Wales

Now that the Olympics are over and I have a whole two weeks to wait before the Paralympics I find myself with time to spare. And so I decided to focus on a simpler task, or so I thought.

As it turns out my simple reunion project has evolved into a crazy idea. Yet again I have created much more work than I could have imagined and I still haven’t solved the puzzle, which means that I’m having trouble sleeping again!

About 15 years ago I saw an old sepia tinted photo in a junk shop and bought it simply because of the image.

Bert Bartlett and his chicken

The frame was nothing special so I decided to reframe it and noticed the name Bert Bartlett on the back. I assume that is the name of the man and not his chicken, but of course I could be wrong about that.

There were no more clues on the reverse of the photo. No full name. No location. No date.

I started to think about trying to reunite the photo with the descendants of Bert Bartlett. I couldn’t see why anyone in their right mind would have let such an image fall out of their family’s grasp, but these things happen.

With so few clues I had only two options to focus on; the chicken and the man.

The chicken came first.

Chicken mystery

After a memorable afternoon at the BBC in Cardiff distracting everyone with the lovely photo, and staff shouting their opinions from behind their desks, it seems that the best option was to email the image to various chicken fanciers and their respective societies.

An early, yet incorrect, identification was that the chicken was an Ixworth, named after the Suffolk village where it was created in 1935.

The eventual answer came from the poultrykeeper.com website which confirmed that it was a White Orpington, with the side note that "to meet the standard, the bird should have its tail up at 45 degrees although it is hard to get them to do this for a photo sometimes!"

White Orpingtons were developed around 1888 by William Cook in Kent. By the early 1900s the breed was well established, before declining in popularity by 1928. Incredibly there were 172 White Orpington entries at the club show in 1911.

In search of Bert

Hopefully Bert Bartlett was among them.

However, in the next sentence they confirmed that although they held a list of all the major exporters of Orpingtons during this time Bert Bartlett is not listed.

After clarifying the identity of the chicken it was time to turn my attention to the man, and as usual the place to start was with my mother.

Every picture tells a story

She’s used to my weird and wonderful ideas and their awkward deadlines, and dutifully replied to my pleading email with her opinion: that he was aged probably between 35 and 45 and that the celluloid collar looked like it came from between 1890 and 1915.

The more you examine the photo the more details you can see.

The three piece suit, the moustache, the hairstyle, the hint of a wedding ring, the working man’s hands with dirty fingernails, the inscription on the trophy, the over cemented recent brickwork, the oilskin table cloth and the choice of white tie, as well as the nervous startled look on his face all of which were clues (or red herrings).

I’ve asked experts whether they could enhance the image to see if it is possible to read the inscription on the trophy, but so far nobody has been able to make this happen and I fear that the original image is just a tiny bit too blurry.

I then remembered the help I received when trying to identify the age of another photograph and sent off yet another email with the image attached.

Dr Alison Toplis is an honorary research fellow based at the University of Wolverhampton. She said:

"What a great picture! Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to date precisely, mainly because the side parted waved hairstyle and full moustache were popular with young working men from the late 1870s until the pre First World War period.

"From the clothing, I would narrow this down to the decade 1895-1905, with the shape of the high shirt collar and the shape of the waistcoat. The length of the waistcoat would perhaps suggest it is 1890s rather than 1900s but as people did keep clothes for a period of time, especially those used on best occasions, as I am assuming a show would be, this can't be definitive."

So, the jury is still out on exactly who Bert Bartlett was, but watch this space as I will not rest until the puzzle is solved.

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