Is it just for the old or can it be for everyone? Not being able to go back in the past physically, all we have are photographs, written documentation and artefacts to remind us of the past. But the most important part of any nostalgic reminders are the memories those of the older generation.

When I first started collecting photographs of Barry and researching their history, I thought they would be of limited interest, but I am still surprised by the interest that they generate in a lot of young and old residents, both living in Barry and elsewhere. Families are not as close as they once were. Not so many years ago it was quite common to see three generations living in the same property at the same time. Grandparents would look after the young children, and enjoy relating stories to them of their childhood. These stories would be told later by these youngsters to their children, and gave a continuity of family ties. Sometimes they became like "Chinese Whispers", starting out as one story and ending up as another, but they still gave a feeling of your family and its roots.

Communities are changing so fast nowadays, that places you remember only a few years ago are rapidly disappearing. New housing developments are covering fields that we played in as children; places where we walked a few years ago are diminishing under a torrent of concrete and tarmac.

The past is not without blemishes - the "Good Old Days" were certainly not all good. Photos of youngsters taken in the 20's and 30's show little old men with pinched faces, sometimes without shoes, and nearly always with patched clothing. These pictures will sometimes trigger the memory of elderly relatives, and help them to relive and to relate stories of their childhood, which should be recorded.

Paintings are another source of information, but they are not as reliable as photographs. Artists were usually commissioned to paint scenes by local landowners or moneyed people with business interests who wanted to see a painting depict what they thought the scene should look like. The true conditions of their workers or their families, and their living conditions were usually ignored. A number of early travelling photographers were barred from taking pictures in villages by the local squire, or in the case of industrial areas, by the owners of works and factories. Sometimes idyllic paintings hide the misery and depredation of the working class, and give a totally false view of living conditions at the time they were painted.

Photographs and postcards are a sure record of the past, they are the most authentic record of buildings that have been demolished, fields that have disappeared, family members, and events of local interest that were taking place at the time the photograph was taken. The backs of many postcards contain a written description of events, or if a family picture, names and the occasion for which the photograph was taken. Postcards, if date stamped are a fairly accurate and important source of social, family and local history.


© T. CLEMETT 2000

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