Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Donkey Derby - A scene from outside the photographer's studio

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Some photographic portraits, while technically merely average or adequate, are simply irresistible, such this carte de visite by Richard Keene junior discovered in an old album by Janet Bitton. I suppose it must have been posed to a certain extent, and it would have been difficult to keep the children still for long enough, but it has much of the exuberant feel commonly captured by street and beach photographers working several decades later with vastly superior photographic equipment. The exaggerated swagger of the two boys holding the donkey and the evident joy of the child whose turn it is for a ride, to say nothing of the donkey's inevitable reluctance to move an inch, make it unusually spontaneous for a portrait from the late 1870s.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The printed design on the reverse of the card mount identifies it as having emanated from the Midland Studio of Richard Keene junior in "Derwent Street." In a previous article on Photo-Sleuth, I described how Keene opened a studio in Siddals Road, Derby in the mid-1870s, and then moved to premises in Derwent Street East in late 1876. He was fined 5s. for hanging a photographic case outside his Derwent Street shop front on 6 October 1876 [Source: Derby Mercury, 11 October 1876], providing an earliest date by which he must have moved, as well as demonstrating a street frontage to his studio, rather than being situated in one of the back yards. In June 1877, he tried to stimulate further business by offering a prize of a cabinet portrait sitting to the winner of a race of the Derby Swimming Club at the Corporation Baths [Source: Derby Mercury, 20 Jun 1877]. By January 1878, Keene was in financial trouble and, after being declared bankrupt in March, the studio and contents were sold by his creditors at the end of April [Source: Derby Mercury, 3 & 24 April 1878]. Although it is not clear exactly when he set up his next studio, but it must have been soon after the demise of his Derby business because he was certainly operating at 56 High Street, Burton by 1880.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The negative number (#714) falls neatly between the #632 of a portrait taken soon after his move from Siddals Lane and the #873 on another portrait from shortly after his move to Burton-on-Trent. However, it is the writing on the door behind the subjects which reveals a clue to its location: "Private - Laboratory." This strongly suggests to me that it was the developing and printing laboratory of Keene's Derwent Street East studio, and that the portrait may therefore have been taken in the yard behind the studio.

Image © Ordnance Survey, Courtesy of the Derby Local Studies Library
Portion of Ordnance Survey Map of Derby showing Derwent Street East
Surveyed 1881 Re-levelled & Revised 1913
Image © Ordnance Survey
Courtesy of the Derby Local Studies Library

Although Keene's card mounts suggest that it was situated in Derwent Street, the 1877/1878 Registers of Electors and Burgesses, nominally dated 1 October 1877, identify Richard Keene junior as actually working from premises in Derwent Street East, which is the portion of the road extending to the north-east of the Exeter Bridge, towards Nottingham Road.

Maxwell Craven, in his article on the Derby Evening Telegraph's web site Bygone Derbyshire about the history of the area originally known as Canary Island, discusses the rapid development of what became Derwent Street East in the 19th Century, particularly after the building of the more robust stone Exeter Bridge in 1852. He discusses the locations of several premises on Derwent Street East that existed at the time this photograph was taken, including the Royal Standard and White Lion public houses, established in 1862 and around 1870, respectively, and a monumental mason's workshop.

I'm working on getting a much better picture of all the houses, shops and other businesses which were contemporary with Keene's studio, to enable me to pinpoint the location more precisely. However, I'm not yet at that stage, and it will no doubt form the subject of another Photo-Sleuth article in due course. For the moment, if any readers have access to any photographs of Derwent Street East taken prior to the rebuilding of the 1930s, I would appreciate your getting in touch. I am particularly interested in the north-west side of the road between Stuart and Phoenix Streets, where the Art Deco building currently occupied by NatWest Bank now stands, and the opposite side of the road, between the old Royal Standard public house and the Congregational Chapel, now demolished.

I'm very grateful to Janet for finding this wonderful photograph for me, and also to Nigel Aspdin who has endured repeated requests to return to the Derby Local Studies Library for that extra snippet of information which just might enable me to find and fit the final piece of the Derwent Street jigsaw puzzle.

References

Anon (1852) Map of the Borough of Derby with Portions of Darley, Litchurch and Little Chester, Surveyed by the Board of Ordnance for the Local Board of Health, Facsimile Edition, ed. D.V. Fowkes, publ. Derbyshire Archaeological Society, 1980.
Anon (1874) Directory of South Derbyshire & Places Within 12 Miles of Derby, Third Edition, publ. C.N. Wright, October 1874, Derby, publ. online by the University of Leicester's Historical Directories project
Anon (1875) Derby Rates Register, November 1875, Derby Local Studies Library, Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Anon (1876) Extracts from The Derby Mercury, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Courtesy of Gale Cengage Learning
Anon (1877/78) Register of Electors, Derby Local Studies Library, Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Anon (1877/78) Register of Burgesses, Derby Local Studies Library, Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Anon (1880) Directory of Staffordshire, Kelly & Co., London, indexed on the GENUKI Staffordshire Photographers Index by Mike Harbach
Anon (1880) Derby Rates Register, 1880, Derby Local Studies Library, Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Anon (1881) Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co., London, publ. on microfiche by Derbyshire Family History Society
Anon (1881) Indexed images of the Census of Derby, 3 April 1881, Courtesy of The National Archives and Ancestry
Anon (1887) Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co., London, publ. on microfiche by Derbyshire Family History Society
Anon (1891) Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co., London, publ. online by the University of Leicester's Historical Directories project
Anon (1891) Indexed images of the Census of Derby, 5 April 1891, Courtesy of The National Archives and Ancestry
Anon (1913) Portion of the Ordnance Survey Map of Derby, publ. Ordnance Survey, Courtesy of the Derby Local Studies Library
Leeson, Angela (ed.) (1992) The Winter's Collection of Derby: 125 years of Derby photographers W.W. Winter Ltd., Breedon Books, Derby, ISBN 1 873626 20 7
Craven, Maxwell (1993) Keene's Derby, Breedon Books, Derby, ISBN 1 873626 60 6
Allard, Sarah & Rippon, Nicola (2003) Goodey's Derby: Paintings and Drawings in the Collection of Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Breedon Books, Derby, ISBN 1 85983 379 9
Anon (2008) How architect Aslin bridged design gap, publ. Evening Telegraph, 26 Sep 2008, reproduced online by This is Derbyshire.co.uk
Craven, Maxwell (n.d.) Canary Island, Derby: An area rich in heritage, publ. Derby Evening Telegraph, reproduced online by Bygone Derbyshire.

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