Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench Photograph
This photograph of Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench was taken at Hill’s Studio in Galway city around 1903. It is a fairly typical child portrait of the times, though a little more relaxed than most. I love the way that they added a country feel by the use of props, like the gate and spade.
Props were very important in those days and helped to convey the story behind the image. Indeed photographers often used them to distinguish between girls and boys at a time when very young children of both genders wore dresses. That is why so many vintage photographs of girls include dolls, while those of boys tended to have items like trains or rocking horses as props.
It’s interesting to note that this photograph broke with tradition as there were no dolls on display here. Instead we see an endearing image of rural, farming life and this tells us a lot about the Ffrench family. Tom, their father, was a keen farmer with a real love of the land, while Georgina , their mother, was an artistic and highly creative woman. The photograph seems to reflect this unique and interesting combination of outlook and I imagine that this was their intention.
This photograph of Hill’s studio was taken in 1905. Therefore, we get a good idea of what it probably looked like when Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench arrived to get their portraits taken.
Hill’s photographic studio was part of an enterprise that included a bicycle showroom, quite an unusual juxtaposition, even in those days.
Edmund Hill seems to have been quite an eccentric character and loved publicity. His clients included members of the British royal family , but he was quite happy to photograph more ordinary folk too.
He was an award winning photographer, particularly in the area of children’s photography. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Ffrenches chose him to take their daughters’ portraits.
Galway city, Early 1900’s
Getting a portrait studio picture of your children in the early 20th century involved much more planning and preparation than it does today. Fewer studios were available and, of course, travel was was more difficult and time-consuming.
Making the 70k trip from Bushy Park, Roscommon to Galway would have been challenging, especially with two toddlers in hand. The family most likely travelled by carriage or train, a journey which would have taken several hours. The children must have felt more exhausted than excited by the time they arrived.
Galway probably seemed like an alien world to two little girls who were more used to bleating lambs than honking bike bells!
This photograph of Galway city markets was taken c 1901, very close to the time the girls visited. It’s a fine example of a stereoview image, where a 3D effect is created when you look through a special viewfinder.
I remember spending hours at home in the drawing room, peering through the spy holes of one of those viewfinders. It was one of my favourite pastimes, watching the various scenes spring to life. I didn’t understand the mechanics at the time, but to my little mind it was magical. Maybe that’s where my interest in photography began?
Memories of Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench
I have such wonderful memories of both Noelle and Rosmund Ffrench. I wrote earlier about my very first memory, that of Rosamund sharing a book with me, and about its’ impact on me as an adult.
The memories involving Noelle are equally vivid and significant. Many of my earlier memories of her involve taking long, meandering walks in the countryside. Often we stopped to look at the tiny fish swimming in the stream, or to gather watercress for tea-time sandwiches. Sometimes we might notice an abandoned bird’s nest, white fluffy feathers left like calling cards. Or maybe she would point out insect eating plants on the bog. This animal/plant role reversal certainly stirred my imagination.
There was a small woodland area just down the road from home and we would often go there to visit the ” Wishing Well “. I think that it was just an ordinary well, but to a six year old, everything has the potential for mystery and magic. I remember staring wide-eyed into the blue-green water and watching the colours blend and blur with any slight movement on the surface. The memory is so vivid that I still enjoy painting that scene on canvas today.
” Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: It gives back life to those who no longer exist.” Guy de Maupassant
When I look at the picture of Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench, I feel a bond with these two little girls. It is like a connecting thread that bypasses time. In each face, I can see the future woman begin to blossom. They were exceptional women whose altruism changed the course of so many lives. I am very lucky to have had them in my life, they have been inspirational role models. The photograph may be as faded as the memories, but I hope that by sharing it I can bring a little piece of them into your life too.
Noelle and Rosamund Ffrench from my mother’s collection….Thank you.
Hill’s Studio from Galway Advertiser
Galway City Market from The Daily Edge , original in America’s Library of Congress collections.