George’s Dock c1875
New Brighton c1875
I have almost given up on John Sergeant’s television series. Four programmes in and Francis Frith has almost vanished from sight. Whoever conceived this vanity needs reminding that the central figure should be the pioneering Victorian photographer not a presenter showboating his amateur photographic skills. Harsh comment, perhaps, but I can only make comparisons with Michael Portillo’s excellent Great British Railway Journeys, in which he puts the subject before himself and reveals the magnificence of the Victorian railway system.
To further my research on Frith, I need to visit Birmingham Public Library, where the Frith archive is held. I want to get some handle on his negative numbering. I have in the region of 100 of his Liverpool photographs plus another 50 of ships in the Mersey.
Many are of familiar subjects, particularly St George’s Hall, which have limited appeal because they are places and buildings covered by many other companies. There were serious competitors such as Scottish firms James Valentine and Washington Wilson, as well as local Liverpool photographers. Their photographs were the postcards of the time and the popular attractions were the most saleable. Frith realised that liners were a good market and produced hundreds of the great Cunarders, Inman Line and other familiar ships. How active Frith was personally is difficult to ascertain, his company had grown substantially and he was in his late 50s when the real growth occurred.
The earliest photographic book on Liverpool I have come across was published by Philip, Son and Nephew in about 1875. It features some of the great buildings in Liverpool including the Custom House, Exchange Flags, the old Adelphi Hotel along with a liberal assortment of the new churches that were being built. The photographs, all by Frith, are hand-tipped in (this was before photo-mechanical printing was invented) and are rather lonely, uninhabited images (the exposures were so long that movement appears as a blur, as in the New Brighton photograph above, so the photographer chose to avoid people in the photograph whenever possible). I have reproduced a number of photographs from the album previously but here are two new ones, of George’s Dock and New Brighton.