Wednesday, 15 August 2007

A Derbyshire photographer working afield

Robin Bishop sent me this copy of a rather nice cabinet card format photograph of a class of Victorian schoolgirls. Robin's grandmother Emilie Sewell (1889-), then about eight years old, is seated in the front row, at second from the right; she marked herself with an X on the lower margin of the mount, and inscribed the reverse with, "High Street, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England." Also written on the back is "Cunningham School Class."

She was born at Norwich in 1889, daughter of Edward Sewell and Emily Martin, but moved to Lowestoft when young, and emigrated to New Zealand with her widowed father in the early 1900s.

The photographer George Henry Everard Bower was born in 1869 in Syderstone, Norfolk, son of an Anglican minister. The 1891 Census shows him living with his parents and three sisters in Heigham, near Norwich, and he was then a "Student of Music." Between then and February 1893, when his father died, the whole family moved to the village of Ockbrook, east of Derby. They were living in Ockbrook until at least 1895, when one of George's sisters died. By late 1898, however, when the Kelly's Directory for 1899 was compiled, they had moved to 200 Osmaston Road in Derby. George's mother died in 1899; George and his three remaining sisters, all still unmarried, were living at the same address in April 1901.

I have not found any mention of Bower working as a photographer in any of the abovementioned references, and I suspect that it was a temporary occupation of fairly short-lived duration, perhaps to bring in a little more income while he was establishing his reputation as a music teacher. The fact that the address "200 Osmaston Road" is shown on the photograph suggests that it is unlikely to have been taken prior to 1895. Unfortunately, I don't yet know precisely when he left that address.

The photograph has a very low negative number (347) marked in pen on the front of the mount, suggesting that Bower was a relative newomer to the field. He was pretty competent, however, as the group portrait is a particularly good one, well posed, sharp, and with a decent tonal range and plenty of contrast. All that it is missing is a notice board with the school name and class number, a common accessory used in school portraits of the period.

It is particularly interesting that the photograph appears to have been taken at a school in Lowestoft, because of George Bower's Norfolk connection. Perhaps he returned to the Norfolk coast at some stage to ply his trade. There were many well established photographic studios in Derby at this time, and I think newcomers would have had a tough time trying to break into the field there. From my research into Derbyshire studios, I have found many photographers who were only in business for short periods in the mid- to late 1890s. Quite a few would either have changed professions or moved on to try other areas, and I suspect this may have been the case with Bower too.

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