, my great-grandmother (after whom my mother, Margaret, may well have been named) with her mother, Mrs McKeown. It was taken in 1932, probably in Glasgow. They look as if they lived stressful lives.
How come in Glasgow? Ok - well, mixed marriages weren't all that uncommon in Belfast at that time it seems, but mixed households were sometimes targetted at moments of communal tension.
In the early 1920s, at the time of the creation of the Irish Free State and deep civil unrest, the Graham family was 'burnt out' of Hornby Street - forced to flee. I don't know whether Tommy senior was at home at the time or at sea.
The family moved to Glasgow, which had strong links to Northern Ireland and where there was also a large shipbuilding and maritime sector. What I heard from my mother was that her father, Tommy junior, stayed behind in Belfast to finish his apprenticeship before moving to join the rest of the family in Glasgow and getting work as a boilermaker in Govan.
When I first visited Hornby Street in search of my grandfather, more than thirty years ago, I came across a couple of old-time residents of the street who remembered the riots of the early Twenties which caused my forbears to leave. I broadcast their accounts at the time on the BBC World Service.
In Glasgow, my grandfather did well for himself. He married - Elizabeth 'Betty' Brunton was a Scottish Protestant - and brought the family up in Copland Place in Ibrox, close to the Rangers football ground. So in very much a Protestant part of town.
Here's Tommy and Betty on their wedding day, 16th July 1928. He was 26; she was 24.
My mother was born in Glasgow in the following year. In the late 1930s, the family moved to West Yorkshire. Then in the mid-1950s - by which time my parents had met and married - my grandfather emigrated to South Africa. He died there in 1965. We never met.
My mother never set foot in Northern Ireland.
And Hornby Street today? The old terraced housing has been demolished since I last visited more than thirty years ago, but it has been replaced by good modern terraced houses. The flags and emblems indicate that the people of Hornby Street are determiedly British, pro-Unionist, and admirers of the great Protestant hero King Billy, William the Third, who defeated the Catholic army of King James at the Battle of the Boyne back in 1690.
At the end of Hornby Street, at the junction with Newtonards Road, the Great Eastern is a traditional local bar - preparing for the 'Sash Bash'.
And just a few feet away from Hornby Street is political street art which seeks to demonstrate the area's continuing support for the Loyalist cause.
Northern Ireland is (largely) at peace - but it remains deeply divided, and in the working class areas of Belfast which bore the brunt of the 'Troubles', old loyalties still linger.
I wonder what Tommies senior and junior - or Maggie who had to make a sudden dash with her family to Scotland - would make of it all?
A lovely piece of political memorabilia - a Labour Party membership card from 1945, the year the first majority Labour government was returned to power.
1945 was huge! In the general election of July that year - just two months after the allied victory in Europe and a few weeks before Japan surrendered - Labour took almost 48% of the vote and won 393 seats (out of 630).
Only once before (in 1929) had Labour taken more than 200 seats in the Commons. Labour's 1945 share of the vote was only superseded, and then marginally, in 1951 (when the Conservatives won but with fewer votes) and in 1966. In the Blair years, Labour won more seats than in 1945 but with a smaller share of the vote.
Clement Attlee's government was arguably the most radical that Britain has ever seen, introducing the National Health Service, nationalising the coal mines, establishing British Railways and taking the biggest single step in the dismantling of Empire by granting independence to India.
It's difficult to judge Mrs Plumb's attitude to all this. According to her 1945 membership card, she seems only to have paid one quarterly membership sub of 1s 6d, that's 7.5 pence.
I don't know why there were separate membership cards for women. Perhaps they had a lower subscription rate? The design featuring a woman wearing a Labour sash was common to men's and women's cards and had been in use from at least the late 1930s.
Labour had about half-a-million individual card-carrying members in 1945 - not counting members of affiliated trades unions and societies.
This is the black dwarf - who gave his name to not one but two of the finest radical papers we've ever seen.
In the first incarnation, the Black Dwarf was the name of Thomas Wooler's satirical and political weekly which started publication in January 1817. I have recently chanced across - what a piece of good fortune! - a bound volume of the first year's issues.
Here's the frontispiece of that volume - complete with satyr, judge's wigs. scrolls which appear to be Acts of Parliament ... and a Phrygian cap, so closely associated with the French Revolution, apparently placed on top of a crown. We get the message!
The black dwarf was knocking around as a name at the time Wooler started his weekly. The serialisation of Walter Scott's novel The Black Dwarf began towards the close of 1816.
'Satire's my weapon', ran the epigram which headed each issue, a quote from the poet and essayist Alexander Pope.
