I am fascinated by another category of seaside portrait, one in which people were plonked onto the backs of long suffering donkeys to have their photograph taken (there is an example on the site). As well as real donkeys, some photographers used a stuffed donkey, and sometimes a toy one made of felt. But this donkey seems to be something very different. I picked it up for £2 without looking too closely, thinking it fitted the usual ‘boy on holiday at Blackpool’ image, but now having had chance to look more closely, it seems to be something different altogether. I may be wrong, but having taken second and third opinions, it looks as if that’s a bloke in a donkey costume. Not the usual two people in a pantomime costume, but just the one. He’s bent over, and his hands seem to work the front legs. The back legs are much thicker and seem to accommodate his shoes. The little lad is also dressed in quite an elaborate embroidered jacket, and pearly buttons on his shorts which match those of the gentleman on the left.
The only thing I can suggest is that it’s perhaps a three person music hall or fairground act of some sort, who have decided to have their photograph taken. There is no clue as to where or indeed when it was taken. The painted backdrop is quite theatrical, most seaside backdrops are idyllic countryside scenes. Quite what the act consisted of we can only imagine! If anyone has any more information, please get in touch.
This photograph has been in the family for as long as I remember, housed in a small portrait box with a lid, and a nice gold looking metal surround. This is all falling apart now, but a small caption in biro on a piece of paper inside written by my Grandmother tells me it is my Great Grandfather “aged 4”, which seemed very early for a portrait, so I thought it was time to see if this was correct. Thomas Holtby, the gentleman in question, was born in 1852 in Wainfleet, a small village on the Lincolnshire coast.
The portrait is exposed direct onto glass. Looking at the information on the Science Museum website, this type of photographic portrait, known as a colodion positive, enjoyed a fairly short period of popularity between 1853 and the 1860s when better technology arrived, but continued to be used for street portraits as it was so quick to do. Basically the photograph was taken on a small glass plate to produce a negative, but then using chemical to bleach the negative, it turned into a pale positive. By placing this on top of a black backing sheet, a viewable positive image was produced.
Thomas certainly could be four here, so the portrait here is likely to be from 1856. At that time his father (and his uncle) had a joinery and carpentry business in the town, but whether the photograph was taken there or in the town of Hull I’m not sure. There is no fancy backdrop, just a couple of props, but he is quite smartly dressed which suggests a special visit. Thomas would later become a dentist in Hull, survived serving in World War 1, and was also an amateur naturalist.
It does amaze me that something this fragile has survived over 150 years. I did take it out of the frame to scan but haven’t put it back too firmly in case I cracked the glass. Nor have I done any restoration to the scan yet; I kind of like the flaws, developing faults, scratches and other signs of age.
I have added a few more of my interesting old family photographs, or ones which have some added social history content, to the site.
I’m giving an illustrated talk on Walking Pictures in Boston Spa (Village Hall, Main Street) on March 4th 2018. The afternoon talk follows a Camera Fair at the same venue from 10am to 1.30pm (the fair is open to all, admission charge). The talk is to a camera club, and is not open to non-members.
I posted a brightly hand-tinted postcard on the site some time ago; this is by way of a follow-up. The tinting here is fairly crude and as the carte de visit is of what looks like a young lad around 14 or so, it suggests to me that he might be the culprit! It’s certainly not the work of the late Victorian Middlesborough studio (The Cleveland Photo Art Company) where the original photograph was done. But I do like the idea that he got bored one afternoon and just had a dabble, perhaps with his Dad’s tinting kit.
Mention of tinting reminded me to show below this fascinating Kodak Soluble Crayon Outfit, sold for half a crown. The small box held seven Ikea size pencil crayons, and a bottle of the “solution”. I picked this up recently hoping to have a go but the product had a huge catch, it would only work on matt paper surfaces; the majority of old photographs of course have a glossy finish! The process was to apply the solution to the area to be coloured, then use the crayons to scribble over gently, blending if necessary using cotton wool, and the colour would be permanent when it dried. It sounds quite a crude technique. These sets were on the market in the early 1930s and judging by how many turn up, it suggests people found them difficult to master.
Les Waters contacted us about a walking picture he was trying to identify recently. Les runs an excellent web site (http://www.fadingimages.uk/ ) dedicated to the history of photography in Cambridgshire. A walkie had turned up, with a Cambridge (and Ely) firm’s details stamped on the back – Starr and Rignall – and he wondered if we had any further information. Starr and Rignall are quite well known for their regular portrait work in and around Cambridge, but so far this is the only walkie Les has seen with their name on.
