In her monthly column, Jayne Shrimpton uses clues in your old family photos to reveal their hidden secrets. Jayne is a trained dress historian and portrait specialist. A former archivist at the National Portrait Gallery, she has been a freelance picture consultant, writer and lecturer for over 25 years.
This week's photo comes from Peter Cooper:
Q: I am a long-standing member of Findmypast and enclose a photo showing a group of people outside a public house called The Two Brewers. They seem to be on a day trip and the scene is thought to date from the very early 1900's.
The man on the extreme right is Henry James Hamblett, my wife's grandfather, and around that time he lived on the Isle of Dogs in London. The carrier's name on the coach could be Edgar May, address 3/6 Manchester Road, and there is a Manchester Road shown on today's map of the Isle of Dogs.
I have asked Whitbread Brewers if they can help me discover the whereabouts of the pub but they say they have no records of premises from those days! I am now hoping you may be able to help me find where the Two Brewers is, or was, and if you could make a good estimate of the date.
A: This is a lively scene portraying a group of people with a vehicle that was once a familiar sight on our roads, a horse-drawn charabanc. Char à bancs was originally a French term meaning 'carriage with wooden benches' and it was usually an open-topped conveyance with rows of bench seats that could seat a significant number of passengers.
These carriages, first used in Britain in the Victorian era, were essentially the forerunner of today's tourist coach: they continued into the early twentieth century and after the First World War were largely replaced by motorised charabancs.
Before the establishment of regular local motorbus services in Britain in the late 1920s and 1930s, privately-owned charabancs were often hired for day trips into the countryside, to the seaside, or for other excursions such as the races. They were especially popular for works outings organised by employers for their staff, and in industrial areas gave ordinary working families a welcome chance to escape for a day from their built-up city environment.
Charabanc excursions often departed from outside a local hotel or pub and everyone dressed up in their 'Sunday best' for the occasion, as we see here. The ladies and children, decked out in flounced, lace-trimmed blouses and ornate wide-brimmed hats, are on top of the vehicle, ready to go, while the men line up in a row wearing smart three-piece suits and diverse hats expressing the various styles fashionable at the beginning of the 20th century.
Certain dress features on display provide a close date range for this scene, including the straw boater hats (most popular for both men and women in the early-1900s), the tall-crowned bowler hat in the centre and, especially, the hat styles and sleeve shapes seen on the two fashionable young women at the back of the charabanc: together, these fashion details confirm that this photograph dates to c.1901-1905 - precisely the sort of date you had in mind.
I checked on Google Images for photographs of The Two Brewers public house but couldn't find a firm match to the building in this scene. As you point out, judging from the sign-writing on the charabanc coachwork, the carrier's name seems to be Edgar May of Manchester Road. Following that, I also deciphered the letters 'Cub…' which I assume is Cubitt Town, so you must be correct: this charabanc company was based on the Isle of Dogs, where your wife's grandfather was living at the time.
We may not, as yet, know exactly where The Two Brewers was situated, but now with a firm 1901-05 date range and an accurate, if approximate, location, you should be able to investigate this aspect of the photo further, using other local historical resources.