Ghostly image sparks Honiton family mystery

This ghostly image depicts a woman seemingly ‘in service’ in true Upstairs, Downstairs fashion. One striking anomaly is that she appears to be wearing a veil.

Standing in the conservatory of a grand house, the unknown female is flanked by views of open countryside and what looks like a row of relatively modern houses in the far distance. Plants can seen be around the window ledge and a table is set.

A chair is pulled away from the table, giving the impression that it has been vacated for the purpose of capturing the scene.

ghostly image

Servant or bride? The ‘old’ photograph with potentially modern homes in the background

The grainy photograph was found wedged between more contemporary images stored in an old biscuit tin.

It poses the question: “Who is she and when was the photograph taken?”

The Honiton-born woman who found the image says it is one of dozens in her possession that are so old they have become almost meaningless.

“I haven’t got a clue who the woman is, where she was when the photograph was taken or if she is related to me,” she told

“Part of me wants to throw the image away but another part says it’s history, part of who I am and relevant – even in 2019.

“Whoever the woman is, she looks uncomfortable. Her pose suggests she is a reluctant subject. But, then, it couldn’t have been the norm to have your photograph taken – if the image is as old as her fashion sense. It must have been very avant garde.”

The neatly constructed conservatory looks new, its wooden panels resembling pine. A tiled floor and small rug establishes it as more than a just a lean-to greenhouse.

When we used modern technology to take a closer look at the photograph, we discovered that the ‘houses’ in the distance were, in fact, blocks of lace in net curtains.

Reverse search tech was unable to locate a similar image.

Every year thousands of tons of old photographs end up in landfill in the UK – ones just like this ghostly image.

They are often discarded following a death, during house clearances or when the next generation decides they take up too much space.

Toxic chemicals used in outdated printing processes mean many are not suitable for recycling.

The fact is that photographs are routinely handed down from generation to generation. While they offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of our ancestors, they are often not accompanied by any information.

How often have you turned over an image, hoping to find a handwritten note scrawled on the back?

And how many times have you been disappointed?

In this case, the woman who found the old image says: “It throws up so many questions. For a start, the picture clearly looks very old but it is printed on clean white photo paper with a slanted cut. This makes me wonder if a relative had the photograph copied. Or if it isn’t that old after all.

“I don’t recognise the view in the background. It doesn’t look like Honiton to me – even though my family has lived in the town and surrounding villages for centuries. It is so strange that I can make out a bottle and glasses on the small table, but I cannot see the woman’s face. She is looking away.”

In the future, memories will be stored in digital format – meaning the customary biscuit tin and cardboard box will be replaced with a filing system that takes up only virtual space.

If the image genuinely dates back to the time it suggests, it could have been taken at any point between the late 1800s and the early 1930s, spanning Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Victorian period is noted for seeing the most people employed ‘in service’ in England.

Official records show that four per cent of the population worked as a ‘servant’ – and most of those were women.

The woman in the ghostly image, if not a bride, could be a housekeeper or maid. If so, she most likely ‘lived in’ and would have been subject to a strict pecking order – making this photograph all the more curious.

While the Victorians were notorious for taking pictures of the dead, they are not so well remembered for immortalising their staff in print.

So, could she have been not the maid, nor the housekeeper but the lady of the house?

Now that’s an interesting thought.

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