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27 Mar 2019

Everyday photographs reveal history at the Tenement House: Part 3

Written by Antonia Laurence-Allen, Curator Edinburgh & East
A black and white photo of three women and a man eating ice cream. The man sits on the right, the woman on the left holds a cup.
Photograph of people eating ice cream in Largs, 1960s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)
As Miss Agnes Toward entered adult life, photographic technology was constantly improving. Her collection of photographs clearly demonstrates this and the changing world they captured.

Colleagues and the Kodak camera

A black and white photo of three women wearing hats and 1920s fashion on a golf course with bags under their left arms.
Photograph of Miss Agnes Toward (middle) and colleagues at a golf course, late 1920s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This photograph shows Miss Toward with two female work colleagues in the late 1920s. It appears they’re at a golf course for a day out of the office. Thanks to the Kodak point and shoot camera, Miss Toward and her colleagues are relaxed and smiling – very different from those stiff and formal photographs of the past.

At this time, Miss Toward was working as a typist for shipping firm Prentice, Service & Henderson at 175 West George Street, Glasgow. She stayed with the company for almost 50 years, from 1914 until 1960. The women in the photograph were most likely typists or secretaries working with Miss Toward.

A black and white photo of a man and a woman wearing hats and dark clothes playing golf. They are by the hole on the green.
Photograph of two of Miss Agnes Toward's colleagues at a golf course, late 1920s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Here, two of Miss Toward’s colleagues are enjoying their day out at the golf course. Easy to use cameras and a new commercialised printing process meant that photography was now more flexible. Capturing subjects in motion, like this image, became a simple task for anyone. Middle-class patrons with leisure time to spare took up photography in their masses at the turn of the century.

George Eastman introduced his Kodak camera in 1888. This started a revolution in the photography industry, and rolls of film were sent to a Kodak facility to be developed and printed commercially. By the 1920s, when these photographs were taken, the developing and printing process was efficient and quick. Each of these photographs is a standardised size, unlike many of the amateur photographs from earlier time periods.

A black and white photo of five women wearing hats and 1930s fashion on a golf course. They are smiling and have linked arms.
Photograph of Miss Agnes Toward (second from right) and colleagues at a golf course, possibly 1930s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This photograph is one of a group that give the impression of being from a slightly later time, perhaps the 1930s, though they appear to have been taken on the same camera as before and once again at a golf course. A few of the women in the 1920s photos are present in this later group, but many of them are different. In the nearly 50 years Miss Toward worked at Prentice, Service & Henderson, she probably saw many colleagues come and go. Photographs would have served as a fine way to remember them. 

Sharing photographs with friends

A black and white photo of two women sitting on a bench and smiling. The woman on the right has her arm around the other.
Photograph of Miss Agnes Toward and a friend, possibly Mrs Billie Hunter, late 1930s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

In this photograph, Miss Toward sits with another woman near the seaside and promenade in Largs sometime around the late 1930s. It’s possible that the other woman is Mrs Billie Hunter, who lived in Largs and often wrote to Miss Toward. The women are clearly friends and lean into each other comfortably. This photograph is of the same standardised size and photographic style as the images of her work colleagues.

A black and white photo of two women walking along a street. They carry handbags and the woman on the left wears a hat.
Photograph of Miss Agnes Toward and a friend, possibly Mrs Billie Hunter's daughter, late 1930s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Miss Toward had many friends she enjoyed visiting and these friendships were often commemorated and maintained with photographs. It’s possible that the young woman in this photograph is Mrs Hunter’s daughter. The spontaneous photograph of the two ladies walking and enjoying a conversation would have been a novel concept given how much photographic technology was still improving.

A black and white photo signed ‘very sincerely yours, Agnes’ of the head and shoulders of a smiling young woman with short bobbed hair.
Photograph of an unknown woman, early 1900s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This studio portrait is probably from the early 1900s. The woman is unknown, although she signed the image as Agnes; she was probably a good friend of Miss Toward’s and it’s likely the pair exchanged their portraits as a gift.

