Hardman House and Photographers Studio in Liverpool is a time capsule of an era passed by and shows how a renowned portrait and landscape photographer, Edward Chambre Hardman, lived and worked in the 1950's. It is a terraced house in the middle of Rodney Street in Liverpool and if it wasn't for the signs outside you probably wouldn't realize what was contained inside. It's a step back into the past.
A little History
Chambre was born in Dublin in 1898 and took his first photographs aged nine. At 18 he spent four years in the Gurkha Rifles in India getting to the rank of Lieutenant, and while on active duty he found time for photography using his Eastman Kodak No. 3 special camera and processed his rolls of film in his bathroom. During this time he met Captain Kenneth Burrell and they became friends. Looking for a profession beyond their Army career, they established the photography business in Liverpool in the early 1920s. Originally they acquired a property in 51a Bold Street, Liverpool, at that time this was the fashionable commercial centre. Business was slow to start but eventually it gained a reputation for being the place for anyone with distinction to be photographed with them. In 1926 he appointed 17 year old Margaret Mills as his assistant but by 1929 she left to train as a photographer in Paisley, Scotland but kept in touch with Hardman. In that same year Kenneth Burrell also left and left the business entirely to Hardman but they remained friends and the business name Burrell & Hardman remained.
While Margaret was away they remained in contact via letters and from these we are able to put a potted history together of their life together. In 1930 just after they had started to discuss setting up a portrait business together, Margaret announced she was to marry someone else, Hardman was initially devastated but persisted and by 1931 Margaret had broken off the engagement and they married in 1932, he was 33 and she was 23. They rented a flat at 59 Hope Street, Liverpool. In that same year he earned a contract with the Liverpool Playhouse theatre providing portraits and production shots of actors. Some of the actors photographed included Ivor Novello, Patricia Routledge and Robert Donat. They worked long hours at the studio but still found time for weekend expeditions, strapping camera equipment on to their bicycles and riding out into the countryside to shoot landscapes. The 1930s was a prolific period for his landscape photography. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and took many landscape photographs in Scotland, as well as a portrait of Margot Fonteyn.
In 1938 Hardman took over the lease of a second portrait studio based in Chester. During the Second World War years business seemed to thrive, although because of this Hardman's landscape photography suffered as he had no time. The business thrived because of the number of men going abroad wanting to have a picture of their family or loved one to take with them, or to leave a picture of themselves with their family.
By 1979 Hardman made few excursions out of his home and found increasing difficulty in walking, and had suffered a fall. At this point he had not thought of dying and had made no provision for his lifetimes work except having handed over 140,000 documents including negatives from 1925 to Liverpool Central Library local history archive. It was suggested that he should set up a trust to safeguard his work and subsequently bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the Trust.
Throughout the 1980s, exhibitions and articles of Hardman's work continued to be presented while he suffered long stays in hospital. He was also made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
He died on the 2nd April 1988 at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. His house and studio was taken over by the E. Chambre Hardman Trust in order to conserve his work and was later transferred to the National Trust, the current custodians.
The House/Studio Today
If the main studio room is occupied then you wait in another small room where on the ways there are copies of Hardman's work, on our visit it was a number of images of the streets and dock areas of Liverpool in the 1950's as well as a display cabinet with cameras on the top.
The studio room is a large double fronted room at the front of the property. It is laid out as a photographic portrait studio with black curtains on the windows pulled to allow you to see it as it would have been if you were having your photo taken. The area by the windows has on display the main camera, a very large plate camera with extending bellows on a wooden frame that can be height adjusted, used for taking portraits, various different lighting arrangements. Along the opposite wall is the area where the portrait clients would have sat or stood, there is a background hanging on the wall and in front a raised platform arrangement with chair and different cloths used in setting up the photo, there are also props including those for keeping children amused. Being a Georgian building the room was very large and had high ceilings so ideally suited as a photo studio.
There are other rooms on this floor at the back of the property, but first we go upstairs to the 2nd floor.
Again there is another waiting room with more photos and display cabinets and then it's into the room at the front of the house where they have an exhibition entirely dedicated to Margaret. In here to get to see some of the many letters she wrote to Hardman whilst they were apart, some of the clothes and jewellery she would have worn, some personal photos of her and Hardman whilst out on their travels or landscape photography trips as well as some of Margaret's own photographic work. From here you are then led into another room which is completely set up as a darkroom and are told this was their private darkroom. In here you have packets of photographic film and paper, an enlarger, a developing bath system as well as loads of other items, so much crammed into such a small place. From here its back down the stairs to the first floor and the living quarters at the back of the property.
Continuing our walk around the house you arrive back on the ground floor and at the back of the property there are further collection of rooms known as the 'finishing rooms', where employees would have tidied up, retouched, and some hand colouring, where the clients requested it, and in the mounting room they would have mounted the photos ready for clients. They prided themselves on the quality of the images they sent out being able to eliminate flaws and blemishes, this was achieved both by retouching the original negative, using a fine lead pencil, but also after printing had taken place. On work tables you can see tools, print boxes, examples of what types of work would have been carried out here and more.
From here you are encouraged to take a look at the small telephone/intercom room, which you passed, and from there take the narrow steps down into the basement before making your way back to the exit door off the 'finishing room' out into the garden. In the basement there were a number of rooms included a darkroom where the portrait film was developed and printed for the finishing room upstairs to put their final touches.
Once you have seen enough of the basement you then return to the 'finishing room' to exit the building and make your way through the garden back to the visitors reception area where you started. Here there is a small shop where you can purchase copies of some of Hardman's photos as prints or postcards and some other small gift items.
I enjoyed my visit, it was really interesting to see a 'living museum' of a photographic studio from this time. Hopefully with the custodianship of the National Trust it will be kept as a reminder to a photographic past as with the rise of digital photography the new generations of photographers will not experience or probably even be aware of how photography used to be. It's a time capsule for future generations.
On your visit some of the items in display cabinets and any photographs in the waiting rooms may differ as they try to show different aspects of the Hardman's time here. As it appears they did not throw anything away there is a lot of material that is not routinely on show, so can be used for special exhibitions. For example in May 2011 they ran an event 'Hardman's and the Home Front', where amongst other items they displayed an appointment card that informed clients that 'due to the war, credit will no longer be given.' As photography was a reserved occupation, Hardman spent most of his time taking pictures of servicemen and women, but when he wasn't taking photos he was an ARP Warden, so his ARP helmet and Gas mask were also on display together with their 'dismantled Anderson shelter'. For 2012 there exhibition is about rationing and make do and mend.
The photographic archive that Hardman and Margaret left behind contains hundreds of thousands of photographs, prints, negatives, letters and business records. Around 140,000 photographs from 1925 are with the archives of Liverpool Central Library. This includes around 12,000 photographs.
Chambre Hardman Archive There are 2,000 images from the Chambre Hardman Collection on this site, mainly those taken by Hardman, but also a small selection of those taken by Margaret.
You can also see a selection of around 1200 photos from the Hardman collection, and if you want purchase, from the National Trust Print website at www.ntprints.com, take the link for Chambre Hardman.
NOTE: Access to the house/studio is via guided tours in small groups to allow everyone to get a chance to see and to keep things flowing. You do not need to book before your visit, but I would suggest you do if you want to make sure you can get in on the date you want. If you should arrive in Liverpool earlier than your allotted time slot for your tour then Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral is nearby and it's worth a stroll over there to have a look around.
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