Ensemble with mandolins, lute and lyre-guitar

This cabinet card was listed for sale in England without any information, and only after receiving it did I see “F DOWNER WATFORD” in the lower right corner of the image.  Frederick Downer (1840-1919) was the first commercial photographer in Watford, which is 15 miles (24 km) northwest of central London.

Mandolin ensembles and orchestras arose at the end of the 19th century and became quite popular in many parts of the world.  I have yet to identify this group, and should note that they might not have been from Watford or even from London.

Mandolin ensemble in Watford 3

The lyre-guitar hadn’t been widely played since the 1820s, so its appearance here is unusual:

Mandolin ensemble in Watford 4
Lute and lyre-guitar (top)

Mandolin ensemble in Watford 5

Mandolin ensemble in Watford 6


You can see a lyre-guitar in this painting of Joaquina Téllez-Girón y Pimentel (1805) by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).  The painting is called The Marchioness of Santa Cruz.

Joaquina Téllez-Girón, Marquise of Santa Cruz (Museo del Prado)
Joaquina Téllez-Girón by Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Mandolin ensemble in Watford 2



18 thoughts on “Ensemble with mandolins, lute and lyre-guitar

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  1. I wonder if they traveled together to play. Or if any one of them sang along with the music. And if this was taken at a performance or if they gathered specially for the photo. The Goya painting you included is beautiful. May I ask – what is a cabinet card?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All great questions, Suzanne! I’m going to try to find out who they were, which may provide some answers. The cabinet card was a studio-produced format that was very popular from the 1870s until the first decade of the 20th century, when it was replaced by larger formats, photo postcards, and personal snapshots. Cabinet card photos were printed on thin paper which was glued to a stiff card, and could be displayed without a frame, often in a cabinet. The standard cards were 4.25 inches wide by 6.5 inches tall (108 x 165 mm).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m sure I’ve seen cabinet cards then and not known what they were. How wonderful! I’m fascinated at how you can take a photo such as this and find out about the time and place and people within it. The way you researched the instruments gave a good place to begin. My thoughts begin to weave stories around them. Thank you Brad! Have a grand day 😊

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you for the kind words and wishes! The research is really fun, like a treasure hunt. I could do more, and some photos really call for it, like this one. Newspaper databases can be helpful, but I don’t currently subscribe to any. (I subscribed to one a few years ago and found it frustrating to use, but they may have improved since then.) Hope you and the pups are having a lovely autumn day in Texas! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t seen that page, thank you!! I had seen the main (archived) page of the Watford Historical Society, which shows their copy of the photo (on a different mount), but the page you found had some additional comments which are interesting. I reached out to a mandolin group in Watford, but they didn’t have any information about groups who played there in the past. It’s one of those mysteries that I think will be solved eventually, because enough people are involved and interested. Thank you for going back through the photos you missed!!

      Liked by 2 people

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