A Long Walk–Part 3

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The third day of our walk was to be the longest leg. The stage from Wooler to Fenwick was 13 miles but as we were staying at the Lindisfarne Inn we had a couple of extra miles to walk along a minor road. It was a bright and sunny when we set out and it stayed like that for the rest of the day. The best weather we had during our walk.

Wooler is a small, pleasant town in the Northumberland National Park. It’s isolated position means that it isn’t swarming with tourists and it’s a little old fashioned, which isn’t a bad thing. Facilities are rather behind the times, though, and it’s a bit short of quality places to eat.

We bought ourselves supplies from one of the local bakeries that sold freshly made sandwiches and pies, and from the Co-op and set out on our way. The guidebook promised us that there were no steep climbs during this stage. Well, that wasn’t quite true as after leaving the outskirts of the town we had a steep climb up to a ridge that overlooked the town and the surrounding countryside

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It was worth it. The views on this bright sunny day were outstanding.

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The ridge rather reminded me of the gritstone ridges in the Derbyshire Peak District

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At the end of the ridge we descended down to Weetwood crossing the old bridge over the River Till.

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We then had a trek along several miles of minor roads and gravel farm tracks through pleasant rural countryside.

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Walking on tarmac on a warm, sunny day with minimal shade made it a little hard going at times. But the scenery was beautiful.

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At one point we came across a WWII pillbox by the side of the road. It was part of the defences built when Britain was threatened by invasion in 1940.

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After 3 or 4 miles of road walking we came across St Cuthbert standing by the road!

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There was a group of walkers taking a break and as it was about 1 o’clock by now it seemed like a good idea to do the same and eat our dinner. I took a group photo of ‘the Platoon’ by the statue and they returned the favour.

We’d started to come across groups of walkers since the second day. In most cases when they were overtaking us! Often we’d have a brief chat, exchange pleasantries and and swap stories. We’d then often bump into them again later during the walk, sometimes several times. That was the case with ‘the Platoon’ as we came across them a few times during the next couple of days.

Moving on, we had another stretch on a minor road,

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eventually turning off and walking up through fields and along the edge of woodland until we came to St Cuthbert’s Cave

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When the Vikings invaded Lindisfarne, the monks took St Cuthbert’s body in his coffin and took it on a journey across Northumbria.

once they’d spotted those dreaded dragonships crashing up and down on the roaring mists and foaming spray. They gathered up their most precious belongings and, taking the advice of their hallowed saint, the Community of St Cuthbert left their holy island for what was destined to be a seven-year journey that helped shape England and keep alight the flames of Christianity that were in imminent danger of being extinguished. (source)

This cave was allegedly one of the places they stopped

We stopped a while to talk to take a look at the cave and chatted with some other walkers who were taking a rest. This included ‘the Platoon’ (another group photo taken) and a trio of real pilgrims from Chester University.

There were some interesting ‘cave paintings’ painted on the roof of the cave.

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Setting off again we climbed up towards the top of a ridge

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from where we could see right down to the sea and our final objective, Holy Island.

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The path then took us north through woodland for about 2 1/2 miles, finally descending into the village of Fenwick, which is just off the A1.This was the end of the stage in the guidebook, but not for us. We had now to head to the Lindisfarne Inn where we had rooms booked for the night. We avoided the busy main road by taking a quiet, narrow minor road which came out on to the A1 more or less opposite the Inn. We were tired by now and didn’t particularly enjoy this last couple of miles on tarmac not helped by my blood sugar dropping. We were glad to check in, get our boots off and take a welcome shower and a rest before eating.

A Long Walk–Part 2

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The second day of our walk would take us from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders back into England, over the Cheviot Hills across to Wooler in Northumbria.

We woke up to a bright, if windy, morning. Some rain was promised for later in the day but we had our waterproofs in our packs for when we needed them.

The Border Inn is the end (or start depending which way you’re going!) of the Pennine Way and for the first stretch St Cuthbert’s Way coincided with this rather longer route. I can now say I’ve been to both ends of the Pennine Way – only trouble is I haven’t done the bit in-between!

We set off across the Village Green

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passing the “Gypsey Palace”

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which at one time was occupied by the “Gypsy Monarch”, the head of the local Gypsy clans. Today, it’s a self catering holiday cottage.

We carried on along the quiet road up the hill. Looking down we had good views over the Bowmore valley across to England

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and towards the Cheviot hills ahead of us

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We were soon off the tarmac and heading up the path up the hills. We were still on the Pennine Way at this point but would soon be branching off.

