Bermondsey revisited

On a visit to Bermondesy Antiques Market late last year, I discovered a box of old photographs and family records which later research revealed had belonged to a woman named Doris Eileen Chaplain (née Jones) of Ilford (see The Bermondsey Hoard). A few weeks ago I returned to see if the box was still there with the hope of purchasing another batch, but unfortunately this time the stallholder nowhere to be seen. I did however pick up a number of photographs which have been just as interesting to research, though some have been rather less forthcoming in giving up their secrets.

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One stall which immediately caught my eye was selling vintage carte de visite of Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall performers. I’d been interested in this subject ever since reading Dave Russell’s Popular Music in England 1840-1914: A Social History so decided to buy a small selection and see where my investigations led me.

Some performers were easy enough to identify as their names were conveniently included beneath their pictures. Such was the case with the two postcards below featuring “Miss Gabrielle Ray”.

Although her name was unfamiliar to me at the time, the “dancer, actress and picture postcard sensation” Gabrielle Ray was said to have been the most photographed woman in the world at the peak of her popularity in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Her rise to fame and later struggles with alcoholism and mental health problems are described by H. Jaremko (1996) in the short biography below:

Gabrielle Ray was born in Stockport, near Manchester (UK) in 1883. She was quick to take to the stage first appearing in 1893, aged 10, in a production of “Miami” at the Princess’s Theatre in London. She continued touring and acting throughout the late 1800’s until she was spotted in 1903 by famous theatre manager and impresario, George Edwardes. From that point on she was catapulted into fame one major London show following another… In 1912 Gabrielle Ray announced she was retiring from the stage to marry Eric Loder. However, the marriage was unsuccessful and divorce followed. Attempting to return to the stage proved a less easy task in 1915 and while she continued to attempt to revive her career, in the early 1920s she finally lost interest. There then followed years of leading a more hedonistic lifestyle which eventually led to alcoholism and depression. In the late 1930s Gabrielle Ray was admitted to a mental home in Surrey, where she was to spend the rest of her life until 1973 when she died aged 90, to all intents and purposes, completely forgotten by the public that once so loved her.

After digitising these postcards I was able to find out more using Google’s reverse image search function, which enables you to search for identical or similar images to the one you upload. A search using the photograph on the right led me to another Gabrielle Ray fansite and a contemporary full-page advertisement for her 1907 play “The Lady Dandies” in The Illustrated London News.

the-lady-dandies-the-illustrated-london-news-9th-february-1907
Advertisement for “The Lady Dandies” featuring Miss Gabrielle Ray. Source: The Illustrated London news, 9 February 1907, p. 216 (via Gabrielle Ray).

The identities of some performers have proved more elusive however, such as that of of the woman in the photographs below.

She appears again in a series of posed photographs with an older male performer who was probably her partner in a comedy double act (to my eyes she looks like a distant Music Hall ancestor of Miranda Hart).

I checked a number of online Music Hall image archives such as StageBeauty.net and Vaudeville Postcards to see if I could put a name to either of their faces but found no matches. Even after digitising them a reverse image search yielded no results, suggesting that this may be the first time any of these photographs have appeared online. For a time I thought the man might have been Dan Leno but now I’m less convinced, and I’m still no closer to finding out the woman’s identity. At some point I’d like to get the opinion of someone with an expertise in this area, but for the time being I’m happy just to share these rare images with the world.

My final purchase was the superbly bleak and atmospheric family photograph below. There was no name or date on the back so I have absolutely no hope of identifying them (from their clothing I would guess it was taken in around the 1890s, but as the woman seems to be wearing fairly generic mourning wear it’s hard to say for sure), but I just liked the composition and the enigmatic expressions on the sitters’ faces. I’d love to know what was going through each of their minds when this was taken.

Victorian Family
Unidentified family, c. 1890s.
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The Bermondsey Hoard

A few months ago on a rainy Friday afternoon at Bermondsey Antiques Market, I was browsing the rather meagre range of stalls which had yet to pack up for the day when I was asked by one trader whether I was looking for anything in particular. I gave him my best cheerfully non-committal “just browsing” and started planning a hasty exit, but after he insisted there was “more in the van” I decided there was no harm in politely rifling through a few more boxes before making my way home. Instead, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up spending £20 or so on a collection of early 20th Century photographs and documents, none of which featured anyone whose names I knew or to whom I had any connection. Since then I’ve started using them as a learning tool in my day job as a local studies librarian when teaching family history, because as with my mother’s collection of family records, they’ve proved a good means of showing how to build up a family tree from a relatively small number of primary sources. Here’s how I got on.

