yeovil trades & traders

John Chaffin & SOns

Photographers of Hendford

 

John Cox Chaffin was born in 1826 and baptised in Yeovil on 11 October 1826. He was the son of baker George Chaffin (b1807) and Ann née Cox (b1807). In the 1841 census the family were listed living in Kingston and 14-year old John listed his occupation as a draper's apprentice. By 1850 John was listed as a Tailor & Draper of Kingston in Hunt & Co's Directory.

In the spring of 1849, at St John's church, John married widow Catherine Parker, née Hayward, daughter of Accountant and Overseer Thomas Hayward of Yeovil and his wife Catherine. It appears that it must have been a double wedding, since John's older brother George married Catherine's sister Louisa Hayward, at the same time.

John and Catherine were to have six children; Thomas Hayward (b1849), Catherine Braxton, known as Kate (b 1850), Maria Shepperd (b1851), John Tarver (1852-1919), Louisa Perkins (b1854) and Lionel Harry (b1858).

In the 1851 census John and Catherine were living with her father in Hendford (between the Chough's Tap and Stuckey's Bank on the corner of Custard's Lane - today's Westminster Street) together with Catherine's daughter Sarah, aged 10, from her first marriage, and John and Catherine's Yeovil-born son Thomas Hayward Chaffin, aged two and their baby daughter Catherine. John listed his occupation as 'Tayler & Draper' employing two men and one boy.

Strangely, I could find no references at all for John, Catherine of any of the children in the 1861 census (even though son Lionel was born at Bath around this time), however it is known that John became involved in the newly-developing technology of photography. In 1862 he established himself as a photographic artist with a studio at 6 Hendford (immediately next door to the Butcher's Arms).

John was a Freemason, initiated into the Lodge of Brotherly Love in Yeovil in 1864 and serving as Worshipful Master of the Lodge in 1872.

Initially John traded as 'Chaffin of Yeovil' and early examples of his work, cartes de visite, are shown below. Very soon the rest of his family joined the business and the 1871 census shows the family living at 6 Hendford. John gave his occupation as a Photographer, as did sons Thomas and John, by now aged 21 and 17 respectively. Kate and Maria, aged 20 and 19, were both listed as Artists. Initially his eldest son Thomas became a partner in the business which was renamed Chaffin & Son.

John too became a partner and advertisements began to appear for 'John Chaffin & Sons, Photographers of 6 Hendford' from the Post Office Directory of 1875 onwards.

Although photography was in its infancy, the public's growing demand for a 'likeness' increased dramatically. In 1860 Yeovil had just one professional photographer, Henry Goodfellow, and by 1866 James Francis had opened a photographic studio in Princes Street. In 1882 Adam Gosney of Sherborne opened a studio (one of his six) in Middle Street. By the 1890's these pionéers had been joined by Mrs Lewis Lee of Earle Street, William Sherrell of Middle Street, John Bell of Hendford, Jarratt Beckett of Hendford and Frederick Christopher of Middle Street. The following decade saw the arrival of more professional photographers with Charles Witcomb & Son of Middle Street, Grace Cumming of Middle Street, HS McNair of Court Ash and William Ross of Princes Street. (For those of you who remember the more recent Walter Rendell of Middle Street and Harold Tilzey of Princes Street, Walter Samuel Rendell first started advertising in 1919 and Harold Tilzey in 1954).

A branch of Chaffin's business was opened in Taunton, at 65 East Reach, and for a while John and his family lived there while maintaining the premises in Hendford. Catherine died at Taunton in the spring of 1879, aged 58, and in the 1881 census John, together with Thomas, Kate, Maria, Lionel and a servant were living at 65 East Reach. It was around this time that John's cousin, William Mathew Chaffin, established a photographic studio in Sherborne, Dorset, and he was later joined by his son William (b1861) and grandsons John (d1916) and Arthur (b1894).

John returned to Yeovil where he died in the summer of 1885, aged 59. His son, John Jnr took over the studio in Hendford, still advertised as John Chaffin & Son, while Thomas and Lionel ran the Taunton studio.

In the 1891 census John Jnr, together with his sister Louisa and a servant, were living and working at 6 Hendford. From the 1890 advertisement shown below, it is clear that the photographs were also being used to create lifelike portraits in oil paints, presumably by Louisa (or possibly in Taunton by her elder sisters Kate and Maria who had earlier been listed as artists), while John Jnr concentrated on the photographic side of the business.

(The example of a photograph painted over, at left, is not by Chaffin).

John, a bachelor, clearly had interests outside of work and the Western Gazette reported him being sworn in as a Special Police Constable in its edition of 4 November 1892 "....were sworn in as special constables for the ensuing year, before Dr Colmer (mayor) and M. William Cox: Albert Ernest Colmer, Charles Connock, John Chaffin, Thomas Thorne, William Henry Fletcher, Joseph John Brook, Samuel Leach, William Tucker".