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Good views all around

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Climbing steadily

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we reached the border

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After crossing moorland and traversing some boggy patches (the first of the walk as it had been very dry underfoot)

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we entered a forest

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Fortunately the path was well signposted. Otherwise it would have been easy to get lost.

After the forest we crossed a field down to a farm track which we followed for a mile or so until we reached the small hamlet at Hethpool. There’s been a settlement there since medieval times, but the current buildings were constructed in the early 20th century in the Arts and Crafts style for the Tyneside businessman Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland who bought the Hethpool estate with its 1294 acres as a sporting and farming country retreat.

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We strayed off the official path slightly at this point to visit Hethpool Linn

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The route now took us along the valley at the foot of the Cheviot hills

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After about a mile and a half, just past Torleehouse farm, we turned right and began our ascent on to the moors climbing the pass between Yeavering Bell and Easter Tor.

Up until now we’d avoided the rain. We could see dark clouds and rain falling in adjacent valleys but our route had kept us away from us. But about half way up our climb it hit us. Time to put on the waterproofs. It rained intermittently as we crossed the grouse moors. But for most of the time it wasn’t too heavy and mainly hit us from behind rather than head on. So it didn’t really cause us a problem other than reducing visibility. Just as well as we had about a 4 mile traverse over exposed terrain before we would come down off the moors.

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The Cheviot was shrouded in cloud.

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The landscape here rather reminded me of the West Lancashire moors and the Forest of Bowland

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Eventually we started to descend down towards Wooler. The rain had moved on and we were treated to some blue skies and sunshine

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The route now did a ‘dogleg’ taking us through a forest

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and then crossing fields

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before we finally reached the small Northumbrian town

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Yetholm

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The first overnight stay of our ‘long walk’ was spent in Kirk Yetholm, a small, pleasant village just a mile from the border with England. The days are long in late May and early June and after we’d eaten we decided to take a stroll around the village.

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The village is actually one of a pair of settlements divided by the  River Bowmont, with Town Yetholm on the other side of the river

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In the 7th century the area was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, but became firmly anchored in Scotland in the 11th century. There are various theories about the origin of the name Yetholm but the most common explanation is that it’s derivedfrom the  Old English language and probably means ‘Gatehouse Village’ due to it’s proximity to the border. Originally the centre of an agricultural community with some small scale textile production, according to the owner of the Border Inn, with whom we enjoyed a pleasant chat later in the evening while sitting outside with a drink, today the twin villages are dominated by retired people and holiday homes.

Kirk Yetholm is known as a ’gypsy village’ as it had a sizable community of gypsies who probably arrived in the area in the late seventeenth century. The local legend is that

during war with the French, at the siege of Namur, in 1695, a gypsy of the name of Young, saved the life of a British Officer, Captain David Bennet, who owned property in the Yetholm area. Accordingly, in gratitude for this deed, the Captain built cottages at Yetholm and leased them to the gypsies. (Scottish Gypsies website)

There’s a monument to the Gypsy community on the village green

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During our chat with the owner of the Border Inn, he told us that the Gypsies weren’t allowed to enter the inn but had to purchase their beer through a window while standing outside. Prejudice against immigrants has deep roots, sadly. Today there isn’t a distinct Gypsy community as they have intermarried.

There were some very attractive houses in the village

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Thatched cottages are unusual in Scotland, but there were a few in the twin villages. I think this one is a holiday cottage.

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Walking down towards the river we reached the Kirk. The current building was constructed in 1836 in blue whinstone in a Scottish Baronial Gothic style. The site has probably been occupied by a parish Church for over 800 years.

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Being the evening we couldn’t look inside, but had a quick wander around the churchyard

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Carrying on down the hill we passed the War Memorial – a Northumbrian Cross. We stopped to look and as is always the case there were a large number of local people from such a small community slaughtered during the First World War.

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By the monument there was a good view towards the hills we’d crossed that afternoon

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We crossed the bridge and walked up towards Town Yetholm. Another pleasant village centred on a village green with a very wide main street and well kept houses.

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Another thatched cottage

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and a pub

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We strolled back down the hill, cutting across the meadow past the little pack horse bridge

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returning to the Border inn to enjoy a last drink sitting outside on a pleasant evening, before turning in for a restful night’s sleep to prepare for the next leg of our walk.

