The Approach of Helston Flora Day!
Friday May 8th approaches and to all residents of Helston this means just one thing… Flora Day! Residing in the town myself I’ve come to love this annual festival as do the majority of my friends, one or two can take-it-or-leave-it, personally I can’t wait! I’m not going to talk about the details of the day here but if you know nothing of the event I suggest you take a quick look online, and, there are webcams at various points around the town this year if you can’t actually attend in person!
Photographer Edward Bragg spent a few of the pre-WW1 annual Flora Day celebrations in Helston and a number of his images of the event date 1905-1907 with a couple of later examples that seem to have been taken in 1909. Studying these pieces I was intrigued by the fact that he was shooting regularly across the years from one particular window.
He picked a prime spot high above the crowd giving a panoramic view across the bowling green and I wonder what his relationship with the occupants might have been? Sadly the view is now partially obscured by the clubhouse but the actual scene during the mid-day dance on Flora day is still eerily reminiscent of EAB’s captures.
In preparation for a September exhibition of my re-shoots of Edward’s images of Helston I’m going to try and accurately re-capture this one particular vista. Looking toward the bowling green I aim to capture the passage of the town band followed by the mid-day dance on May 8th this year. I say re-capture as this will be my third attempt.
In 2013 I couldn’t quite figure out the angle to capture the dancers from, although, from a step-ladder I got pretty close and I’ve added the result here. In 2014 I finally got access to the house from which Edward was photographing the scene…..but, sadly, due to a cracked, double-glazed window (half full of water) I couldn’t get where I needed to be. The window just couldn’t be opened. 2015; take-3, fingers crossed, watch this space!
I’m including one more of Edward Bragg’s images at this point as it’s relevant to some of my early articles in this series. Once again, shot from his favourite site C.1906-07, we see respectful crowds around the perimeter of the green whilst the band, followed by The Lord Mayor passes through a crowd in the foreground; the relevance to my search for the visage of Edward Bragg?
Take a look at the photographers located to the background of Bragg’s photo-card. A hi-res scan reveals, I believe, Helston photographer Albert Hawke, a contemporary of our man Bragg. The search is now on for images taken on the day by Mr. Hawke which will show the house and window from which the original image was shot. This would be a unique sighting of EA Bragg at work; a photographer myself I’m aware that we rarely appear in photographs, we just take them.
So; as we approach May 8th, I shall be preparing to re-shoot a handful of these original images and plan to be at the window used year after year by Edward Bragg to site his tripod, the actual spot from which he captured those joyous pre-war Flora Day celebrations. The last image in this article shows the space he occupied and from which the images were all taken. Here it is today.
I just couldn’t resist including it as I find these empty spaces so haunting, so evocative. On this forthcoming day, If I stop, take a moment, perhaps cover my eyes…..I imagine the sounds entering the room to be indistinguishable from those that echoed around Edward Bragg just over a century ago.
Flora Day was obviously not part of the calendar during the years of The Great War and I believe 1919 saw its return with just a handful of dancers participating. I’m still collating the scraps of information I’ve been given on the subject and believe we ought to spare a thought as we celebrate Flora day during these centenary years; one hundred years ago the war was raging in Europe, 1915 saw Edward Bragg enlist, 1916 and he was gassed on the front, his career coming to an abrupt end.
My re-captures of EAB’s Helston will be shown in the museum here in the town during the first half of September. The results will also be viewable on the website and related facebook page.
To see more work by photographer Edward Albert Bragg please visit www.eabragg.co.uk where you can follow a link to the related facebook page… and, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have something to add to this article or to the project in general. I welcome any thoughts.
Phil Nicholls, May 2015.
Archive & print sales: www.philnicholls.com