Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Wallis, Furnishing Ironmongers of Bakewell (Part 1)

I received this image of an ambrotype, or collodion positive, recently from Nino Manci, who purchased it in Buxton, Derbyshire.

Image © and courtesy of Nino Manci

Apart from a little damage to the emulsion of the original, presumably from abrasion, it is a very nice picture. I should point out that I have carried out some minor digital manipulation of the image - mainly adjustment of the contrast, with no other editing of the picture - as the original was very dark. Although it is no longer housed in the case in which it was likely to have been originally sold, it does still have the ornate pinchbeck frame in relatively decent condition. Pinchbeck, now synonymous with things cheap and tawdry, was a gold-coloured copper-zinc alloy developed in the 1700s by English watchmaker, Christopher Pinchbeck [Source: World Wide Words], that became a popular choice for cheap frames (I think matts in US parlance).

On the reverse of the ambrotype is the inscription, "Wallis Ironmongers, Nr Post Office, Bakewell." The picture shows a shopfront and, in Nino's words, "I presume Mr Wallis at the door of his establishment with the sign 'Furnishing Ironmongers' above him. The shop seems to sell a wide range of household and farming products." The first interesting thing to note is Nino's statement that the photo was probably taken from the mid-1880s to the 1890s. Ambrotypes became very popular, and indeed the most common type of photograph used for portraits, in the mid- to late 1850s, but were still common in the early 1860s, before being rapidly superseded by the carte de visite. However, they were still used occasionally, mainly because of their cheapness, for example by travelling photographers, and enjoyed brief resurgences in popularity from time to time.

The firm Wallis Ironmongers of Bakewell appears to have been fairly long-lived. John, William and Edwin Wallis were three sons of a Bakewell lodging house keeper, William Wallis (c1790-1844) and his wife Mary Lees. Slater (1850) lists the middle son William Wallis (1824-) as a brazier and tinman with a shop on Bridge Street, Bakewell, although the census a year later indicates that they lived with their widowed mother in Water Lane. John and Edwin Wallis were working as carriers in 1851, and John had become an earthenware dealer in 1855 (Anon). By 1857 (White), John had married and opened an ironmongery and glass & china dealers on Bridge Street, and three years later (Harrison, 1860) Edwin was a smallware dealer around the corner in Bath Street.

Their mother Mary Wallis died shortly after the 1861 census, and Edwin Wallis married Ann Kitson (c1838-18 at Bakewell on 22 May 1864. Ann gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, early the following year, but sadly Ann and the boy died soon after. Edwin remarried on 2 August 1866 to Sarah Susannah Bower (c.1837-1919). By the time the 1870 edition of Harrod & Co.'s trade directory was compiled, Edwin was operating as a general dealer and ironmonger at Anchor square, Bakewell, while John and his wife had vanished from the scene. The 1871 Census shows them to be doing sufficient business by then to be employing a shop assistant and a general servant.

By 1881 (Census & Kelly) Edwin & Sarah Wallis were living in Bath Street and operating what was referred to as an ironmongery and general dealership in Bridge Street. Edwin died in late 1883, at the age of 51, leaving a widow and five children, the eldest Mary Ann being sixteen and the youngest only three years old. However, Sarah continued to run the shop, and was listed in the 1887, 1891, 1895 and 1899 trade directories. Her children Lucy and Charles Wallis became shop assistants by 1891, and continued to assist her until at least 1901. Sarah Wallis died in 1919.

Image © and courtesy of Nino Manci

Before discussing the date that the photograph was taken, I would like to mention one of the reasons that that Nino sent me the image in the first place, as it is particularly relevant to the dating exercise. In his words, and relating to the enlarged portion of the photograph shown above:
What may be of interest to you is that just inside the window, to the right of Mr Wallis is a separate display cabinet displaying photographs. The scan is not as crisp as under a magnifying glass. At the top of the case are the words Seaman and Sons Photographers. The cabinet appears to be full of scenic views of Derbyshire. Many firms, such as Francis Frith made a good living from the sale of such images, and this shows how Mr Seaman also adventured into selling his firm's images though other outlets.
From my study of the photographic firm, it appears they only started trading as Seaman & Sons in the mid-1880s. The founder of the business, Alfred Seaman (1844-1910), opened his first studio in Chesterfield in around 1876. Although his second son Albert Edward was already working as an photographic assistant in the studio in 1881, he was only fifteen years old, and it would have been normal that the firm would only have started trading with the suffix "& Sons" when the sons reached the age of eighteen. Indeed, it is not until the 1887 edition of Kelly's trade directory that the listing is formally shown as A. Seaman & Sons.

