Have you ever looked at old family photographs from before 1940 and wondered what they could tell you? I found out that they can give a direct connection into the lives of the people portrayed in them through the clothes that people wore.
In an absolutely fascinating presentation at Chelsea Library in late October by the fashion expert and author Jayne Shrimpton, I learnt about history of fashion in ordinary family photographs.
In the nineteenth century photography was a cutting edge technology, but by the early twentieth century photography became more accessible with the advent of the Box Brownie camera. This meant that ordinary families could start to take their own photos and as a result pictures were more informal and can give us more information on the daily lives and fashion preference of our forebears. This eventually began to replace the more formal professional images often printed on postcards done in a studio setting.
Jayne showed us that by reading the fashions in a photograph correctly you can date images, but you can also study the history of fashion by looking at the images.
Fashion a hundred years ago was moving away from the formal and quite restrictive styles of the late Victorian era.The period between 1910-14 saw the development of a much more practical style with the introduction of shirts and ties for working women, and the gradual raising of hemlines. That fashion staple the pencil skirt first appeared. It was during this time the lounge suit for men began to appear and moustaches became all the rage.
Women of all classes would dress for formal occasions, and we saw some great images of women in afternoon dress of linen or cotton, wearing extremely large hats and gloves even when taking tea with their neighbours outside the back door.
Children’s clothing began to change: some of the photos we were shown had little boys still dressed as girls until they were of an age to be “ breeched”, when they would start to wear trousers or even shorts. By 1914 girl’s dress was moving towards a more boyish or more practical style, maintaining their femininity by wearing a huge bow on the side of their heads.
The development of more active life styles led to the development of sportswear and also influenced the introduction of knitwear for a more casual look. Jayne showed us images of specific clothing for cycling, golf, and tennis and for the more wealthy and intrepid ski-ing and skating outfits
During World War One women’s garments became shorter, they began to cut their hair shorter and the overall look was much looser. Many young women undertook war work whether in factories or in the Women’s Land Army (est. 1917), where for the first time women wore breeches or jodphurs, covered by an overall coat to maintain modesty. Of course after the war it was straight back to wearing skirts.
When dating your family photographs Jayne advise looking not only the rise and fall of hemlines, but also what people are doing and what is in the background, for example the modes of transport, so if there is a car you can often date the image from the make and model.
In the 1920s people still “Dressed to Impress” but studio images were in decline and these would only be taken for special occasions such as weddings, christenings etc. In these images as Jayne explained, you can see a history of fashion through the generations with older women still wearing black floor length gowns and their daughters and granddaughters in more contemporary clothes and hairstyles.
By the late twenties and early thirties the photos showed another shift for both men and women. This is particularly true of sport and leisure wear. During this period it became increasingly fashionable to have a suntan and as a result women’s bathing costumes began to change from the modest and concealing fashions of the early 20’s to the much skimpier versions with cutaway sections by the 30’s, and other beachwear clothes such as the introduction of beach pyjama’s.
Men’s swimwear generated some discussion after the presentation because men used to swim in the nude but with the introduction of mixed bathing this was no longer acceptable. By late Victorian times they were wearing trunks but with a vest section which everyone agreed was to hold the trunks up as they were of a knitted fabric . Most of us may have heard a story from our grandparents about their swimwear being so wet and heavy it fell down when they came out of the water!
During this time men’s began to wear informal styles, flannel trousers, sports jumpers, plus fours, and even on occasion shorts. Three piece suits became more relaxed, and had a boxier style; pinstripes were popular as was the Trilby hat.
Women’s and girl’s hemlines rose even further to knee length and their hair became shorter. Knitwear became an established part of dress and new fabrics such as jersey and rayon enabled more women to look stylish and modern and to keep up with the latest trends.
I went home after the talk and dug out some of the family photos and looked at them with renewed interest- large hats, hairstyles, hemlines, were all there and as a result of Jayne’s talk I was able to get a better idea of the dates.
If you are interested in fashion, or forthcoming fashion related events, why not join our mailing list by e-mailing your name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you follow this blog, you will see regular features on our fashion and costume collection, and you can look at photographic images from our archives in our local studies Library Time Machine blog.
With thanks to Jayne Shrimpton, who allowed us to use her images here. You can find these photos, and much more, in her book Family Photographs & How to Date Them.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Family Photographs & How to Date Them. (Berkshire: Countryside Books, 2008) pp.123, 138, 161 and 163.
2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant. The 11th November and Remembrance Sunday help mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.
