Some years ago whilst rummaging in a kitchen drawer in my mother’s house I discovered some studio portraits of her, covered in torn layers of tissue, amongst piles of unpaid bills. One of the photographs had brown stains on it, another had a singed edge, one appeared to have been stabbed. I persuaded my mother to give me one of the more undamaged photos, and had it framed.
My mother was careless with her past, forgetting or inventing whole episodes, but I knew part of the history of this portrait because of the label pasted on its back, which said ‘Dorothy Wilding Studios’. Dorothy Wilding (see below) was a society photographer born in 1893, the first woman to be appointed Official Royal Photographer for the 1937 Coronation. Later, her iconic photograph of Elizabeth II was used on sets of postage stamps which became known as the Wildings.
My mother was the ‘black sheep’ grand-daughter of a Midlands beer baron, and had been taken, probably reluctantly, to London by my grandmother to have her photograph taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. They stayed at the Langham Hotel. I was intrigued, wanted to know more about her time in London, what did she do there apart from visit the Wilding studio, who did she meet, but my mother wouldn’t tell me anything else. She had used one of the portraits as a mat for her mug of tea.