Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Job Bramley and The Family Fry Pan Portrait Gallery

I purchased this carte de visite a couple of years ago on eBay mainly because I thought it was an unusually striking portrait. However, the reverse of the card mount revealed a story which proved to be as intriguing as the subjects.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The portrait is of a young woman, perhaps in her mid- to late twenties or early thirties, with a young child in her lap. What makes it unusual, at least to me, is that the child appears to be asleep. I think there will be quite a few readers who will assert that she is dead and that this is a post-mortem portrait, but I don't think so. The woman is facing straight into the camera with a very direct look, and it's not exactly a happy look, but I don't think it's a sad one either. The child looks asleep, with slightly tousled hair, and may be wearing a christening gown. I think the photographer has merely taken advantage of the opportunity. In other words, the child being asleep would enable him obtain a sharp portrait without the usual fidgeting and impatience.

The style of the woman's clothes, her hair, the studio setting and the card mount all suggest to me a date of the mid- to late 1860s. The gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeve, narrow at the shoulder, and flaring from just below the shoulder to become fullest at the mid-forearm, and then tapering rapidly down to become closed at the wrists was common in the early to mid-1860s, as was the full, dome-shaped striped crinoline skirt. The ribbons around her neck are in a style which became fashionable around 1866. Her hair is centrally parted and tied back above her ears, which also became fashionable only in the second half of the 1860s. The straight-on, full face seated pose is of a style which was more common in the 1850s - the ambrotype era - but would perhaps have been employed in this case in preference to a standing profile, or three-quarter view because of the necessity to include of the sleeping child. The studio background is simple, with a nicely painted backdrop showing a plain wall with low skirting board, a window with open shutters, and a portion of a rural scene. Whatever studio furniture is being used, it is hidden by the woman's boddice and skirts.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The card mount is made from relatively thin card with square corners, indicating a date of prior to c. 1874. The design on the reverse is of a style which was fairly common in the late 1860s and early 1870s. A device or emblem - in this case, rather unusually a frying pan - is enveloped by text in a single font style, but three different font sizes, and the whole is surrounded with a simple double line frame with scalloped corners. The frames are more commonly seen in the 1870s, but are not too rare in the late 1860s to preclude this example dating from that period.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

I have seen many different emblems used as the centrepiece in early card mount designs, from the standard monograms, coats of arms, artist's palettes and early box cameras to cherubs, Freemason's insignia and other heraldic devices. However, I have never before encountered a frying pan. It suggested to me that the practitioner may have been taking portraits merely as a sideline, and provided a clue to the photographer's primary occupation, but it was not an easy one to research.

Initially, a simple Google search for the string "Family Fry Pan" and the word "Leicester" revealed an 1866 book entitled The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (by Jacob Larwood & John Camden Hotten) with the following (p. 396):
The Frying Pan is still a constant ironmonger's sign - thus in Highcross Street, Leicester, there is a gigantic gilt specimen with the inscription "the Family Fry Pan." There are trades tokens of "John Vere, at ye Frying Pan in Islington, Mealman," which considered in connexion with pancakes, one can understand; but it certainly looks out of place at the door of Samuel Wadsell, bookseller at the Golden Frying Pan, in Leadenhall Street, 1680.
Deducing the identity of J.Bramley was not quite so easy. Although there was a well known firm of ironmongers by the name of Bramley operating in Leicester during the 1870s and 1880s, the name of the proprietor was William Forrester Bramley and his premises were in Granby Street. He did have a son John Simpson Bramley who was listed as an ironmonger's assistant in 1871, but he appears not to have been the photographer in question.

View Larger Map

The key to the story actually lies in the premises listed on the reverse of the card mount. From an examination of street listings in trade directories of the 1860s to 1880s, the Family Fry Pan Studio appears to have been located on the south-east corner of High Cross and High Streets, as shown in the GoogleMaps view above. In the early 1860s premises at this address were occupied by one William Banton, who operated an eating house and refreshment rooms (1861-1862) and later, presumably after he had obtained a licence, a beerhouse and boarding house. However by 1864 the shop had been taken over by Mary Parker, widow of a Leicester hosier, Thomas Parker. She operated as a glass, china, earthenware, hardware & ironware dealer and wholesale haberdasher, and from around 1870 her sister and brother-in-law Elizabeth and Job Bramley joined her. A trade directory of that year lists the business as Parker & Bramley, hardware dealers and haberdashers and shows Job Bramley as the manager, although the census a years later describes him as "shopman to [a] haberdasher."