John Tarver Chaffin died in Yeovil in the winter of 1919 aged 67 and with his passing ended nearly sixty years of the photographic studio started by his father.

 

From "Where to Buy", 1895.

Messrs John Chaffin & Sons, Photographic Artists, Hendford

"Art has been making rapid strides in recent years, especially in photography, and the artist who has been able to keep abreast of the times and to hold his own among the various inventions and competition, must be a really clever manipulator, with a highly cultivated taste, and great experience. That these qualities are possessed in an eminent degree by the firm of John Chaffin and Sons, of Yeovil and Taunton, is evident by the large number of prizes and medals their works have won at international and other exhibitions during the past 20 years. Among others, they carried away the first prize of £50 (open to the world) at London in 1874; the Diploma of Honour at Brussels, the first class silver medal at the Bengal Exhibition held at Calcutta, and medals from London in 1882, Newcastle in 1881, and Cornwall on several occasions.

The gallery and studios are situated in a convenient position at Hendford and are completely furnished with all the latest scientific appliances necessary to the production of high class photography. The studio is beautifully lighted, and is that in which the prize pictures were all taken. Groups and children's portraits are a speciality, outdoor photography, landscapes, equestrian pictures and buildings are faithfully and artistically reproduced.

The firm have had a long experience and with characteristic enterprise, are constantly making improvements, introducing the most recent inventions. Among other additions to the apparatus is a powerful lens that magnifies to such an extent as to increase the seeing power of the human eye ninety times; and at the Taunton branch there is a Rose Camera weighing half a ton, which is so nicely balanced that a child could adjust it.

The firm undertake every description of art work, including paintings on canvas, opaline, etc. and their reputation has been so well established during the past thirty years at Yeovil, that among all classes the very name of Chaffin is taken as a guarantee of superior artistic work; there are few persons of note in the district who have not at one time or another favoured Messrs. Chaffin with their patronage. Among the miscellaneous artistic work entrusted to the firm, they have often orders from a celebrated London glove house 40,000 or 50,000 miniature portraits of celebrities with which to adorn glove bands, the work being executed in a highly satisfactory manner by Messrs. Chaffin and Sons' patent permanent process."

 

 

Dating Chaffin's Cartes de visite

 

At first glance it might appear difficult to date the output of any Victorian photographer with a degree of accuracy. However many images contain visual clues hinting at when the photograph was taken, with the presentation of the photographs themselves giving extra information.

Even from the early days the photographers produced their photographs in a range of sizes, finishes, and so forth. For the second half of the nineteenth century the most popular form of photograph was the carte de visite.

Cartes de visite (also known as cartes or CDVs), were only introduced in Britain in 1859. They  are small paper-on-card photographs, typically measuring 4" x 2½" (102mm x 62mm) and the photograph, which was pasted on to the card, was cut to about 3½" x 2¼" (90mm x 57mm).

Cartes of the 1860s are chiefly recognised by their square corners which changed gradually to rounded corners during the period 1872 to 1879. This was because albums were not only first introduced at this time but standardised from their earliest days and rounded corners enabled the cartes to slip into the album slots without tearing the page.

 


From my collection

Generally, if you look at the image of a standing or sitting person in a photograph of the period and you can see both head and feet with a carpet, some old furniture and studio props such as a curtain, it is usually from the first half of the 1860s. The small logo seen here on the back is typical of the period, even a little flamboyant, and is the very earliest design to feature on the back of a John Chaffin carte - probably dating to around 1862 or 1863.

 


From my collection

Another Chaffin carte de visite of the 1860s, again with carpet showing below the sitter's feet as well as background props. Cartes were a cheap way of getting your photograph taken and almost anyone could afford it. They were sold in sets of six or twelve, some identical, or sometimes with slight variations on the pose. The camera may have used multiple lenses or the plate slider was repositioned to take the different poses on one plate. The contact print was then cut up and pasted on the card.

The new 'crowned belt' logo on the back became the standard John Chaffin and John Chaffin & Son logo for several years. The central emblem of a masonic 'Square and Compass' (Chaffin became a freemason in 1864) was quickly replaced by nondescript curlicues thus dating this particular carte to around 1864.

 


From my collection

Again, featuring the early 'Masonic' logo, this carte demonstrates that John Chaffin was experimenting with his photography and producing small 'head and shoulder' cartes as well as traditional full-length studies.

 


From my collection

A square-cornered carte de visite by 'Chaffin & Son' (singular), dating it to between 1871 when son Thomas became a partner and 1874 when son John became a partner and cartes became attributed 'Chaffin & Sons' (plural). Concerning ladies' hair fashions; if you can see the lady's ears, as in this example, it is the later 1860s or early 1870s. The square corners also suggest this period. This appears to be an interim design of, say, early 1871.

