The Barralet Collection

This collection consists of 64 photographs taken by Joseph Percy Barralet between 1886 and 1889 and donated by his nephew to HHS in 1981. It is an important example of how we rely for images of the past not only on professional photographers such as Alfred Braddock and on groups of like-minded enthusiasts as in the North Middlesex Photographic Society (NMPS) but also on the survival of photographs found in family albums.

An engineer’s hobby

Percy was in his late twenties at the time he was taking photographs. In 1877 his father, a sanitary engineer in Hackney, moved his family to Sydney Road, off Colney Hatch Lane in Friern Barnet, just north of rural Muswell Hill. The house, which this aspiring middle class family named Dunkerry, was on the corner of Wetherill Road. Interestingly, the important cinematography pioneer, Robert Paul, was to operate his film studio on the next plot from 1899.

Percy had a good education and became an electrical engineer working at the Paterson & Cooper Electrical works in Pownall Road, Hackney. For a few years at the end of the 1880s he filled his leisure time by exploring the countryside to the north of London. His interest in photography was short-lived and replaced by rambling and touring by motorbike and motorcar.

The type of photographs he took

The Barralet Collection come from one family album of 26 leaves, pasted with mostly 6”x4” photographs on each leaf. They show that, apart from an interest in taking structures such as the Muswell Hill Railway Viaduct and Highgate Archway, Percy, a life-long bachelor, concentrated on recording scenes of personal interest such as the exterior and interior of his home and views of the surrounding area. There are few people in the foreground unlike Braddock’s images. Barralet’s photographs were not for public consumption but a highly personal record of the life of a late Victorian family including holiday snaps of Devon. For us, they are a record of the rural past and increasing urbanisation of this part of North London.

Using the latest technology

Young Percy embraced this new technology. In a self portrait using a mirror (not in the HHS Collection) the camera he uses is of a type only introduced in the mid-1880s. He was obviously quite an innovative photographer taking indoor pictures and using the mirror without any flash. Photography only became popular in the 1880s with the availability of the dry plate process to produce negatives from short exposures, which was much easier and less cumbersome to use than the older wet collodion plates.

The end of an era

Percy lived at Dunkerry until 1923 when his father died. He would have been 63 years old by this time and may have felt it time to retire. The house was sold the following year and at some stage after the sale Percy moved from London to Devon where he died in October 1943, aged 82. The family albums recording his personal memories in photographs remained with the family until 1980 when a friend of the Barralet family who lived in Muswell Hill passed seven and a half of loose pages of photographs to the HHS Chair, Joan Schwitzer. Correspondence with the family led to the donation of the 64 photographs by the family two years later.

Further reading

See John Hinshelwood’s article, ‘Joseph Percy Barralet, 1861-1943, engineer, photographer and family historian’, in Bulletin 49, pp. 8-11