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Dersingham Folk
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Ralph - A Family of Photographers in Dersingham
Mike Strange ©
By chance an article in "The Tatler" magazine of 26th November 1902 [1] came my way and I noticed the name of Ralph so, knowing that the family were significant Dersingham photographers, I decided to look further.  The article reads:
"Mr Ralph of Dersingham, whose photograph appears [here], has probably taken more pictures of the Royal Family than any other Photographer. Mr Ralph, who was formerly an usher in the servants' hall at Sandringham, is an exceedingly clever photographer. It was from him that the Queen received her first lessons in the art of using a camera"

This immediately raised some questions - which Mr Ralph and which Queen?  I will explore this in much more detail as this article develops but the immediate answers are, without evidence at this time, Frederick Ralph and Queen Alexandra, Consort to Edward VII.
The Ralph Family
We start in 1881 [2] with Frederick Ralf living in Marylebone, London but from Friston (near Aldeburgh) in Suffolk. He is aged 45 and working as an usher in the servants hall; we do not know where. With him are his wife Sarah, born in London, and their daughter Honoria Beatrice May just one year old also born in London.

Going forward 10 years to the 1891 census [3] we see that their family included children other than just Honoria, 11, as at home now there are also:
Alice Rhoda aged 24 and working as mother's help. She was born in Friston
Edith Sarah aged 22, born in Mayfair, London and helping mother
Frederick William aged 18, born in Dersingham and working as a photographer
Walter Edwin aged 16 born in Mayfair who apparently was "domesticated all works"!
Mabel Victoria at school aged 14 and born in Dersingham

Also living there was one Henry Knox, clerk and photographer, presumably working for Frederick who by now was both Servant User and Photographer as both employed and employer. Presumably this was at Sandringham making it quite possible that when he was in London in 1881 he was working for the Royal family and had to be wherever they were.

So where were the children who were not at home in 1881? I found them with Frederick's father John, a widower, born in Friston, an agricultural labourer and living in Dersingham near Sandpit Cottages; possibly Heath Road [4].

I tried to work out when Frederick and his father, John, first came to Dersingham. Looking back to the 1871 census I discovered Frederick living in London, a domestic servant, with three daughters - Louisa Matilda born 1865, Alice Rhoda (as in 1881) and Amelia Ellen 11 months old and I later found died later that year; none were born in Norfolk. [5]  Frederick's parents, John and Matilda, were still in Friston [6], Matilda also died later that year. So it would seem that  Ralph moved with the family so far to Norfolk and Dersingham in time for Frederick William to be born the following year with John moving there at least by 1881 (he died here 5 years later).

So, moving on to 1901 [7] we find that as well as Frederick (Usher in the Servants' Hall in Sandringham) and Matilda living in Victoria Cottage, Heath Road, Dersingham there were:
Frederick William Ralph         28  Artist/Photographer, born in Dersingham, Norfolk
Walter Edwin Ralph                26  Photographer, born in Mayfair, London
Honoria Beatrice May Ralph  21 Retoucher {photograph}, born in Maylebone, London

So, the family of photographers grows and all in the business were then living in Heath Road.

There is one more census to look at; that is 1911 [8] where we find only Honoria living the parents. Frederick hogs the limelight by using several lines to record his occupation, "Usher - Servants Hall Royal Household Long Service Pension and Photographer" on his own account with Honoria (aged 31 and single) identified merely as his assistant.

Frederick William was married with four young children,still living in Dersingham and a photographer working on his own account. His brother Walter Edwin was also married and living in Dersingham, working as a photographer but as a worker perhaps for his father or brother.

So what of the five surviving sisters:
Louisa Matilda married Edward Buckland in 1893 in Brentford where they lived until 1923 when, in their early 50s they set-sail for Australia leaving behind four adult children. There is a clear record that Louisa died here in 1943 but it contains a very odd situation; her parents are shown as William Ralph and Louisa nee Scarlett instead of Frederick Ralph and Sarah Scarlett. So far I have only managed to access a transcription but will see if I can obtain the image of her death record to validate it.  So far the evidence I have that this is the right Louisa Matilda Ralph is that Frederick did not have a brother William (thinking they may have both married Scarlett sisters and given daughters the same name), there is no other marriage that stands the tests and children of Louisa and Edward had names including Edward, Alice and Frederick which are in the Ralph family here. Everything was right until reading the parents names on Matilda's transcribed death record which leaves a nagging question mark.

Alice Rhoda never married and died in 1919 in Billericay.

Edith Sarah was in Docking Workhouse in 1901 and the Gayton Workhouse in 1911. Then, in the 1939 Register, she is shown as being in a hospital in King's Lynn. Her sister Honoria is also there; both identified as domestic servants. She probably died a pauper in 1954 in the Downham Registration District

Mabel Victoria's records are not at all obvious after 1891 with a vaguely possible marriage in Islington in 1901 but nothing positive to be gained from further research for this article.

