Thursday, 13 November 2008

H.O. Seaman of Bristol, Birmingham & Weston-super-Mare

Last month I featured several portraits by the Seaman family of photographers who, although starting the business in Chesterfield in the mid- to late 1870s, eventually operated a number of branches from Blackpool to Brighton.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

This cabinet card was an eBay purchase and there is unfortunately no indication as to who the attractive, fashionably dressed and elegantly coiffured young woman might have been. The card mount has square corners and an flowery border in the art nouveau style. These two features, together with the young woman's pose, clothing and hair style, all suggest to me that the photograph was taken in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Herbert Oscar Seaman was a son of the firm's founder, Alfred Seaman (1844-1910) by his third wife Martha Ann Else. He was born in Chesterfield in late 1884, at a time when Alfred was establishing a firm reputation in that town. As a young boy he would have seen several of his older half-brothers first working in the main studio in Chesterfield, and then opening and running new branches in Ilkeston, Alfreton, Sheffield and Leeds. In 1901 - at the age of 16 - he, Alfred William and Harold John (the brothers who were closest in age to him) were employed in the High Street studio in Chesterfield as photographer's assistants/apprentices.

By the time he was married at Bristol two years later, in late 1903, he was almost ready to start out on his own, and the first listing of him with his own studio is in Bristol (Somerset) in 1905 with premises at 27 Castle Street (Vaughan). The last entry for him at this address is for 1908, but it is not clear what he did after this date. The reverse of the card mount, shown above, indicates that he also operated a studio at 74 City Arcade in Birmingham (Warwickshire) at some stage. A small gem-type portrait mounted in an easel-back cardmoard frame currently listed on eBay is described as having the following addresses stamped on the reverse:

- 27 Castle St. Bristol;
- 74, City Arcade, and 15 1/2 High Street (Bull Ring), Birmingham;
- and at 3, Macfarlane Buildings, Regent St., Weston-Super-Mare

The large hat worn by the woman in that portrait suggests to me a similar date, i.e. 1905 to 1908.

It is also possible that H.O. Seaman lived in Norwich (Norfolk) from 1912 to 1919, although I don't have evidence that a studio was ever operated there.

References

Bristol Photographers, U.K., 1852-1972, by Roger Vaughan

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