This adorable young man is my great-grandfather, William John Flanders, born 25 March 1865 in Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.
He was the third of six children born to William Flanders and Eliza Newdick. We have a lot of William Flanders in this line, both back and forward in time, so it’s nice that they gave him a middle name to help us keep them straight!
Young William is wearing an elaborately decorated coat with a pair of short pants and high shoes. The first thing you notice is the coat with all the black embroidered trim; the next is that he’s wearing short pants (which are a different thing than our casual shorts). He looks straight ahead at the photographer. This is a formal outfit and the setting is also formal. It could have been in his home or in a photography studio; the original photo is unmarked. William’s father was a well-to-do farmer and horse breeder who lived in a large home known as Burnt Fen House and the setting is not inconsistent with that type of residence.
Although I cannot prove it, I believe this to be a Breeching photo, marking William’s transition from wearing dresses to wearing trousers for the first time, a kind of “coming of age” event. Little boys wore dresses for the first years of their life and were in their mother’s domain. When they reached 5-8 years of age, they transitioned both clothing and activities into their father’s world. There is a fascinating blog post on breeching at the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society that’s worth a read.
I got this picture from my great-uncle Lester in 1970 when I first began researching my family. William John, the boy in the photograph, was his father, but the picture came to Lester from William John’s family in England along with a few other family photos and articles. It seems so funny to see a little boy dressed in such an elaborate outfit, and it’s the only photo I have of him before 1918, but I cherish it.