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Photography and Dressing Up in Victorian Cardiganshire

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Dr. Lucy Smith.


Dr. Lucy Smith has degrees in English Literature and Archive Administration and her doctorate was on Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography. She is particularly interested in creative archives, and in the representation of Victorian art in literature. In her spare time, she loves painting, exploring historic places, and discovering new bookshops.


Recently, I have been transcribing some of the Webley Parry collection at Ceredigion Archives, and was fascinated to find out that the collection contains a wonderfully eclectic range of photographs that break the mould of the stuffy Victorian portrait, and range into the realms of the fantastical!

Soon after its public invention as a recording device in the 1830s, photography became a leisure activity for upper-class families like the Webley Parrys. However, these amateur photographers wanted to do more than record their images for posterity. Rich families with time and money used photography to play games and create new experimental identities. This may seem like a modern obsession, but the Victorians were there first. Photography blended with the existing upper-class pastimes of pageantry, amateur theatricals and tableaux vivants. Adults were dressing up as their favourite characters from novels, songs and plays of the day, and as characters from history.

The Webley Parry photographs range from large scrapbook albums to tiny cartes de visite that would have been used as calling cards. The Webley Parrys were a gentry family from the Teifi valley who held the estate at Noyadd Trefawr and had strong links to Blaenpant in Llandygwydd. They were big political and social players in the county and were also connected to estates and families around the UK, but they had plenty of time for photography, especially the women of the family. In fact, visits to photographers are frequently mentioned in the personal diary of Maria Brigstocke née Webley Parry in the 1860s, with different members of the family going every day to the photographer to ‘be taken’. The collection includes photographs from several generations of the extended family stretching into the twentieth century, but surprisingly it’s the late Victorian photographs that are full of the most outlandish characters.

WP Charlotte Corday res

The range of characters for dressing-up is eclectic and reveals interesting hints of subversion about a family that belonged firmly in the establishment. One picture that really surprised me was this studio photograph of the Webley Parry’s cousin Katherine Dundas, showing her dressed as the revolutionary assassin Charlotte Corday, who famously murdered Jean-Paul Marat, one of the leading Jacobins, in his own bath. Katherine is dressed up in the costume of the eighteenth-century, complete with mob cap. The photograph imitates pictures of Charlotte Corday from the time of the revolution, such as this one painted by Jean-Jacques Hauer just before her execution in 1793, at the age of 24.

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Source: Wikipedia (see link below)

This story would have been well known to educated Victorians, who regarded the French Revolution as the bloodiest period of history, and which continued to cast a shadow over the Victorian age as a warning of the consequences of social rebellion. It is interesting to speculate on what attracted Katherine to pose as this character. On one level, perhaps the photograph embodies Katherine as an assassin against the extremes of the revolution. On the other hand, dressing up as an assertive political woman who attacked a man, could also be a sign of a rebellious spirit who wouldn’t be constricted by expected roles. It might have taken some nerve to dress up like this in Victorian Wales!

By setting these images in the past, and the realm of myth, Katherine and her family were able to vent the pleasure of trying on a less-restricted fantasy life, whilst not giving up any of the privileges she enjoyed as an upper-class woman. However, by taking a photograph, she also immortalised herself in this role and got to keep it forever.

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Sometimes, the photographs are more funny than rebellious, such as this portrait of sisters Katherine and Mary Kewley dressed as something between Italian peasants and Renaissance minstrels! Katherine (left) is perhaps the most enthusiastic costume fan in the family, and there are many pictures of her in historical outfits – but a lady with a banjo or lute seems to have been her favourite character. The family could have been influenced by popular trends in painting which portrayed women as dreamy musicians with luxuriant dresses, such as Holman Hunt’s Bianca (1868-9).

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Source: Wikimedia (see link below)

Many of these costumes might have been borrowed from the photographer’s studio, as commercial photographs would keep a stock of outfits in anticipation of the wealthy patrons who wanted to spend their leisure time being other people. But the Webley Parrys took this further than studio photography and enjoyed dressing up at home as well.

WP 6 res

This photograph shows several of the extended family at the door of Blaenpant Mansion in Llandygwydd. They are from left to right, Charles Hope, Min Munro, John Dodgson, Connie Gabler and Mr Jones, a tutor to the Kewleys. Connie Gabler and Mr Jones are in eighteenth-century dress; Connie in a powdered wig and fan, and Mr Jones in breeches, a long jacket and a flat wide-brimmed hat. Victorians evidently spent as much time romanticising the Georgian period as later generations would spend romanticising them! Charles Hope and John Dodgson are dressed in traditional Greek dress – a branch of the family were connected to the Greek de Palatiano family, through the marriage of Nina de Palatiano with David Webley Parry in 1861. They were also voracious travellers on the continent. However, given the jaunty pose of Charles Hope, they could also have been influenced by the Romantic poet Lord Byron, who often posed in Greek and Albanian traditional dress during his lifetime.

