The Dude Comes to Kirkby

“I can see us in for some lively times…”

– Jack Pulman’s diary, December 1915

Last December we wrote on here about Jack Pulman’s incredible First World War diary and photographs. Since then, thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have been able to continue with the conservation, preservation, cataloguing, transcription and digitisation of the collection. In addition, we wanted to introduce people to Jack, his diary and photographs and we’ve done this through talks, workshops and a soon-to-open exhibition.

photograph of Huyton U3A members with the diary

Huyton U3A members with the diary

Huyton and Halewood’s U3A (University of the Third Age) groups have been marking the centenary anniversary of the First World War through a series of events and research undertaken by their members. Some of this had already involved coming to Knowsley Archives to hear about and see our collections, but this project has provided us with the opportunity to introduce a new aspect to their research and knowledge of local people’s wartime experiences. We delivered a specially-tailored talk for U3A members about the diary, which included an opportunity to see the diary up close. Another tailored talk was presented to residents of Priory Court retirement properties, generating a lot of animated discussion and excitement about Jack’s diary.

One of the most exciting aspects of this project has been working with Comics Youth

CIC, a youth-led organisation who support marginalised and disadvantaged children and young people to express themselves through creating and publishing comics and zines. Almost 20 children and young people have been learning about Jack’s life during wartime and inspired by portions of Jack’s diary and his photographs to create some spectacular and beautiful artworks.

Photograph of a child creating an artwork at one of the sessions run by Comics Youth

One of the Comics Youth artwork sessions

Our exhibition, Diary of a Dude: Bringing Jack Pulman’s First World War Diary to Life, brings together extracts and photographs from the diary with the new artwork, demonstrating the work that has been undertaken as part of this project, as well as introducing Jack and his diary to new audiences. The original diary and many original photographs will be on display and there will be opportunities to find out about where Jack travelled during the War, the kinds of social activities he took part in (including the unique games of donkey football!), and the members of his musical group, the Deolali Dudes.

“1914, October 30th Hong Kong. Volunteers wanted for Royal Navy to complete various ships company…Enquired terms of service and finding them satisfactory, volunteered.”

With this very matter of fact entry, Jack Pulman began writing his diary over 100 years ago. It’s a tone of grounded realism that continues throughout the 129 pages of the diary. There are no dramatic flourishes or flights of fancy. It’s rare that he stretches a description of a remarkable event – such as a battle, the death of a colleague or a new development in the War – over more than a few sentences. And so I wonder what this seemingly reserved man, who would go on to drive Liverpool trams for 40 years and raise a small family, would make of our celebration of his diary, photographs and life? How would he react to finding himself the subject of talks; being drawn and painted as a comic book figure; and being the subject of an exhibition 130 years after he was born? It’s been a privilege to see the excitement and interest generated by sharing Jack’s diary and the world he saw and captured through his photography. These may not be the “lively times” Jack was foreseeing in 1915, but it seems a good description of the project he has inspired.

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The ‘Diary of the Dude’ exhibition is in Kirkby Library from 23rd April – 4th June 2019. Please check Library opening times before visiting.

Discovering the Dude

Fans of the classic Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, will remember Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as the Dude. However, let me introduce you to a much earlier – and very different! – Dude. Our Dude is called John (or Jack) Pulman and served in the British Navy during the First World War.

Photograph of Jack Pulman, 1917

Jack Pulman, 1917

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery, we are currently undertaking a project, called Diary of a Dude, revolving around Jack’s incredible First World War diary and the many photographs he took during the War. Having been a merchant seaman, Liverpool-born Jack signed up for the Navy in October 1914 whilst working in the Hong Kong area, which is when his journal entries begin. His first two entries read:

“October 30th,1914. Hong Kong. Volunteers wanted for Royal Navy to complete various ships company. Enquired terms of service and finding them satisfactory, volunteered. October  31st, accepted and signed on for the period of the war.”

