Our photo dating expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.
Ray Woodward-Clarke sent us his photo and asked:
‘This family group photograph was taken in Brownhills, Staffordshire – a mining community. I would like to know approximately when it was taken, please.’
‘This is a wonderful scene, showing an extended family, or perhaps members of more than one family, posing outside what appears to be a family home, in a genuine working-class setting. It would not have been easy composing this number of people so that all were clearly visible in the frame, so I am certain that this was a professional photograph, taken either by an itinerant photographer or by a representative from a local studio, hired to visit these folk and photograph them in their own environment. It would have been impossible to picture them all successfully in a studio.
Everyone is dressed up here for the photograph, wearing their ‘Sunday best’ clothing – decent outfits kept for church and other occasions demanding a smart appearance. Although there are few adult males here, I am assuming from the location that they would have been miners, so the men and older boys in the middle and towards the back here would have looked very different when working in the mines. Most of them are wearing respectable hats, the boys the peaked ‘kepi’ style caps popular before the cloth cap became established around the turn of the century, while the man in the centre wears a bowler hat, the tall crown of which confirms a late-19th century date.
Three or, probably, four generations are pictured here, from infants to elderly matrons, and are all dressed according to their age. It is interesting, for example, to see how the two older ladies in the group are wearing their woollen shawls: young women would not have worn these homely, traditional accessories for a special photograph at this time, although they may well have worn them for everyday work wear, with aprons over their dresses.
In a mixed group like this, it is the appearance of the younger women that provides the most accurate dating clues, as even our ordinary working ancestors often followed fashion closely when aged in their late ‘teens’ and early 20s. The most fashionable females here are the two young women on the right, one standing, one seated. Their dark cloth bodice and skirt outfits both feature sleeves that are slightly puffed at the shoulder: this signifies the early phase of the puffed ‘leg-o-mutton’ sleeves that came to dominate the 1890s. Usually this small vertical puff would indicate a year of c.1890-92. I doubt that these women are very far behind the times, despite being from a labouring background, but we might add a couple of years in case, so I would suggest a date range of c.1890-94 for this scene.
Clearly this photograph was taken to mark a particular occasion, although we can only really guess at what that may have been. An important family celebration such as a wedding or christening is not evident here, so perhaps the occasion was a landmark birthday – or just possibly a work-related event that involved more than one family. The semi-formal bowler hat that one of the men wears almost certainly marks him out as the senior or most important member of the group and he does seem to occupy a prominent position here. He also holds a large book: I wonder if this was a family bible, or another kind of volume that was connected in some way with this scene. Hopefully the close timeframe for this fascinating photograph may give you some idea of which of your ancestors are pictured and what may have been happening.’
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