A couple of things before I start, if you don’t mind. Firstly, I feel it as an honour and a privilege to have been invited by Rebecca to contribute to her fantastic blog. Secondly, I would like to stress the fact that I am not a collector. I buy lots of photos and images, it is true, but only because I know that I will be able – or at least try – to use them in Instagram posts, articles, books even. Most of the time it takes months or years before I can do that. Very occasionally I find myself in a position to write something only days after I have acquired an item. A good case in point is the stereo photograph I would like to talk about today. When my attention was drawn to this image less than a week ago I was immediately attracted to it and knew I had to bid on it. It is far from perfect, the mount is a little grubby (I have digitally cleaned the image), the sitters have moved and one is definitely blurry, but the moment I laid my eyes on it I felt there was a mystery to unravel and, possibly, a story to tell. I did not even realise at the time that the seller had included a photograph of the back of the card and that there were some indications there.
When the postman brought that card two days ago, I immediately scanned the back and front of it and started studying it. I now know I like that image precisely because it is not perfect. Most perfect images rarely tell a story but this one does. It is the story of a young girl who has been told to help her sister stand still while the photographer was operating and to prevent her from falling off the chair she was sitting on. Look how she has put her right hand on her sister’s tummy in a protective and preventive gesture. That she failed to fill the first part of the contract is no fault of hers. The girl on the right is barely three years old and the two girls were supposed to stand still long enough for the photographer to take not one but two successive images. And not instantaneous ones at that. The exposure for each half of the stereo must have been over ten or twenty seconds, maybe longer. It is a long time for a barely three year old to stand still. Even some adults cannot do it.
As can be seen from the fact that the sitters have moved between the two exposures, we know this is a sequential stereo, taken with a single camera. Who was the photographer ? There is no way of telling. The mount doesn’t bear any label or blind stamp. It could be a photograph taken by an amateur, the father or mother of the two girls maybe, or by an itinerant photographer. Chances are we will never know. Not that it matters really. What is more important is that this image, imperfect as it is, was considered important enough to be cherished and preserved. It was kept in the family of the two girls for a very long time before it found its way into a shoe box full of postcards at a boot fair, where the seller told me she found it.
Now to the back of the card ! Two inscriptions in two different hands have been scribbled there. The older one, reads “Char & Etty, August 59” and the second one, more recent, “Dorothy M. B. Shore from mother.” It may not seem much but for the photo historian I am it is more than is usually found on the back of the cards I study. Although we have no surname for Charlotte (Char) and Etty (Henrietta) we can infer that they are somehow related to this Dorothy person. As you will soon see, they definitely are.
A search on Ancestry quickly revealed the existence of a Dorothy M. B. Shore who was born on 28 March 1889 and died a spinster on 4 December 1982. That she never married means she kept her maiden name to the end which, somehow helped. Further research showed that Dorothy was the second of six children born to Charles Russell Shore and Henrietta Frances Glossop. Have I said Henrietta ? I have and this Henrietta had an older sister called Charlotte. It would seem then that the younger sitter, Henrietta, kept this stereocard for over fifty years and gave it to one of her daughters, Dorothy, for safe-keeping.
Charlotte Amelia Glossop was born at Isleworth on 3 December 1850, the eldest child of Francis Henry Newland Glossop (1815-1886) and Ann Fish Pownall (1824-1887). Her parents had married some ten months previously, on 12 February 1850 to be precise, and the wedding had been celebrated by the groom’s own father, Reverend Henry Glossop. Francis and Ann were to have nine other children. Henrietta, the young girl on the right of the stereocard, was their third daughter. She was born at Heston, Middlesex, on 2 September 1856 and was just under three when the photograph was taken. Charlotte and Henrietta’s other siblings were born respectively in 1852 (Anna Maria), 1857 (Florence Emily), 1858 (George Henry Pownall), 1862, (John Francis Gilderoy), 1864 (Walter Herbert Newland), 1865 (Margaret Eva), 1867 (Charles William Waterhouse) and 1870 (Bertram Robert Mitford). It was not uncommon for Victorian families to have so many children on account of a very high mortality rate in infants but I am glad to report that all the Glossop children except one, Charles William Waterhouse, reached adulthood and had relatively long lives.
With so many children to look after it is no wonder Mrs Glossop needed some help and, as was often the case in such large families, the eldest daughter, Charlotte, looked after her younger brothers and sisters and acted as a surrogate mother. Is it the reason why she never married and had children of her own ? Charlotte died a spinster at Guy’s Hospital, in Surrey, on 23 May 1914. Her sister Etty did get married, on 12 June 1886, to one Charles Russell Shore. She bore him six children. Dorothy, whom we mentioned earlier as the recipient of the stereocard, was her second daughter.
Henrietta and Charles must have had a very odd sense of humour. Dorothy being the only one of their children to have been born at Brighton, a popular seaside resort on the southern coast of Britain, they named her Dorothy Margaret Bythesea ! You have read correctly. Her full name was Dorothy Margaret By-the-sea Shore ! Is it why Dorothy never married ? By-the-sea Jones, or By-the-sea Smith would have lost all its charm, I guess.
Isn’t it strange how a couple of words scribbled on the back of an image can help give the people represented on it some kind of a second life ? People in Mexico think that we die twice. The first time is when our body stops functioning, the second, the sadder of the two, when no-one remembers us any more. If you have seen the wonderful 3-D movie Coco, you know what I am talking about (if you haven’t, you should make it one of your priorities to watch it). As a historian, I simply love the fact I can reconstruct someone’s life from very little (not always, unfortunately), put them in the limelight again, and make total strangers know who they were. Those two little girls in the photograph may not have had extraordinary lives, they may not have accomplished anything outstanding but they deserve to be remembered, not only as two slightly blurred three-dimensional ghosts from the past in an 1859 stereo photograph but as human beings.
There are so many similar images, so numerous stories to be discovered and told ! I wish I could find the other photos that were taken on that day in August 1859. There must be a couple more. After all, Francis Henry and Ann Glossop had three other children by then. Did Anna Maria, Florence Emily and George Henry Pownall keep their stereo images as Henrietta did and passed them on to their children ? Would we find Charlotte in every one of them too ? I don’t know the answer to these questions but I will definitely keep my eyes open.
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