Wearside Echoes: Photos of Victorian Sunderland discovered

EXOTIC TIMES:  Model of elephant for Grimshaw's Tea Rooms, High Street, taken in 1873.

EXOTIC TIMES: Model of elephant for Grimshaw's Tea Rooms, High Street, taken in 1873.

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RARE photographs documenting Sunderland in Victorian times have been unearthed in Scotland.

Local historian Bill Hawkins discovered the treasure trove of snaps after clicking a Facebook link to Glasgow University’s website – and was delighted by what he found.

“There is a whole album of old photos. Many show Sunderland in the mid-19th century, at a time when business was booming and photography was in its infancy,” he said.

“But what makes them extra special is that they were taken by a woman, Fanny Pickard. You just don’t hear of many female photographers in Victorian times.”

Fanny, the youngest child of brick manufacturer James Pickard, was born near Crook in 1847 and married Sunderland grocer John William Grimshaw in September 1870.

The couple made their home at 7 The Esplanade, Bishopwearmouth, and, two years later, her father-in-law Ronald instructed architect Frank Caws to design a new shop for him.

“The result was the Elephant Tea Rooms, on the corner of Fawcett Street and High Street West, which brought a touch of the mystic Far East to Sunderland,” said Bill.

“Built between 1872 and 1877 by Henry Hopper, the store’s upper floors boasted Doulton and Co terracotta ornamental elephants, as well as oriental birds all over the facade. Fanny documented the development of this wonderful building through photographs, which can now be seen on Glasgow University’s website. They are a wonderful find.”

Among the pictures taken by Fanny is one of a model made for the elephants, as well as images snapped at monthly intervals of the building process between 1872 and 1874.

“Her father was a brick manufacturer, a fact which Glasgow University researchers believe may explain why brick buildings were a popular subject for her,” said Bill.

“Sadly the dated images end at 1875. By this time the first of her three children would have been about two, so perhaps she didn’t have the time to pursue her hobby any more.”

Other general shots of Sunderland are also included in Fanny’s album, as well as pictures of County Durham, Torquay, the Lake District and Lake Lugano in Italy.

“The album provides a unique insight into the life and times of a young Victorian woman and is a remarkable survivor from the period,” said a spokesman from Glasgow University.

“The unusual subjects she turns her camera on make it an extremely valuable document, both in photographic terms and content, particularly the images of the Elephant Tea Rooms.”

Notes included within the album show Fanny mostly used dry glass plates for her photos – a technique favoured by amateur Victorian snappers as plates could be bought ready prepared.

She would, however, have needed to develop the pictures herself, and it is thought she may have turned a room at 7 Esplanade Street into a specialist dark room.

“It is fascinating to think of the boom time Fanny would have witnessed in Sunderland as she took her pictures, as it was the era of the Industrial Revolution,” said Bill.

“There are so few photos of the town at this time, though, which means we should be very grateful that Fanny was such a pioneer of early photographic techniques.”

Fanny’s stay in Sunderland, however, was to be a short one. Census records show she was living with her husband and three children in Wolsingham by 1881.

Following the death of John in 1884 she returned briefly to Bishopwearmouth, but by 1901 had moved to Houghton. The 1911 census reveals her as living in Yorkshire.

“Fanny’s images of the creation of the Elephant Team Rooms are probably unique, ” said Bill, a member of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“It is extremely fortunate that her album of photos, including these wonderful tea room images, have been saved for the future. They are truly wonderful.”

** To view Fanny Pickard’s album of photos log on to Glasgow University’s website at: http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/manuscripts/search/detail_c.cfm?ID=74181