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.
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.
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.
We’ve covered the story of the Skegness walking picture firm Wrates on the site, but this great image of the pier entrance turned up on the web recently. It clearly show the Wrates pier shop on the right hand side of the entrance, with several dozen people milling around waiting to buy their postcard at 1/- a time. Given the late afternoon shadows, it looks like it must be after 4 o’clock, which is the advertised time for when prints would generally be available, the walkie photographers usually having clocked off around noon. It’s probably taken in the late 1940s, as the print prices began to go up after that. There are more photographs of (and by) Wrates and their cameramen and women in the book Go Home On A Postcard. Unforgivably the pier buildings were torn down in the 1970s despite being a listed structure by then.
Here’s another of the attractive Sunny Snaps walking picture cards, sent in by Gill Tucker from the Worthing Local History Society. Although not identified, locals have recognised the columns of St Paul’s Church on Chapel Road in the distance (just above the hat of the gentlemen on the right in fact!) It was found in the West Sussex County Council archives. Dated 1938, the contrast between the very formal dress of the two gentlemen and the casual wear of the three young lads immediately behind them could hardly be greater. It would be the last peace time summer for any of them for several years. Sunny Snaps appear to have largely ceased work once WW2 began except in London, where they carried on for a time and also began taking walkies again after the war for a few years. The story of the firm can be found on the site.
Other walkie cameramen seem to have operated in Worthing before Sunny Snaps, as this example above shows. Taken on a movie camera in the late 1920s, the small print has no identifying text but the Worthing Arcade building can be seen in the background, along with the Harrison’s Corner shop next door, which became Somers Tobacconist a few years later and can be seen in many 1930s Sunny Snaps cards like the one below (from 1936.)
Many people will remember the specialist school photographers, who would visit once a year usually and photograph pupils. I seem to remember it was individual and form photos at junior school (b/w in my day), then the whole year posing outside for a group picture at senior school. Kids would be sent home with a leaflet for parents to choose (and pay for) a print.
I picked this item up as I’m interested in the use of hand colouring on prints prior to the widespread introduction of affordable colour photography. For a time pre-War these ever so slightly hand coloured postcards were one of the options for parents, and I’ve found a number of them from the late Thirties. Here the postcard is additionally set in a paper frame with a calendar attached. As this starts in January, I assume the photos were taken in the winter term to enable parents to get some organised as Christmas gifts for relatives.
As someone pointed out, 1939 turned out to be something of a momentous year and this example must have been stuck in a drawer and never used. The boy in the photo looks like he’d be young enough to not have to join up, one can’t be so sure about his Dad.
Research into Sunny Snaps walkies indicate they worked all along the South Coast in the decades before the War, but then returned to their London base in 1940 working in selected suburbs and returned to this trade when the War ended. This scan sent by Elaine McColl seems to have been one of those later images taken in the capital.
A very everyday walkie, it catches Isabella Norwell, then in her Sixties, seemingly out shopping, except that she wrote on the back of the walkie “this was taken last Sunday”, so perhaps she was off to church. She didn’t date it, but sent it off to her sister Mae in Canada a few days later as a birthday greeting. Elaine says Mae’s birthday was October 10th, which dates the photo to October 3rd.
Isabella lived in Clifford Gardens, Kensal Rise, and given that she is using a walking stick, it seems likely that the photographer was working in the local area, but I have not been able to match it to anywhere on the main street. The sun is quite low, indicating early morning, and it’s not the sharpest of photographs, which hinders detective work!
The scan does not show the card date too clearly but it looks like 1949, if so it’s a very late example. My thanks to Elaine for sharing this and if anyone chances on this and recognises the area, do get in touch.
More London Sunny Snaps on the site.
New walking picture firms keep coming to light, and I have put together some details about Boyd’s, who operated in Hastings and Eastbourne, taking walkies, beach photos and other street portraits. This couple were snapped on the pier earlier in the day, then in a hired deckchair later on. It is a much travelled print too, and we do like the gent’s somewhat eccentric beach outfit. See them and read more about Boyd’s on the site.
It’s those Trafalgar Square pigeons again, this time entertaining a lady from the RAF (judging from the cap badge) sometime in the Fifties. I’m picking these images up when I find them as they look great en masse. That could well be one of the square’s photographers on the right, he looks as if he is working rather than just being a tourist with a camera.
There’s another shot from the same location on the blog.