A Long Walk–Part 1

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On Bank Holiday Monday we set out on a long walk. We’d been planning it for a while ever since one of our relatives in the North East mentioned that he fancied tackling St Cuthbert’s Way – a long distance trail starting at Melrose in the Scottish Borders and finishing with a walk along the causeway to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) off the coast of Northumberland. The talk soon turned into a firm intention for me and my wife to join D and his wife J to tackle the trail. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a time slot that would suit all of us so in the end we weren’t able to walk the full distance, instead, starting about a third of the way along at Morebattle. The trip was organised by D who did a good job of sorting out accommodation along the route.

The 60 mile route links several sites associated with St Cuthbert who was a 7th Century monk, bishop and hermit, in the kingdom of Northumbria which at that time covered a large part of the Scottish Borders as well most of Northern England (including modern day Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire). He began his monastic career at Melrose Abbey 650AD, and later became the Abbot at Lindisfarne Priory. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of Northern England, with a cult centred on his tomb at Durham Cathedral.

The route is well waymarked throughout. We hardly needed to refer to a map to find our way (although it would not be advisable to tackle any route like this without one).

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The walking itself was very varied.  We started in the Cheviot hills and during our two half days and two full days of walking, walked over rounded hills, along riversides, through forests, over bleak moorland, through pastoral scenery and over a causeway across the sea.

We took the soft option of getting a company to transport our bags, only needing to carry a day sack with coat, fleece, food and drink (plus maps, guidebook, compass etc.) The main problem was sorting out how to get to the start and then back home at the end. It is possible to use public transport but that wasn’t that easy for us. However, D managed to make arrangements for us to leave a car at either end. So on a grey Bank Holdiay morning we drove from Sunderland (where our relatives live) up to Lindisfarne, stopping for a brew at the Beal Barn, just before the causeway,and then over to the island where I left my car at the hotel where we’d be staying at the end of our walk. We then loaded ourselves and our gear into D’s car and set out to Morebattle, an hour’s drive away. On the way, we dropped our bags at the Border Inn in Kirk Yeltholm where we would be spending our first night.

Morebattle is a small village in the Scottish Borders, seven miles south of Kelso. We set off shortly after midday. The weather was better than at the coast, but there was a threat of rain.

We passed the old church which is being renovated by a dedicated couple. They have a café where walkers (and motorists) can stop for refreshments.

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Initially following the quiet road out of the village heading towards the Cheviot hills

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we soon had to start climbing up towards Wideopen Hill, the highest point on the route.P5291503

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It was a bit of a grey day, and we had a couple of showers, (although they didn’t last long) but there were great views of nearby hills

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After a short, steep stretch, we reached the summit of Wideopen Hill

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We stopped for a short while for refreshments and to take some photographs and then set off again – it was mainly downhill from now on towards Kirk Yeltholm.

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Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and after a short stretch on a quiet road we headed down a track

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that took us to the path along the river heading for our first destination.

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After crossing the bridge that separates Town Yeltholm from Kirk Yeltholm

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Not far now, through some pleasant riverside meadows

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Past the old narrow packhorse bridge. There used to be a mill race running under it at one time, but now it looks a little odd stranded above dry land!

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Past the old schoolhouse which is now a hostel for walkers

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across the village green was our destination, the Border Hotel, where we had rooms booked for the night.

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As well as being on the St Cuthbert’s Way, the hotel and pub is the official end of the Pennine Way.

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A relatively short stretch of walking, but challenging in it’s own way as we had to climb up to the highest point of the route. So time for a bath for some of us and a shower for me to get ready for a tasty evening meal in the restaurant.

Giacometti at Tate Modern

I’d been looking forward to seeing the retrospective of work by Giacometti, a favourite artist of mine, that opened recently at Tate Modern. So when I was down in London a couple of weeks ago, I made time to visit the gallery on London’s Bankside.

Giacometti is a favourite artist – I like his trademark sculptures of elongated figures – walking men and standing women – with their rough, textured surfaces. The exhibition included plenty of those, with works from the Tate’s own collection, like Man Pointing  (1947)

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with other examples from public and private collections. As usual with these paid exhibitions, no photos allowed so the pictures in this post are either photos I’ve taken during previous visits to Tate Modern, or from the exhibition website.

As a retrospective, it included earlier works before the Swiss artist developed his signature style. In particular, his surrealist works from the 1930’s

The first room contained a large table covered with a large number of sculptures of heads in different styles and made from various materials – some quite tiny – covering his career, Being displayed in this way really allowed visitors to see how his style developed – initially relatively ‘lifelike’

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Head of Isabel 1936

they evolved into more abstract, fatter forms, eventually becoming flat and featureless rectangles from his Surrealist period. Then the later sculptures in the style for which he is best known. The heads included sculptures of his family members, friends and some famous individuals, including Simone de Beauvoir.

