Monday, 7 April 2008

The Boys' Day Out

Kevin Rhodes recently sent me a set of three rather charming postcard photographs featuring a couple of family members. Although there is no photographer's imprint, and the photographs have been printed on a fairly standard generic design of card, it is likely that they were taken somewhere in or near Derby - Kevin suggests around 1910.

Image © & courtesy of Kevin RhodesImage © & courtesy of Kevin Rhodes

Samuel Arthur Rankin (the slighter of the two young men in the left hand portrait shown above) was born at Derby in 1888, a middle son of telegraph mechanic, and former brass finisher, Frederick Rankin and his wife Agnes née Porter. The other man, who features in all three photos, is probably a brother and most likely Percy, who was four years older than Sam. Their parents were originally from the Braintree area of Essex, but moved from Bocking to Derby in about 1892, shortly after their marriage and the birth of their first child Henry Frederick (c. Nov 1881). They lived in Peartreet Street, Litchurch, which was where Samuel and his brothers and sisters grew up. Sam's younger sister Frances Rankin featured in a postcard portrait by Pollard Graham, which was the subject of an earlier post on Photo-Sleuth, "Mending Day in Arboretum Square."

Samuel emigrated to Australia some time before the First World War, and settled in Adelaide. Kevin has photos of him taken both in Adelaide and Melbourne. Mr & Mrs Sam Rankin, in Australia, are reported to have sent flowers to the funeral of his parents, which took place on April 23rd 1916. He also "has a valedictory letter sent by Sam from Adelaide to all the family towards the end of his life regretting that he will never be able to afford the boat or 'new' airways to see his family before he died, and remembering his Father seeing him of on the boat at Tilbury Docks. There is a family story that he arrived in Adelaide just before some big celebration (Centenary, Royal Visit ?) and as an electrician immediately found work hanging electric light bulbs along the streets. I have been unable to tie this to any actual event and likewise I've been unable to spot any sign of War service in the First War."

The third photograph in the series has a much less formal character, and clearly betrays the real purpose of the day's excursion.

Image © & courtesy of Kevin Rhodes

I have two confining dates for this series of postcards, based on the design on the reverse:
- The divided back shows that it was post-1902, as prior to this date no message was permitted to be written on the address side
- The internal postal rates for postcards increased from a half-penny to one penny on 3 June 1918.

Image © & courtesy of Kevin Rhodes

I found a possible departure for Melbourne, Australia of a Samuel RANKIN born c. 1888 from London in 1915. There was another Sam RANKIN (age unspecified) who departed for Sydney (Australia) from London in 1909. These were from "Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960" a database on - unfortunately, without a subscription to this database, you may only view the index, and must pay to see the actual records.

Samuel Rankin looks to be somewhere between 18 and 25 in the photos, perhaps towards the lower end of that range. If he was born in late 1887/early 1888, then the photo could have been any time between 1906 and 1913, and I suspect it is more likely to have been during the period 1906-1910.

Kevin notes, "I am pretty sure by their staged nature that they are done by a professional, but I think the over printing on [the group photo] is very amateurish." As Kevin suggests, I believe the series of photos to have been taken by an itinerant, or travelling, photographer, rather than an amateur. The two vertical portraits of the Rankin brothers appear to have been posed against a rather rough stone wall, and in the single portrait of Sam's brother, there seem to be some scraps of arbitrary foliage draped over the wall. However, the telling feature is that in both of these, the same painted backdrop has been used. It is a simple one, but not the sort of photographic accessory an amateur would normally have had access to.

The printing on the group photo does, I agree, appear a little amateurish. However, many postcard photos of this era had words written by hand onto (or scratched into) the negative. If they were written in Indian Ink they would appear white on the print, and if they were scratched onto the negative, they would appear black. I'm not sure about this one, but I suspect that it was some kind of stencil - perhaps an early version of "Lettraset." It is unfortunate that the photographer/printer/studio got the title "The Boys Day Out" upside down - my guess is that it was a mistake rather than intentional - but I think it just adds to the fun of the occasion. It reminds me of a postcard format photograph from my own family collection, of a similar vintage and in much the same vein.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

My great-grandfather Charles Vincent Payne (1868-1941) is standing in the back row, second from the right, but I have no idea who any of the other people are. Charlie, as he was known, was a talented singer, and it may be that the "Ding Dongs" were a singing group of which he was a some time member. However, the occasion of the group portrait was more likely to have been a festivity of a more liquid nature. Two of the men are clutching quart bottles of, presumably, ale or porter, and a third has a large mug on his lap, into which a fourth appears to pouring something from a jug. Several have cigarettes or pipes in their mouths, and most look decidedly "jolly."

The only one decidely not having a good time is the lone woman seated in the centre, who is either concerned that she is about to be doused with beer, or wondering how on earth to extricate herself ... or both! The porter or busboy standing on the left of the group, judging by his broad grin, has no such qualms - he has what appears to be "Bell Hotel" on his cap, so presumably they are at a hotel. Unfortunately, the reverse of the postcard shows no indication of where it was taken. It could be Derby, where Charlie Payne lived in the 1900s and 1910s, but it could just as easily be further afield, as I have many photos of him in holiday spots around the country.

Kelly's 1912 Directory of Derbyshire lists a Bell Hotel (family & commercial, Prop. Frank H. Phillips) at 52-53 Sadler Gate, Derby, and it is tempting to assume that it was the venue for their "boy's day out." The Bell Hotel still operates on this site, having been built in the late 17th Century. Andy Savage has a recent photo of the exterior of the Bell Hotel on his web site, DerbyPhotos. Apparently the fake Tudor framing (or half-timbering) was added to both the facade and the walls of the internal yard after the First World War.

I wonder if anyone can shed some light on the "Ding Dongs," please?

P.S. Nigel Aspdin very kindly paid a visit to the Old Bell Hotel in Sadler Gate today, and thinks it is very likely that the "Ding Dongs" had their group photo taken in the yard at the back. The large windows appear to have been completely replaced with smaller ones, and the framing and plastering is, of course, new.

Image © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Internal Yard of The Old Bell Hotel, Sadler Gate, Derby
© April 2008 Nigel Aspdin

The satellite images provided by Google Maps also give a very good bird's eye view of the yard behind the Old Bell Hotel.

View Larger Map

I wonder if there are any other pre-WW1 photographs or other pictures of the Bell Hotel, with which we might be able compare these?

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