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The photographs and documents I bought had all come from the same tin box, and although they featured a number of individuals it was clear from the context that they had once all belonged to the same person. Part of the reason I decided to buy so many of them was that I was saddened by the idea of them being picked off one-by-one (most likely by television companies to be used as set-dressing, according to the seller), causing any chance of discovering the stories which connected them to be lost forever. Purchasing a decent sample of them would at least, I thought, help preserve some of this person’s story.

But who was this person? Helpfully, many of the photos featured names on the reverse, mostly written in the same hand, and among them was the postcard below featuring a little girl. On the back was written “Me (Doris) (Canada)” in the same handwriting featured on most of the other photos.

Doris Eilleen Jones 4
‘Doris’, Canada.
Doris Eillen Jones 4 reverse
Reverse of the above.

Once I’d identified Doris as the collection’s former owner, it became clear that all the other photos and documents in my possession had to relate to her somehow. A second photograph (below) in which Doris had identified herself on the reverse showed her as a young woman, while a third from around the same time showed her at the centre of a group of female friends or relatives.

Doris Eillen Jones 2
‘Doris’, c. 194?.
Doris and friends
Doris and friends, c. 194?.

The hairstyles and clothing of the women in the second photograph (always the best means of dating old photos!) suggested they were taken in the 1940s, and given her youthful appearance this would put Doris’s birth year at around 1925. Fortunately this wasn’t the only clue I had to go on, as among the records I’d picked up was a godparent’s oath which commemorated the baptism of a Doris Eileen Jones at Ilford Parish Church on 23 October 1927.

Doris Eilleen Jones
Godparent’s oath from the baptism of Doris Eileen Jones, 23 October 1927, Ilford, Essex.

This had to be the same Doris. Not only did the (presumed) birth year fit perfectly, the place, Ilford in Essex,  had appeared before as the photographer’s address on one of the later photos.

Doris Eilleen Jones 3
Photographer’s address, reads “Fisher Banks, 66 Cranbrook Road, Ilford, Essex.

With her date and place of baptism now known I was able to find the index entry for Doris’s birth certificate via FreeBMD, which confirmed her birth was registered in Romford registration district (Essex) in the fourth quarter of 1927, and that her mother’s maiden name was Woollard. As the photographer’s address on the later photo had suggested a long-term residency in Ilford, I decided to see if I could find an index entry for a marriage certificate in the same district. I set my date range between 1945 and 1957, guessing that she would most likely have married between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and among the most promising results was a record of a marriage between a Doris E. Jones and a spouse by the name of Chaplain in the June quarter of 1949. While normally an index entry alone would not be enough to prove a match, on this occasion I knew I’d found the right record because of  the photograph below.

Chaplain family
The Chaplain family.
Chaplain family reverse
Reverse of the above.

This photo had at first appeared to bear no discernible relation to Doris, but on discovering her potential marriage to a man named Chaplain in 1949 it quickly began to make sense. On the reverse someone had identified the subjects as ‘Dennis, Mum, John, Henley Road House’, but below that in Doris’s handwriting was the name ‘Chaplain’ in brackets. It would appear therefore that the picture had originally belonged to her husband and that she’d added his family name later to avoid confusion. A bit more digging via FreeBMD revealed that her husband’s name had been John G. Chaplain, identified in the photograph as the boy on the right.

I have yet to find out what ultimately happened to Doris. It seems likely that she has passed away, as I can’t imagine she’d have sold such a large collection of family photographs during her lifetime, but I haven’t been able to track down any record of a death certificate. It’s possible she’s still alive of course, but another intriguing possibility is that she emigrated to Canada, as her location in the first photograph and the maple leaf pin she’s wearing in the second suggest some kind of family connection to that place. Hopefully someone who knew her, perhaps one of her descendants, will stumble upon this blog one day.

Doris Eillen Jones 2
Doris Eileen Jones, 1927-?.