The Golden Harrow
I have chosen this image for today’s blog entry, partly because it is quite funny, but also because it shows some of the difficulties we face when cataloguing images.
We want to catalogue the image as accurately and completely as possible. That way more researchers can find an image that is relevant to their subject. But what if the context or content of the image are not entirely clear?
Well, we have to do our best to work out what the image shows, without putting our own interpretation onto something if the meaning is not provable.
The good thing about a blog entry like this, of course, is that I can put in all of the speculations that I would normally make, but which I couldn’t put into the catalogue, as they might be wrong. I can also ask you at home, what you think it might mean. Perhaps one of you knows something about the image that I don’t, perhaps you remember somebody telling you about the event, or perhaps you have seen another version of the picture which has an annotation.
So, what can we say for sure? We have two people in fancy dress riding a motorbike and sidecar, on the sidecar is painted “The Golden Harrow, World Tour 1937” along with a sign reading “gooseberry bushes 3d each”. The bike is surrounded by a crowd of happy looking onlookers and the buildings in the background are decorated with bunting. The clothes worn by the crowd seem to match the date on the motorbike of 1937. We also know from an annotation on the back of the photograph that it was taken in Penketh.
So, now to the speculation: What was the event the Club were celebrating? Could it be something like Penketh Walking Day? We know from other records that people sometimes took part in costumes, or representing certain themes. Could it have been part of the Coronation celebrations? 1937 saw the abdication of Edward VIII and the coronation of George VI, the Union flag bunting would fit with that suggestion. Or is it just an annual event held by the club themselves?
Whatever the event, perhaps more interesting for today’s lesson in speculation, is just what this costume was meant to represent. I haven’t been able to come up with a clear answer to this, but I will list some of my thought processes as to what it might mean below, and you can let me know which you think is most likely, or even better, put me out of my misery and tell me that you know exactly what it is.
Whilst I couldn’t find any examples of a “Golden Harrow” around the era in question, I did find several “golden arrows”, so perhaps there is a play on words happening here?
At the time the Golden Arrow was the name of a well-known model of bicycle produced by Raleigh. Could this name be a reference to the bicycle?
The Golden Arrow was also the name of a not very well received film of 1936 starring Bette Davis. In it Davis plays a cashier hired to impersonate a wealthy heiress by a cosmetics company. She is then pursued by many money seeking suitors. Could our couple in the motorbike and sidecar be Daisy Appleby and one of her suitors? The man in the sidecar does seem to be wearing a bonnet and shawl, though he looks more like widow Twanky than Bette Davis.
The Golden Arrow was also the name of a luxury boat train that linked London with Calais for wealthy passengers travelling to Paris. It had been introduced in 1929 as an all first class Pullman service, but in 1931 standard first and third class carriages were added. Could the name be referring ironically to this luxury travel?
The Golden Arrow was also the name of a novel written by Mary Webb in 1916, but perhaps at its most popular in the 1930s. I haven’t read the story, but descriptions of it online don’t readily fit our picture.
So, if none of these possibilities fit our Golden Harrow, what could it be? Perhaps a play on a pub name, or a reference to the farming community in Penketh? The reference to gooseberry bushes and the fact that the man in the sidecar seems to be dressed as a baby only confuses matters more. Could it be saying that cupid’s arrow leads to a baby?
The long and short of it, is that I don’t really know what this fancy dress symbolises, but whatever it is they look like they were having fun.
So, the next time you look at an image description in our catalogue, think about how tricky it might have been to come by.
If you have any pictures of yourself attending an event in West Warrington we would love to add them to our collections (with your description of what’s happening of course, to save future researchers a lot of trouble!).
This article was originally posted on Friday, February 24th, 2017.