Saturday, 22 November 2008

A landau by "Professor" Frank Simpson

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

This rather nice cabinet portrait from John Bradley, possibly taken in the early 1880s, shows an single-horse, open carriage with top hatted driver, parked on the street in front of a large building. I have discovered that this type of carriage is called a landau, invented in the German Rhenish Palatinate in the 18th Century, but first produced in England by a coachmaker named Luke Hopkinson in the 1830s. It is an open style of carriage, designed with facing seats so that the two rows of occupants can sit facing each other. However, there are no clues as to the location, the identity of the driver, or the owner of the carriage. If any readers are able to shed further light on the location, please get in touch by email or post a comment.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

The reverse of the card mount reveals it to have been taken by "Professor" Frank Simpson. Simpson - although he style himself "Professor," it seems unlikely this was a genuine title - assisted by his wife Elizabeth Ann, claimed to operate from numerous different locations, including Barking Road (London), Humberstone Gate (Leicester), Swan Bank (Burslem, Staffordshire), Spring Gardens (Buxton, Derbyshire) and St. John Street (Ashbourne, Derbyshire). However, it is unclear how many of these were actual branch studios, rather than merely locations at which he periodically parked his caravan and took advantage of passing trade until moved on by the local law enforcers.

The Derby Mercury of 27 February 1867 reported that Simpson,

"a photographer, and having a travelling van situated in the parish of Clifton [was] summoned by Mr. Superintendent Corbishley for exercising his ordinary calling as a photographer on the Lord's-day, on the 17th inst. - Mr. Corbishley said that on Sunday, the 17th. inst., about 3.30 p.m., in company with Inspector Lytle he visited Simpson's van, and saw 16 persons in the van; he saw the defendant take two likenesses while he stayed; he told him he should summon him; there were about 30 persons standing on the highway near to the van. - Mr Wright said he saw no necessity for the defendant following this business on the Lord's-day, and he would fine him the full penalty. - Fined 5s. and costs."
Four years later, in April 1871, Simpson was at Swan Square, Burslem, presumably in his caravan. In March 1874, an employee of Simpson's was convicted of embezzlement from Simpson at Ashbourne, and he is listed at St. John Street, Ashbourne in the 1881 edition of Kelly's trade directory, probably compiled late the previous year. By census night on 3 April 1881 his caravan was parked near the White Lion Inn at Spring Gardens, Buxton, presumably taking advantage of the seasonal visitors to the mineral baths. The 1887 edition of Kelly's shows him listed in both locations - Ashbourne & Buxton - but from 1891 onwards he seems to have concentrated his activities around the latter. Directory entries and census records show him variously at 53a or 53½ Spring Gardens until 1899, and possibly at 53 Market st, Buxton, although I have been unable to locate him in the 1901 Census at all. It is conceivable that he was the Frank Simpson, aged 71, whose death was registered in the Chapel en le Frith Registration District (which includes Buxton) in the first quarter of 1896, and whose will was proved at Buxton in the same year. In this case the 1899 entry may have been for his wife, continuing to operate under her late husband's name.

Update - 5 December 2008

Further to his response in the comments section below, Nigel Aspdin made some enquiries and subsequently found the following photograph in a book at the Derby Local Studies Library:

Image courtesy of Nigel Aspdin, the Derby Local Studies Library & P. Martin
The Railway Hotel, Buxton, c.1921
Image courtesy of Nigel Aspdin, the Derby Local Studies Library & P. Martin

... and made the following comment,
I am still wondering what the "V..." on the line above "RA...." is on the old landau photo. I wonder if it was called the "Valley Railway Hotel" to differentiate it from perhaps another railway hotel?
Image © and courtesy of David Seale
Railway Hotel & Steam Lorry by Buxton viaduct
Image © and courtesy of David Seale
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

These photographs by David Seale and Arjen Bax show the Railway Hotel in more recent times, withe railway viaduct forming a backdrop.

Image © and courtesy of Arjen Bax
Railway Hotel and Buxton viaduct
Image © and courtesy of Arjen Bax
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


Indexed 1841-1901 UK Census images from Ancestry
GRO Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes from FreeBMD
Derbyshire Assizes for 1874, on Derbyshire Criminal Records by Jean Durbin
Derbyshire Wills, 1525-1908, by Michael Spencer, and courtesy of John Palmer's Wirksworth web site
Wright C.N. (1874) Directory of South Derbyshire, Third Edition, October 1874, Derby, courtesy of the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, 1881 & 1887, Kelly & Co., London, reprinted on microfiche by the Derbyshire Family History Society
Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, 1891, 1895, 1899 & 1912, Kelly & Co., London, courtesy of the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
Anon (1895) History, Topography, and Directory of Derbyshire, T. Bulmer & Co., Extracts by kind courtesy of Sonia Addis-Smith
Landau (carriage) from Wikipedia
Coachmaking, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, p. 193-195, from Victoria County History, ed. William Page, reproduced by British History Online


  1. There is a clue, the sign in the top right V**** Ra*****
    That is something to work on. It does not however easily fit any name of a railway company serving Asbourne or Buxton.
    My feeling is this is just not Ashbourne, and is more likely Buxton. I am sure the attraction of Buxton as a Spa town warranted such landaus, Ashbourne was much more a working market town. The architecture and building material (grit-stone not brick) is very much in the style of Buxton and would have been unusual in Ashbourne which geologically sits between lowland clays (Bricks) and limestone.


  2. Oh well done, Nigel, thank you. I hadn't even noticed that! I don't knw why I assumed it was a [private building, but that now seems unlikely. The first letter could also be W, of course. I wonder if the second word is RAILWAY? A railway station would be an obvious place to find a landau. Your comments about it being more likely to be Buxton than Ashbourne are appreciated, but have you considered the other locations that he professed - ha ha - to work from, i.e. Leicester, Burslem and London?


  3. The photo look so old but I really like this.Thanks for this


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