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Thomas Barnes, Photographer

February 18, 2019
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 nameless, 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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 18, 2019

    Great photos, full of character. And interesting that all the men had abundant facial hair as per now – I wonder if today’s fashion for beards will also last for fifty years? I do hope not, but at least ladies fashions haven’t gone full circle as well!

  2. Ron Bunting permalink
    February 18, 2019

    Over one hundred thousand photos?.It’s a pity they didn’t have names to them as there would have to be Photos of my east end Ancestors, Cazeley, Bond,Defee,Hazel(Hayslefor ) Vass Families.

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    February 18, 2019

    The lad in 44425 is oozing self confidence, I wonder what became of him. I love these Victorian photographs and those that I have of my grandmother’s family, recorded from babies to adulthood, are very precious to me, no-one will have such a record of their families now which I find very sad..This particular photographer looks a tad downmarket to me judging by the props but obviously all those portrayed are in their Sunday best.

  4. February 18, 2019

    Very interesting images. A pity that they have not been lent /given to the Bishopsgate Institute. Surely while displaying the photographs to people, who may well have been relatives descending from the children , such people may be able to give further information .

    I note at the end of the images you briefly mention Libby Hall’s dogs . These are now placed in the Bishopsgate Institute and are very interesting indeed for visitors.

  5. Jill Eljadi permalink
    February 18, 2019

    Mesmerised by the detail and reality in these beautiful period photos, can relate to all my ancestors. Ordinary people in all their Sunday best. Thank you.

  6. Annie permalink
    February 18, 2019

    Great photos including a couple of rather handsome men!
    The Victorian ladies dresses are amazing but oh how impractical they must have been.

  7. Gary Arber permalink
    February 18, 2019

    I wonder why Thomas Barnes used the American spelling “colors” on his portraits

  8. Linda Jordan permalink
    February 21, 2019

    Wonderful site!! I can’t believe you posted this 02/18/2019, just before I began looking for the photography studio printed on the back of a photo I have!!

    Do you or someone else have these photos? I have a photo of my 2nd great grandfather from this studio.

    I was wondering if 1) I could send number and get a better idea of when photo was taken, and 2) if you would like an electronic copy of the photo?

  9. Marie Bowen permalink
    May 23, 2024

    Hello, I think you are photo collection is amazing. I do have a photo from Barnes and son taken at mile and Road if I sent it to you I’m wondering if you could give me an approximate date or tell me anything more about the photo? It is from a collection of family photos, and I am working on my Ancestry and would love to determine who it is a picture of. Thank you so much, Marie Bowen in Canada

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