Photo-sleuthing – a Right Royal event

This photo arrived in the Society’s mailbox recently, with a request for help identifying the subjects. Family tradition named the man on the left as Francis Young jnr, an iron moulder from Glasgow. The older man at the back was believed to be his father, Francis Young snr, also an iron moulder and with his 2nd wife. The man on the far right may have been a solicitor (‘writer’) called Bill Smith. The enquirer, however, admitted that the photo might not be of his family at all. And because the picture was a copy, there was not even a photographer’s name on the back.

Unless someone recognises the people in the photo, I doubt if it will ever be identified. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be given its place in history. The first thing that struck me was the arrangement of the studio furniture. Studios were normally laid out with care. Here, not one piece matched its neighbour and the patterned settee at the right has been jammed up against the next-door chair, instead of arranged in an aesthetic semi-circle. Three of the sitters are looking to camera, and three are gazing into the middle distance.

The couple at the back are dressed in dark, possibly mourning, clothes, while the couple to the right are smartly turned out but not in mourning. The man to the left wears a dark buttoned arm-band but again is not in mourning. The top couple and the right-hand couple appear to be making physical contact, which means they were married.

I had started dating the photo as around 1899, on the basis of the hairstyle and outfit of the woman with the magazine. But when looking at Victorian photos, it must be borne in mind that the family was paying for the image and these therefore tended to commemorate specific events. Take history forward a couple of years and we come to the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901. Suddenly a possible reason for having the photo taken emerges.

The older couple may be commemorating the death of a monarch who has been in their lives for decades, since 1837 to be precise. For the younger couple and the single man, the event is sad, and they are gazing away from camera in a reflective mood. But I think the most telling clue is the copy of the Illustrated London News held by the seated woman and open at an important picture.

While I have been unable to identify the blurred image in any of the online pages of the Illustrated London News, the event was extensively covered in the press. And as for the higgledy-piggledy furniture, perhaps the photographer’s studio was more used to taking portraits, and accommodating six adults had proved a challenge!

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