Some years ago I was offered a group of ten, rather tatty, magic lantern slides of Branscombe. I’d never heard of Branscombe but was aware that ‘combe’ is often associated with place names in Devon and decided to buy them.
A quick search on the internet confirmed that Branscombe is a small village on the south Devon coast, halfway between Seaton and Sidmouth. So why are these slides worthy of a blog post?
People who owned magic lantern slides often had large collections (and I’ve bought lots of them over the last forty years) and, for cataloguing purposes, they would write a brief description on the paper mask or the edge of each slide. The annotations on these particular slides are more helpful than most and provide a remarkable record of a place, a time and a photographer.
The photographer was F.P. Cembrano Jnr. He was born in the Philippines in 1860 and bought his first camera in 1885. He was clearly very talented and soon gained a reputation for technical innovation and artistic ability and eventually became a renowned international photographer and, in 1895, a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
On each slide he wrote the date, 1888, the type of negative plate used for each picture (for example, for those of you who know about this stuff, one is ‘gelatino chloride’), and gave it a title. The three shown here are ‘Haymaking’, ‘The Post Office’ and ‘The Village Place’.
Why did this internationally recognised Victorian photographer take photos of a tiny village in Devon? I don’t know the answer. He lived in Richmond, London, so perhaps he had a country retreat in the Branscombe area or was simply there on holiday. Whatever the reason, these are lovely examples of magic lantern slides capturing fleeting glimpses of normal life in rural Britain, one hundred and thirty years ago. Wonderful!
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