Blog20 Feb 2013
Our photo dating expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.
Nigel Evans of the Pen Museum, Birmingham sent us this photo and asked:
‘We have recently received an enquiry from a Heritage Lottery Fund-funded community project recording the history of Hartlepool primarily through family photographs, but also using images from the Hartlepool Library and Museum Service collections.
They have found an unusual image in the Library Service collection, showing a group of men, presumably on an outing, each wearing what appears to be an over-sized pen-nib on their lapels. The only information is on the reverse side of photograph “Hartlepool Specials – Cycling 1895″.
We are particularly interested in solving the mystery of the pen nib lapel badge. Can you assist in helping to solve some of the mystery? Hartlepool Library Service supplied the image.’
‘This well-posed outdoor group photograph looks like the work of a professional photographer, suggesting that this was a pre-mediated photograph, taken to record a special event. Reading the inscription on the back of the print, firstly the 1895 date provided looks absolutely fine, judging from the appearance of these men. Most have grown the simple moustache that was typical of this era, while one sports the more conservative beard and two have more modern clean-shaven faces.
They all wear short sporting blazers or lounge jackets, teamed with knee breeches or knickerbockers tucked into socks and some have also adopted gaiter-style protective leg coverings. One man, left, wears a comfortable woollen sweater – a garment popular for certain sports by the late-Victorian era – while the others wear more formal shirts and ties. Many wear straw boater hats, suggesting that this was a summer occasion, although a few men wear the round peaked cap that was initially a sporting style.
This presents quite an assortment of styles, although the outfits these men wore would have been considered suitable for cycling in the late-19th century. Despite the absence of any bicycles in the photograph, therefore, the reference to ‘Cycling’ looks perfectly plausible, their bicycles no doubt resting close by. Cycling as a hobby became especially popular from the 1880s onwards, following the introduction of the ‘safety bicycle’ and many local cycling clubs were formed around this time, including Hartlepool’s own cycling club, which dates back to at least the 1880s.
We can reasonably assume that these men were connected with Hartlepool since they were known as the ‘Hartlepool Specials’ and this photograph belongs to the Hartlepool Library and Museum Service collections. Online investigations have yielded nothing by this name (except this photograph again, uploaded onto the Pen Museum’s website): perhaps it was simply a made-up name for their cycling group or club.
I wonder, however, whether perhaps the term ‘Specials’ refers to Special Constables – the local volunteer police forces established throughout Britain during the 19th century. Often the title ‘Special Constables’ was shortened to ‘Specials’. Many police forces had their own sports teams and so it seems conceivable that the Hartlepool Special Constabulary may have had its own cycle team, group or club.
Many cycling photographs survive from the 1880s onwards and may depict individuals or, quite often, organised groups or clubs, usually comprising mainly men but sometimes women. Some clubs or teams wore a uniform of sorts to identify their members and many wore a small round badge or badges on their lapels, as we see here.
The most prominent symbol here, however, is the enormous pen-nib lapel badge or pin worn by every man here, except the bearded gent at the back, who wears his pen-nib suspended around his neck on a ribbon. This seems to set him apart from the others and, along with his authoritative-looking beard, could well imply that he is the leader of group or club.
I’m afraid that I can’t positively identify this curious pen-nib symbol: I have never come across anything remotely like this before in a family or local photograph, although presumably it had a clear and very specific meaning at the time. Does anyone from the Hartlepool area have any ideas as to what this might mean? I chose to cover this photograph in this month’s blog because it needs to be circulated widely: there are probably several extant copies of this photograph around and hopefully someone with an ancestor pictured here may be able to solve this intriguing mystery.’
If you’d like to send your photo to Jayne Shrimpton, please register or opt to receive newsletters in ‘my account’. Jayne only has time to analyse two photos each month, but if yours wasn’t chosen this time, you could be lucky next month!