Gracey Photographic Collection

Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005

The W.A. Gracey Photographic Collection

by Elaine Hill

of Craigavon Museum Services

The Gracey Collection of photographs consists of pictures of Lurgan and the surrounding area taken by Mr William Arthur Gracey between the 1950s and the 1970s. The collection was donated to Craigavon Museum Services by his cousin, Dr. J.F. Gracey, when Mr Gracey passed away.

Black's Court, 1959, taken from the Wellington Street end of the court.
There was nothing left of this street by 1964.

Mr Gracey lived at 32 Windsor Avenue and had a shop at 13 Union Street in Lurgan. He traded under the name of Patton, which was his mother's maiden name, selling fishing tackle and associated equipment. Mr Gracey had previously been a radio officer in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War and saw service in many different regions.

Taylor's Court
Taylor's Court

In his spare time William Gracey would take his bicycle and tour the countryside around Lurgan, Moira, Hillsborough, Lough Neagh, Waringstown and Gilford, recording on black and white film the changing landscape, buildings and people of the area. The slow pace of the bicycle allowed him to observe the landscape on his travels and his photographs give a superb insight into the way of life of people in the area. At one point he changed to a Lambretta scooter as his mode of transport but did not find it satisfactory due to its speed and noise and so he returned to travelling around the countryside by bicycle.

Mr Gracey was particularly interested in recording the way in which the town of Lurgan was changing in the 1950s and 1960s. He photographed many of the buildings, small side streets and 'courts' of Lurgan, some of which no longer exist. These include Black's Court which was situated off Church Place and Taylor's Court which was situated off Market Street. Two buildings also captured on film were Foster's cinema on Carnegie Street and the Castle Lane Dance Hall.

Foster's Picture House

The Picture House was built around 1913 and closed in 1962. The Castle Ballroom was one of the oldest buildings in Lurgan at this time. The hall had previously been used as a Methodist Church, Labour exchange and as an Orange Hall. Mr Gracey writes in his album 'I am not sure what it was originally built as, but I know it will best be remembered by generations of Lurgan men and women as a dance hall.'

The Gracey Collection photographs are contained in thirteen albums, which have been hand made by Mr Gracey from bits of leather and pieces of material and card. Each photograph has been specially mounted into the albums and comes with a detailed handwritten description, all of which were written by Mr Gracey. These captions illustrate his knowledge of local people and places and are also a unique record.

The Castle Lane Dance Hall, 1968, photographed after the roof fell in.

Mr Gracey had a great love of the countryside and many of his photographs reflect agricultural work, birds, trees, plants, animals and wildlife which he came across as he travelled on country roads and lanes.

There are many examples of photographs which record a rural way of life or an occupation which no longer exist. An interesting photograph is that of haymaking which was taken near Waringstown. Mr Gracey describes how the metal cage in the photograph was used to make these perfect haycocks, by putting it under the elevator to be filled with hay and then turned over.

Haymaking, near Waringstown, 1968

Another photograph which is of interest is that of a building which was used as a forge in the Legahory area. This forge was the workplace of a local blacksmith named Moses Carson who was born in 1873. He served his apprenticeship with Mr Joe Ward of Gibson's Hill and opened his own smithy in 1894.

Building used as a smithy by Moses Carson

Mr Gracey writes in his album that Moses Carson 'chose this building as his forge, just on the hill above the quarry worked by Solomon McIlwaine, he had his customers passing the door.' Moses Carson died in 1968 aged 95 years and over one hundred of his tools and many implements made by him were donated to the Museum Service by his family. They are now on display at the Barn Museum, Tannaghmore Gardens.

The Gracey collection contains many rare photographs capturing moments such as the arrival of the first television in Lurgan to the freezing over of the lake in Lurgan Park. Today traditions such as deliveries made by horse and cart have disappeared but are not forgotten thanks to the images from Mr Gracey's work.

Undoubtedly this record would not exist if it had not been for Mr Gracey's love of photography and his keenness to record this snapshot of life in and around Lurgan in what was to become a period of much change.

Many of the albums are now fragile although there are regular displays of a selection of the Gracey photographs by the museum in various local venues. There is also a gallery of photographs on the museum website dedicated to this collection.

Information on when some of the photographs will next be on display is available by contacting Craigavon Museum Services