It’s half-a-century since photographer Jim Lyttle started his own business – and the well-preserved diaries he kept from 1965 until he retired in 2003 contain details of the thousands of pictures he snapped during that period.
It’s a mini-history of the town, starting in January that year – literally thousands of weddings, baby and family portraits, commercial records of the likes of Ulster Carpets, McGredy’s Roses, Goodyear, Unidare, Windsor Foods… Not to mention schools, first communions and all manner of church and social events.
“I can’t believe the range of activities I covered,” said Jim, who occasionally acted as a freelance photographer with the Portadown Times as he and his sister Peggy Irwin – his receptionist throughout the years – steadily built up the business. (His wedding picture, with wife Georgie – they were married in St Mark’s Armagh - appeared on the front page of the Times in June 1967, taken by staff man Harry Robinson).
This week’s milestone in the life of Jim Lyttle coincides with the 50th anniversary of the very first wedding he snapped in January 1965. The bride was young Laurelvale woman Diane Sturgeon and the groom was David Mateer, a Ballynahinch man. They were married in Mullavilly Parish on January 9, 1965, by the famed Rector, the Rev Fred Gowing, quite a character in the village and beyond. His community speciality was as president of the village’s cricket club. (The Thompsons, Irwins, Vennards et alia).
Thanks to Jim’s meticulous record-keeping (and the miracle of the internet these days), he has succeeded in getting in touch with the very first wedding couple he photographed. And couples paying out several hundreds of pounds these days for glossy wedding albums will be interested to know that Jim’s album price in 1965 was eight guineas (£8.40p in today’s currency) or 12 guineas (£12.60 today for the deluxe album), although everything was in monochrome (black in white) at the start.
“I don’t know why we dealt in guineas,” Jim recalled. “Maybe it’s because the firm with which I cut my teeth, Carlton Studios, used what was even then old-fashioned pricing.”
Jim discovered that Diane and Kenneth are happily living in North America. Their home address is the small town of Alliston, north of Toronto, Ontario. In an email to Jim, they reported, “Ken was in the Army when we married. We lived in Germany until 1969, when we emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. Our first son Jonathan was born there and then our second boy Chris. After moving to Alliston we had our third child - her name is Catherine.
“We are both retired now and decided that the winters are too long and cold in Canada and we would spend our winters in Naples in south-west Florida. We move there each November through until April, going home at Christmas to spend time with our family. We have six grandchildren who bring so much love and joy into our lives.
“After Ken and I married, my dad Norman married a lovely lady named Eileen. They had two beautiful children Clive and Michelle who now have families and live in the Portadown-Laurelvale area.
“We did at one point move back to Craigavon, where Ken worked as a ski instructor at the local ski hill. But we realised that, even though we loved Ireland, Canada was the place we wanted to be. So we went west again.”
Jim has carefully filed away virtually every negative he created throughout the years, with each one marked with its date and – like the diaries – carefully stored away. And it is here that he regrets one thing. He cannot find the very first picture he took – a baby portrait, snapped just before that first wedding.
His first office was at Church Street, on the top floor of the building where Dr Sam Carson had his GP practice; where Henry’s the dentists operated; and where Callaghan’s the architect were occupants.
“My studio was on the top floor – about 70 steps up,” said Jim. “On the first day we opened, Friday January 8, a man from Pomeroy (the diary entry is M.S. Rainey) came in with the baby and I took my first portrait. I’d love it if the present-day family got in touch with the details.”
He must have done a good job with his first wedding, for later that year (in June) Ken Mateer’s brother David, also Ballynahinch, and his bride Doris Gibson from Tamnifaglasson had their wedding recorded by the Lyttle camera. They emigrated to New Zealand, but Jim reports they are coming back to Northern Ireland for their golden anniversary.
The diaries are pitted with great memories. And they show that this weekend is the 50th anniversary of the first all-Portadown wedding Jim photographed – that of well-known Aubrey McCrory and wife Yvonne (nee Marsden). And we all wish them well on their golden day!
Incidentally, with literally thousands of negatives in Jim’s filing system, he wants as many people as possible to have their family heirlooms back.
Get in touch with Jim on his email address at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Portadown 02838 334190, although there must be proof of identity as he wants all negative to go to the right people.