Blog19 Dec 2012
Our photo dating expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.
Len Rutter sent us his photo and asked:
‘Any help in dating this photograph of my great-great-grandmother would be very useful. Thanks.’
‘This seems to be a professional photograph but, as we see, it is taken outdoors rather than in the photographer’s studio. In the circumstances, which I’ll explain below, this lady appears to have hired a representative from a local studio to visit her and photograph the family at home in the garden. I am not aware of your 2 x great grandmother’s dates, so I can’t comment on your identification, but I can advise that, judging from the evidence of dress, the photograph was taken at the beginning of the 20th century – most likely in 1900 or 1901, although any year up until 1904 or 1905 is possible.
The members of this family are all well-dressed for the photograph. The lady displays the female fashions of the very-early 1900s. This is evidenced by the style of her bodice and matching skirt, especially the shape of her sleeves and the cape-like collar feature on the bodice. Her ornate hat, with its small brim and tall, highly-decorated crown is also typical of c.1900 or thereabouts. Her children look to comprise three girls and a boy. The younger girls are wearing the loose smock dress that was introduced for small children during the 1890s and remained fashionable until around WWI. Her son wears the usual late-Victorian and Edwardian woollen cloth boys’ knickerbockers suit, his jacket tailored in the popular Norfolk style, recognisable from the vertical stitched-down pleats.
Perhaps the most significant feature of their appearance is the fact that they are wearing mourning dress. In particular, the mother is clothed entirely in black garments and a black hat, as would be usual for first or deep mourning, immediately following the loss of a close family member, according to contemporary etiquette. We also notice the panels of crape (crimped silk gauze) material that confirm her state of mourning, since crape was only worn at a time of bereavement and on no other occasion. Identifiable as a textured fabric, it can be seen on the upper section of her bodice, on the narrow tab below her waist and on bands at her cuffs. Children didn’t often wear crape material, but the black garments with white accessories or trimmings seen here would have been considered suitable for minors.
Since this mourning photograph shows a mother with her children and there is no male adult present, it seems very likely that the lady’s husband – the father of the children – had recently died. Given the date range here, the death may have occurred in 1899 or any year soon afterwards. Hopefully the close timeframe and the nature of the occasion will correspond with what you know of your 2 x great grandmother and her life.’
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