Matthew Broadhead

Rose Offley: A Sad Story

Author: Matthew Broadhead

Images © Matthew Broadhead

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Rose Offley was born in the second quarter of 1856 to parents John Page and Ann who were both born in Cambridgeshire. John, as a baker, was published in a list of insolvent debtors inside the London Morning Herald of 11th November 1857. The first census Rose appears in was taken on the 7th April 1861, she was at this time one of six siblings living at 34 Old Street in London. More specifically, this address was in the district of St Luke's in the Borough of Islington, this in turn was within the historic county of Middlesex. Rose's eldest two siblings Frances and Emily were born in Surrey, which tells us that the family moved from Cambridgeshire to Surrey before settling in Middlesex.

The only family member recorded as having an occupation at that time was the head of the household John, who worked as a baker. Aside from his wife Ann, Frances (the eldest child present) was only twelve years old. A baker's salary was clearly sufficient to allow his wife to focus on bringing up her children for the time being, but they also had a servant by the name of Louisa Badford from Cambridgeshire. However, in a twist of fate John passed away on the 8th April 1862 at only 43 years old. The certified cause of death was described using the now archaic term "Old Lung Disease" followed by "Bronchitis". According to the NHS website, it "is an infection of the main airways of the lungs (bronchi), causing them to become irritated and inflamed." Acute bronchitis tends to clear up by itself within three weeks, but chronic bronchitis is a daily productive cough that lasts for 3 months of the year and for at least 2 years in a row. Pneumonia is the most common complication of bronchitis, when the infection spreads further into the lungs, causing the tiny air sacs inside the lungs to fill up with fluid. As penicillin was not discovered by Alexander Fleming until 1928, there were no antibiotics that could be used to treat infections throughout the 19th century. Both bronchitis and pneumonia are easily treatable today with very few fatalities.

A look into the 1871 census record taken on the 2nd April shows that the entire family moved from 34 to 110 Old Road. Ann is shown to still be a widow at 50 years old which means they did not remarry, but it was also discovered that there were in fact at least eight siblings. Ann Elizabeth, born in Surrey and named after her dear mother, was in actuality the eldest having been born in Surrey in 1848, a year before Frances. At 23 years old Ann was working as a mantle finisher, whilst Frances (22) was a boot machinist. As a mantle machinist, Emily (20) would have worked closely with her older sister to manufacture mantles for gas lamps. Katie (18) was a collar roller, and John Page (16) held the office-based position of brewer's clerk. Rose at 15 years old was specifically recorded as "of no employ" and her younger brother William (12) a scholar at school.

A carte de visite of Rose dated August 28th, 1872 is now going to be explored in detail. Perhaps most prominently, we can see it came from the photography studio of William George Parker. There are two addresses advertised on the reverse, these are 40 and 45 High Holborn, London. The distance from Old Street to High Holborn is one and a half miles, which would have taken half an hour to walk on foot.

Often there is a negative number written in ink somewhere on the mount, but in line with older tradition it was on close inspection etched into the glass plate itself near the top of the print edge.

We know so far that negative number 18415 corresponds date-wise to August 28th, 1872.

The 1861 census taken on the 7th April revealed that W. G. Parker was at 25 years old a clerk to an equity draughtsman. Aside from his wife and two sons, there were also a few law students lodging in their abode at 97 Guildford Street in Eastern Central London. PhotoLondon's website contains a comprehensive directory of London photographers who were active in the 19th century. This shows that Parker's earliest premises was at 100 Fleet Street between 1866-67. If Parker established his business in 1866, he would have been around 30 years old at the time. There is no way of knowing exactly what caused them to change their career, but if the barrister they worked for became unsuccessful the relationship would have ceased. This situation would have been the ideal circumstance to open a photography studio.

A fascinating piece of evidence was published by the Kentish Independent on Saturday 30th July 1864. The text below shows that Mr. Parker appeared for the defence of Mr. John Bowles who was an agent to the Liver Benefit Society summoned by Mr. George Bowyer Davies, a photographer.

