Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Family and cottage in Belper, by Thomas B. Mellor

This carte de visite is from the collection of Cynthia Maddock, a fellow collector of old photographs by Derbyshire photographers who very kindly shares images from her collection with me and, by extension, readers of both Photo-Sleuth and my other site, Derbyshire Photographers.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia Maddock

The image shows a group of people, presumably members of a family, arranged rather haphazardly in the garden in front of a house. The house itself is double-storey, contructed of dressed stone, with chimneys at each gabled end, and a thatched roof. Four large windows are visible, the upper two with visible curtains, each with numerous small panes. A smaller building with a tiled roof, also with a multi-paned window is partially visible at the left. In front of the group is a pole set vertically in the ground, perhaps three metres high, with a string or thin rope tied near the top and extending towards and to the left of the photographer, possibly a washing line. The tiled roofs of other buildings situated behind the main house are just visible immediately to the left and right of the photo. I believe this must be the back garden of the house, rather than the main frontage which faces the road.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia Maddock

There are several bushes visible in the foreground, but also what appears to be some sort of stone platform. On top of this platform are a large dish, a bucket, a jar, a smaller dish and, I think, a cat! There appears to be a pipe sticking out of the left-hand side of the platform, which causes me to wonder if it is some kind of washing area.

There are eight people in the photograph. From left to right they are:
- a middle-aged woman in a light-coloured dress, standing with her hands together in front of her, facing towards and to the right of the camera,
- a middle-aged or older woman in a dark dress, seated, with a blurred mouth (I won't say why!)
- a young child, perhaps three or four years old, slightly blurred and partly obscured by the pole,
- an older man, standing with his arms crossed,
- a younger woman in a dark dress, seated, and looking down towards a very blurred small child in her lap,
- a middle-aged woman in a light-coloured dress, standing with her hands together in front of her, facing to the left of the camera,
- a middle-aged man, standing behind the stone platform, and leaning with both forearms on the platform.

There is no indication from an inscription or any other history attached to the photo who the subjects were. However, my initial guess would be that they are, from left to right, maiden aunt, grandmother, child, grandfather, mother with child, maiden aunt and father. I estimate from the style of the dresses of the younger three women, together with the fact their ears are just visible from beneath their tightly drawn back and centre-parted hair, that the photograph was probably taken in the mid- to late 1860s, say between 1865 and 1869.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia Maddock

The photographer, as evidenced from the backstamp on the card mount, was Thomas Barker Mellor of Nottingham Road, Belper in Derbyshire. Adamson (1997) mentions only that Mellor was operating from The Butts in Belper around 1874, presumably taken from an entry in Wright's trade directory of that date, which also described him as a music teacher. However, it is clear from the entry in the 1871 Census, in which he described himself as a photographer, and the existence of several cartes de visite from the late 1860s, that he was working in the profession prior to that date.

Thomas B. Mellor was born at Belper in 1849, one of the large family of draper John Mellor (1812-1900) and his second wife Jane Barker. It seems unlikely that he would have worked as a photographer with his own printed card mounts prior to the age of about eighteen, and the earliest date for a photograph by him on a printed mount is therefore likely to be c. 1867.

He married Mary Ann Allsop at Belper in 1874 and they moved to Bakewell in about 1877. Mellor appears to have ceased working as a photographer at this time, being listed as an "organist and teacher of music" in both the 1881 and 1891 censuses. He appears, therefore, to have been working as a photographer for about a decade, from c. 1867 until c. 1877. Thomas Mellor died in 1915.


Adamson, Keith I.P. (1997) Professional Photographers in Derbyshire 1843-1914, Supplement No. 118 to The PhotoHistorian, September 1997, ISSN 0957-0209.
Digital Trade Directories courtesy of the University of Leicester's Historical Directories:
- Harrod, J.G. & Co. (1870) Postal & Commercial Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Staffordshire.
Trade Directories on microfiche from the Derbyshire Family History Society (Collection of Brett Payne):
- Wright, C.N. (1874) Directory of South Derbyshire, Third Edition, October 1874.
- Kelly (1881) Directory of Derbyshire.
Index to GRO Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes from FreeBMD
International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church's FamilySearch database
Indexed 1841-1901 UK Census Images from Ancestry


  1. It looks like they kept a cow. A dairy bowl on the wall, the cat having a saucer of cream, and the butter churn to the right of the front door.

    I also think the family may have operated as homeworkers. The ground floor windows seem to have been enlarged at some point, maybe to let in more light for a homeworker framework knitter. Nail making was also a homeworker occupation in Belper.

    If this cottage still exists, it is very likely it does, I should be able to track it down. I already spotted a couple of possibilities on Google Earth, I will go and look sometime.


  2. Yes, why didn't I think of the cat drinking from a saucer of milk?

    I can also see what you mean about the windows being enlarged, as the lintels are now almost too small for the windows. The framework knitting and nail making is interesting - I wonder if the small shed at the front left was used for either of those purposes.

    It would be very exciting if you could find the actual cottage, although it seems that the chance of it surviving this long must be slim. I had a look on Google Earth myself, but without some local knowledge, it's like the proverbial needle.
    Regards and best wishes, Brett

  3. That's an interesting photo, I've looked at it for quite some time. I hope the cottage still exists, but it doesn't look that robust.

  4. This is a fascinating photo, as Rob says, with so much detail to absorb.

  5. Rob - Well, I think robust enough, because my friend Nigel has, we believe, identified it. I've yet to blog that story, though. Now I have to, I suppose.

    Nell - Yes, I thought so too. I have spent a few hours looking at, researching and thinking about it.


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