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Thursday, June 19

Steeped in History - Part One

17th Century stable, Contax 137 MA, 28mm f2.8 Distagon, Silvermax developed in Spur HRX.

I absolutely love it when I find something new to photograph and explore and it's even better when it's right on my doorstep. Amazingly, I've driven within about 50 yards of a 17th century stable block lots of times over the last few years completely unaware of its existence. How might this happen, I hear you ask.
Well, take a look at the iPhone pic below. It shows the gravel path leading from the public road up to the stables. Not exactly something that makes you want to find out what's at the top, is it? On the day of my discovery, I'd actually spotted a photographic possibility just before the gravel road and really only drove onto it so I could turn the car round. Then I thought, well, I might as well take a wee look...

For such an old building (that's it below), you'd think it might be treated with a little more respect, wouldn't you? I don't want it gentrified or anything like that but getting rid of the skip and bricks and breeze blocks in the foreground would be good.

I don't mind when old buildings start falling down - just as long as I'm not inside them at the time! The first thing I do when confronted with something like this is my architectural due diligence. A quick look at the floorboards, the door lintels and roof trusses can quickly give me a heads up as to the condition of the building and whether I'm likely to fall through the floor or be anointed with something riddled with wood worm and dry rot. This building was in reasonable condition although the later two-storey extension was decidedly dodgy-looking.

So, this was effectively the first glimpse I had of this old building which I reckoned was a 19th century farm steading. It was a surprise, therefore, to see an inlaid stone in the gable end bearing the date 1664 - two years before the Great Fire of London! That was an exciting discovery for a local history nut like me. There were actually three carved stones - a coat of arms of some sort, the date stone with the initials WG and another stone with EG inscribed upon it. You might just be able to make it all out here where they surround the hay loft door:

Now the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the carved stones seem to be a different shade from the rest of the building. They look like red sandstone, a commonly quarried local material that's much in evidence in nearby towns and villages. That was a big clue that the stones might originally have been used in an earlier building.

A bit of research seemed to unearth the story behind them. It transpires they were most likely from a 17th century building built for Walter Graham and his wife, Elizabeth, hence the initials. It seems that the building in which they are inlaid is probably still from the 17th century but much later. There's also a more "modern" extension to the stable block that dates from 1829. Not as old as I originally thought but not too shabby.

If you want a little history lesson then Walter Graham seems to have been the great uncle of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee and the "Bonnie Dundee" referred to in the song of the same name. He was a Jacobite supporter of the Catholic King James II and was a trifle over-zealous in his assigned role of clamping down on the anti-catholic Covenanters. His brutal and pitiless approach to his work also earned him the other soubriquet "Bloody Clavers". A commander who led from the front, he was killed by a bullet at the Battle of Killiecrankie just as his troops recorded their greatest ever victory against Government forces. He was a hero or a villain depending on which side of the religious divide you parked your bum.

Anyway, if you haven't fallen asleep at the back of the class, we'll move onto the photographs now. Below is the scene as I entered the stables. They're impressive in their antiquity but I know from past experience photographing 17th century stables in a village about 15 miles away that it's a subject that I find hard to photograph. It's not difficult to be impressed when you're standing in a building that's more than 350 years old but isn't a museum or some carefully managed National Trust tourist attraction but I never seem to emerge with any good images of the actual enclosures where the horses were kept. I set the Contax 137 MA with the 28mm f2.8 Distagon fitted on the tripod and exposed a couple of frames of Silvermax just to grab a record shot or two.

I hoped there would be more interesting photographs further on so I quickly moved deeper into the building. As I left the stables, I found a few smallish rooms that must have been accommodation for the stable hands. It was pretty grim-looking but I think it would probably have been quite habitable back in the day. Surprisingly, it seems to have been inhabited well into the plastic age judging by the light fitting in the ceiling. From the wallpaper and wood cladding in evidence, I reckon this could have been used well into the 1960s and even early 1970s.

I particularly liked the light in the shot below and the way it caught the work surface of the old sewing machine. Although it was quite dark in the room and bright outside, the Silvermax/ Spur HRX combination easily captured detail in both extremes.

As you can see from some of the pics, especially the two above, the texture on the walls is quite amazing. And how about the initials daubed on the wall? Could TB have been one of the stable lads or just a much later farm worker with too much time on his hands and a need to leave his mark on the world? Questions, questions.

That about wraps up part one of this post. I've got another roll of Silvermax to develop and will hopefully post some pics from that in part two. That's if the pics are any good, of course. If not, I'll keep them to myself. :)


Herman Sheephouse said...

Brilliant stuff Bruce - atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere!

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks Phil but it's not difficult finding some atmosphere at this place!

Folker Neumann said...

The first image is my absolute favourite, absolutely amazing, Bruce! Can you give us some details how you exposed and developed Silvermax/ HRX, please?

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Folker. There wasn't much trickery where exposure and development were concerned. Silvermax should be rated at 50 ISO in HRX so that's what I used. I then took an exposure reading, added a stop and a half for reciprocity and then bracketed +1 and +2 stops. I suppose strictly speaking I should have worked out the reciprocity fudge for each bracketed exposure since it changes with the exposure time but I knew my metering was on the generous side anyway. Bracketing can be wasteful but it's cheaper than having to make the 30-mile round trip to the stable from my home. The development time was that recommended for Silvermax in HRX.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bruce!
I think HRX is a superb developer, I like it anyway ;-)

Marcel Schepers said...

This is the reason I keep reading your posts. Excellent stuff! Not only are the images superb, posts like this also have an interesting mix of images, esthetics and technicalities. Well done, very well done!

Bruce Robbins said...

Thank you Marcel.