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Yet More From Philip Mernick’s Collection

March 8, 2015
by the gentle author

In sharp contrast to Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers, this latest selection from Philip Mernick‘s collection of cartes de visite by nineteenth century East End photographers, gathered over the past twenty years, shows the offspring of the bourgeois professional classes. No doubt the doting parents delighted in these portraits of their little darlings trussed up like turkeys in their fancy outfits, but there is not a single smile among them.




















Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. March 8, 2015

    They are all delicious!
    and hilariously wrapped up.
    Quelle domage they have come adrift from their contemporary families. I had relatives in the East End late 1800s, so I will adopt some of these, on the off-chance they are mine.

  2. Bee (TINGEY) permalink
    March 8, 2015

    Lovely young faces, all a bit glum except a hint of a smile from the little lad in the white suit standing with his brother.
    Can’t believe some of those little ‘angels’ didn’t have a mischievous side!

  3. March 8, 2015

    One of my favourite TGA series. I’m always struck by how serious the subjects look, must before it was usual to be asked to smile whilst being photographed !

  4. March 8, 2015

    Not a single smile — so money isn’t everything …!

    Love & Peace

  5. Jane permalink
    March 8, 2015

    Interesting comments yesterday on a television clip about Victorian child photography. There was an experiment too as to whether present day children could stay stock still enough for the one minute plus exposure. (Mother’s presence was a big help, even when disguised by a sheet to provide an ‘armchair’ for the tot.) The new technology was a serious business, and I’d think a bit frightening. All this after being titivated and combed out to the nth degree! A sobering remark reminded us that this was a period when child deaths were very common and that one photograph was often all a parent had to remind them of a child.

  6. March 8, 2015

    Lovely texture to these images. But so many look sickly, too wan, too thin. Boney and unhappy, rather than bonny and filled with joy. A reminder of how lucky many children (sadly, not all) are today.

  7. March 8, 2015

    I think they don’t smile because the long exposure time required made it vital that the sitters (even small children!) had to remain as still as possible, and you can’t keep a smiling pose up for long (unless you’re a Celeb, of course). Also, the solemnity of the occasion may have been a factor? Another thing is of course the problem of missing front teeth – the statistics are gruesome. But there’s a famous photo of the elderly Queen Victoria moving her head and starting to giggle in the middle of a posed shot with some daughters.

  8. John Casey permalink
    March 8, 2015

    In addition to the issue of having to keep still for several minutes (although by 1900 it was down to about 2 seconds), don’t forget that some of these kids may well have been doped with Laudanum to keep them quiet and still!

  9. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    March 8, 2015

    Poor children dressed up like little adults & the parents look Grim!I suppose they had to sit still for hours tho!

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    March 8, 2015

    I have many photographs of my grandmother and her two sisters and three brothers taken in the 1870s and 1880s in which they are dressed in the most incredibly smart outfits. The girls especially look absolutely immaculate with layers and layers of clothes, beautiful boots or patent leather shoes with a strap across the instep, petticoats which show below the hemline of the dresses and very lacy drawers as well!! My great grandmother had the reputation of being very proud and I can believe this when I look at how her children were dressed, their outfits must have cost a fortune and she had six of them to dress. The girls had lots of brooches and necklaces as well and very soon had pierced ears and earrings too, I just cannot imagine them ever looking dirty or being badly behaved, but, no doubt they did have fun and games sometimes, I hope so. My photos were taken in Hackney so not a million miles away from where these were taken.

    Perhaps we should remember that children then were taught how be well behaved and how to sit still and be quiet!! It doesn’t mean that they were not loved or not allowed to play.

  11. meh permalink
    March 11, 2015

    The not smiling thing could be cultural. My family pictures even from the eighties have no one smiling, it’s how it works in the old country. The oldsters only recently gave up on telling the youngsters, the ones born in the new country, to not smile when pictures are being taken.

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