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Lena Connell, suffragette photographer

Lena Connell was an important photographer of the women’s suffragette movement in the early 20th century. Her father Frederick Henry Connell (1839-1911) was a watchmaker specializing in high-class chronometers, before becoming a photographer. At the time of his marriage to Catherine Scrivener in July 1868 he was living at 17 Tavistock Street in Marylebone. 

Lena was born as Adelin Beatrice Connell on 27 July 1875 at 29 Southampton Row where her father was working for Messrs Roblin and Sons, French Clock makers. By 1882 the family were at 41 Lorne Road in Finsbury Park. Two years later Connell had moved to 83 Kilburn High Road as a watchmaker and jeweller. He was still there in 1887. 

Frederick took up photography, and in 1891 the family were living in 69 Abbey Road. The census that year shows Frederick as a photographer, with two daughters helping him: Dora, 17, was a photographic re-toucher and Adelin aged 15, was a photographic assistant.

 
 69 Abbey Road (Dick Weindling, July 2023) Today it is wet fish shop.

The business moves to Grove End Road
The photography business was successful, and in 1893 Fredrick opened a studio and moved to No.3 Blenheim Place. This was in a terrace of ten houses opposite the Eyre Arms in Grove End Road St John’s Wood, running west from the corner with Finchley Road. Lena Connell took over the studio in 1901. 

Carte de Visite by Fred Connell (Marianne Colloms, nd)

3 Blenheim Place was renumbered as 50 Grove End Road by 1905, and in the directory, to help clients find her premises, Lena said the studio was at ‘50 Grove End Road, formerly called 3 Blenheim Place’. Today, the site is covered by the large block of flats Wellington Court, which was built about 1937.

Lena continued to work there, but she had left home and in 1907 and 1908 Lena was living at 262 West End Lane in West Hampstead. By 1908 her parents had moved to 38 Melrose Avenue Willesden, and the following year Lena returned to live with them. Tragedy struck when her father Frederick died in August 1911 after being run over by a motor car. Her sister Dora, a skilled miniature painter, emigrated to South Africa.

In 1914 Adelin married Jack Arthur Cundy, a motor car engineer. He was a widower with a nine-year-old son Leslie Dixon Cundy. His wife Gertrude had died in 1905. Lena and Jack do not appear to have had any children. In 1918 and 1919 the couple were at 29 Winchester Road Swiss Cottage. Lena’s widowed mother and business manager, Catherine Connell was living with them. Towards the end of WWI Jack served as a mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps.

The studio in Baker Street
In 1919, still trading as Lena Connell, she opened a studio at 6 Baker Street (this was re-numbered as 12 Baker Street in 1921). Briefly, in 1920, Lena had a studio in Baker Street and the old one in Grove End Road where her mother Catherine was shown in the electoral register that year. Some sources say that Catherine Connell died in 1913, but this must be another person. We lose track of her after 1920.

In 1922 Lena decided to use her married name of Beatrice Cundy and the British Journal of Photography of 17 May carried a notice by her: ‘Owing to family reasons, as of March 7, 1922, I am closing down the business which has been run in my maiden name of Lena Connell. After that date I intend professionally specialising in at-home portraiture in my married name Beatrice Cundy. Sittings can still be arranged for, and particulars given at the above address’ (12 Baker Street). 

We have not been able to find out what the ‘family reasons’ were. Possibly it was the death of her mother, but we have not been able to trace this.

The last mention of Lena exhibiting is in 1929, and she is still listed as Beatrice Cundy, photographer, at 12 Baker Street in the 1935 Directory. The following year’s directory shows Rawood Ltd, photographers had taken over and were still there in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, the Cundys continued to occupy the residential space over her old business. In March 1949, Adeline (sic) Beatrice died of pneumonia at 12 Baker Street, and the probate said she left £4,493 to her husband Jack. He later moved to nearby Crawford Street, and died aged 89, in Paddington General Hospital in April 1967. He left his estate worth £2,321 to his son Lesley. 

Lena’s career and work as a supporter of the suffrage movement
Lena had started as a photographer in 1895 and she won a gold medal from the Professional Photographers’ Association. She exhibited several times at the Royal Photographic Society beginning in 1901, and as her photos received praise from the critics, her reputation grew.

 
 
Self portraits of Lena in 1910

In an interview, Lena said she was the first woman photographer not restricted to women clients – her male sitters included politicians Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, the poet W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and the violinist Fritz Kreisler. She photographed artists, musicians, and actors such as Ellen Terry. The renowned artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema lived nearby in Grove End Road, and she photographed him and his wife Lady Laura in a double portrait.

 
George Bernard Shaw by Lena Connell

Lena became an early supporter of the suffrage movement and took part in the Women’s Social and Political Union procession on ‘Women’s Sunday’, 21 June 1908 when about 500,000 men and women marched to Hyde Park in an attempt to persuade the Liberal government to support votes for women. The Standard reported, ‘From first to last it was a great meeting, daringly conceived, splendidly stage-managed, and successfully carried out. Hyde Park has probably never seen a greater crowd of people’. 

In an interview for The Vote in May 1910, Lena said she became committed to the suffragette movement when she photographed Gladice Keevil, after her release from Holloway prison in 1908. The photo was published as a postcard to raise funds and public awareness. There is a local connection here as Gladice Georgina Keevil was born in Clitterhouse Farm Cricklewood in 1884, where her father was the manager.

 
Gladice Keevil, by Lena Connell 1908

In the interview Lena described her approach. ‘I have done away with all mechanical process, and my sitters do not feel they are in a dentist’s chair with a vice gripping the back of their neck. No one comes into the studio while a photo is being taken, save an assistant to bring new plates, and I make friends with my sitter while fixing the camera and take him or her while they are interested in talking. The deed is done almost before they realise it’. 

To support working women, she employed only women assistants to print and finish her photographs.

Interior of the studio at 50 Grove End Road, 1913, showing the plate camera and the seating arrangements

Lena was a member of the Hampstead branch of the WSPU and held an ‘at home meeting’ in her studio on 6 June 1912. 

Among the leaders of the suffrage movement, she photographed Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard, Cicely Hamilton, Lady Constance Lytton and Viscountess Ethel Snowden. Her photos were sold by the Suffrage Shop in Bedford Street to generate income for the movement.

 
Viscountess Ethel Snowden (Wiki Commons and NPG)

Lena was a pioneering and highly skilled photographer, deeply committed to the suffragette cause.

Many of Lena’s portraits can be seen on the excellent The Sisters of the Lens website, which looks at the work of women photographers.
https://www.sistersofthelens.com/lena-connell

We would like to thank Imogen Lyons and Terence Pepper for their help, and permission to use photos from Terence’s collection and Sisters of the Lens. 

There is a 2001 article by Shirley Neale in the History of Photography Vol. 25 (1), and a book by Colleen Denney (2021), ‘The Suffrage Photography of Lena Connell: Creating a Cult of Great Women Leaders in Britain’, which looks at her life, and the influence of her photographs on the portrayal of women.




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