IMPORTANT TO PHOTOGRAPHERS. On Saturday last, Mr. John Bowles, agent to the Liver Benefit Society, living at 105, King Street, Woolwich, was summoned before Mr. Maude. by Mr. George Bower Davies, photographer, of Wellington Street, Woolwich, for having unlawfully sold a copy and imitation of certain design, to wit, a photograph of the Rev. A. Faduilhe, made without the content of the complainant, who was the author of the said work, and copyright proprietor. Mr. Parker, from the office of Mr. W. J. Barrett, Doctor's Commons, appeared for the defence. Mr. Davies said that the 5th of April he took a photograph of Father Faduilhe, from life, and registered it on the 16th. The defendant had infringed his copyright by having number of inferior copies taken elsewhere and selling them. One of these bad been bought of defendant by witness’s wife.
Mr. Parker said be would admit the selling, his defence being that the copyright belonged to the defendant instead of complainant. Father Faduilhe being about to leave Woolwich was applied to by some of the congregation to have his portrait taken, and having consented, the defendant employed the plaintiff to execute the work. Mr. Davies produced a certificate of registration, and, in cross-examination, said that Mr. Bowles came with Father Faduilhe when he had his photograph taken. Witness sold copies of the photograph but the negative plate, from which they were taken, was his own property. The negative was never sold. If he went to the New Cut, Lambeth, and had a portrait taken for 2d, that would not be a negative, but a positive. He was positive of that. Mr. Bowles had paid him for 12 copies, and be had also been paid for other copies by Father Faduilhe's mother. Defendant had asked witness's terms for taking a number of cartes de visite, before Father Faduilhe came to him. Witness considered, nevertheless, that the plate belonged to him and that no one else had the right to publish copies. By Mr. Maude—Witness would not sell portraits of any gentleman without his permission. He had permission in this case, for Father Faduilhe said "I hope you won’t destroy the negative, because many of the poor people about the town require copies." Mr. Parker—Did not have permission in writing. Mr. Parker drew magistrate's attention to the 25th and 26th Vic. c. 68, s. 1, which provided that ifa photographer received payment or a valuable consideration for taking photograph, he had no property in it. Mr. Davies said had seen several cases reported of a precisely similar nature, which had all been decided against the defendant.
Mr. Maude said be thought there were some new points involved in this case, but would adjourn investigation in order that complainant might cite the cases to which he referred. Mr. Parker said that be believed his defence would stand, and even if it did not the defendant could not be convicted, the words of the act being “wilful infringement.” He contended, however that the copyright belonged to the defendant, and he should ask for a summons against complainant to compel him to deliver over the negative, without which the defendant could not exercise his copyright . Mr. Maude said the negative was part of the photographer’s material and necessarily his own property. They must be guided by custom as well as law. Mr. Parker said a copper plate printer supplied the plate as well as the cards printed from it. Mr. Maude said in that case the plate had to be paid for. His opinion, however, in the matter before him, was that the defendant had received a consideration in the purchase of a number of copies, and therefore had no copyright. He preferred, however, adjourning the case in order that the subject, which was an important one, should be fully investigated. Mr. Parker suggested that in the meantime, both parties should parties should abstain from selling copies of the photograph.
Mr. Davies said that restriction would be superfluous, as far as he was concerned, the demand being pretty well supplied. Mr. Maude said he thought both parties had better agree to the suggestion. Mr. Davies said he would willingly do so, but he thought there ought to be some protection against such piracies as this. The photograph was well known to be his work, and the copy having been extensively circulated might do him serious injury, being badly executed. Mr. Maude said no one would mistake it for the original. The case was then adjourned until Tuesday next, August 2nd.

The case that was adjourned until Tuesday August 2nd 1864 was reported in the Kentish Independent later that week on Saturday 30th July 1864.

