Join our annual Christmas fair this weekend on Saturday 3 & Sunday 4 December! Pre-book your tickets now. 

Back to News button arrow icon

Christina Broom: the first lady of UK press photography

by Erin Brudi, Kingston University MA museum and galleries studies placement student

Fulham Palace was the home to the Bishops of London from 704 AD until 1973. However, it’s not just the bishops who write the story of the Palace’s history. Many people have influenced its story through living and working here as well as visiting the site. Fulham Palace’s history is both filled and intertwined with strong, influential, and iconic character’s storylines from all different walks of life. One of these influential persons is none other than Christina Broom, the first female press photographer in the UK. Broom is remembered for her military photography and for documenting the suffragette movement in England, but it is her work reporting on events at Fulham Palace that provided some of the most interesting pictures of Edwardian life in Fulham.

1910 Army Pageant: Spanish Arquebusiers from 1572 sporting some fine Edwardian facial hair

Christina Livingston was born locally at 8 King’s Road in Chelsea as one of eight children. After marrying Albert Edward Broom and giving birth to their daughter, Winifred Margaret, the family of three continued to live locally on Napier Avenue here in Fulham. Multiple business failures, such as an ironmongery and stationary shop, and a sustained cricket-induced injury to his shin bone left Albert and Christina in desperate need of a steady income.

Christina was determined and extremely driven. She taught herself the ins and outs of box camera photography after borrowing a camera. In her early days, Christina photographed local landmarks, significant buildings and other day-to-day images of London town. These photographs were then sold as postcards at a stall in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace which Christina and her family ran from 1904 until 1930.

As Christina’s passion for photography continued and provided income, it soon became a family affair. The three moved to Burnfoot Avenue down the road from Fulham Palace and the coal cellar was cleverly converted into Christina’s darkroom. Christina, Albert and their daughter Winifred worked together to support Christina’s photography, with Winifred assisting her mother and Albert writing the captions in his neat handwriting for the postcards. The postcards were popular and in fair demand.

In 1904 Christina was promoted as the official photographer to the Household Division with a darkroom in the Chelsea Barracks. This was a far cry from her coal cellar! She would hold this position until 1939. During this time she continued to photograph many local scenes, including some rather exciting events at Fulham Palace.

1909 English Church Pageant: The Coming of Saint Augustine in AD 597 - one of many images made into contemporary postcards. You can see the main lawn of Fulham Palace has been enhanced by a fortress!

In 1909 and 1910 two major pageant productions were performed locally at the Palace and photographed by Christina Broom. Both pageants were put on in affiliation with the Bishop of London and were massive productions: the first, The English Church Pageant of 1909, retold the long history of the Church. It had 4,200 performers (a number which included the horses!) and an estimated 178,000 spectators who sat in purpose-built stands on the main lawn. The second performance, The Army Pageant of 1910 showcased the army’s history and the significance of historic sites, and played to an estimated audience of 100,000. These performances, although very different, both were heavily reported on and drew attention from many media outlets. The Army Pageant drew media attention locally and abroad and was mentioned in both The New York Times and The Times of India. Despite the media attention and large audiences, both pageants were major financial losses. They did, however, leave us with some priceless photos of Edwardian life in Fulham and the site of Fulham Palace at that time, all thanks to Christina Broom and her talented photography skills. Many of her images were made into postcards which spread her photos far and wide – including one of the photographer herself, dressed as a “Saxon lady”!

1909 English Church Pageant: a very fine "Saxon lady" in front of the lens, rather than behind it!
The description on the back of the "Saxon lady" postcard describes Mrs Albert Broom, aka Christina
1910 Army Pageant: Civil war pikemen

Christina wasn’t content with her military and event photography. The women’s movement in Britain had captured her passion and drive and she devoted her skills to documenting it. With the help of her daughter, Christina began photographing many of the processions, exhibitions and fairs of the militant Suffragette as well as  the more law-abiding Suffragist movements. These images were once again converted into postcards and sold at various fairs and shops such as the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union). Christina’s photographs were popular for a variety of reasons but perhaps one reason for the popularity was the way in which Christina was able to capture typical day-to-day scenes in an almost unseen manner. She captured her subjects in a relaxed manner that lacked the typical formal stiffness that other official photographs seemed to be steeped in. Rather than typical portrait shots, Christina’s photos have a sense of easiness to her subjects.

Additionally, Christina’s photographs portrayed the women’s suffrage movement through diverse lenses. Through her photos, one is able to understand how broad the movement was across the classes, from pit brow women, pottery workers and nurses and midwives to actresses and journalists, and even photographing those who had been imprisoned for their beliefs in 1910.  Her style and reportage element to her photos not only were able to provide financially for her and her family but her incredible eye and talent of capturing moments provided some of the most enduring images of the time.

1909 English Church Pageant: group of Celtic Picts postcard

In her elderly years, her passion remained true. Hindered with severe back injuries, and often having to be restrained to a wheelchair pushed by her daughter, Christina’s talent for capturing moments continued. Her work was popular and was featured in various publications such as The Daily Sketch, The Illustrated London News, Country Life, and The Tatler. After her death on 5 June 1939, her daughter Winifred housed Christina’s negatives in public institutions and after 36 years there were over 40,000 images. Collections of these images have been scattered across the globe and are held in some prestigious institutions such as The Museum of London, The Imperial War Museum, and many other museums and galleries. The National Portrait Gallery even showcased some of the images in a 1994 exhibit Edwardian Women Photographers. Christina’s remarkable talent and deep dedication allowed for snapshots of history that are still significant today.

1909 English Church Pageant: medieval outfits on point (particularly the jester on the left)

We are excited that such an eminent and interesting woman in history chose to live and work closely with Fulham Palace. You can find more about Christina on the Museum of London’s website, including a photograph of her that her daughter Winifred took. This photo was for her press pass permitting her to photograph King Edward VII’s funeral on 20 May 1910, reminding us of her role in capturing some of the most important events of the early 20th century.

 

References:

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Army Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/971/.

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘English Church Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1062/.

Museum of London. “Christina Broom, Press Photographer – Museum of London.” Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/christina-broom-press-photographer-museum-of-london/igICxvmu81GRJA?hl=en. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

“Meet Christina Broom.”  Anna Sparham, Curator of photographs. Museum of London, www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/meet-christina-broom. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

“Christina Broom.” Wikipedia, 23 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_Broom. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.