Thursday, 5 March 2009

J. Burton's Galerie Francaise of Aston Road, Birmingham

Angela Barrett recently sent me scans of four cartes de visite identified on the reverse as having been taken by J. Burton of Aston Road, Birmingham, wondering if this was the same photographer as the John Burton & Sons who operated a branch studio in Birmingham in the 1860s, and who I featured in a previous Photo-Sleuth article. The photographs were in a purchased leather bound, gilt-edged album with brass clasps identified as having belonged to one George Ernest Nind (born 1869).

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

The collection of cdvs is an interesting lot. Three of them depict two or three small children, possibly aged between one and four years, while the fourth shows a woman perhaps in her late twenties or early thirties. Three of the portraits have been taken in what appears to be a standard studio setting, with the same chair, painted backdrop, curtain and carpet. The remaining portrait is outdoors on the grass. Two of the pictures show a couple of the smaller children seated in a perambulator, or early pram.

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

I believe that the portraits were taken in the early to mid-1870s, say between c. 1871 and 1875, deduced from a combination of several factors, including the woman's hair, the style of her clothing and the "studio" setting, all of which are typical of this period.

I managed to find a birth record for George Ernest Nind in the GRO indexes transcribed and presented online by FreeBMD, showing a registration in the Registration District of Cleobury Mortimer, spanning the boundaries of the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, in the March quarter of 1869. His family also appears in the 1871, 1881 and 1891 Censuses (available online by subscription from Ancestry), with which I was able to draw up the following family outline:

John Smith NIND b. 1840 Sedgeberrow WOR d. 1924 Worcester WOR m: 1864 Elizabeth Mary SHERRARD b. 1843 Bromley St Leonard, London MID d. 1899 Martley WOR
|- John Sherrard NIND b. c.Aug 1864 Cradley HER
|- Eleanor Mary NIND b. c.Nov 1865 Cradley HER
|- William Charles NIND b. c.Nov 1866 Cradley HER
|- Frederic Augustus NIND b. c.Nov 1867 Cradley HER
|- George Ernest NIND b. c.Feb 1869 Kinlet SAL
|- Henry Edward NIND b. c.Nov 1869 Kinlet SAL
|- Elizabeth Ellen NIND b. c.Nov 1870 Kinlet SAL
|- Florence Emily NIND b. c.Feb 1872 Kinlet SAL
|- Percy NIND b. c.1873 Kinlet SAL
|- Edmund Robert NIND b. c.Aug 1874 St John Worcester WOR
|- Archibald Ralph NIND b. c.Nov 1877 St John Worcester WOR
|- Francis (Frank) Horace NIND b. c.Aug 1879 St John Worcester WOR
|- Son NIND b. c.1881 St John Worcester WOR
|- Marguerite Louise NIND b. c.Nov 1883 St John Worcester WOR
|- Daughter NIND b. c.1887 St John Worcester WOR

George Nind was one of fifteen children of a farmer and haulier/contractor John Smith Nind (1840-1924) and his wife Elizabeth Mary née Sherrard (1843-1899). They lived in Cradley, Herefordshire (1864-1867), Kinlet, Shropshire (1869-1873) and Worcester, Worcestershire (1875-1891). If these portraits depict members of this family group, and that is by no means certain, then there are a large number of children to choose from.

Image © and courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries

One of Angela's correspondents had suggested that the perambulator might have been a photographer's prop, and probably not affordable to the ordinary family. However, I think it more likely to have belonged to the family who were photographed. I found an engraving of a permabulator of very similar design from this period on the Smithsonian Institution Libraries web site and the following reference from the book, A Manual of Domestic Economy by John Henry Walsh, published in 1874 [the full text of this book is available online at Google Books]:
The Perambulator is one of the most extraordinary investions of the day, and chiefly from its extreme simplicity. Any one who has attempted to draw the old-fashioned child's carriage will have felt its weight and the disagreeable nature of the duty; and yet, until within the last quarter of a century, although very nearly the same principle had been adopted for Bath chairs during more than a century, no one thought of extending it to that for the child. They are now made so extensively, and at so low a rate, that they may be procured in every village; but they are not always manufactured in the best possible way.
The suggestion is that by the second half of the Eighteenth Century permabulators had indeed become affordable to many families.

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

A fifth carte de visite with a view of an unidentified church, also by J. Burton of Aston Road, was pasted on top of the frontispiece of the album.

Image © & courtesy of Virginia Silvester

The firm of John Burton & Sons operated a branch studio on the corner of New Street and Bennett's Hill in central Birmingham from 1862 until 1866. The card mount above is from this period, although probably taken at the Derby branch. From what I can tell, they never had a branch on Aston Road, Birmingham, and for this reason, I think it unlikely that these portraits were by the rather more famous Burton firm which had its origins in Leicester, as they appear to have been taken several years after the closure of the New Street branch.

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

The reverse of the card mount used for all five photographs, shown above, is very interesting. It uses a style of design which became popular in the early 1870s, as displayed in Roger Vaughan's excellent and very useful analysis of designs through the decades. However, it is also very similar to the design which had been used some years earlier by Burton & Sons when at their Birmingham studio. It may be that the "Aston Road" Burton was trying to get some spin-off of trade from this association.

