A penny for them

This photograph is of no great significance other than it is one of my first.  The camera angle has nothing to do with considered composition and everything to do with the height of the photographer, probably under four feet at the time.

The camera was the family Kodak 127 Brownie, a bakelite plastic viewfinder device produced in their millions during the 1950s.  I can still remember the slightly sticky feel of the shutter and the stiffness of the wind-on mechanism – don’t forget to wind-on to the next exposure!

The woman on the left is my mum – Peg, Peggy, Marion or Marian – see earlier post.  She is dressed in a “good quality” coat, almost certainly from Kendals sale in Manchester. How I dreaded that number 78 bus ride from Altrincham to be kitted out in “smart bargains” – the seeds of my obsession with the scruffy casual look.

The imposing lady to the right is ‘Win’, short for Winifred, she is married to the diminutive Fred, hesitant in the background.  Measuring tape in hand, Fred was a keen DIY man in the mold of Barry Bucknell.  Fred and Winifred, it was like they were made for each other, an inevitable and intended union.  Not so many years later Fred died in his sleep; poor Win awoke next to a dead man.  Close to hysterics she ran down the road to Peg, the first port of call in a crisis.  Stoic Peg always knew what to do – she made tea, calmed the distraught Win and walked up the road to place pennies on his eyes.

Mum with the Beasleys


  1. Brian Hughes · August 22, 2013

    Pennies on the eyes to pay the ferryman. It’d probably make more sense to bury them with an inflatable dinghy.

  2. Mary Gilmartin · August 22, 2013

    The Kodak brownie was a special camera and probably the only one my mother had in my early years. What a great photograph to remember your mum in her good quality coat. Old photographs are my favorites. Thanks for sharing.

    • northumbrianlight · August 22, 2013

      Mine too, old photos have a value so far beyond we first press the shutter.

  3. Lignum Draco · August 22, 2013

    Everything becomes clearer after a cup of tea.

  4. Tish Farrell · August 22, 2013

    Priceless story, Robin. I started out with my childhood Brownie too. My first pic was very dull though – a view of Smallwood Church, Cheshire. May even have it somewhere!

    • northumbrianlight · August 22, 2013

      Thanks Tish. As a Cheshire boy I thought I should go looking for Smallwood – I didn’t realise where it was – I spent quite a few years in that area working at ICL Kidsgrove + I pass nearby on the canals quite regularly. Did you realise that Smallwood Church has a WordPress based blog?

      • Tish Farrell · August 23, 2013

        No, I didn’t. Must take a look. I was christened there. We lived at nearby Betchton ( if that’s how it is spelled). It was hardly a place, on the other side of the main road from Smallwood. Then when I was five we moved to Alsager – also not far from Kidsgrove.

      • Tish Farrell · August 23, 2013

        No I didn’t. Must take a look. I was christened there. We lived the other side of the main road from the Smallwood crossroads – in a rented farmhouse. When I was five we moved to Alsager, which is also near Kidsgrove.

  5. Malin H · August 22, 2013

    What a wonderful story…
    Thakn you so much for this interesting post.
    I just love the photograph.

    This quote says a lot;

    Time will never stand still and those moments that bring us such joy become memories in an instant. To capture such a moment and record it forever is truly monumental. A single frame can tell a story and create emotions that even brilliantly constructed literature would struggle to produce. (Joshua Atticks)

  6. LaVagabonde · August 22, 2013

    The expressions on their faces are priceless. So, do you still have that brownie camera?

    • northumbrianlight · August 22, 2013

      I am definitely being looked down on 🙂 I wish I had that camera still but unfortunately not – I at least still have my Dad’s 35mm Werra and his Mamiyaflex – one day I will be tempted back into the darkroom.

  7. Busanee Dominguez · August 25, 2013

    I enjoyed the story told although it was heartbreaking. It did make me look closer at the people in the photo. I tried to see if the photo caught your descriptions of them. I think it did. I do hope that Win did well after her ordeal and loss of Fred. I know the folklore of putting pennies on the eyes as payment to the ferryman to escort the dead to the underworld. Just curious. DId your family believe in this lore or was it only done out of tradition?

    • northumbrianlight · August 25, 2013

      I think my mother just did these things out of tradition rather than belief – on the day of a funeral in the street she would always draw the curtains and I was never allowed to play outside. I am sure I remember one occasion when she put a sheet over a dressing table mirror. Thanks very much for reading and taking the time to comment – much appreciated.

  8. lena de almeida · August 25, 2013

    Isn’t it amazing the amount of memories and stories a single image can trigger? And how wonderful that you still have the first photo you took!

    • northumbrianlight · August 25, 2013

      It is – I have boxes and boxes of old family photographs from the 1950s and 1960s and there is a story behind almost all of them. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. karijeppesen · January 30, 2014

    …what a story, Robin!! it is wonderful…
    …and yes, I have a Brownie too, it was the first camera of my grandmother, know it´s near me…not to be forgotten… (…smiling…)

    • northumbrianlight · January 31, 2014

      Thank you for your kind words – I had forgotten about this post until I was reminded by Malin’s image. There are some surprising aspects to writing a blog. All the best and thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      • karijeppesen · January 31, 2014

        You are so welcome, Robin!! …all my pleasure…

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