Winter Warmers

As the chill winds of winter begin to blow, I’ve looked back to see what the Victorians wore to keep themselves warm. The first image shows a small child enveloped in her fur-trimmed coat, with matching cape and what maybe a knitted hat. Her ensemble is completed by a pair of tiny, though sturdy, boots.

In photographs 2 and 3 above, capes are again featured, this time in some kind of fur. The woman standing in the second image sports a long, tight-fitting coat. The hats of all three women are adorned with either flowers or some other ornament. These costumes from the 1880s were probably worn in autumn or spring as they would offer very slight protection against wind, rain or snow.

The older women in images 5 and 6 seem pretty well prepared for anything that nature might throw at them. Not only do they have long outer garments, fabric gloves also feature in their outfits. Added to this, while one lady relies on a stylish umbrella to keep her dry, the other, standing by a desk, has invested in an early type of mackintosh. I do wonder though how their hats stood up to inclement conditions.

The same can be asked of the woman in image 4, probably from the 1870s. She wears a matching gown and jacket, with leather gloves covering her hands. Added to these garments is a rather large fur muff, where her hands could be inserted should the gloves prove insufficient for her needs. I get the impression that this lady usually avoided bad weather by travelling everywhere by coach.

I struggled to find any chaps in all-weather gear but the three examples show that they adjusted their usual dress of trousers, waistcoat and jacket by the addition of a more substantial overcoat. The young man relies on his bowler hat to keep his head warm with a smart overcoat  for the rest of his person. The boy in image 9 goes one step further in the quest for sartorial warmth. His collar and cuffs are trimmed with what appears to be astrakhan; evidently he was the son of an affluent Victorian family and dressed very much in the same style as his elders.

So, no anoraks or hoodies for our Victorian ancestors but they did look much smarter in those. AT least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

A Double Take

As photography took centre stage in the 19th century dubious practices began to creep in. Such was the competition for customers, people were often accosted in the street, at fairs and race meetings by snappers hungry for sitters. Some photographers went further. They promised to summon up photographs of dear departed family members and friends. A third way in which photography was misused was by out and out plagiarism.


As the century wore on it became fashionable to collect images of the good, the great and the famous. Of course, photographers were more than willing to sell such delights to paying customers, especially if everyday business was a bit slow. However, less scrupulous photographers also got in on the act and pirated copies of popular celebrities began to appear. Only recently I found possible evidence of this practice when sorting through my own collection.

The image above was taken by Camille Silvy at his Bayswater studio, where he specialised in photographing members of the upper echelons of society. Although the identity of the sitter is not known, she was evidently a lady of high status, as her dress and demeanour show. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found a copy of this same photograph, this time with the name of a Swiss photographer, M. Vollenweider of Bern, on the reverse.

It was apparent that the image on the Swiss carte de visite was a copy of Silvy’s original, as the same backdrop appears in many other portraits from his studio. Added to this is the fact that the Swiss copy has less definition and a rather faded sepia tone. The Silvy photo is much crisper, allowing details such as the texture of the lace shawl to be seen in greater detail. However, there is one aspect of the Silvy image that puzzles me. It is evidently a cropped version of the photograph, as the Swiss copy shows more of the floor and slightly more of the window frame above the lady’s head.


It is possible that Silvy himself sent out his popular portraits to other photographers in order to boost his income at a time when he was experiencing financial and personal difficulties. In fact, when this image was made (in the mid-1860s) he was perhaps already thinking of returning to France, the country of his birth. By the late 1860s he  crossed the Channel for the last time, leaving behind  a lasting legacy of some sixteen or seventeen thousand photographic plates. These are now housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London and some of Silvy’s photographic portraits can be seen online. Sadly, though, not the one of the lady near the window, whose image made its way to Bern in Switzerland.





And the Parrot came too

When you think of Victorian family portraits, animals aren’t the first thing that spring to mind. Usually a group would consist of  husband and wife or parents with their brood of children. Granny and Grandpa, as well as uncles aunts and companions, might have got a look in too. However in some cases, the family pet was included in the portrait.


