Friday, 13 June 2008

Thomas Frost, photographer of St Peter's Street, Derby

David Lamb recently sent me this portrait of the family of Reuben and Ellen Holmes of Derby, taken at the studio of Thomas Frost of 26½ St Peter's Street, Derby.

Image © & courtesy of David Lamb

Standing at the back are: John William (1879-1948) and Ernest Reuben Holmes (1881-1967). Seated are: John's wife Selina Holmes née Bull (1876-1937), who is holding their daughter Florence May, born at Derby on 22 May 1900 (d. 1956). Next are Reuben Holmes (1855-1929) and his wife, Ellen Holmes née Alton (1856-1937). Seated at the extreme right is Ethel Holmes (1887-1975), and at the front is Arthur Holmes (1891-1948). This entire family left Derby c. 1903 and moved to Toronto.

The 1901 Census, enumerated on 31 March that year, shows Reuben and Ellen Holmes living at 57 Bridge Street, Derby, with their three younger children Ernest, Ethel and Arthur, aged nineteen, thirteen and ten, respectively. Their eldest son John William Holmes, by then aged 21, was living with his wife Selina and their ten month-old daughter Florence May at 25 Milton Street, Derby. Neither are very far from the centre of Derby, where Frost's St Peter's Street studio was located, but they may well have taken a tram to get there, so as to avoid getting their clothes dirty. The baby looks to me to be about nine or ten months old and I estimate, therefore, that the Holmes family visited the studio in about March 1901, at almost exactly the time the census was done. If the family emigrated to Canada not long after this date, then the photograph may even have been taken in preparation for that event. I have come across quite a few instances of this, presumably done in order to leave some sort of permanent, and personal, mementoes or keepsakes with family that they were leaving behind.

According to Maxwell Craven (in Keene's Derby, published in 1993 by Breedon Books, Derby, pp. 200-202, ISBN 1 873626 60 6, courtesy of Sonia Addis-Smith), Thomas Frost trained with photographers Gervase Gibson & Son (of Derby & Nottingham) before setting up his own studio at 26½ St. Peter's St. These premises had previously been occupied by William B. Pearson until shortly before his death in 1885, but Frost only appears to have taken them over in 1899 or 1900. Gibson & Son's studio premises in Derby were situated at 30 St Peter's Street; the studio was certainly operating by 1895 (Source: Professional Photographers in Derbyshire 1843-1914, by Keith I.P. Adamson, publ. as Supplement No. 118 to The PhotoHistorian, September 1997), and possibly as early as 1893.

Image © & courtesy of Jane Porter

The Gibson & Son carte de visite above, of that approximate date, shows the addresses "8 Peck Lane, Nottingham" - which closed in 1895 - and "30 St Peter's Street, Derby," making it clear that the Derby studio had opened prior to the closure of the Peck Lane premises. Derby Electoral Registers (obtained on microfilm through the LDS church FHC network) for the years 1898-1900 show John Gibson - one of Gervase Gibson's three sons - with a studio in St. Peter's Street, while he lived first at Colyear Street, then in Drury Lane, suggesting that he was probably running the studio.

Thomas Frost was originally from Nottingham, but he arrived in Derby around 1896, after a brief sojourn in the United States. He was certainly living in Derby in the late 1890s (Source: Birth registrations of three children between late 1897 and early 1901, FreeBMD), but is not listed in Kelly's 1899 trade directory (Historical Directories), so was probably working for Gibson & Son at the time of the directory's compilation, c. late 1898. Adamson (1997) states that the studio of "Gibson & Son" at number 30 closed in 1900. The directory, and Adamson (1997), show that photographer William Milton was at 26½ St Peter's Street from 1898 until 1900.

Image © the British Library & courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Database

It is around this time that we find the first mention of Thomas Frost working on his own behalf. On 28 February 1900 an article in The Derby Mercury (Courtesy of the British Library & Gale CENGAGE Database) mentions Thomas Frost, photographer of St. Peter's Street, as the "master" of a "traveller on commission." Then, on 31 March the following year, the census shows Frost living at 1 Sacheverel Street, Derby, and describes himself as a "portrait photographer (employer)." His younger brother, Robert Ernest Frost, who was living at 60 Randolph Rd, Normanton, described himself as a "photographers agent," and it seems likely that he was employed by Thomas at this time, perhaps as a replacement for the unreliable agent, Charles Bridge.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Frost probably worked from these premises until 1902, but in 1903 he appears to have moved to another studio at number 92 St. Peter's Street, where is listed by Adamson (1997). However, it is known that Frederick Beeston, who had previously worked as a photographic assistant in Nottingham, probably also for Gibson & Son, had the studio briefly around 1903, using some of Frost's card mounts with his name pasted on, as in the cabinet card shown above. "Gibson & Sons" then took over number 92 St. Peter's Street, and operated it from 1903 until at least 1907.

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