Image © and courtesy of Roger Vaughan Image © and courtesy of Roger Vaughan

I have as yet been unable to find any details of another "J. Burton" operating as a photographer in Aston or Birmingham, but have little doubt of his existence since, apart from your five examples, I was able to find several others on the web. Two of these are displayed in Roger Vaughan's large collection of Victorian cartes de visite. They are reproduced above by Roger's kind permission. The portrait of the two girls has the same chair, back wall, curtain and carpet as seen in the previous portraits, although the painted backdrop has changed, and there is an additional circular side table, upon which one girl rests her right elbow. Roger believes the vignetted portrait of the boy may be a copy of another photograph. Unfortunately neither are dated or have further details of the subjects or the studio, but all have an identical card mount design to Angela's, and appear to date from approximately the same time period, i.e. the early to mid-1870s.

Image © and courtesy of Colin Baker

I also found this carte de visite view of a church by J. Burton of Aston Road posted in a thread entitled "Identifying a church" by Colin Baker on the Birmingham History Forum, later identified as the Holy Trinity church, located on the corner of Trinity and Birchfield Roads in Aston (Satellite view of location from GoogleMaps).

There are a several pointers which lead me to think that this "J. Burton" may have been something of an itinerant, travelling or fairground practitioner, in spite of - or perhaps even because of - the "Aston Road" address shown on his printed card mount. The photographer has not taken a great deal of trouble over his "studio" background, demonstrating some inexperience. Although there are three parts to it, the right-hand edge of the painted backdrop is rather badly tacked onto the plain "wooden" wall. In a more established studio, I would have expected this join to have been hidden by some sort of strip to disguise it, and at least present the illusion of a doorway to an outside view. In one of the portraits, there is a significant gap between the carpet and the "skirting board." The presence of the skirting board, presumably fixed to a solid wall of some sort, rather than another canvas sheet, suggests to me that it was at least taken indoors, although probably in a photographer's van.

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

The subject of the painted backdrop interests me even more, as it appears to depict a fairground tent/stall. A woman and child are looking at the wares on display, while a seated woman points to items on the table. Some pots and pans are hanging at the front of the tent and I think I can see some bottles on the table. The writing on the side of the tent reads, "JOUETS D'ENF..." which has been interpreted by one of Angela's correspondents (the Curator of Costume at the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood) as Jouets d'Enfants or "children's toys". This illustration of what may be a scene at a carnival or fair strongly suggests to me that the photographer himself might be a frequenter of such events.

In Pauline Gashinski's notes about showman Randall Williams on her British Fairground Ancestors web site, she states:
"When new regulations prohibited the showmen from exhibiting at Birmingham’s Onion Fair, Randall was instrumental in establishing a new fair at Aston on the border of Birmingham on some waste land known as 'The Old Pleck'. Randall took on the role as lessee of the new venue for a number of years - calling it [the] 'Birmingham Fair'."
She includes the following advertisement from The Birmingham Gazette from 1875:
"Birmingham Pleasure Fair
Aston Road
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday next
30th September, 1st and 2nd October.
Applications for ground to Randall Williams
18 Summer Street, Birmingham
Fireworks on Thursday Evening"
On the same web page, in a report from The Era dated 11 November 1893, there is a mention of a J. Burton, one of a group of van-dwellers and other travellers attending a meeting with Randall Williams at the Rotherham Statutes Fair. While it may be a simple coincidence, it seems quite possible that this J. Burton was the same person who had operated a travelling photographic booth in the early to mid-1870s.

Image © and courtesy of Angela Barrett

All of this points to the five photographs from Angela's album having been taken by a travelling photographer in the early to mid-1870s, possibly not far from their home. During the period in question they moved from Kinlet in Shropshire to Henwick Road in the parish of St John-in-Bedwardine, Worcester, and it seems likely that the church shown in the fifth carte de visite (detail above) might be the parish church from one of these two places.

Image © and courtesy of Sally Lloyd
Parish Church, St John-in-Bewardine, Worcester, Worcestershire
Image © and courtesy of Sally Lloyd

It looks similar, but not identical, to the Parish church of St John-in-Bewardine, Worcester [Satellite image from Google Maps], shown in this sample from a series of recent photographs by Sally Lloyd on Flickr. I wondered whether perhaps there was some significant rebuilding in the late 19th Century, but I may be completely off track.

Image © Gillian Palmer and courtesy of William LaMartin
Parish Church, St John the Baptist, Kinlet, Shropshire
Image © Gillian Palmer and courtesy of William LaMartin

The parish church of St John the Baptist at Kinlet has a similar crenellated tower, but quite a few significant differences which, I think, rule it out completely.

My investigations into the identity of this church are rather inconclusive, so I am hoping that some readers will be able to help in due course. Likewise, I'm also hoping that further sightings of, and perhaps portraits by, J. Burton of Aston Road will surface in due course. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you can help.


  1. Did you notice Punch and Judy hanging in the jouets D'enfants stall?

  2. No, I didn't but I do now, of course - well spotted, Nigel, and thank you.


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