The Cow Butter Shop

Enjoying a quiet pipe

Men outside an unnamed pub

Woman knitting in a street market

Children around the Steble Fountain

Woman selling birds

The Wellington Monument

Selling clothes on the street

I have just received a request from Pete O’Keefe regarding a set of lantern slides I commented on back in October 2010. I have long been fascinated by this series, which was commercially sold by Riley Brothers of Bradford, the largest mass producers of lantern slides in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. Pete has just put his boxed set on Ebay and comments:
I have a set of these Magic Lantern Slides (Slums In Our Cities) and I have No. 1 to 54.
They are in their original wooden slide box. It is my belief that this was possibly a set of 60. as there are 60 sections in the box
– and asks whether I have any record of any missing images.
Not an easy question – I have the total number listed as 52 – but there could have been subsequent editions. Pete’s slides on Ebay show images not in my list so I am reckon the full set might well have been at least 60.
What I do know is that the photographs were taken by Thomas Burke, a city councillor for Vauxhall and a keen amateur photographer. He donated an album of 27 silver prints from his negatives to the City Library – where the quality is vastly superior to the poorly hand-coloured slides I have copies of (and which Pete is selling on Ebay).
If one can ignore the crude colouring, the slides are very interesting examples of street photography using a hidden camera. The subject matter is more street people than slum living – the slums are hardly seen in fact. Some are in well-known sites, such as St John’s Market and William Brown Street. Many show street traders such as women selling fish, clothes and caged birds. Overall, a fascinating record of Liverpool at the turn of the nineteenth century and of an early obsession of capturing the lives of the poor on film. Riley Bros. sold the complete sets for entertainment – at a time when magic lantern slide shows were popular with an audience who would be more likely to be amused by the images than stirred by social conscience. There would have been a printed commentary to be read out as each slide was projected – sadly I do not have a copy of what would be a fascinating read today (the evils of drink, the undeserving poor …).
Nothing much changes, with today’s announcement that the Grand National organisers are looking to throw out photographers who take derogatory photos of Ladies’ Day for the tabloid press. Sadly, there is a ready audience out there to be titillated by the lives of others – and Liverpool is always a magnet for photographers looking for easy images.