IN AN AGE WHEN the media was limited to newspapers and the wireless,
Harry Gill followed an unusual occupation. He was a press photographer:
moreover, he was one of an elite handful who chose to follow the uncertain,
though exciting, freelance route. For nearly 50 years there were few
picture and news editors on local and regional papers in the North
and Midlands unfamiliar with Harry Gill's work. And, gradually as
his contacts and experience grew, he was used increasingly by national
newspapers. The by-line on the back of prints - Photo by H. Gill,
Bradley House, Dale Road, Matlock - became acknowledged as a by-word
for reliability and professionalism.
Despite extensive press work, Harry Gill took on commercial work
to support his family - wife and four daughters - and
pay all the bills. As two of his daughters, Mrs Phyllis Higton
and Mrs Jean Boitoult recall, there was a good deal of this - weddings,
family groups for wedding anniversaries, even bonny babies - often
sitting in the studio in Bradley House, Matlock.
On the other side of the lens!
Harry Gill with one of his trusty and obviously much-used -plate
cameras. This picture was taken in Matlock Bath near to
Harry also worked for many years out of premises in Matlock Bath
which picturesquely overlooked the famous Pavilion fishpond. A
slightly built, wiry, figure with distinctive steely grey hair
and a slight disability which prompted the use of a walking stick,
he was one of Matlock's best-known personalities.
From camera to newspaper
In that vanished era before e-mails, faxes and websites many of
his photographs, in the form of glass negatives, were carefully
packed in parcels with special labels and sent by train from Matlock
to a Manchester-based photo agency, Fox Photos, who submitted details
and tried to win orders from newspapers which they thought might
As the daughters recall, nothing was allowed to stand in the way
of getting negatives to the station for the Manchester express.
Whoever happened to be to hand was expected to rush with the slides
to the train - excuses were not entertained!
Harry Gill was the only photographer allowed access to photograph
the Duke and Duchess of Kent when they visited Derbyshire
in, we think, 1935, the year after their marriage. The Duchess
was the former Princess Marina of Greece.
The then Princess Elizabeth toured the Peak District in 1951,
and this study by Harry Gill appeared the following day in
several national as well as regional and local newspapers.
It continued to be used in magazines and local publicity material
for many years.
Harry's interest in photography could well have been encouraged by
one of his earliest jobs as a projectionist for the silent films
shown at the Matlock Bath Pavilion, at that time a cinema. Born
in Bonsall in 1901, he was uncertain as to how to earn a living,
and tried his hand at a number of jobs with varying success. He
enjoyed working as a projectionist and somewhere around this time
was given an old camera which he restored and started to use.
This modest interest in photography rapidly blossomed following
his marriage to a Bristol girl, Clara Sheehan, who was a skilled
photographer and artist. In fact, Harry's daughters think that
it was probably her guidance and expertise which enabled him to
The Prince of Wales (later and briefly King Edward VIII) then
the Duke of Windsor
in buoyant mood and dapper suit at Flagg point-to-point races,
probably in 1929.
Photocalls at Chatsworth were numerous for Harry Gill from
the 1920s to the 1960s, and in this attractive study from the
1950s, several generations of the Cavendish family are shown
along with the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. To
the left is the present Duchess, behind her the Dowager Duchess,
at the back the present Duke, then the Marquis of Hartington
and, to the right, the then Duke and Duchess.
There were innumerable carnivals with carnival queens flanked by winsome attendants
and reluctant pageboys; swimming, cycling and best-kept garden competitions;
year-after-year of Miss Derbyshire competitions; well dressings (still happily
thriving) and all manner or local tea parties, fetes and bazaars held in village
halls and community centres.
Road accidents were big news then and there are some rather startling
photographs of wrecked car bodies reduced to their fabric and wooden
components following what would now be regarded as quite minor
The archives contain many pictures of carnival
queens in towns and villages throughout the Peak District.
It's a custom that's barely survived, but in 1947 Matlock Bath's
carnival was one of many to prove a very popular attraction.
The Queen is Pat Rolfe and, to the right, is Councillor Remo
Tinti, a well-known personality.
The good, the great and the newsworthy
There are important photographs on record such as those showing the
construction of Matlock Lido and Matlock
Cinema House (later the Ritz).
There is a marvellous series of before-and-after shots showing the
Ladybower Dam, and there are many photographs of the great, the good
and the titled visiting Chatsworth House.
One of the big British film successes of
1951 was Lady of the Lamp, the story of Florence Nightingale.
Anna Neagle, then a top star, was in the title role, and
the film was directed by her husband, Herbert Wilcox. Both
visited Lee Hurst, near Matlock - Florence Nightingale's
home in her later years - as part of a tour to promote the
film. Harry Gill was there to capture the occasion.
There is an important series of photographs of Matlock
Bath when visitors to the Derwent Gardens were attracted by a racing
car circuit, a zoo and a fishpond. There are some of the original
petrifying well before its needless demolition for a road-widening
scheme. Dramatic photographs of snow scenes in the Peak District during
the harsh winter of 1947 (several of which were used in national newspapers
and magazines) remain striking, and a number of Royal visits are recorded
- most memorably that of the then Princess Elizabeth in 1952. One
of Harry's photographs of the Princess (reproduced in this edition)
was a particular favourite used for several years afterwards by picture
Members of the Wirksworth Barmote Court pose
with a lead ingot after a meeting 1952.
This ancient court dealt with lead-mining industry matters
for centuries, and from the twenties onwards, Harry Gill
must have been a familiar figure at their meetings - so much
so, that the members struck him a special lead medal in recognition
of his work.
Although his roots were firmly in Derbyshire, Harry moved briefly
to Farnsworth near Bolton. His daughters never knew the reason
but he returned when, after a bout of ill health, his doctor
advised him to go back to Matlock "where the air was much purer".
Harry did return and good health was restored, so much so that
in a brief profile about him in the
then fledgling local newspaper, readers were informed that for some
photographs he was prepared to shin up trees and telegraph poles!
Although a busy professional, Harry found time for many community
interests. He was a member of the original post-war Matlock Town
Football Club committee which relaunched the club and joined
Matlock Bath Attractions Committee which did so much to encourage
visitors to the resort before tourist industry professionals
He enjoyed many successes, both professional and personal, but
he was also touched by tragedy. One of his daughters, Doreen,
died young in a road accident at Darley Dale. (The fourth daughter,
Eileen, lives in Australia).
Harry died in 1970 soon after his 69th birthday leaving a legacy
not only of personal memories for all those who knew him, but
a unique archive of photographs reflecting his energy and talents
and eminently worthy of preservation for posterity.
Editor's note: Much of Harry Gill's
work was on glass plates which unfortunately have not survived.
Storage difficulties and fragility took their toll down the years
- but a varied selection of prints is still available, and it
is these which we will be dipping into over the coming months.
Mr Gill's daughters, Mrs Phyllis Higton and Mrs Jean Boitoult
have allowed Reflections access to this important collection,
and in future editions we will publish further selections of
pictures, some of which have not been seen for 70 years or more.
Television personality Mary Malcolm watched
herself on an up-to-the-minute (for 1952) Ecko 14-inch-screen-television
set at a Matlock Trades Exhibition.
Miss Malcolm was a leading personality, one of a small number
of on-screen continuity announcers who became popular celebrities.