Limerick photographic archive unearthed in attic in Cornwall

Anne Sheridan


Anne Sheridan

Frank Ward, Coonagh, takes a look at Limerick Through The Looking Glass, the Ludlow Collection in City Hall (Picture: Sean Curtin / Fusionshooters) and below, amateur photographer John Riddell captured the visit of Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, to Limerick in August 1900 to inspect the garrison
A CONNECTION made on social media three years ago with a local historian has led to an exhibition of never seen before photographs of the city taken over a century ago.

A CONNECTION made on social media three years ago with a local historian has led to an exhibition of never seen before photographs of the city taken over a century ago.

In all, more than 120 images of Limerick from 1880 to 1913 were found in an attic in Cornwall, by David and Steve Ludlow, the great great grandsons of John Riddell, a man who never saw his photographs published or shown to a wide audience during his life-time.

John Riddell came to Limerick from Glasgow in 1880 to run Walker’s Distillery on Brown’s Quay in Thomondgate. His wife Elizabeth and young daughter Bessie moved with him to Island View House, Thomondgate, and they had three more children – John, Jeanie and Lexy.

When not managing the distillery, the father of four could be found capturing a unique view of Limerick through a series of personal photographs, which were only shared with his family - until now.

Some 56 of them will be on display in Merchant’s Quay from this Thursday, until April - largely due to the help of Sharon Slater, who describes herself as a ‘virtual local historian’, and who made the connection with David via her Twitter page, ‘Limerick’s Life’.

They were only discovered in 2012, and Sharon gradually released some of the images, explaining the historical context, on her website of the same name.

“The value of social media is that you can make these connections. There is a whole new whole of history online. But people come into our exhibitions here [in City Hall] who have no interaction with the online world, so they needed to be brought to a wider audience. We were just astounded when we saw these images. You can see from the images that he really cared for Limerick, and enjoyed life in the city with his children. His relatives are thrilled they’re coming back to Limerick for display,” explained Sharon who facilitated this exhibition in conjunction with Limerick Museums and Archives.

Jacqui Hayes, Limerick archivist, said that what is unique about these images is that he was an amateur photographer, simply going about his daily business and capturing life as he saw it - not life with a staged gloss of grandeur as others might have wanted it to be seen.

The only other comparable images of this time that exist are from the Lawrence collection, but this is a huge collection held by the National Library, and the photos from across the country were taken for the dedicated purpose of recording that time for posterity. By contrast, John Riddell photographs were never taken for public display - at least, he never presumed they would be.

“He took candid shots in a time when people didn’t take candid shots until much later, maybe the 1950s,” added 

There are natural street photography scenes of men swilling beer - at odds with the rigid Victorian style of the time - as well as images of the visit of Prince Albert, the Duke of Connaught, and the seventh child of Queen Victoria, to Limerick in 1900 to oversee the garrison. The Railway Hotel, which is still here today, can be seen in the background of one of the images of the royal visit.

Another image shows Prince Albert meeting Thomas Cleeve, of Cleeves Condensed Milk Factory, and his wife Pheobe Cleeve.

Perhaps unwittingly, he also shows the photography style of the time - by taking a picture of a picture produced by another photographic practice, the American Studio, established circa 1899, at 123 George’s Street (now O’Connell Street).

It was a very different Limerick – and the former name of the main thoroughfare is indicative of its link with the Empire, as hundreds of people turned out to line the streets to mark the coronation of King Edward VII on the August 9, 1902. One banner can be seen hanging from the Young Protestant Men’s Association, founded here in 1853, on George’s Street, saying ‘God Save the King’.

Incidentally, John’s two eldest daughters Bessie and Jeanie married English shipping agent brothers Edmund and Christopher Ludlow, and the former was the shipping agent for the White Star Line, who sold tickets to board the ill-fated Titanic from a premises on Glentworth Street. After the death of his wife in 1913, John moved to Cornwall to live with his daughter Jeanie where he would remain until he died in November 1927, aged 81. It would take more than 80 years before the images were prised out of their confines.

“They take us into a time of enormous change in Limerick,” continued Ms Hayes, “and show steamships side by side with sail ships in the Limerick docks. While at the docks we see the faces of the day labourers covered in coal dust and the interest in items being brought ashore by fez wearing foreigners.”

What is also at odds with Limerick life today is what how populated the River Shannon is, by fishermen, and for other larger commercial interests, via the docks. One image shows the SS Mantinea at Limerick’s docks - another doomed ship, which was torpedoed and sunk on August 7, 1917 while on route from Newcastle to Genoa with coal.

You also, she said, wouldn’t seen the condition of the roads in professional photographs of the time, as “they literally were mud streets.” Away from commercial life, there are wonderful, happy scenes of frivolity, such of skating on a frozen Shannon river in 1900. The images, which were developed on glass plate negatives, have become scratched over time, but that only “adds to their charm.”

The exhibition is now open Limerick Museum and the Glazed Street, Civic Buildings, Merchant’s Quay. Admission is free