(Continued from Part 1)
William John Farmer arrived in the Staffordshire village of Barton-under-Needwood in 1862 or 1863, having apparently lived for some years in a caravan, working as an itinerant photographer. Although he was probably born around 1819, the location is uncertain, and nothing is known of either his early life or marriage.
The 1861 Census shows him, aged 41 and working as a photographic artist, with his wife Harriet and five children in a caravan in the small village of Rocester on the banks of the Dove River in north Staffordshire. The birth places specified for the children, although all in Staffordshire, suggest that they moved frequently:
- William Henry b. c.1853 Wasall (sic = Walsall)
- Thomas b. c.1854 Barton
- Joseph b. c.1857 Handsworth
- William b. c.1859 Penkridge
- Georgiana b. c.Aug 1860 Uttoxeter
Another daughter named Harriet was apparently born at Rugeley later that year, although not too much reliability should be read into these dates and locations, since members of this family rarely provided consistent information to successive census enumerators. William himself various described his birth place as "New York, U.S.A.," "Finchley, Bedfordshire," and "Lichfield, Staffordshire," and in 1881 apparently told the census enumerator that his name was Thomas!
Perhaps the impending arrival of another child was just too much for them all to remain "on the road." William and Harriet had a further four children between 1863 and 1869, but they were all born in Barton-under-Needwood, suggesting that they remained in the village throughout that time. This is supported by listings of W.J. Farmer as a photographer in Barton-under-Needwood in trade directories for 1868, 1870 and 1872.
Extract from 1871 Census of Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
National Archives Ref. RG10/2903/48/11/55
In April 1871, still with seven children at home, they were living in a house on the High Street of Barton, close to the centre of the village, and it seems likely that William Farmer used the premises as a studio, even though no studio portraits by him have yet been found. Their son Thomas was two doors away, living with George Allsop, a plumber and glazier to whom he was apprenticed. His younger brother Joseph was nearby in Wales End, where he was employed as a groom to William Tunley, a district manager of the Bristol Life Insurance Office.
Nigel Aspdin very kindly sent me this wonderful image of another carte de visite by Farmer, from his own family collection. It was taken around the same time as those displayed in Part 1 of this article and shows a view westwards down the Main Street in the village of Barton-under-Needwood, a scene that most village residents would have seen every day of their lives.
The shop occupying the corner of the large double-story building in the centre of the photograph is identified by the large sign above the window as that of William Woodroffe, draper and grocer (Harrod, 1870). There are two figures in front of the shop, who would appear to be young boys. Woodroffe and his wife Maria did indeed have two sons, aged 10 and 3 at the time of the 1871 Census, but they also had young lads and lasses working in the shop, so any attempt at identification would really just be wild speculation.
The building, apparently now known in the village as the old parsonage, is shown in the centre of this extract from an early to mid-1880s Ordnance Survey map of the village (above), to the north-west of St. James' Church, while my interpretation of the photographer's approximate field of view is shown in the satellite image (below) taken from GoogleMaps.
Along the main street, several more figures can be seen. Two women in the traditional conical, hooped skirts of the 1860s are standing on the pavement looking towards the photographer, perhaps interrupted on their way to the store. Further down the Main Street are two horse-drawn carts.
The 1871 Census reveals that the buildings immediately adjacent to Woodroffe's on the Main Street - clearly visible in Farmer's view - were occupied by George Tunnicliffe, a dispensing chemist, Edward Tolley, a hairdresser, Joseph Chamberlain, a retired bootmaker, and John Holland, the postmaster.
In the distance a number of buildings can be seen, all on the northern side of the Main Street. From my interpretation of the census enumerators sheets, in conjunction with the old Ordnance Survey map shown above, I believe the shop with the awning may have been occupied either by Amelia Pullin, draper & chemist, or Mrs Sarah Eliza Barnes, grocer/shopkeeper. That shop appears to be on the north-east corner with Cowberry Lane, and the building on the opposite (north-west) corner, the large windows of which can be seen directly behind the carts, may have been occupied by William Jones, grocer. The 1871 census suggests that the photographer William Farmer lived in the house immediately west of Jones' shop, which is not quite visible in this photograph.
Between 1872 and 1874, the Farmer family moved to Casey Lane, Charles Street, Horninglow (now a suburb of Burton-on-Trent) where William Farmer obtained a license to sell beer. After a couple of appearances at the Burton-on-Trent Petty Sessions in May 1876 and September 1877 for selling beer outside the regulation hours, he appears to have given up the business, because the 1881 Census shows him work as, of all things, a clockmaker. It seems likely that he was employed by one of several clock and watch makers in Burton-on-Trent as he is not included in the list of tradespeople in Kelly's 1880 trade directory.
William Farmer died, aged 63, in late 1883 in the Burton Registration District. None of his children appear to have followed him into the photographic business. Nor have I been able to find any connection with the photographer Thomas Farmer (b. 1827) who was living in Willington, Derbyshire in April 1881, or with Albert Farmer (Farmer's Photographics), who were active in Derby in the 1920s.
In the next article (Part 3), I will investigate the possible subjects of the wedding photograph.
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Staffordshire, 1868, from Ancestry
J.G. Harrod & Co.'s Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Staffordshire, 1870, from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Staffordshire, 1872, from Ancestry
F. Wright's Directory of South Derbyshire, 1874, from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Staffordshire, 1880, from Ancestry
The Derby Mercury Newspaper 1801-1900, images from the British Library and Gale Cengage
Index to GRO Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD
UK Census 1841-1901 indexed images from Ancestry