The Grim North In Photos: 1960-1965

John Bulmer’s photographs were taken at a time when the North was undergoing a vast transformation. The collapse of traditional industries that had been the wealth creators of the Industrial Revolution was deeply affecting communities throughout the region; from the Black Country and Potteries, through Greater Manchester up to the coalfields and shipyards of the North East and Glasgow.

In 1960, I was 8 years old. We lived in South London, and rarely ventured north across the River Thames, let alone to the North of England. The industrial north of Britain was unknown territory for a young Londoner, and believed to be grim indeed, offering hard lives to those who lived there. Looking at John Bulmer’s photographs, I think he reflected that well.

It was just ignorance on our part at the time, many places in London and the South were just as bleak.

Leaving for work before dawn.

Hanging out washing in the shadow of factory chimneys.

A night out at the social club.

Collecting coal washed up on the beach.

An old lady washing down the wall outside her house.

Bringing home bags of coal during a harsh winter.

The pub is still standing after slum housing has been demolished.

Miners with their pit ponies.

Hanging out washing across the street.

Women cleaning the front steps of their houses.

Hair in curlers, ready for a night out after work. Eating chips for lunch.

An industrial area in Manchester.

41 thoughts on “The Grim North In Photos: 1960-1965

  1. (1) I like this bleak and wraithlike B&W photo: Bridge and Water.
    (2) The photographer approached the man hanging up his clothes to dry. “I’ll bet smoke gets in your eyes.” The man had heard that many times before. He grumbled in reply, “I’m sick of such Platter-tudes!”
    (3) “She’s drinking. She’s smoking. And she doesn’t use deodorant.”
    (4) “That’s not a lump of coal. That’s a black pearl, mate! We’ve been cursed by the pirates of the Caribbean!”
    (5) The old lady spent so much time washing down the wall outside her house that she could no longer stand up straight. The good news is that she got asked out on a date by Quasimodo, and later heard wedding bells.
    (6) It was a harsh winter. After Nat King brought his bags of coal home, he sat down by the fire, and roasted chestnuts while warming himself up.
    (7) Not only is the pub still standing, but so are two of its most dependable customers.
    (8) One of the actors in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” rode a Pitt pony, but I don’t remember which one.
    (9) “While mum hangs the wash, I’m going to see if these keys work in the car!”
    (10) “Cleaning the front steps of my house is on my monthly bucket list.”
    (11) The two women later became curlers. Fortunately, they had saved up enough money to buy stones, brooms, gripper and slider shoes, special pants, and warm mittens.
    (12) Are there women with big bosoms in Manchester? (Yes, you red that question right.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Small communities tended to develop around the locations of the mines in areas like the north-east, and especially in Wales. They became large towns, and the only employment was mining. Generations of men (and many women) worked in the coal industry in Britain. I think the same thing happened in mining towns in America, and many other countries.
      Best wishes, Pete

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bleak and hopeless are the words that come to mind. I wonder how the “entitled”, the mega-rich feel when they view such images, if they ever do. Perhaps the gap between is too large for them to comprehend the awfulness on the other end. Is my empathy generated out of fear of ending up in the same straights? After all humans are a self-centred species.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would imagine that people like Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would laugh at these photos, Carolyn. Most rich and entitled people are completely heartless, in my experience.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  3. Hard times, right enough. I grew up in a relatively affluent area of the south, and didn’t experience the ‘true North’ until the mid-’80s, although I did visit Whitby for a field trip when I was at college: nowhere near as grim as the industrial areas. Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s quite right, Pete; unfortunately, it’s now the subject of local controversy, because so many businesses depend upon it, but also local people justifiably feel they are being priced out of the housing market because of the proliferation of second homes & holiday lets. There have been token efforts to include some ‘affordable homes’ in new developments, but there are never enough, and the term ‘affordable’ is very relative. Many of us [I’ve now lived here for nearly 30 years!] feel like we are living in a there park 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There is a similar situation on the North Norfolk coast. Wells-Next-The-Sea has a serious ‘second home’ problem making it impossible for locals to buy a house, and house prices in Burnham Market are so high, they are comparable with Central London. The locals call it ‘Little Chelsea’.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. When I first travelled North in the late 1960s, I was staggered by the number of factories and huge industrial complexes we drove past. Even though some members of my family had worked in factories in London, I had never seen anything on that scale.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  4. This was a good read.
    Here is what I think
    These photographs by John Bulmer are a powerful representation of the transformation and challenges faced by communities in the industrial north of England in the 1960s. Despite the scenes of hard work and difficult living conditions, they also capture the resilience and humanity of the people who called these places home.
    Thanks, Ely

    Liked by 1 person

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