Carlisle Racecourse magic lantern slide

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Today’s magic lantern slide is nothing special, there are still tens of thousands like it in people’s homes, attics and sheds. It has the feel of a photograph taken by an amateur photographer for his own purpose, perhaps to enter into a camera club competition. These often had cash prizes and one elderly gentleman that I bought a collection of slides from many years ago, paid for his family holiday every year with prize money from camera club competitions. His slides are wonderful and he deserved to win but that’s a story for another day! Anyway, back to today’s slide.

The label on a lantern slide is often as interesting as the image and, in this case, we see that the photograph is of bookies at Carlisle Races and was sold by John Robson of Carlisle in Cumbria. A quick search on the internet shows that there was a chemist shop in Carlisle run by a Mr. J. Robson and pharmacies were often purveyors of magic lantern projectors and slides. This suggests that the photograph wasn’t taken by an amateur but by a professional photographer for re-sale and profit ….. but who would want to buy it and why?

So, where does this take us? Well, for researches of the Robson family tree, it would be a real find. For historians interested in the pastimes of ordinary people in the 1920s, this is an interesting image. For me, though, there is a wealth of social history in this photograph. How did the bookies calculate the odds and spread their risk in the days before calculators and mobile phones; how effective was the tic-tac communication system that they used; is it still in use today and what is the gentleman looking at the camera thinking? The clarity and composition of the photograph and the characters in it make this a fascinating study which captured a fleeting moment in time, one hundred years ago ….. but it’s nothing special. 

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