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Whispers from the Walls - part 3 - who lived at 36 Steep Hill?

Having chosen which wallpapers to use as inspiration I set out to find out more about the property at the time they were on the walls, between 1840 and early 1900's.


Who lived there?


Could I catch a glimpse of their lives and why they chose these papers?


This photo shows no 36, it's the white building next to the Magna Carta, and as you can see it is right at the top of Steep Hill, almost on Castle Hill. I have gathered from research using the census that the occupants used "Steep Hill" and "Castle Hill" as their address, switching back and forth between the two over time making it tricky to find.



From the census we learn that in 1861's a game dealer lived there with his family and by 1871's it was home to an engraver lithographer, Frederick Tomlinson. This was an exciting discovery, lithography is a printing method invented in 1790's which was used to produce large numbers of duplicate images. It's a highly skilled craft but unfortunately I haven't been able to find any examples of his work and as lithography was used to produce such a wide range images its impossible to speculate as to what sort of work he was making. The property disappears from the record in 1881, I couldn't find it either as Steep or Castle Hill, but there was an exciting discovery waiting for me in the 1891 census. In fact, for a portrait artist it was almost too good to be true...


In 1891 the property was home to George Hadley, a successful portrait photographer whose photographs I have been able to find and even purchase.

Back of a Carte de Visite George Hadley

As you can see he chose to use the Castle Hill address, I assume because it had more up market connotations for his business than Steep Hill.


These are four of the photographs I purchased. They are cartes de visite, small photos adhered onto a cardboard backing which were very popular from the 1860's to the beginning of the 20th century. The rounded corners of these date them after 1870's.


Considered an early form of social media, these affordable photos were exchanged and collected in photo albums which were often proudly displayed for visitors to inspect.


I love the aesthetic of these little cards, they are gorgeous tactile objects, made more beautiful by signs of aging, and they interest me as examples of of historical styles and fashion but my fascination and attraction to them goes deeper than this. As a portrait artist I feel a connection to my own practice and meanings in my work that I have been gradually becoming conscious of. I don't find these things easy to put into words but I shall try to articulate them in my next post.


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