Fair Day in Morledge, Derby, 1882, by C.T. Moore
In an article about Derbyshire fairground photographer Charles Warwick posted three years ago, I used this image of a painting by C.T. Moore, a lively scene of an Easter fair taking place in the Morledge, Derby in 1882.
Detail: Itinerant Photographer's Tent
Closer examination of the painting reveals, parked amongst numerous hawkers, swings, an "Aetherscope" and several other attractions, an itinerant photographer's tent offering "Carte de Visite" on the far right, adjacent to a caravan. After further investigation, I identified several photographers accompanying a large group of travellers who toured the Midlands in the 1870s to 1890s, and who regularly attended the Easter Fair in Derby. These included Samuel Whiting (later a swing boat proprietor), Charles Warwick, Charles Antill and Charles Tyler. Although I'd come across all of these photographers previously, and had compiled profiles for three of them, I had no examples of the work of Antill or Tyler. Since then I've received several contributions of images, purchased a photo by Charles Tyler, and learnt a lot more about the life and careers of both him and his son Albert Charles Tyler.
William & Sarah Hall with their daughter Eliza, Swanwick, c.1867-68
Image © and courtesy of Judith Brennan
Charles Tyler (1837-1908) started working as a confectioner with the family business in the small village of Wymeswold, near Loughborough in Leicestershire. The 1861 Census (7 April) shows Charles and his father living in a caravan parked at the Morledge, Derby. They were presumably winding down after a busy time the previous Easter weekend holiday hawking sweets (Easter Sunday was 31 March). In late 1864 he married Alice Suett, the daughter of a fellow traveller, and not long after appears to have taken up the photographic trade. By the late 1860s, when the above carte de visite portrait was taken in Swanwick, Derbyshire, he and Alice were living in a van and travelling to various fair around the Midlands.
Generic card mount design overprinted "MR. C. TYLER Market Place WHITWIGK" [sic]
Image © and courtesy of Judith Brennan
The card mount is a generic one, overprinted with his name and "home" address, complete with spelling mistake - it would not have been produced by a high end printer! The Market Place in Whitwick was also not far from Loughborough, and was possibly where he set up shop when there were no country fairs to attend. I do have some doubts whether Tyler was, in fact, capable of reproducing copies of any previously taken portrait from the original negative as claimed, since glass plate negatives were bulky and heavy, and space would have been at a premium in his van.
Market Place, Grantham
Image © and courtesy of Google StreetView
Birth locations for Charles' and Alice's children over first two decades of their marriage show a wide distribution, indicating that they ferried their growing brood from village to town throughout the Midlands, following the country fair circuit through the 1870s and 1880s. Census night on Sunday 2 April 1871 found Charles, Alice, three young children and a servant in "booths and caravans" in The Yard of the Blue Lion in the Grantham Market Place, Lincolnshire. It seems likely that they were already packing up in preparation for a move to Derby to attend the Easter Fair on the following weekend. Further locations visited included Hinckley, Long Eaton, Nottingham and Burslem. They were back in Grantham on census night 3 April 1881, this time with two weeks to spare before the Easter fair in Derby, which they presumably attended.
Four young men (and a dog) of Bollington, Cheshire, c.1885-1890
Image © and courtesy of Frances Quinn
This remnant of a carte de visite portrait depicting four young men and a well behaved dog, sent to me by Frances Quinn, was probably taken in the late 1880s at Bollington, north of Macclesfield in Cheshire. It was perhaps close to the northern limit of the Tyler's range, but appears to have been a regular haunt, because his fifth son Edwin was born there in the summer/autumn of 1873.
Carte de visite by Charles Tyler, "here and at Wymeswold," c.1885-1890
The card mount used is by now far more elaborate, with classical design elements common to many being published in the late 1880s. He advertises that he is able to take portraits of fidgety children "by the instantaneous process" which essentially means that he is taking advantage of the faster emulsions commercially available by that time to employ quicker exposure times. Most interesting to me, however, is the tell-tale mark of an itinerant tradesman, unable to specify a permanent studio location: "Here and at Wymeswold, ..." Unfortunately, any other locations that might have been listed must await the appearance of a more complete version of this particular carte de visite design.
