June 2015

My name is Lisa Stevens and I am the Digitisation Assistant for the Archive’s Film & Picture Library.

A large part of my job is to scan negatives of many different types and ages, and sometimes I come across an image which makes me want to stop and look more closely. This old glass negative is one of these, a photograph taken in October 1918 at the wedding of Sir Herbert Austin’s eldest daughter, Irene. Herbert Austin began his motor industry career as General Manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company but he left in 1905 to set up his own firm, and founded the Austin Motor Company at Longbridge on the outskirts of Birmingham. He lived in various parts of Birmingham until 1910 when he moved with his family to Lickey Grange near Bromsgrove, where he spent the rest of his life. This picture was taken at the back of the rather grand house, set in 100 acres of parkland, and illustrates what a successful and prosperous businessman he had become.

Why This Document?

I have chosen this photograph because, as I zoomed in and moved around the picture, I really enjoyed looking closely at the people, their expressions and their clothes. There is an impressive number of wedding guests, and the majority of the outfits are wonderfully elaborate and very opulent for 1918, right at the end of World War One in which Austin’s only son, Vernon, had been killed. The men are in tailored suits complete with spats, pocket watches and a variety of hat styles. Some are wearing military uniforms, including Sir Herbert Austin and his new son-in-law.

If we zoom in to the centre of the picture, we can see the family group at the heart of the great event. The Bride and Groom are on the left – Irene Austin and her rather glamorous new husband, Colonel Arthur Waite, a famous Australian racing driver who also worked for Sir Herbert. Of the three bridesmaids standing behind them, the middle one is her younger sister Zeta. Austin himself is sitting to the right of the bride, and next to him are his Australian wife Helen, his mother Clara and his youngest brother Harry, who also worked at Longbridge from the beginning.

If we move further along the front row to the right, we come across an interesting group of women guests displaying the fashions of the era. They are wearing fur stoles and muffs, some with the heads and tails of the animals still attached, one lady appearing to actually have a stuffed bird on her hat! Fur at that time was clearly a status symbol and denoted wealth and prosperity. We can only speculate about the identity of these guests, but some of their expressions are rather fierce.

It is wonderful to be able to look at images like these, and get a glimpse into people’s lives from so many years ago.

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