Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The 1900s - large hats and large format mounts

Another W.W. Winter image sent to me by Nigel Aspdin, this time of a member of his own family, typifies the photographic portraits employing large format card mounts which became very popular after the turn of the century (although they appear to have been first introduced in the late 1890s). In this particular example, the mount measures 201 x 246 mm (although it has probably been trimmed) and the photo itself 100 x 142 mm. Many of the portraits which include women are also characterised by enormous hats, a fashion accessory which became very popular at around this time. The photographic prints used were usually of a similar size to those produced for cabinet cards, but the card mounts were much larger. This resulted in a broad margin which was often embellished with printed, embossed or blind stamped decoration.

Click on image to see reverse of mount © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Nigel's photo shows a young woman, perhaps in her twenties, with a lacy top and a wide brimmed hat (if indeed it can be called a hat - it looks more like a large bird's nest to me). Nigel believed the portrait to be of Maria Amelia Slater née Smith (1834-1913), daughter of John Smith, clockmaker of Derby, and wife of William Slater, stone merchant and lessee operator of Coxbench Quarry.

I have a pair of small round framed portraits of a "couple", one certainly my great-grandfather William Slater, and the other is [a copy of] this particular portrait. I feel very confident that it is his wife ... This mounted photograph is certainly printed and mounted after 1895 and possibly as late as 1913, if prepared for her daughters upon her death, from earlier material. If the subject is, say, 35 in the photograph, this would date the original photograph as about 1870... The small framed portraits were not taken at the same time [as each other] and they are framed in an amateur way, perhaps 1910-1930, but the fact that they are framed as a pair does, I feel, indicate "Mother and Father" ... The "Miss" Slater [written in pencil on the reverse of the mount] suggests to me that the print was done by one of the daughters, probably on the death of the subject in 1913. Two of the three daughters were still at home.
My own analysis of the photograph produced a somewhat different conclusion. The card mount size and design on the reverse is of a type used by W.W. Winter from about 1898 until 1905-ish. The negative number (119073) also suggests that the photograph was produced in the early 1900s, although it could conceivably still have been a new negative of an older print. However, the style of clothing is, to me, contemporary with the card mount: the lace shawl covering her shoulders and large hat on her head is typical of the early 1900s, and I think very unlikely to have been taken much earlier than about 1898. I suggested to Nigel, therefore, that it might rather be a portrait of a daughter of Maria Amelia Slater. After some deliberation, Nigel responded:

I had for a long time carelessly assumed that as these two photos existed in identical small frames (in those frames they are small and old prints which also exist as larger formal prints) that they were William Slater and his wife whereas it is now clear to be that it is William Slater and his daughter, Alice. The correct details [for the subject are now:

Alice Elisabeth Slater, born 3 Jan 1879, died 22 or 23 Dec 1956, eldest daughter of William Slater of 19 Vernon St, Derby, stone merchant & lessee operator of Coxbench Quarry, and partner of W.H. & J. Slater Brick and Pipe Works, Denby (near Ripley), and builders, Walker & Slater, Derby. She married Percy Hassal(l) Mellor On October 30 1907. I think therefore that the date of the photo could well be 1907, she would have been 28, that looks realistic.

Incidentally it has always been said that she was a suffragette and that when the census was taken she did not want to appear in it, so she slept the night in the office here at 19 Vernon street, the family home. (There was then no connecting door to the offices). She would have relied on my Great Grandfather to omit her when he completed the form that evening, and the family believed he did so. But when the 1901 census was published I was unsurprised to see that he did include her correctly !
Thanks for the image and the anecdote, Nigel. The photograph and story fit in perfectly with my mental image of Emily Pankhurst and the suffragettes.

P.S. This image sent to me by Nigel shows a somewhat different Alice Mellor, in a rather intriguing portrait taken in June 1918 by W.H. Puddicombe of Bideford (Devon). Any ideas what the outfit and rake were supposed to mean?

Click on image to see a more detailed version © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

P.P.S. The web site of the Imperial War Museum has a feature entitled, "No job for a woman: The effects of war on womens' lives during the 20th and 21st centuries," which has a gallery of photographs of women doing various jobs normally done by men during the First World War. One of these is a woman in the Women's Forestry Corps, dressed in very similar clothes (see below) to those worn by Alice Mellor.

© Imperial War Museum

Bearing in mind that Alice's photo was taken in June 1918, it seems likely that she was occupied in some sort of agricultural work for the war effort. The creation of the Women's Land Army in 1917, was a response to the need to maintain agricultural production, when men working in that sector were being called up to the army to combat Germany's U-Boat campaign. I can also see her fitting right into this propaganda poster developed for recruitment purposes (from the Posters Collection on Michael Duffy's excellent First World War web site). In fact, the clothes are so similar - the hat, the short coat with broad belt, the sturdy shoes, the puttees up to just below the knees, all designed for working in the fields - I think it is probably a uniform!

© & courtesy of Michael Duffy and


  1. Brett, your mental image of Emily Pankhurst and the suffragettes may change with this further photo of Alice, which I never understood. But on reflection now, and seeing it is marked on the back June 1918, was this a suffragettes victory salute to the passing of The Representation of the People Act 1918?

  2. Hi Nigel, If you send me an image of the 1918 photo, I'll be happy to edit the posting to include it for comparative purposes.

  3. I think this is another example of my mistakes in not thinking too hard about photos ! Surely this may be the attire of the Womens' Land Army, which was commenced in 1915? I will did deeper and report back.

  4. We were thinking the same things at the same time! Problem solved, I believe.


Join my blog network
on Facebook