Canal Workers

Thomson, John1877/1878

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum
London, United Kingdom

Object Type
The photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) used the 'Woodburytype' process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown colour. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.

Social Class
In the streets of Naples, Italy, children were sometimes bought like slaves from their parents. The parents were promised that the child would be trained in music and returned in two years with the earnings from their work as street musicians. Few children returned, and many were housed in crowded conditions in poorly kept rooms hired for the purpose. However, the boy with the harp shown here had come to England to join his family. In two years he had learned to speak English fluently. He was described by the neighbourhood in which he played as charming and modest.

Real or Posed?
The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.


  • Title: Canal Workers
  • Creator: Thomson, John
  • Date Created: 1877/1878
  • Location: London
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 11.4 cm, Width: 8.9 cm
  • Provenance: Given by Mrs D. Crisp
  • Medium: Woodburytype

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