Image © Copyright Keith Williams and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence
Edward VII postbox on St Nicholas Place, Leicester
Building on cnr of High & High Cross streets in the background
Image © Copyright Keith Williams & courtesy of Geograph.co.uk and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Job Bramley was born c. 1815-1816 at Basford, probably a son of a woodman William Bramley. He was a tailor in his twenties and, after marrying Elizabeth Butt at Nottingham in 1840, lived in Willoughby-on-the-Woulds, Sneinton and Stapleford (Nottinghamshire) before settling in Derby between 1845 and 1851. By 1861 he also operated a druggist's shop at 20 Derby Road. They joined Elizabeth's sister Mary in Leicester at some stage in the late 1860s, although the exact date is unknown. In 1877 he was listed as a manager, and a year later as a haberdasher & general dealer, so perhaps the partnership had been dissolved by then.

By April 1881 Job and Elizabeth Bramley had moved to Halifax, Yorkshire, where he described himself as a general dealer, and the premises at 106 High Street, Leicester had been taken over by Alfred James Garner. By 1891 the proprietor of the business, still known as The Family Frypan, was William Hallam. Further references to The Family Frypan have been found for the first decade of the 20th Century. Job Bramley died at Halifax in 1892, aged 75.

The most likely date for the portrait is probably c. 1867-1870. Bernard and Pauline Heathcote's excellent index to Leicester photographers doesn't mention either Job Bramley or the Family Frypan Studio, and I think this suggests that it must have only been operating for a brief period of time. This seems a pity to me, because I think Bramley had a good eye for portrait photography, and he might have done well. However, he would have been up against considerable competition, such as the well established firm of .John Burton & Sons and others.


Larwood, Jacob & Hotten, John Camden (1866) The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, (12th impression, 1908, Chatto & Windus, London, courtesy of BiblioBazaar and GoogleBooks)

Trade Directories from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
White's Directory and Gazetteer Nottinghamshire, 1844
White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Derbyshire and Sheffield, 1857
Slater's Directory of Leicestershire, 1862
History, Gazetteer & Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1863
Wright's Midland Directory, 1864
Buchanan & Co.'s Directory of Leicester & Market Towns, 1867
Street, Alphabetical & Trade Directory of Leicester, 1870
Post Office Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1876
History, Gazetteer & Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1877
Wright's Directory of Leicester & Six Miles Round, 1878
Kelly's Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1881
Kelly's Directory of Leicestershire, 1891

UK Census 1841-1901 Indexed images from Ancestry.co.uk

International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church & FamilySearch

General Register Office Index to Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD

Heathcote, Bernard V. & Heathcote, Pauline F. (1982) Leicester Photographic Studios in Victorian & Edwardian Times, publ. Royal Photographic Society Historical Group


  1. I found your post fascinating.

  2. Thank you, Jean. It's always good to have feedback from readers. Regards, Brett

  3. I love the way you incorporate Google maps into your posts, Brett.
    I really need to learn how to do this.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  4. Evelyn - Sorry I didn't respond to your post a little earlier. Actually, embedding Google Maps frames in blog articles is not at all difficult, as long as you are prepared to copy/paste a little HTML code into the HTML editor version of the blogger compiler.

    Once you have the approximate view in Google Maps that you want to reproduce, click on the "Link" at upper right of the map window, and then choose the option, "Customise and preview embedded map." This allows you to interactively fine tune the view that you wish to include, including the size of the frame. When you are done, you simply copy/paste the HTML which is provided into your blog post, and hey presto ...

    Regards, Brett

  5. Thanks for the info., Brett!
    The November issue of A Festival of Postcards is called "Maps". I'm anticipating that a lot of family history participants won't have map postcards so I'm going to suggest they include a postcard of a location and then add Google or other maps to their entry.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  6. That's an excellent idea, Evelyn. I'll do my best to participate in that festival/carnival, although that is the sharp end of the year for me! Regards, Brett


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