Speculation is open on how the family connected this disparate group of outfits. Were they trying to recreate a real-life occasion or a scene from a novel or poem? Certainly, the Victorian amateur theatrical tradition revelled in borrowing and possibly appropriating the cultures and dress of different countries and classes, in a way that we might think twice about today. However, it’s interesting that the family tutor is dressed as a country gentleman, which reverses the class swap premise!

WP 5 res

The albums in the Webley Parry collection also show the Kewley sisters dancing and generally messing about. In the later nineteenth century, improvements in technology that shortened exposure times meant that subjects could be photographed less formally, as they would not need to hold their poses for so long. Mary and Katherine Kewley and a couple of friends pose here in a chorus line style as ‘The Sisters Ankleine’ which is possibly a reference to their rather daring exposure of ankles!

WP 9 res

This 1897 montage from one of the Kewleys’ albums is also pretty striking, showing some friends posed as child characters from a popular song. The caption reads ‘….’t play in your back yard’ which probably refers to an American waltz of 1894 called ‘I don’t want to play in your yard’ by H.W. Petrie and Philip Wingate. The song refers to ‘two little maids’ with ‘hair down in braids’ and ‘blue ging’am pinafores’ who have a quarrel. This nostalgia for childhood freedom might suggest a desire to postpone the stringent conformity that might be expected of the sitters as adults.  Then again, it could just be a bit of fun! The lower photograph shows ‘M.J’ with a newly fashionable bicycle, cementing the girls as modern young women.

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The Kewleys were also creative in the way that they displayed their photographs in albums. Victorian photograph enthusiasts would produce multiple copies of their favourite pictures which could be cut up and pasted in different contexts to produce varying effects. This could be directly compared to modern day ‘curation’ of photographs on social media. Here several heads have been cut out and pasted together to produce a quirky effect. Mary Kewley appears three times, as the middle heads on the left and the right, and on the bottom right, as a child dressed as an exotic princess, so that she exists simultaneously on the page at different ages. Photography gave the Kewleys the ability to compare different versions of themselves, and condense different time periods and characters onto a single page, so these albums could be seen as a way to explore and create their own identities away from social expectations.

The Webley Parry photographs show how photography was already a crucial part of ‘youth culture’ in the late nineteenth-century. These privileged young people were just as keen as modern social media users to manufacture memories, imitate their favourite celebrities, and look like they were having a good time, perhaps with a similar view of showing off to other people!

Lucy Smith

Sources

The Webley-Parry Collection (ref. WP), Ceredigion Archives

Petrie, H.W and Philip Wingate. I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard (1894)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bianca

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Corday#/

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Of Murderers, Starvation and Hangmen

We present an exclusive guest blog by Richard Ireland.


Richard W. Ireland is a legal historian who taught for many years at Aberystwyth University. He is the author of many articles and his books include ‘A Want of Order and Good  Discipline’: Rules and Discretion in the Victorian Prison and ‘Land of White Gloves’?: A History of Crime and Punishment in Wales. He is a founding Committee Member of the Welsh Legal History Society and has made a number of appearances on television and radio.


 

I am delighted to have been asked to write a guest blog for Ceredigion Archives. As a legal historian I have spent many hours in research at this institution. Whilst the County’s records relating to criminal justice history are not as full as elsewhere (so, for example, many of the Quarter Sessions records have not survived) there are, nonetheless some unusual and interesting documents to enlighten those whose thoughts may turn, in a purely academic sense, to crime.

One of these is a collection of pamphlets from the nineteenth century, collected together and fixed into a large volume. They number, at a rough guess, around six hundred and their subjects are diverse, ranging from mining disasters and shipwrecks, including a late one concerning the Titanic, to the opening of railways and the adventures of a black pig. The vast majority are in Welsh and I am hugely indebted to Margaret Jones of the Archives, who patiently assisted my wholly inadequate command of that language at those points (there were many) when I needed it. A few of the pamphlets referred specifically to matters relating to crime. It is those to which I will devote this short introduction.

A number of the ballads recount the stories of particular murders, a staple source of income for the pamphleteers (see, eg, pages 35, 103, 133), of which the killing of Hannah Davies in Pencarreg, Carmarthenshire in 1829 is the most represented in this collection which has three distinct printings (23, 25, 38).