All very interesting, you may be thinking, but why the ‘Diary of a Dude’ title? As we first looked through the diary, we were delighted to find that – as well as a seriously talented photographer – Jack was a musician and he formed a band with a few fellow sailors, calling themselves the Deolali Dudes and performing at various entertainment concerts the men would put on for each other. The Deolali part of their name comes from one of the army camps that Jack and some his fellow sailors went to for rest and recuperation. The Deolali transit camp was in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, India and had been a British camp since 1849. It continued to be used by the British during the First and Second World Wars and became a camp notorious for both being unpleasant and for the psychological problems of the many service personnel that passed through it. This latter part of its reputation gave birth to the phrase ‘gone doolally’ (a derivation of Deolali). Whatever Jack made of the camp, he and his friends performed under the band name at various social events there and elsewhere. Included in the diary are copies of hand-drawn (possibly by Jack) programmes for concerts, where we can find out exactly what tunes the Dudes played and what other entertainment the evening offered.

Photograph of Jack Pulman and the rest of the Deolali Dudes, circa 1916

The Deolali Dudes, c. 1916, with Jack back row, far right

As you can imagine, whenever we have something like Jack’s diary donated to the archive, we’re desperate to look inside and find out more about the people associated with the document. However, the first priority has to be making sure we can preserve the document as well as possible and make it available to the public for research and study. In the case of Jack’s diary, it was clear that a lot of work was needed before making it available for research.

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary with parts of the image ripped away

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary

The journal was in a poor state, with extensive water damage (appropriately for a naval diary!) and the spine of the volume was very weak, meaning that the diary could not be opened fully without causing further damage. Included with the diary are almost 150 photographs and images. The majority of these have been glued directly onto pages of the diary and many of these were also in poor condition. Over time, most adhesives cause damage to paper and, combined with water damage, this had added to the condition problems we now faced. Where photographs had been glued to opposite pages, many of them had stuck to each other and then someone had tried to prise them apart, leaving images with portions missing or torn.

We knew that we needed to bring in a professional conservator to make sure that the diary and its remarkable contents could be repaired as best as possible. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery funding we were able to do this and it was a joy to have the diary return looking fantastic and to be able to open it (thanks to a new spine!) and discover more about Jack and his experiences during the War.

Jack also seems to have played a role in inventing a new sport to keep people entertained during shore leave: donkey football! The diary comes with a set of rules for the sport that include: “donkeys must not charge the goalkeeper” and “should one donkey mount another, a foul is given against the mounting donkey”! Who knows what the donkeys made of this, although the rules do state that “no sticks [are] to be used against donkeys, or cruelty of any kind.”

Photograph of a game of donkey football, circa 1917

A game of donkey football underway! c. 1917

As we’re into the Christmas season, it’s worth highlighting Christmas 1915 on board Jack’s ship, as what Jack calls a “catastrophe” had happened: they’d run out of spuds. “Pity our Christmas dinner,” Jack writes. The dinner ended up being:

“a proper scrape up…a little bit of tough mutton and a few half cooked marrowfat peas…while the sweets consisted of a bit of workhouse duff that we had managed to knock up. The wines (don’t skit): one whole bottle of bulldog beer per man.” 

Of course, the majority of the diary is concerned with Jack’s time on board ship and is filled with descriptions of skirmishes and battles, as well as their daily routine of stopping and searching local shipping traffic in the Red Sea and off the east coast of Africa. His photographs include images of enemy ships, prisoners and local boats being searched, as well as weaponry and serious-looking officers. Jack also demonstrates that his artistic skills extended to watercolours and he includes a couple of paintings in the diary. One of these is a map showing the North Africa and the Suez Canal area, with ports Jack visited, and another shows how a skirmish with enemy forces played out, with the positions of the combatants marked on a painting of the coastline.

A watercolour map of the North African coast and Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, circa 1915

A watercolour map of the North African coast and the Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, c. 1915

As the diary continues through the War, Jack’s descriptions of daily activity become more and more brief, perhaps reflecting how normal and mundane these extraordinary circumstances were becoming to him. The emphasis in his entries shifts from describing naval activity to taking more pleasure in describing places they pass through or the free time that he and his colleagues clearly relished. His photographs also begin to reflect this, with some beautiful landscape and architecture photography, images of local people he encounters on his travels, and an increasing number of images showing colleagues relaxing and enjoying themselves. Jack even shares his camera with colleagues, resulting in his friend Kerrison providing an early example of the selfie: photographing himself looking in a mirror!