 


From my collection

A square-cornered carte de visite by 'Chaffin & Son' (singular). The back is identical to the previous carte with the addition of a small royal crest, suggesting a date of slightly later 1871.

 


From my collection

A round-cornered carte de visite by 'Chaffin & Son' (singular). Bearing in mind the greater complexity of later cartes (known to be in use from 1872), this example probably dates to 1872 and the logo is almost certainly another 'interim' design after Thomas became a partner and the standard 'house' logo was redesigned - seen in the next example. The royal crest disappears for a while after this date from the back of Chaffin's cartes.

 


From my collection

An image showing both head and feet with a carpet, some old furniture and studio props such as a curtain, as in this example, is a style typical of the later 1860s or early 1870s.

Note the revised 'house' logo. The earlier central emblem makes a return but the masonic 'Square and Compass' has now been replaced by nondescript curlicues.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite by John Chaffin & Son with a central oval 'cushion' in which the portrait is made to stand out in three dimensions by shaping a raised portion as seen at right - the oval framing of the photograph and the 3D cushion effect were a more expensive 'deluxe' option. This carte dates to around 1871 and portrays Dr William Fancourt Tomkins, eminent Yeovil surgeon.

 

A carte de visite by John Chaffin & Son but helpfully inscribed with the date 1872 on the reverse. That carpet is seen below the sitter's feet, together with an array of background props, suggests that Chaffin's style of portraiture was becoming a little old-fashioned for this date.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite of a Yeovil lady by Chaffin & Sons (plural). The design of this carte’s back, plus the lack of printing on the front, is clearly an interim design used when his son John officially became a partner in the business, thereby dating it to early 1874. 

 

From my collection

A carte de visite of a Yeovil lady by Chaffin & Sons (plural) after son John joined the business in 1874; her dress and the more ornate card back also dating it to the mid-1870s but before the Chaffins won their first medal (see next). During this period the backs of cartes generally became larger and more elaborate - not just with Chaffin, but with most photographers.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite by 'Jno Chaffin & Sons'. This carte is from an early year (note the square corners) between 1874 and 1878 after Chaffin was awarded an exhibition medal in 1874. The ever-growing collection of medals won by Chaffin for his photography were to feature on the back of his cartes until his death in 1885.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite by 'Jno Chaffin & Sons' clearly contemporary with the previous carte but this example with gold lettering on a chocolate brown card stock is a "top of the range" deluxe style and appropriately more expensive as a status symbol for the sitter.

 


Courtesy of Bernard Begley

This is the actual exhibition medal awarded to John Chaffin & Sons in 1875. It is 45mm in diameter and made of silver.

Interestingly the edge inscription shown around the medal image on the carte de visite is not quite the same as that on the medal's edge. On the medal it reads: J. CHAFFIN & SONS. FOR GROUP "THE CHESS PLAYERS". 1875. There is no "TO" at the start of the engraving. The wording shown around the portrait of James Watt (the reverse of the medal) on the carte de visite, "AND FOR GENERAL EXCELLENCE IN PORTRAITURE" is not engraved on the medal.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite by 'Jno Chaffin & Sons'. This carte is from a later year (note the rounded corners), probably around 1876.

 


From my collection

Having won their first prize medal, Chaffin expanded and opened premises in Taunton. John briefly moved his family to Taunton while that enterprise got established. To distinguish the output of the two studios the back was redesigned to incorporate either 'Yeovil' or 'Taunton' as appropriate. The card stock was obtained from Trapp & Münch of Berlin and briefly restores the royal crest. This carte dates to 1877, before the 'Cornwall 1878' medal was awarded.

 


From my collection

An almost identical back to the previous carte but noting that it is "Printed in permanent ink. A beautiful process of which JC and Sons are Sole Inventors". Their beautiful process may not have proved too successful since it is never mentioned in their advertising again. It is also the last time the royal crest appears. This carte probably dates to late 1877 - after the previous carte but, again, before the 'Cornwall 1878' medal was awarded. This is also a card stock obtained from Trapp & Münch of Berlin.

 


From my collection

A carte de visite by 'John Chaffin & Sons'. This carte is from 1882 (when Chaffin was awarded a further exhibition medal) or shortly thereafter.

 


From my collection

In 1883 Chaffin won two further exhibition medals, added to the back design of this carte de visite of a small child on an elaborate studio prop by 'John Chaffin & Sons'. At this time young children were dressed almost identically - I've even got a photo of my granddad wearing a dress when he was a toddler, around 1903.

