Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Haymaking in Derbyshire

15th Edition of Smile For The Camera: They Worked Hard for the Family

Having just taken delivery of some hay for our two hungry cows, to tide them through this especially cool winter and corresponding period of poor grass growth, today's submission for the footnoteMaven's 15th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival, "They worked hard for the family," (hosted on Shades of the Departed) is an appropriate choice.
The professions of our ancestors are almost as interesting as the people themselves. Some of our ancestors worked very hard; they took in laundry, worked the land, raised many children, or went to school and became professionals. Photographs of them working are called occupational photographs and are rather hard to find.
When I started this blog just over two years ago, I wrote in my introductory article that I wanted to include examples of "Victorian photos showing aspects of ordinary daily life." Unfortunately, as fM states, such photos are not very common, and I don't come across many. In my own family collection, for example, I have no occupational photographs prior to the Great War, apart from those which show people undergoing military training.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Print mounted on thin card, roughly trimmed to 67 x 102 mm
Unidentified subject, location and photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This photograph of a magnificently moustachioed man gathering hay is from an album that I purchased on eBay a few years ago. Although the album contains a dedication to its owner from one Henry Mitchell at Allestree in Derbyshire, dated 25 August 1894, none of the photographs in the album had captions or were annotated in anyway. My primary interest in the album was that most of the studio portraits within it were from Derby studios, and many of them have been featured on my web site devoted to Derbyshire Photographers & Photographic Studios.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Allestree Album, c. 1894, Approx. 215 x 265 x 55 mm
Collection of Brett Payne

The album is typical of the kind produced in the 1880s and early 1890s. It has a padded leather cover embossed with a stylised floral design, probably in the art nouveau style, and ten thick cardboard leaves with spaces for eight cabinet cards and 48 cartes de visite. Only two of the CDV slots are missing photographs, although some ofthem are occupied by other formats of photo, trimmed to fit. Four of the pages have coloured floral designs. The metal clasp is unfortunately broken, and several of the paper photo sleeves are torn, but this does not detract too much from its overall appearance, as can be seen from the image above.

In February last year I wrote an article about how a visitor to my Derbyshire Photographers web site had come across an image of a cabinet card of her great-grandparents Henry & Ann Jane Statham in the profile of photographer W.N. Statham, identical to one hanging in her home. That photograph, together with a carte de visite of daughters Gertrude and Lilian, and a cabinet card of sons Isaac and Henry, came from this Allestree album.

Of the 54 photographs in the album, 32 are clearly marked as having been taken at Derbyshire studios, including Matlock Bridge, Matlock Bath, Derby, Chesterfield and Shirebrook, while a further five were taken at Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough. As 86% of the marked portraits were from Derbyshire, it seems likely that at a good proportion of the remaining unmarked photographs were also taken in Derbyshire.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Unfortunately we have yet to identify any other of the many people depicted in it, or even the "Henry Mitchell" who wrote the dedication in the front of the album. As a result we have few clues to the identity of the haymaker or the location of the field in which the hay is being gathered. It is possible that at some time in the future a reader might recognise the stone walls, field and row of houses in the image above. I hope it will happen but, to be honest, I think that is a long shot. For the moment we will have to enjoy the photograph for what it is, a portrait of a hard working man. Having shifted the occasional bale of two of hay myself, I know it is very hard work.


  1. We have two types of stone wall in Derbyshire, sand stone (millstone grit) and limestone (carboniferous). The sandstone is fairly yellow when freshly quarried but soon darkens to the colour of cow dung. The limestone can be quite light orange when freshly quarried, but quickly washes to a light grey. The problem is that in a black and white sepia photo it can be hard to identify the difference. But the sandstone is often sawn and dressed to blocks for buildings, whereas the limestone is used as quarried as it is hard to work. Both are used unworked in field walls. If we can identify the stone, it halves the search area, assuming it is indeed Derbyshire. If I were to put my money on this one, I would say sandstone, and an area somewhere a few miles east or west of on a line north of Derby, Little Eaton to Ambergate.

  2. That is a wonderful and unusual photograph. I hadn't really thought about it much before, but there really aren't many occupational photographs from the Victorian era. Like you, I am interested in everyday life (though via things like newspapers and ephemera).

  3. Many thanks for your feedback, Lidian. You write a wonderful series of fascinating articles about Victorian life which I read avidly. Aren't we lucky that newspaper resources are becoming so much more widely available on the net?

    I do have some other occupational photographs in my collection of purchased - as opposed to family - photographs that I will do my best to include in future articles.

    Regards and best wishes, Brett

  4. First, thank you for visiting my first carnival blog, They Worked Hard for the Family, Trumbo style , at Reflections From the Fence and your very kind comment. I had not visited your blog before, but, I will be coming back. Great research, great photos, great story telling! Marvelous!


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