Sunday, 17 August 2008

Frank Birch, photographer of Derby

While researching the recent article on the Nag's Head Yard, off St Peter's Street in Derby, I was reminded by an entry in an 1899 trade directory that photographer Frank Birch had a studio located there for a few years around the turn of the century. He was born in Litchurch in September 1859 and shortly afterwards, the family moved into the nearby parish of St Peter's Derby, where his father George Birch (1831-1915) had work as an iron moulder. As a young man, Frank followed his father into that trade, but by April 1891 he was working as an "artist (crayon)," and it is possible that he was employed by a photographic studio hand colouring portraits.

Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories

Frank Birch married Mary Bellamy in mid-1892 and two years later, in 1894, he took over Edward Smith's studio in Bramble Street (Craven, 1993 & Adamson, 1997). The 1899 edition of Kelly's, presumably compiled in late 1898, shows that he had by then moved to a new studio in the Nag's Head Yard, 64 St Peter's Street.

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The electoral register for the years 1899 and 1900, each compiled in October, also show him at this address, as does the census taken on 31 March 1901. In 1903, he became manager of the Derby Stereoscopic Company, when he ceased trading under his own name, and operated from studio premises at 36 Victoria Street until at least 1912.

Image © & courtesy of David Lamb

This rather battered carte de visite by Frank Birch belongs to David Lamb, who sent me the image last year. Although he assumes the young lady is a family member, the indentity of the subject of this delicately vignetted portrait unfortunately remains unknown. The fashion seems appropriate for the turn of the century, when the "leg of mutton" sleeves so characteristic of the 1890s were giving way to square shoulders, high collars and ruffles.


1841-1901 Census Records from Ancestry
Adamson, Keith I.P. (1997) Professional Photographers in Derbyshire 1843 - 1914, The PhotoHistorian, No. 118 Supplement, September 1997, ISSN 0957-0209.
Anon (1891, 1895, 1899 & 1912) Kelly's Trade Directories for Derbyshire, University of Leicester's Historical Directories
Craven, Maxwell (ed.) (1993) Derby Photographers 1852-1952, in Keene's Derby, Breedon Books, Derby, pp. 200-202, ISBN 1-873626-60-6


  1. Hi "Photosleuth"

    Thank you so much for your post on Frank Birch. He was married to the niece of my great grandmother, Phoebe Bellamy of Uttoxeter Old Road, Derby. I was so interested in your article - particularly as I only tonight found the marriage connection and googled "Derby Photogaphers of 1900" and amazingly up came your post. It was wonderful to be able to see one of Frank Birch's actual photographs. I have complied a family tree which I have tried to make as visual as possible. Whenever possible I try to travel to the actual addresses important to my ancestors to take photos - so my next trip up to Derby will of course have to include the Nag's Head Yard.

    Thanks again,

    Lesley Brockbank

  2. Hi Lesley,

    Great to hear that you found the article of interest, and that you are going to follow it up with a visit - you sound as if you are as hooked as I am on family history. If you find out any more about the family of Frank Birch and Mary Bellamy, please get in touch via the email link on my profile.

    Regards and best wishes, Brett


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