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THE NORTH: Revisited



The North by John Bulmer FRPS

Bluecoat Press, Liverpool, 2012


The Sunday Times Magazine

Special Issue: The North by John Bulmer FRPS

28 March, 1965



In the early 1960s photojournalist John Bulmer FRPS set out to document life in the bleak industrial centres of the North of England; over the course of his commissions Bulmer visited 15 towns or cities.  His photographs of the North were taken at a time when society and culture was undergoing a vast transformation.  Traditional industries - coal, steel, shipbuilding, deep sea fishing, textiles - that had been the wealth creators of the Industrial Revolution, were in a rapid and relentless decline.  


A pioneer of colour photography, Bulmer worked for The Sunday Times colour magazine from the very first issue in 1962 until the 1970s.  The magazine propelled Bulmer's photography in a new direction.  The sudden switch to colour caught out most photographers, who continued to shoot in black and white.  Bulmer made the adjustment seamlessly and became one of the magazine’s main contributors.  


The hard times etched on the faces of Bulmer’s subjects told of a life of struggle framed against an often bleak industrial background. These were people forgotten as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ changed the cultural landscape of Britain.  


Colour gave Bulmer a new way of seeing the North; perhaps less bleak but certainly more subtle.  He embraced this new medium to capture the North in all its variety and colour, creating an incomparable social history archive that documents the North at a time when industries and their communities were facing inevitable collapse.


It is more than half a century since photographer John Bulmer was commissioned by ‘The Sunday Times’ to photograph the industrial and social decline of England’s northern counties. Since then, the post-industrial North has struggled to come to terms with the loss of employment, erosion of social cohesion, and decimation of community and local identity that followed the decline of the region’s industries - mining, steelwork, shipbuilding, textiles, fishing - and their communities.


Today, existing and incoming populations are working to build new prospects for the North.  Community-led initiatives are encouraging more diverse populations into areas that were the traditional homelands of “white, working-class Britain.”  Their collective ambition is to catalyse the commercial and cultural evolution of communities and establish a new and sustainable cultural and economic landscape.  


Once synonymous with heavy industry, cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Newcastle are now leveraging a greater diversity of employment, striving to become vibrant cultural hubs.  They are embracing their rich industrial heritage and creating a diversity of new communities and identities.  Commercial innovation, the emergence of hi-tech industry, new retail, leisure and visitor attractions, are leveraging economic growth. 


The North: Revisited will revisit the towns and cities photographed by Bulmer to document, with more than 4000 photographs, this redefining of the North, recording and celebrating the diverse communities for which the Northern counties are now home.  But the project will not turn a ‘blind eye’ to the problems and challenges that still exist and with which so many former industrial communities continue to struggle.  Despite the positive strides made in revitalising the post-industrial North, there has been widespread criticism of failures to effectively address regional disparities and fulfil the ambition of "levelling up” with the South.


Over the next 18 months (July 2024 - December 2025), this project will visit all of Bulmer’s 15 North of England towns and cities plus an additional 15 that will provide a more complete picture of the North as its exists today.


Over the duration of The North: Revisited project, all of Bulmer’s 15 North of England towns and cities (shown in CAPITALS) will be visited plus an additional 20 (35 locations in total) that will provide a more complete picture of the North as its exists today:


Northumberland  Ashington


Durham  Durham, HARTLEPOOL, Peterlee / Horden, DAWDON / WALDRIDGE

Cumbria  WHITEHAVEN, Barrow in Furness

Lancashire  Blackpool, Blackburn, Burnley, NELSON, Preston, WARRINGTON


North Yorkshire  Middlesborough, Scarborough, Whitby

South Yorkshire  BARNSLEY, Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield

East Riding of Yorkshire  Hull (Kingston upon Hull)

Greater Manchester  Bolton, MANCHESTER, OLDHAM, Rochdale, SALFORD, Stockport, Wigan

Merseyside  LIVERPOOL


The North: Revisited is supported by:

GAMMA Photos (logo) RGB 100mm 300dpi.jpg
VIDAR (Logo) RGB 100mm 300dpi.jpg
AFAEP (bold) 100mm.jpg

An application for financial support has been made to Arts Council England

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