Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Spotlight Photos Ltd. – “Walking pictures” in Derby

I’ve been corresponding recently with Simon Robinson, who got in touch regarding an article that I wrote about sidewalk or street photographers in March last year.


Simon is working on a book devoted to “walking pictures,” a style or specialization of street photography which flourished from the 1920s until the 1950s, and then largely disappeared during the 1960s.  An introduction to the book project is provided at Easy on the Eye Books, as well as information about a potential museum exhibition at an East Coast resort.

Much of the collection that he has assembled was purchased at fairs, and identification of or background to the subjects has usually been lost.  He is therefore welcoming contributions of material which has something of a story attached for possible inclusion in the book.  Some of the images collected and donated so far are shared in Simon’s Flickr Photostream.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Charles Vincent Payne
Postcard format "walking picture" taken c.1932
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
If you have any photographs in your collection that you think may be of interest, and that you would like to share, please do get in touch with Simon.  I have sent him several for consideration, some of which I posted in my previous article.  The unusual example illustrated above, however, is one of my great-grandfather Charles Vincent Payne (1868-1941) that I unearthed more recently from my family collection.

Image © and courtesy of Gail Godfrey

George Raymond Meadows (1914-2000)
with “Walkie” camera at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Image © and courtesy of Gail Godfrey

According to Paul Godfrey, who has an excellent web site devoted to seaside photography, this type of “walkie” was produced using converted Royal Navy 35mm cine cameras from the First World War, such as that being operated by his father-in-law George Meadows at Great Yarmouth, shown above, some time between 1946 and 1953.  In this case, the strip of three shots were printed in postcard format with the sprocket perforations showing, although Paul notes that other operators, such as Barker’s of Great Yarmouth, tended to mask them off.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Reverse of Postcard format "walking picture," c.1930s
Spotlight Photos Ltd. Regd. No. 728037
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The reverse shows that it was taken by Spotlight Photos Ltd.  A location is not given, but Simon directed me to two very similar images, also by Spotlight, from the Derby Museum & Art Gallery reproduced on Picture the Past, for which the locations are identified.  Both were taken in Derby, close to St. Peter’s Bridge, the point at which the Corn Market, Albert Street, St Peter’s Street and Victoria Street all meet.

“Mum in St Peter’s Street,” Derby (A) 
Taken by Spotlight Photos Ltd, July 1929
Image © Derby Museum & Art Gallery & courtesy of Picture the Past

Although captioned “Mum in St Peter’s Street,” the first was actually taken in the Corn Market, facing north, with the subject walking south towards the Victoria Street intersection.

Image © and courtesy of W.W. Winter Ltd.
Corn Market, from St Peter’s Bridge, Derby 
taken by W.W. Winter Ltd., c.1928
Image © W.W. Winter Ltd.

This exact location can be accurately pinpointed since the jeweller’s shop of H. Samuels is clearly visible on the far right, also captured (below the clock) in this c.1928 view of the same street, taken by W.W. Winter Ltd.

Unidentified subjects, St Peter’s Street, Derby (B) 
Taken by Spotlight Photos Ltd
Image © Derby Museum & Art Gallery & courtesy of Picture the Past

The second example includes several people, but focuses on a man with hat, cane and plus-fours, and with an eye on the camera, striding purposefully southwards down St Peter’s Street, at the junction with Albert Street.  There is also a woman, possibly pregnant, carrying a shopping bag, waiting to cross the road and, in the background, a Trent bus going past.

Image © and courtesy of W.W. Winter Ltd.
Corn Market, from St Peter’s Bridge
by W.W. Winter Ltd., c.1925
Image © W.W. Winter Ltd.
Again, it can be accurately located from a sign on a storefront, in this case Jefferson’s, a firm of drapers located on the corner of the Corn Market and Albert Street.  The c.1925 view by Winter shown above provides a view of Jefferson’s slightly to the left of that seen in the Spotlight walkie, and includes a view down the Corn Market, with H. Samuels’ trademark clock just visible in the background.

