It is difficult to date the photograph precisely but it is another of Francis Frith & Company’s commercial views which proliferated during the 1870s and 80s.
Rodney Street is one of the few nineteenth century streets that would still be familiar to its 1880s inhabitants.
On the face of it, not a great deal has changed except for the level of traffic. The road is named after Admiral Rodney, victor over the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of St Vincent in 1780. The battle, also named the Moonlight Battle because it took place at night, propelled Rodney into a public figurehead celebrated in the names of streets and pubs throughout England. At that time, the future Rodney Street was open fields but, by the turn of the century, there was a sprinkling of houses. Most of the building took place over the next 20 to 30 years. Picton writing in 1872 comments that: “The houses generally are of respectable size and character, many of them mansions of some pretension … It has had for some time a hard struggle to maintain its respectability, but there are signs of its following the usual course. After a reign longer or shorter of quiet dignity, the physicians and surgeons begin to colonise. The dentist follows; then a modest-looking display of wares in the parlour window indicates the modiste, or the brilliant red and blue jars give token of the druggist and apothecary. By-and-by a shop window is boldly put forth radiant with plate glass and gold, and so gradually a change comes over the spirit of the locality; the tradesman pushes out the gentleman and trade reigns supreme. Rodney Street is at present in the transition state, when there is a tripartite division between the private house, the doctor and the shopkeeper, but in the end the triumph of the trader is inevitable.”
Picton, as it turned out was over-pessimistic. Rodney Street is still that tripartite balance between private residencies, medical consultants and traders but it retains its elegance and has escaped relatively unscathed for its two hundred years of existence.