History society seeks to solve Shropshire pictures riddle

By Toby Neal | Newport | Features | Published:

Time for all you Newport sleuths to lend a hand to your town's local history group by coming up with some information about some "mystery pictures" which have come its way.

Linda Fletcher of Newport History Society is hoping somebody can supply more information about this photo of a presentation at Audley House, Newport.

Linda Fletcher, the archivist of Newport History Society, has been given a photo which came from the niece of Mr and Mrs Gidman – the Master and Matron of Audley House in the town – and she is seeking readers' help with it.

"It's in the early 1940s, and is some sort of presentation to one of ladies," says Linda.

"These may be the institution's trustees committee. Mrs Elspeth Gidman is third from the left in her matron's uniform. Mr Harold Gidman in far right. The left hand person with a dog collar is, we think, the Rev Bradely who became the rector of St Nicholas', Newport, in 1939. The other person with a dog collar may perhaps be the Methodist minister.

Where is this house? The picture was taken by Victorian photographer Henry Howle of Newport.

"Any help with other names, what was the occasion, and the date, would be gratefully received by emailing to

"Mr and Mrs Gidman are buried alongside their only son, Evan, in the cemetery close to the road to the chapel, on the right hand side."

And there's more for you detectives out there, as Linda also sent pictures of a mystery house, which she is assuming is somewhere in the Newport area as at least one of them was taken by the Victorian Newport photographer Henry Howle.

The same property, but strangely the fashions of the seated woman look to be those from long after Henry's death in 1889.


"The very faint logo on the side of the one image says H Howle. This indicates that the picture is in the 1880s, which is when he started using the manuscript type of logo. The one picture is looking from the road which, therefore, is more likely that people will recognise, although more faded."

Research by hobby genealogist Mike Grainger of Newport has shown that Henry Howle died on March 12, 1889, which adds another twist to the riddle, because we think the fashions of the woman wearing a boater in one of the pictures is later than that, perhaps around 1900.

If we are right, then Henry Howle obviously cannot have taken that picture.

His widow died at their home in High Street, Newport, on August 13, 1903, at the age of 84, and a short obituary in the Newport Advertiser said: "Mrs Howle had lived in Newport over 50 years, and was highly respected and much esteemed by all who knew her.


"She was present at Ascot Heath, as a girl, when an attempt was made upon the life of King William IV."

That had happened on June 19, 1832, at Ascot Races, when one Dennis Collins threw stones at the king, one of them hitting him on the head, although the blow seems to have been cushioned by his hat.

Collins, an old Irish sailor with a wooden leg, was angry because he had lost his pension. He was convicted of high treason, and sentenced to the traditional punishment for traitors of being drawn and quartered.

The sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and he was sent to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), where he died on November 1, 1833, soon after two consecutive periods of solitary confinement on bread and water for refusing to work, although the cause of his death is not recorded.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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