Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Derby Local Studies Library's Portrait Collection

Apologies for the hiatus in Photo-Sleuth postings, which has been partly due to a long awaited family holiday to England. During this trip, I managed to fit in a visit to the Derby Local Studies Library (LSL), just off Irongate.

A few years ago, not long after I started compiling the Index to Derbyshire Photographers & Studios as an online resource for local and family historians, I received an email from noted Derbyshire historian, and ex-chief archivist at the Derby Local Studies Library, Maxwell Craven. He told me of the existence of a large collection of old portrait photographs held by the library, guessing that it would be of great interest to me in my studies of early Derby portrait studios. This collection is currently being digitised by the library, and will be made available online on the Picture The Past web site. However while at the library recently, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to look through several hundred portrait photos.

The visit was kindly set up for me by Jane James, who is the Derby LSL's part-time family history researcher, and with whom I had communicated previously on other matters. She confirmed the existence of the portrait collection, and spoke with the Senior Librarian Trish Kenny about the nature of my web site. I was informed that the Derby LSL wishes to encourage such projects, creating resources for the use of the general public, and to this end would permit me to scan a selection of the photographs for reproduction on the web site. Trish and the other two library staff members, Mark Bowyer and Fiona Nevin, were very helpful, and I managed to come away a few hours later with detailed scans of several dozen cartes de visite, cabinet cards and portraits of other formats stored handily on a USB drive. I'm grateful to all of them, both for the opportunity and for the assistance. I hope I can do them justice.

Over the last few weeks, I've been steadily going through these scans, compiling them into the portfolios of photographers on the web site. Some of them are already online, for example in the profiles of James Brennen, John Burton & Sons, Richard Keene, J.W. Price, Clement Rogers and W.E. Swift. However, I thought I'd also preview some of the more interesting portraits in a series of postings here.

Image © & courtesy of Brett Payne
W.W. Winter's Midland road, Derby studio in the mid-1870s ...

A large proportion of them are from the Derby studio of W.W. Winter, which is still going. My brother and I walked past the premises several times recently, as it is only a short walk from the Derby railway station in Midland road.

Image © & courtesy of Brett Payne
... and the same building now, largely unchanged.

I will admit to being a little disappointed in the relative dearth of examples by other early (1860s) Derby photographers, of whom there were many, but this was more than made up by the fact that almost all of the portraits in the collection have the subjects named, and many are also dated. They portray men - and occasionally their wives - who were prominent members of the Victorian Derby community, including textile manufacturers, brass founders, engineers, mayors, magistrates, aldermen, a vaccination officer, clergymen, policemen, legal practitioners, a newspaper proprietor, innkeepers, bank managers, volunteer militia officers, stationers, printers, railway clerks, landowners, chemists, farmers and maltsters. I have thus been able to make some valuable additions to the portfolios of several studios. In fact, I've had to revamp the W.W. Winter profile, resulting in a complete revision of the classification and dating of the various card types. This part of the project is not yet complete, but I hope to have it finished and uploaded early in the New Year.

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