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.
The walking picture firm of Wrates are covered on the site, but this seems to be quite an early hand numbered example of their work as the back print does not mention their Harrington Road studio or the Pier kiosk. It turned up recently, I would think it dates from the 1920s and shows two elderly but imposing ladies pottering past the entrance to the Tower Gardens on The Grand Parade in Skegness one morning. They are wearing fashions from an earlier to the photographer era, which perhaps make it look even older than it is. Despite their seeming indifference they must have taken a ticket a few seconds later and gone back to the kiosk in the afternoon to buy the print!
From one of the three Blackpool piers (my money is on the South Pier), another walkie from Blackpool company Walkie Snaps. This is a pre-War example, identified by the film sprockets showing on the right hand side, their layout at the time. The print is 3″ by 4″ approx and would have been a strip of three. The two girls are enjoying an early afternoon stroll judging from the shadows, other holiday-makers are taking a post-lunch rest in the shelter on the left!
There is some history about Walkie Snaps on the site (although for such a prolific walkie firm not much is yet known) and more examples of their photos in the book Go Home On A Postcard.
Although North Bay Snaps (whose known history we covered on the site a while ago) were probably Scarborough’s premier Walking Picture firm for a time before WW2 it’s hard to know what else the firm supplied. I assume there was a kiosk to collect and pay for walkies, but also probably a main shop and studio.
Peter Wollinski in Australia has sent me this North Bay Snaps postcard print which poses a few questions. The image is very low quality and looks like it was taken in an Autobooth. Peter says the younger woman on the right is his late Mother, the other lady is not known: “I have no idea when the photo was actually taken, but from the information on your site must have been before 1941 and probably before the war began. My mother was Austrian and worked in London from 1936 to 1943 before being interned on the Isle of Man and then repatriated back to Austria in 1944.”
Most autobooth photographs are quite small, passport size, but the machines often did (and still do) have an option for larger sizes. But they would do prints on special paper rolls, not postcards and as this is on a North Bay printed postcard back (and clearly cut by hand), it rather suggests they printed it in the normal way. Maybe the two women had a small photo and just wanted a copy doing, which would account for the out of focus look, yet the frame edge being perfectly sharp.
If anyone does know any more, let us know.
John Lawson sent me this example of a Benson’s walkie recently, which we suggest dates from around 1962. The walkie shows John’s Great Grandparents William and Jane Wandless and was taken on Sandside next to the harbour in Scarborough, Benson’s usual beat. There are more details of Benson’s Scarborough walking pictures business on the site and the firm also operated in Bridlington. Looking again at the examples I have, it is possible that Benson numbered their cards continuously over the years, as they are numbered from 7000 or so up to 50000+. It would be a great way to help date them if so and also shows us that the firm took over 50,000 photographs during their tenure.
Paul Godfrey, who has helped on this site and shares our interest in seaside photography, is helping with the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival, and presenting an illustrated talk on the local photographers who specialised in those comic cut-out boards where you put your head through and were photographed. It’s on at St Georges Theatre in the town on June 11th at 5.30. More details at the festival site www.greatyarmouthartsfestival.co.uk As well as this there will be cut-outs throughout the town and on the pier. Sounds great fun!