Diverse group of schoolgirls in Victorian London

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember a post from last October titled School dog and her charges (UK).  I had bought that CDV because the group portrait included a dog posing charmingly with students.  Then, after scanning it, I had noticed that one of the girls was of mixed-race ancestry.

I bought the cabinet card above from a dealer in Texas, who had listed it online as a “racially integrated class, 1880s,” which seems about right.  Fortunately the photographer is identified on the back: T.C. Turner of Islington, London.  The British Museum lists him as Thomas Charles Turner (1839-1896), residing at 10, Barnsbury Park, London, from 1870 until his death.  According to the back of the photo, he had two studios, one at that address and another at 17 Upper Street, Islington.  It’s reasonable to assume that the school in the photo was in London or its environs.

Schoolgirls in London by Turner 3

The photo isn’t in great condition, but high-resolution scans allow us to see the girls and their teachers pretty well.  Four women seated in the middle row near the center of the group look like teachers, as do three standing together in the back row.  The students vary in age by ten years or more, and all are well-dressed.  At least three of them, maybe more, appear to be mixed-race.  Here are some close-ups:

Schoolgirls in London by Turner 4 detail 1

Schoolgirls in London by Turner 4 detail 2

The girl at the center below has been marked, but we can’t know if that was done on purpose or by accident:

Schoolgirls in London by Turner 5 detail 1


You can examine the photo in high resolution by clicking either of the two thumbnails below.  You should then be able to select “View full size” in the lower right corner of your screen:


Schoolgirls in London by Turner 2



10 thoughts on “Diverse group of schoolgirls in Victorian London

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  1. Unfortunately, I did a little research when I first saw this post and then my damn pc crashed again and I lost it! But from what I recall, I couldn’t find mention of a school in Islington (a London borough that I knew very well before I moved to Wales), like this one, so the possibility that it was in the same locality as the photographer seems unlikely. That said, I was fascinated by the script (To H.R.H. the Prince of Wales’) on the front of the photo which indicates that Turner was photographer to the British Royal Family. That made and still makes me think that this is probably a public school (not ‘public’ in the American School sense of the word. Public schools in Britain are actually private schools that are predominantly for the upper classes and often parents put their childrens’ names down for them at birth). And that makes me think that it might not even have been in London. So it might be an idea to research the areas where there were (and probably still are) public schools. On the other hand, there are some very young children here (and the older ones may be younger than they appear. My own primary school photo from the early 1960s shows an age range of five to ten and the upper form ten year olds could easily pass for teens). So it could be a primary school. Not sure if there were primary Primary schools, I suspect not as many were educated at home. Though there were certainly Primary prep schools. It’s quite a mystery, isn’t it?

    Oh and the pillars to the left of the picture puzzle me. I’m used to seeing these in many London boroughs and elsewhere, on the front of buildings (also in Islington) but not at the side of a building and high up. I wonder if it’s actually the a type of gallery balcony ‘walkway’.

    As for the mark, I think it’s just an accidental scribble. I’ve seen many like this on a lot of old photos. Someone will absent-mindedly rest something on top of a photo – like a bit of paper on which to write a note – and miss, so it goes on the photo instead.

    As I’ve said before, in Britain, we have and had a different attitude to mixed-race kids and adults than many in America did and do. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to regard their presence in the photo as unusual, but I understand how Americans would, given the history.

    Here’s some info about the insignia at the top back of the photo:

    I wish I could give you links to the other stuff I found, but alas – between my annoying pc and my own annoying memory, I just can’t do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you got the PC back in working order, Val! I agree about the mark, that it’s most likely an accidental scribble.

      I’ve also wondered about the very large age range of the girls. My mother suggested the place might be an orphanage, rather than a school. The girls are well-dressed, though, and some of the younger ones even have dolls. If it’s an orphanage, it’s a really nice one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This photograph is very intriguing. They all seem a little too relaxed for it to be a school photograph, don’t you think? Or perhaps they were on a day trip? That’s a fairly grand building in the background that looks identifiable, but I think it would take a lot of painstaking research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make very good points. It had occurred to me as well that many of them seem relaxed and at ease (in contrast with the Kladno group, for instance). I really like the matron at the center, who’s smiling ever so slightly (in the second detail image below the image showing the back). She has a kind face. The girl with long hair, just behind her and to the right, has a funny expression.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is lovely to see them acting so naturally as a group. There’s a little girl on the far who obviously couldn’t sit still! Another thought – maybe this was a practice shot? I don’t know if they did such things though. I’m imagining the children were all very excited about having their photographs taken!

        Liked by 1 person

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