1860s "Peeping Tom" Photos of the Popping Stone

Most photographs of the Popping Stone from the 1860s seem to follow a standard formula. A couple is seated on the Stone with various characters ranged behind them, apparently spying on them, some of the same watchers appearing in different photos. These watchers might consist of gentlemen in top hats, a rustic, children, and smartly dressed ladies. Considering the effort required to take photos at that time, it would be surprising if the photographer had lugged his equipment down to the Popping Stone for each assignment. More likely, he would set up on suitable days and await customers, perhaps with "watchers" hired as an optional extra. This family photo has been taken from an identical position to no. 4, no doubt on the same day (31st August 1861).

The photographer may have been imitating a famous painting, or, more likely, re-enacting the legend of Walter Scott's courtship. The introduction to his poem "The Bridal of Triermain" describes persuading a lady to cross the river and:

"Come, rest thee on thy wonted seat;
Moss'd is the stone, the turf is green,
A place where lovers best may meet
Who would not that their love be seen

The reputation of the Popping Stone as a place for secretive meetings may even have been established before Scott's arrival in 1798, but in September 1853 a report on an excursion to the Spa in the Newcastle Journal mentions "many a sly visit" being made to the Stone.

group at the Popping Stone

1. Edwardian postcard postmarked 1908. The image has been tinted and "photoshopped" but seems to be derived from an 1860s original, showing the old shape of the Stone before it was altered in the 1870s. There is quite a crowd of onlookers, including gentlemen, ladies and children. The character on the right in the top hat seems to appear, in a similar position, in photos 3 and 4. A woman in a white skirt, possibly the same person, appears in the same position in nos. 2 and 4.

group at the Popping Stone

2. Photo dateable to the 1860s showing a couple watched by three ladies and two children, one of whom is in the tree.

group at the Popping Stone

3. From a stereo pair dateable to the 1860s. The couple are observed by three gentlemen, the one on the right possibly the same individual seen in the same position in photos 1 and 4. They are also watched by a boy, clinging precariously to the tree, his ladder just visible below his feet.

1860s cdv of the Popping Stone

4. CDV dateable to 1861 showing a couple watched by a gentleman and two ladies.

The camera angle is identical to a family photo dated 1861.

group at the Popping Stone

5. CDV dateable to the 1860s, note the consecutive catalogue number to the photo above.

The watchers include two ladies, the left-hand one of whom may appear in other photos on this page, and a "rustic" who seems to be in the photo below.

pretty lady at the Popping Stone

6. Beautifully posed couple, taken from a different angle to the other photos on this page. The image is probably from the mid 1860s, the geometrical pattern of her dress being popular at this time. The "rustic" character may the same as the one in no. 5. The way that the boy is apparently calling to people out of shot suggests that this may be part of a cropped image.