Thursday, 6 October 2011

Annie Orchard's crowning glory - An opalotype from Derby

Some years ago Karen Cross sent me these images of what Marcel Safier eventually identified as an opalotype. Although I have displayed the images previously on my web page for the Derby branch of A. & G. Taylor's huge network of studios it's worth revisiting them, not only because it is an unusual example from that studio but, in keeping with the series of images I've discussed recently, it has been hand coloured. I have also delved a little further into the background of the family, and unearthed one of those coincidences which happen to many of us who have ancestors who lived in one area for a number of generations. It turns out she's closely related to someone else that I've researched for Photo-Sleuth, and in fact discussed at great length in a previous article. More of that later.

Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross
Annie Goodwin née Orchard, c. 1880-1882
Opalotype (165x215mm), A & G Taylor, 63 London Road, Derby
Created from copy negative or print c.1889-1890
Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross

The following is what I originally received from Karen:
The subject is Annie Goodwin née Orchard, twin sister of my great-grandmother Fanny Orchard. They were born on 27 February 1863 at Holy Trinity, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire. She seems fairly young in the portrait so it may have been her eighteenth birthday or done so her twin could bring the picture with her to Australia. My great-grandmother Fanny married Arthur John Kidd of Kings Bromley and immigrated to Queensland Australia in 1882. They lived in Emerald until her death in 1946. The photo came into my family's possession through my grandmother Edith Annie Francis (née Kidd).
This vignetted studio portrait shows a young woman, probably in her late teens, with her very long hair worn loose and down at the back, a fashion which was popular for unmarried girls up to the age of about 18, but not usually acceptable for married or older women. Geoff Caulton - on his British Photo Detective web site - refers to this style in Edwardian times being called a woman's "Crowning glory." The clothing appears to be roughly equivalent to the fashions from the early 1880s.

Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross
Detail of opalotype

The soft nature of the image, an effect largely due to the white glass used as a backing and often compared to watercolours or pastels, is demonstrated well in this example. Enlargement of the image demonstrates that the photograph has not only been coloured, but also significantly retouched, with much of the texture of her hair and the fabric of the clothing having been overpainted. Her lace collar has been very thickly embellished resulting in a three-dimensional effect. She may be wearing some kind of thin silk head covering.

Opalotypes - also known as opal types or milk glass positives - were introduced by Joseph Glover and John Bold of Liverpool, who patented their invention in 1857, but a number of methods of preparation were in common use by the mid-1860s (Towler, 1866; Waldack, 1865). They were made by applying photosensitised emulsion to the surface of an opal glass substrate, usually with a gelatine binder layer. The plate was then exposed to the negative either by contact printing or by use of a specially designed copying camera, and the image developed. The surface of the print was often colour-tinted by hand, and they were often cased in the same way that daguerreotypes and collodion positive portraits (ambrotypes) had been previously. Whitman et al (2007) describe opalotypes being produced until the 1940s, although the process was never very popular, perhaps due to the relatively high cost.

Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross
Reverse of opalotype, reproduced c. 1887-1890
Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross

The back of the opalotype shows several notable features, as follows.
- It has an underlying beige-coloured patina, worn away in places to reveal the milky white, translucent glass forming the base on which the photograph was made.
- A small rectangular label is affixed to the top right hand corner of the back, inscribed "Derb 22468" in handwritten pencil, probably a negative number from the Derby branch.
- The remains of four pieces of printed trade label are affixed roughly centrally on each edge, perhaps used to hold it within a frame or mount at some stage in its history.
- At intervals around the edges are what appear to be yellowed tape marks, perhaps also used for framing or mounting, but more recently than the trade label fragments. The serrated leading edges and residue are typical of those produced by sellotape.
- Written on the patinated surface in what appears to be blue ball point pen, is: " Miss Annie Goodwin (Grandma Kidds twin Sister."

Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross Reconstructed trade label, A. & G. Taylor, 63 London Road, Derby

I've managed to reproduce an image of three quarters of the trade label using digital reconstruction, and this is enough to show that it was for A. & G. Taylor's branch studio at 63 London Road, Derby, operated by managing partner William Middleton, who also controlled branches in Sheffield, Nottingham, Goole, Doncaster and Barnsley. Although not definitive proof that the opalotype was made there, in conjunction with the negative number of presumed Derby origin ("Derb 22468"), one could certainly make a strong case for it.

