Carte de visite of the week #8 The Scott Monument in 1869

After spending the last few days in Scotland it would be churlish of me not to feature a Scottish cdv in this week’s post, so I’ve chosen one that depicts that most iconic edifice of the capital city – the Scott Monument, completed in August 1844.

The monument has been photographed from the north side of Princes Street, looking to the SW with the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy in the background, and beyond that, the hazy silhouette of the Mound and Edinburgh Castle.

The photographer was Archibald Burns (1831-80), who began taking pictures as an amateur in the 1850s before turning professional. He joined the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1858, but is first listed in the trade directories as a professional photographer in 1867.  The back of the card gives the date as August 1869, when his studio was still based at 22 Calton Stairs, a terrace building on Calton Hill. In 1871 he moved further up the hill into Rock House, the former studio of the great pioneering partnership of Hill and Adamson. Hill moved out of Rock House in 1869, the year before his death, and for a short period it was occupied by the Annan brothers, Thomas (father of James Craig Annan) and John. It must be remembered that at this time many photographers preferred to buy an existing photographic business – complete with a well-equipped studio and a ready-made customer base – rather than start their own one from scratch. Studios were therefore occupied by a series of photographers in succession, often over many decades.


The reverse of the card

Most of the cartes-des-visites I’ve featured so far have been portraits, and landscapes were far less usual as subjects. Burns was a prolific photographer of Edinburgh scenes, a large number of which were sold in the cdv format.  In 1868 fifteen of his photographs were published Picturesque Bits of Old Edinburgh, including albumen prints of Cardinal Beaton’s house in the Cowgate and John Knox’s House in the Royal Mile. After moving to Rock House, he was commissioned by the city’s Improvement Trust to photograph the ‘closes’ between the Cowgate and University’s Old Quadrangle (what is now Chambers Street), which were scheduled for demolition.  It was an area of overcrowding and poor sanitation, described in John Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Scotland (1868) as ‘one of the poorest and filthiest lanes in the United Kingdom.’ Burns photographed the tenement closes in February 1871, just after they had been cleared of their inhabitants. This was a very different aspect of Edinburgh life compared to that symbolised by the carte-de-visite above.


Detail from the above, showing the photographer’s emblem

The Boy in the Train, Kirkcaldy

Kirkcaldy sea front, April 2015
This month sees me back in Scotland for a few days, and the first leg of the journey has taken me – somewhat unexpectedly – to Kirkcaldy. It’s not a town I know well – in fact, my one abiding mental association with the place is a poem, ‘The Boy in the Train’, which I once recited as a party piece:
Whit wey does the engine say ‘Toot-toot’?
Is it feart to gang in the tunnel?
Whit wey is the furnace no pit oot
When the rain gangs doon the funnel?
What’ll I hae for my tea the nicht?
A herrin’, or maybe a haddie?
Has Gran’ma gotten electric licht?
Is the next stop Kirkcaddy?
There’s a hoodie-craw on yon turnip-raw!
An’ seagulls! – sax or seeven.
I’ll no fa’ oot o’ the windae, Maw,
Its sneckit, as sure as I’m leevin’.
We’re into the tunnel! we’re a’ in the dark!
But dinna be frichtit, Daddy,
We’ll sune be comin’ to Beveridge Park,
And the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!Is yon the mune I see in the sky?
It’s awfu’ wee an’ curly,
See! there’s a coo and a cauf ootbye,
An’ a lassie pu’in’ a hurly!
He’s chackit the tickets and gien them back,
Sae gie me my ain yin, Daddy.
Lift doon the bag frae the luggage rack,
For the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers. . .
I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’,
For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

The author of the poem, Mary Campbell Smith (1869-1938), was the daughter of the Rev. Andrew Edgar, D.D., minister of Mauchline in Ayrshire. She was born on 3 January 1869 and went on to marry George Smith, a teacher at Rugby who was appointed headmaster of Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, in 1890. They used to take their summer holidays in Elie on the Fife Coast, and while travelling there by train one year they had in their carriage a noisy young lady who was continually asking questions: his constant chatter provided the raw material for the poem, written in 1913 and published in the Merchiston school magazine The Total Eclipse. It wasn’t long before it become more widely known, finding its way into anthologies of Scottish verse. The poem is even reproduced on a board at Kirkcaldy railway station. The ‘queer-like smell’, it must be said, no longer hangs over the town like it did in 1913: this was a notorious by-product of Kirkcaldy’s once-thriving linoleum industry, centred upon seven factories that have long since closed their doors.  The impressive facade of William Nairn’s linoleum works on Victoria Road still stands, although the huge building behind was demolished last year. The glory, like the smell, has now departed.

