Friday, 24 April 2015

Sepia Saturday 276: Barr Brothers and Portland Studios, Nottingham

Sepia Saturday by Marilyn Brindley & Alan Burnett

Inspired by Marilyn's recent post of a newspaper article on Sepia Saturday's Facebook page about the dilemma of whether or not to save photos of unknown relatives, my contribution this week presents a series of cabinet portraits that have been "saved" from the skip, and may yet be identified, thanks to the habits of an early 20th century photographer.

Although certainly not unique (see W.W. Winter and Pollard Graham, both of Derby), it is rare to find a photographer who meticulously recorded the negative number and surname of every customer on the back of each portrait print that he supplied, but the Barr Brothers seemed to have just done that - at least with all 7 examples in my collection.

William Banister Barr was born in 1877, one of eight children of a Liverpool ironmonger. In early 1897 he briefly tried his hand as an apprentice merchant seaman aboard the ship Irby out of Liverpool. He later joined up as a gunner with the Royal Horse Artillery, but by March 1901 was a patient at the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich, adjacent to the artillery barracks, presumably recuperating from some illness, as it appears unlikely he served with the unit in the Anglo-Boer War.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Barr Bros, Portland Studio, Nottingham & Cardiff, c.1905
inscribed "15786 Dalby" - taken c. 1905-1907
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

In the 1911 census, only two male children with the surname Dalby and appropriate ages are recorded as living in the town of Nottingham:
- William Hector Dalby, aged 13, son of Frank John Birch Dalby, a builder's foreman
- Samuel Dalby, aged 10, son of Edward Dalby, a builder's labourer
Could one of these two be him, I wonder?

In early 1904 he was working as a photographer, with premises at 1 Portland Road, Nottingham. By the time the above cabinet portrait of a young boy in a smart velvet suit was taken around 1905-1907, slightly let down by the studio's scruffy pot plant and rustic chair, it appears his younger brother Harold Cowper Barr (1879-1958) had joined him in the business. The card mount lists a branch studio at 47 Queen Street, Cardiff, which was operating in a building known as City Chambers for several years between 1907 and 1911. Harold was living in Cardiff in April 1911, and had presumably operated the southern arm of the business for some years.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "26794 Gregory" - taken c. 1906-1907
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

Unfortunately Gregory was just too common a surname in Leicester and Nottingham (at least 13 of approximately the right age) for me to come up with any decent candidates for this woman.

In July 1905, when William was married at Fairfield, Lancashire, he was living in Birmingham and had studio premises in 52 New Street. He moved to 213 Moseley Road, Aston in 1906 and his first two sons were born there in 1906 and 1907. Within a couple of years, the "Barr Brothers" name was dropped from card mounts, and it simply became known as the Portland Studio, although the stylised ornate "B" monogram remained and they continued the use of their surname in trade listings. In 1908 William moved again, occupying a studio at 46, Imperial Buildings, Dale End.

Some time between 1904 and c.1908 they also briefly operated a studio at 68 Craven Park Road, Harlesden, London N.W.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "32708 Tomlinson" - taken c. 1907-1908
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

There were even more candidates for Ms. Tomlinson, so all I can hope for is that someone, someday, will recognise her.

In 1908 a trade directory listed "Barr Bros" with premises at 20 Granby Street, Leicester, but despite the number of examples using the address in my collection it could not have lasted for very long, since by 1909 a photographer named Harry Clare was operating from that address. Of course it is conceivable that Harry Clare had previously been working for the Barr Brothers.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "34562 Widdowson" - taken c. 1907-1908
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

The Widdowsons were likewise prolific in Nottinghams and Leicester, making any identification of this slightly older woman difficult, if not impossible, without further information.

The Barr Brothers had established a branch studio at 83a Bold Street, Liverpool as early as 1908, mosing to 103 Smithdown Road the following year. The Nottingham studio appears to have closed in 1908 or early 1909, and by 1910 listings for the Cardiff studio showed the head office of the business, presumably under the hand of William, as being located in Liverpool. William's third son was born at Hoylake, Cheshire in July that year, and by April 1911 the family was living at 107 Smithdown Road, Liverpool. William Barr described himself as a "master photographer" and an employer.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "34683 Tomlinson" - taken c. 1907-1908
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

A second portrait of Ms. Tomlinson, a few months after the first, and this time it is full length.

Barr Bros. disappear from sight for the next few years, but the existence of branches in Belfast (109 Donegall Street) and London (132 Dalston Lane, N.E.) is suggested by the addresses on cabinet card mounts deduced to be from the pre-War period. I have also seen a postcard portrait of a merchant seaman, probably pre-War, that is blind stamped, "Portland Studio, 250 High St, S. Tottenham."