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Bust of Annette IV (1962)

Moving on through the other 9 rooms was a progression through his career. The next few rooms displaying abstract and Surrealist works – sculptures, decorative pieces (lamps, vases, jewellery and wall reliefs) and sketches in his notebooks.

Probably the most Surrealist of the works in the exhibition was the rather grusome Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932)more of a weird insect than a human being

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After WWII, he returned to Paris where he began to produce the elongated figures for which he is best known. These dominated the final 5 rooms

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Three men walking (source: Wikipedia)

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The dog (1951)

This is what I’d come to see. They’re simple, almost like 3 dimensional versions of L S Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ in their complex simplicity

The thin figures that emerged like wisps of smoke out of Giacometti’s conscience in the second part of that murderous decade seem barely to exist. They are not so much statues as mirages of people glimpsed far away, shimmering on a horizon of ash. The human form, starved, bereft, but somehow standing tall. (Guardian)

There were paintings too. Again, he has a distinctive style. The figures are made up of a series of lines which merge to form an image rather like the dots in a Pointillist painting

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Seated Man (1949)

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Caroline (1965)

This was a marvellous exhibition that didn’t disappoint.

Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men

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I’ve finally got around to writing up my impressions of the exhibition of photographs by Salford born photographer, Shirley Baker at Manchester City Art Gallery. The Gallery website tells us:

Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career.

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“My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.”

The exhibition which was originally shown The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford.

with photographs mainly taken during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when I was growing up – not in Manchester or Salford, but in a Lancashire mill town less than 20 miles away. The urban landscape was similar to that of the big city – with terraced streets and post war development. Other than the first year of my life (which I can’t, of course, remember) we lived in modern housing, initially on a Council Estate and then, in my teens, on a new build estate. But my grandparents lived in a terraced house on a typical street.

Shirley Baker was very much a “street photographer”, and took photographs of ordinary people – the women, children and “loitering men” who lived in the poorer parts of the “twin cities” of Manchester and Salford, in and around the terraced streets, bomb sites and slum clearances.

These photographs really resonated with me – as well as most of the visitors to the exhibition who I overheard talking as I walked around the galleries. The streets, the clothing and the activities depicted in the photographs, all brought back memories.

The young boy in the cowboy hat could have been me – I had one too and would have dressed just like that when I was a similar age.

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and when I was a little older I could easily have been one of these boys fishing down the grid for “treasure” or one of the children playing on the makeshift swing made from a rope tied to the lamp-post in the picture at the top of this post.

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The clothing the children and adults in the photos are wearing are very much the same as I remember. So very different from today’s “designer” outfits that even relatively young children wear today.

And the lady in this photograph is wearing very typical clothing for the time with her overcoat and headscarf – she could have been walking down any of the streets in my home town when I was growing up.

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Here we can see an older woman cleaning the pavement, and possibly whitening the step with a “donkey stone” . People were poor but took pride in their homes. With her patterned housecoat covering her dress, her atire is typical of that worn by a working class woman of her age in the 60’s and 70’s in the north of England.

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Inner city Salford and Manchester were poorer areas than the town in which I lived. So I don’t recall things as being quite as grim as in many of the photographs when I was a child. Nevertheless the photographs are representative of the world in which I lived.

I’d not heard of Shirley Baker before. It was difficult for women to establish a career as a photographer in the 1960’s.

(She studied) Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West. Further study in medical photography over one year in a London hospital did little to settle her ambition to work as a press photographer. Hampered by union restrictions on female press photographers, she abandoned plans to work for the Manchester Guardian. Though she took up teaching positions in the 1960s, ultimately it was in pursuing her own projects where she came to feel most fulfilled. (Source)

More of her work can be seen on the Shirley Baker website.

When this exhibition was shown in London, many of the visitors (probably mainly middle class southerners) must have thought they were staring at a different world. But for me, and other visitors to the Manchester gallery, it brought back memories of our childhood and youth. (I’ve nothing against middle class southerners, by the way. I may have grown up in a working class family, but have to admit to being a middle class northerner these days)

In summary, this is an excellent exhibition which I will, no doubt, revisit, probably more than once, when I’m in Manchester over the next few months.

Addendum. I was in Manchester today to meet up with an Australian friend (like me a middle class professional, who grew up in a working class mining community) who was in the city for a short while. I introduced her to Lowry (she’d never heard of him) by showing her some of the pictures in the Gallery’s collection – and then took her to the exhibition to show her the world I grew up in.