Tag Archives: CdV

Eminent Victorians

I am not sure if I was attracted to this little Victorian portrait by the look in the eye of the sitter or because in was taken in the studios of Sydney Barton in New Brighton. I remember New Brighton well from childhood seaside trips (the name “New Brighton” was a triumph for positively-spun nomenclature second only to the island of “Greenland”). Barton was listed in the 1901 census as living at 95 Victoria Road, New Brighton along with his wife, three children and a live-in maid. His occupation was that most trendy of late-Victorian occupations – “photographer”. It always amazes me how a bit of pasteboard, just four inch by two and a half, can have so much history stuck to it.

In Search Of Edward Gregson : Part 1

There is an advert doing the rounds on television at the moment for some new family history database service which is supposed to make tracing your ancestors as easy as sending a Paypal transfer for £100. Just press a computer key and: “Oh goodness, my grandmother was the daughter of the Duke of Beaudung“, says the happy customer, followed by “Well fancy that, my Great Uncle Percy” was with Nelson at Trafalgar“! Those of us who have actually dipped our genealogical toes into the world of old census returns and births, marriages and death notices, know it is never as easy as that. The tangled web we leave when first we practice to deceive, has nothing on the convoluted web that connects us with the past. Take, for example, Edward Gregson.

Portrait Of Unknown Couple, E Gregson

Edward Gregson was not – as far as I am aware – any relative of mine, but he was a photographer and native of my own home town of Halifax. Over the years, I have managed to collect a small number of his photographs which date from the latter half of the nineteenth century. I have featured several of these in my various blogs, and on the last occasion that I featured one of his Carte de Visites, I recklessly vowed that I was off in search of his story. We know from the studio details printed on his various photographs that he had studios both in Halifax and Blackpool, and several Halifax addresses are associated with his name, including the Central Portrait Rooms, Waterhouse Street, Bedford Street,  and Lister Lane.  We can’t even be sure of his name – there are referenced to both Edward Gregson and Edgar Gregson, both of whom were Halifax photographers – nor the dates when they were active. Quite clearly we have a photographic dynasty at work, and untangling it is going to be just as difficult as getting your portrait subjects to stand or sit still for long enough for your Victorian shutter to click open and closed.

What I should do, of course, is to lock myself away in a dark room, do lots of research and eventually come back to you with the fruit of my labours in the form of a clear and precise account of E Gregson, photographer and businessman. But that would be boring for me, and probably excruciatingly boring for you. Far better to join me as I dig and delve into whatever I can find out, in no particular order, and with the possibility of no precise conclusions. It is not, perhaps, as satisfying as being told that your Cousin Mabel was a pony driver for Scott’s Expedition to the Antarctic …. but at least it won’t cost you £100. 

Let us start with a bit of solid evidence, which is a death notice from the Halifax Courier of 12th January 1889, of one Edward Gregson, photographer of Halifax and Blackpool who died of dropsy at the age of 56. We now have a definite birth year (1833); a death year (1889), and a definite name, Edward Gregson. Let us see where this takes us…..  (to be continued …. probably)

A Genius Too Great For Slaithwaite

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Unknown Man In A Check Suit : J J E Mayall

I have a large box of Victorian studio photographs at home, and I am slowly working my way through them: looking at them, scanning them, and seeing where they take me. Today they took me on a fascinating trans-continental journey in the company of John Jabez Edwin Mayall, pioneer photographer, trans-Atlantic entrepreneur, and friend of the rich and famous. If that wasn’t enough he was brought up in Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield and for a short time he was landlord of the local Star Inn!
He was born in 1813 in Oldham, just over the border in Lancashire, but the family moved to the Linthwaite and Slaithwaite area of Huddersfield when John was still a young child. His father was a manufacturing chemist who specialised in producing dyes for the textile industry, and young John moved into the business and built up a degree of expertise in chemistry. It is said that by his mid 20s he had made a fortune, and by his early thirties he had lost it. He fell in love with the daughter of the local innkeeper and married her, and eventually took over the running of the inn, but this turned out to be an unsuccessful enterprise as he seems to have directed his energies primarily to teaching his customers mathematics and latin rather than selling pints of ale.
It appears that neither the role of a manufacturing chemist nor that of a publican in the Colne Valley was for him, and writing in his memoirs some years later, the local vicar, Cannon Charles Hulbert, commented: “Slaithwaite was scarcely a sufficient sphere for his genius and he emigrated to the United States, where he took up the then infant Art of Photography; which he much improved by his experiments and discoveries“.
Mayall first went to America in 1842 and for the next few years he seems to have split his time between Britain and America, establishing photographic studios in both Manchester and Philadelphia, and being in the forefront of technological development in the infant science of photography. He lectured, he wrote articles, and he saw himself as both an artist and a photographer, exploring the boundaries between traditional art and the new daguerreotype process. By the end of 1846 he was back in Britain establishing a daguerreotype studio and institute on the Strand in London.
Mayall became a friend of the famous painter, J M W Turner, and they shared an interest in the artistic potential of photography and, in particular, its ability to portray light variations. During the 1850s,  he embarked on a series of daguerreotype portraits of the rich and famous (including Charles Dickens) and also began to experiment with the new Carte de Visite format. In 1860 he was invited to photograph the Royal Family, and he was able to publish the first ever series of Carte de Visites featuring Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children.
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In 1864, Mayall moved from London to Brighton – leaving the London Studios under the direction of his son – and established a new photographic studio in King’s Road. It is from this period that the small Carte de Visite of an unknown man in a check suit dates. Mayall spent the rest of his life on the South Coast before dying early in 1901 – within a few weeks of the Queen he had famously photographed forty years earlier.

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My thanks to the unknown man in the check suit for taking me on such a fascinating journey.

A Chocolate Wrapped In Black Crape

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My first thought when I examined this old Carte de Visite from the Wolverhampton studios of Carl Holt was, who was the real woman under all these clothes?  She has the look of a bleached milk chocolate wrapped in too many layers of coloured cellophane – or rather mourning-black crape. It is high summer outside, and I am forced to wonder how people managed when the sun came out? The clue, perhaps, is in the address of Carl Holt’s studio – Winter Hill, Wolverhampton!

Turning Up The Prince Of Wales

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This little albumen carte-de-visite of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (who was later to become King Edward VII) turned up in a job lot of old Victorian prints I bought the other week. It dates from about 1862 and comes from the Paris studios of Emile Desmaisons. 

The print is now over 150 years old and as fresh as a pasteboard daisy. How many of the smartphone snaps of today will achieve the same longevity?

 

The King, The Prince And The Prestwich Photographer

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I would guess that this little Carte de Visite from the studio of W H Martin of Prestwich, Lancashire is Edwardian rather than Victorian. I know nothing about the subject of the photograph other than he seems a bright young fellow with a rather distinctive horseshoe pattern necktie. I don’t know much more about W H Martin, other than I suspect it was William H Martin who was born in Prestwich in 1878. In a description of nineteenth and twentieth century Prestwich published by Bury Metropolitan Council, Martin’s photographic studios are described as follows:
“The studio on the corner of Hacking Street and advertised as “Artist and Military Photographer … under the distinguished Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales”
The part about royal patronage sounds very grand, but every small town photographer in the land was claiming similar associations around the turn of the century. With the best will in the world, I cannot see the King and the Prince of Wales getting a tram up to Prestwich in order to have their likeness captured by Willie Martin.
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