This month’s photograph is of an unspecified area of Bury Town Centre taken in 1963. As many of the photographs within this set are marked as ‘Central Dereliction Area’, it is possible that the houses shown in the image were listed in the Borough’s eleven-year slum clearance programme which began in 1956. Slum Clearance Progress Reports were printed regularly in The Bury Times and one such report, written in the summer of 1963, explained that ‘911 condemned dwellings have been cleared. Of the remaining 553 on the doomed list, some are already included in clearance orders. Among these are 76 houses in the town centre scheduled to be demolished to make way for Bury’s new shopping centre.’
Whether or not the houses are inhabited it certainly looks like the gentleman seated is using the backstreet as a storage area for his carts; a ‘rag and bone man’ perhaps? Who are the couple on the left-hand side of the picture and do they know the man in the cap? Is the photographer on friendly terms with these people? Does he even notice they are there as he presses the shutter or is he concentrating more on the state of the buildings in front of him?
The three figures pictured, their attire and body language, the way they are positioned within the frame, encourage us to create our own narrative; for me it’s a familiar one, based on the kitchen-sink-dramas produced in the 1960s: a bit of Social Realism acted out on the backstreets of Bury! Yet the fact that I’ve been drawn into the image through its story-telling appeal has made me see other, more subtle, elements in the scene. For example, the way the two chimneys in the top centre of the frame mirror the intimacy of the couples’ pose in the far left; the fact that every single window is unique – a different design, shape and frame than the one next to it. I could go on but I’ll stop here before I get too carried away! You just can’t help being inspired by Archives.