The short answer was no; while we have listed a number of photography firms who took walkies in non-coastal towns – Bath, Bradford, London, Sheffield, etc. – Cambridge was new to us. The walkie shows a mother, young daughter and perhaps Grandfather. They look far too happy and jolly to be doing chores around Cambridge, and daughter is clutching her tin bucket and small spade.
So if it was a coastal town, where? Cambridge is not far from a number of seaside towns, so perhaps the photographers decamped to the coast for a few weeks each summer to take walkies (we have identified a few other firms which did this). The likely search area was from Great Yarmouth to Southend, all seaside towns within reach of Cambridge.
In the background is a large church with a quite distinctive circular rose window. I have seen this in another unidentified walkie taken by the firm of Sunfilms, but never been able to locate the church.
I passed the walkie over to Paul Godfrey as he lives not so far away, to see if he recognised it. He also had another walkie with the same church in the background (shown above, note the great Lyons Tea delivery lorry), but it too was unmarked. He set to work with Google street view and a few days later came back having located the church (Trinity Methodist) on Pier Avenue in Clacton (you really do not want to see what they’ve done on the site of the trees and buildings to the left!). Pier Avenue is quite lengthy and runs in a straight line down to the seafront, and Pier Gap.
This was a nice piece of detective work, although it still leaves us with the unanswered question of the Cambridge address. Perhaps, as Paul suggested, it could just be that the family had a Clacton walkie, and wanted it copying when they got back home to Cambridge? There again all three examples were taken late morning, and the journey of around 35 miles is not so far that Starr and Rignall could have processed the prints in Cambridge later in the day and taken them back to a kiosk the following morning (or perhaps even later that day).
Needless to say if anyone has any more walkies with the Cambridge firm’s name on, do let me know. There is more information about Sunfilms on our site.
An unidentified walking picture [WP867], it looks like the gent is out for a brisk constitutional on his own. It could be mid-1940s, but his outfit is pretty timeless! Pipe clamped firmly in mouth he’s not really looking at the camera but must surely have been aware of what was going on. The auto card number matches some from Margate walkie firms which might be a clue, again the H identifies the photographer to the darkroom staff back at base.
This walkie [WP868] would be a hard one to locate but for two reasons; first I recognise it as Waterloo Road in Blackpool, having helped identify some walkies taken there in the past. And the lady in the centre has written “Blackpool June 1950” on the back in biro!
It pre-dates the other Waterloo Road walkies (which you can see on the site here) by only a year or two, but were taken on a different camera.
Which just leaves us with one last puzzle, who is in the family group? I assume the lady on the far left is just caught up in the picture but perhaps the lad on the right (with his beach spade) is related.
They may be locals, it’s hard to imagine they would have travelled far with the tricycle which the little girl is understandably distracted by.
Two hard to identify walkies here (WP865, 866), but the Gentleman in the middle seems to be happy escorting the same four then five ladies around, twice on the same holiday. He’s even taken his tweed jacket AND overcoat off in the second frame! The prints are small, only around 3″ by 2″, and are quite soft. There is very little in the way of buildings to help tell us where it was taken, and only a pencil reference number on the back which suggests a small business.
The single decker bus might be a clue to an expert so let me know if you recognise it or the town, and I would imagine this to be late 1940s from the big shoulders on the left hand dress.
These two walking picture cards are not identified, nor are the people known. I think they are probably by the firm of Skeg Cards, set up in Skegness by Bert Jackson, as he had the rights to take walkies on the pier from around 1920 onwards. These certainly seem to date from that decade and are typical of the firm. They are also nice sharp images and show a good grasp of the technique needed to capture people on the move. The reference numbers have been written in black ink on the glass negative, and show up white on the prints.
That might be Mum, Dad and grown-up daughter in the top photo [WP869]. He seems laden with supplies perhaps for a sit down at the end of the pier (and is pursing his lips at the camera!), and Mum looks to have a Box camera as well. There is clear interest in what’s going on from a lady in the background, glancing back to watch the cameraman. The image was taken late morning. Many of the buildings behind have now gone (as has most of the pier), but the turreted block of flats top left is still there.
The second card [WP864] must have been taken around the same time, and shows older parents, with Daughter taking her invalided Dad out for a turn. Given the date, he might be a veteran of WW1. His name is Tom, and they were staying at 39 Drummond Road, a guest house in Skegness. He has written a short note of greeting to his relatives back home in pencil on the back. The address on Drummond Road is still a guest house, now called Ivydene, just off the main parade fronting the sea. I wonder if they keep their ‘comments’ books from this long ago?
There are more photographs from the pier in the Go Home On A Postcard book.