A letter in black ink on lined paper to Miss Toward from Miss Hunter discussing sharing ‘snapshots’.
Letter from Mrs Billie Hunter to Miss Agnes Toward, dated 5 September 1939 (© National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

On 5 September 1939, Mrs Hunter referred to some photographs in a letter to Miss Toward: ‘The snapshots are very good. I think you will agree. I ... will send them on to you when I get them.’ Later that same year, on 20 November, she mentions photographs again: ‘I must say your photograph is very good, you look very well in it.’ Mrs Hunter is probably referring to one of the many images of Miss Toward from a trip to Largs that year. The friends kept in touch with regular letters and visits.

Holidays

Miss Toward enjoyed taking holidays away from Buccleuch Street, often visiting friends throughout Scotland. This photograph of Miss Toward was taken around 1939 in front of the war memorial in Largs; it pre-dates World War II since the memorial only features the names of the fallen from World War I.

A black and white photo of a woman standing in front of a war memorial comprised of a square stone base with figures on top.
Photograph of Miss Toward in front of Largs war memorial, c1939 (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Miss Toward frequently took holidays to the seaside at Largs with her mother. After her mother’s death in 1939, Miss Toward began to spend more time on holiday in Largs, visiting friends there nearly every summer. During the war years, she also took holidays in Kent, many of which were remembered with photographs. Though she didn’t take any photographs herself, friends would often send her negatives and prints later. Unfortunately, Miss Toward didn’t write dates or names on the backs of the photographs and we’re left to guess much of the information outside of the content of the image.

A black and white postcard of a stone building with bay windows and steps leading up to it captioned ‘Timaru Hotel, Largs’.
Postcard of the Timaru Hotel, Largs, c1940s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

The Timaru Hotel in Largs was a favourite place for Miss Toward to stay, although she stayed at many different bed & breakfasts in the area. Since she didn’t own a camera, Miss Toward often bought commercial postcards like this of places she visited and stored them alongside photographs of her own.

From the daguerreotype to the snapshot era

A black and white photo of a woman walking along a street wearing a hat and coat and carrying a handbag in her right hand.
Photograph of Miss Agnes Toward in Largs, 1940s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This photograph of Miss Toward walking down a street appears to be from the 1940s and shows how far photography had come in her lifetime. Although the term ‘snapshot’ was coined by Sir John Herschel much earlier in 1860, the snapshot era of photography only truly began with the introduction of point and shoot cameras. Herschel nicknamed the updated faster exposure camera images of his day snapshots after a hunting term for a quick shot made without careful aim.

The casual aesthetic of the snapshot era is perfectly demonstrated in the following photograph of Miss Toward and her friends on holiday from the early 1960s. Such an unplanned image of friends enjoying an ice cream cone would have been unheard of at the beginning of her life. Since Miss Toward visited Largs so often, her collection of photographs from these holidays show her getting older in every series.

A black and white photo of three women and a man eating ice cream. The man sits on the right, the woman on the left holds a cup.
A black and white photo of three women and a man eating ice cream. The man sits on the right, the woman on the left holds a cup.​
A black and white photo of a nervous looking girl wearing dark clothes in a golden floral frame. Her lips are coloured red.
Daguerreotype of Mrs Agnes Toward (née Reid) as a child, 1860s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

By the 1960s, the exposure time for a photograph was so short that anyone could capture a photograph of a moving subject in variable conditions outdoors. It’s in stark contrast to the earliest photo in Miss Toward’s collection, a daguerreotype of her mother as a child that required Mrs Toward to sit stiff and nervous for many minutes. These two photos demonstrate how, as well as telling the story of her life, Miss Toward’s photographic collection captures 100 years of photographic development.

The Morton Charitable Trust has been funding fieldwork on the National Trust for Scotland’s photographic collections since 2014. In 2018–19, this work will further raise the profile of the collections through research, articles, talks and dedicated projects. The project will also involve the digitisation of the Margaret Fay Shaw photographic archive of mid-20th-century Hebridean life, leading to an updated database with high-quality images.

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