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Victorians - The mystery of the Monks Road Photographs KS2

This teaching package uses photographic images from a collection found in the attic of a house in Lincoln to encourage pupils to investigate the evidence they can find to connect them.

The photographs are believed to be of a Lincoln family, taken around the turn of the 20th century, probably in the Monks Road area of Lincoln.

This package supports the development of visual literacy skills, thinking skills and can be starting point for study of portrait photography and related work in Art and Design.

Background information and resources to prompt discussion and thinking skills about the images and includes information about the conventions of style for posing for a portrait and the development of photography in the Victorian era.


Museums are a wonderful resource for anyone interested in history. However even museum staff do not have all the answers to questions about the past. Sometimes objects that have been collected over time do not have all the information about them recorded. They sometimes have to try to act like detectives to discover what they can about items in the collection.

Read the document ‘Background Information to Victorian Photographs together as a class to give pupils an understanding that having a photograph taken was special in Victorian times. There were also certain traditions and conventions that were used in the same way portraits had been painted in the past.

The photographs used in this learning package were donated with a collection of other images to the museum. They were found in the attic of a house in Lincoln. Details recorded at the time state that they were thought to have been taken in the Monks Road area of Lincoln. The museum staff have no details of the name of the family in the photos.

Can you help to solve the ‘Mystery of the Monks Road Photographs’?

Images in this collection include pictures of a girl and boy who museum staff have called Lucy and Tom.

Look at the images of Lucy and Tom:

  • Can you see anything that is the same in these pictures?
  • Use the ideas on the worksheet ‘Looking at Photographs’ to compare the photographs of Lucy and Tom.

Next look at the other images in this teaching package and compare them with each other.

  • What is the same?
  • What is different?
  • Have you seen any of these people before?
  • What are they doing?
  • Who are they and how do they know each other?
  • How old do you think they are, are any photos of the same person taken at different times?

Victorian Photographs

Having a photograph taken was an important occasion for Victorians of all social classes. Everyone wanted to dress up and look their best.

The ideas behind the Victorian photograph portrait were taken from the ways in which portraits had been painted in the past. Perhaps you have seen painted portraits of people in museums or galleries?

Painted portraits show people looking their best, in grand settings - often the scenery in the background was made up (usually a perfect landscape or a drawing room interior).

The person having the portrait done was asked to pose in a certain way to show their wealth and status. This could include the use of elaborate clothing, beautifully carved furniture and potted plants.

Objects were used as symbols, to give information about the person in the picture. They told people looking at the portrait something about the sitter. A book, for example, could show that the person was able to read at a time when education was highly prized. Children often posed with expensive toys, sometimes to suggest their future work, such as a train or a doll.

Expression was also important. Sitters were encouraged to look serious and dignified. Smiling and laughing in a portrait was considered vulgar.

Women had to look modest, they kept their arms close to their body with hands clasped or touching their face. Men had to appear assertive and dominant. Women were often seated while men stood.

Having a portrait painted was very expensive, but when it became possible to take portraits using a camera, Victorian photographers copied the methods of the portrait painter.

As methods of photography developed photographs became more relaxed in style. Gradually cameras became more affordable. The Box Brownie Camera was a small, simple camera designed for use by anybody with an interest in photography. Created in 1900 by George Eastman, it made photography a much cheaper, because before the Box Brownie, photography was a hugely expensive hobby.

You simply took your pictures and sent the whole camera off to Kodak. They would send back the photos and would re-load your camera ready for the next ones to be taken.

The photographs in the Monks Road collection contain a mixture of formal and informal poses. Perhaps the photographer who took them was an amateur and was experimenting with new methods and camera equipment.

Posing for Victorian Photographic Portraits

Using a digital camera and items of costume to dress up in pupils can pose ‘Victorian style’ to have their portrait taken.

  • Use props: clothes, draped fabric for background, toys, books. What do you want to say about yourself?
  • You must not smile, keep a straight, serious face!
  • Wealthy Victorians would not show any public expression of emotion.
  • Gentlemen have to look dominant, in charge, self- confident. Stand firm with your elbows out at angles - if sitting cross your legs.
  • Ladies have to look modest, dependant and passive. Keep your arms close to your body, with hands clasped or touching your face.
  • Ladies should be at a lower level than the gentlemen.

Looking at photographs

Look at and discuss the photographs all together as a class or in groups:

What can you see?

  • Describe the person or people you can see in the photograph. What do they look like?
  • Are they adults or children?
  • Is the photograph of a man or a woman?
  • What emotion are they showing?
  • Do they look happy or sad? Why do you think this?
  • Is the person sitting, standing, doing something?
  • How is the person posing?
  • What are they wearing?
  • Are there any animals in the photographs? If yes, what animals are there?
  • Where is the photograph taken? Why was it taken in that location?
  • Are there any objects in the photograph?
  • Is anything the same or different in the photographs?

What else can you see in the picture?

Customer Notice: Viewing images and Online Ordering

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Last updated: 9 March 2011

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