Honoria Beatrice May has been covered up until 1911 and then, as a patient, in the same King's Lynn hospital as her sister in 1939. Nothing else has come to light other than that she died in 1944 in the King's Lynn registration district.
The Photographers
So we are left with the photographers in the family being Frederick plus sons Frederick William and Walter Edwin.

Frederick Ralph
From the book Queen Victoria, A Biographical Companion by Helen Rappaport, published 2003 we learn that the Princess of Wales (previously Princess Alexandra of Denmark, yet to become Queen Consort) became absorbed by photography as a new interest in the 1870s and that she received instruction from Frederick Ralph. She became quite accomplished and by the 1880s was taking her Kodak camera everywhere she went.

Fredrick is mentioned in all the trade directories from at least 1892 to 1916 and living at Victoria Cottage, Heath Road, Dersingham. During this time trade directories also show that he had a business in Hunstanton in 1908 (on The Esplanade), 1912 on the High Road and again in 1916. He is also mentioned in 1922 at Heath Road but had already died.

On 2 Jan 1912 the London Gazette published a "List of Tradesmen who hold Warrants of Appointment to Queen  Alexandra from the Comptroller to Her Majesty, with authority to  use  Her Majesty's Arms. These Warrants do not carry the right to fly Her Majesty's Standard." That list included Ralph, F.  Senior; photographer.

Princess Alexandra of Denmark,  Princess of Wales from 1863 to 1901 then Queen Consort to Edward VII
By Alexander Bassano in 1881
From the excellent web site Early Photographic Studios we learn this extract, "A 1906 cabinet print by F Ralph of Hunstanton records that the photographer is ‘by special appointment to HM the King’. Dimond [11] explains that Ralph was Usher of the Servants’ Hall at Sandringham for nearly four decades, and that for the last few years of this time he combined the role with running a local photographic business. (Dimond believes the Hunstanton branch was established by 1892.) Ralph claimed, in a 1902 magazine interview, to have taught Princess (later Queen) Alexandra to take and process her own photos. Certainly she became a keen photographer and, though grander professional input may have been sought when she learnt the necessary skills, it seems quite possible that she profited from Ralph’s experience and advice. "

He died 23 February 1919 when he was still living at the cottage on Heath Road. His executors were men of Dersingham, Joseph Rainbow, upholsterer and Theodorick Parker, grocer (corner of Manor Road and Sandringham Road now, in 2018, Petals Tea Room). He left assets of £109. [Calendar of Wills and Administrations],  Frederick's wife, Matilda, died here in 1925.

THE LATE MR. F. RALPH - One of the oldest and most respected residents who passed away recently was Mr. Frederick Ralph, who died at the age of 83 at his residence, locally known as Victoria Cottage, on Heath-rd. His widow, unfortunately quite blind, survives him. For a half-century the late Mr. Ralph was an usher in the servants' hall, first, in the service of Queen Victoria and later in that of King Edward. When King Edward died he retired from the position on pension. On the occasion of the funeral a beautiful wreath, made of flowers from the gardens of Sandringham House, was sent, with sympathy, by Queen Alexandra. As a hobby Mr. Ralph took up photography in the old "wet plate" days of many years ago, and Mr. Frederick Ralph jun., on leaving school became a photographer, setting up in business in Dersingham. His father helped in the undertaking and assisted to look after a branch establishment at Hunstanton which was run for 13 or 14 years. In his journeyings around the village and neighbourhood the late Mr. Ralph, used to drive about, in later years, in a donkey cart. With royal permission to photograph the interior of Sandringham House, Mr. Ralph, with his son, issued exquisite views of Sandringham and the district, including interiors of Sandringham House. The firm, too, were photographers for years to the Great Eastern Railway Company, and views from their cameras, concerning this part of Norfolk, are exhibited in the company's trains. The late Mr. Ralph was a royal warrant holder, warrants being granted to him by three monarchs, King Edward, Queen Alexandra and King George.
Source Lynn News & County Press, 22nd March 1919

Frederick William Ralph
Frederick William can be found in the 1911 census with his wife Annie Rachel (recorded as her mother's name of Rachel Annie, sometimes done when the relative has died) and their 4 children [9]

He started out with his own business but apparently in competition with his father as he too was in Hunstanton. The first trade directory record is 1896 followed by 1900 on Heacham Road then in 1901 on High Road and finally Southgate, Hunstanton in 1904.

The National Portrait Gallery attributes 15 Royal portraits to Frederick William Ralph spanning 1888 to 1905. There are 14 images provided but I am unable to show any of then here as there is no Creative Commons Licence available. A note of caution as the National Trust depicts a 1901 image of King Edward and children but attributes it to F. Ralph; a recipe for confusion!

