A real time capsule of a place, where photographic portrait artist Edward Chambre Hardman had his busy studios from the 1940s onwards, The Hardmans’ House at 59 Rodney Street is one of Liverpool’s most fascinating attractions. You’ll get to see many of his striking and atmospheric images of Liverpool, Birkenhead, their docks and inhabitants. It’s like a Terence Davies film, in stills.
The building was the home of Hardman – regarded as Liverpool’s greatest photographer of the last century – and his equally gifted wife Margaret Mills. Obtained by the National Trust in 2003, the Hardmans’ House is the only known British photographic studio with everything restored to its former glory. It’s open periodically to the public and the Georgian terrace is preserved in time, like an insect in amber. Stepping into the Hardmans’ House is, quite literally, stepping into history.
With a passion for photography at a young age, Hardman initially took it as a profession in partnership with wartime friend Kenneth Burrell. Settling in Bold Street in 1922, Burrell & Hardman Photographers prospered as a sophisticated business specialising in portraits. It wasn’t until after marrying Mills that Hardman moved his business to 59 Rodney Street in 1949 and its this era the National Trust has recreated in the modern attraction.
Part of the Hardmans’ House tour includes the dark room, dedicated to the precious hours of developing and retouching the negatives.
“Hardman could do things in that dark room very professionally indeed,” says tour guide and practiced photographer Roy Wainwright.
“His main passion, for example, was landscapes; getting outside and capturing idyllic views. The clouds are worked to dramatically enhance the feel of the scene. From a photographer’s point of view, you can’t help but look at the work and envy him.”
One such image as a result of Hardman’s dark room experimentation is ‘The Birth of the Ark Royal’. Capturing the heart of Liverpool’s industrial era, the photograph was an example of Hardman’s ‘control of patience’ method: waiting for the right moment to alter the tones within the image. It remains Hardman’s most reproduced photograph since it was taken in 1950.
“From a photographer’s point of view, you can’t help but look at the work and envy him”
The preservation of the Hardmans’ House itself and all its belongings comes down to Peter Haggerty, Director of Liverpool Open Eye Gallery. Having visited Hardman during the photographer’s later years, Haggerty came up with the idea to set up the E. Chambré Hardman Trust, saving any valuable work from loss or destruction. By 2004, 59 Rodney Street was fully restored and reopened.
“Everything that belonged here now remains and is saved for the nation,” says Roy. “We have a depth of gratitude towards Peter Haggerty for spotting the potential. If it weren’t for him, this house wouldn’t be here today.”
With the materials they have available, tour guides can now give visitors an in depth look at Hardman’s work, through specific artefacts each year. As Roy recalls, the images on display tend to make a personal impact on visitors.
“A lady visiting here once stopped in front of a photo taken of some of the houses around Liverpool courts. She’d realised she was looking at her grandmother’s house. All it took for her was to stand in front of the photo and be taken back to this memory captured for her.
“That illustrated to me what street photography can do, and what Hardman could do. He captured something that is now missing in photography: recording a slice of history as it is.”
“He captured something that is now missing in photography: recording a slice of history as it is”
Even with the depth of work on display there are still thousands of Hardman’s images yet to be processed for the house. Industrial photography, college prospectuses, and even commercial work for the Bon Marche department store are all part of Hardman’s body of work – most of which will take years to be displayed.
The National Trust prefers small groups of people, says Roy, so the compact rooms can comfortably accommodate them, but also so each visitor can take in all the small, authentic details in the house.
Just like clients on their way to have their portrait taken would have 70 years ago, National Trust visitors are first led into the fully furbished changing and waiting rooms for an introduction to Hardman’s life and work, before moving onto the studio itself.
Exploring the Hardmans’ House is not just an experience, but a discovery of unique photography. A ship-in-a-bottle portrait of Liverpool life and creativity.
• The Hardmans’ House, 59 Rodney Street is open 16 March – 29 October, Wednesday – Saturday. Entry to the house is by exclusive guided tour between 11am and 3.30pm. Tours are 90 mins long. Pre booking recommended. Book on 0751 709 6261 or email email@example.com
The Hardmans’ HouseMr Hardman's Photographic Studio
59 Rodney Street,