Thursday, 5 November 2015

Tracking the Molyneux Brothers across a century from Manchester to Woolwich and beyond

Detail from Green Hill Battery, Woolwich circa 1900
Now anyone who has collected old picture postcards of Woolwich will have turned up one which was made and marketed by the Molyneux Brothers.

Two of their most popular series were of the Arsenal and the area around the barracks.

But they have remained stubbornly in the shadows and even yesterday’s discovery that the firm is still trading has not revealed much more.*

The Davison family, Ireland 1915
It is one of those stories which bring together Manchester and Woolwich along with a soldier from the Great War and a new resource for anyone interested in our photographers from the 19th and early 20th century.

And not for the first time it confirms my belief that history is messy and can take you in all sorts of directions.

It begins with George Davison who served with the Royal Artillery from 1914 till his death on the Western Front in the June of 1918.

He was briefly stationed in Woolwich where he bought a series of picture postcards and which he sent home to his wife and young son in Manchester.

Almost all of them were by the Molyneux Brothers one of whom lived at William Street and the other at Thomas Street with business addresses at both places.

Unknown woman, Manchester 1874
What I was not quite prepared for was a link back to Manchester because earlier in the 19th century  there is a reference  to a James Molyneux on Great Ducie Street in Strangeways with another listing a few doors up for 1890 as well as at Norfolk Street in Hulme in 1876.

A little later at the beginning of the 20th century T & A Molyneux were trading as printers on Great Jackson Street in Hulme.

Of course they may not be related but I think there is a connection.

James Molyneux  had been born in Liverpool in 1845 before moving across to Manchester and the father of our two Woolwich brothers was a John Molyneux also from Liverpool who by 1891 was living in Woolwich with his wife Ellen and five children the eldest of whom was called Mary Ann.

The connections between the families is too close to  ignore and while there are the occasional miss spellings of Molineux for Molyneux in some of the Manchester records I don’t think this is crucial after all even printers can make mistakes.

All of which brings us back to the firm still trading under the name in Dartford.

I had Colin to thank for the information which arrived too early this morning to call the company.

Reverse of unknown women
Later at a more respectable hour I made contact which confirmed that they were one and the same and had traded in Woolwich.

Alas in the course of a century the firm had been bought and sold a number of times and no old postcards or  details  have survived.

Still a very helpful member of the company who had made the move with the firm twenty or so years ago suggested I try a chap who ran the cafe opposite the ferry who like me was interested in the original Molyneux Brothers.

And that opens up a shedload of opportunities.

So if there is anyone out there who remembers the cafe owner and knows how I can get in touch with him I shall be very grateful.

Additional research supplied by Photographers of Great Britain & Ireland 1840-1940,

Pictures; Woolwich on Green Hill and the Davison family from the collection of David Harrop and unknown Victorian woman and card  from the Ducie Street studio courtesy of Ron Cosens, Photographers of Great Britain & Ireland 1840-1940,

*Molyneux Press

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