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‘Jubilee Photographica embodied the unique character of Camden Passage’

PUBLISHED: 13:27 16 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:46 16 May 2018

Beryl Vosburgh at her shop Jubilee. Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh

Beryl Vosburgh at her shop Jubilee. Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh

Archant

Remember Jubilee Photographica in Pierrepoint Row? A collection of its former sale items made thousands at auction last week. Owner Beryl Vosburgh’s daughter, Amy, tells the Gazette what made her mum such a character of Camden Passage.

Beryl Vosburgh, photographed in the 1950s by celebrated theatrical photographer John Vere Brown. Beryl Vosburgh, photographed in the 1950s by celebrated theatrical photographer John Vere Brown.

The life’s work of the late Beryl Vosburgh, Camden Passage’s pioneering antique photographica collector, made £52,800 when it went under the hammer recently.

But Beryl’s legacy goes way beyond auction stats. She was a renowned figure who even attracted Michael Jackson to the Passage. But more about that later.

Born in 1932, Beryl moved to Islington with her husband Dick Vosburgh, a famous comedy writer who she met at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The couple lived in a bohemian townhouse, and quickly became part of the Islington “artistic set”.

“They were very popular,” her youngest daughter, Amy, told the Gazette. “She was a great mum, very passionate and principled.

“My father was a complete genius, he wrote for Monty Python and Bob Hope. But he was not practically minded – he couldn’t drive a car or change a lightbulb. It was my mum who ran the house and looked after the six children.”

Beryl’s specialist shop Jubilee Photographica started life in the mid-1960s, when she and friend Judy were caring for their children. The pair would load up pushchairs with antiques and wheel them down to their stall in Camden Passage.

Soon, demand for her idiosyncratic stock grew, and Beryl struck out on her own. In Pierrepoint Row, she opened one of the first shops in London that specialised in antique photographica.

“I think the doll collectors freaked her out,” said Amy. “They treated the dolls a little too much like their own children.

Beryl Vosburgh outside Jubilee in 1972 with daughters Lizzie (left) and Tilly (middle). Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh Beryl Vosburgh outside Jubilee in 1972 with daughters Lizzie (left) and Tilly (middle). Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh

“But the old gentlemen at the photographica auctions were lovely. I think she liked the idea of being a woman in a man’s world, too.”

Jubilee Photographica joined other independent shops on the street, and became a fixture of Passage life.

Amy, 46, remembers her mum would open the shop with queues already forming – and the same people would be there at the end of the day.

“It was a really warm environment. My mum would always give discounts, you didn’t have to ask.

“People would flock from all over the world because it was one of a kind. It became a magnet for celebrities.”

The tiny little shop even drew the attention of the King of Pop. When Michael Jackson came to visit, Beryl noticed he was feeling the winter chills. She lent him her blow heater so he could browse the collections while his bodyguard kept watch.

In the 1980s, a fire burned the shop virtually to the ground, along with all her photographs.

“Mum was devastated – the images were gone forever,” recalls Amy. “She saw herself as custodians of them.”

Beryl Vosburgh at her shop Jubilee. Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh Beryl Vosburgh at her shop Jubilee. Picture: Family of Beryl Vosburgh

Beryl had no insurance, so all the traders in the Passage rallied together to help her rebuild her shop and restock.

According to her daughter, this was part of what spurred her to continue on for so long – right up until 2002 – despite rising rents.

“She was very sad to let it go. It’s a shame because the area was so earthy and unique in those days,” she said.

“It’s much more gentrified these days – the shops are tamed.”

Beryl’s collection went under the hammer at Special Auction Services in Newbury recently. As a measure of how respected Jubilee Photographica was, this was its largest sale since the 1990s.

Among the collection items on sale were many of Beryl’s beloved cartes de visites, precursors to modern postcards, about the size of a business card.

Of particular interest were cartes de visites from Islington studios, where residents likely saved up their pennies to buy photographs as early as the mid-19th century.

“It’s a fascinating cross section of Victorian life – they’re not all well-to-do,” said Amy.

“It’s a strange thought, though – this is someone’s ancestor in a collection, and they never knew they’d end up there.”

Amy lives in Highgate today with her two children, and is a TV producer and casting director. She said all her siblings inherited “a bit of theatrical blood”. When Beryl died in 2016, she was given her collection.

Having been dragged to Royal Photographic Society lectures from a young age and often looking after Jubilee Photographica, she’s gained some of her mother’s passion for the subject.

She’s hoping to contribute to a book on her favourite part of the collection – twin photography.

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