A fabulous collection of photographs entitled Recollections of Dunham c1870s has now been catalogued and is available to see via Library Search and Luna. It complements the John Rylands Library’s extensive holdings of papers of the Grey family, Earls of Stamford, and their predecessors, the Booth family, from Dunham Massey near Altrincham, Cheshire. The details of those papers can be seen here: Grey (Stamford) of Dunham Massey Papers. The house and gardens are presently one of the National Trust’s most popular destinations in the North West.
The photographs in this album show the house and gardens as they were during the Platt family’s period of residence when it was rented to them by the 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington. The Earl had scandalised local society by his love of ‘gambling, racing, shooting and grand building schemes’.[i] This was compounded by his two marriages, first to a much older woman (and a servants daughter), Bessy Billage, and his secondly to a bareback rider in a circus called Catherine Cocks. In the surrounding furore that accompanied the Earl introducing his second wife to local society, they abandoned Dunham and subsequently rented it to Robert Platt (1802-1882). Robert Platt worked in the family business of cotton manufacturers.
There are 20 albumen print photographs, including one apparently from a paper negative, in the album. The photographs were taken by one of Manchester’s most important Victorian photographers, James Mudd, (two by James Mudd & Son). James Mudd was born in Halifax in 1821 and his family moved to Manchester in the late 1830s. Mudd started as an apprentice pattern designer before opening his own textile design business with his brother on George Street in 1846. His earliest known photographs were landscapes taken using the waxed paper process in 1854. In 1873 Mudd’s son, James Willis Mudd, joined his father’s firm. It is probable that it was in Manchester that Mudd met the successful cotton manufacturer Robert Platt, who had rented Dunham Massey since 1856, through family connections within the design business.
The album comprises external views from the surrounding garden and parkland, including a view of the moat to the house. There are a variety of internal shots of the house too which have caused us some detective work. We have spent time comparing ornaments in the modern National Trust guide to Dunham and what appears in our photographs from the 1870s. Some of the ornaments and furniture have clearly had a change of location! I particularly like the two plinths with small sculptured figures on, statuettes of Dacian Kings[ii] [Ref: VPH.10.9], and they come with a great tale too. Apparently ‘during a visit in 1946 George VI reckoned the statuette with the outstretched hand ‘needed a cigarette’ and promptly rested one in its hand. It became a family tradition to give the statue one cigarette every year.’ [iii]
We are in touch with the National Trust at Dunham Massey to see if they can add any further details to our descriptions of the photographs, especially the titles and creators of some of the paintings which feature so prominently in the images.
To follow further developments at The Rylands and in the Visual Collections Team follow #LibraryTammy on Instagram.
[i] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.
[ii] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.
[iii] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.
All images, unless otherwise stated, are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.