There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did using our Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library on Thursday 6 November.
The pictures we built were often very interesting, viewing as well as military records, Census records, which allowed us small insights into their lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them- and their friends as well.
Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.
Ancestry online is available in and Kensington and Chelsea library plus in Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham. As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from around the world at the time such as Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.
The birth of Prince George Alexander Louis inspired one of our Triborough Reference Librarians to take a look at our reference resources….
A New Royal Baby
Gosh everyone was rather excited about the birth of Prince George recently. Not just in the lead up to his birth as well but the naming, first glimpses and photos as well.
Of course Prince George isn’t the first royal baby by any means. I had an interesting time looking through our Illustrated London News for images of our current Queen, Elizabeth II at around the time of her birth in 1926.
I run a Family History Group at Marylebone Library and we were recently talking about what the day of the week we were born on and what these days mean. If you don’t remember it the rhyme (usually referred to as ‘Monday’s Child’) can be found in the Oxford Reference Online database (you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library card to access this from home) and it originally went…
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living,
And a child that’s born on the Christmas day Is fair and wise and good and gay.
1838 A. E. Bray Traditions of Devon II. 287
I think that Christmas day refers to Sunday in this instance but it would become the Sabbath day in later versions.
If you’re not sure what day of the week you were born on – you can check on the brilliant website Time and Date. I was born on a Wednesday so apparently I am full of woe!
So – Prince George was born on a Monday (22 July 2013) and the newspapers are indeed saying that he is fair of face. Perhaps more traditionally we would say he looked like Winston Churchill though?
Triborough Reference Librarian
If you are interested in such proverbs, folklore or previous royal births why not look up which day you were born – and thus your fate, learn about some proverbs from Oxford Reference Online (in the library or from home with a library card).
UK Newsstand lets you access 299 regional and national newspapers and magazines (along with several trade and scholarly journals), from Aberdeen Evening Express to the Yorkshire Post. You can read broadsheets or tabloids, anything from small local newspapers such as Hackney Gazette to the big national newspapers such as The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph, within 24 hours of them being pressed. You can also easily catch up with anything you might have missed.
At the moment the press itself is under scrutiny. Searching for terms such as ‘Levison’ or ‘press regulation’ using UK Newsstand is far superior than searching via a search engine. Search engines will throw up many relevant sites and articles but they will displayed haphazardly and you’ll need at least five more clicks to get to the information you want on each site (then go back and look for another source and so on). Using UK Newsstand gives you a comprehensive list of chronologically ordered results from all the selected publications. This allows you to have an extensive overview how a certain subject was reported in the press.
For serious researchers there is My Research – a place where you can save, manage, and organise the content and supporting materials you find using the database. You can include texts, articles, searches, tags, shared lists, search alerts, RSS feeds, and more.
TIP: Use quotation marks rather than brackets to obtain exact phrases.
TIP: UK Newsstand can be displayed in over 10 languages – the results will still be in English but it may be easier to navigate around the site in your own language!
UK Newsstand provides millions of documents from thousands of sources, covering research and subject areas like these:
Health & Medicine
Literature & Language
Science & Technology
The database offers the full range of searching options. You can use keyword search for the publications you select, you can choose the type of documents you want to view or search Obituaries and death notices to help find ancestors, relatives, and notable figures.
If you wish to have a demonstration of TDA or UK Newsstand please contact Kensington Central Reference Library on email@example.com. A reference librarian will be delighted to help you get familiar with the databases and set you off on your own journey of discovery. Kensington Central Reference Library has 5 dedicated computers available for researching our online databases.
Kensington and Chelsea’s Local Studies collection is housed at Kensington Central Library.
Have you ever wondered what our Local Studies Library is and what we do? It’s a question we sometimes get asked by the casual reader as they explore our newly refurbished library. The title may sound a little vague if you have never encountered a Local Studies Library before, but effectively what it actually means in its broader sense is that Local Studies is a collection of written and illustrated records that depict the history of a specific area or locality. It is the study of our local environment, our social history and all manner of local subjects past, present and future.