In my own collection it is dogs that predominate as photographic ‘extras’ as seen in this charming portrait of a small girl, taken in York by Matthew Cuthbert. The studio has been fitted out to suggest a window opening onto a garden and who has crept in but the faithful family dog. The animal, who seems to be a collie dog, looks rather bored with the photography in process. It is possible that he was a studio prop as well, brought for added interest as the need arose.


Another photograph, taken in St Petersburg by a photographer whose name I cannot decipher, leaves the viewer in no doubt that the dog in the scene belongs to the woman by its side. A slender linked chain connects the two and what could be a name tag sits at the dog’s collar. In this image it is the animal rather than the woman who seems to be the focus of the scene. He or she stares out at the camera as if being captured for posterity was an everyday occurrence. This photo gives the impression that dog and mistress were constant companions but the answer to that we shall never know.


This third photograph is evidence that it wasn’t only dogs that were treated as part of the family. Here, in a photograph by Sarony of Scarborough, a young woman plays with a parrot atop its cage, while she kneels on a flowery footstool at its side. Apparently, parrots and other birds were popular pets in the Victorian era. In a Victorian diary I have read of an instance where, when the parrot passed on, it was suggested that it should be stuffed before being reinstated in its cage. It is to be hoped that the one in the photograph fared better.

September’s image


This photo, of Mrs Patterson and Janet, was taken around the mid-1860s by J. Berra of Manchester. The gowns of the two women point towards middle class respectability, being stylishly restrained but evidently of fine quality. The dress of the younger woman, with its shaped bodice and flounced sleeves, characterises the period, as does the neat hairstyle of the wearer. The dress of Mrs Patterson is slightly less modish than that of her companion (or daughter).

So, who were Mrs Patterson and Janet? An entry in the 1861 census for Stretford, Manchester, might provide the answer  for here we find Andrew Patterson, headmaster of the Manchester Deaf & Dumb school. Also included in the entry are his wife Martha, son Colville and daughter Janet aged 14 when this census was taken. The census entry also lists the staff that worked at the school, being a matron and six assistants.

If Mrs Martha Patterson and Janet of the 1861 census are the same people that appear in the photograph, then the question of their identity is solved. Janet looks to be in her mid to late teens, which would date the photo to the mid 1860s, as does the apparel of the two subjects. The rest of Janet’s story is as yet unknown but her father, Andrew, died in 1883, aged about 79. The Manchester Times newspaper of July 21st 1883 carried an obituary of Andrew’s passing and probate records show that he left the tidy sum of £4080:17s:7d to his heirs. If you look closely on the trade card of Mr Berra, who took the photograph, you will see the faint inscription of the words ‘Mrs Patterson & Janet’.


August’s image – an unusual character


This image, taken at the studio of Jno. Davis & Sons, Barrow in Furness, is one of the more unusual offerings from my collection. Family portraits are ten a penny, as are studies of fashionable men and women. This photograph belongs to an entirely different genre, the fascination of the Victorians with the grotesque side of society.

It is difficult to make out whether the sitter is male or female, in their everyday dress or dressed up for some theatrical occasion. What is noticeable is the girth of the subject, with the low cut neckline of the ‘dress’ accentuating the width of their  shoulders. The pillbox cap is of a type that men would wear, while the striped stockings reflect a more feminine aspect. Attempts have been made to discover who this person might be but so far no answer has been found.


Special Occasions

Looking through the c-d-v photographs in my collection, it seems that many were taken to mark special occasions. A recent clutch of images, taken in 19th century Germany, gave several examples of this trend.


This first image shows a chubby baby, resplendent in frilled bonnet and a long white gown, decorated with a large bow. It seems clear that this was taken on the day of the child’s baptism, when the infant was received into the church and set upon their life’s path. On the reverse of the photograph are the details of the photographer, William Roth Vorm of Berlin. The date was 29th March 1914 and Europe was about to be plunged into war.



Moving to another special occasion, we see a young boy, bearing a candle adorned with a pale bow and standing before an altar. In his left he grasps his cap and it is possible that this photograph was taken, by Herr Glaser of Straubing, to mark the occasion of his confirmation.


