The Oldest Woman in Silverdale

Views of North Lancashire in 1901

This week we are celebrating the re-opening of Silverdale library, so it seemed appropriate to revisit the images we have of Silverdale in Red Rose Collections.

There are just over two hundred, and half of these are from a single collection of rare glass plates photographed by Owen Graystone Bird and all of which have been painstakingly hand coloured.

A stream near Silverdale

A stream near Silverdale

Arnside Tower

Arnside Tower

Graystone Bird was one of the most renowned photographers of the Victorian era, but is little known today and much of his work has not survived. Working from Bath, he captured scenes and folk from all over Britain in his many visits.

In around 1901, such a visit was made to Silverdale, Arnside and the surrounding area, with trips over to Grange and Furness (at that time, of course, also part of Lancashire).

Horse and Trap in wooded lane

Horse and Trap in wooded lane

In Rocky Fields showing stile

In Rocky Fields showing stile

From the sequence of the images, it is potentially possible to trace his actual routes during his daily photographing trips. Each has a short handwritten description on the slide itself, which was the only information we initially had to go on.

Along the road at Little Tarn

Along the road at Little Tarn

Cray Green, Silverdale

Cray Green, Silverdale

Most of the slides from the Silverdale visit are landscapes, but a few do feature local people.

At the heart of the collection is a portrait intriguingly entitled “Oldest woman in Silverdale”. Fortunately, there is another of her and her family which gives us her name, Mrs Holmes, plus a view of her house and from her house.

Mrs. Holmes house

Mrs. Holmes house

Oldest woman in Silverdale

Oldest woman in Silverdale

Mrs Holmes, daughter and grandchild

Mrs Holmes, daughter and grandchild

Mercifully, Silverdale Parish is small so it was possible to track her down. In 1901, she was living at Walnut Cottage, The Row and, at 75 the oldest woman in Silverdale and still, at this time, working as a laundress along with her daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband Christopher, a farm horseman also lived at the cottage with their infant daughter.

It appears, from the records we were able to uncover, that Ann lived most of her life in Silverdale and, indeed, living on ‘the Row’. She married in about 1857 and had seven children. The family may have been quite ‘well to do’, as her husband John had his own joinery business and employees and subsequently became a farmer.

But John died age 47 in 1877 and thereafter Ann was head of the household and working as a laundress.

In 1911, now in her eighties, Ann was still there living alone and retired.

Magic Lanterns

Glass plate slides are thin three and a quarter inch square of glass with the photographic images imprinted on them. These were often hand coloured with layers of dye added by brush, or of paint, although this tends to render the original image more opaque.

There is a surviving black and white print of one of the Ann Holmes photos which highlights by comparison how the hand colouring was achieved. We’ll never know whether Ann’s bonnet that day was indeed pink, but that is how Graystone Bird chose to render it.

Magic Lantern shows were a popular form of entertainment in private homes and public shows in the late 19th and early 20th century, the slide being projected on to a large screen often with accompanying music or narrative.

Magic Lantern slides were Graystone Bird’s speciality. We mentioned that he is little known today, unlike his contemporaries such as Francis Frith and Frank Meadows Sutcliffe. But this, in part, may be due to this speciality. Whilst others’ work survives as photographic prints and postcards, most of Graystone Bird’s were only these slides. With the coming of the cinema and the moving image, Magic Lantern shows declined and thousands of these fragile slides were just thrown away. In 1937, Graystone Bird’s master copies and documentation were all destroyed in a “catastrophic event” at his studio in Bath. He died, aged 80 in 1943.

Mrs. Hall's cottage

Mrs. Hall’s cottage

The research in to Ann Holmes family history was conducted using the family history resources from Lancashire Archives and Ancestry Institution which are available to access for free in all Lancashire libraries and Archives via the Digital Library

View the whole Graystone Bird collection.

See all our images of Silverdale.

See other Glass slides in our collections.

Follow us on Twitter: Libraries @LancsLibraries also check out Lancashire Archives @LancsArchives and Museums @LancsMuseums

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