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "34772 Ellis" - taken c. 1907-1908
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

Young Mr Ellis could be any one of a number of candidates.

William Barr enlisted in the army in June 1916, and was called up for service for months later, at which time he gave his occupation as "photographer." Almost forty years of age, he spent the war in England with various units and was finally demobilised in March 1919.

Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne
Cabinet card by Portland Studios, Leicester & Nottingham
inscribed "35159 Pack (or Park)" - taken c. 1908-1909
Image © copyright and collection Brett Payne

I found a James Park, aged 21, working as a shoe hand in the Lasting Department of a factory in Leicester, in the 1911 census.

I have no firm evidence that William Barr returned to the photographic profession after the war. He died at Liverpool in 1949.

A list of studios known to have been operated by the Barr Brothers, not necessarily complete, so if you have any further information, please email me.

1904William Banister Barr, 1 Portland Road, Nottingham
c.1905-1908Barr Brothers, 1 Portland Road, Nottingham (Portland Studio)
1905-1906William Banister Barr, 52 New Street, Birmingham
1905William Banister Barr, 17 Lawrence Hill, Bristol
c. 1906-1907Barr Brothers, 68 Craven Park Road, Harlesden, London N.W.
1906-1907William Banister Barr, 213 Moseley Road, Aston, Birmingham
c. 1907-1909Barr Brothers, 109 Donegall Street, Belfast
c. 1907-1909Barr Brothers, 138 Dalston Lane, London N.E.
1907-1911Barr Brothers, City Chambers, 47 Queen Street, Cardiff (Queen Studio)
1908William Banister Barr, 46 Imperial Buildings, Dale End, Birmingham
1908Barr Brothers, 20 Granby Street, Leicester
1908Barr Brothers, 83a Bold Street, Liverpool
1909-1918Barr Brothers, 103 Smithdown Road, Liverpool
1910Barr Brothers, 39 (or 33) High Street, Merthyr Tydfil
1910Barr Brothers, Market St, Llanelly
1910Barr Brothers, 29 High Street, Newport
1910-1914Barr Brothers, 79 Taff St, Pontypridd
c.1912-1914Barr Brothers, 250 High Street, S. Tottenham
1913Barr Brothers, Regent Street, Wrexham (Queen Studios)
1913Barr Brothers, 88a Church Street, St Helens

References

Alderman, Mari (2006) Victorian Professional Photographers in Wales, 1850-1925, publ. online by GENUKI

Aston, C.E. John, Hallett, Michael & McKenna, Joseph (1987) Professional Photographers in Birmingham, 1842-1914, Supplement No. 116 to The PhotoHistorian, publ. Royal Photographic Society Historical Group.

Heathcote, Bernard & Heathcote, Pauline (n.d.) Pioneers of Photography in Nottinghamshire, 1841-1910, publ. by Nottinghamshire County Council.

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

Hicks, Gareth (2003) Glamorgan Photographers (database), publ. online by GENUKI

Holland, Paul (n.d.) Chester & North East Wales Photographers, personal web site.

Jones, Gillian (2004) Lancashire Professional Photographers, 1840-1940, publ. by PhotoResearch.

Vaughan, Roger (2003) Bristol Photographers, 1852-1972, personal web site.

33 comments:

  1. Not only the Barr Brothers, but that one particular chair certainly got around a bit! And the way it was used was odd - especially with the women being kind of squashed between the back of the chair & something else. Not a very natural sort of pose. The men hanging onto the back of it wasn't too bad, I guess - but not very original. The Barr Brothers may have known their business as photographers, but they weren't very artistic in how they posed their subjects. Too bad, though, you couldn't sleuth out who the subjects were in the photos you have. You might have come close with young Mr. Park, perhaps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I agree, they do look pretty uncomfortable. I don't think Messrs Barr hd the knack of making his subjects feel at ease.

      Delete
  2. I initially thought how good it would be to find photographs with names, but it turned out not to be all that much help in most of your examples. Ms Tomlinson's left hand looks very odd in that second portrait.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jo - Yes, having just a surname is not much use, unless it's a particularly uncommon one, or the town is very small. I hadn't noticed that hand - how bizarre. Perhaps the photographer didn't notice either.

      Delete
  3. I have quite a few photos in which the photographer wrote the color of eyes, hair, tie, etc. on the back even though the photo was not in color. No names though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wendy - When the studio listed the colours of eyes, hair, complexion and clothing on the back of the card mount, that was so that they could produced a hand-coloured portrait, which could be done in water-colours or oils. I have seen quite a few like that, but thanks for pointing it out.

