Lord Street c1880
Detail of Lord Street photograph
I have been looking forward to John Sergeant’s series on Francis Frith, the Victorian photographer who helped change the way we look at the world. The first of a ten-part series started tonight on the pioneer who spotted the commercial potential of taking and selling photographs of every town and village in Britain.
Sadly, if the first episode is anything to go by, you will learn nothing about Frith. In fact, apart from a passing mention in Sergeant’s introduction, his name was not mentioned again. Instead, we had the master of the dance hamming his way through a few set cameos which gave no inkling of the life and contribution of the programme’s subject matter. This is a great shame because Frith is so important to the history of photography and his photographic life started out in Liverpool.
Frith moved from Chesterfield to Liverpool as a young man and established a wholesale grocers at 85 Lord Street. In Gore’s 1851 Directory, he is listed separately as a gentleman living at Beaumont Terrace, Seacombe. A founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (along with James Newlands, Liverpool’s innovative Borough Engineer), Frith became enamoured by photography and sold his business at a substantial profit to pursue his hobby full-time. He made his name travelling to Egypt and the Middle East, where, under the most hostile conditions, he photographed the wonders of the Ancient World. His photographs were a sensation but, not one to rest on his laurels, Frith set about creating a photographic record of Britain that still survives largely intact to this day.
My disappointment in the first programme is that Frith has been relegated to no more than a prop. I have been researching his early life and was hoping to get a clearer picture of the man. Maybe, with nine more episodes to go, there will be something of substance but I am not holding my breath: the itinerary Sergeant has chosen on his round Britain trip does not even include Liverpool.
The photograph I have chosen today is by Francis Frith’s company and is of Lord Street c1880. The photograph has been slightly damaged as the result of being pasted on board. The glue has seeped through but fortunately only the sky in the background has been affected. The detail of the horse-drawn omnibus illustrates how well these prints (130 years-old) have survived.