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Women Of The Old East End

March 21, 2020
by the gentle author

I have selected these portraits of magnificent women from Philip Mernick‘s fine collection of cartes de visite by nineteenth century East End photographers, arranged chronologically to show the evolving styles of dress and changing roles of female existence





c. 1870


c. 1870












c. 1890



c. 1900

c. 1910

c. 1910  Theatrical performer by William Whiffin

c. 1940 Driver

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

You may also like to take a look at

Portraits from Philip Mernick’s Collection

Thomas Barnes, Photographer

14 Responses leave one →
  1. March 21, 2020

    From the formidable to the fiesty to the graceful. A lovely collection of female faces from the past. Eacb one with her own unique story. Listen and you might find it.

  2. Paddy kerr permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Amazing – and lovely to find images of all these strong and redoubtable ladies in my email instead of yet more terrifying news of the corona virus. They remind me – each one of them – of the strength of the human spirit, especially that of women, from all walks of life. God grant women all over the world now the strength and determination to get through this crisis unscathed and to help everyone around them to do so also. Stay well Gentle Author. Paddyx

  3. March 21, 2020

    These Victorian costumes leave me in awe all over again again of women’s achievements in that era. Including Elizabeth Garrett Andersen and Millicent Fawcett who grew up in my mother’s house in Aldeburgh; and those faces! What a terrific set of photographs.

  4. March 21, 2020

    Oh, to know about the lives they led outside the studios , the stories they could tell.
    I have many family photographs taken by W. Wright ‘Artist’ Bethnal Green Road.
    I know that the reality for my most of my own family was quite different to what was depicted in those staged portraits. However, I can appreciate that those photographs gave them an appearance of dignity and am grateful to W.Wright for that ….as I gaze into their faces all these years later.

  5. Peter Holford permalink
    March 21, 2020

    I find these endlessly fascinating. There is so much to see in the detail and to have them in chronological order reveals even more. One trend seems to be how the sitter relates to the camera. Before the 1890s all of the women are either looking away from the camera or at a point to just one side of it – it’s classic ‘sitting for a portrait’ style where the sitter may have had to endure hours of posing. After that time the women are looking straight at the camera. It is much easier to look straight at the photographer for a few seconds than it would sitting for a portrait for hours on end. The times had changed.

  6. sara midda permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Some amazing faces.
    Was hoping to see my grandmother there. Sara

  7. paul loften permalink
    March 21, 2020

    We draw from the well of stoicism and courage when we look upon these women.

  8. Eric Forward permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Fascinating photos and also interesting to see the addresses of the photographers. You look at these photos knowing you’ve walked past where they were taken more than a hundred years ago.

  9. March 21, 2020

    These are fabulous the dresses are really interesting I wonder whether the photographer provided them. The faces are so familiar to me, some of the characteristics are still seen around the Eastend now. I wish we knew what their names are?

  10. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 21, 2020

    A great set of photos and particularly revealing to have them in chronological order. What incredibly elaborate dresses and frocks they wore for the occasion…

    As usual I have been playing “guess the names” and here are my suggestions:

    1) Aunt Gertrude – you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her!
    2) Mrs Gwyneth Williams – she looks like she has just come from Chapel
    3) Freda – she can’t wait to get out of her stays
    4) Amelia – poor shy Amelia – she finds the whole thing very daunting
    5) Mrs Allsopp – looking directly at the camera so she doesn’t miss a thing
    6) Sophia – her lovely stripey dress is much too long – is it borrowed for the occasion?
    7) Elizabeth – she could be in charge of the church flower rota (and/or the vicar!)
    8) Dear Bertha – she insisted on wearing all her best clothes at once
    9) Victoria – known as Vic. A very stylish modern girl, full of life
    10) Rachel – she persuaded her father Solomon to give her all the buttons for her jacket
    11) Elizabeth – but known to her family as Beth, a dear, sweet girl
    12) Dorothea – known as Dotty, and she chose stylish her outfit to go with her name
    13) Mrs Jenkins – she looks like she could become one of the first Suffragettes
    14) Martha – she poses sideways in the hope we won’t notice her slightly dodgy left eye
    15) Ursula – she looks exhausted, poor dear
    16) Jeanette – she is half French and is known for her love of fashion
    17) Minnie – she wears a tall hat to increase her diminutive mini stature
    18)Margaret – a nice direct gaze, but what is she fiddling with? Hair? Fur??
    19)Aunt Ethel – she remembers when ringlets were all the rage when she was young
    20) Zena – a plain but sensible girl
    21) Sarah – proud to be photographed in her maid’s uniform
    22) Cressida – real name Anne, but she wanted to sound more interesting. Her steam punk style outfit wouldn’t look out of place in Camden today.
    23) Daisy – looking as fresh as one on her precious bicycle. And there are even daisies in the background…perfect!
    24) Waistcoat Winnie – she has a different waistcoat for every one of her acts
    25) Patricia / Pat. Proud to do her bit for the war effort.

    Thanks GA for a very enjoyable half hour spent in their company!

  11. Robin permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Fascinating! It’s interesting to see some hints of professions in some of the photos: theatrical performer (actress?); maid; WWII driver. Or hints of the modern: riding a bicycle, for instance.

  12. Alexandra Rook permalink
    March 21, 2020

    The early ones are indeed formidable; somewhat terrifying in the formality of such weighty clothes & hair do. So stern & plain, some look more like men in drag. Thank goodness to Edwardian era.

  13. March 23, 2020

    Amazing Clothing of Vintage Era. Very Lovely, but they don’t look very comfortable!!?????????

  14. Jo Ross permalink
    March 24, 2020

    Wonderful photos.

    I loved Jill Wilson’s comments too. Absolutely spot on!

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