Friday, 5 December 2008

Another portrait by "Professor" Simpson of Ashbourne & Buxton

I've recently updated the article describing a cabinet photograph of a landau taken by "Professor" Frank Simpson of Ashbourne & Buxton, sent to me by John Bradley. Nigel Aspdin conducted some research at the Derby Local Studies Library and was successful in identifying the building in the background as the Railway Hotel in Buxton.

Image © & courtesy of Terry Nolan

In the mean time, I received another image of a photograph by Simpson. This one is a carte de visite portrait, possibly a few years earlier than the landau photo, and not nearly as decent quality. The owner of the photograph, Terry Nolan, writes:

The attached photo is from a collection of prints which belonged to my grandmother. Her name was Frances Helen Larissey, later Mrs Nolan of Handsworth, nr Sheffield. I can't identify any of the people in the picture, however the man in the middle of the three men in the back row, bears an uncanny resemblance to my late father. That being the case, it could be my great-grandfather John Larissey (b. 1845) or failing that my great-great-grandfather Thomas Larissey (b. 1810). It would be really useful to try to date the photograph. I still wouldn't be sure of the identity of the man, but it would be interesting to speculate.
Unfortunately, the carte de visite is a little faded, and not particularly clear. From what I can make out of the clothes that the women are wearing, the fashions more or less equate to the late 1870s, say between 1876 and 1880.

Image © & courtesy of Terry Nolan

The design on the reverse of the card mount is of a style - with text in a banner & stylized ivy - which was popular in the mid- to late 1870s. Roger Vaughan has a similar example on his web site which is accurately dated at November 1878. It is similar to the design on my profile of Frank Simpson profile, except that it has three "Prince of Wales feathers" motifs at the top instead of the coat of arms. I believe this example may have been slightly earlier than the "coat of arms" style, but the latter is not dated so that's not a great help.

The style of the backdrop, the clothes worn by the subjects, the shape of the card and the card mount design all point to a date of around 1877 to 1880, although it is possible that it could have been taken as late as 1881-1882. Older women tended to wear clothes which were perhaps not quite as up-to-date with the latest fashions, and the photographer Simpson, too, being something of an itinerant, may not have possessed the latest amenities in his travelling studio.

If that is the case, then it's possibly the oldest portrait by Simpson that I have yet come across, so I'm very grateful for the opportunity to use it - many thanks, Terry.

All six of the subjects look as they could easily be in their sixties, although the two in the middle, including the man you referred to, is possibly a little older than the others. I think it quite conceivable that he might be Thomas Larissey (1810-1882). Thomas and his wife Ann (née Fawcett) lived in the village of Loversall, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, where he worked as a gardener from prior to 1841 until his death on 31 December 1882.

I think it quite likely that Thomas Larissey would have travelled to Buxton, together with his wife and perhaps friends or family, for a short holiday in the summer time, as it was a popular tourist resort. I suspect - although I don't yet have good documentation for this - that Simpson spent the summer holiday season in Buxton catering to the tourist trade visiting the Peak District and the hydropathic spas, and went back to Ashbourne for much of the rest of the year. It is also possible, although I believe less likely, that Simpson travelled to or through Doncaster or Loversall taking photographs as he went, as he operated from a caravan. The fact that he lists locations in Leicester, Burslem and London on the reverse of his card mounts suggests to me that he travelled a good deal, perhaps following the village and town fairs.

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