It seems unlikely that the man - perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s - standing in front of the shop is Edwin Wallis, as he died in late 1883. I assume, therefore, that he is an assistant hired by Sarah Wallis. Charles Wallis was 25 years old by 1901, so there is a possibility it is him, if the photograph was taken in the early 1900s. I still haven't come to a conclusion when it was taken, but perhaps a discussion of other items in the photograph may help in this regard.

The shop window contains a myriad of interesting items on display, some of which are easy to identify. Rather than presenting readers of this blog with a fait accompli, I thought it might be interesting to open up the task of identifying as many articles as possible, a form of what The Economist recently referred to as crowdsourcing. Although this concept is not new - it was used in the 19th Century to compile the Oxford English Dictionary - the term was first coined in 2006 (Howe) to describe a process which harvests the talents of an undefined group of people, generally via the internet, to perform a task traditionally carried out by an employee or contractor. This is much along the lines of what I have inadvertently achieved on Derbyshire Photographers over the last six years, with hundreds of contributions from family historians and photograph collectors all over the world.

So if you would like to participate in this mini-crowdsourcing experiment, please feel free to download the high resolution version of the image here (but be careful it is over 3MB). I'm looking for a comprehensive list of all the items that can be identified in the shop window, in the doorway, on the pavement in front of the shop, on the walls, etc. If you know, or can find by researching, any interesting details to add about the items, or contemporary (i.e. from that era, not this one) images of similar items, so much the better. Please feel free to either post as comments or by email. I will post the results of our combined analysis as Part 2 of this post in due course, and will include acknowledgements to all who participate.

I am, of course, hoping that there will be some further clues unearthed which may help to narrow the dates. However, even if we don't manage that, it will be an interesting exercise in the powers of our observation. Good luck and thank you.


Anon (2008) Following the Crowd. The internet: The idea of "crowdsourcing," or asking crowds of internet users for ideas ... in The Economist, Vol 388, Number 8596, Technology Quarterly Insert, September 6th 2008, p. 8
Howe, Jeff (2006) The Rise of Crowdsourcing, in Wired, Issue 14.06 June 2006.
Anon, Crowdsourcing, from Wikipedia
Quinion, Michael (2004) Pinchbeck /ˈpɪn(t)ʃbɛk/, on World Wide Words
Digital Trade Directories courtesy of the University of Leicester's Historical Directories:
- Anon (1855) Post Office Directory of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire
- Harrod, J.G. & Co. (1870) Postal & Commercial Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Staffordshire
- Kelly (1891) Directory of Derbyshire
- Kelly (1895) Directory of Derbyshire
- Kelly (1899) Directory of Derbyshire
- Kelly (1912) Directory of Derbyshire
Trade Directories on microfiche from the Derbyshire Family History Society (Collection of Brett Payne):
- Slater (1850) Directory of Derbyshire
- Harrison & Co. (1860) Directory of Derbyshire
- Kelly (1881) Directory of Derbyshire
- Kelly (1887) Directory of Derbyshire
Bagshaw, Samuel (1846) History, Gazeteer and Directory of Derbyshire, Photocopy from original now in collection of Barbara Ellison)
White’s 1857 Directory of Derbyshire by Neil Wilson
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. I believe that this is the same building:

  2. Hi Brett, fascinating post as always. I'd never heard of the term crowdsourcing before, even though that's exactly what I am doing I guess on my www.whatsthatpicture.com site. Another great example is the new Flickr Commons project - www.flickr.com/commons - where museums are posting their collections online and inviting the userbase to tag and comment on them, adding some fascinating information and opinion as they go. Whilst on teh topic of Flickr, for an exercise such as this the notes tool can be really handy as users (both the owner of the image, and anyone who happens upon it) can add little notes boxes around items seen in photos with their comments. A couple of examples of mine would be http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatsthatpicture/2846775758 (still looking for an identification) and http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatsthatpicture/267297873 (now identified). Regards, James

  3. Thanks, Andre - that was quick work! Thanks also to you James, for your information about flickr, and the links to your interesting images. The Day's London Menagerie reminds me of photos I have seen of the perhaps more famous "Wombwell's Menagerie."

    Regards, Brett


Join my blog network
on Facebook