I received an email recently from a gentleman in Lane End who said he had a very faded framed photograph of a riverside scene that he did not recognise, but, having taken the back off, he found the trade mark of Mrs R.Blake, Photographer, Great Marlow.

He sent me a copy, so faded as to be almost invisible, but I instantly knew it was Mrs Blake’s picture of the Compleat Angler Hotel, taken from the churchyard of All Saints. I have my own version of it, in very slightly better condition, and as it’s not one I have printed before, here it is: the main picture above, with an inset of the very different scene today; the hotel having undergone many changes in 160 years, so perhaps not so surprising that my contact did not recognise it.

Back in Mrs Blake’s time it would just have been known as The Anglers’ Inn.

I also have a similar view but from the church tower.

I have always taken a great interest in Rebecca Blake, Marlow’s first professional photographer, and who has provided us with the earliest surviving camera views of the town, all from the early 1860s.

The ones in my collection are in varying condition and quality, all in differing sepia shades, and in this one, the rowing boat, approaching the bridge, although probably travelling slowly, is blurred because of the movement.

Exposure back in those days would have been at least 20 seconds, which accounts for ghostly human apparitions in many pictures.

Closer inspection of the Anglers picture reveals a large crowd on the river bank (possibly it was some form of race) and a number of men in stove pipe hats, the latter headgear often to be seen in Rebecca’s pictures. Little is known about her other that she was born in Little Marlow in 1829 and later lived in West Street, married to Richard.

I have filled today’s page with three more examples of her work that you may not have seen before.

The first, in remarkably good clarity would have required her to just walk just a few yards along West Street. It is a Wethered family group at Remnantz, and probably with staff and friends as well.

All but three of those present (one is a little baby) have obeyed instructions to remain still while being photographed. A rear view of Remnantz appeared a few weeks ago amongst those Empire Days pictures.

Next, a scene looking down Oxford Road, also around 1860, or Oxford Lane as it was then, with plenty of residents eager to get in on the picture.

This is much poorer quality. In the distance across West Street the indistinct Georgian building is today occupied by Mandarin Stone. Finally, much clearer, a view up the High Street, with another stove pipe hat on the left.

Other than local views I have several of Rebecca’s tiny “Cartes De Visite” from the time when it was a real novelty to be able to present a card including a portrait of yourself.

No doubt this was a good source of income for her.

I have never come across any examples of her work later than the 1860s, or found out many further details of her life.

However the limited census records that I have access to list her, some years further on, widowed, and as a picture frame maker in West Street, and I have also found note of a Rebecca Blake, in her 80s, living at Oxford Road’s Almshouses in 1911. Almost certainly her.

Contact Michael at michael@jazzfans.co or 01628 486571