Another occasion, often marked in Britain, is the coming of age of the sitter. Here are two examples from 1884, one by Mr Treble of Norwich, the other by Walter Clayton of Leicester. Backed up by evidence from the census returns, they show that Florence Rinder and George Twigger both reached the age of twenty one in that year. Florence went on to become a registered nurse while George made his living as a commercial clerk.


Moving further along life’s road we see a young couple on the threshold of marriage in an image captured by Paul Heinelt of Zittau. In one hand the bride holds her bouquet while her other is slipped into the arm of her new husband. Another photograph stands on the little table at their side, displaying an unknown woman. She clearly had significance for one of the couple, perhaps a loved relative who through death or disease was unable to attend their happy day.


These images are just ghosts of people who lived and loved, laughed and cried, celebrated and mourned. What they share is a common humanity, stretching out to us across the years.


Fashion Parade

One aspect of collecting carte de visite photographs is the ability it gives us to look back and see what our forebears were wearing during the second half of the 19th century.

Sitting for her portrtait
An image from around 1860

It has to be said that male attire altered somewhat less over the years than did that of the ladies. When studio photography took off during the 1850s, women were swathed in yards of fabric shaped by the bell-shaped undergarment known as the crinoline, as seen above. This confection of hoops, wires and padding gave the characteristic sweeping outline so desired by ladies of fashion. Those further down the social scale had to make do as best they could.


The crinoline in various forms was the defining fashion statement of the next few decades. However, gradually change came and clothing for women became more tailored. But excess was still there in the form of the bustle, exhibited in typical style, above. Yards of material were caught up in sculpted flounces to the rear of the wearer, showing off the tiny waists of the wearers, held in by tight-fitting corsets.

By the 1890s, the silhouette of high fashion had become more refined and separates were introduced in the form of blouse and skirt. At the same time hats went to new heights, covering themselves with bows, flowers, feathers and occasionally artificial birds. Sports wear put in an appearance for games of tennis, sea bathing, tennis and archery as women finally and literally began to break the bonds that bound them. Knickerbockers for lady cyclists were perhaps the most innovative fashion, at last revealing that women had legs. Everyday garments, however, still kept the female form under wraps.


Children too felt the pull of fashion being mostly dressed as miniature versions of their parents. The girl in the photo above, taken by Hector of Crediton in the 1880s, exibits all the frills and furbelows in her dress that appeared in adult fashions of the time. Meanwhile the menfolk were still sticking to the usual format of shirt, tie, jacket and trousers, or uniforms of one kind or another. Captain Hoseason, below, photographed in Jersey, Channel Isles, is dressed ready for the field but gentlemen were usually photographed in their everyday clothing, as can be seen in the photo of Mr Roddick and his family

Edward and anes Rodick and children

Captain Hoseason

To see more examples of Victorian womens fashions go to

Death by Camera

With the rising popularity of photographic portraits for all, photographers found ever more innovative ideas to get customers though the doors. It became fashionable, if that’s the word, to photograph those who were either very close to death or had actually passed over. In some quarters it was even thought that the camera could capture the precise moment when the soul left the body, although verifiable evidence for this is hard to find. The photograph below seems to show one poor soul who was either about to expire or  had already done so.


One photographer went even further along this route. In the 1870s, the inventive Monsieur Buguet of Paris was claiming to call back the dead to be photographed and was making a mint from this trade in returned souls. With two accomplices, Firman, an American, and Leymarie, a fellow Frenchman, he colluded in producing hazy spirit photographs of the dear departed for the not inconsiderable sum of two to four thousand francs. Not everyone was happy with the results. Having paid thousands of francs for a portrait many found that, as often as not, the resulting photograph bore very little resemblance to their lost loved ones.