Possibly Catherine (Kate) Quinn of Billington, c.1876
Fragment of ambrotype by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Frances Quinn
Frances also sent me these images of a fragment of an ambrotype or collodion positive portrait, believing it might be of her father-in-law's great aunt Catherine Quinn (1873-1959) of Bollington, Cheshire. What little I can see of the studio setting is typical for the the early to mid-1860s, with a diamond patterned carpet, and a wood panelling backdrop (although I think this backdrop is actually painted canvas, rather than real wood panelling). The seated pose of the man, probably facing directly forwards towards the camera, and with his legs apart, was common in the 1850s and 1860s.
Collodion positives were introduced in the 1850s, but their popularity started to decline in the 1860s, during the heyday of the carte de visite. However, due to their convenience and low cost, they were still favoured by some itinerant photographers, even as late as the 1890s. I found a picture of a very similar girl's outfit, with woven checked or tartan dress and jacket, dated 1874 in Jo Ann Olian's Children's Fashions 1860-1912: 1,065 Costume Designs from "LaMode Illustree," (publ. 1994, Dover Publications, New York). The portrait could therefore easily have been taken in the late 1870s, as Frances suggests. Whether the portrait was taken by Charles Tyler or some other photographer may well remain a mystery. We know that he was visiting Bollington in the mid-1870s, but I'm not sure how many other photographers in the general area.
View Charles Tyler (1837-1908), itinerant photographer in a larger map
On Sunday 5 April 1891, the weekend after Easter, Charles and Alice were back at the Morledge, Derby, two of their sons Arthur and Edwin and now working as photographic assistants. Their eldest son Albert Charles Tyler, aged 25, by now was operating separately from his own caravan, then parked at Mantle Lane, Whitwick. Over the previous two and a half decades they had covered an impressive area, illustrated by the location map of the English Midlands above.
Unidentified woman, unknown location, c.1894-1896
Image © and courtesy of Gillian Jones
When this portrait of a young woman was taken in the mid-1890s, Charles Tyler had retired from an active role in the photography business and had become a publican. He owned and ran the Engineers' Arms in Coalville while Albert, now married to Swadlincote girl Lucy Smedley, operated the nominal "father and son" portrait venture from the van. The backdrop used is a rudimentary one, consisting of an unornamented, light coloured sheet, and Albert has taken little care to disguise its appearance. In additon the bright sunlight, probably coming from a skylight in the caravan roof directly above the subject, has heightened the contrast between the woman's dark clothing and the light backdrop, thus revealing little detail on her fine dress.
C. Tyler & Son, here and at Swadlincote & Coalville
Printed by publishers Adams & Co. of London the card mount demonstrates by the caption "here and at Swadlincote & Coalville," that they used Lucy's and Charles's parents' abodes respectively as home bases.
Three, unidentified women, c.1895-1900
Carte de visite portrait by A.C. Tyler of Coalville
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
The final portrait was taken, judging by the fashion of the dresses worn by the three women pictured, some time in the late 1890s. They are clearly dressed for an outing, with lavishly decorated hats, and umbrellas in case of the occasional light shower. Albert, now working on his own as "A.C. Tyler," has by now acquired a painted backdrop which lends something to the atmosphere with a little perspective, but it is probably still taken within the cramped confines of a photographer's caravan or tent.
There are several tell-tale signs to look for which might indicate a photographic portrait has been taken by an itinerant.
- There may be several locations listed, without a qualifier indicating that they were permanent branches.
- The words "Here and at ..." with no definite statement where "here might be, is presumably indicative of a traveller.
- Alternatively, there might not be a location listed at all.
- Rudimentary or out-of-date backdrops, carpets and other accessories used, edges poorly disguised and often with grass or bare earth showing.
- Portraits often taken outdoors.
- In the United Kingdom, collodion positives were predominantly used by travelling photographers after the mid- to late 1860s, but rarely by studio photographers.
- Tin types were generally the preserve of itinerants after the end of the 1870s.
Many thanks to Judith Brennan, Frances Quinn and Gillian Rhodes for permission to use their images.