SCUDDING around on go-karts, fishing in ponds, riding bicycles, duelling with home-made wooden swords, making snowmen, chucking snowballs, mounting the Witches Hat or simply linking arms with pals and giving the man-behind-the-lens your biggest smile or silliest face.

It was a time when climbing trees and scuffing your knees down the park were part of everyday life. If your mum and dad actually had a television set then it certainly wouldn’t have been switched on before tea. So that’s what you did – scampered about, had a laugh, kicked footballs, larked around and probably got up to a bit of mischief.

And there to capture it all, to create lasting images largely during the post-war decades of hula-hoops and hopscotch, when iboxes, iphones and ipads were so far into the future they weren’t even science fiction, was Swindon’s snapper extraordinaire Albert Beaney.

For more than four decades from the 1940s to the 1970s, Albert cycled our redbrick streets and newish housing estates looking for “subjects.” Usually, he didn’t have to look very far – particularly when school was out for the summer or Easter hols.

Hordes of whippersnappers often trailed around after him bellowing “take one of us mister, take one of us”. And of course, he’d always oblige. With their baggy shorts, home-knit woollies, healthy outdoor complexions and toothy grins, Albert’s subjects had an endearing, almost urchin-like appeal.

Scamps and imps, you could say. Today, however, they are known as The Beaney Kids.

With any luck some are reading this right now, perhaps recalling the friendly feller with the camera – not a common sight back then – who became as familiar on the streets, closes and cul-de-sacs of Swindon as the postman or milkman.

Albert Beaney – who died ten years ago this month – was not what you would call a photographer of artistic inclination or pretension. But he did what he did really well. He took snaps. Thousands and thousands of them.

And in doing so he left Swindon with a priceless legacy… some 40,000 or so black and white photos and negatives of youngsters growing up, chilling out, goofing around, enjoying the banter and having a craic in this town.

The Beaney Collection, as it has come to be known, is a unique social document of Swindon from long-departed eras of the 20th Century.

Albert, of course, harboured no such illusions of providing future generations with such a unique gift – in his case, several doorstep-thick portfolios of Swindon social history.

No, he just wanted to earn some extra cash while doing something he had cherished since first laying his eyes and his hands upon a camera.

Albert George Beaney was born in Beatrice Street in 1912 and developed an early interest in photography, taking his first images with a pinhole camera constructed from a Cornflake box.

His first “proper” camera was probably a Brownie, he told this newspaper many decades later.

From school he became a French polisher at the GWR Carriage and Wagon Works before serving as a batman – an assistant to a higher ranking officer – during the Second World War.

Demobbed and married to Joan Newmarch, who he met while in service in Lincolnshire, he returned to the family home in Gorse Hill and worked as a postman.

By then he had concocted a novel idea that enabled him to indulge his ongoing passion for photography while supplementing a meagre Royal Mail income during the tough post war years of ration books and food queues.

Armed with a trusty Rolleiflex, he began randomly snapping shots around town of groups of local people – mostly youngsters, from tots to teenagers.

His modus operandi was to cycle off to parks or estates, find some kids, or mothers with babies, take their photographs and ask whether they – or their parents – would like to buy them.

Albert’s “hunting grounds,” as he referred to them, were largely the estates of Gorse Hill, Parks, Penhill, Pinehurst and Moredon with occasional forays into Old Town, Central Swindon and villages such as Wanborough.

After pedalling home, he’d develop the photos before sticking them up in the front window of his terraced Beatrice Street house which served as a convenient advertising hoarding.

He did a fair old passing trade, as pedestrians would invariably stop and give Albert’s latest batch of images the once over.

Proud parents would flick through boxes of snaps piled in the front room and buy ones of little Johnny and Jenny during a period when few working class folk actually owned a camera.

Albert didn’t bother scribbling the names of his subjects which would have been an arduous if not impossible task – as any photographer who has ever attempted to caption a photo of several excited, constantly scurrying kids will tell you.

Instead, he’d jot down the locations (ie, Ferndale Road) or an event (Penhill Carnival) to make it easier for customers to find what they were looking for. His rates were “reasonable,” he recalled.

Father-of-five Albert, who later moved to Fernham Road, Moredon, hung up his postbag to become a cleaner at the Square D factory at Cheney Manor but fervently continued his passion for snapping Swindon’s youth at play and in the streets and parks.

It couldn’t last though. They were more innocent times back then – a spirit that is certainly evoked in the photographs themselves.

By the early Eighties you simply couldn’t traipse around speculatively taking photos of youngsters out playing, as Albert himself conceded when interviewed by the Adver 27 years ago. You’d probably get arrested, he reasoned. “There’s so much nasty stuff going on now – people would be suspicious.”

But by then, Albert’s work had long since been done. In an age before disposable cameras and digital snaps, his images captured the ever-changing face of Swindon over more than 40 years: the clothes, the pastimes, the hairstyles, the hobbies… and the humdrum yet often fascinating backdrops.

  • ATTENDING the first exhibition of his photos at Pinehurst in 1989, Albert, then 76, actually remembered taking some of those on display.
    “That was at The Circle,” he told our reporter. “Look at the height of the kerb – they didn’t have tarmac back then.”
    He was suddenly collared by a woman called Valerie Jesson. “That’s my aunt and my uncle, Brenda and Michael Jesson,” she told him. “They used to live in Willows Avenue.”
    Albert was delighted. “That was one of my best hunting grounds…”
    He had earlier brought in several boxes of his photos for exhibition organiser Carol Maione to display. The snaps were given to anyone who found their younger selves staring back at them.
    “They’re absolutely amazing,” she said. “Just people in the streets, really. Lots of visitors have recognised themselves, as they were when they were children, in these photographs.”
  • FOUR years ago Albert’s contribution to the town received deserved recognition following a suggestion by the Swindon Society.
    A new street, Beaney View, was named in his honour and can be found just off Akers Way close to the prolific snapper’s former home.
    “If he was alive today he would be so chuffed,” said one his sons, Trevor.
    Following his father’s death at 93 in August, 2006, Trevor told us: “He had been into photography since childhood.
    “He used to go around taking pictures of the scenery and then of children playing in front of their houses.
    “They used to run off and tell their parents he’d photographed them and they would buy his pictures.
    “We are still finding pictures from more than 60 years ago – pictures we never even knew he had taken.”
  • SO what did Albert think of all of these snaps… the photos that he hadn’t sold along with countless negatives jam-packed into boxes up in the attic. “I was on the point of chucking them out,” he told us in 1989. Luckily for Albert and for Swindon, council arts officer Tony Hazell became aware of the hoard and immediately realised its worth. Tony, who was himself snapped by Albert in an earlier age, helped ensure they were preserved and also displayed. At an exhibition of Albert’s photos at Pinehurst in 1995 Tony said: “People have been popping in and meeting their neighbours from 40 years ago.” The Beaney collection was acquired by the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery in 1998 aided by The Swindon Society. It was also the subject of Back to Black and White project mounted in 2011 with a £25,000 heritage lottery grant which saw Swindon teenagers take their own versions of Albert’s images.