Missing Guildhall photo found in Lincoln barbers
As he sat down for a hair cut at his best friend’s salon, mayor’s officer Joe Cooke cast his eyes around the Burton Road barber shop.
He took in the dozens of old photographs and unusual bits of city memorabilia which adorn the walls of Frank Connell’s business.
And as the old friends – who have worked together to raise more than £1 million for charity over the last 30 years – began to chat, Joe’s eyes came to rest on Frank’s latest addition.
And Joe could hardly believe what he saw.
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The picture, of famous Lincoln businessman James Ward Usher, was exactly the same as one stolen from the city’s Guildhall more than 13 years ago. Joe, 64, said: “I looked up and I thought ‘no, it can’t be. I think I know that picture’.
“So I said ‘where did you get that from?’ and Frank said ‘I bought it from a guy in the shop who had been to an auction’.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I said ‘let’s have a look at it’.
“I recognised the string on the back and the name A.J. Mucklow, because it was printed in London, and the frame itself is the same.
“I was flabbergasted.”
Joe recalls how the picture had disappeared from the Guildhall following a late night council meeting.
“I heard someone come in the building and go up the stairs,” he said. “I thought it was a councillor who had forgotten some papers or something.
“It was only later that I realised it had been a thief.
“I honestly never thought I’d see it again.”
The theft was never reported to police. Frank told his friend how he’s bought the picture of Usher, who was sheriff of Lincoln between 1916 and 1917, from a customer around three months ago.
The man had acquired the image that day from an auction at Golding Young & Mawer, in Portland Street, Lincoln, and happened to stop in for a haircut at his shop.
A check of the auction house’s records confirms that on July 17 the item had indeed been sold.
The listing reads: “a hand coloured photograph of James Ward Usher, Sheriff of Lincoln 1916-17, 19cm x 14cm.”
Frank, 65, said: “The gentleman who sold me the picture is an author of some sort.
“I was in the shop cutting hair and just happened to turn around and see he had this picture.
“What caught my eye was the chains of office and I said ‘that’s James Ward Usher’.
“He explained he had bought it from an auction for £12 and I asked if there was any chance he would sell it, because Usher was the 500th sheriff and I was the 600th, from 2008 to 2009.
“When Joe first said it was the same picture that had disappeared I thought he was joking, but when he turned it around we realised it must be the same one.
“It’s just sheer luck that it ended up here.”
The image has now been taken to the Guildhall, where the city council still holds meetings.
William Gregory, of Golding Young & Mawer, said the item was part of a large collection being sold on behalf of executors for a local estate but the name of former owners was confidential.
He also said that many identical versions of the item would probably have been produced, with the same frame, at the time it was made.
Despite this, Joe, who has been mayor’s officer for 33 years, remains convinced that it’s the same picture.
“I love my job, I love Lincoln and I love the Guildhall, and I’m just so pleased I can take the picture back.
“I’ve often wondered where it was. And of all the places in all the world, it ended up at Frank’s shop.”