Chosen by Diane Ladlow, member of staff
This is a photograph by Walter Kevis who worked as a photographer in Petworth from c1877 to his retirement in 1908. I like this picture because it gives an insight into the immense amount of work that goes into servicing the needs of the family above stairs. The laundry room has a very high ceiling from which is suspended quantities of fresh linen which would have been raised up to the ceiling by a pulley system and more fresh linen is strewn around on wooden clothes horses. The laundrymaids, who are all smartly dressed, are sorting and ironing linen. They would have been wearing their best clothes for the day as to have your photograph taken would be a moment of some importance. The man in the front left hand corner of the picture is holding in front of him an implement which could perhaps be a shovel for feeding the boiler or maybe a fire stoker and behind him you can see all the old flat irons warming on the range.
The photograph is part of the collection of over 10000 glass negatives we hold by Kevis, comprising primarily of portraits and family photographs, in addition to the fascinating informal documentation of working life as seen in the photographs of staff at Petworth.
Walter Kevis was born in 1854, in London, the son of James Kevis, a licensed victualler. In 1875 Walter was briefly in service at Petworth House as a footman. He established himself in Petworth as a photographer in 1877 mainly photographing people. We have approximately 10,000 surviving Kevis glass negatives of people and about 1,000 of places or subjects.
Kevis retired in 1908 (his date of death is unknown), and left his negatives in his studio in Lombard Street, Petworth. The shop below was taken over by his nephew, Henry Earle, who carried on the tobacconists side of the business until his death in 1950. After his death, the negatives were rescued by George Garland, himself a Petworth photographer. They were moved to an outhouse at Mr Garland’s house. It is reputed that while they were there, some of the large plate negatives were used to cover broken windows!
When Garland died in 1978 the Kevis negatives were bequeathed to the County Record Office in Chichester, as part of the Garland Collection, along with his own negatives.
The Collection contains a number of portraits of particular interest, including over 200 negatives of servants employed mostly at Petworth House, but a few from other large houses in the area. There are also a number of portraits of people in uniform, or in their working clothes, but the majority are obviously dressed in their best clothes to have their portrait made. It was not a cheap thing to do, and people wanted to look their best.