On Tuesday last at the Woolwich Police Court, John Bowles, agent to the Liver Benefit Society, was charged on an adjourned summons with having infringed the copyright possessed by Mr. George Boyer Davis, of Wellington Street, in a certain photograph of the Rev. Father Faduilhe. Mr Hughes, solicitor, of Woolwich, now appeared for the complainant, and Mr. Barrett, solicitor, of Doctor's Common, represented defendant.
Mr. Hughes, in addition to the facts related at the last examination, said that the defendant originally came to the complainant and asked his terms for taking two or three dozen copies of the rev. gentleman's likeness. Something was said about £3 per hundred, but nothing definite was settled. Subsequently the negative plate was taken and a copy supplied, when some conversation took place, which led complainant to imagine that advantage would be taken of him and copies reproduced elsewhere. Complainant accordingly on the 15th of April, registered the photograph for his protection, and on the 23rd the defendant was proved to have sold spurious copies, thereby taking advantage of the complainant's skill and apparatus. Mr. Hughes proceeded to argue that upon the law affecting the question, and cited cases to show that the negative was always regarded as the property of the photographer. He also contended that the mere purchase of a dozen copies did not constitute a "valuable consideration" such as contemplated by the act of Parliament, or at all events that consideration did not exist in this case, where no number was ordered until after the photograph was taken. Mr. Barrett contended that the negative was really made "for and on behalf of another person," the defendant, in which case the complainant could not be regarded as having any property in it. By request of Mr. Maude the complainant was recalled and repeated his evidence adding that he certainly expected an order to furnish two or three hundred copies, and took several negatives in order to supply them more readily.
Some further discussion took place between the legal gentlemen and the magistrate, when Mr. Barrett abandoned his first argument and based his defence on the ground that the complainant could not, according to the terms of the act, have a property in the negative, unless he could produce a written agreement especially reserving it to him. Mr. Maude, after a long investigation, said his opinion expressed last week was unaltered. It frequently happened that public men were solicited by photographers to sit for their portrait in order that they might sell copies, but it was not so in this case, where, as far as he could judge there had been a valuable consideration as intended by the act of Parliament in the purchase of a number of copies. Complainant might have retained his right by a written agreement, but at present it was evident that he had not established his copyright, and the summons must be dismissed. Mr. Barrett asked for costs, which however the magistrate declined to grant, saying that the charge had been very properly made. Mr. Hughes intimated that further proceedings would probably be taken.

The photographic copyright case ended up being dismissed due to legal consideration which played in the defendants favour. Oxford Dictionary defines legal consideration as "having some economic value, which is necessary for a contract to be enforceable."

Clerkenwell News printed a wanted advertisement on Tuesday 10th September, 1867 about two gentleman friends looking for apartments near Myddelton Square. Contact was to be made to Mr. Parker through his photographic premises at 45 High Holborn.

The Illustrated London News of the 3rd April, 1869 printed the following advertisement:

TWELVE CARTES DE VISITE, 2s. 8d.; Six 1s. 8d. Carte, enlarged to ten inches, 5s. 6d., post-free. Send Carte with stamps. LONDON PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPANY, 304, Regent-street, W.; and 40, High Holborn, W. C.

This proves that the London Photographic Company operated from 40 High Holborn in 1869. It may have very well been this firm that preceded that of W. G. Parker's.

Clerkenwell News of Saturday 8th January 1870 printed a small advertisement from Mrs. Parker at 45 High Holborn, which gives further confirmation that this original business premises was also their home address.

By the 2nd April 1871, W. G. Parker was recorded living at 45 High Holborn as a photographer employing five men and a boy. Taking the negative number (18,415) and dividing it by six (covering 1866-72), the average sittings per year was circa 3,069. A further division of this by 365 (days in a year) provides the insight that this business achieved an average of eight sittings per day. In a lot of cases this would be quite high in a provincial city or town, but in the capital this is not wholly unrealistic. These findings suggest that it was a moderately small but profitable business.

The Daily Telegraph & Courier of London published on Friday 17th October 1873 printed in their wanted column a request for "a respectable Youth, aged 15 or 16, as CLERK and CASHIER. — Apply by letter to Mr. Parker, Photographer, 40, High Holborn.

On the 3rd April 1881, Parker's two eldest sons William (22) and Charles (20) were also working for the family business along with six additional employees. From looking at the address timeline below, they were not at this stage acknowledged in the business name.

Parker, William George

100 Fleet Street E.C. 1866-67

45 High Holborn W.C. 1868-74

40 High Holborn W.C. 1874-82

17 Warwick Ct, High Holborn W.C. 1874-82

Parker, William George & Co.

40 High Holborn W.C. 1883-90

17 Warwick Ct, High Holborn W.C. 1883-90

288 High Holborn W.C. 1891-08

100 Southampton Row W.C. 1902-08

The Morning Post of 22nd January 1890 reported that W. G. Parker was given a notice of adjudication and the date of 29th January as their first creditor meeting. Despite this, he continued trading into the Edwardian period.

Fashion in the Early 1870's

Fashion historian Anne Buck wrote in her 1997 book Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories that "from 1872 a new form appeared. This was a hat like a boy’s sailor hat of the time, with a round crown, and brim turned up all around. It was much worn and remained fashionable until 1875." Anne then quotes from the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine published in 1875:

“The round marin anglais hat with sloped-up brim all round which ladies wear pushed over chignons … is certainly the most absurd fashion . . . yet it is a great favourite with ladies of almost all ages. These chapeaus are exactly the same shape as our little boys’ felt hats . . . only they are ornamented with feathers and aigrettes and tied with broad strings of grosgrain or moire ribbon”.

