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Spotlight: a summer fête in Powys

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09/06/2014

By | From the Collections

Photograph in the Wellcome Library, no. 2043342i

Photograph from the James Gardiner collection. Wellcome Library no. 2043342i

Two men pose for the camera at a Welsh vicarage garden party on Saturday 25 July 1925. They are performing a charade, but surely few people could guess what their outlandish costumes are supposed to represent. In fact they are kitted out as a refutation of the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Ballad of East and West (1889):

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.

As one of them wrote on the verso of the photograph: “East meets West at Knighton Vicarage Garden Fête and Carnival”.  That is presumably Knighton in Radnorshire (Powys).

The man who wrote the inscription was Harry Smallwood, whose name appears on the recto: he is presumably one of the two figures in the photograph.

Inscription on the reverse of the photograph. Wellcome Library reference:

Inscription on the reverse of the photograph. Wellcome Library no. 2043342i

To represent the East, the man on the right is dressed in pseudo-Turkish garb, including a tall hat marked with a crescent and a star. He is also wearing a Turkish sash and pendent (kuşak), culottes (Turkish şalvar), and Ali Baba shoes (Turkish çarık).  The moustache and beard are also typical of old men from the Turkish countryside.

It seems likely that the Welsh reveller had spent some time in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire.  He is presumably the same Harry Smallwood who is recorded nine years later as having given a lesson on the Sudan to pupils of Knighton National School. The lesson is described as having been given “by Mr Harry Smallwood, a former pupil of the Knighton Boys’ School, who was then living in that country (June 1934)” (Hughs, 1995).

He is arm in arm with the other man, who is clothed in a dress and a headscarf, and carrying a tattered parasol. If the right figure represents the East, the left figure must represent the West, though how (s)he does that is not obvious.  The ruched dress and the parasol look like parodies of fashionable western metropolitan costume, but the headscarf is more associated with working-class women in paintings of British or French peasant life; for example a painting by Jules Breton (1882) in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

This is one of the photographs, prints and drawings (but mainly photographs) that form the James Gardiner Collection in the Wellcome Library.  All of the 1,082 individual documents in the collection have also been briefly catalogued one by one, with first-draft catalogue records.

The collection has many themes (e.g. prisoners of war, music-hall, strongmen), but its focus is on transgressive individuals – mainly people cross-dressing across boundaries of gender, class, nationality, and ethnicity. The photograph shown here seems to satisfy all four of these conditions.

The collection is a feast for lovers of obscurity and unorthodoxy, hence the fact that it has taken the input of three people to compose this short post about only one of the photographs in the collection.

Authors: Thomas Stacey, Secil Usta and William Schupbach

Reference:  Hughs, CPF. A history of schools in Radnorshire – the Knighton area. Radnorshire Society Transactions, 1995; 65:47-63.

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