Richmond Park – learning to take photos

On a beautiful sunny day, late in the summer of 1969, we took a family trip to Richmond Park.  By that time we had moved twice since 1968 and lived in a small flat in West Hampstead.  It wasn’t too far to travel to Richmond, but I have no memory of the journey, or if we went by bus, train or both.

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Richmond Park, so close to the tower blocks, yet full of rural beauty.  Photo nathan-harrison.com

My new little sister, Suzy, was about 18 few months old, so it was probably a bit of a hassle for our Mum & Dad, needing to take all the things a young child needs during the day.  We also took a large blanket to lay on the grass and a picnic lunch – there weren’t any McDonalds or Burger King take-away outlets until the mid 1970s – so it was sandwiches and a flash of tea, and Ribeana or something similar for me.  It turned into a very memorable day out, partly  because we have photos of the day that reinforce the memories, but for me I will always remember it as the day I learned to take photographs.

Richmond Park, the largest walled park in the UK, is one of the 8 Royal Parks of London, with its origins dating back to 1625, when the King, Charles I, brought the Royal Court to Richmond palace when plague was spreading through London.  The park grew out of an area set aside for hunting deer.  Charles I upset locals by enclosing the area with a wall, that is still standing today.  Public right of way was allowed and that has continued for most of its history, but was established by Act of Parliament in 1872.  It has been a popular recreational area for many years, a place to escape the city and enjoy a picnic, walking and cycling, with cycle ways around the park.  During the 2012 Olympics in London the road race cycle courses passed through the park.

It is remains home to over 600 deer, both Red Deer and Fallow Deer.  The deer are free to roam large parts of park and due to the high number of daily visitors they are fairly tame, although they still need to be treated with care and caution, and people are discouraged from feeding them or getting too close.  Sometime during that summer afternoon, back in 1969, when the sun was high in the sky, my Dad did a quick scout out of the area around where we had settled, leaving Mum, me and little Suzy laying on the blanket in the sun.  He came back all excited, saying that he had discovered we were fairly close to the lake at the centre of the park, where the deer came to cool down and drink.

He quickly rummaged in a bag for his trusty camera, an Ilford Sporti he had bought in 1959 and invited me to come with him and see the deer.  We walked a short distance through some fairly long grass and small bushes and trees, before we approached the lake.  Dad encouraged me to be quiet and we followed the edge of the lake for  a few more yards as he found some bushes to help hide us from the deer.  Not much happened for a while and I was soon bored of looking at the sun glinting off the water and became restless, wanting to run around and explore.  But Dad kept me calm for a little longer and we were suddenly rewarded with the approach of a group of around 20 Red Deer.

As they waded into the water Dad pointed out that we were downwind from them, so if we were quiet and moved slowly they wouldn’t be disturbed by our presence.  Then he took the first photograph of the group of deer.  Looking at the photos now I can’t be certain of the order in which they were taken but I know that the second two pictures I had a hand in taking.  Dad showed me how to use the viewfinder to aim the camera and how to press the shutter release button carefully so as not to shake the camera.  With that simple lesson I was introduced to the world of photography and have remained fascinated with it ever since.

The following three pictures are the photos from that encounter with the Red Deer of Richmond Park, on a summers day in 1969.  I scanned the originals some years ago and used the free software Photoscape to sharpen and very lightly enhance the tone.  Two of them also had small marks on the cloud and sky which I was able to remove with some careful restoration, again using Photoscape.  For more information on how to scan and restore old photos see my earlier ‘how to guides‘.

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Whilst my encounter with the deer that day went very calmly and without incident, this was largely due to my Dad’s experience with the deer of Richmond Park.  Mum and Dad used to visit the park regularly and even photographed the odd deer close up, as can be seen in the black and white photo below, from around 1960.

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Not everyone has such a calm relaxing experience, especially if they take a disobedient dog with them.  I am of course referring to Fenton and his outraged owner who together became a huge internet sensation in late 2011.

I have shared two videos in the previous post, to keep the videos separate from this post.  The first one is a clip of the news reports about the web viral status that the second clip received.  The second clip is the full uncensored version by the original uploader.

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London in the 1960s

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London in the 1960s, life was bustling, people swinging, dancing to the hip sounds of the day. Wearing iconic fashion, driving classic cars, watching Technicolor films, listening to fab pop.

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At the time of course it was just normal life. Perhaps there was a new sense of freedom, and a new excitement for the future, but there were also cold war fears of nuclear annihilation, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and the Biafran famine, part of another war.
For most, life was not much different to the two or three decades before. Many lived in small apartments, sharing bathrooms, exchanging the sounds of daily life. For most people, dressed in unremarkable clothes, with no car, riding buses or the Tube, life was just routine. They worked hard, for not much pay, they married, had children and tried to have a happy life.