Image © 2010 Brett Payne
Junction of Corn Market, Albert Street, St. Peter’s Street & Victoria Street, Derby, with Spotlight photo locations (A & B)

The locations of the camera, buildings used for identification (green) and fields of view (pink) for these two photographs are shown on the street map above (clicking the image will bring up a larger view).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne Charles Vincent Payne (C)
Detail of "walking picture," Victoria Street, Derby 
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Nigel Aspdin, with his excellent knowledge of historical and present day Derby, didn’t take long to come up with a precise location for the walkie of my great-grandfather.  He is walking in a south-easterly direction along Victoria Street, on the pavement in front of the Post Office Hotel, the characteristic entrance to which can be seen on the right of both the walkie and the c.1926 view below by W.W. Winter Ltd.
Image © and courtesy of W.W. Winter Ltd. Victoria Street & Wardwick, Derby
by W.W. Winter Ltd., c.1926
Image © W.W. Winter Ltd.
In the background of the walkie it is possible to make out the awnings and shop windows on the ground floor of the Refuge Assurance Company building, and behind that the Mechanics’ Institiute, both of which are on Wardwick and shown in the image above, although the former are slightly obscured by the tram shelter in the middle of Victoria Street.
Image © and courtesy of W.W. Winter Ltd. Flooded Wardwick and a Trent bus, Derby 
by F.W. Scarratt, 22 May 1932
Careful examination of the walkie also shows two signboards protruding from the Mechanics’ Institute building, somewhere just above head height.  Nigel found an accurately dated postcard by Frank Scarratt recording the memorable effects of the May 1932 flooding in the Wardwick, and this, too, shows the protruding signboards which were not present in the earlier (c.1926) photo.

Image © 2010 Brett Payne
Junction of Wardwick & Victoria Street, Derby,
with Spotlight photo location (C)

It is therefore possible to reconstruct the exact location of the walkie, using the Post Office Hotel, Refuge Assurance building and Mechanics’ Institute as markers.  Again, the area marked in pink is the approximate field of view seen in the photograph.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin A view of Victoria Street & Wardwick, 18 July 2010
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

A present day view of the same scene, as shown in this photograph by Nigel Aspdin, has the same buildings by and large, albeit with somewhat different shop fronts.

Image © 2010 Brett Payne
Spotlight Photo Ltd. walking photo locations in Derby

As the plan above demonstrates, all three of the Spotlight walkies were taken with 150 metres of each other.  Until we have a larger range of examples to work with, we can’t assume that the photographer only worked in this small area, but it was, and still is, a busy part of town.  The negative numbers are not very easy to decipher with certainty, but if my interpretation is correct, then they were taken in the order B (#3936), A (#7350), C(#9978).

If any readers have street photographs – or walking pictures – by Spotlight Studios Ltd., I would be keen to hear from you, particularly if the photos are identifiable as having been taken in Derby.


Low resolution images from the two volumes of The Winter’s Collection have been reproduced with the kind permission of W.W. Winter Ltd.  High quality reproductions of these and many other historic images are available from W.W. Winter Ltd.

Many thanks to Simon Robinson and Paul Godfrey for so readily sharing information about street photographers and material from their collections, and to Nigel Aspdin for his detective work and photography around Derby.


Anon (n.d.) Old Ordnance Survey Maps: Derby (North) 1899, Derbyshire Sheet 50.9 (orig. OS Sheet L.9), Newcastle upon Tyne: Alan Godfrey Maps.

Anon (n.d.) Old Ordnance Survey Maps: Derby (South) 1899, Derbyshire Sheet 50.13 (orig. OS Sheet L.13), Newcastle upon Tyne: Alan Godfrey Maps.

Craven, Maxwell (ed.) (1992) The Winter’s Collection of Derby, Derby: Breedon Books, 208pp.

Craven, Maxwell (ed.) (1996) The Winter’s Collection of Derby, Volume Two, Derby: Breedon Books, 192pp.

Scarratt, Francis William & Jewell, Rod (1995) Yesterday’s Derby and Its Districts: Through the Lens of F.W. Scarratt, Derby: Breedon Books, 208pp.


