Some years ago, Llanfyllin Civic Society produced a book about Llanfyllin between about 1880 and 1914. The railway had joined the town to the wider world and Llanfyllin – for a brief period – had a last social and economic golden age. That book – Llanfyllin, Portrait of an Age – had the Bryan family (owners of the Corner Shop on the town square) at its centre, partly because they were so typical of the town’s new leadership but mostly because they were wonderful photographers. The book is full of the photographs, taken between about 1895 and 1914, which they produced for postcards, as commissions for local families and as albums for tourists.
Unknown to us when we were producing the book, there was another photographer active in the town at the same time as the Bryans. Someone else was hauling around a massive tripod to support a large and heavy box camera. Someone else had a darkroom in which to develop the great glass negatives. This person, we believe, was John Ellis Jones known as Ellis or Non, the owner, from 1905, of the Boot & Shoe Warehouse at Globe House on Llanfyllin High Street. Here the family sold and repaired shoes and boots and at one time employed 4 or 5 men in their cobbler’s shop down the alley beside the house.
What persuaded Non to take up photography? Did he plan to produce postcards, like the Bryans? Was it just a hobby, something to fill his time away from the shop and his family? Certainly he had artistic aspirations. Quite a few of his photographs are classically ‘picturesque’ – winding paths through overhanging trees by rippling streams. Most significantly, though, after he had developed his black and white glass plates, he had them tinted or maybe he sat down and tinted them himself. A selection of colours was mixed with water and the colours built up by repeated washes, taking care not to obscure the photographic detail. It was a difficult technique and its success depended very much on the skill of the colourist. In this photograph of the train near Llanfyllin station, he has made the brass dome gleam and beneath the blue cloud-scattered sky there is a lovely range of greens on the hillside leading up to the Lonely Tree. In many of the photos there is a small girl with a turquoise blue dress and a large straw hat; in others there is the photographer himself, often with a big black dog – carefully posed self-portraits with the camera’s shutter being triggered by a delayed action mechanism.
Why did he stop taking photographs? Maybe it was the demands of family and the business at Globe House. Maybe it was because he had joined the Montgomeryshire Militia who frequently camped on Bodfach Park before the First World War. When in August 1914, ‘C’ Company of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers marched down the High Street, past Globe House, at their head was Corporal J Ellis Jones. And although he survived the conflict, perhaps after the horrors of the trenches it was too painful to revisit those sunny scenes that he had photographed and carefully hand-tinted before the war. His beautiful glass slides seem to have remained in their wooden boxes until the death of his son, Trevor Jones – Bab Non – when they were acquired for Llanfyllin Civic Society by long-time member Glenys Lloyd. Again they were put away but now they have been rediscovered, digitised and in March 2013 they will be shown for the first time.
‘The Llanfyllin Society’
All this and more will be revealed at the Institute in Llanfyllin at 7.30pm on Wednesday March 13th, an event that will also mark when Llanfyllin & District Civic Society becomes The Llanfyllin Society. Why are we changing the name? Simply because it is shorter, less cumbersome and the word Civic seems, to some, to carry an echo of something rather antiquated and formal – which is not the image we want to project.
So come and celebrate the new Llanfyllin Society on March 13th. Enjoy a glass of wine and take a leisurely stroll in hand-tinted colour with Ellis Jones, known as Non, in and around Llanfyllin in those years before World Wars darkened all our horizons. We will be using the Institute’s big screen and will also be showing some of the best work of his contemporaries, the Bryan family. We have discovered a wonderful new Llanfyllin photographer. It’s an exciting moment – come and see!
– Richard Kretchmer
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