This was not surprising. Buguet and Co had some hundreds of photographs of all ages and both sexes which they utilised to create the spirit photos. Their receptionist was trained to ask discreetly about ‘some indication of the physiognomy’ of the dear  departed when potential customers came to enquire about obtaining an image. Sifting through his archive of snaps, Buguet could often come up with a near match as far as the face of the subject was concerned. An image would be constructed with one of these ‘heads’ surrounded by swathes of gauzy fabric, intended to give the required spirit-like appearance. However, by June 1875, the game was almost up for the fraudsters.

Customers began to complain that the spirit images, for which they were asked to pay so dearly, were inconsistent with their memories of loved ones. Eventually, the case came to court. Though Buguet still had his supporters, including a Russian marquis, the Comte de Bullet and two French colonels, things  went badly for him. The court found the trio guilty of fraud. Buguet and Leymarie were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, while Firman escaped with a lighter sentence of six months incarceration. The scandal surrounding the spirit photographs kept readers of the world’s newspapers on the edge of their seats for weeks. The story was repeated over and over in every paper worth its salt. Eventually the furore died down and Monsieur Buguet slipped quietly into to history. Until the next time!

The Pencil of Light!

Light is the very essence of photography and its capture, as an image, taxed the minds of many in the early years of the 19th century. By the late 1840s  after many experiments with chemically coated surfaces, developers and fixatives etc the prize was in sight. Images previously only captured by artists began to appear on glass plates as Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes. Contact copies on paper, coated with albumen, soon followed and photography  as we know it had finally arrived. Before long, the processes by which the “Pencil of Light” created permanent images became a fruitful means of earning a living. Photographic studios appeared, first in London prior to spreading inexorably  the length and breadth of the British Isles and indeed the world.

Kattern's of NorthamptonStudios and ateliers sprang up everywhere positioned high up in buildings where natural light could flood in through large windows. This  arrangement is illustrated in the trade card of Mr  J.Kattern of Northampton, showing his studio with its many windows above with his premises down at street level. In the case of Vandyke and Brown of Liverpool, potential clients had to climb four flights of stairs to reach the light-filled studio. Only then could their images be captured for posterity .

Images of the sun were often included in the design of earlier photographer’s trade cards, as for several decades daylight was the only reliable source of light. The trade card of J. W. Culverhouse  illustrates this dependence, along with a nod to his artistic and photographic abilities (see below).

From the mid-19th century sunlight had a rival as electricity gradually lit up the Victorian world. The  photographic fraternity was not slow to capitalise on this innovation, as can be seen in the trade cards below. Albert Day of Hackney advertised the use of both natural and artificial light while Mr Percival of London seemed to abandon sunlight altogether. At the Electric Light Studios on the Edgware Road in London, Percival advertised electric light as this “successful speciality”.

As with all things, photography had to keep abreast of the times. By the end of Victoria’s reign, the photography business faced more competition as cameras became available to an ever wider public market. By 1900 the day of the carte de visite photograph, drawn with the pencil of light, was almost over. However, we still retain a remarkable archive by which to view the work of 19th century photographers to this day.


Scottish visitors

Well, here we are. 2017 has arrived and the world waits to see how this year will pan out.

Here on the blog viewers are pouring in to visit the wide assortment of areas on the site. English photographers are the main area of interest, as might be expected. However, there is one other trend that intrigues me and that is the interest in the Scottish photographer listings.

Almost without fail, every day, someone, somewhere in the world pops in to explore the Scottish site. The 19th century saw worldwide migration from the Scottish homelands,  so maybe  our visitors are looking for information on photographic ancestors or hoping to find actual images of their forefathers?

Scotland readily embraced photography from its earliest days and quickly set up societies to foster the interest and advancement of the art. Edinburgh was understandably at the forefront but even smaller towns, such as Wick, way up in the northeast, soon took to capturing the images of their inhabitants, as well as  local views.

As Burns Night (25th January) approaches and Scots all over the world celebrate the birth of Robert Burns, their national poet, we send greetings to all those who have already visited us and hope to see many more in the months to come. Below are two photographs of Scottish views, one of the fountain in West End Park Glasgow, by G W Wilson of Aberdeen. The other shows Holyrood Palace with the heights of Arthur’s Seat in the background, taken by Archibald Burns, Edinburgh.



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