This photo shows a group of five young men who, although they do have the regulation expressions, are arranged in a much more relaxed manner than is usual. One of the men, leaning over a "wall" with what appears to be a clay pipe in his hand, has his hat set at a slightly rakish angle. Another - perhaps the youngest of the gang - is seated on the floor and has his legs half crossed. They even have a dog with them, although they must have had a job keeping it still for long enough to show in the photo.
The clue to the activity in which they are about to engage, or have just engaged in, is not in the photo itself or an inscription - as the carte de visite is sadly lacking in any identification of the subjects - but in the details of the photographer and his studio. The text and design on the reverse of the card mount indicates it was taken by William Godber, an "artist and photographer of views, groups & mansions ... on moderate terms," at The Rink Studio, Matlock Bath.
The Skating Rink in Matlock Bath appears to have operated for only a few years in the late 1880s and early 1890s, although there is a suggestion from an entry in the London Gazette that it had been in existence prior to 1877. Kelly's 1887 trade directory shows F.E. Leggoe as proprietor, while the 1891 edition of the same publication indicates that William B. Hunt had taken it over. I have not been able to discover anything more about the Matlock Skating Rink, but by April 1891, Godber had moved to Litchurch near Derby, so presumably this photograph was taken before then.
I have not yet come across any other photographs by William Godber, but census records indicate that he was working in this field as early as 1881 (in Hammersmith, London) and as late as 1901 (Carlton, Nottinghamshire).
The carte de visite shown below was included in the same batch, and appears to show a close up portrait of the same young man who is standing at left in the group portrait. He appears to be wearing a different jacket and shirt collar, so it was probably taken on a separate occasion.