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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Rachel Cooke | Remembering my grandfather George Henry while lovingly restoring his photographs

The late George Henry (left) and granddaughter Rachel Cooke (right)

The lockdowns of the last year have at times been frustrating and tiring as the country grappled with the impact of a public health crisis, but for many, they found space and time to try something new, or even to pick up old projects that needed to be finished.

For local wedding photographer, Rachel Cooke, photography has always been a passion.

Indeed, it could be said that it is ‘in her blood’, for Rachel’s grandfather, the late George Henry from Ballymena, enjoyed a passion for photography.

Self-portrait of George Henry in younger days

Sadly, George passed away in September 2019, but a few months before this he gave his entire photo collection to Rachel; the only one in the family who would know what to do with it and treasure it as much as he did.

Alec Millar outside his shop on Kinhilt Street, Ballymena, late 1950s

Lockdown has provided Rachel with the space and time to explore and begin to restore the many images and hours of video that her grandfather gave her. Many pictures included images from around Ballymena in the 1950s.

Rachel commented: “As I began to upload and share my grandfather’s photos on social media I received really great feedback. It also has enabled me to make connections with people who knew my grandfather and the Henry family over the years in Ballymena.”

Jackie (John) Henry, Kinhilt Street, 1950s

A well known local man, George Henry was born on 24 May 1930 in Ballymena, into a big happy family of nine children - 7 boys and 2 girls, to parents David and Elizabeth Henry.

His father was chairman of Ballymena Council and branch secretary of the Trades Labour & General Workers Union, actively working to improve the lives of working class families.

Sadly David died in his 40s, when George was only 14 and his younger brothers Maurice and Albert, 12 and 5.

George’s brother Maurice Henry (outside right) - possibly captured on Kinhilt Street, Ballymena

George was educated at Guys School and Ballymena Technical College, leaving school at the age of 15 to train as a sign writer. From then George had a series of jobs, always managing to stay employed, and eventually working in industry to use and develop his many technical and practical skills. In the 60s he was an inspector for the Martin Baker Aircraft factory making ejector seats for jets.

Granddaughter, Rachel, explained that his job at Martin Baker was one of the jobs he was most proud of - and still followed on Facebook until he passed.

George’s brothers Maurice (middle) and Albert (right of Maurice) pictured on Kinhilt Street

In 1952 George met Rosaline, the love of his life, at a dance in Ballymena Town Hall, although they had always known of each other from West Church. They married in December 1954, and had their first daughter Linda in October 1955, followed by their second daughter Julie in July 1958.

In 1971 George trained as a teacher and taught Craft, Design & Technology until his retirement in 1993, where he had been head of the CDT department in Antrim High School.

George had many varied interests. He played euphonium in the Ballymena Silver Band with his brothers Maurice and Albert, where they enjoyed much camaraderie at their practices and success in brass band contests in the 1970s & 80s.

George Henry

His claim to fame was appearing on the general knowledge TV quiz show Fifteen To One where he was runner up! He was often heard tutting in disapproval at the TV when a contestant in a quiz show got the wrong answer!

“The earliest of his photos we can find are from 1954 when he married Rosaline,” Rachel said.

Flooding on Kinhilt Street, Ballymena in the 1950s

“Their photographer didn’t turn up to the wedding! But there are photos of their wedding day, as well as Linda and Julie as babies, and various photos around Ballymena, mainly in Kinhilt Street. The majority of photos taken by George in the 1950s were taken on medium Format/120 film; the best quality you could get.”

Flooding on Kinhilt Street, Ballymena in the 1950s

George’s greatest passion though was probably for Classic British Motorbikes and automobiles - especially Nortons & MGs - which he spent many happy hours restoring and driving. He thought nothing of travelling the length and breadth of the UK, sometimes with Rosaline in tow, to pick up some unrecognisable bodywork or part which he would then transform into a thing of beauty. His patience, eye for detail and craftsmanship knew no bounds.

Flooding in the Pentagon area of Ballymena looking down Galgorm Road

A life well lived and full of adventures has left Rachel with a treasure trove of documented memories in image and film.

Flooding in Galgorm Road area of Ballymena

“Travel was always important to George and Rosaline, and they had many adventures across the world from Russia to China, as well as Hong Kong, Australia, the USA and their numerous cruises. These were all documented by George through video and photos!

Rachel continued: “George was a wonderful man, quiet but extremely witty, curious & interested in many things, determined, warm and fun loving, but probably he will be best remembered for his dedication to his family.”

George’s wife (Rachel’s grandmother ) Rosaline, bathing daughter Linda (Rachel’s mum) in the sink at their Brooke Park home - 1956

Rachel was born in Belfast to Linda (Henry) and Martin Cooke. Martin was an artist, which along with George’s passion for photography, influenced Rachel to develop and find her own path in creativity.

Rachel went to the University of Ulster to study a Foundation Degree in Art & Design, then completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Photography. During this time Rachel learnt how to hand process film and prints, which has proved handy as she works through her grandfather’s many images and hours of film.

Rachel explained: “George would video and photograph every holiday, Christmas and birthday!”

When leaving university Rachel did many different types of photography in Belfast- nightclubs, events, food and more. Ten years after graduating she is now a full time wedding photographer, splitting her time between Ballymena, caring for her grandmother in Clough, with her partner James and his three sons Alexander, Noah & Archie, and occasionally returning to Belfast for work.

George with daughter Linda (Rachel’s mum)

Rachel is continuing to work through George’s collection of slides, negatives, photos and video tapes - converting and archiving them, while sending and sharing them with friends and family.

“The large collection of 1950s negatives hadn’t been seen by many people as few prints had ever been made,” Rachel said.

Rachel’s grandmother Rosaline pictured with Linda (Rachel’s mum) as a baby, enjoying the beach in Portrush - around 1957

“So I decided to invest in a professional film scanner and start converting the images digitally. The video collection included every holiday, Christmas and birthdays and of course my grandfather’s appearance on Fifteen to One!

“With the majority of weddings bring postponed over lockdown it has been the perfect time also to start a side business in scanning negatives and converting video tapes, and this has proved to be very popular. I plan to continue offering this service after lockdown.”

Rachel working in her office, restoring film

Currently, Rachel is restoring George and Rosaline’s trip to Hong Kong and China back in 1979.

You can follow more of Rachel’s work, and her journey as she continues restoring her grandfather‘s photos and film, on social media:

George with one of his loved motorbikes


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