Another great old Rye photograph, this time from the Eric Streeton Collection. ‘Lion Street on a gloomy day’.
The date? Almost certainly before the turn of the century (late 1800’s). Not so many clues to go by here, the posters in the windows of the George Hotel on the right are advertising stout and porter. An old pole ladder is in use half way up the street, what would the modern day ‘health & safety’ officer make of that?
The only figure in the picture is the lady at the top of the street, possibly a teacher from the Lion Street School, the rest of the street is deserted, probably on the instructions of the photographer who would have had to make an exposure of several minutes on the slow photographic chemicals and lenses available at that time. He would have had his camera on a stout tripod and gone back to his own darkroom to develop the glass plate. Contact prints would be made directly from the negative plate and be of the same size. Plate size was roughly 8″ x 6″. The larger the camera the bigger the print. Half plate became popular later but plate and even 10″ x 8″ cameras were used for many plate and even 10″ x 8″ cameras were used for many years because of their better quality, larger prints.
Who was the photographer? Almost certainly not Whiteman, he was working around this time but all his pictures carried neat handwritten descriptions etched into the plates. The picture is more likely to have been taken by Joseph Sellen who worked from a studio at 110 High Street from 1887 – 1890. Equipment was cumbersome and an outside photograph took a lot of planning so this was probably a test picture of some kind.
It is just possible that the photographer was Robert Baggley Thorpe who worked from this same address between 1866 to 1878. Who ever it was the picture is a true reflection of the times and brings it home that life was far from easy with few luxuries in those days.
Eric Streeton has a remarkable library of old Rye and winchelsea material which we are fortunate he he shares with us.
Are there any more photographs about of this very interesting period, when photography was still in its infancy.
“Rye’s Own” February 2008
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