A Photographic Mystery

Now this IS a strange one... A quick update.

Someone has kindly sent me a page scanned from an old issue of Lincolnshire Past & Present magazine. For those not familiar with this publication, it is the quarterly newsletter & journal of the Society for Lincolnshire History & Archaeology. And in the 2010 summer edition, buried in the notes & queries section, there are a set of unusual black and white photos that has been submitted to the editor by a  Mr Jenkins of Swayfield (South Kesteven) Lincolnshire.

Under the title "Mystery Pictures: Are these the strangest we have received?"

The scan of the "Notes & Queries" page from the Summer 2010 issue of Lincolnshire Past &
Present magazine.

The 3 photo-postcards showing a strange night-time pageant of some kind are all reproduced. With a request to the magazine's readership for more information. In his letter to the SLHA editor, Mr Jenkins writes.

" I recently acquired three postcard photos of what appears to be an organised fish poaching expedition in Lincolnshire. They came from an original collection of photos and postcards all of which were from the Bourne, Rippingale, Edenham area of South Lincolnshire. "

These photos are uncaptioned but date from around 1920 and show a group of around twelve masked men apparently spearing fish (pike?) at night. They are using rush lights, oil lamps, and hooked poles to catch the fish.

If this was a poaching expedition, why were post card photos taken? Surely the poachers would not want a record of the event. Was this therefore some form of protest or custom taking place? Some of the men have blackened faces. Also there is no clue to the location, but as the party was quite large there may have been some contemporary reports in the local press.

I was hoping that if you were able to publish the photos I may be able to find out  more about this unusual event.

 Andrew Jenkins "

As this is a scan of a printed magazine page, the quality therefore unfortunately isn't that great. But I've cropped out the photos and done my best to tweak the levels and contrast. The men (and I'm sure they are all so) of various ages are clearly disguised. Some with handkerchiefs over their lower faces, a few with cloth shawls wrapped around their heads, and one with black fabric full-face mask with eyes, nose & mouth cut out turnip lantern style!  

But what on earth is going on?

Mr Jenkins thought the photos may have been taken around the Bourne, Rippingale, Edenham area. The boots and gaiters certainly are very suggestive of fen-men, and agricultural land workers around the Rivers & drains of South Lincs. 

And while the fish are clearly the object of the exercise,  the disguises hint at illegality or deliberate mystery. Would poachers be so bold to have a local printer make up postcards of their activities? Given, historically the stringent punishments handed down by Lincolnshire judiciary to people caught poaching It seems incredibly unlikely? And historic accounts of poaching, it was often if not a solitary activity, then a task only undertaken by groups of two or three men at most. Such a large host all out at night tramping the roads would surely have inevitably drawn attention to themselves. 

It's hard to make out detail but some of the masks put me in mind of early 20th C "Guiser" hoods from Scotland. But this is more likely because they are a product of what early 20th C land workers had to hand at home to fabricate a disguise.

(Left) The "turnip mask" worn by one of the men in the photos (Right) Home made late 19th C
 'guiser' masks worn by children for autumn celebrations such as Guy Fawkes and Halloween,

So is this a record of some custom or tradition that has escaped written record, with these postcards being the only surviving testament to a South Lincolnshire tradition, whose purpose is lost? It's hard to say.

I am still looking through subsequent editions of Lincolnshire Past & Present, but so far haven't seen any evidence that Mr Jenkins received any response to his call for information. If you know anything about these photos, or can shed light onto what the purpose of the activity being shown might be, please either leave a comment here or email me on boggartstones@gmail.com


Popular Posts