Friday, 28 November 2008

George Henry Swift of Chapel-en-le-Frith

George Henry Swift was one of those for whom photography was merely one of many talents. Looking at it from a slightly different perspective, his career as a photographer probably didn't last very long.

Although he was born in 1846 in the village Gamesley, near Glossop in Derbyshire, Swift grew up in Lockwood, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire, where his father and older brothers worked as stone masons. At the age of fifteen, by which time his father had died, George was an accountant's clerk. In 1868, however, he married Maria Penelope Whiteley. They moved to Chapel-en-le-Frith in 1870 or 1871 and George became landlord of the Shoulder of Mutton Inn in Townend.

Probably commencing some time in the mid-1870s, George Swift tried his hand at photography, and by the time of the 1881 Census was described as a photographist, although Kelly's trade directory for that year indicates that he was also secretary to the agricultural society and a rates collector. His wife died in late 1880, a couple of years after the birth of their fifth child. He remarried at Stockport in 1886, to Sarah Ann Harrison, and appears to have moved to Belper shortly after, as Kelly's trade directory for 1887 shows him as a Conservative registration agent, living in Campbell Street. It is interesting to note that photographer Jacob Schmidt, who had only recently moved to Belper from Bristol, was living next door in 1891. Swift, however, appears not to have returned to the photographic business, describing himself as a political agent in 1891 and a musical instrument dealer in 1901.

Image © and courtesy of Ann Taylor

This carte de visite, sent to me by Ann Taylor, was taken by G.H. Swift, probably some time in the late 1870s. It shows, a church, churchyard, low wall and street. Unfortunately the location is not specified. It would be tempting to assume that it is the parish church of Chapel-en-le-Frith, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, dedicated to St. Thomas-a-Becket, "a stone edifice in the later English style." [Source: The National Gazetteer (1868), courtesy of Rosemary Lockie's GENUKI Derbyshire web site] However, modern images of that church (example) show some siginificant differences and I have my doubts.

Image © and courtesy of John Stanbridge
St Edmund, Castleton, Derbyshire
Image © and courtesy of John Stanbridge (Flickr photostream)

In my view, a much more likely candidate is the parish church of St. Edmund in Castleton, situated a few miles to the east of Chapel-en-le-Frith, a photograph of which I first found in my copy of "The Old Parish Churches of Derbyshire" by Mike Salter (Folly Publications, 1998, ISBN 1 871731 33 X). A much better recent photograph by John Stanbridge, shown above, is included as part of his Flickr photostream.

Image © and courtesy of Ann Taylor
The reverse of the card mount shows a hand stamp with the photographer's details, "G.H. Swift, Photographer, Chapel-en-le-Frith."

Image © & collection of Brett PayneImage © & collection of Brett Payne

This carte de visite portrait of an unidentified elderly woman from my own collection is probably from a similar era, i.e. the late 1870s. It has an identical back stamp, suggesting that Swift may not have been in business for long enough to have had his own card mounts printed.

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