Elizabeth Fiddick wrote in Dersingham Village Voice issue 49 of December 2007:
"The name Ralph will be very familiar to any one who has looked at the cards of this village. On 12th October 1901 Annie Rachel Mann, the oldest daughter of Henry and Rachel Mann of Heath House married Frederick William  Ralph in the parish church of Islington London. Frederick was born in Dersingham  on the 15th March 1872.  He grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps and became a photographer.  The Ralphs had photographic studios in Dersingham  and Hunstanton. The firm  had a Royal Warrant of Approval and they  took numerous photos of the Royals on all sorts of occasions at Sandringham. In 1896 Frederick Ralph is listed in the Directories as 'Usher and Photographer' residing at Victoria Cottage Dersingham. I am not certain what the term Usher implies but in one photograph of Frederick he has a Royal Crown on his tie. Unfortunately not a lot is known about Frederick, as he seems to have disappeared from  the family  records. He did attend the funeral of his father-in-law Henry  in 1917 and the Directories of 1922 record Frederick Ralph Photographer at Heath Road. Frederick and Annie had eight children, the last two being born some time after 1916.  At some point Frederick’s house was cleared and it is said that hundreds of glass negatives were destroyed.  If this is true we can only  speculate on the treasure that has been lost.  A Walter Ralph was still recorded as a photographer here well into the 1930’s. We owe Annie’s husband and his family a debt of gratitude for recording so much of this village for posterity. "

I noted that Henry Knox was a witness to the 1901 marriage of Frederick William and Annie Rachel Mann in London; he was with the family in the 1891 census.

Frederick William died on 10th September, 1944 in Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Frederick William Ralph and Annie Mann
Walter Edwin Ralph
In 1911 he was with his wife on census night in Dersingham with his wife Lilian but there had been no children; he was shown as being a photographer but as a worker [10]. He set out on his own, later than his brother, with the entries for his 'Cameo Studio' in Dersingham being from 1912 to  1933.

From Village Voice  issue 87, April 2014 we have the following from Tony Bubb:
"Walter Ralph was the village photographer at the end of the 1900s. Many of the old views that have featured on these
pages were taken by him. Always with an eye to business, Walter produced postcards for the up and coming tourist trade. To maximise sales he even had booklets produced containing sets of views. I came across one such collection at a recent flea market. A book of 12 views entitled "Souvenir of Sandringham". 12 tear out cards interleaved with thin tissue paper; sadly 4 of the cards had been removed  Are any of Walter's descendants still around?"

In response, Village Voice received this letter which was published in issue 91; December 2014"
"Picking up on Tony Bubb's article, last April, about Walter Ralph, my grandfather, George Mann, was a son-in-law of Frederick Ralph (senior) 1836-1919, who was a photographer to the Royal family at Sandringham. He had two sons, Frederick Junior and Walter Ralph: Walter had a studio in Dersingham, known as the Cameo Studio in the 1910s but would not have been producing colour postcards until the 1920s. Like Tony, I have, somewhere, a souvenir pack of coloured postcards from Dersingham that Walter produced. My grandmother, Olive Mann, nee Howe, left me an extensive postcard collection that, when I visit Dersingham again, I would like to share with you the Dersingham related ones sent during the First World War.  - Bruce Barnes - "

Walter Edwin Ralph died in 1943 in Lambeth, London.

John RALPH 1812-1886 + Matilda MOSS 1811-1871
Fredrick RALPH 1836-1919 + Sarah SCARLETT 1840-1925
Louisa Matilda RALPH 1865-1943
Alice Rhoda RALPH 1866-1919
Edith Sarah RALPH 1869-1954 (query)
Amelia Ellen RALPH 1870-1871
Frederick William RALPH 1872-1944
Walter Edwin RALPH 1874-1943
Mable Victoria RALPH 1877-????
Honoria Beatrice May RALPH 1879-1944
Post Script
We would appreciate knowing of corrections and additions that could be made here. We would also be delighted to receive copies of Ralph images that we could use.

Some images take by Walter Edwin Ralph are shown below. These are all postcards from the same collection that Tony Bubb mentioned in Village Voice
The following two Frederick Ralph postcards were kindly made available by Dick Melton. To find out about the subjects please read his letter number 6 in the People section.
References (partial):
1. The Queen's Camera Tutor - "The Tatler", 26th November 1902

2. 1881 Census RG11:157, page 33 (Frederick)

3. 1891 Census RG12:1863, page 31 (Frederick)

4. 1881 Census RG11: 1991, page 16 (John)

5. 1871 Census RG10:128, page 43 (Frederick)

6. 1871 Census RG10: 1765, page 10 (John)

7. 1901 Census RG13:1882, page 34

8. 1911 Census RG13:11603, Schedule 105  (Frederick)

9. 1911 Census RG13: (Frederick William)

10. 1911 Census RG13: (Walter Edwin)

11. Dimond, Frances - Developing the Picture: Queen Alexandra and the Art of Photography, 2004

Note: All the copies of Village Voice are available on this web site under the Menu option 'Archives'
This delightful photograph below was taken by Frederick William Ralph and passed to us by one of our readers; he wrote, "I came across a photo of a young girl amongst my belongings. The period of the photo is around 1900 . On the reverse is the name F W Ralph of Hunstanton and Dersingham. I don't know the girl in the photo and I have no connection with Norfolk. However, one of the ladies in your article [above] lived in Billericay and my grandparents came from there. So I am trying to find out who this person is?"

If by chance anyone recognises her please do let us know.