The Spirit of a Town: Graham Cooper & Douglas Sargent Photographic Archive

Back in 2016, Graham Cooper donated a slide collection which consists of over 300 images taken during the late 1970s and early 1980s of Bury, as Graham describes, ‘at the threshold of change’.

Editing the slides during lockdown 2020

In his publication, Sense of Place: Outside Art in Bury, Graham refers to this collection of Kodachrome slides as, ‘examples of individual creativity as expressed in the decoration of homes, ornately adorned public houses and various other forms of novel measures which were also aesthetically appealing’. Graham and his photographer friend, Douglas Sargent, undertook a journey which sought out these forms of local outdoor art; forty years on from the images being created we get to see which features were identified in creating the ‘spirited nature of a town’.

Graham Cooper’s publication, ‘Sense of Place’

For all of you who were living in Bury during the 1970s and 1980s, these images will have a powerful effect on the memory! You will really start to feel that sense of place. Ask me how I know? I witnessed two very strong reactions: one from former Archivist, Helen Lindsay, who was thrown (with a jolt!) straight back to her childhood and her memories of Birtle Church; the other reaction was from Stephen Perry (who helped scan the images) – he chased himself back to his schoolboy-days when he and his friends gathered, causing mischief? (no we don’t believe that!), on street corners. Let’s see the images and read what they have to say:

Mural of Christ and the Fisherman, Birtle Church Hall. c.1979.

Helen and her memories of Birtle Church Hall:

This magnificent mural adorned the wall of Birtle Church Hall, on Castle Hill Road. The Hall played host to hundreds of events and groups such as Brownies, Guides, Recorder Group, Playschool, Harvesters, Sunday School and Keep Fit, not to mention the countless jumble sales, coffee mornings and seasonal fairs held throughout the year.

Sadly the Hall was demolished to make way for housing but thankfully Graham recorded the interior for posterity as part of his brilliant photographic archive.

When I first saw this image it stopped me in my tracks and instantly I was transported back to the 1970s and, dressed in my Brownie uniform, gathered with my contemporaries singing around a toadstool, (not a real one) or playing a vigorous game of British Bulldog. I think I was an Elf (the yellow ones) and only ever attained one badge, Safety in the Home. To this day I always ensure that saucepan handles are turned inwards. A useful skill to have!

Stephen and his memories of Bell Lane:

Bell Lane/St Paul’s St, c.1979. ‘Distinctive window configuration’.

Having recently moved back to Bury after decades away, I was delighted to be transported back to the Bell Lane of my childhood, prior to the demolition! This image of the area on St Paul’s Street reacquainted me with Mr and Mrs Albert Berry from No. 2A. I recall them having an immaculate house full of antiques, and a beautifully manicured garden which was situated at the double-fronted rear of the property.

Another fond memory: The Grapes pub on Bell Lane/St Paul’s Street. The street lamp on the corner was a place where children congregated and could be quite noisy! Aunt Mary’s (Mary Warburton) hardware shop was next door to The Grapes (this property had moved from near Berry’s Yard when those properties were demolished). All now a distant memory for me so it’s great to be transported back in time.

The Grapes public house on Bell Lane/St Paul’s Street. c.1979. ‘Ornately adorned public house’.

This article isn’t intended to be a full-on exploration of why the images were taken; Graham’s retrospective vision of the reasons behind the shots can be gleaned from his Sense of Place publication. However, an awareness of their conception should be borne in mind when viewing them as a complete archive; it can then be appreciated how challenging this venture must have been. Armed with a camera and a quest to search the neighbourhoods for all types of both recognised and informal art must have presented a dilemma: what to include and what not? Browsing the images will enable you to become the photographer’s eye – you will then see: ceremonial architecture; commercial advertising; Bay City Rollers graffiti; garden ornaments; prisoners’ of war reminiscences; spitfires on brick; a Van Gogh bus shelter … and so much more. It seems that Graham and Douglas, quite literally, left no stone unturned!

No stone left unturned: Steam Tank Engines Graffiti by railway workers created c.1900

From Helen and Stephens’ memories coupled with the rationale behind the images we discover the visual language which is intrinsic in every photograph we create. Images from the past, especially, offer multiple ways of connecting with us; they evoke memory, spark conversation and fire our imagination. These three aspects knit our community together (so important in these uncertain times) and allow us to celebrate our heritage – a shared ‘sense of place’. Archives of photographs are unique and special and need to be preserved, as Graham very eloquently states in his publication:

Although it is important, where possible, to understand the context by visiting such community assets in situ, please note many of the examples illustrated…may no longer exist and are lost without trace. They now exist in the collective memory and photographs available to the public in the Archive.

Working from home has allowed me time to prepare these images, along with their accompanying data in a format ready to be uploaded to our new website. We will keep you posted with our progress and certainly let you know when the images have been added.

Graham Cooper was born in Bury in 1949. He left his home town in 1975 to study mural applications at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington. He was based in London until c.1998 and then moved to Sidmouth, Devon, where he currently lives with his family. Check out his website for further information on projects he’s been involved in.

Grateful thanks to Stephen Perry and Daniel Cooke who did a fantastic job of scanning the slides.


Cooper, Graham, Sense of Place: Outside Art in Bury (Harmonie Press, 2016)

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4 Responses to The Spirit of a Town: Graham Cooper & Douglas Sargent Photographic Archive

  1. kath dawson says:

    Thanks Wendy another interesting article. ________________________________

  2. John says:

    Thank you for keeping our interest in these strange times. Stay safe.

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