Friday, 25 March 2011

Donkey Rides at Dovedale

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Barnes family excursion at Dovedale, c. late 1870s [1]

This image was sent to me by fellow photo-sleuth Nigel Aspdin. It is a large format albumen print from his own family collection, mounted on roughly trimmed card (140 x 106.5 mm) and produced, according to the stamp on the reverse, by Bull and Hawkins, Portrait & Landscape Photographers of Ashbourne. The stamp also states helpfully, "Groups taken at Dovedale." Nigel is not sure who this group are, although from the provenance he feels sure that they must be members of his Barnes family.

The group consists of five women, six chidren - aged between one and about eight years - and a man wearing a high-crowned bowler hat, accompanied by two rather well behaved donkeys. Clearly the donkey on the left has an incentive, since it is being fed by one of the fashionably attired ladies. They are seated and standing on the grass at the foot of a scree slope, which I believe must be in close vicinity of the famous Stepping Stones near the foot of Thorpe Cloud [2].

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Reverse of photograph by Bull & Hawkins [1]

Robert Bull operated a photographic studio in Ashbourne from the early to mid-1870s, initially from his general goods and stationery store in Sturston Road, and later from premises adjoining the railway station [3]. I was unaware, until fairly recently, that he worked with Mr. Hawkins, but apart from this example, I have subsequently come across two further examples. I suspect the partnership may have been of fairly brief duration. The latter was probably William John Hawkins (1850-1930), who worked in various towns in Cheshire: (Congleton - 1881-1883, Latchford - 1891, Partington - 1901) [4,5,6,7].

Image courtesy of Google Books
Engraving of Dovedale in the early 19th Century [8]

Dovedale was a popular tourist destination long before its acquisition by the National Trust in the 1930s and 1940s, and the opening of Britain's first National Park there in 1951. A long line of literary figures have waxed lyrical about the attractions of the valley hosting the River Dove, including Samuel Johnson in Rasselas, Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton in The Compleat Angler, Tennyson, Ruskin and Byron. As a result, by the start of the 19th Century Dovedale was already spoken of as "a spot known far and near for its romantic scenery." [9]

In 1830 Thomas Moule wrote:
Frequent excursions are made from Ashbourne, in the summer season, to this justly celebrated valley, where its wildness produces a striking effect ... [10]

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
The Isaac Walton Hotel, Dovedale, c. 1856-1859
Stereoview by Sedgefield [11]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

By mid-Victorian times, the locals had come to appreciate some of the benefits of having a constant flow of visitors:
A couple of fields from the [Izaak Walton] hotel bring us to the stepping stones across the river ... near these, boys with donkeys anxiously entreat you to mount, but turn a deaf ear to their invitations, your own feet will carry you far better through the dale ... [12]

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
A couple "walking out" at Dovedale, c. 1856-1859
Tinted Stereoview by unidentified photographer [13]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

By the late 1850s, photographic enthusiasts were visiting Dovedale too. The well known Derby practitioner Richard Keene made his first visit in 1860 [14], by which time commercial photographers had already taken full advantage of its popularity as a tourist destination. For example, John Latham of Matlock Bath, Helmut Petschler of Manchester, Sedgefield and Samuel Poulton & Co. of London, amongst others, were publishing a wide variety of stereoviews.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
The Stepping Stones, Dovedale, c. 1856-1859
Stereoview by Poulton & Co. of London [15]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

This view of the Stepping Stones, almost submerged by a partly flooded Dove, by Samuel Poulton shows a deposit of light-coloured scree at the foot of the slope in the middle ground (visible above the stone wall to the immediate left of the low weir). It may well be the same scree slope which featured in Bull & Hawkins' shot of the Barnes family.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Excursion at the Stepping Stones, Dovedale, c. 1860-1865
Detail from stereoview by unidentified photographer [16]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

Another stereoview of the popular Stepping Stones area, probably taken in the early 1860s, shows a party having a picnic on the grass by the river, a few yards from where I believe Nigel's photo was taken. A couple of donkeys can be seen in the middle ground on the opposite side of the river, as well as evidence of how they transported all the picnic accoutrements from where the carriage had dropped them. Large picnic baskets are clearly visible next to the picnic party in the foreground, and what appears to be a box on a cart behind the donkeys. A man and his dog are posing on the stepping stones in mid-stream. The slopes of Thorpe Cloud form an impressive backdrop to the full image, most of which is not visible in this detail.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Group at Lion Head Rock, Dovedale, c. 1864-1869
Stereoview by unidentified photographer [17]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

