Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

There was a time when a curled cow lick was desirable in a man’s hair. Today is not that time, but the time of this photo was. The fellow had his hair oiled as also was the fashion, and combed nicely to one side to play up the cow lick. The shape of his mouth is interesting, with the upper lip more pronounced, making it look like he had just been startled. Let us hope that was not the case. :-)

The photographer used was Thomas Birtles of Northwich & Knutsford. I found a reference suggesting he was in business 1865-1876. However, further research uncovered that Thomas Birtles did not officially take ownership of this studio until 1878. He had been an assistant to John Longshaw, a well known photographer in Warrington. Born in 1838, Birtles first attended art college, became a drawing master and tutor, before health concerns took him back home to Warrington. He went to work for Longshaw, married Emma Longshaw in 1860, and upon the death of his employer, took over the studio with his brother in law, Edward Longshaw. Evidently, Edward left the business rather quickly, and Birtles continued on independently, opening studios in Northwich and Knutsford.

Birtles was a prolific photographer, known not only for people, but also indoor and outdoor scenes, upper and lower class people as well as industrial and construction photos. He even photographed his own dinner table set for a wedding feast. He and his wife had eleven children, many of whom went into the photography business with their father supporting several studios. Thomas Birtles was long in business, well into the 20th century, and transitioned his work from ambrotype to collodion and on to more modern methods after that. His sons continued the business well into the 20th century.

For further reading about Thomas Birtles, the Warrington Museum has published the book Warrington’s Photographers. There are many of Thomas Birtle’s images there as well as many from John Longstreet and others.

 

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