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Things to see and do at the Hardmans’ House

The kitchen at the Hardmans' House, Liverpool
The kitchen at the Hardmans' House, Liverpool | © ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Explore the house, presented as it was in the 1950s during the height of their business, with all of the Hardmans' original possessions perfectly preserved to show what life was like for this talented couple.

59 Rodney Street's front entrance

Customers arriving to have their portrait taken by Mr Hardman would have arrived through the front entrance on Rodney Street. Still adorned with the original name and business plaques and painted in an unmissable shade of turquoise, you can easily imagine how it would have felt to walk through this doorway in the 1950s.

Next time you’re in Liverpool’s city centre, why not stop by to admire it in person?

The Hardmans' camera collection

Step into the photographic studio on the first floor and you will instantly be transported into the shoes of a sitter about to have their portrait taken by the famous E. Chambré Hardman.

A few of the Hardmans’ original cameras are displayed here, ranging from big to small, and are accompanied by a range of their photographic lamps. These would be used to create Mr Hardman’s commercial portraits.

One of the models here is Edward’s Graflex camera, which he used to take most of his portraits.

Visitors and volunteer at the Hardmans House, Liverpool 988066.jpg
Visitors with a volunteer room guide at the Hardmans' House, Liverpool 988066.jpg | © ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Dark rooms at the Hardmans' House

The Hardmans’ House is home to not one but two darkrooms. One is located on the top floor and was used exclusively by the Hardmans as their own darkroom.

Here they would spend many hours into the evening on their personal (mostly landscape) photography, including one of Edward’s most famous photographs, Birth of the Ark Royal.

In the cellar, their small team of staff would use a separate darkroom and developing room to bring their commercial photographs to life, ready to be collected by customers.

It’s much less comfortable than the Hardmans’ personal darkroom but evocative nonetheless, and filled with much of the original photographic equipment used by the staff.

Unearthed film rolls

In the Hardmans’ dark room, you will notice stacks of boxes filled with mostly unused film rolls. In 2015, a box containing 23 rolls of film was discovered by chance in this room, five of which featured pictures that had never been developed.

Despite having been left in a cardboard box for all that time, it was still possible to develop 38 photos from these rolls of film. Photos ranged from an example of formal portraiture, to shots taken from their Chester Studio and house’s windows, and street scenes of the roads surrounding Rodney Street.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Southport and Formby National Trust Association in 2019, these photos have been on display at the house for the first time, giving visitors an added insight into the processes and techniques used by Hardman.

Props and backgrounds

There are many original props and backgrounds in the photographic studio. From classical pillars to children’s toys, Mr Hardman would use these to help take the perfect portrait to fit each customer’s needs.

Whether it was for a glamorous headshot or a treasured family photo, many customers would have spent hours in this room. It’s easy to see why the Hardmans advertised themselves as ‘the studio where every sitter receives individual thought and treatment’.

Studio and equipment, the Hardmans House, Liverpool
The studio and equipment at the Hardmans' House, Liverpool | © ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Mounting desk

Downstairs, at the very back of the house, the Mounting Room was the final stage in the journey of the Hardman’s commercial portraits. The photographs had been developed in the cellar and were now ready to be ‘mounted’.

At the mounting desk, the staff in charge of this important task would use their expertise to place the photograph in whichever format the customer desired, with a wide range of paper, frames and packaging to choose from. You can see the various tools they used to do this, including the heated spatulas used to add the all-important final touch – the beautiful Burrell & Hardman logo.

The cramped living quarters

The Hardmans lived in just three small rooms within the house at the back of the first floor. Their main focus was the prosperity of the business so they didn't have much time for household chores. Preferring to dine out and to travel for inspiration, they spent very little time relaxing at home.

Arguably the most immersive room in this area is the kitchen, perfectly preserved in all its 1950s glory. Plates are still drying on the rack above the sink, newspapers and letters strewn across the table and the cupboards are fully stocked with original food packaging left by Mr Hardman.

Inside one of the cupboards, you’ll even find a large collection of plastic egg cups – the Hardmans were either light eaters or were simply far too busy to be distracted by cooking.

Relax in the walled garden

Enjoy the little 1950s garden with its bird bath, stone bench and flowers planted by volunteers. Keep an eye out for the oldest rose bush in the garden from the Hardmans' time.

Margaret's belongings

At the very back of the house, the Hardmans’ bedroom offers a snapshot into the personal lives of the couple. Notably, Margaret’s belongings take centre stage here, with an array of her jewellery, cosmetics, hats and fashion catalogues proving just how glamorous she was.

The wardrobe and drawers are still filled with her clothes, providing a sad reminder of the loss that Edward experienced after she died in 1970. While her presence is strong in this room, it’s important not to forget that Margaret was an excellent photographer herself and oversaw the day-to-day running of the business and their staff.

Photograph of a delivery van owned by W & R Jacob & Co. Ltd, Biscuit Manufacturers. The driver is sitting in the front and to the right of the picture is a stack of Jacob & Co. Cream Crackers with a worker standing behind them. This was one of a series taken at the Jacob's Biscuit Factory.
Photograph of a delivery van owned by W & R Jacob & Co. Ltd, Biscuit Manufacturers. The driver is sitting in the front and to the right of the picture is a stack of Jacob & Co. Cream Crackers with a worker standing behind them. This was one of a series taken at the Jacob's Biscuit Factory. | © Edward Chambré Hardman Collection

'On Commission' Exhibition

Outside of the everyday portraiture and studio work that formed the foundation of the Hardmans' business, Edward Chambré Hardman would often roam further afield to carry out commissioned, commercial photography. Our new exhibition, On Commission, which can be seen during a Hardmans' House tour, profiles this commercial work for industry, schools and businesses and showcases a different aspect of Hardman's work.

While Edward Chambré Hardman undertook these external commissions, Margaret Hardman ran the studio. His work often took him away from home for several days, beyond the confines of Liverpool, to the wider North–West region, Yorkshire, or Wales. Clients were diverse, Chambré could find himself in wildly varied locations and environments. His work provides a fascinating glimpse into these different worlds, from factory floor to private boarding school.

Join us on a Hardmans' House tour to find out more about this important element of the business and to view some of the most eye-catching of Hardman's commercial prints.

Studio and equipment, the Hardmans House, Liverpool

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