Old photos and their history

Man and His Dog, William Daynes, Rugby

In this carte de visite we have a proud Victorian gentleman with a cane and chin curtain beard. He sits by a table with his ever dutiful dog at his feet. Lack of motion blur suggests to me the dog is no longer with the owner, though it could be a very well behaved dog. Either way, this photo is a celebration of the life the two shared.

William Daynes

The front and back tell us that William Daynes of Rugby took the photo. The back gives the address of his studio as Warwick Street. I cannot make out the street number.

William Daynes began life in Norwich, Norfolk. He was born there in 1822 and died in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1912.


The earliest reference I can find to William as a photographer is from 1868. Kelley’s Directory lists him under “Photographic Artists”. He’s however not at Warwick Street but 41 Dunchurch Street. Dunchurch was his home in the 1861 and 1871 censuses.

In 1890, he had moved out of Dunchurch Street. Hopewell’s Rugby Almanack gives his work address as 97 Railway Terrace. The 1891 census describes him as both a photographer and picture frame maker living at this address.

His last move was from Railway Terrace to 31 Arnold Street. In 1901 he’s still a photographer working from home. In 1911 he still lives on Arnold Street but now retired.

The Wonders of the Sciopticon

As a photographer, William embraced other optical technologies. One of these optical technologies he used was a device called a sciopticon.

Sciopticon is just another name for a magic lantern, which had existed in one form or another for centuries. A light source such as a candle or oil lamp was used to project images onto a wall or screen. In the 19th Century they had become a common entertainment.

The Northampton Mercury (1877: 7) covered his well-planned presentation of the sciopticon at a school in Rothwell.

“On Friday evening last, an entertainment, consisting of dissolving views and music, was given in this building, by Mr. William Daynes, of Rugby. The views, which were all of a high-class character, were shown by means of the patent sciopticon, and illustrated some of the principal scenes in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the Falls of Niagara, the Adventures of the Brothers Brass, Johnny Sands and his wife, and several microscopic marvels. Mr. Daynes showed himself to be a most successful exhibitor, and his entertainment fully justified the favourable opinions that have been passed upon it. We are sorry to add there was only a scanty audience.”

The use of dissolving views had been around since the 1820s. We’ve all seen dissolves in films and TV. It is when one scene slowly dissolves into another instead of there being a sharp cut.

It must’ve been such a shame to William that his audience had only been “scanty”.

Other Jobs

William had not always been a photographer. In 1851, while still in Norwich, he worked as a factory hand. By 1861 in Rugby he had become a watch and clock maker. I wonder if there’s a natural link between clock maker and photographer.

Between 1861 and 1869 he had become a photographer and tea dealer. The Worcestershire Chronicle of 1869 recorded these as his occupations when reporting on his bankruptcy.


William married Susannah Ashley (b1826) in 1847. Together they had ten children in quick succession. These were William A (b1849), Susanna (b1851), Joseph (b1853), Eliza (b1855), Alfred (b1857), Hannah (b1859), Albert (b1860), Thomas (b1863), George (b1865), and Arthur (b1866).

His daughter, Eliza, assisted him with his photography business. In 1871 she is a photograph printer and then a photographer in 1891. In the 1911 census, with William now retired and a widow, it looks like Eliza is the only child living with him (along with a boarder called John Jones, a railway clerk).

“Crushed to death”

William and Susannah’s eldest sons, William and Joseph, were both employed on the railway. In the 1871 census, both are engine cleaners.

Two companies managed the local station, the Midland Railway and the London and Northwest Railway. The station had replaced Rugby’s first station that had existed for only two years. The second station lasted until 1885. Railway Terrace, where William’s family lived near the end of the 19th Century, was built to connect Rugby to the second station.

Rugby Station was often busy and congested. This frustrated passengers. One famous frustrated passenger was none other than the famous writer Charles Dickens, though his frustration had more to do with Rugby’s refreshment room than the mismanagement of trains. He satirised his experiences in a collection of short stories by the name of Mugby Junction (1866); Mugby being a thinly veiled reference to Rugby.

One of the most famous of the short stories is The Signal Man. In this story, a ghost haunts a signalman. The spectre visits the signalman just before a tragedy. The first tragedy is a collision between two trains, the second a young woman’s death, and finally, the third is the death of the signalman himself.

Rugby Station led to tragedy for the Daynes family.

“FATAL RAILWAY ACCIDENT AT RUGBY. – On Tuesday morning, at Rugby station, and accident, which instantly proved fatal, occurred to a fireman in the employ of the London and North-Western Railway Company, named William Dayne. It appears that the poor fellow, who had resided in Rugby, was a single man, aged twenty-four years, and on Tuesday morning he was engaged as fireman on a goods train arriving at Rugdy at three minutes before two o’clock. Dayne had left the footplate of the engine and was engaged with the couplings, when, from some cause or other as yet unexplained, the train moved, and in coming from between the trucks he was caught by the buffers and literally crushed to death, for he died immediately after he was removed.”

(The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 1873: 3)

Albert Daynes

An unexplained and horrific accident took their eldest son in 1873, but William had not been the first son they’d lost. Albert Daynes, their forth son, only lived between 1860 and 1862. I cannot find the cause of such a brief life.


Hopewell’s Rugby Almanack, 1890, p.21

Kelly’s Directory, 1868, p.1214

The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 11 Mar 1873, p.3

The Northampton Mercury, 17 Mar 1877, p.7

The Worcestershire Chronicle, 13 Jan 1869, p.4




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