  1. Brett, fascinating and detailed piece. I love the way you've done the maps. I shall check any new Spotlight images carefully. I have a number by the company but many seem to be coastal towns, as the subjects (or at least their children!) are often carrying buckets and spades. I could supply scans if you wanted to see what others thought. The only coastal town I can confirm Spotlight operating in is Lytham St. Annes. It may that the company aspired to operate in a number of towns (as some Walking Pictures companies clearly did) but as their images are all from a fairly narrow time frame, they probably closed fairly quickly. Another possibility is that they were based in Derby, and operated elsewhere seasonally, which would explain why several Derby subjects show up.
    While Spotlight closed pre WW2, a few Walkie operators did struggle on right into the seventies, and I have a small number of colour Walkies dated 1972. Interestingly these are from a photographic company called Wrates who offered a lot of other services, so could keep going that way. Indeed they are still in business, now doing corporate and school portrait work (albeit ignoring all my attempts to talk to them!). Simon

  2. This was really interesting to learn, especially because walking pictures are new to me. I think they are interesting especially because they can put a person at a particular place, and though the viewer may not know the "time", one can always guess/estimate the year. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about these.

  3. Simon - Thanks for the kind comments. As a former geologist, current trainee geographer (of sorts) and apparently also a collector of old maps, I'm keen to use whatever I can to help give the picture, so to speak. Let's hope we encounter more Spotlight walkies ion due course. There must be plenty out there.

    Nancy - Nice to have your comments, and yes, this is an intriguing genre of photographs. I like the fact that their character is often so different from others in the family album. Not only are they not posed, but they are taken by someone who doesn't know the subject, and usually without the subject's prior knowledge. Although not strictyly walkies, I have other similar types in my collection which I will feature in due course.

    Regards, Brett

  4. Thanks for this informative article. I have a mid-forties image of my father striding along St-Catherine Street (downtown Montreal) and I was so struck by the different feel of the picture that I remember thinking that it couldn't have been taken by a family member. I'm going to check back with my father and see if he remembers whether it was a street photographer!

  5. Hi Evelyn,

    If your father can remember the circumstances surrounding the taking of that photograph, that will add so much more to it. I look forward to hearing about it.

    Regards, Brett

  6. I am in awe of all your research and knowledge.
    I do hope that you don't mind as I made a link to your blog in my Sepia Saturday post as it included two photos taken by street photographers here in NZ, I quoted you saying that street photography was quite common from the 1920's until the 1950's.
    Thank you so much for visiting my blog.

  7. You're very welcome, Marilyn, and thank you for the kind comments. Sepia Saturdays is a recent discovery for me, and I've enjoyed looking at and reading your contributions. There seem to be rather a lot of contributors, and I can see I'm going to have difficulty keeping up with the reading, let alone considering a contribution.

    Your photographs, by the way, are stunning!

    Regards, Brett

  8. Hi Brett, thanks so much for all the information you left on my blog about street photography. I am sure once everyone starts looking through their family photo collections that a few more of these photos will come to light. I do have one more myself.
    Thanks also for your kind comment about my own photography.

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  10. My Mum and Dad come from Derby (I was born there too). My Mum has walking photos and they may well have been taken by Spotlight. In fact the first image on your montage looks suspiciously like my grandm and granddad. Anyway, there are photos of my mum, gran and grandad and some of my mum's brothers and sisters taken in the 1920s in Derby. They also holiday'd in Skegness and there are walking photos of them there. Later, my mum and Dad were taken walking when they were courting - much later in the late 40s. Is this of any use to you? I'm sure Mum would let you see the photos.

  11. Hi Angela. Yes, I'd be very keen to see your Derby family photos, please, if you are able to get scans. The best way I think is to send detailed scans to my email address. Regards and best wishes, Brett

  12. Hi Brett have just found some walkies by Spotlight that were taken in about 1937 in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe. Paul.

  13. Hi Paul - Interesting to know for sure, then, that they weren't just a Derby operation. I'll be in touch by email. Regards, Brett

  14. Hello.
    My name is Michael.
    I have just located, within my vast collection of postcards, a "Spotlight Photos Ltd." - Regd.No.728037. - series of three photographs of two women walking the street toward the camera. Their period dress is probably 1930.s style. The code on the visible sprocket line is "9635 H". Regards, Michael R Squires, 22/07/17 1545hrs


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