George Normand was born in Cupar on 5th July 1875, the second son of James and Christina Normand. He spent most of his life living in Provost Wynd, and attended Kirkgate School. He left, aged 14, and joined the Post Office as a telegraph messenger.
At 18, he was appointed rural postman, and his first round was from Cupar to Ceres, Craigrothie, Kame, Chance Inn and back to Cupar. This was on foot, and he covered almost 18 miles a day. He then spent 22 years on the Peat Inn run, first by pony and trap, then by bicycle. He carried on through great blizzards when he was nearly overcome by snow; and during the floods of July 8th 1916 he had to wade waist deep to reach the Post Office at Pitscottie, where the water was within half an inch of the counter top. He started work at 6 am, did four deliveries a day, and didn’t get home until 9 pm.
He married Elizabeth in 1901, and they had three children – Grace, Elizabeth and George.
He joined the army in 1917, and served overseas in the Army Veterinary Corps – they liked to recruit men who worked with horses, and George had driven a trap on his postal round. He returned home in 1919, and was promoted to the position of supervising postman in Cupar. He remained in this job until his retiral in 1935, having completed 46 years’ service.
George served his community in other ways. He became an elder of the Kirk (Cupar Old) in 1912, and had a record of 64 years’ service. He was awarded both the King’s Silver Jubilee Medal and the Imperial Service Medal. He was also an Air Raid Warden in Cupar from 1938.
He died in his 102nd year, on 25th December 1976, Cupar’s oldest citizen. He came from a very long-lived family – his mother, aunt and sister all lived to be 100, and his eldest daughter, Grace, reached 101.
George Normand was an interesting man, with a fascinating history and life story (he remembered the night of the Tay Bridge Disaster). But his particular relevance to Cupar library and the Local Studies department is connected to his passion for photography. He took photographs of everything around him: people, places, events, animals (especially horses, and an elephant), and objects – famously an interesting egg, and a turnip growing through a pair of scissors.
He concentrated on the Howe and North East Fife, and took photos in Cupar and the surrounding villages.. There are pictures of castles and churches, shops and streets, floods, skaters and curlers, the Highland Show at Kinloss in 1912, Sunday school picnics, gymkhanas and hiring fairs.
There are images of soldiers and their equipment from the Boer War, First and Second World War.
Many of his photos are of people, and some faces appear again and again. There are Cupar “Worthies” such as Jimmy Dickie, and a number of Provosts and Reverends.
These images are on glass slides because George didn’t just take and collect photographs, he showed them to the people of the area. This was great entertainment in the days before radio and television. In about 1898 he bought a Magic Lantern, costing £22 15s.This came with a screen and was initially lit by an oil lamp. It was altered to burn coal gas with a high power gas mantle. Later it was powered by “Lime Light” – coal gas and oxygen turning a lime cone incandescent. Later still, it was lit by an acetylene burner using a portable generator. Four and a half old pennies worth of Carbide gave 1,000 candle power of light for one hour. In 1925 the lantern was converted to electricity and was lit by one 250 watt bulb with internal reflectors.
The bleached cotton screen was originally 9 feet square, but was cut down to make it easier to fit in small halls.
The lantern was regularly used until war was declared in 1939, and then came back into use in 1970. George’s son, George Jun. took over the slide shows at WRI, church and local club organisations to help them with fund raising. It was used for the last time at the Cupar Probus Club in January 1985, after which, in 1988, the lantern and the whole George Normand collection of photos, slides, and books were presented to Cupar library. It was stipulated that they could be exploited “for the good of the community”.
In addition to his own photos, his collection also contains images from other sources. These include those from by Mr D. M. Rollo, Mr S. Courts, Mr R. Carr and Miss Low of Blebo House. Miss Low was in Egypt in 1925, touring the Valley of the Kings, the area flooded by the forming of the Aswan Dam.
The glass slides have now been scanned and preserved as digital images – this way we can make them truly accessible to the whole community.
You can see more of George’s magic lantern photos in Cupar library, or on our Flickr page: