Mysterious group in dark clothing (UK)

This photograph came to me a few years ago from Scotland (Clydebank, near Glasgow).  The print is mounted on stiff paper, which has nothing written or stamped on it to identify the group, the location or the photographer.

Group in dark clothes, possibly Scottish 6


Since all the members of the group are adults, I don’t think this is an extended family, although the older woman in the center could certainly be a family matriarch.  Everyone appears to be dressed in black.  While most of the facial expressions are rather stern, one woman is smiling, perhaps despite herself.

Group in dark clothes, possibly Scottish 2

Group in dark clothes, possibly Scottish 3
The man above appears to be sitting on a kneeler, which could have come from a church.

Group in dark clothes, possibly Scottish 4

Group in dark clothes, possibly Scottish 5


Why do you think these people were together?


45 thoughts on “Mysterious group in dark clothing (UK)

Add yours

  1. At first I thought family right say – but upon further examination and your sections – I think they worked together – the lady lower left has that thing around her neck – perhaps a tape measure – so maybe this was a tailoring shop or group of folks in the clothing business
    Am I right that they seem well dressed for the time?
    Maybe a couple ladies are customers A or the sales team – ? And the older lady could
    Be a renaming owner or just an employee – being centered might really be a matter of phot logistics and not matriarchal –
    Fun photo to explore and makes me glad to have today’s lighter clothes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Your comment went into the spam folder for some reason. I don’t know why, because you’ve commented before, I think? Anyway, your idea is very interesting, and I’ll give it some thought. They definitely are well-dressed, although it may be said that even poor people usually had a nice outfit that they could wear on special occasions. If they didn’t own one, they could borrow one. But these people aren’t poor. You can tell by the way they carry themselves (or pose). Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe I left too many comments at one time or I am hacked and being double tracked and so that lands me in spam –
        But thanks for finding my comment!
        And regarding these folks not being poor – I agree (not that I know much about it) but I think also back then there was a more haggard look for the port – and so here – we have hair and a ln almost polished and clean feel – not the polished glam of today’s hype – but a together and threads not worn down vibe

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think this is a typical matriarch and children/spouses. At least five of the women’s dresses have identical trim, and they’re all similar in other ways. If it weren’t for that, I might think this a mourning portrait — but they’re not seated and standing as formally as I’d expect for that. In short? Who knows! If it is a family, I’d say it’s joined by association rather than blood. I have no evidence to support that, of course. For me, it’s pure speculation based on a few details!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree, the dresses are too similar for it to be a coincidence. I thought maybe this was the congregation of a church with a strict dress code, but some of the women are wearing earrings, so the dress code couldn’t have been very strict. Thanks, Linda!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. What a fascinating photograph. They appear to be wearing mourning clothes, but their postures struck me as odd, although it could be that some were having trouble holding the pose asked for by the photographer.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. My first thoughts were either a religious group or a mourning photo. The girl to the right of the eldest lady resembles the older woman seated far left. The girl in the third row far left looks like the older woman in the third row far right.
    Maybe it’s a cousins club. Another fascinating mystery!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sometimes I see a photo and immediately think “brothers” or “sisters,” because of a strong resemblance, and then find out the sitters were actually cousins. I think it was very common for cousins to be photographed together, especially if they didn’t live near each other and couldn’t see each other often. Thanks very much, Morgaine!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Lovely photo! It does seem they have something in common, as the dresses are very similar. I was thinking about either ship-builders’ company or people working in a seaman’s church, as there were a lot of those along the river Clyde. Intriguing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great theories, Thérèse! I wish we knew for sure that the photo originated in Glasgow or surrounding area. My gut feeling is that it originated in Scotland, but that feeling could simply come from the fact that it was for sale there. The man standing in the back row, inside the doorway, looks vaguely familiar. If only I could recognize him. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Mourning photo is my first guess, but why are they wearing the same clothes? Is that a thing from before? I was hoping there was a clue from the building at the back but cannot really see anything there. Your photos are always a mystery. Very Sherlock Holmes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This one is really a mystery for me, from the perspective of dress. When do you guess it was taken? The dresses are all similar but varied, and I can’t identify them specifically as Victorian, Edwardian, or Belle Epoque. Sleeves and waists not narrow enough. Still a hint of a bustle. They seem somewhere in between. I even searched Antebellum mourning dress for women! If someone could identify those unique collars on a couple dresses (the ones when crossover with a pin or brooch in the middle) that might aid in the search. I could find nothing about that particular style. Also it might be a specifically ethnic style. There’s a proliferation of three bands, ribbing, etc. on the skirts, sleeves and bodice trim. Might be significant. Also, there are no veils or hats on the women which was very proper etiquette in the Victorian era, so I doubt they’d take them off just for a photo. But who knows?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great observations, Mary Jo! I’m terrible at dating photos based on women’s fashions. I’ve tried to learn more about them, but the information just doesn’t stick. After you commented, a commenter in England said he thought the photo was made in the 1870s, and I’m pretty sure he’s right. The matriarch’s white scarf (?) made me think this might not be a mourning photo, but of course, the type of mourning dress depended on how much time had passed.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Certainly a family in mourning, which was taken very seriously in the UK in the Victorian era. Victoria herself spent years wearing black after Albert died, although for ordinary middle or upper class families, etiquette demanded at least a month. I think this is from the 1870s. The women are wearing Jet brooches at the neck, jewellery also associated with mourning dress. Jet is a kind of compressed Jurassic coal, mined and carved at Whitby, not far from where I live. Great photo, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very helpful, Michael! I see a lot of jet jewelry in Victorian-era British portraits, but not much outside of Britain, so I wondered about its origins and the customs surrounding it. I think you’re spot-on about the photo being from the 1870s. Do you have any thoughts on the matriarch’s white scarf? Might that suggest a particular interval of time? Your comments are always insightful and much appreciated!


