Friday, 7 August 2009

Picnics and beach gatherings, c.1910-1915

Nigel Aspdin sent me scans of a few amateur snapshots from the album of his great-uncle Charles "Charlie" Sydney Smith (1890-1918) which fit nicely into the series of beach photographs that I've featured over the last couple of months. Nigel is not sure exactly when the photographs were taken, but believes from several of the other photos in the album that it must have been shortly before Charlie left for France and the Great War. This narrows it down to the period approximately c. 1910-1915.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Charlie Smith, Trix Slater and friends
Amateur print mounted in album, 74.5 x 57.5 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The first image shows a group of four friends having a picnic. Wearing pin-striped suits and bow-ties, they're not dressed in the manner we might attend such an informal function, but it was probably appropriate for the time and the class of society to which they belonged. They are sitting or lying on a tartan picnic blanket in the dappled shade of a tree, adjacent to a wooden shed or high fence. They have been drinking tea (perhaps whisky too) and there appears to be a large, half-eaten fruit cake. There are six teacups visible around the blanket, so there was probably another couple present, one of whom took the photograph.

Charlie Smith is on the right, with a post-prandial cigarette between the fingers of his left hand, and seated to his immediate right is his fiancée Beatrice "Trix" Slater (1889-1937). The other couple are unidentified (as are most of the people in the remaining photographs in this selection). He has a cigarette dangling from his lips; she is holding one in her left hand, either on behalf of the photographer or perhaps guiltily as if she should not be smoking. They were obviously friends of Charlie and Trix, but there are unfortunately no annotations in the album to identify either the locations or the participants.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Roadside gathering, Trix Slater and friends
Amateur print mounted in album, 93.5 x 52.5 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

This photo, located on the same page as and immediately below the previous one in the album, shows Trix Slater (at far left) with two couples and a dog, but they are different people from those seen at the picnic. They are lying down in the grass, on what appears to be a road verge, facing the photographer. I assume that Charlie was taking the photograph, and it seems likely that he took most of the photographs in the album. Although the friends are not identified - and Nigel is on holiday at the moment, so he can't confirm it immediately - I believe that the young man on the right hand side is Nigel's grandfather Bertie Dyche Aspdin (1871-1943) and next to him is Trix's sister Evelyn Amelia Slater (1887-1967). Bertie and Evelyn were married in mid-1914, so whether they were husband and wife at this time depends on when the photograph was taken.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Detail of roadside gathering, probably Evelyn Amelia Aspdin née Slater
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Conversely, one might interpret the ring that Evelyn is wearing, and displaying prominently, on her left hand as indicating they were already married, although it could well be an engagement ring rather than a wedding band.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Group at the seaside, leaning on balustrade
Amateur print mounted in album, 102.5 x 78 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The next two shots show groups of men, women and boys at the seaside, preparing to go for a swim. Beatrice is sitting in the middle of the front row. They are dressed in raincoats, what look like bath gowns and a wide variety of headgear, which seem rather bizarre by today's standards, but was presumably dictated by the rules of decorum prevalent at the time, in order to preserve their modesty before they actually entered the water.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Large group of fourteen at the beach
Amateur print mounted in album, 98 x 70 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

In the second of these two photos a different, much larger jovial group, including two young lads, is standing on the ripple-marked beach itself. Check out the placement of hands! I won't name the reader who sent me the comment, "My father told me never to miss an opportunity."

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Preparing to enter the water
Amateur print mounted in album, 82.5 x 71.0 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Then a sequence of three photos show two of the young ladies from the large group (standing at 4th from left and at far right, respectively) disrobing and entering the water.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
"No excuses, we can't put it off any longer"
Amateur print mounted in album, 74.0 x 75.5 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

After removal of their outer wrappings the two women head to join three of the men who are at the water's edge already.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
"Come on in, although I can't promise the water's warm"
Amateur print mounted in album, 57.0 x 51.5 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

They're putting on brave faces, but I doubt the water's very warm.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Testing the water
Amateur print mounted in album, 97.0 x 72.5 mm
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The last in the series is possibly on a completely separate outing to a stony, rather than sandy, beach. Three fully dressed women have taken their shoes off - although not their magnificent hats - and are testing out the water, while a man with a camera stands beyond them, ankle-deep in the water, preparing to take a shot with his camera.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Detail of previous photograph
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Unfortunately the photo is not quite detailed enough for me to be able to identify the type of camera, although it looks to be some kind of box-type, perhaps similar to one of the Kodak Brownie range.

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