Magic lantern slides of Swaledale in Yorkshire

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During twenty five years of giving public magic lantern slide shows, some of the most memorable were in Swaledale, North Yorkshire. Swaledale is the most northerly of the dales and lies to the west of the county town of Richmond. It is, in my view, the loveliest of all Yorkshire’s dales but many of you will, of course, disagree.

In the 1940s and 50s, Charles Jackson, an amateur photographer from Bury (near Manchester) and his wife Dorothy, holidayed in the area, year after year, often staying in Muker. Charles took photographs of the people they encountered and transferred them to magic lantern slides, so that he could project them to members of his camera club when he got home. It was common practice then for photography clubs to hold competitions with cash prizes and Charles’ photographs regularly won him enough money to pay for their next holiday.

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I met Dorothy a couple of years after Charles had died and we got to know each other well. She was a lovely lady. They had no children so, before she passed away, Dorothy asked to me to look after Charles’ slide collection. This I have done and it forms a unique and remarkable record of post-war, rural England.

The amazing thing about Charles Jackson’s lantern slides is that he painstakingly hand-tinted each one. He took photographs with a heavy ‘plate’ camera mounted on a tripod, then processed the negative images to produce positive ones on glass slides. He then meticulously hand coloured each one using a magnifying glass and very fine brushes, decades after hand-tinting of photographs had become a lost art and when lantern slides were considered to be very old-fashioned.

These three slides are just a small selection from the collection. Others can be seen in my ebook ‘Swaledale through the Magic Lantern’, ‘though not in colour. The one of the farmer with his horse and dog (and the close-up) is a beautifully executed work of art, given that it’s on a piece of glass just three and a quarter inches square.

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So, why were my magic lantern shows in Swaledale so memorable? The audiences were warm, funny, friendly, Yorkshire folk. Many of them were seeing friends and family members on the screen, in Charles’ photographs, who they’d known in their youth and they brought the pictures to life with stories and anecdotes. It was a privilege to show these slides to people for whom they meant so much.

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