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Saturday, 8 April 2017

In the Footsteps of Phyllis...(Part 1)

This entry doesn't exactly fall within the usual remit of this blog, but it's near enough for me. I first discovered the photos by Phyllis Nicklin a few years ago, initially, via the BrumPic website and was immediately fascinated by these pictures of a Birmingham in the 50's and 60's from a time before I came to the city. 

A brief biography of Phyllis Nicklin can be found here on the BrumPic website.

The initial photos had been digitised and stored at Birmingham University, but a couple of years ago Dave Oram of BrumPic discovered another set of photos at the university leading to the exhibition 'Nicklin Unseen'.

I had thought about seeking out some of the locations and taking contemporary photos, but decided that it was far too big an undertaking. I did however use a picture of The Great Stone pub in Northfield for this blog entry - #158.

However, that's as far as it went until I recently became aware that The Grid Project had decided to take on the job and invite participation from Birmingham's photographers. I jumped at the chance and I've now submitted my first six pictures.

Dave Allen (no relation) is curating the project and has limited everyone to six pictures initially so that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. My six included five canal locations...and The Great Stone!

So, I set off for deepest, darkest Northfield to take a picture of The Great Stone - this is the scene that greeted me.
One of the banes of my photographic life - the big white van! I've lost count of the number of times that a delivery van or lorry has spoiled a potentially great photo. It also wasn't the best time of day for the light and so I decided to return another day (the next day as it turned out!).
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Amazingly, roadworks had appeared overnight, but at least the white vans were much less conspicuous. 
Phyllis Nicklin (1953) © The University of Birmingham
This was Phyllis' photo - not too much has changed in 64 years.

As I returned to my car someone asked me if I knew where The Great Stone was. "The pub is just over the road" I replied, but he was actually looking for The Great Stone. It is to be found in the village pound behind the gate to the right of the pub. His reaction was one of underwhelmment; it isn't a massive boulder and he was concerned that his brother and wife would not be impressed when they visit from Leicestershire. I made sympathetic noises and departed.

My next location was way over the other side of town in the shadow of Spaghetti Junction. This was the one picture that I had really wanted to attempt.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham
The title of this one is Hockley Brook, Salford, Birmingham and I couldn't immediately place it. The map location given was also incorrect, so I was intrigued to track down the actual location. I realised that it was on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal just before it meets the Tame Valley Canal and the Grand Union Canal at Salford Junction. We've sailed over this aqueduct many times, but I had never seen it from this perspective.
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
This is how it looks now - almost everything around the waterways has changed, but the canal, River Tame (flowing from right to left under the canal) and Hockley Brook (running parallel to the canal) follow the same course.

My next location was only a few yards away on the Tame Valley Canal. I knew exactly where this one was because we'd traversed this section of canal last June.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
All that remains is the canal and the toll island, everything else has been consumed by Spaghetti Junction. I was quite surprised to see a boat approaching, as the Tame Valley Canal isn't one of the busiest waterways (although it is well worth a visit!). The people on the boat had just bought it from Walsall and were taking it to Market Harborough - perfect boating weather!

Onwards! My next destination was Farmer's Bridge. This time I knew exactly where I was going.
Phyllis Nicklin (1953) © The University of Birmingham
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
This is the start of the descent of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal through the thirteen Farmer's Bridge Locks. Back in 1953 the canal arm to the right extended much further than it does today; now it is known as Cambrian Wharf which is overlooked by the Flapper pub (unseen to the right).

As I was strolling by the locks after taking this picture I met a chap who'd known the pub as Noah's Ark back when he was a student in the 80's and he was marvelling at how it had all changed since those days.

This is one of my favourite views of the canals in Birmingham and here's one of my Photo Digital Art pictures that I took last summer.
© Photo Digital Art 2017
 My final destination was Gas Street Basin. At first glance, I thought that I'd been given the same two pictures, but on closer inspection, the photos were taken seven years apart, from the same location.
Phyllis Nicklin (1961) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
It is interesting to note the subtle differences between 1961 and 1968 and the not-so-subtle changes since. I do remember the days before the footbridge was built and back to a time when just about the only access to the canals in Birmingham was at Gas Street Basin.

I had a long chat with a couple of Canal & River Trust fund raisers who were valiantly (but in vain, whilst I was there) trying to sign up new 'Friends' of the CRT. One is a fellow boater and her boat is moored at Calf Heath on the Staffs & Worcs Canal and the other is an archaeology student at Birmingham University (perhaps she might get involved in the project).

So, there you have it, my experiences on my first Birmingham Grid Project outing. These photos won't be uploaded to the project website for a few days, but once it gets into full swing you'll be able to see just how much Birmingham has changed since Phyllis Nicklin took to the streets with her camera. I can't wait to see the other photos (and get out to do some more myself!).

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