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How Lancastrian Joseph Hardman captured the everyday lives of people in rural Lakeland

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 March 2017

A typical early farming scene

A typical early farming scene

not Archant

Hardman’s pictures appear in a new book by Kendal author Anne Bonney

Joseph Hardman Lakeland Photographer 1893-1972 by Anne BonneyJoseph Hardman Lakeland Photographer 1893-1972 by Anne Bonney

To their subjects they would have been unremarkable scenes – a field being ploughed, a hunt waiting for the chase or a Romany family mealtime on route to Appleby. But decades after they were taken, these pictures shed a fascinating light on everyday life in rural Lakeland.

They were the life’s work of Joseph Hardman, a working class lad from Radcliffe who developed his passion for photography when he and his brother moved to Kendal in 1911 in search of work.

They formed the ‘Kendal Window Cleaning Company’ but away from his rounds he led a remarkable life. After serving as a marine in World War One he returned to Kendal – and to his camera.

He never learned to drive but would travel up to 200 miles a week by taxi, together with his wife Edith and sometimes accompanied by young models to different parts of the Lake District, Westmorland, Cumberland and beyond.

The proprieteor of the Brackenrigg Hotel hands round refreshments to followers of the Caldbeck Fell Beagles before the ‘Move off’ at Brackenrigg, UllswaterThe proprieteor of the Brackenrigg Hotel hands round refreshments to followers of the Caldbeck Fell Beagles before the ‘Move off’ at Brackenrigg, Ullswater

Edith kept records of the thousands of glass plate negatives he took on his large heavy reflex camera, recording the great changes and developments in agriculture and the rural way of life – fox hunting, fairs, shepherds’ meets and tourism – from the 1930s to late 1960s.

He followed the agricultural year – ploughing, sowing, hay-time, harvesting – capturing life and places, in the many hamlets and villages and trying to record as much as possible. He took between 50-60,000 glass plate negatives and his pictures featured in countless newspapers and magazines in Britain and in America.

Now, some of Hardman’s pictures appear in a book by Kendal author Anne Bonney. She was introduced to Hardman’s work when she was working on her first book, about the life of a retired shepherd.

‘The pictures I was drawn to were by Joseph Hardman,’ Anne said. ‘He would visit farms by taxi, usually unannounced, and later on would return with a photo for the farmers to keep. The Hardman photographs stood out from the rest, they had that extra something.’

In the harvest field at High Foulshaw, Gilpin Bridge. The tractor-drawn machine cuts the wheat binds and knots it off with string in one operationIn the harvest field at High Foulshaw, Gilpin Bridge. The tractor-drawn machine cuts the wheat binds and knots it off with string in one operation

Anne worked on more than 20 books over the next decade, many of which featured Hardman’s photography. ‘I came across Joseph’s work countless times and learned that he had died in 1972 and that very little had actually been written about him, though he had taken thousands of pictures – I decided when I had time I would rectify this and he would get the recognition he deserved.’

Her four years of research led her to one of Hardman’s models, Sylvia Deacon (then Jenkins) who had been evacuated to Kendal from South Shields.

‘Sylvia, along with a few others girls, would sometimes accompany Joseph in a taxi at weekends,’ Anne said. ‘Joseph would sit in the front with the driver while Edith sat with the young models in the back. He would ask them to dress in suitable clothing according to the time of year and country way of life. Then when he came to a suitable location, whether it was by a lake, fell or farm, he would ask the girls to walk, stand or simply take in the view.

‘He would set up his large tripod and reflex camera and take that photograph, meanwhile Edith would write up the details to be kept - time, date, location and of course who was in the photograph. He always wanted his photographs to have people in the foreground, not just a beautiful view.

Robert and Elizabeth Ellen Wilson, who lived at Bolton-le-Sands and fished for cockles in Morecambe Bay. The cart was pulled by Tommy, and was filled with cockles, some of which were transported by train for sale in Preston Robert and Elizabeth Ellen Wilson, who lived at Bolton-le-Sands and fished for cockles in Morecambe Bay. The cart was pulled by Tommy, and was filled with cockles, some of which were transported by train for sale in Preston

‘It has been amazing and exciting doing the research, finding all the people still around who knew him – this lovely man who just went quietly recording life as it was then, taking thousands of glass plate negatives recording the great changes in agriculture and the rural way of life from the 1930s to 1960s.

‘People keep turning up with their own personal story, including one lady who used to help her mum at Hawkshead Institute, where Joseph used to regularly call, for tea and cakes at a weekend. She proudly told me how she had waited on at table and he had given her sixpence tip, and she showed me a photograph he had taken of her and her pet badger.’

When Joseph died, Edith deposited a large number of the glass plate negatives with the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry in the 1970s. In recent years, grants have enabled some of the 4,500 or so glass plate negatives to be digitised and some put online. His photographs are also held at the Archives, in Kendal, as well as at Kendal Library where they are used in displays and talks along with other photographers.

Jimmy 'Whiskers' Inman threshing with a flail in a barn. He lived and farmed at Draw Well, The Howe, in the Lyth Valley, near KendalJimmy 'Whiskers' Inman threshing with a flail in a barn. He lived and farmed at Draw Well, The Howe, in the Lyth Valley, near Kendal

Joseph Hardman Lakeland Photographer 1893-1972 by Anne Bonney and published by Helm Press is out now, priced £13.50. For signed copies, contact Anne on 015395 61321 or email anne.bonney1@btinternet.com

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