      Delete
  4. The subjects don't look very comfortable, but they likely were asked to lean on something to avoid movement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Postcardy - He took a lot of portraits, but it appears he never mastered the knack of putting his customers at their ease. That thing about movement is one of the many falacies bandied about, by the way. Shutter speeds was fast enough, even by the 1880s, that one didn't have to worry too much about movement in portraits, and utilising studio furniture in that way was supposed to produce a less stiif pose - pity it didn't work in these cases.

      Delete
  5. A wodnerful collection of vintage photographs and I do like the way you research the subjects, where possible, and also give us the background on the photographers.. Fascinating stuff!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue - It's a lot of fun, and particularly so when I can identify the subjects. Pity I wasn't able to do that with much certainty in any of these examples.

      Delete
  6. Ms Tomlinson has a very distinctive face. I hope someone recognizes her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kristin - Yes, I agree, and it may well happen although the surname is so common throughout the English Midlands that I don't hold out a lot of hope.

      Delete
  7. Very well researched. I wonder why they moved so often? A Tailor ancestor was the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sharon - I think there was a lot of competition between photographers. For this firm they were competing against many well established firms, and the main way they did that was by reducing prices. To do that they had to minimise costs, and rents in the busier parts of town were of course high.

      Delete
  8. That chair! And the peculiar fence in the Gregory shot -- branches from the nearest tree? How odd! Great photos, Brett!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Deb. The commonality of the chair suggests to me they were all taken in the same branch studio, probably in Nottingham. The "rustic fence" was a studio prop commonly used in the 1880s and 1890s, as was the "rustic chair" made in a similar fashion, although you hardly ever saw a subject sitting in one..

      Delete
  9. I was going to mention the chair but was beaten to it; very strange. I do like peering at these photos though and picking out the details. I leave you to do the detailed detective work as that is your forte, and we just enjoy the fruits of your labours. I’m still of the opinion that the photos should be saved; I wonder if she ever took up Jo’s offer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree, save them all, but I suppose that leads to another question, who must look after them, and who will pay for the storage ... big questions, and I think the availability of cheap digital storage may mean that will be a solution.

      Delete
  10. First my input on save or throw out, I could never part with any photos! Much like my books, maybe I have a problem! Even each of these photos, to me they have special meaning of the day, of the person and life as it was. All worthy of seeing! I like that term a shoe hand, I'm sure he would be in training? Interesting for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karen - Thanks for your input, and I'm with you on that one, obviously. I think the word "hand" just means he's an assistant.

      Delete
  11. Yes, it is amazing the backdrop to some pictures back then. Great post Brett!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rosie - Sometimes the subject pales into insignificance compared with the backdrop and studio props. Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  12. Another great presentation on a photographer's career, Brett. I've found other brothers who set up photo studios, though I suppose it was a natural thing for close families to do with many trades. Recently I have found several musicians who were also professional photographers.

    The repertoire of studio props interests me. I've learned to look up more examples of a photographer's work to spot the re-use of chairs or drapes. I feel there must be historic photography journals that promoted these accessory fashions which might help with dating the subjects posed leaning on fence rails or seated on wickerwork chairs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness me, Mike, do you realise what a can of worms you're opening up there. I think you could write a whole book about studio backgrounds and the use of props by photographers. Actually the British firm of A & G Taylor, who had more branch studios than any other photographer, also manufactured studio furniture, although I believe not much has been written about that. I wrote an article on toys used as studio props for Shades magazine not long ago, and have intended to do more research on studio props. So much to do, so little time.

      Delete
  13. Hi Brett, before I get onto you post I must just mention the comment you left on mine. I’m still chuckling as I type this – brickwork indeed! I notice how you carefully avoided any mention of the gorgeous bride or the adorable bridesmaids? Hehe

    I’ve got a collection of cabinet cards and your post has inspired me to go and take another look at them, maybe there are names on some of them, how exciting.

    I enjoyed looking at all of these but Ms Tomlinson looks rather uncomfortable in that second shot, I do hope she didn’t keep her hand in that position for very long.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara - I think you already had enough comments about brides and bridesmaids, had to talk about something different ;-)

      Delete
    2. I will let you off but don't do it again ;-)

      Delete
  14. A strange prop for a photograph of a Victorian lady in full length dress, a stile ! For those less familiar with UK stiles I recommend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stile

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the stile fitted the painted backdrop more than the clothing style.

      Delete
  15. Great post and very interesting...following the studio/photographer's history, as well as trying to find many of the subjects. How fun to think how their lives were interwoven for a while.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara - Yes, I like to think of that relationship between photographer and his subjects.

      Delete
  16. The history of the Barr brothers was quite fascinating as was your efforts in determining the identity of the subjects. On another note, I am betting that Mrs Tomlinson's sleeves are cut on the bias, to make that tight lower arm look.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll take your word for it, Joan. Thanks for visiting.

      Delete

Join my blog network
on Facebook