Wooler's Black Dwarf mixed satire, rough humour and arguments for Reform - and it made quite an impact. Within months, Wooler was on trial for seditious libel. He was cleared after persuading the jury that while he had published the articles complained of he hadn't written them.
The Black Dwarf's circulation is said to have peaked at 12,000 - an astonishing number, which suggests a much larger readership. And the figure of the black dwarf became a well-known radical motif of the Regency period.
The main target of this mischievous print is the Prince Regent, shown as all head and trousers, with - of course - a glass in his hand. And there in the bottom right-hand corner is -
One of the regular features of the weekly was a scurrilous letter, an impish account of goings-on in court and politics addressed to the 'Yellow Bonze in Japan' - bonze meaning a Buddhist religious figure. This is a subversion of that old standard of papers and perioidicals, the letter from abroad.
The first of these letters appeared in an early issue of the weekly -
This cartoon by George Cruikshank in July 1819 features both the black dwarf and, on the wall, the yellow bonze - both the paper and the make-believe recipient of Wooler's scorching satire had clearly made their mark
Wooler closed the Black Dwarf in 1824 on a despondent note: 'In ceasing his political labours, the Black Dwarf has to regret one mistake, and that a serious one. He commenced writing under the idea that there was a PUBLIC in Britain, and that public devotedly attached to the cause of parliamentary reform. This, it is but candid to admit, was an error.'
Wooler was wrong. Within a decade the Great Reform Act was passed, ushering in a century of step-by-step political reform and widening of the franchise. And by the end of the 1830s, Chartism was in full flow, by far the most ambitious and well-supported movement for radical political and social change of the century.
In the spring of that tumultuous year 1968, the Black Dwarf sprang back into life. The literary agent Clive Goodwin was the main motive force in the creation of the paper - and Tariq Ali is the activist most closely associated with it.
In his memoir Street Fighting Years, Ali recounted how one of the founding group. the poet Christopher Logue, 'volunteered to go to the British Museum and search relentlessly until he had found a long-forgotten radical paper of the previous century whose name we could recover'.
Logue was perhaps guided by the admiring references to Wooler and the Black Dwarf in the work of another key New Left thinker and activist, E.P. Thompson, whose enormously influential The Making of the English Working Class was published in 1963.
Wooler's uncompromising style of political argument suited the new project. And rather wonderfully, the new Black Dwarf carried on from where the old one left off. The issue above - the most renowned of the front covers of the reborn Black Dwarf - declared: 'Est 1817. Vol 13 Number 1'. A nice touch!
All copies of the new Black Dwarf are available online here.
The prospectus of the new paper acknowledged very openly its debt to Tom Wooler's Black Dwarf, making a virtue of its radical antecedents
A number of New Left titles looked to old radical papers for their names - not surprising given the preponderance of historians in the British New Left.
John Saville borrowed from G.J. Holyoake's The Reasoner for the title of his CP dissident newsletter (a collaboration with E.P. Thompson) which sparked off the New Left. Raph Samuel and colleagues riffed on the very successful CP-linked Left Review of the 1930s when they established Universities and Left Review, itself a precursor of New Left Review.
Looking back to look forward!
Julia Margaret Cameron was a child of Empire - and indeed Empire, and Britain's possessions in South Asia, ran all the way through her life.
She was born in Calcutta in 1815, married there in 1838, and died in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1879. Her home in the Isle of Wight was named after her husband's coffee and tea plantations in the highlands of central Ceylon.
Cameron lived here at Freshwater Bay for just fifteen years - from 1860 to 1875 - but this is where she developed her skill as a photographer, and as quite the most exceptional portrait photographer of this very early stage in the development of the medium.
Her old home here, Dimbola, is now largely given over to displays of her photographs and details of her life (and there's an excellent tea room too).
Tennyson too lived at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. Cameron came to visit him here, liked the place and bought two cottages close by, which she later connected by the addition of an eye-catching tower.
The view out is over Tennyson Down to the sea.
When Julia Margaret Cameron and her husband moved to Ceylon, she continued to photograph, though on a smaller scale - but her subjects were unnamed, and were types more than individuals. A reflection of the time, perhaps, but a pity.
Dimbola has another aspect - it's close to the site of the early Isle of Wight festivals and has an exhibition, largely photographs, about the festivals and those that have played there.
In 1969, Dylan topped the bill - having failed to play at Woodstock just daays earlier even though he lived there.
The following year's festival was the biggie - attended by half-a-million and headlined by Jimi Hendrix who died just a couple of weeks later. Dimbola has a statue of Hendrix - a nice touch!
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