Friday, 5 June 2015

Sepia Saturday 282: Derbyshire Photographers: John Mellor Hampson

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

Instead of going with the Sepia Saturday image theme this week, I'm continuing my intermittent series of posts featuring Derbyshire photographers. Since 2002 I've been compiling a historical database of studio and portrait photographers operating in the English county of Derbyshire, with much of the accumulated data, research material and images presented online: Derbyshire Photographers & Photographic Studios.

The information about photographers and studios comes largely from trade directories, census records, historical newspapers, genealogical databases and a variety of other sources. Examples of portriats by these photographers come partly from my own collection, but mostly by kind contribution from several hundred contributers around the world who have been in touch with me since the web site was launched in 2002. The database now includes over 500 separate photographers, with detailed profiles on over a third of them, but due to other projects competing for my time and interest - such as Photo-Sleuth - updates to the web site have stalled in recent years. My research, database compilation and collection of relevant images continues, however, and I still welcome further contributions.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Portrait of unidentified child, taken c.1880-1885
Carte de visite by John M. Hampson of No. 9 Birch View, Birch Vale
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Although most of the documentary and archival sources where records of photographers might be found hve now been extensively scoured, I still come across the occasional name that is completely new to me, mostly from the discovery of portraits. This, a typical example, is a carte de visite portrait that I came across on eBay recently and purchased for my collection. Like most photos that are sold on eBay, it is not annotated, and has no documentation of provenance, so I have no idea who the subject was. It appears to be a child - possibly a girl, although the short hair makes me wonder a little - in a velvet dress with abundant ornamentation in the form of knotted braid. The chair on which she is sitting is covered with a plaid blanket, while another chair to her right has a floral cloth covering.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Reverse of card mount
by photographer John M. Hampson of Birch Vale
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The reverse of the card mount has a design which Roger Vaughan calls the Early Large Letter design, used in the late 1870s and early 1880s. I suggest this particular example is from the early to mid-1880s.

John Mellor Hampson was born on 3 February 1846 at New Mills, Derbyshire, son of a wheelwright James Hampson and his wife Martha. By the age of 15, he had already left school and was working as a millwright in nearby Hayfield. He married Maria Bates Randle at Hayfield on 11 May 1870; she had been working as a cotton doubler in one of the local mills. The following year, John was a foreman/millwright at a print works in Hayfield, presumably associated with the cotton mill industry. The censuses of 3 April 1881 and 5 April 1891 both found him living at number 9, Birch View in the small village of Birch Vale, near Hayfield, describing himself as a millwright. By 1901 he and his wife had moved to Hayfield Road, Hayfield, and then by 1911 to Macclesfield Road, Staley Bridge (across the border in Cheshire), but he was still working as a millwright. He died at Whaley Bridge on 13 March 1913, aged 67, and was buried at Hayfield two days later.

I've found no evidence in the usual documentary records for John M. Hampson working as a photographic artist, although the Bulmer trade directory for 1895 lists him as a coal merchant. However censuses were only taken every ten years, while trade directories provide a fragmentary record at best, and it appears that he must have briefly tried his hand as a photographer during the late 1870s or early 1880s.

24 comments:

  1. I would suppose Mr. Hampson's photography work was in addition to his basic job as a millwright - a 2nd job as it were - perhaps as a hobby, or more likely, to earn more money to make life a little easier? I would question his work a bit, however. The child in the photo does not seem to be very well posed with his/her gown all bunched up and he or she slouching badly. Perhaps the child was being uncooperative, but if I saw this photo as evidence of his work, I don't believe I'd have Mr. Hampson photograph my family. It is really hard to tell if the child is male or female, but all those buttons on the shoes make me think it's a girl - short hair nevertheless.

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    1. Gail - Yes, a very odd photo, and he obviously wasn't very skilled. Good thing he stuck to being a millwright, I suppose.

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    2. I think I see a bit of a bow over the girl's shoulder. I believe she has short bangs and her hair is pulled back with the ribbon tied in a bow. She doesn't look at all happy.

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    3. Kristin - Yes, that's possible, although it could be a bit of the velvet collar.

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  2. Hi Brett, I’ve just been poking around at Derbyshire Photographers & Photographic Studios it must have taken hours and hours to assemble so much information, fascinating stuff.
    Regarding the Portrait of an unidentified child, taken c.1880-1885 the sitter looks as if she/he would rather be anywhere but sitting in that chair. The features look very masculine, cover up the clothing and look at the face – I think it's a boy.

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    1. Barbara - Yes, it has been a labour of love, although I've let in languish of late ... too many other projects on the go at the same time.

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  3. The hair reads BOY to me, despite the dress. Not a kilt??

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    1. Wendy - Yes, quite possibly a kilt, although I left that bit deliberately vague.

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  4. Fascinating information and research. I think it's a boy and agree that the pose is unattractive. I think he's wearing a costume for some kind of performance. Very odd.

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    1. Helen - Possibly a costume, although military-themed and styled clothing for children was quite popular throughout Victorian times, and those knots are very similar to that seen on military tunics.

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  5. My vote is for a boy in a kilt too, and it looks like he wasn't particularly happy to be dressed that way or to have to pose for the mysteriously 'moonlighting' Mr Hampson.

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  6. Your research into Derbyshire photographers is always fascinating and I recently acquired a small collection of Derbyshire postcards, so this makes your investigations even more fascinating for me.

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    1. Alan - I should publish more of them, because I have a lot to catch up with, and don't do much in the way of updates to my main Derbyshire Photographers web site these days. Glad to hear they're of interest, and I hope to see some of your postcards some day.

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  7. Oh Brett - what a lot of work that database is...good for you...I do like a database...so useful. Yesterday at the Lifeline booksale I purchased The Shell and BP Guide to Britain for exactly $1. The opening sentence on the chapter devoted to Derbyshire and Staffordshire says " Derbyshire and Staffordshire must be two of the least publicized, least known and least appreciated counties in England." Thank you for doing your bit to bring Derbyshire to light.

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    1. Alex - It's the part of England that I know best, naturally since my Dad's family are there, and I do enjoy it when I visit. So much to see that has a direct relevance to my own family history.

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  8. When I hear 'Derbyshire' I think of 'Pride and Prejudice'. I must have reread it too many times.

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    1. Lorraine - I haven't read it even once, but I suppose I know the story through and through from inadvertently absorbing goodness knows how many TV adaptations.

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  9. If it is a boy, that could explain why he is unhappy, sitting there for quite a long time, keeping still and wearing that apparel to boot!!!!

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    1. Rosie - Boy or girl, it's a very unhappy looking occasion.

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  10. I wonder if this could be Postmortem photography. It seems odd to have all those covered chairs in the photos and the non expression face. The hands look nicely white and the feet are covered so it is hard to tell but you never know. Thank you for visiting my sepia shots

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    1. Maria - Thanks for your comment, and I agree it does seem odd, but I believe this is more due to the photographer's inexperience than anything else. In my opinion there is a trend, I believe driven primarily by eBay sellers, to call all sorts of Victorian era portraits "post mortem." I'm not saying that they don't exist, but I believe that the vast majority of those portraits claimed to be PMs are not. I don't believe this is one either.

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  11. I love when some history is found about the photographer. A post I did years ago still gets hits almost every single week because it was about a photo studio. I had to laugh when I discovered an auction house was actually using my post as a link about the photographers.

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    1. T+L - Haha, that happens to me too.

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