A day excursion by a large group from Nottingham was recounted in a newspaper of that town in June 1864, demonstrating how the amenities of the Peak District had been made so much more accessible through the expansion of the Victorian railway network:
The excursionists did not number more than 22 or 23 persons, of whom about one half were ladies ... On arrival at Derby [station] a well appointed break and four horses met us at the station ... Lonely it was not, for gay parties of pedestrians, with here and there a young lady of the number seated on a donkey, passed and re-passed from time to time; and at intervals in the glen we came upon romantic gipsy-looking groups of men and women, who, however, turned out to be very prosaic vendors of ginger-beer and lemonade ... The Narrator ... has an unconquerable aversion to chattering guides and irreverent money-hunters ... [18]

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Group at Dove Holes, Dovedale, c. 1870-1875
Stereoview by John Latham of Matlock Bath [19]
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

Another stereoview, this time by local photographer John Latham, and probably taken in the early 1870s, shows a small group which has ventured further up the dale to Dove Holes. I see no evidence in these photographs of the troublesome natives hawking their wares, but no doubt the photographers were well practised in the art of excluding unwanted distractions from their carefully composed views.

Image © Derby Museum and courtesy of Keene's Derby by Maxwell Craven
Photographers at Dovedale, Albumen print by Richard Keene, 1879,
Derby Museum Ref. DBYMU.T269 [14]

Recommendations from the writer of a guide to the Peak District in 1875 included:
When [at Dovedale] you can obtain a good dinnner at any of the three hotels, and you can also obtain donkeys for the exploration of the dale, the loveliest in Derbyshire. [20]

By the early 1880s bicycles were becoming rather popular. Here an enthusiast describes a lengthy "Tour on Wheels" which included Dovedale, although they did temporarily exchange their metal steeds for equine ones:
Leaving our machines in safe custody, and trolling through several fields, we came to the end of the Dale. On the backs of trusty, high spirited animals we careered along to the Reynard's Cave, at the rate of about three miles an hour. Our donkeys were not good climbers ... [21]

Image © Ordnance Survey
Dovedale, 1947
One-inch Ordnance Survey Map

It is clear that they would have needed to start out early in the morning to avoid the throngs:
The Dale, you know, is a centre of attraction for all the country round, and Saturday always brings a number of visitors. They came in four-horse coaches, in "Derby dillies carrying six insides," in vans, and waggonettes, and traps, all soaked in rain ... You will remember that just above the point where the stepping-stones are, and opposite to where the old woman keeps her donkeys, the left side of the river is fenced off by a strong iron gate, with notice-board warning intruders to go away ... [22]

In August 1886 a large group of photographers met in Derby for the first time as the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom (PCUK). Included in the programme were visits to Haddon, Chatsworth, Dovedale, and Matlock [23].


The Stepping Stones, Dovedale, 1905-1910
Postcard by Valentine & Sons [24]

In 1904 the PCUK met again in Derby, and paid another visit to Derby, although it is clear that not all participants went on that trip:
SOME UNCONVENTIONAL OBSERVATIONS AT DERBY
By A bland observer.
Tuesday. — Dovedale — The writer didn't go. He knows it. Any one who expects to get there a pictorial picture out of a hundred photographic pictures is a — — knows not what he is let in for. [25]


Dovedale, c.1911, Multiview postcard by unknown publisher [26]

An AA Road Book published in the late 1930s gives the following somewhat aloof description: "For rock, wood, and running water in combination, Dovedale (part N.T.) is unmatched in England." [27] The Penguin Guide of 1939 is somewhat more forthcoming, making an unambiguously negative reference to hawkers depicted in the lower right panel of the multiview postcard shown above:
Upon reaching the Dove between Thorpe and Ilam, follow the footpath upstream to the Stepping Stones. The scenery is very entrancing, although the donkeys and refreshment stalls at this point detract a little from its beauty. [28]


Dovedale, c.1905-1915, Postcard by R. & R. Bull of Ashbourne [29]

A few years prior to the outbreak of the Great War Robert Bull's nephew returned, photographing the coterie of donkeys, ponies and refreshment stalls who guarded the entrance to Dovedale, marked by a gate in the stone wall just upstream from the Stepping Stones.

Everyone has heard of the beauties of Dovedale. Crowds gather on a Bank Holiday from near and far. ... There are cigarette kiosks and ice-cream hawkers; there are guides and postcards and wretched overladen donkeys, grunting up the hill ... [30]

© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Peak Season: Crowds on the banks of the River Dove [31]
Image © 2009 Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence, Courtesy of Geograph.co.uk

This recurring theme of throngs of visitors spoiling the experience continues to be mentioned by the authors of more modern guides:
Certainly [Dovedale is] renowned for [its] beauty and popularity, but often crowds of people can detract from the finest features. [32]
Fortunately the donkeys, their owners and the ginger beer and lemonade vendors are long gone.

Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to Nigel Aspdin for once again delving into his family photo collection to provide another fascinating Photo-Sleuth topic. I am indebted to John Bradley who has, as always, most generously responded to my requests for images to illustrate this article. I'm very grateful for his kind permission to reproduce images of the very fine images of stereoviews and albumen prints from his collection.

References

[1] Photograph of family group on excursion with donkeys, Dovedale, by Bull & Hawkins of Ashbourne, undated, Collection of Nigel Aspdin.

[2] Dovedale, Wikipedia.

[3] Payne, Brett (2005) Robert Bull Senior & Robert Bull Junior, of Ashbourne, Derbyshire Photographers' Profiles.

[4] 1881 Census of Congleton, Cheshire, England, The National Archives Ref. RG11/3534/30/8/47, Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

[5] Jones, G.A. & G. (1995) Professional Photographers in Cheshire 1849-1940, Bath, England: Royal Photographic Society Historical Group, The PhotoHistorian Supplement, No. 108.

[6] 1891 Census of Thelwall Lane, Latchford, Cheshire, England, The National Archives Ref. RG12/3081/115/1/6, Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

[7] 1901 Census of Lock Lane, Partington, Cheshire, England, The National Archives Ref. RG13/3327/63/2/16, Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

[8] Storer, J.S. & Greig, J. (1807) Antiquarian and topographical cabinet, Vol. 1, London: Clarke, Carpenter & Symonds, Google Books.

[9] Evans, John (1805) The Juvenile Tourist, or excursions through various parts of the island of Great Britain, London: James Cundee, p.220, Google Books.

[10] Moule, Thomas (1830) Great Britain illustrated: a series of original views, London: Charles Tilt.

[11] The Isaac Walton Hotel, Dovedale, Stereoview, Undated, but probably taken c.1856-1859, Sedgefield's English Scenery No. 720, Collection of John Bradley.

[12] Anon (1864) Peaks and Dales in Derbyshire, Part I, in "Bentley's miscellany, Volume 55," p.323, London: Chapman & Hall, Google Books.

[13] A couple walking at Dovedale, Tinted stereoview, untitled and undated, but probably taken c.1856-1859, by unidentified photographer, Collection of John Bradley.

[14] Craven, Maxwell (ed.)(1993) Keene's Derby, Derby, England: Breedon Books, 215p.

[15] The Stepping Stones, Dovedale, Stereoview, Undated, but probably taken c.1856-1859, by Poulton & Co. of London, Collection of John Bradley.

[16] The Stepping Stones, Dovedale, Stereoview, Undated, but probably taken c.1860-1865, by unidentified photographer, Collection of John Bradley.

[17] Group at Lion Head Rock, Dovedale, Stereoview, Undated, but probably taken c.1864-1869, by unidentified photographer, Collection of John Bradley.

[18] Anon (1864) Pleasure Excursion to Dovedale, Nottinghamshire Guardian, Issue 962, 24 June 1864, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Gale CENGAGE Learning.

[19] Group at Dove Holes, Dovedale, Stereoview, Undated, but probably taken c.1870-1875, by John Latham of Matlock Bath, Collection of John Bradley.

[20] Anon (1875) How to see the Derbyshire Peak, Gardener's Magazine, in "The Derby Mercury," Issue 8394, 18 August 1875, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Gale CENGAGE Learning.

[21] Anon (1882) A Tour of Wheels (by Local Riders), The Newcastle Courant, Issue 10835, 1 September 1882, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Gale CENGAGE Learning.

[22] Marston, Edward (1884) An amateur angler's days in Dove Dale, or How I spent my three weeks' holiday, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, Archive.org.

[23] Bedding, Thomas (1889) History of the Photographic Convention of the UK, British Journal of Photography, on Alfred Seaman and the PCUK, by John Bradley

[24] The Stepping Stones, Dovedale, Colourised Postcard No. 10464 by Valentine & Sons, Undated.

[25] Extract from British Journal of Photography, July 22nd 1904, courtesy of John Bradley

[26] Dovedale, c.1911, Multiview colourised postcard by unknown publisher, postmarked 1911.

[27] Anon (n.d.) The AA Road Book of England and Wales, London: The Automobile Association, p.333, Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin.

[28] Mutton, F.C. (1939) The Penguin Guides: Derbyshire, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, p.116.

[29] Dovedale, c.1905-1915, Sepia postcard by R. & R. Bull of Ashbourne.

[30] Drabble, Phil (1948) Staffordshire, London: R. Hale, Google Books.

[31] Peak Season, Digital photograph by Colin Smith, 2009, Courtesy of Geograph.co.uk

[32] Spencer, Brian & Porter, Lindsey (1972) The Dove and Manifold Valleys, including Dovedale, Moorland, 52p.

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