Carte-de-visite of the week #7                                      A Visit to The Cobbler

I’m cheating again this week by posting a cabinet card rather than a cdv. (Although I don’t anticipate any complaints, if anyone wishes to do so, they send their postcards to the usual address…)

The photograph was probably taken in the early 1900s, as Robert Forbes is known to have run his business from 79 George Street from 1903 to 1910. Although he operated as a professional portrait photographer, the picture above was clearly taken outside the studio – presumably in the house of the cobbler, unless the scene is completely staged.

At first glance one might imagine that the photograph is an illustration of the old proverb, ‘The cobbler’s children are always the worst shod’, but a closer look reveals that the girl is holding one of her boots and socks in her hand, and is therefore the owner of the boot that the cobbler is repairing. Regarding the rest of her clothing, she is wearing a white pinafore of the type that was popular for girls from late in the nineteenth century through till the time of the First World War. It was meant to protect her dress from getting grubby, as the cotton was easier to wash.

In the background an advertisement for Wood Milne Heel Pads is visible. This was a British company, founded in 1896, which manufactured rubber goods including shoe heels, golf balls, car and motorcycle tyres, Also suspended from hooks on the wall are notebooks, photographs and cut-out pictures of footwear. It is intriguing to see large stone slabs stacked up in the fireplace. This jumble of miscellaneous workaday objects reinforces the impression that this is an authentic setting, although this does not exclude an element of careful staging.

A clue about this can be found in the National Archives at Kew, which holds three photographs that Forbes originally deposited in the Copyright Office in 1903:

‘”The Widow’s Mite,” taken at the entrance to Culross Parish Church. Old lady with little child dropping in penny in the collection plate and looking up into the presiding elder’s face. Two figures entering church’.

‘”Waiting.” Figure study. Old lady with bowl in hand standing at door.’

‘”The Village Well.” Photograph of old lady drawing water from well.’

The title and descriptions suggest that the photographs were imitating the genre paintings which had been so much in vogue during the Victorian era. These pictures depicted everyday domestic scenes in a realistic manner, but were often coloured with a touch of sentimentality. They were not allegorical, but sometimes the artist wished to illustrate certain moral themes or quaint character types.

The photographer had a personal link to the setting of The Widow’s Mite for his parents, Thomas and Catherine Forbes, lived in Culross. Robert was born in Edinburgh in 1879, and later married Florence Ethel Pursey; they had eight children (three sons and five daughters.) At the outbreak of the WWI he joined the Highland Light Infantry and served with them until the end of the war. The family then moved to Street in Somerset, where their youngest child was born, and where Forbes continued to work as a photographer.

The Great Katharine Hepburn blogathon returns!

For the second year running I’m delighted to be taking part in theAnnual Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, which runs on the weekend of Katharine’s birthday (she was born on 12 May 1907.)

Last year I wrote about her performance in Mary of Scotland (John Ford, 1936), which you can still read here: ‘Pure Hepburn, and nothing else.’ This year I’m going to be writing about her venture into ‘film noir’ in the film Undercurrent (Vincente Minnelli, 1946.) There’s already a fantastic range of bloggers who are lined up to post blogs on other films and aspects of Katharine Hepburn’s life. Watch this space!

Carte-de-visite of the week #6 John Henry Newman

This week’s cdv was acquired fairly recently for about 50 pence, and I suspect it would have cost much more had the seller known the identity of the sitter. John Henry Newman (1801-90) was one of the most influential religious thinkers and writers of the 19th century, and the portrait reflects his reputation for scholarship.

Newman’s writings and leadership of the ‘Oxford Movement’ in the 1830s and 1840s transformed the Church of England, but he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, was ordained a priest and joined the the Congregation of the Oratory. He was leader of the Oratorian community in Birmingham, where this photograph was taken.

Robert White Thrupp (1821-1907) had a studio at 66 New Street from 1867 to 1887, and this portrait was probably taken there in the late 1860s. Earlier in his career he had been a financial adviser to Windsor & Newton, and ran a printselling business at 66 New Street in partnership with Samuel W Hill. In 1862 they added a photographic studio to the premises and went into business with Napoleon Sarony. Hill left in 1863 and after Sarony returned to America in 1866 Thrupp bought his negatives and began running the business under his own name. It is interesting to see Thrupp offering the option for portraits to be ‘enlarged up to life size and painted in Oil or Water colors.’ Miniature portrait painters suffered the most from the rise of professional photography, and many followed the adage ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, swapping their easels for cameras. The tangled relationship between art and photography is a fascinating field of study, and one its many paradoxes is the idea of people choosing to be photographed rather than painted, only to pay to have the photograph turned back into a painting.