The address of the Derby branch changed from 57 London Street to 63 London Road some time between October 1887 and October 1888, although I am fairly sure that this reflected a renumbering exercise and street name change rather than a physical move of the studio premises. It remained open until at least 1903. The Sheffield branch studio was at Furnival Chambers, 101 Norfolk Street from 1879 till 1904, while the Nottingham branch address was at 107 Parliament Street - also known as West End Chambers, Chapel Bar - from around 1882 until at least 1901. Victoria Street, Goole was home to a branch for a relatively short period between 1889 and 1891. Doncaster also had a branch at 32 Scott Lane from 1881 until 1889, and Osman (1996) records W. Middleton being a partner c. 1890. The only recorded date for a Barnsley branch (Sheffield Road) is 1904.

If one excludes Barnsley, the only period when all five remaining branches were open simultaneously was from 1889-1890. Although this dates the trade label rather than the opalotype itself, it is likely that the latter was produced around that time. The following comments were made by fellow photo researcher David Simkin, who very kindly looked the image:
The evidence seems to suggest that the photograph was originally taken around 1881/1882 in Derby (perhaps at A. & G. Taylor's studio in 57 London Street and at a later date (late 1880s/early 1890s) the image was transferred to [opal glass] by the studio that still held the negative or a copy photograph.
A number of reasons could account for wanting to transfer the image to a ceramic plaque - one that cannot yet be discounted is that Annie died young and the plaque was a sort of permanent memorial. If she wanted to send a copy of her photograph to Fanny a number of years after she had departed to Australia, why not a more recent photograph and why on a relatively heavy and fragile base? It would have been easier to send a cabinet or carte de visite portrait on a card mount. Alternatively, another relative could have brought the ceramic photo to Australia, or it could have been collected if Fanny ever returned to England for a visit to her family.
In April 1881, at around the time this portrait was originally taken, Annie Orchard was living with her widowed mother Harriett (née Goodwin) at 185 Newton Road, Winshill, Derbyshire, on the opposite bank of the River Trent from the Staffordshire brewing town of Burton-upon-Trent. Her twin sister Fanny was employed as a nurse in the household of Robert Ratcliff - partner in the famous Burton brewing firm of Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton - and his wife Emily née Payne (my 3g-grandfather's frst cousin) at Newton Park, Newton Solney. The girls' father had died in 1866, leaving Harriet with four children under the age of six to bring up alone. Her youngest child, a boy named Samuel, died in 1871.

Although I've been unable to locate Annie in the 1891 Census, in 1901 she was single and living in Kensington, London, where she worked as a parlour maid for a brewery manager. It is tempting to conclude that she found this position through brewery trade contacts in Burton. Her elder brother William was still living in Winshill and working as a brewery labourer in 1891 and 1901. Her unmarried status is a little difficult to reconcile with Karen's description of her as "Mrs Annie Goodwin née Orchard," although she may well have married after 1901.

Orchard-Botham-Smith outline tree
Click to enlarge

Finally, I discovered during the course of my research that Annie's father Henry Orchard (1826-1866) was second cousin to Jacob Botham Smith (1840-1925), who featured in a series of articles on Photo-Sleuth two years ago, entitled "A mystery marriage in Barton-under-Needwood."

Image © and courtesy of Karen Cross Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Annie Orchard (left), the wedding party of Jacob Botham Smith & Mary Ann Hoult (right)


Osman, Colin (1996) The Studios of A. & G. Taylor, the Largest Photographers in the World, Supplement to The PhotoHistorian, No. 111, March 1996.

Payne, Brett (2008) A. & G. Taylor of the Royal Studio, 57 London Street and 63 London Road, Derby, Derbyshire Photographers' Profiles.

Towler, J. (1866) The Silver Sunbeam: A Practical and Theoretical Text-Book on Sun Drawing and Photographic Printing, New York: Joseph H. Ladd, 5th Edition, p. 392-403.

Vaughan, Roger (2004) The Studios of A. & G. Taylor, Victorian & Edwardian Photographs.

Waldack, Charles (1865) Treatise on Photography, Cincinatti: H. Watkin, 4th Edition, p. 247-251.

Whitman, K., Osterman, M. & Chen, J.-J. (2007) The History and Conservation of Glass Supported Photographs, George Eastman House, Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation, p. 25-26.


  1. Photo-sleuthing at its very best. Reading the post is a bit like watching an episode of a detective series on TV : endlessly fascinating, continuously wondering where it is leading to.

  2. Thank you Alan. I think perhaps I read too many trashy detective stories when I was young!


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