Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Triumphant Return of Mr. Sobee: Part One

Back in 1953 Frederick James Sobee, the headmaster of Pilling Church of England School, wrote a rather excellent book that, should you happen to own an original copy nowadays, is worth a bomb. It was, of course, ‘The History of Pilling’, now re-released by Landy publishing and still costing a bomb, but not quite as much as an original version does.
What a lot of people don’t know is that, along with the dozen or so photographs that Mr. Sobee included in his work, there were dozens…if not hundreds…more that never quite made it to press. These were all taken on large format glass slides (there’s probably a name for them, but I’m buggered if I know what it is) and, by a circuitous course of ancestry into which we’ve never delved (well…Michelle and I live by the archaeologist’s code of: “Don’t ask if they’re not volunteering the information readily…”) ended up in the hands of the late Neil Thompson. No doubt today they belong to David, his son. Whatever the case, Neil and David went to great lengths to scan said slides into their computer and then re-touch the more disfigured amongst them in Photoshop. At some point I’ll have to ask David for a copy of the disc, because there’s some fascinating pictures amongst them and they’re an historic document worth publishing in some manner or other in their own right.
Anyhow, shortly after Neil’s death, we were rummaging…sorry…‘tidying up’…some of the drawers in the Wyre Archaeology office when we came across a few of the above mentioned photographs. Neil had printed them out for an exhibition in Pilling village hall last year. So, naturally, we borrowed them (as I suspect the original slides had been ‘borrowed’ many decades before) so that you (our reader…singular) could have a look for yourself.
All of which preamble brings us to the first of these fascinating titbits, which shows Mr. Sobee himself, complete with camera and tripod, standing in a field in Out Rawcliffe, surveying his domain for whatever reason he had for surveying it.
Our second photograph shows a red deer antler, discovered (as Sobee’s own handwriting explains) at Bradshaw Lane (presumably that’d be the farm and not in the middle of the actual lane itself) at a depth of nine feet. This prehistoric find is mentioned in the book, but the photograph itself doesn’t put in an appearance, so, if you’ve ever lain awake at night worrying about what the ‘Bradshaw Lane red deer antler’ looked like, now you know.
Thirdly we have a Neolithic stone axe discovered at Black Lane Head. A photograph of this axe does appear in ‘The History of Pilling’ but it isn’t this version. The one in the book isn’t held in place by a couple of nails, for a start, and isn’t accompanied by Mr. Sobee’s own calligraphic efforts. Just to add a bit more information here, the axe was found in a field between Cogie Hill and Black Lane Head, measured nine and a half inches in length, and was made from partly polished igneous rock originating in the Lake District. We’re not entirely sure whether it ended up in the Fylde Country Life Museum in Fleetwood, or the Harris Museum in Preston. I’ve got a vague recollection of seeing it in the latter. To be honest, it might be worth our while sending some of these photographs down to the Harris Museum to help them identify the plethora of artefacts they’ve got filling their archive drawers, because, frankly, their cataloguing system is in a right old mess.
Our final photograph for now shows Mr. Sobee’s good use of the classroom blackboard, having presumably glued this handheld axe onto it for maximum effect. There’s little point in detailing the artefact here, because all the information you need to know is included in the photograph, except to say that this one’s definitely in the Harris Museum. We asked them to dig it out for us, and, of course, the museum staff obligingly did so. (Which just goes to show, it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.)

Right, four photographs is more than enough for one week. If this article is ‘doing it for you’ (whatever ‘it’ might be) then you might be glad to know that we’ve got a few more of these photographs yet and, most likely, we’ll be posting them here next week.


John said...

Seems like you posted in a hurry, today, because this was much too short!! A fascinating post, and, since the photos have been found, and the artifacts still exist, and are in museums, this is a post with a somewhat happy ending. (meaning, of course, that it beats the sinking feeling one gets when you say things like "said artifact has long since disappeared... or is for sale on eBay... or is propping up some farmer's shed... or worse, leaning against the back wall of a church)

Anyways, the book sounds like a good read, and a sequel of photographs would definitely be worthwhile. You should consult Mr. Sobee's descendants, and get to work on that!

Cheers for a great, but very short, post! JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


The truth is we're behind schedule with our 'History of Blackpool' book, so we're trying to make up a bit of lost time. We've been working on the damned thing for over a year now and so far we've only just reached the Norman invasion.

Not to least this posting's not going to send anyone to sleep too quickly, so, silver lining and all that...

Jayne said...

Message from Feral Beastie-
These are great photos I can't wait to see more of them. Please keep this blog up coz I love reading it.
(As dictated to his overworked mother) ;)

Brian Hughes said...


We're not retiring this board just yet. The Local Historians' Society have threatened us with parcel bombs if we don't start taking the subject more seriously, but, true to form, they couldn't be bothered researching how to tie a knot in the string properly, so their dastardly scheme failed.

Feral Beast said...

Keep up the good work.

Brian Hughes said...

Mr. Beast,

We'll try our best. (Just wait until you see the old photographs we coloured in on Photoshop. Talk about surreal.)