Saturday, April 16, 2011

After the Edwardians

Yesterday, another photograph album appeared in the office. Almost as if it was continuing a narrative, the photos began in the Edwardian age, where this recent post ended.

The people featured in these images are more solidly middle class, but their story is no different to last week's family. Born in the Victorian age, they grew up in the cosy complacency of the fin de si├Ęcle, unaware of the catastrophe that was about to change their world.

In these photographs, it is the women's fashions that are the most telling indicator of social change. The contrast between the impractical, 'feminine' outfits of the Edwardian era and the more austere, utilitarian clothing of the 1920s is striking. It's as if 50 years have passed rather then ten.

When my father died I inherited a lot of papers, including an unfinished family history project. I probably won't complete it, as my family isn't terribly interesting (even to me), but I did gain an important insight into the impact the First World War had on my ancestors. Reading between the lines, it was quite clear that my grandmother had had a nervous breakdown after her older brother went 'missing' after the Battle of Loos. It was never acknowledged as a breakdown, but she was unable to work for six years.

Much has been written about 'shell shock' but what was the psychological impact on a generation of women who lost brothers, fathers, husbands, sweethearts and friends? (I think it's time to read 'Testament of Youth')

In the meantime, here are the photos:

This woman features in many of the pictures. I like her intelligent, enquiring face and clear eyes. She looks like someone who would have been worth meeting. I wonder if our lives overlapped?

Her she is as a teenager:

This is a wonderful picture of three generations and I felt that it deserved to be enlarged:

I know exactly how the girl feels, but I now also empathse with the father. I like the way the grandmother is ignoring the photographer and continuing to write her letter.

If I had a time machine, I'd type in the coordinates of this scene and join them. I particularly like the straw hamper and boater.

This genetleman seems remarkably sanguine, given that he's sitting directly undernerneath a raw sewerage outflow pipe.

This Wild West picture was turned into a postcard. On the back, it mentions a photographic studio in Clapham. As usual there are few names, dates or places in the actual album (I never discovered the name of the woman), but I found one reference to a street in Raynes Park. By a strange coincidence, their family home was in the same road as my father-in-law's house.

This photo reveals the gulf between the older and younger generations. I wonder, which of these men returned from the Front?

This man is named in the album as Harold Duncan-Teape. A quick Google search reveals that he was a major in the 4th battalion of the London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers during the First World War. According to another reference, from the Illustrated London News, Duncan Teape died in Croydon on October 23rd, 1929.

The fashions are clearly different in this photo - less florid and more practical, striking a stark contrast with the clothes of the previous decade.

I have no idea what this occasion is - the first Rembrance Day, perhaps?

'Uncle Jim'

This isn't a young David Cameron. Apparently he's called Ian. The young woman's name isn't mentioned, but I expect she's called Pam.

Here's Ian again, enjoying the nautical life. It looks like a cruise ship, but I suppose it could be Bournemouth Pier.

We like to complain about the sexualisation of children these days, pressurised by the media into growing up too soon, but what about these girls, forced to dress up as 'flappers'? I'm sure they'd rather be riding ponies and solving mysteries.

By now, the stuffy world of the Edwardians has vanished and no-one stands still long enough to remain in focus. And isn't that Ian in the background, enjoying it all?

I don't want to over-egg the 'World War One as an agent of social change' pudding - Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto was published in 1909 and the evidence suggests that the First World War was a sympton rather than the cause. But if the status quo had remained, would Western society have undergone the huge seismic shift that took place in the 1920s?

The album ends in the late 1940s. The woman with the beautiful eyes lost her looks and became overweight, Uncle Jim disappeared into the ether and the group photographs suggest that the Victorians were no longer around either. But there are lots of photos of children playing and laughing, breathing new life into the sleepy suburb of SW20.


Anonymous said...

This is an amazing series of photographs from that era. Thanks for curating and posting!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

A strange thought indeed that some of them may be related to your wife's family! What a shame about the lack of names and details.

You are right about the jump in fashion style for women/girls, though if the aftermath of WWII is anything to go by, there may be utilitarian reasons for clothing becoming more practical so quickly after WWI (ie shortages of affordable fabric and all silk commandeered for parachute making etc).

The startling thing about old photographs is how modern some of them look, as if you could just reach back and touch the subjects, or meet them in Lyon's Coffee House for a chat. Have you seen the wonderful adverts on the History Channel exploring this theme as a woman traces her family history?

It is not hard to deduce how the woman with the beautiful eyes lost her spark amidst so much human loss around her and turned to comfort eating.

Gardener in the Distance said...

Steerforth, have you read J L Carr's 'A Month in the Country'? It's set post-First World War, when healing is happening. It has always been one of the most interesting moments in history to me, that time, for, as you suggest, the world changed irrevocably. We did alot of WW1 poets at school, where my interest began.'A Month in the Country' can be seen in film version on YouTube.

Mrs Jones said...

These pics are incredibly evocative, and I think some of my favourites (although it would be hard to beat the Scary Victorian Family).

Little Nell said...

I can understand how your relative suffered a breakdown after the loss of her brother. My own grandmother lost her three older brothers; two in 1916, with no known graves, and one of Spanish flu in 1919 whilst waiting to return to Blighty. Her parents were left with seven younger girls and a two year boy. She would always talk with great sadness about the effect on her family. There were many 'maiden (great) aunts' when I was growing up because a whole generation of young men had been wiped out.

You don't think the girl with the eyes could have been Mrs Duncan-Teape, mother of charming twin girls?

Unknown said...

Testamant Of Youth is wonderful. Heartbreaking. Invigorating. Lovely. And so very sad. I'm sure you'll get a lot from reading it.

@Gardener In The Distance - Good tip. A Month In The Country is beautiful.

Another very touching collection of photographs, meanwhile. Thank you!

Cat said...

Oh, I love the little girls in braids and boots.

londoncitynights said...

Love the picture of the street scene in London. That's looking eastwards down Fleet Street with the Royal Courts of Justice on the left. I'm currently in that building, about 50 yards away from where that photo was taken. Very interesting seeing the arches over the road - I wonder if they were there just for the celebration as I haven't seen them in any other historical photos.

Shelley said...

That's an apt comment about how they had no idea of the change that was coming. The Great Depression, the era of my work, came as a horrible shock, and then of course World War II. But in these photographs' innocence, your comment made me draw a connection between then and the years now right before our current economic collapse.

Sir Button said...

I think the arches in the Fleet Street image may have been for a coronation - perhaps Edward VII or George V? - note the crowns on the tops of each arch.

This segment about temporary arches around the Griffin statue (from a 1905 book) would suggest the former coronation (scroll down to read the 'Suggestion for a Temporary Gatehouse at Temple Bar').

Gabriela Von Bohlen said...

These pictures are lovely, it seems there's a story in each of them. As for shell shock, have you seen this video (highly disturbing):

Like one of the commentators says, how can anyone think there's glory to war after seeing this...

Miss Whistle said...

It's quite exciting, I would imagine, to go through an old photograph album and do some amateur sleuthing to find out about the people you're looking at. What fun! And such wonderful, un-dull pictures. Pam in her jodhpurs is quite marvelous.

A time machine, or a tardis, would be an extremely useful thing to have. I long for one every day.

I'm so enjoying your blog.