A short film from the 1960s, with a quirky narrator, commenting on the fashions and lifestyle of the time.

 

First Snowman – January 1968

Haysleigh Gardens Jan. 1968This is one of my most vivid early memories, even though it is from 45 years ago.  With most of the UK currently blanketed in snow, it seems a good time to recall my first snowman!

Our family, Mum, Dad and I, lived in a three-room flat, that took up the first floor of a converted Victorian house, in the South East London suburb of Annerley.  We had lived there for just over 4 years, after leaving a cramped bed-sit in Paddington, in 1963.

The front window, in the bedroom, overlooked the small garden and the road.   There was only light traffic on Haysleigh Gardens, as it is a side road off the larger Annerley to South Norwood road, and there were few parked cars as hardly anyone in the road owned a car.  With the house split into three flats, including one in the basement, I rarely played in the small garden, as it didn’t really feel like our garden.  It was also fairly unkempt, as can be seen in the background of the photo.

Having started school the previous September, I was 5 years old.  I can only presume that there had not been any significant snowfall in the previous year or two, as I have no memory of snow before January 1968, and was too young to remember the severe weather of 1963!  It is difficult to recall what time of day it started to snow, but I  believe that I came home early from school and my Dad come home from work early too.  With the daylight fading by 3pm, due to cloud cover and with the snow falling heavily Dad suggested we build a snowman.  Not really knowing what he meant, I immediately agreed anyway, as I was always ready for any kind of game he wanted to play.  Looking back I realise that when it came to snow my Dad was just a big kid at heart, and this was to be the first of many memorable snowmen that we built together.

Mum, was much too sensible to go out into the freezing cold and falling snow, I think partly because she always felt the cold much more.  Dad, a carpenter, was used to working outdoors in all weathers and seemed impervious to the cold.    I can remember Mum making sure we were both kitted out with winter woollens.   For me that included woollen gloves and a fashionable green woollen balaclava, similar to the modern snood, hand knitted by Mum of course!  With that done she was quite content to watch us from the window, smiling and waving occasionally, whilst preparing the warm clothes for us to change into when we came back indoors.  She would have socks, jumpers and trousers laying on the fire-guard, in front of the coal fire, to warm them through, drying out any dampness.  “Airing them” as my granny used to say.

Once we were downstairs and out in the garden Dad worked quickly, making a large snowball on the ground, which he began rolling around on the path and the small patch of grass.  Quickly it grew into a substantial ball of snow, that he declared was just right, and positioned it on the snow covered grass by the fence.  He repeated the same actions three more times, with me helping to roll the heavy balls of snow. They were each placed on top of the previous ones, until they formed a small column, almost up to my shoulders.  Next, he formed a more round, slightly smaller lump of snow, and planted it firmly on top.  After that he tried his best to smooth the column down, adding handfulls of snow, so that it looked more like a single body of snow.  Finally he added a couple of rolled tubes of snow to the sides to form two arms.

Immediately he had completed that work he nipped back indoors, leaving me briefly to admire this strange white statue, reappearing a few minutes later with several small lumps of coal and the knitted wool tea cosy from the kitchen!  Mum would have words to say to him about that later, but at that point she didn’t know it was missing!  The tea cosy was placed on the head of the snowman and quickly the eyes, nose and mouth were created using the lumps of coal.  Then Dad produced one of his old pipes from his jacket pocket and stuck it into the face of the snowman.  So just like Dad the snowman was a pipe smoker!  By the time we had finished it was too dark to take a photograph.  Flash was a costly and unreliable thing to use with the basic Ilford camera we had.  So, the next morning, I posed proudly with the snowman for four photos, although by then one of the arms had fallen away.  The photos all survive intact, apart from one, which was savagely cut with scissors to feature in a school story project a few years later, loosing the white borders common on any photo from that era.  The photo above is the best of those, which I scanned a few years ago and have cropped and slightly enhanced the colour using the free software Photoscape.

In the background of the photo is the row of houses, in which we and many other families lived.  We moved before the end of 1968 and the whole row was demolished by 1969, to make way for a group of bungalows for the elderly.  Below is a screen capture from Google Street View of Haysleigh Gardens in 2012.  The bungalows on the right are where our home once stood, and the road in 2012 now seems to be filled with cars!  Much has changed in the forty-five years since that snowfall of January 1968, but I still recall, with great affection, my first snowman!Haysleigh Gardens - Google Street view Aug 2012