Showing off baby in Bath

Walking Picture Bath 1936Walking Picture Bath 1936

Walking Picture Bath 1936Walking Picture Bath 1936

On May 22nd 1936 this elegantly dressed lady in her long white gloves and floral hat was doing her morning shopping on Milsom Street in Bath, with her young baby. A Walking Picture photographer was working the street and took two sequential images of her. Seeing that she was being photographed, the mother had a word with the cameraman who happily agreed to photograph her toddler, taking two more pictures. These were all collected later that or the following day. She posted these to a friend (or relative), requesting in writing on the reverse that the friend “let me have this back when you get back to Bath”. She also wrote the date the picture was taken on the back. A day or two later she was again on Milsom Street, with her baby and her mother, and ran into the photographer, who snapped the three of them together (she wrote on the back “three generations!”).

We can glean this much from a set of walking pictures, which were later discarded and recently found by Graham Hooper amongst a pile of torn snaps and postcards on a skip. There was no way to be sure where the pictures were taken but given that the owner had asked for one to be returned to Bath, it was possible that the ladies were living there at the time. The buildings were quite distinctive so I started looking at images of central Bath on the web and quickly spotted the same shop fronts on images of Milsom Street. The arched pediment in the background is a famous department store called Jolly’s which was recently owned by The House of Fraser. We know the images must have been taken in the morning as she was walking on the east side which is in shadow, as well as the fact that Walking Picture photographers often worked in the morning, so prints could be ready to view later that day.

This is the first time I’ve seen Walking Pictures from Bath. Milsom Street was laid out in the 1760s mostly as grand town houses, but today is reckoned to be one of the best shopping experiences in the country. It’s a reputation which has lasted some time. Jane Austen, who lived in Bath for a time, gives a line to one of her female characters in Northanger Abbey: “Do you know, I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop window in Milsom Street just now…” Most of the buildings in the street were listed Grade 1 and 2 during the 1950s, at a time when the local council was embarking on a demolition spree in the town. I must confess it’s a place I have not yet properly visited (the only time I went there was circa 1977 when Peter Gabriel did a charity show on his first solo tour…). These pictures have made me want to look at the place properly.

Graham, who fittingly teaches photography at college, and is another collector of ‘found’ images, is letting me borrow the originals for use in the book. It might then be possible to work out what the scraps of paper are which the baby in the photo is grasping…!

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