Monday, 18 August 2014

Woods, Wakatere and the changing face of Grahamstown

 Today I'd like to talk about this picture:

I shamelessly nicked this image off the cover of Meghan Hawkes' fabulous book 'A Line of Duck Boards - More Thames Tales.' (Go check out Meghan's blog Dead Cert. I can only wish I was this level of cool).

Anyway, the back cover informs me that is is the paddle steamer Wakatere, during the Thames flood of 1917, delivering supplies to W. Wood and Son Stores on Pollen Street.

I love this photo for several reasons. I had secretly hoped it was real, despite the size of the boat and the level of the water, but A Line of Duck Boards also tells me this was a fake photo displayed in W. Wood's window, as an advertisement. Thames floods an awful lot, so I quite like the idea of someone needing an actual paddle steamer to come up the main road.

The Wakatere also sells this particular photo for me, as the ship is memorialised today in the playground next to the mall, where it is massive and magical and I spent many a brilliant afternoon as a small child (and still as a significantly larger child). Good times all round.

Anyway: thirdly, I like this photo for one particular building in it, on the far left. I'm looking at 720 Pollen St. I'm not sure what occupied that building when the photo was taken - I know it was definitely a barber shop in the 1920s, and plausibly was owned by Twentyman's funeral home across the road at some point. I had also been told it was some sort of dairy or grocer's shop at one time, but now I think the grocer's shop in question was W.Wood's grocer shop, which I believer was actually a building or two over (where the Thai restaurant is now).
When I was a kid it was a video store, but I never saw it open and I suspect it was actually extremely, extremely dodgy. The building was split into three shops at some point -  after the video shop went (we're talking roughly 2004 now), I remember Sola Cafe was in one end and a scrapbooking store called Two Scrappy Sisters was in the other, and a fancy clothing store was in the middle. Scrappy Sisters gave way to The Linen Shop not long after, and the clothes were replace with a gift shop. I remember they had little witches on brooms hanging outside on market day.
Anyway, the reason I'm interested in all of this is that by 2006, the linen shop was gone and replaced by The Little Book Shop, which was owned by a family friend and was where I worked for my first real job. My parents bought the business in 2007.

 By that point the gift shop was gone and Sola had expanded to fill the gap, which was how things stood when I worked for Sola in 2008 and 2009. Anyway, we shut the book shop about two years ago, and ended up relocating it to the old Save the Children shop at the other end of town - we were replaced briefly by a shop that sold wooden craft things, and at present 720 is a rather funky hairdressing salon called Brida's. Which is pretty cool, considering it was once a barber's shop.

Anyway, long story short, I like the photo because I have a personal connection to the building. Mum and I are always on the look out for old photos of it, but most photographers in Thames' long history have been more interested in the Battson's Plumbing building next door. So, it was nice to pick up 'A Line of Duck Boards,' quite by accident, and come across a nice shot of my building in 1917.

Fourthly (and I swear, finally), it just so happens that I was working with some records from W. Wood's grocer only a few weeks before I picked 'A Line of Duck Boards' up. We had some of their day books and accounts at The Treasury, which I listed and prepared for the archive. There's something about the feel of the paper and seeing the handwriting that leaves an impression on you, I think. One thing I love about records like these is feeling a personal connection with the person who wrote them - especially when you can suddenly see them walking the same streets as you, passing the same buildings. Even when the record itself is pretty mundane, there's something magic about finding and sharing that common ground.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nicole - I'm flattered! - and very pleased the photo meant so much to you. It was sent to me by a family member. Evidently the photo was mocked up by George Wood and descendants of the family were delighted it was used on the book cover. I thought the photo was real too when I first saw it - amazing how it was done in the pre-digital days! I shall follow your great blog with interest as you travel through time. Meghan.