Victorian Photos of Hackney Residents: Volunteering at Hackney Museum

The Great Atroy, Image from the 'Peculiar Portraits' at Hackney Museum from Copyright held by Anderson/Four

This is just a quick post about some work I’ve been doing for Hackney Museum. I have been volunteering with the Collections and Exhibitions Manager and had the pleasure of cataloguing a collection of photos by the Hackney photographer, Arthur Eason.

The story behind these photographs, as well as the content, is fascinating. Over 2000 glass plates were discovered several years ago in derelict school in Hackney. These glass plates were in their original boxes and accompanied by the photograph studio’s original office stationery. From this it was discovered that the  plates were from Eason & Co. studio, run by Arthur Eason, and based on Dalston Lane. With no clue as to how they got to the school or who had owned them between the closure of the studio in the early 1900s and the discovery in the early 2000s, their life as objects remains a mystery. We know that the majority of images are from the 1890s and were taken in Eason’s Hackney studio.

Most of these images are portraits and they represent a rare historical window to life in Victorian Hackney. Subjects include newly wed couples, family portraits, possibly to celebrate a child’s birthday or other life milestone, and also promotion photographs for music hall acts. These promotional images even include some Victorian photography trickery with additional effects added by drawing on the negative.

In addition to these there are fascinating images of Asian and Chinese people in both national and Western dress. It is thought that most of the images are of international Salvation Army delegates in Hackney to attend the International Salvation Army Congress of 1894. This is supported by the fact that many of the subjects have Salvation Army badges, but it is also supported by the Eason’s connection to the Salvation Army.

The Easons were very active within the Salvation Army; Arthur’s father, John Eason, was a close friend of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, and Arthur went on a missionary trip to China in early 1880s. The relationship between the families was clearly maintained and there are even photographs of Booth’s grandchildren within the collection.

I have been cataloguing Hackney Museum’s collection of Arthur Eason’s photographs, preparing them to be accessible through their online catalogue and so accessible to more people. This is a fantastic resource of the public and historians alike and I hope they are used in the future to tell many stories, from life in Victorian Hackney, Victorian photography and the history of the Salvation Army to name a few! Until then I will continue to catalogue to attempt to ensure they can be found by as many people as possible.

Update: I should note that the legal owners of the copyright of the images belong to Bridgit Anderson and Jim Four, who kindly donated copies of some of the images to Hackney Museum.

The images are up on Hackney Museum website now – go to their collections website ( and search ‘Eason’ and they’ll appear. Have fun!


Hackney Museum:

Salvation Army History:


10 Responses to Victorian Photos of Hackney Residents: Volunteering at Hackney Museum

  1. ewebber says:

    Hi, I just added a link from a post in the yeah! Hackney history forum
    We love Hackney History over there and would love you to add any updates you have, or to know any other Hackney history that hasn’t yet been covered

  2. Hi Kathleen

    I’m a volunteer at Abney Park Cemetery where there are many Salvation Army monuments. We’d like to do a piece about the photos you’re cataloguing in our newsletter and we’d like to mention you: what’s your surname?


    Kirsten Foster

  3. James Eason says:

    I’d like to hear more about the project you are doing. Are you cataloging the prints that were exhibited about 5 years ago, made from Jim Four and Bridgit Anderson’s collection? Or the digital reference images they made?

    • kathleenmcil says:

      Hi James,

      Thanks for the comment. You are exactly right, I am cataloguing the prints produced for the ‘Peculiar Portraits’ exhibition in about 2003/4, so it’s about 25 prints from the Anderson/Four collection. I have also scanned them and so a digital image will be available on Hackney Museum’s online catalogue soon. I’m not sure about the digital reference images you mean, but I hope that clarifies what I’ve been working on.

      Let me know if you want to know anymore. I’ll put a link to the collection once it’s online.

  4. Jess says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Very interesting post! I research my family history and in my collection of photos there’s a photo of my Great, Great Grandfather’s sister, Millicent Wallace. My Great, Great Grandfather was the only one in his family who immigrated to Australia so at some point his sister sent this photo of herself to him. I’ve often been fascinated by the photo and tonight was the first time I googled the writing on the front of it: “Eason & Co. 16 Dalston Lane. Kingsland E.”.

    Your blog popped up in the search results and I was fascinated to read a little of the history behind the photo and that the glass plates were recently found.

    Great work!

    • kathleenmcil says:

      Hi Jessica,

      Wow! That’s amazing and I’m so glad my blog has been useful to you.
      Good luck with the rest of your family research. I’m sure Hackney Museum would be interested is sheing a copy of your great great grandfather’s sister, I’m not sure if the museum would be able to help much with your research, but Hackney archives might contain some clues! Here’s a link to their website:
      There’s also the East of London Family History Society:

      Thanks again,

  5. Mark Overbeek says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    Could you please contact me by email. I have found a photograph made by Arthur Eason and would like to discuss this with you.

    Kind regards,


    • kathleenmcil says:

      Dear Mark,

      Thanks for your message. I’m afraid I’m no longer at Hackney Museum, and so I would recommend you contact them directly to discuss the photo. It sounds like a great find and I’m sure it is something they would be interested in. Their email is


  6. Tom Davis says:

    Hello from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 🙂

    I, too, have an old family photograph taken on November 18, 1887 by Eason & Co. It’s not a great copy — would be wonderful if it goes with one of the glass negatives.

    “googling” Eason Dalston Lane Kingsland took me right to your blog — thanks for solving a mystery for me (I had no idea what country this was in).

    Happy 2013

    • kathleenmcil says:

      Hi Tom,

      So glad you found the blog useful, and solved a mystery for you!
      Just goes to show how many of these images may created by Eason in his small shop in Dalston, East London, may be out there around the world.
      Thanks for reading!


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