How Brockenhurst railway station was gifted Julia Margaret Cameron portraits of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin and Robert Browning recalled at 150th anniversary
THE story has been revealed of how a set of Victorian photographs of great figures, including Charles Darwin, were gifted to Brockenhurst railway station, on the 150th anniversary of their handover.
The shots were taken by Julia Margaret Cameron, who was one of the leading photographic portraitists of the 19th century and a neighbour of English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
The images include poets Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, as well as the Mr Darwin, famed for his theory of evolution.
Mrs Cameron had been brought up and married in India before her family moved to Freshwater on the Isle of Wight in 1860 next door to Lord Tennyson.
Her daughter gave her a camera to have a hobby, and she installed a studio in a chicken shed and a darkroom in the home.
Soon a steady stream of callers to her illustrious neighbour also popped in to have their portrait taken – including Charles Dodson, better known as the author Lewis Carroll, and Alice Liddel who inspired his Alice in Wonderland stories and is buried in Lyndhurst.
Mrs Cameron regularly used the ferry and branch line from Yarmouth and Lymington and the gift of pictures to Brockenhurst station was a thank-you for the kindness of the railway staff.
They looked after her with cups of tea when in 1871 she waited there for her son’s train from London which was delayed in bad weather.
David Bennett, chair of the Friends of Brockenhurst Station, explained: “For many years the original photographs were in a waiting room, but in the 1930s the Southern Railway had them copied and took the originals to London for safe keeping.
“The copies of these amazing pictures are in on display in the station booking office today.
“Unfortunately, the rail company then lost the originals!”
On 11th November, the 150th anniversary of the gift, members of the Friends of Brockenhurst Station handed out their latest publication to commuters, which explains the background of the gift and Mrs Cameron’s career.
Mr Bennett added: “Many travellers are familiar with the pictures which hang in the booking office at Brockenhurst.
“But not many know the story and, after a bit of research, we’ve put it back together.
“The travellers were very receptive to finding out more and from six in the morning we sent them off with something interesting to read on their journeys.
“More of the leaflets are now in the booking office for future travellers to find out about the pictures.”
Today other examples of Mrs Cameron’s photographs are in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“It’s a shame our originals have vanished, although the copies are excellent,” said Mr Bennett.
“But if anyone wanted to do some research and track down the Brockenhurst pictures, which have a unique handwritten description by the photographer, nowadays they can sell for upwards of £100,000 each!”