Monday, 20 April 2009

A mystery marriage in Barton-under-Needwood (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 2)

Having established that William Farmer's period of operation as a photographer in the village of Barton-under-Needwood was from roughly 1863 until 1873, we can return to, and examine in more detail, the wedding photograph which I introduced in the first article (Part 1).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

I previously estimated that the portrait was probably taken either in the late 1860s or early 1870s. With a better understanding of Farmer's movements and career as a photographer, it seems likely that it was between 1867 and 1873. This and the other two portraits appear to have been taken in a farm yard or courtyard of some sort. From the style of clothing in the wedding portrait, the subjects were fairly well off, by which I mean that they are more likely to have been tenant farmers or landowners than farm labourers.

With that in mind, it seemed likely to me that notice of such a wedding would have been inserted in the local newspaper. From the list of newspapers held by The Magic Attic in Swadlincote it seems likely that the Burton Chronicle and The Derby Mercury would have been the daily newspapers of choice in the 1860s and 1870s. Fortunately a complete set images of issues of The Derby Mercury newspaper from 1800-1900 are included in the 19th Century British Library Newspaper Collection presented online by Gale Cengage Learning. This is available by subscription, or alternatively accessible through many libraries who have such subscriptions, and a friend very kindly conducted some searches for me through such a library facility. I have previously used it during a period when Gale was offering a free trial, and am therefore familiar with the searching mechanisms and parameters.

The search engine deals with text files of the newspaper documents created with the aid of sophisticated scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software. This allows the user to look for specific words or text strings, either in article titles or in entire documents, limiting searches by publication date and/or title. Using the "Basic Search" tool, and searching for all instances (not just in titles, but throughout all documents) of the keyword "Needwood" between 1865 and 1875 (to allow some margin of error in my date estimate) in The Derby Mercury produced 340 positive results.

Each of these "hits" was presented with the article title so it was then a relatively simple, if somewhat tedious, exercise to browse through the list selecting and viewing all of those which fell under the title, "Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries." Of the 66 hits only eleven were marriage announcements where at least one of the participants was shown as being from Barton-under-Needwood; the remainder were births and deaths, or entries from the nearby, but completely separate, village of Needwood. I transcribed all of these in full (the names of bride or groom, where from Barton-under-Needwood, highlighted in bold are my own embellishment):

1865-03-08: On the 25th ult., at St. Peter's Church, Derby, by the Rev. J. Smith, Mr. Lewis Stretton to Miss Elizabeth Ironmonger, of Barton-under-Needwood.

1865-03-15: On the 4th inst., at the parish church, Barton-under-Needwood, by the Rev. H.G. Cooper, Mr. Thomas Fallowes Walker, of Burton-on-Trent, to Miss Emma Bowler, second daughter of Mr. Bowler, second daughter of Mr. Bowler, of Burton-on-Trent.

1866-11-21: On the 11th inst., at the Register-office, Burton, Mr. William Jones, of Burton-on-Trent, to Miss Emily Smith, of Barton-under-Needwood.

1867-03-13: On the 4th inst., at Tatenhill, by the Rev. W.P. Smeeth, M.A., Mr. Samuel Archer, of Burton park, to Caroline Ball, of Barton-under-Needwood.

1867-03-27: On the 13th inst., at Repton, by the Rev. W. Williams, Mr. Halbard, of Barton-under-Needwood, to Alice Mary, second daughter of Mr. Seth Smith, of Repton.

1869-07-28: On the 17th, at St. James's Church, Barton-under-Needwood, by the Rev. H.G. Cooper, M.A., Mr. George Lewis, Pontypridd, South Wales, to Elizabeth Wilson, only daughter of Mr. Wm. Tunley, of the former place.

1870-02-09: On the 29th ult., at the Register Office, Mr. James Todd of Burton, to Miss Emma Chamberlain, of Barton-under-Needwood.

1870-02-23: On the 22nd inst., at Weston-upon-Trent, by the Rev. J. Wadham, Mr. Jacob Botham Smith, to Mary Ann, eldest daughter of Mr. James Hoult, of Blakenhall Farm, Barton-under-Needwood.

1872-04-10: ASKHAM-LEE - April 3, at the Cathedral, Manchester, by the Rev. H.C. Smith, M.A., Minor Canon, Thos. Askham, of Pocklington, Yorkshire, to Laura Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late Charles Hastings Lee, of Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire.

1873-12-17: COULSON-MARSHALL - Dec 9, at the parish church, Burton-on-Trent, by the Rev. C.F. Thornewill, M.A., vicar, Mr. Samuel Coulson, of Alverton House, Denstone, son of the late Mr. Samuel Coulson, of Barton-under-Needwood, to Eliza, youngest daughter of Mr. William Marshall, of Burton-on-Trent.