A few well known paintings of Newman are known to have been worked up from photographs, and the famous chalk portrait by Lady Jane Coleridge, (below) was based on a photography by Thrupp taken around the same time as my cdv:


J H Newman in 1874, by Jane (née Fortescue Seymour), Lady Coleridge. Black chalk with black & white ink

Newman was photographed several times in his life, and perhaps a chronological list of these might be of interest:


1861 – Heath & Beau

At the end of November 1861 Newman went up to London for a few days. He stayed at 28 Portland Place, the house of his friend Henry Bowden, and in his diary for 27 November he noted ‘went to photographer.’ He recorded in his diary on 4 December 1861 that he ‘went two or three days to Photographer’ and In a letter to Ambrose St John written from Portland Place the same day, he revealed that the sessions had not been straightforward:

‘As to the Photographs, they came (in proof) last night, and are not quite satisfactory – The man wishes to try again – and I am going to him in an hour’s time – The want of light is the difficulty at this time of year.
3 pm. I have been to the man – he has taken four more photographs – but the light died away and he is not satisfied – he is going to print off some copies – but I am to go to him again, for another attempt. He charges nothing more – but he wants me to let him publish, which I have not granted.’

– Letters & Diaries XX, p.74.

Henry Charles Heath (1824-98) and Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau (1828-1910) ran a studio together at 283 Regent Street, Westminster, between 1861 and the dissolution of their business partnership in June 1863. It was therefore only a few minutes walk from Portland Place – and the repeated visits would not have been too inconvenient.


July 1863 – by Stanislas Bureau

Newman visited Paris with his friend William Neville between 21 and 24 July, during which time he called in at Monsieur Bureau’s studio at 44 Palais Royal, Rue Montpensier and had this portrait taken. The Frenchman had started his business in Paris in 1853 and this vignetted style of portraiture is typical of his work. He posted the photographs to Newman, and they were delivered to the Birmingham Oratory on 15 August 1863.

Letters & Diaries, XX p.505


July 1864 – by Mclean and Haes

The following summer saw Newman in London for a few days, staying at the Paddington Hotel from the 18th to the 25th of July. On the morning of Thursday 21 July he wrote in his diary:

‘Breaktasted with Monsell; with him and Ambrose to MacLean for Photographs, and the Houses of Parliament, dined with Ambrose at Victoria Station – went to British Institution [for Promoting the Fine Arts] Pictures.’

– Letters & Diaries XXI, pp.159-60.

Thomas Miller McLean (born 1832) and Frank Haes (1833-1916) ran a photographic studio together at 26 Haymarket until their business partnership was dissolved in September 1865.


Another RW Thrupp portrait from the late 1860s


HJ Whitlock

Joseph Whitlock (1806-57) was the first professional photographer to establish a permanent studio in Birmingham; after obtaining a daguerreotype license from Richard Beard, he opened a studio at 120 New Street in January 1843. His son Henry Joseph Whitlock (1835-1918) began working for him in 1852 but moved to Worcester in 1855 to set up his own business. His father’s studio moved to 110 New Street and was looked after by his widow until her death in 1862, at which point Henry Joseph moved back to Birmingham and opened his own studio at 11 New Street. He ran a very successful business here for the next few decades, assisted by family members – his sons, brother and nephews were all photographers. Newman had his portrait taken here several times.


Another HJ Whitlock, this time showing Newman wearing spectacles


Newman was made a cardinal in Rome on 12 May 1879


1879 – Fratelli D’Alessandri
This official photograph to commemorate Newman’s elevation to the cardinalate was taken at Rome’s most prestigious studio, which was run by two brothers: Don Antonio (1818-93), a Catholic priest, and Francesco (1824-89) D’Alessandri, who together opened the first professional photographic premises in Rome in about 1858. They had a particular close link to the Vatican and photographed all the popes of their era, including Leo XIII who gave Newman his cardinal’s hat.


1880 – HJ Whitlock. Newman here wearing his ‘galero’ or cardinal’s hat, received the previous year


Another Thrupp portrait, probably early 1880s – Newman has episcopal dress on. The biretta would have been scarlet.


Comparing the back of Thrupp’s 1880s cdv to my one from 15 years earlier, it can be seen that he has introduced colour and more ornate decoration


1885 – by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-96)
Some books give the name of this photographer as Louis Barraud, although most seem to refer to him as Herbert Rose. It was published in 1888 in an early issue of his massive series, Men and Women of the Day: a picture gallery of contemporary portraiture, which was published in 78 monthly parts between January 1888 and June 1894 and eventually filled seven volumes. Barraud’s premises were at 263 Oxford Street although it is possible that he came to Birmingham to photograph Newman, who was now increasingly frail.


1889 – by Fr. Anthony Pollen Cong. Orat. (1860-1940)
This final portrait was not taken by a professional photographer, but by one of Newman’s fellow Oratorians, Father Anthony Pollen, who entered the Oratory in 1883, and was ordained priest in December 1889. He was the third son of John Hungerford Pollen (1820-1902) and brother of Jesuit scholar, Fr. John Hungerford Pollen SJ (1859-1925.) The latter was also a photographer, and both priests feature in my Ph.D research.