 


From my collection

The same 1883 exhibition medals are included on this carte (damaged across the top) but in a different design. This was almost certainly a slightly later date than 1883 and is a new card stock which in this instance was ordered from Trapp & Münch of Berlin.

 


From my collection

An unknown Yeovil couple, each with their own carte and photographed in the 1890s; the lay's leg-of-mutton sleeves were only fashionable during this decade and the backs (see next photo) lack the 1901 awards as listed in the following carte.

 


From my collection

The backs (identical) of the cartes of the couple above lack the "Awards 1901. Paris, Calcutta, Le Puys, Brussels" of the following carte, therefore confirming the 1890's date.

 


From my collection

A post-1901 cabinet card listing the vast array of awards the company had received.

 


From my collection

John Chaffin died in Yeovil in 1885 and the family business was continued by his sons, keeping the name John Chaffin & Sons.

By the 1890s it became fashionable for photographers to use plain backs to their cartes de visite, in this case chocolate brown, on a much thicker cardstock and usually employing gold embossed lettering on the front, as here. The sitter's coat has the 'leg of mutton' sleeves that were only fashionable in the 1890s.

 


From my collection

An unusual, yet charming, cabinet card (165mm x 105mm) which, judging by the 'leg of mutton' sleeves of the sitter's dress, also dates to the 1890s and either shows a little more than normal of Chaffin's studio or was a location shot taken at the sitter's home. The back of this cabinet card is identical to the last back shown above but in a mid-brown.

It was during this decade that the larger cabinet cards began to replace cartes de visite (typically 102mm x 62mm). The cabinet card persisted until about 1910 by which time it was being replaced by the much cheaper postcard format.

 

gallery

 


Courtesy of Bill & Audrey Robinson

Cartes de visite of two of John Chaffin's sons; at left the eldest son, John Tarver Chaffin, and at right is the youngest son, Lionel Harry Chaffin.

 

A rare topographical carte de visite, dating to the mid-1870s (note the square corners), by John Chaffin & Sons featuring St John's church.

 

An advertisement for Chaffin & Sons of Hendford in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1879 before the business expanded to Taunton.

 

This aerial photograph dates to 1935 and shows Petters Way running across the photograph from South Street, at left, to the car park at right. Buildings of note are - the Greyhound Inn at very top left, the Baptist church at top left, the Three Choughs Hotel at centre left edge with the junction of South Street with Hendford to its right. On the opposite corner the buildings running along the east side of Hendford (with their street elevations facing us) are Chudleigh's seed merchants, the small shop that had been John Chaffin's photographic studio (later the WI Market), next to the Butcher's Arms. Next is Flower's House then Ayr Villa and finally the furniture emporium known as The Rink owned by Henry White. Note that in the top right hand corner is the field that the Yeovil Law Courts and Police Station would be built on three years later, in 1938.

 

This photograph, probably taken in the 1960's, shows narrow South Street (with the car driving out of it) was at the time. The Three Choughs Hotel is at left. Chudleigh's Seed Merchants was demolished in the 1960's to widen South Street along with the building next to it (with the BSA signs) which had earlier been Chaffin's photographic studios between 1862 and 1919. At the time of this photograph it was occupied by Yeovil Motor Cycle Mart. 

 


Courtesy of Colin Haine

By the time of this 1984 photograph John Chaffin's photographic studio was occupied by the Yeovil branch of the Women's Institute. Chudleigh's premises from the previous photograph had been demolished by this time and Chaffin's former premises were to follow shortly after this photograph..

 

I just had to include this - the original Dorset Ooser mask photographed by John Chaffin and Sons of Yeovil, probably at their Yeovil studio at 6 Hendford, sometime between 1883 and 1891. The Dorset Ooser is an item of nineteenth century Dorset folklore, a mask that is now almost lost to this world and to this time. The grotesque mask, consisting of a human face with horns, had been owned by the Cave family of Holt Farm, Melbury Osmond, Dorset, for ‘time out of mind’. During the mid-nineteenth century, the large, horned mask was kept in the malt house in Melbury Osmond, and seems to have been viewed by many of those living in the village as an object of considerable terror and ugliness.

 

An advertisement for Chaffin & Sons of Hendford in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1882, just a few years before John Snr's death in 1885. The displays of the awards was, presumably, to distinguish their excellence from their growing number of competitors.

 

An advertisement in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1890 clearly demonstrating that John's photographic studios were producing portraits in oil paints as well as photographs.

 

This advertisement in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser around 1910 and clearly the business was aiming for the home market with visiting location shoots as well as supplying cameras and other photographic equipment to amateurs.

 

An example from Chaffin's Taunton studio.

 

John Chaffin & Sons were still winning international awards into the twentieth century as reported in this snippet from the Western Gazette of 17 May 1901.