Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Blake Family in 1881 at St Vincent Villa and the Rise of Victorian Photography

The Victorian Family at St Vincent's

Since coming here and beginning research into our home, we have been delighted that three families
Sara Madeline Blake's birth certificate 1881
who have links with St Vincent’s have been in touch. One such relation, Mary, has got in contact with us from America. It was her maternal grandmother, Madeline Lynton Blake who was born here on 1 August 1881 and Mary kindly sent us some more information about Madeline Blake’s family and this rather beautiful photo of her siblings (below) before she was born in 1881.

At the time of the 1881 census, Madeline’s mother Elizabeth Blake was living in St Vincent Villa with her three children: Michal Adams Blake, William Reuben Blake (born in the Globe at the back of St Vincent’s where they lived before they moved here), and Elizabeth Mary Blake (who died in 1883). William Reuben is recorded in the 1881 census with his paternal grandparents, William Blake and Elizabeth Bulled in Morebath. Also living at St Vincent Villa was Elizabeth’s brother, William Hill. Elizabeth, Michal Adams, William Reuben and Madeline left England for the US in 1884 to join husband/father, William Bulled Blake, who arrived in New York in April 1881.

The Rise of Victorian Photography

Elizabeth with William Reuben 
and Elizabeth Mary
Seeing these beautiful photographs, especially the one of the three children by local photographer J D Vickery (above) in his studio in Barnstaple (and you can see many more of his images here) made us think about the rise of photography in the Victorian era. The invention of photography can be credited to Louis Daguerre, who first introduced the concept to the French Academy of Sciences in 1839. That same year, Robert Cornelius produced what is considered the first photographic self-portrait (who new selfies were such an old fashioned concept!). Portrait studios then started springing up the next year but at that time cameras were expensive and ordinary people couldn't afford to buy them. The relatively low cost of the Daguerreotype developed a few years later and the reduced sitting time for the subject, though still much longer than now, led to a general rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture.

Taken from life: The Unsettling Art of Death Photography

It is the youngest child here who was no longer alive
As well as taking images of live people, the Victorians also took photos of loved ones after they had died. We came across this BBC article which explains “Photographs of loved ones taken after they died may seem morbid to modern sensibilities. But in Victorian England, they became a way of commemorating the dead and blunting the sharpness of grief”. You can read the full, slightly macabre, article here.