Old Photographs

Old Photographs

These old photographs which have been held by members of my family for many years came to light after my father started researching our Ives family history. Apart from a note to say that family relatives in Norfolk are shown in the group photographs, nothing more was known about them.

In April 2002, the photographs were taken to the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television (NMPFT) in Bradford to be dated. The four large photographs were identified by as being albumen prints from the wet collodion process dating them between 1860 and 1880. The small portrait of the boy is a Carte-de-Visite, a studio photograph taken by a professional photographer. Cartes were very popular in the 1860s but by 1870, their popularity had diminished due to the introduction of the cabinet card in 1866.

In the background of the photograph with the two young girls on horseback, there is an entrance doorway to a house visible, presumably the workplace of the servants. The servants are clean and well presented with the women holding sprigs or bouquets indicating that a special event was being celebrated, possibly a wedding.

Servants (Group 1) Servants (Group 2)
Servants (Group 1) Servants (Group 2)

Girls on Horseback Young Boy Groom
Girls on Horseback Young Boy Groom

What follows is a brief account of my search for the place where these photographs were taken. The search began at the end of 1999.

I first contacted the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia for suggestions as to possible dates and locations of the photographs. The UEA acknowledged the receipt of my correspondence but no further reply was received.

In search of another expert in this field, I wrote to a historic building consultant based in Norwich. Unfortunately, he was unable to identify the building in the background of the photograph showing two young girls on horseback. As he did not recognise it, he concluded that the building might be demolished.

This news was very discouraging and for several months I briefly abandoned the search. At the beginning of July 2000, I decided that the historic building consultant might be mistaken so I started to compile a list of country houses that were still in existence. Twenty-eight properties were identified in North West Norfolk, the area I knew my family had connections. Each property was sent a speculative letter and a copy of the photograph.

I received a total of nine replies but unfortunately no one could identify the house. It was suggested that I get a copy of Burke's & Savills Guide to Country Houses for East Anglia and also contact the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. I wrote to the museum and although the assistant curator was very helpful he could not find anything in their archives that matched the building in the old photograph.

There are almost 500 Norfolk properties listed in the Burke's & Savills Guide and about half of these are illustrated. Those properties that appeared similar in architecture to the building in the background of the old photograph were Barningham Hall, Great Witchingham Hall, Heydon Hall, Merton Hall and Thelveton Hall. None of these halls were in North West Norfolk so it was possible I had been searching in the wrong place.

Initially I sent a letter to the first three of these properties and I received a reply from each but with no luck. However, I was told of a retired architect who may be able to help. I contacted him and he thought that the hall in the photograph was Thelveton Hall. A letter was then sent to the owner of Thelveton Hall and also Merton Hall to complete the list.

Thelveton Hall was uninhabited and undergoing some essential maintenance work, as it is a listed building. The owner, Sir Rupert Mann was not certain whether the photograph was of Thelveton Hall but I was invited to view it myself. In October 2000 I visited Thelveton Hall but unfortunately it did not match the house in the old photograph.

Shortly after my visit to Thelveton Hall, I received an interesting photograph from the Norfolk Studies Library in Norwich. They had conducted a limited search of their photographic archive and suggested that the closest match was Merton Hall. Unfortunately, the library's photograph of Merton has the entrance doorway obscured by a detached gatehouse so a comparison could not be made.

Merton Hall was gutted by fire in 1956 with only a service wing and gatehouse remaining. At the time of the fire the Hall was being used as a school. It now looked like the historic building consultant was correct in that the building might be demolished.

The Internet has enabled me contact some local people who live in or near the village of Merton and who have web pages regarding the locality. As a result these photographs have been shown to other residents of Merton with the consensus of opinion being that the old photograph was taken at Merton Hall.

At the beginning of 2002, I was very fortunate to receive several newspaper cuttings regarding the fire at Merton Hall. These cutting were taken from the Eastern Daily Press and revealed that it was Old Buckenham Hall Preparatory School using the Hall at the time of the fire. The school still exists and is now located near Ipswich. I have been able to contact the school and they have kindly sent me a picture of Merton Hall showing the entrance doorway in enough detail to confirm that the old picture of the two girls on horseback was definitely taken at Merton Hall.

Merton Hall
Merton Hall (before the fire)

Merton Hall is the family seat of Lord Walsingham. In 1870, Thomas de Grey (b.1843) succeeded his father as the 6th Lord Walsingham and in 1877 he married Augusta Selina Leila Locke (b.1833). Lelia had been previously married to the Italian Duke of San Teodoro and had a daughter Teresa (1855-1935) who later became the Princess Colonna. Teresa had two daughters, Donna Isabella (1879-1957) and Vittoria Colonna (1880-1954). There is a memorial to Vittoria Colonna, Duchessa di Sermoneta Roma, 29th November 1880 - 17th November 1954, in the churchyard at Merton.

If you go to Tony Brooks' Old Merton Website there is a quote from the memoirs of Vittoria Colonna, "His [Lord Walsingham's] old coachman Amos Carrier, gave us our first riding lessons on Merrylegs and Snowdrop, these two ponies Lord Walsingham had purchased for our own use". Tony suggests that Donna Isabella and Vittoria Colonna are the two girls on horseback. The girls look to be aged between 6 and 10 years old, so the photograph would have been taken sometime between 1886-1889. Assuming that the photographs were taken to celebrate an event at Merton then it is likely to have been the following wedding.

On 14 August 1889 the marriage of the Hon. Alexander Hugh Willoughby, youngest son of Lord Middleton, to Miss Mary Selina Honoria, the only daughter of late General the Hon. James Macdonald, and cousin to Lord and Lady Walsingham, took place at Merton. The marriage was reported in the The Thetford & Watton Times. The two bridesmaids were the two little daughters of the Duc de Marino, Donna Isabella and Vittoria Colonna and after the wedding service favours were distributed, consisting of orange blossoms and heather. The bridal party were photographed by Mr W L Shrubsole of Norwich, who also photographed a large group after the wedding breakfast.

We have still to determine how these photographs are connected to the Ives family history. The photographs were found in an envelope with the caption "Cousins in Hunstanton or Kingís Lynn" and would have belonged to the family of William Ives who had moved to Stacksteads, Lancashire, sometime between 1875 and 1878. Williamís cousin James Savory, his wife Charlotte (nee Wayte) and family, originally from Wells, Norfolk, had also moved to Stacksteads around the same time. However, in 1891 they were living in Kingís Lynn before returning to Stacksteads. It is possible that the photographs are somehow connected to the Savory family.


I wish to thank sincerely the following for being of help in my search:

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Copyright © 2007 Frank Ives
Last revised: 6 January 2007