      1. Yes, the white material needs explanation, particularly if she was the widow. Full mourning would demand a black veil, so perhaps she had entered half mourning, where some lighter clothing was permitted?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m going with the mourning thing, but it doesn’t appear that anyone is particularly upset. In fact, seems to be a relaxed atmosphere (woman leaning on chair and seated man’s pipe at his feet). A couple border on bored. I found the lack of jewelry interesting, save the neck broaches. Only one or two women are wearing earrings, and I only see one ring that may be a wedding band. It appears that they gathered to commemorate rather then celebrate a death, probably the matriarch.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with your assessment, Bob. It’s hard not to think that some of these folks were bored, or at least not very enthusiastic about sitting for this portrait. On the other hand, this was a time when sitters had to stay perfectly still. If they didn’t, they ended up out of focus like two of the women. So we have to assume that the photographer told everyone to strike a pose and hold it. Most people went for the serious-and-dignified look.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome to save anything you like, Cara! I like the way the young man seated on the ground (on the cushion) has his elbow on the older woman’s knee. I hadn’t really thought about that before you commented. Such physical contact is a strong indicator of a familial relationship, don’t you think?


      1. Yes, I noticed the way the man was leaning his elbow on the older woman’s knee, I thought it was surprisingly intimate, too. Thanks for letting me hive off some imagery from your posts; these old photographs are such a fascinating, and in some senses, mysterious, way of looking at the past. Specific people and scenes are so much more interesting historically than the wide sweeps of many history books. Strange that it is only in the modern age that we can actually see images of people and hear them, years later. It changes something.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Before scanners and the internet, family photos would only be seen by a few people. So much history hidden away in trunks in the attic! I feel like we’ve entered a sort of “golden age” of rediscovery of these old images, made possible by technological developments in the past 20-25 years. There were collectors of historical photography before the internet, but they had no easy way to share their finds with a wide audience. The internet also dramatically expanded the market (both buyers and sellers).


  10. Even though most of them look quite morose, I don’t think they’re in mourning. Firstly, their clothing would be simpler, the women wouldn’t be wearing earrings. Secondly, they’re not necessarily wearing black. It’s impossible to tell for sure what colour clothes are from a monochrome photo – what appears to be very dark or black could be something else entirely. Most likely the womens’ clothes are blue, green, brown or maroon. The sitting man at the front has a silk or otherwise shiny-fabric inner-lining to his jacket. His waistcoat (vest) is an unusual design. My guess is that they look miserable because of the weather and how long the photo is taking to be shot!

    This is Victorian. I have a photo (which I’ve scheduled to post in Colouring The Past, toward the end of next month) which has a pair of women in it – one old, one young – and the older woman’s dress is in the same fashion as the women here, with overlapping parts of the lower skirt and some fringeing (which can be seen on the sleeve of the woman seated to the right in your photo). The photo I’ll be posting is dated 1872, so that might give you an idea of the date of yours.

    The other thing is the shape of the photo. The one I’ll be posting that I’ve just mentioned, although only a single photo, was printed by an incarnation of the London Stereoscopic Company and my guess is it was a one-off print from a pair of stereoscopic photos. Mine is a normal rectangular shape, but many of these photos were shaped like the one in your post so my guess is yours was a printed enlargement of one of a pair of stereo photos. It’s worth looking up.

    Oh and – are they family? I think so. I don’t think workers would be posed the way these people are, the man on the older woman’s leg (with the skirt part of her dress made askew by it), the kneeling woman on the right linking arms with the younger woman beside her, etc.

    One other thing I spotted is that the women, despite being dressed well, don’t have the usual hairstyles associated with this period – the type that was meant to keep a large hat balanced. These hairstyles are much more informal. I’m not sure what that means, but it might be worth a bit of research. 🙂

    How are you, are you keeping well?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Val, nice to hear from you! You make excellent points. One thing I’d be very curious to know is whether anything in the photo might suggest that it was taken in Scotland. Nothing looks particularly Scottish to me, but I could easily miss subtle clues.

      I’m doing well, thank you. Vermont has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic so far, although our case numbers are now rising.

      The new Visual Archive on your website is really impressive! I’ve considered making pages like that for some of my categories or tags, but not for the whole site.

      I look forward to new posts from you! Stay well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I couldn’t say whether it was shot in Scotland or not. I’m originally from England and now live in Wales, all the countries in the UK are very different from each other. 🙂

        Thanks, you too!

        Liked by 1 person

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