At Play

Black and white photo of girls and boys in fancy dress

Young family friends dressed in pageant costume, possibly performing a play. © National Museums Liverpool (by kind permission of Heather Price)

The Urton family album presents a picture of an ideal Edwardian childhood. Children had always been popular subjects, but many early studio portraits showed them stiffly posed, often looking uncomfortable and even apprehensive in front of the camera.

By contrast, Mary and Lois appear relaxed and happy, clearly used to their father with his camera. These are affectionate, sometimes spontaneous portraits suggesting a close family relationship.

The two sisters pose with young friends and relations, and the family's pet dog. Favourite toys make useful props, a rocking horse, dolls, and the garden swing all making an appearance. Pageants and parties in fancy dress provided both entertainment for children, and amusing subject matter for the photographer. Empire Day, first celebrated in 1902 and hugely popular during the Edwardian period, was one such occasion, with children let out from school early to dress up in costume, wave flags, and sing patriotic songs.