We house and archive a large collection of material pertaining to Kensington and Chelsea; everything from census records, local newspapers that go as far back as 1855, Vestry/Council records, manuscripts and electoral registers to photographs, illustrations, local books/publications and general ephemera that have been collected and carefully catalogued over many years. Part of the team’s job is to maintain and store this precious material appropriately. Some of our oldest items date back to the 16th century and in order to ensure their continued longevity we keep them in a temperature maintained room and ensure their preservation in archival boxes. Other historical sources dating back to the 18th century are still used regularly today such as rate books, which show the rates paid by owners of some of the first properties to appear in Kensington and Chelsea. It goes to show that even in the 18th century tax was recorded meticulously. Death and taxes is the saying…
Many of our visitors are interested in researching their family history, or simply want to find out how old their house is. Others may be authors or curators researching material for a specific book or exhibition. The enquiries we get are always broad and fascinating and on many occasions stretch our research skills in the most unexpected ways: did you know that Charles Dickens was married in St Luke’s Church, Chelsea? That Henry VIII built his riverside mansion at Chelsea and was a regular visitor of the area? That the name of Kensington is actually Saxon, first recorded in the Domesday Book as Chenesitun? That the ‘Royal’ in the borough title was bestowed upon Kensington by Queen Victoria, herself born in Kensington Palace? I have to admit, prior to my years working for the department I knew very little of these historical facts. It is true that sometimes we pick up a book and come across some interesting snippets of information. But it was only when I began to acquaint myself with the wonderful items in the collection that I began to learn in earnest – a most satisfactory endeavour for anyone who has an interest in knowledge and preserving it.
The nature of Local Studies is that we keep adding to the records and enhancing our sources. Sometimes we are a repository for other collections too which enriches our own. We as a team are committed to keeping and preserving this treasure trove that ultimately presents us with a picture of the local community as it was, as it is and how it will be. Should curiosity be in your nature you are very welcome to visit the Local Studies Library where you may find secrets waiting to be discovered as one lady did when she found out one of her ancestors was a duke, to the surprise of all her relatives.
For more on Local Studies please see the wonderful blog written by the Local Studies Librarian, Dave Walker. It’s called The Library Time Machine
We had an Open Afternoon on the 8th December, people were treated to a tour of our archive rooms and had a look at some of the treasures in them. It was a great success and we will be having some more in 2013. We’re open six days a week from 1pm- come in and meet the team: Senior Customer Services Assistants, Isabel Hernandez, Katrina Wilson, Tim Reid and our Local Studies Librarian, Dave walker. We will try to answer any questions you may have regarding the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s local history.
Isabel Hernandez, Senior Customer Services Assistant
Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies Library
Are you a fan of the BBC 1 programme, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ If you’ve felt the urge to trace your family history then why not use Ancestry? Of course to find out more about your family history you can always ask family members and you will find out all sorts. However this isn’t always possible.
There are lots of family history databases online. Some are free to use but they only contain a small amount of information compared to Ancestry. You can access Ancestry free of charge from any computer in our libraries.
So what can you find out with Ancestry?
Well there are some great resources including the Census, records of Tax, Birth, Marriage and Death, immigration, military and travel, Electoral Registers and more. These can provide you with a great breadcrumb trail taking you from records of you and your close family (it’s always a good start to try to find a record of for instance your own birth), to ones from the 19th century when the Census and other record keeping began (you can go back even further if you are lucky; there are records which go all the way back to the 16th century).
If you have managed to follow your ancestors back to 1911 or before you will be in luck as after 100 years the Census records become available. This contains a wonderful amount of information including your ancestor’s address at the time, their age and birth place, occupation, who was living with them and their relationship to them.
Putting your detective cap on you can follow all these clues and create a whole family tree with the help of relatives, including perhaps some you don’t even know yet! Nevertheless, it can be a bit tricky to use. Bear in mind that there are literally millions of entries in there. Furthermore, Ancestry tries to put them in order of relevance but this can have both a positive and negative effect; putting the names which meet your search criteria better higher up the list than those that don’t but at the same time putting American results often higher up than those from outside e.g. English results.
Top tips for your epic searches include:
• Don’t put in too much especially if you have an unusual surname
• Search specific databases e.g. the 1911 census
• Put in information such as year of birth, location
Do be warned tracing your family history does take time! If you need any assistance – pop into your local Kensington and Chelsea library or visit the Local Studies Library at Kensington Central Library.
The Local Studies Library will be having an Open Day on Saturday 8 December. Staff will be on hand to demonstrate how to use Ancestry as well as showing the other resources they have that can help with tracing your family history. You will also have a chance to tour the archives.
If you can’t make that date, Marylebone Library in Westminster has a family history group which meets once a month. They share tips and experiences about researching family history. For more information please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Owen Grey, Reference Librarian
Kensington Central Reference Library and Marylebone Information Service