I found this photo at work yesterday and almost threw it away, but there was something intriguing about the scene. Who was the mysterious figure in the centre who had drawn such a large crowd?
The image was of a fairly poor quality, but I hoped that a high resolution scan might resolve the enigma.
I scanned the image at 1200 dpi, which is more than adequate for most old photographs, and let Photoshop work its magic, enlarging different sections.
Here are the results:
This is the full photo after the colour balance and contrast have been improved (apologies to all fans of sepia). There is a greater clarity, but the figure in the centre remains tantalisingly elusive.
Now everything becomes much clearer, apart from the blurred figures of the men at the front. Is that who I think it is?
A further zoom has expanded the crest above the woman's head to a resolution where some of the writing is legible.
It is, of course, the Royal Coat of Arms, with its motto Dieu Et Mon Droit. I can only assume that it is Queen Victoria who has drawn such a large crowd on a rainy day.
I have no idea where or when this picture was taken. Queen Victoria is wearing black and given that she went into a prolonged period of mourning after Prince Albert's death, this must be the late 1860s, at the very earliest.
Perhaps someone who knows about fashion will be able to determine which decade this photograph was taken in. I would certainly like to know about the significance of these hats:
Scanned at 1200 dpi, the enlarged sections look like a monochrome, pointilist crowdscape by Seurat. Most of the people have their backs turned to us and the few faces we can see are blank and expressionless.
All apart from one - the woman on Queen Victoria's right. She appears to be looking down, in deference to the Queen.
Of course I may be completely on the wrong track. Someone might recognise the enigmatic figure as 'Big Bertha' McMahon, the famous Victorian female heavyweight wrestler, or Dame Cynthia Partington-Ffoulkes, whose Temperance League speeches terrified pub landlords from Portsmouth to Perth.
It could even be an author signing session, perhaps by Mrs Henry Wood, if they did things like that in the nineteenth century.
However, I'm fairly confident that I've discovered a photograph of Queen Victoria.
If anyone has any observations or insights about the time and the place, I'd be very grateful. I would love to know more about this mysterious image.