This insight proves that the hat Rose is seen wearing was the latest fashion when the photograph was taken. As an adolescent at 16 years old, she does not have her hair in a chignon. Instead they wear their wavy strands at shoulder length and tucked behind the ears, with a cut fringe that covers the brow. Having colourised this image, it is possible to deduce that they were of fair complexion with golden brown hair. On closer inspection a gold plated ear ring is also just about visible. Around her neck is a fairly large piece of costume jewellery made up of five teardrop pendants, of which one is larger than the others. There is a colour scheme at work here, as the pendants match her azure blue long sleeved garment with light green detailing on the shoulders and sleeves.

Less than a year after the photograph was taken, Rose was baptised on 23rd July 1873 at St Mark in Shoreditch. Two years after this event and five years after her photograph was taken at W. G. Parker's studio, Rose passed away early at the age of 21. As she was the only one out of all eight known siblings to go this way, a copy of her death certificate was ordered to enable a better understanding of what her circumstances were. Rose's cause of death was specifically recorded as "pneumonia 25 days" which resembles the same disease that her late father also succumbed to.

In Mary Kilbourne Matossian's journal article "Death in London, 1750-1909" she wrote that "mortality from bronchitis, unlike that from consumption, rose between 1840 and 1891. This mortality increase offset the gains made by sewer building, water purification, dietary change, and vaccination as Londoners continued to pollute the air they breathed at an appalling rate." This polluted air was a combination of sulphur dioxide emitted from burning soft coal and water vapour, which produced noxious sulphuric acid. These emissions of domestic origin were uncontrolled during the nineteenth century, which lead to the average number of days of fog per year to rise each decade. The author suggested that there was a correlation between this fog and deaths from bronchitis since between 1892/3 the amount of fog declined resulting in fewer deaths from bronchitis.

On death certificates the seventh column asks for the signature, description and residence of the informant. Rose's mother marked this section with an 'X' followed by "The mark of Ann Offley" handwritten by the registrar who completed the rest of the record. This suggests the possibility that Ann may have been unable to read or write, which is possible as she never held an occupation even as far back as when she was first married to John on the October 5th 1845. Marriage certificates include proof of the occupations of the bride and groom's fathers. Ann's father, William Radford, was a shepherd.  

On the 1st June 1879, two of Rose's siblings entered into marriage in Shoreditch on the same day. John Page (Junior) married Eliza Jane Mason whilst Kate married William Paul Bramley. John Page's first child Rose Janette born in December 1879 was named after the father's sibling who sadly had passed away only a few years before. When the census was taken on the 3rd April, 1881 most of the Offley siblings occupations remained largely similar although the family was beginning to split apart. At 126 Shepherders Walk in Shoreditch, Ann Elizabeth and Emily Offley were still involved in mantle manufacturing, whilst Frances transitioned from machining boots to costumes. Previously recorded as a scholar, William gained employment as a clerk for silk mercers. At 62 Wenlock Street in Shoreditch, Kate (still working as a collar roller) was living with her husband William, a shoe warehouse manager. John Page Junior and his family did not come up in my searches, however they appear in all subsequent records including the 1891 census taken on April 5th. John appears to have continued working for the same brewery as before, not as a brewer's traveller instead of a clerk as before. He lives at 10 Packington Street in Islington with his wife Eliza and two daughters Rose Janette and Dorothy Eloise. Despite coming from difficult circumstances their life outcome was much more positive especially for all of the Offley sibling's children.


Just a name can in most cases enables many facts about that persons life to come into view. It was a decision to avoid restricting the parameters of my investigation to only the photographer and sitter, as it was enlightening to understand and appreciate their circumstances based on larger issues of the late 19th century.

If Rose was around today, she would have survived a disease such as bronchitis. I thought initially that this was due to the fact that antibiotics had not been invented yet, but further researched revealed that there was another major influence. It was found that burning coal in London resulted in regular occurrences of fog composed of sulphuric acid, a corrosive substance destructive to the lungs. This meant that some working class individuals living in London were subject to a shorter life span than they would have otherwise experienced. It is hard to imagine these life threatening conditions today, where there are restrictions on traffic entering the city centre as part of clean air schemes that have been implemented in recent years.

Despite Rose's fate, it can be said that their portrait conveys them in the best possible light as a fashionable young woman. They were unknowingly immortalised in this way as it would likely have been their last ever sitting.