Jim’s look Thro’ the Lens
A fascinating pictorial record of Berwick dating back almost 200 years has been collected in the latest book by Jim Walker, the well known local photographer and historian.
Thro’ the Lens is Jim’s ninth book….and he has just published it at the age of 93. It is dedicated to his wife Connie, who sadly died in January, ‘for 68 happy years together’.
The images and the way they were taken on the earliest cameras have been brought together in a culmination of his lifelong interest in photography. Jim bought his first camera in Woolworths when he was only eight years old.
The cumbersome equipment with its long exposure time described in the book is a world away from the tiny digital one contained in the ubiquitous mobile phones of today.
However, they freeze in time pictures of people and still familiar places, such as Berwick’s famous Guildhall, and what life was like then.
One photograph shows the cobbled high street in 1890, the only traffic horses and carts, yet still instantly recognisable. The long-closed Red Lion Hotel, where the Union stagecoach and the Royal Mail coach stopped on their journeys to and from Newcastle and London, is one of the prominent buildings.
Berwick was such an important historical and trading town that it attracted pioneer photographers in the 1840s, starting with operators of the recently invented daguerreotype, a dangerous process where an image was captured on a sheet of silver-coated copper, then washed in highly toxic potassium cyanide. Before that, likenesses had had to be by painters or engravers.
One of Berwick’s earliest photographers was Robert Totherick, who advertised single portraits from 2/6d (12p), at a time when a schoolmaster’s annual salary was only £13. His family home, on the corner of Walkergate and Wallace Green, still has the huge window, evidence of an early photographic studio.
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Another notable cameraman was Robert Good, brother of the celebrated artist Thomas Sword Good.
Other pictures, taken from Jim’s personal collection, show the crowds gathering to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a paddle steamer which took passengers between Spittal and Berwick for more than 60 years and townspeople at leisure and work, including its famous salmon fishing.
The demise of its most famous industry was the subject of Jim’s first book, A Wake for the Salmon, published in 1989 and which earned him national recognition with a Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society. Exhibitions based on his subsequent books, including Secret Berwick, Remembering Walls and an illustrated history guide, have attracted thousands of visitors.
As a small child, Jim and his family had come from their home in Selkirk on many holidays to Spittal and his interest began then in watching salmon fishermen working with their nets and cobles.
When he retired as a bank manager in Selkirk, Jim and Connie moved to Spittal in the 1970s and he began to record the last rites of the salmon industry for posterity.
Two years ago, he donated part of his valuable collection of prints and antique cameras to the Freemen of Berwick and it is hoped it will become the basis for a permanent exhibition in the Barracks.
“My lifelong interest in photography, art and history became my occupation,” he said. “Modern digital cameras produce remarkably sharp pictures, but they can be manipulated. There is no doubt we have come a long way from having to work in a darkroom with chemicals, but with these old pictures, what you see is actually what was there.”
Thro’ the Lens, Berwick’s Earliest Photographers, is available in Grieve’s.