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.
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.
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.
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.