.Following the formal procedure of the AGM on the 6th July 2019, a talk followed.
This was presented by David Scrimgeour who is no stranger to our meetings. David had previously carried our research into the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum and the results were published in 2015 under the title of ‘Proper People.’ He subsequently became interested in the photographs of inmates and in their appearance. Many of these he was able to access from the archives in the West Yorkshire History Centre in Wakefield.
Some of the early pioneers in the evolution of photography included were Dr. H. W. Diamond in Surrey and the work he did at the Bethlam Asylum in London during the 1850s.These occurred in the 1850s. Such photos led to a belief that the appearance of the subjects could reveal the type of person they were. In other words, the belief in physiognomy.
Then there was W. C. Mackintosh based in Edinburgh. In one of his photographs of seven siblings he ‘cut and pasted’ and created a montage all the better to make assumptions about their appearances. Another Scot, Dr. James Crichton-Brown, in Yorkshire at the West Riding Lunatic Pauper Asylum whose work drew the attention of Charles Darwin. The latter used photos sent by Crichton-Brown in his research.
In the 1870s David noticed that photos taken during this period were taken against similar backgrounds such as plants growing up a brick wall. Then there were those where there is a plain background. However the real interest was in the inmates appearance ie facial expression, body language and clothes worn. Eventually as techniques in photography changed and improved, more and more patients appear in portraitures and these were kept in albums for easier access by the medical profession.
For family historians who may have had an ancestor in an asylum, the chances of coming across a photo after 1895 is good Before that date it becomes increasingly difficult.
David’s talk was both intriguing and enjoyable but one that also reflects the hours of research he had put into his work.
On Saturday 4th May Dr. Phil Judkins headed a team of three speakers to deliver on the findings on a project started in 2015 in Wakefield. A group of volunteers from the Wakefield Historical Society became involved in the development of Kirkgate Station, a grade 2 listed building, and its network of local railway tracks. Phil traced the beginnings in the 1830s when a small hut-like station developed with emphasis on the transport links with Leeds, Manchester and eventually with Goole. The primary concern was for transport of freight in the form of coal, grain and building materials. The current building opened in 1841 when passengers were also catered for. We learned about the involvement of different railway companies; construction of bridges and viaducts and the effects of these constructions not only within the immediate surroundings of Kirkgate but also much wider areas around Wakefield.
The second speaker, Ken Rowley, traced developments that related to the human cost regarding early accidents; arguments over what gauge would be suitable not only locally but nationally. Other factors that had to be considered were a workable signalling system; the standardisation of time; structural problems of locomotives; braking systems; and cooperation between railway companies. All this necessitated continuous government intervention through the passing of a number of Acts through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The third speaker, Lorraine Simpson, showed us the effects of WW1 on Kirkgate station and of its employees. Using knowledge gained from one employee’s diaries who had joined the KOYLI regiment and his subsequent involvement at Thiepval and then the Battle of the Somme.
We learned how he was wounded and shipped home and transported by rail to a hospital in an ambulance train. These had carriages that had been converted to carry the many wounded back to Britain. Lorraine also emphasised the changing nature of railway employees, many now were women in an industry which had been had been dominated by men. They not only staffed signal boxes but also worked in munition factories whose products were then transported to the Front by rail.
Phil rounded off the talk by showing how by the 1980s and 1990s the station was in a state of dereliction through neglect and vandalism. The volunteers’ project along with the involvement of Groundwork, an historical conservation group, helped to rescue the station which was upgraded and refurbished. Thus a station that had been conceived at the start of the revolution in steam locomotion, was saved.