This photographic souvenir of the Students’ Union Fête at Queen’s College, Belfast was produced by the well-known photographer Abernethy. The 1894 fête/fair was organised to raise funds for a new building and was a spectacular event. Its various attractions and exhibits are outlined in detail in an accompanying guide called The Book of the Fair which was published by Olley & Co. It provides a fascinating insight into the commercial and social life of the city in the late nineteenth century.
The stalls were run by students and the wives and daughters of local aristocracy and merchants. George Morrow & Son provided the decoration for part of a spectacle known as Pomona’s Palace which featured an Enchanted Forest and the Realm of the Ice King! Stallholders adopted various costumes and these were outlined in detail in the guide. The Art stall attendants were dressed in “the style of Kate Greenaway.” Medical students wore a skull and crossbones motif. The women at stall No. 7 entitled ‘The Snowdrift’ wore “white crepon dresses, white white silk fichus, white picture hats with plumes, and powdered hair.”
The photographic stall was run by the city’s foremost commercial photographic firms including Allison & Allison, Hembry, Kilpatrick, Nielsen and Reid Brothers. A photographic studio was constructed on the grounds of the college which was sponsored by James Wilson and guaranteed that “sitters will receive finished proofs within a few hours.” In addition to cabinet photographs the photographers offered ‘Midget’ photographs like the one featured above. I was able to ascertain that this portrait was taken by Abernethy on either Friday 26th of May or Saturday the 27th. Abernethy advertised elsewhere in the guide boasting that he had two premises: one at High Street, Belfast and a Printing and Finishing works at Bloomfield stating that “work finished in the suburbs is free from fog and smoke, which often spoil photographs finished in the city.”
The other advertisements in the guide give a real flavour of the city’s commercial life and included: Dunville & Co. Limited, Royal Irish Distilleries, Belfast who claimed to be the largest holders of whiskey in the world; The Franklin Steam Laundry, Belfast to whom one could send dirty linen by train; Anderson Brothers, 12 Royal Avenue, Belfast who specialised in re-covering umbrellas and another advertisement offered the ‘Martlet’ brand of non-alcoholic Pilsener for “advocates of temperance.”
I really like the fact that this portrait can be linked to a specific event and despite its small size, only H 48mm x W 28mm, the image is strong and clear. The surrounding mount depicts the college’s main building designed by Charles Lanyon in a Gothic Revival style. Whoever the sitter was, I hope he enjoyed all the fun of the fair which included a ‘Living Aunt Sally’ under the management of the Arts Students and a performance by the Clifton Banjo Society!