Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A mystery marriage in Barton-under-Needwood (Part 1)

The three cartes de visite which are featured in today's blog article have been in my collection, as the result of an eBay purchase, for a couple of years. To be honest, I've looked at them several times as possible subjects for Photo-Sleuth and each time have put them into the too hard basket, probably merely of local or topical interest. On the most recent occasion I chanced upon a line of enquiry which is now leading me on a lengthy research journey. This journey is not yet complete, and I still don't know whether I'm nearing the pot of gold or merely barking up the wrong proverbial tree. However, I would like to share some of the excitement in the discoveries that I'm making with readers, and have decided that the best way to do this particular one would be through a series of installments. I hope that will give more of a feel for the breakthroughs and/or disappointments as the investigation proceeds.

As always, I value comments and suggestions on how to proceed, either as comments (below) or by email (here).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The first portrait shows what appears to be a wedding group, with the bride and groom seated, and three men standing behind them. It is an outdoors portrait, with the group arranged on a checked blanket in front of a building with a painted or whitewashed brick wall, a door and a low window. The door may be a double one - it is difficult to see clearly. The window is so low down in relation to the door and ground level that it probably opens into a basement room.

The bride, looking down towards the ground in front of the photographer, is dressed in white wedding gown with veil, and is holding a bouquet of flowers. Unfortunately, the effect of the bright sunlight on the white dress has meant that little of its shape and form is visible. The groom, also looking slightly downwards and to the right, is dressed in a dark frock coat with matching trousers and waistcoat. He has a chain attached to a button of the waistcoat, perhaps with the other end securing a fob watch hidden in a hip pocket.

The three men standing behind the bride and groom are all wearing double-breasted frock coats with flowers in their lapels. Only the man on the right, who looks to me to be in his mid- to late twenties, with a moustache and very full beard, carrying a top hat, is staring directly into the camera. To his right is a man with a moustache and Dundreary whiskers, perhaps in his late twenties or thirties. On the far left, is the youngest man in the group, with both hands resting on the groom's shoulders.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The second photograph is an unusual one for this period. It shows a woman dressed in dark clothes, wearing a hat, a bead necklace and dangly earrings, feeding something to two rather well behaved dogs, one fairly large and the other much smaller. The action takes place on a cobbled courtyard in front of what appears to be a large painted wooden double door with a simple, open latch. I have been unable to decide whether or not this woman is the same one who appears as the bride in the previous photograph.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The last CDV is in landscape format and shows a horse, dark with a white blaze on the left rear foot, being held by a man with reains attached to a bridle, on a cobbled courtyard and in front of the same double wooden door which appears in the previous photograph. I don't believe this man appears in the group photograph. His clothing, although fairly smart, is perhaps not as formal, and although his face is a little blurred, perhaps from movement, he doesn't look like any of the four in the wedding party.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The reverse of all three card mounts is identical. It shows a simple 1860s-style belt motif containing the words, "Farmer, Photographer / Barton-under-Needwood."

The design on the reverse of the card mount is typical of those from the mid- to late 1860s. However, from the thickness of card, the square the corners, the poses of the portraits, and the style of clothing worn by the subjects, I would estimate initially that it was taken in the late 1860s or early 1870s (this without any further information about the photographer or subjects).

In Part 2 I will investigate the photographer.

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