Thursday, 16 August 2007

An early family portrait from Alfreton

This family portrait is an early landsape format example of the genre, probably taken in the early 1870s. The image is of a carte de visite, unfortunately not inscribed with the name of the photographer, was sent to me by Alan Craxford.

Back Row (left to right, standing): Joseph (aged 17-18) and Thomas (aged 15-16); Middle Row: Mary (standing, aged 8-9), John (standing, aged 6-7), Ann Naylor (seated, aged 37-38), Arthur (seated on his mother's lap, aged 1), John Naylor (seated, aged 38-39) and Alfred (standing, aged 5-6); Front Row: Edwin (seated on the ground) and Maurice (standing between his father's legs, aged 2)

The rudimentary setting of this photograph, with a plain backdrop, and little attention paid to the usual pretense of an artificial studio, suggests that it was almost certainly taken by a travelling photographer. Perhaps he was associated with a travelling show, but he may just as easily have been an itinerant working on his own. Such photographers became common in the 1870s and 1880s, and often serviced the smaller towns and villages in the rural English countryside which didn't have large enough populations to support a resident studio. Several aspects of the photo suggest that it may have been a "practice" shot, or at least hurried, as their has been no attempt to hide the fake window seen on a stand at the right of the image. One of the advantages of the outdoor shot, however, was that the enhanced lighting reduced the need for lengthy exposure times, and made it somewhat easier to keep young children still for the duration of the shot.

Alfreton was not well served by permanent photographic studios until the 1880s, when Robert Taylor opened for business in nearby Codnor Park. George Edgar worked briefly in the town in 1859 and 1860 as a travelling photographer, but no data is available to show who catered for the portrait photo market in Alfreton in the mid-1870s, when this picture was taken.

I found it useful to establish an outline of the family of Alan's ancestor John Naylor to identify some or all of the children by their respective ages, and therefore confirm my estimate of the age of the photograph. From the 1871, 1881 and 1891 Census records, I managed to ascertain the following:
John NAYLOR b. c.1835 Somercotes/Alfreton DBY m: Ann b. c.1836 South Normanton DBY
- Joseph NAYLOR b. c.1855 South Normanton DBY
- Thomas NAYLOR b. c.1857 South Normanton DBY
- Edwin NAYLOR b. c.1863 South Normanton DBY
- Mary NAYLOR b. c.1865 Alfreton DBY
- John Henry NAYLOR b. c.1867 Alfreton DBY
- Alfred NAYLOR b. c.1868 Alfreton DBY
- Maurice NAYLOR b. c.1871 Alfreton DBY
- Arthur NAYLOR b. c.1872 Alfreton DBY
- Miriam NAYLOR b. c.1879 Alfreton DBY
Although the hairstyle of Ann Naylor is reminiscent of the mid- to late 1860s, her clothes suggest a date closer to the mid-1870s. It's far more difficult to date the clothing of men and children with much degree of accuracy, but in general the men and older boys are dressed for this period as well. It's my estimate, therefore, that this photo was taken some time around 1872-1874. This has led to my tentative identifications of the people in the family photo above, together with their approximate ages.

(Standing) Thomas, Joseph, John Henry, Arthur, Edwin, Maurice, Alfred
(Seated) Miriam & Mary

Alan also sent me the group photograph shown above:

The family of John and Ann Naylor does appear to have been a very tightly knit unit (living in neighbouring houses through the censuses of 1881 and 1891) but after John's death the branches seem to have drifted apart. Miriam Naylor was my maternal grandmother and died five days after my mother was born in May 1916. Mum was raised by Miriam's sister, Mary and husband who by that time had two adult sons. We heard talk of Mum's older uncles. Our only link was a (I think quite remarkable) group photograph of the seven brothers and two sisters drawn together sometime around 1900. I do not know where this was taken or what the occasion was. They appear to be "dressed up" with button holes but their expressions are generally quite sombre!
I think the family resemblances among the brothers is remarkable!

Many thanks to Alan, whose maternal grandmother Miriam's album has provided a wealth of interesting material for his family history research, and some nice pictures for me to feature here.

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