Hannah Davies

The ballad relating to the murder of Jane Lewis by two Irishmen, Morris Murphy and Patrick Sullivan, in South Wales in 1850 (11) is worth a particular mention. At the end it bears a woodcut illustration, I think of a standard nature, of two travellers, one of whom carries an axe. In fact we know rather more accurately what the two offenders looked like, for they were photographed after arrest. Such was the interest in the daguerreotypes, which had been taken to be sent to Ireland to see what was known of the accused, that a wood engraving was undertaken by a female London artist and was then reproduced in The Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper, a remarkable early example of the practice.

Ballad illustration

More communal disturbances of the peace also find their way into the collection. One (57) deals with the case of Richard Lewis (‘Dic Penderyn’), controversially hanged for his part in the Merthyr Rising of June 1831. There are pamphlets too about the Rebecca Riots a few years later (13, 77) including several poems written by David Davies (‘Dai’r Cantwr’), transported in consequence of his involvement (32, 38, 55). Of these two different poems are presented as having been written whilst he was being held in Carmarthen gaol, whilst two are versions of a poem ostensibly written in Australia.

Cwyn David Davies

There are two poems (91, 131) written about, and supportive of the case of, Sarah Jacob, ‘The Welsh Fasting Girl’ who died in Carmarthenshire in 1869 having been observed by nurses to test her claim that she needed neither food nor drink. The case, which has been explored by a number of writers in recent years was one of national celebrity, heightening the then conflict between the competing ideologies of science and religion. One of these, by Hugh Roberts, contains a coda in the shape of a poem which I think was believed to have been written by Sarah herself.

Sarah Jacob

All of the above pamphlets were written in Welsh, but it is more than a greater ease with the language that makes me draw attention to Groans of the Gallows or a Sketch of the Life of Wm Calcraft, English Hangman, Commonly called Jack Ketch (95). This version can be internally dated to 1850, although certain other pamphlets share the title but not the content. The text is remarkable in promising (though hardly delivering to any great extent) a ‘General Review of the Causes of Crime’, a subject which was attracting more attention in an age in which the development of statistics and of a more uniform system of policing made crime and its punishment a matter of national rather than local significance. The suggestion here is that environmental causes were important: ‘The same bad social arrangements that creates [sic] victims for the gallows compelled WILLIAM CALCRAFT to become a hangman’. The critical treatise mentions the reduction in the number of offences punishable capitally which had marked the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

Jack Ketch

The material considered here contains much of interest, but is it any more than a collection of ephemera? I think that it does have a rather greater significance. The collection covers a variety of subjects, of which, as said, those concerned with criminal justice form only a small proportion. It shows the vitality in the nineteenth century of the practice of pamphlet writing, predominantly in verse, in the Welsh language. Whilst the murder ballad, seen being sold at the foot of the gallows in Hogarth’s eighteenth century engraving at the close of his series Industry and Idleness retained its grisly allure, the body of work extends far beyond this. Even in relation to crime, issues of complexity and controversy, the social uprisings and the Jacob case noted above, are addressed as raising questions of justice and morality. At a time in which the Welsh language is often perceived, following the infamous ‘Blue Books’ criticism, as being under attack, to leaf through this volume of vivid responses to local and national events is to witness another side of that story.

Richard Ireland

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My Work Experience at Ceredigion Archives

We present a guest blog by Georgie Whittock who spent some time gaining work experience with us recently, an experience both pleasant and useful for all concerned!

I am a second year archaeology student at Lampeter University, and I have been doing work experience at the Ceredigion Archives over the past few weeks, as part of the Go Wales programme which operates in every Welsh University allowing students with work limiting issues, including disabilities and specific learning difficulties, and/or from a low employment area, the opportunity to gain work experience.

During my time here, my view of the job role of an archivist and the work they do has changed; I did not realize they do so much! I thought their work focussed predominantly on the conservation and cataloguing of documents and materials, however I have since realised they also do research for members of the public who wish to find out more information about various topics, generally about their family history or specific places or events, as well as aiding them in their own research by putting them in the right direction of record books and documents that may also be helpful.

Over the course of my experience, I have written descriptions for three collections of documents, helped with enquiries regarding family history, handled a number of documents, researched the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 to 1919 for the BBC, and was even given the responsibility to open the strongrooms!