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Of course, as much as we find Jack’s descriptions of the War fascinating, he will have spent much of his time wanting to get home to his wife and young child. This sense of frustration is made plain by an entry that reflects on the three years he has been with the Navy:

“October 31st 1914 to November 14th 1917: 3 years of wasted time.”

If you would like to read more extracts from the Diary and follow Jack’s journeys, we have a dedicated Twitter page where we are posting extracts and images on a regular basis: Diary of the Dude

It’s all about the analogue…

During our recent stock take, we uncovered a forgotten slide show presentation mounted in a carousel. After a quick inspection, we realised that we also had a script, dated 1990, filed away in a cabinet which just might offer information on the slides. Indeed, the script described, in great detail, the listed buildings and conservation areas of Knowsley as they were in 1990, compiled by T.W. Scragg. Tom was for many years the Library Service’s greatly respected Principal Reference Librarian, who during his career had taken a great interest in local history and was something of an expert in the field.

 

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This view of Market Place, Prescot in 1809 is from a painting presented by F W Halsall Esq. and is one of the slides in the presentation

Fortunately, Mr Scragg had left a complete list of the slides alongside the script and we found, to our great delight, that the images matched perfectly – to a point. The carousel was full, but according to the printed material, there were still a further 11 slides, representing the townships of Tarbock and Halewood, missing from the sequence. What to do? There are many slides in the archive, a number of which are unlisted. In time, we will catalogue all of the slides, but in that moment, it seemed to be an almost insurmountable task to identify and retrieve the missing images.

So began the process of reviewing the collection, starting with a box of miscellaneous items curiously entitled ‘Somebody’s Holiday Snaps.’ Within the box was a folder of obviously library focused material and a small slide box which was unlabelled, but contained individual slides bearing Library Service reference numbers. Could these be the missing slides from Mr Scragg’s tour of Knowsley? An inspection of the slides revealed that they were indeed the elusive 11, and we promptly set about reuniting the collection.

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Not all of the listed sites in Knowsley are buildings: the Stocks at Cronton, pictured in 1906, are Grade II listed and feature in the presentation

It is fascinating to compare the properties singled out for consideration 27 years ago with Historic England’s National Heritage List for England, the current register of nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England. In Knowsley, there are some 121 listed buildings and monuments, ranging from the Grade II listed Dovecote – known locally as the Pigeon House – on Whitefield Drive in Kirkby and the grand family seat of the Earls of Derby, Knowsley Hall (Grade 2*) to the only Grade I building in the borough, the Church of St Mary on Church Street, Prescot. To break the numbers down, there is 1 Grade I building (St Mary’s, Prescot); 4 Grade II* (Church of St Michael, Huyton; St Chad’s Church, Kirkby; St Mary’s Church, Knowsley and Knowsley Hall) and the remaining 116 listed at Grade II. Some of the buildings noted by Mr Scragg have since been demolished or re-purposed whereas others, such as St Chad’s, have seen their heritage status enhanced. The presentation gives us an opportunity to reflect on how the borough’s building stock has evolved through the intervening years and how our historic buildings add value to our understanding of the past and offer a real,tangible link to our heritage.

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Another image from the slide show: the Norman font, St Chad’s Church, Kirkby

So: we aim to recreate the presentation in the ARK to share with local historians, using the original script, slides and slide projector, as part of Local History Month. The 1990 Pop-Up Slide Show will take place on Wednesday 19th April 2017, starting at 10:30am until 12:30pm. The session will run for up to 2 hours, with light refreshments available and an opportunity to discuss comparisons with today’s landscape and to explore original archive materials.

The event is free of charge, but as space is limited in the ARK search room, you can avoid disappointment by booking a place in advance. Contact the ARK, 1st Floor, The Kirkby Centre, Norwich Way, Kirkby L32 8XYon 0151 443 4291 or email infoheritage@knowsley.gov.uk.