1875-06-09: BRADDYLL-BIRCH - On the 2nd of June, at the parish church, Long Eaton, by the Rev. T. Ford Fenn, M.A., Head Master of Trent College, Henry John, eldest son of the late Edward S.B. Richmond Gale Braddyll, Esq., to Mary, fifth daughter of the late William Birch, F.R.C.S.E., of Barton-under-Needwood, Esq.
Apart from the convenience of this search method, one major advantage is that it includes marriages that didn't actually take place at Barton-under-Needwood. Those are the only ones that would be found if one looked, for example at the Barton parish registers. However, there are important limitations of and disadvantages to this method, the most obvious being that the marriage depicted in our portrait may not have received a newspaper notice at all. I proceeded with a more detailed examination of the eleven marriages, keeping in mind the fact that the list was almost certainly incomplete.

Of the eleven marriages listed, only one (1870, Smith-Hoult) is from a family obviously involved in farming, at least from the information given in the newspaper entry. To investigate further, I tracked down each of these families using the 1861 and 1871 Census records, GRO Birth, Marriage & Death indexes, the IGI and other sources, turning up five more candidates.

- Elizabeth Ironmonger was the daughter of Edwin Ironmonger, a farm labourer of Catholme Bridge, Barton-under-Needwood, and herself working as a domestic servant at Harborne in 1861. The marriage date of March 1865 is a little early, in my estimate, for the photograph, and I would place this one low on the list of possibilities.

- Caroline Ball was the daughter of James Ball, a farmer who lived on the Main Street of Barton-under-Needwood. In March 1867 she was 39 years old and married Samuel Archer, farmer of 230 acres at Barton Park. He was a widower two years her senior, with five children from his first marriage, aged between seven and sixteen.

- Philip Halbard was a 43 year-old ironmonger from Burton-upon-Trent, probably only briefly resident in Barton-under-Needwood, who established the Britannia foundry in Horninglow Street, this marriage being his third. His bride Alice Mary Smith, 21 years old at the time of her marriage in March 1867, was the second daughter of Repton farmer Seth Smith.

- Emma Chamberlain was a daughter of William Chamberlain, agricultural labourer of Fulbrook, Barton-under-Needwood, who was 21 when she married James Todd, a 24 year-old brewer's clerk from Burton-on-Trent, in February 1870. Considering the occupation of both the groom and the bride's father, I think this marriage is also unlikely to be the one in Farmer's portrait.

- Mary Ann Hoult, aged 35 and a spinster, was the eldest daughter of James Hoult, tenant farmer of Upper Blakenhall Farm, west of Barton-under Needwood. Her husband Jacob Botham Smith was 29, and one of four children of Jacob Botham Smith senior, farmer of Aston-upon-Trent. They married in February 1870 at Weston-on-Trent, and settled at Glebe Farm in that parish.

- Samuel Coulson, a 32 year-old maltster, brickmaker and farmer, formerly of the Main Street, Barton-under-Needwood, married Eliza Marshall of Burton-on-Trent. They settled at Alvaston House, Denstone on a farm of some 110 acres.

Before I attempt to narrow down that list any further, I would like to discuss the possible modus operandi of the photographer. A preliminary investigation of William Farmer, presented in the previous article in this series, revealed that he probably spent at least a decade or so travelling around with his family in a caravan before settling in Barton-under-Needwood. Although I don't have evidence that he operated as an itinerant or travelling photographer during the entire period, it seems fairly likely. He certainly described himself as a photographic artist on census night in April 1861. This was shortly after the carte de visite was introduced and, although it became popular very rapidly, it seems more likely that Farmer was using the wet-plate collodion process at the time, and producing ambrotypes or tintypes for his customers.

Image courtesy of The Open University
The Itinerant Photographer on Clapham Common, by John Thomson
from Street Life in London, by John Thomson & Adolphe Smith, 1877/78
Courtesy of The Open University

As Robert Leggat discusses in his History of Photography: The Tintype Process, the method appealed to itinerant and street photographers because the process was simple, quick, cheap to produce, with low capital requirements. In addition, since they were direct positives, the intermediate stage of exposure of glass negatives was not necessary. A typical set up for itinerant photographers is shown in the photograph from the late 1870s above, titled "The Itinerant Photographer on Clapham Common" and reproduced from Street Life in London by Thomson & Smith (courtesy of The Open University).