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The second collection I looked at contained photographs of performances by the St. David’s College, Lampeter Amateur Dramatic Society [ref. MUS/474/3/1 and MUS/474/3/2]. Here are two autographed photographs from the play “The Terror” performed at Lampeter’s Victoria Hall by the Society. C. 1950s.

amdram1

Viewing a collection of documents and writing their catalogue descriptions may seem a monotonous task, but, actually, it isn’t (though that may be because I’m new to this). To handle these documents, to read them, to explore them, and to write about them has been so fascinating, and finding out the background to the documents and the people and places they relate to has enhanced my research skills. I have had the opportunity to work independently with the documents, as well as working as part of a wonderful team, who have made the experience thoroughly enjoyable.

The experience has opened my eyes into the work an archivist does, and has made me consider a potential career route into archives*.

[Georgie Whittock]

 

*Ha! We got another one! [Ed.]

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The Hallworths part 3: Anyone for tennis?

We present the third in a guest blog mini-series about the Hallworths and their activities. Catch up with part one and part two, then join Annie Hallworth for a game of tennis!

ADX1579.12.01 Tennis club group photo

ADX/1579/12/1. Annie Hallworth is in the front row, third from left.

Interwar small town tennis clubs were social hubs where young people could meet away from the constraints of home. The group photograph shows that the Queen’s Road courts, laid down in 1923, attracted a rather cosmopolitan crowd that included students from the University College.

ADX1579.12.07 Anyone for tennis

ADX/1579/12/7. Annie Hallworth is second from right.

The other snaps show Annie Hallworth at the centre of a vibrant social circle, with plenty of female chums and male acquaintances.

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ADX/1579/12/3. Annie Hallworth is second from left.

Whilst most of these pictures were taken at Queen’s Road, two snapshots, in which the players recline in deckchairs, were taken at an as yet unidentified ground in the town’s rural hinterland.

ADX1579.12.06 Rural tennis

ADX/1579/12/6. Annie Hallworth in the centre.

College Hall, destroyed by fire in August 1933, can be seen in the background of the group portrait, giving a rough date for this fascinating series of pictures.

ADX1579.11.02

ADX/1579/11/2. Keen motorist Annie at the wheel!

[John Wiles]

Posted in Aberystwyth, Guest blog | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Hallworths part 2: Oh, what a lovely war!

We present part two of the Hallworth family mini series!

ADX1579.07.01 Thomas on the beach, Egypt

On the beach, Egypt

This fascinating photograph shows Thomas Hallworth at war, on the beach near Alexandria. In Civvy Street, Thomas, who had started off as a coachman at Hyde in Cheshire, was a chauffeur, working for Dr Roberts of Penywern, near Aberystwyth.

ADX1579.08.01 Egypt, ambulance

Ambulance in Egypt

Enlisted at age 37 in 1915, Thomas was assigned to the Mechanical Transport arm of the Army Service Corps and drove ambulances in Egypt. We think that these were based on the Model T Ford chassis, but we would be grateful for any information about them.

ADX1579.08.04 Egypt, ambulance fag break

Fag break in Egypt

After the war Thomas and his wife Edith opened a draper’s shop in Bridge Street, Aberystwyth, where the Wash’n Spin’n Dry launderette is now, and Thomas was later proprietor of the Eagle Garage. Read more about the Hallworths’ story here and join Annie for a game of tennis here.

[John Wiles]

 

Posted in Aberystwyth, First World War, Guest blog, Our favourite documents | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Captain Beefheart mince pies

Another Explore Your Archives exclusive!

For our Making History event, I made the shrub – already blogged about – and, helped by my friend Mark, some festively archival mince pies using another recipe from the Webley-Parry recipe books.

Here it is again:

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Mince Pie’s Meat

One pound and a half of suet, ten ounces of raisins, two pounds and a half of Currants, half a pound of sugar, half a quarter of an ounce of Mace, one nutmeg, one pound of Bullock’s heart, mix all together with some Lemon peel, then put a quarter of a pint of Brandy, and a quarter of a pint of white wine. When you use it put in Apple and sweetmeats, and a little salt.

Rattray’s the Butchers supplied the heart which was ENORMOUS. Fortunately, they agreed to halve it and (very kindly) minced it. It was still rather a lot and we only used half which was about 1 lb; Mark’s cat Vortigern was delighted to eat the rest (not all at once!)

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We followed the recipe closely except we were not sure what was meant by sweetmeats so we just left them out. Candied mixed peel went in instead of lemon peel. The pastry recipe came from BBC Good Food site.

Result: Very good; somewhat less sweet that the usual ones. I wonder if one could feed them to vegetarians with them being none the wiser (not that we did. No. Not at all)

We served the pies at our Explore Your Archives event and they proved very popular, possibly on account of their proximity to the shrub!

 

[AZS]

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