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Thomas Barnes, Photographer

February 12, 2015
by the gentle author

The most prolific nineteenth century East End photographer was Thomas Barnes, responsible for producing over one hundred thousand portraits taken between 1858 and 1885 at his studio at 422 Mile End Rd in Bow.

Although these cartes de visite are without names, Barnes numbered most of his pictures – enabling us to create a sequence and establish an indication of their dates, as demonstrated by these fine examples selected ¬†from Philip Mernick‘s collection gathered over the past twenty years.

Remembered today primarily for his widely-discredited before-and-after photos commissioned by Dr Barnardo, nevertheless Thomas Barnes’ studio portraits reveal a photographer of abundant talent and accomplishment. It is a poignant gallery of withheld emotion, bringing us face to face with anonymous long-dead East Enders who are now inhabitants of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Number 4178 – taken between 1858 & 1864


Number 21236 – 1867

Number 33999 – taken around 1870

Number 34101 – taken around 1870

Number 37432 – taken after 1873


Number 38774 – taken after 1873

Number 41536 – taken mid-1870s


Number 43979 – taken mid-1870s

Number 44425 – taken prior to 1877

Number 47385 – taken prior to 1877

Number 53458 – 1877

Number 56157 – 1877


Number 57248 – 1877

Number 65460 – taken between 1877 and 1880

Number 75384 – taken after 1880

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

Biographical details of Thomas Barnes supplied by David Webb

You may also like to take a look at

Philip Mernick’s East London Shopfronts

Libby Hall’s Dogs of Old London

16 Responses leave one →
  1. February 12, 2015

    Please can we see the widely-discredited before and after photos too?

  2. Lesley permalink
    February 12, 2015

    I would love to know the names of these people. As a family historian I have looked at so many unnamed photographs and wondered “who are you?”

  3. the gentle author permalink*
    February 12, 2015

    Barnardos restrict publication of Barnes’ before-and-after photographs

  4. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    February 12, 2015

    Wonderful pictures. Wish I had pictures of my relatives but they were later than this !!

  5. rae donaldson permalink
    February 12, 2015

    More of these would be welcome.
    Would all of the sitters have been East Enders? Do we know if Barnes’ reputation as a photographer would have drawn in customers from other, more affluent parts of London?
    I remember as a child showing a friend a picture my mother told me she’d had taken when she was 4/5(this would have been in the mid 1920s). He turned it over and pointed out that it had been printed on a post card. I was a bit embarrassed and thought my mother had made the story up. Many years later I learned better!

  6. Gary Arber permalink
    February 12, 2015

    Interesting to note the American spelling “color” on his card.

  7. February 12, 2015

    “Those were the days, my friends…”

    Love & Peace

  8. February 12, 2015

    A wonderful collection of photos. Valerie

  9. Louisa Gonzales permalink
    February 12, 2015

    A really lovely selection of portraits. If only there were names for all these lost sitters! Perhaps were was an order book with some of the names … but now gone.

    I’m curious about the portrait of the young man wearing a jacket, waistcoat and paisley scarf (it is noted as ‘unnumber’ but comes above a portrait of a woman noted as ‘Number 57248 – 1877’). In the left-hand button hole of both his waistcoat and jacket he’s wearing a white (being a black and white photograph it might not be white, perhaps yellow?) ribbon. Do you have any idea what this signifies?

  10. Marsha Horwath permalink
    February 12, 2015

    More, more old photos please.

    To Rae,
    Many of the photos in the US where post cards. So the photo could be mailed to loved ones living far away. Sadly, my family exchanged them, many have no names. Sad! I still enjoy looking at them.

    I purchased an old frame, there was an old photo of 2 children within it. I could not throw out the old photo so I move the photo to another frame and call the children “instant adopted family”.

  11. Pauline Taylor permalink
    February 12, 2015

    A lovely collection which clearly shows just how important having photographs taken was. Adults and children alike seem to be wearing their very best clothes but there is a marked contrast to the collection of studio portraits that I have of my great grandparents and their six children which were all taken by photographers in Hackney. The studio props that these photographers used are very grand, and the portrait of one child, Stanley Fielder Greenwood, which was taken circa 1880, shows him sitting on a rocking horse, a toy which was, I believe, only introduced to this country in the 1870s. My grandmother’s first portrait, taken circa 1875, shows her wearing an outfit very like that worn by the child in the photo numbered 75384.

    Many of the portraits that I am so lucky to have were taken in the studios of Austin & Co in
    Mare Street Hackney.

    I also noted and wondered about the American spelling of color!!


  12. Juliet permalink
    February 12, 2015

    I have a collection of Victorian cartes de visites and postcard-sized photos, from the ancestors of a second cousin. Some of the photos were taken in Calcutta, some in Epsom, St John’s Wood or Baker Street. One is from Barnes in Mile End Road, with serial number 53776, which from the photos above would date it to 1877. Thank you!

  13. rae donaldson permalink
    February 13, 2015

    Hi Marsha,
    Thanks for that extra information. I’ve often looked at my picture and wondered “is that really mum?” Then I look at a picture of myself at the same age and realise it certainly could be!

  14. Sue Carr permalink
    April 29, 2020

    I have a photo of my grandparents taken by ‘international studios’ 422 Mile End Road. I would love to find out the date if possible – it is very similar in style to these. It has no number on it unfortunately. Many thanks Sue Carr

  15. Linda Jordan permalink
    March 12, 2021

    Is there an archive of Barnes’ photos? I have a number, however, I’d like to get a date the photo was taken, or an approximation. Also, possibly, other family members photos might have been taken at the same time.

  16. Denise Brown permalink
    June 7, 2024

    Hi. I am attempting to identify some old family photos with no name and have one from Barnes and son with No 6367. Can you give any indication of when this photo would have been taken? Thanks in advance

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