 

Mr. Clark’s Wonderful Album

If I tell people that we have Victorian family photographs in the ARK, many imagine they know what to expect: stiff collars, stiff backs, stiff upper-lips and stiff poses. Whilst there are indeed photographs in our archives that show Victorians staring firmly at the camera or looking as though they would rather be anywhere but in front of a camera; we are also lucky enough to have some wonderful 19th and early 20th century photos that gleefully disregard their period’s reputation for dour frowns and rigid stances. One such collection is Mr. J.R.J. Clark’s photograph album, containing pictures taken between 1899 and 1900, which has recently been catalogued and digitised thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding. To highlight the work done during the digitisation process of the album, a small exhibition of images from the album has been put together in Kirkby Library.

Mr. Clark’s group portraits are almost always of people laughing and enjoying themselves

Mr. Clark and his young family lived in Huyton during this period and were clearly a wealthy family. Mr. Clark’s father had been the proprietor of the Lancashire Gazette newspaper and his son, it seems, had trained and worked in law before retiring from the profession at a relatively young age. As our photograph album demonstrates, Mr. Clark used much of his free time to take holidays, enjoy sporting and leisure activities, and pursue an interest in photography. It should be noted that at least some of the pictures are likely to have been taken by other photographers, particularly as Mr. Clark features in some of the images.

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This photograph shows three children with two adults who we assume to be household servants. Mr. Clark’s album unfortunately provides no information as to who they were or what their household roles were.

Mr. Clark’s photographs are all exterior shots (where the light, of course, was better) and so all of the images of his Huyton home are outside and usually in the garden. Judging by the fruit and vegetables growing in pots – not to mention the types of clothing people are wearing – these garden photos were taken on warm spring or summer days. As well as family members and friends, household servants weren’t safe from Mr. Clark’s roving camera. Amongst the photographs in the album, there are shots of servants on their own and some where they are shown alongside family members, especially the children. The handwritten captions within the album are unfortunately very erratic, with very few details provided beyond the odd date and location, so we cannot easily identify all of the individuals in the pictures, including the servants and their specific roles.

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Holidays, both overseas and in the UK, were clearly something of a regular occurrence for the Clark family. The majority of the photographs have been taken whilst on holiday although, as mentioned above, it isn’t always easy to identify locations because most of the pictures don’t have captions. Confirmed locations for holidays include: the Isle of Man; South Devon (Dartmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth and Exeter were all photographed); York; Fountains Abbey, Ripon; and Paris. Holiday photography provided Mr. Clark (and any other unidentified photographers) with the opportunity to try their hand at landscape images and many of these are very interesting as compositions in their own right and for the wealth of historical information they convey. Despite this, however, the camera’s gaze is still normally focussed on the family and friends’ enjoyment of their time together and the varied activities they involved themselves in.

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This photograph was probably taken somewhere in South Devon, c. 1899

An enthusiasm for sport and other leisure activities, including hunting, is evident from Mr. Clark’s photographs. There are pictures that have been taken of friends and family taking part in sports and images of sporting events, such as show jumping and cricket matches at Aigburth Cricket Club, Liverpool (including a match between Liverpool and District and an Australian team). In other pictures, people pose with golf clubs or croquet mallets, and there is a whole series of photos of people with their hunting guns.

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Children in Paris, c. 1899-1900

One of the other notable things about many of the photographs is their spontaneity and creativity. The photographer[s] tried to capture events and moments as they saw them, often resulting in some dynamic and impressive images, such as the photo (right) of children running along a street in Paris. Experimentation is also evident in some of the photographs. In particular, there is a photograph (below) that is a double-exposed image of Norwegian naval cadets in Dartmouth combined with a picture of a lifeboat in Teignmouth.

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Double-exposed image, Dartmouth and Teignmouth, Devon, October 1899

The people in almost all the images in Mr. Clark’s photograph album always seem to be enjoying themselves, often laughing at some unknown joke or antic. Perhaps Mr. Clark, or whoever else was taking the picture, has said something to make everyone laugh or pulled a funny face. Whilst we will never know, I believe that seeing faces from the past showing their enjoyment of their environments and each others company is somehow more powerful and resonant than a formal photograph taken in a studio. It reminds us that whilst our surroundings, haircuts and clothes may have changed, when we’re snapping pictures of family, friends and holidays on our smart phones and digital cameras, we’re not really all that different from the people taking photographs over 100 years ago.

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The exhibition of images from Mr. Clark’s photograph album is currently on display at Kirkby Library during its normal opening hours.