Friday, 3 February 2017

A Leica Postal Portfolios 'Great'-C C B Herbert.

Researching the history of Circle 6 one name, above all others, comes up again and again concerning the all too short pre-Second World War period of activity. That name is C.C.B.Herbert.

We are fortunate to have been given a number of memories of Mr Herbert from friends still with us. Only in recent weeks have I been told of his generosity toward younger members and families when arranging meetings in London at the Mandeville and the Bonnington Hotels. Mr Herbert was a founder member and first Secretary of Circle 1. He was active as President until his death in 1987, having held office in every possible capacity for 51 years!

I was able to trace a few quotations from his own writing which survive, most striking is this quote concerning his railway career-

"I was probably destined to be interested in railways from the day I was born", he said in 1984. He came from a line of railway men, his great grandfather was a senior official of the South Eastern Railway, two great uncles were Directors of the Cambrian Railway and Great North of Scotland Railway, and his father worked for the Railway side of  the London Stock Exchange."

I calculate he was born about 1905- however confirmation would be welcome as some sources differ considerably. Though his enthusiasm for photographing engines began in 1919 with the gift of a roll film camera which we shall refer to later in connection with his books. His photographic career commenced when he joined the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in 1925 as a trainee in the  Engineering Department at Kings Cross. Happily for us all this coincided with the launch of the Leica camera. He bought a 35mm Leica camera, one of the first models available at that time and set out to photograph the 'Pacifics' and 'Atlantics' at work. Herbert's work is typical of Leica in that most of his photographs were taken handheld and of moving subjects, in this case the train. In his career, it is clear that by the mid 1930's he was well established and respected in Railway Professional Societies as shown by his paper delivered at a meeting of the Permanent Way Society in November 1937. This included the phrase (immortal in the company of some) ”As the chimneys of locomotives have become shorter with the passing of time, rails have grown longer”


Herbert and his camera were rarely parted while he was at work and in 1947 he wrote that many of his photographs were taken "during opportunities that I seized, some while working on the line, standing back at the look-out man's whistle to let an express pass, some during train journeys, and a lot round about Kings Cross". This much is clear from his published work which often shows fast moving trains from a viewpoint which can only have been achieved by standing in the opposite tracks!  This unique opportunity gave him an undoubted advantage over larger format workers still in the mould of the railway company plate users of the past.  Film, other than 35mm, was almost non-existent for some years during and after the War.  We have only a few clues as to his film of choice but by 1947 he was using the high speed H.P.3.  35mm film was produced in profusion for aircraft use so as a miniature specialist he could continue and always favoured the Leica because he believed its versatility enabled him to take instant shots. His photographs have the 'photojournalist' style which lightweight 35mm cameras made possible.  A few samples are available on Web sites including Getty Images and his railway books (pub; Ian Allen) are available second hand. His approach to his work was to produce pictures "giving a fine impression of a railway scene with the 'atmosphere' and feeling of speed" in the Leica manner and in this he succeeded.

He was a member of The Railway Photographic Society, the Leica Historical Society and was President of Leica Postal Portfolios for 20 years, after serving as Secretary, Circle Secretary, Treasurer, Chairman and President -performing some of these roles concurrently! He also edited the Magazine!  Herbert gave his name to a fine trophy which is still competed for in the 'Leica Society' as the two Leica groups have been known since amalgamation a few years ago. In the early days he was a keen recruiter of members to the Circles even to the extent of inviting any user of 35mm to his first Leica Treasure Hunt in London(see last Blog) to try to win them over. In 1965 he was made a Life Member.


The Herbert Collection consists of 35mm film negatives, and some 6x9 film negatives, showing the LNER, at work around London with some SR and GWR photos, mainly at London stations. They are taken in the normal course of a day's duty and include German bomb damage during the Second World War. However, Herbert did not provide captions for much of his work. A small proportion have been printed but the size of his legacy of work means that some 2600 prints still exist but are difficult to match with the negatives.


Still in existence are a number of prints with 'crit sheets' prepared for Leica and other circles, a practice that continues to this day.


I have been fortunate to acquire several of the small books, almost booklets put out by Ian Allan in the early days of their rail publishing and no doubt aimed at young enthusiasts and priced accordingly. Here are several pictures of some relevance to Leica users with the authors own comments.


His books were small -in fact 4.5" x 7"


in format to accord with post -war economy but are produced on quality paper and, if grain is present, this is printed sharply. A number of combined books appeared as reprints in later years but not under his name.

The first print is of a scene that some might regard as defective but which has a touch of Turner in the blurred locomotive at speed. (The scan is enlarged)



This is also an example of the rare technical data which is missing from other photographs. Note the thoroughly standard processing, one can hardly get more standard  than HP3 in D76!

From the same book is this shot of Mallard leaving Waterloo in the 1948 Locomotive Exchanges in Leica 3:2 format.




Note: Click on prints for enlarged view

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