It is likely that Farmer had been using this process since Frederick Scott Archer had developed it and published the details in 1852, making it freely available. Brian Coe states, in his informative book, The Birth of Photography, that "unlike the Daguerreotype process it required little skill and a very modest investment in apparatus and materials. No licences were needed for its commercial operation ... the difference in cost was considerable, and even the poor could be tempted into a photographic studio for a sixpenny portrait." Although the tintype or ferrotype process variation was first described in 1853, it only became popular around 1860.

It was a little unusual for the population of a small village the size of Barton-under-Needwood - only 1,677 people in 1871 - to sustain the services of a resident photographer for very long. By comparison, the only photographers working in that part of South Derbyshire south of the River Trent in the 1870s were James Toft & Arthur Hall in the parish of Swadlincote (pop. 1,927 in 1871) and William Rodbourn in the township of Stanton & Newhall (pop. 3,204 in 1871). None of them managed to stay in business for more than a couple of years. However, it was recently pointed out to me (thank you, Nigel and his knowledgeable neighbour) that Barton-under-Needwood was, and still is, characterised by a large proportion of rather grand houses. The term "Beerages," obviously derived from the word "peerage," is how many people in the area refer to the estates established with old money by Burton brewery owners in and around some of the surrounding villages, including Barton. Some of the residents of the village, such as the ironmonger Philip Halbard (see above), even commuted to work in Burton-on-Trent on a fairly regular basis.

Farmer probably realised that he could find enough wealthy clientele in this community from whom to make a living, and thus avoid the continual travelling with a growing family. They presumably rented the house in the Main Street in which they were living in 1871, but it is possible that Farmer may not have conducted his business on those premises. Indeed he may never have used a regular studio. He was already set up to operate as a travelling photographer, with all of the appropriate equipment, which he is likely to have continued to use. He may also have retained the caravan as a mobile studio, perhaps parked down the lane in a farmer's yard. He would then have the means to carry out visits to rural properties in the surrounding area on commission, and perhaps more speculative excursions to nearby villages at periodic intervals. It would therefore have been a fairly normal undertaking for him to take his photographic equipment out to a farm to take portraits of a wedding party, and would have possibly included shots of the relatives, farm buildings, and even animals, as part of the deal.

So, with that in mind we can return to the six marriage possibilities listed previously. It is probably easiest to exclude the least likely candidates first, and investigate the others in more detail. The clothing worn by the wedding group does not suggest they were agricultural labourers or domestic servants, as were the participants in the Stretton-Ironmonger and Chamberlain-Todd marriages. I feel that the Halbard-Smith marriage, too, is an unlikely candidate since it would have been quite a distance for Farmer to have travelled from Barton to the Smith farm at Repton, where the bride's father lived and where the marriage took place. It would have been far easier, and cheaper, for them to visit a studio in Burton-on-Trent.

This leaves three potential marriages:
- Samuel Archer m: 13 March 1867 Caroline Ball
- Jacob Botham Smith m: 23 February 1870 Mary Ann Hoult
- Samuel Coulson m: 17 December 1873 Eliza Marshall
and I will investigate these families in greater detail in Part 4.


History of Local Newspapers from The Magic Atttic
The Derby Mercury Newspaper 1801-1900, images from the British Library courtesy of Gale Cengage
International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church at FamilySearch
Index to GRO Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD
UK Census 1841-1901 indexed images from Ancestry
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 Derbyshire, 1876, from Ancestry
Nigel J. Tringham (ed.), Burton-upon-Trent: Economic history, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9: Burton-upon-Trent (2003), pp. 53-84, from British History Online
The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal, The Mortimer-Percy Volume, by the Marquis of Ruvigny and Raineval, from GoogleBooks
Robert Leggatt's article, The Tintype Process, on A History of Photography from its beginnings till the 1920s, web site dated 1997-2008
Brian Coe (1976) The Birth of Photography, publ. Spring Books, London, ISBN 0600562964
The Rise of the Itinerant Photographer, in Picturing the family, Course A173_1 from The Open University


  1. What a great article!
    My ancestors were almost 100% Acadian/French Canadian (with a bit of Anglo-Norman Channel Islands thrown in)so I'm unfamiliar with Anglo/Protestant wedding traditions so this idea of morning marriages with wedding breakfasts is new to me.
    I must say that I like the idea though. Nowadays I suspect the bride and groom must be exhausted from the daylong hoopla wedding/dinner/reception/dance etc.

  2. Thank you, Evelyn. Yes, these wedding traditions are not particularly familiar to me either, and I think the day has long since passed when there was a specific time set for weddings in the UK. Also, to me, breakfast is not really something that you'd be having at midday.


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